Strokes for Folks

by Ant Stone on October 25, 2008

in Australia

Tall. Chic. Shifty. Schoolgirl. Metro. Tourist. Tourist. Schoolgirl. Scruffy. Shady. Beautiful. Dazed. Tired. Schoolboy. Plain. Thoughtful. Chirpy. Geeky. Trendy. Slick. Macho. Emo. Lonely. Engrossed. High? Self-important. Slim. Vain. Schoolboy. Weathered. Pasty. Tourist. Sleek. Smiley. Weird. Tradie. Queasy. Agitated. Flash. Kind. Cute. Snooty. Troubled. Schoolgirl. Schoolboy. “The next train to arrive at platform one, will be the seven thirty-nine service to Flinders Street. Please validate your Metcard before you travel”. The train effortlessly wipes the platform clean, renewing its concrete grey expression as if those people across the track were simple strokes of chalk upon my day. Before long, the relentless drip-drip-drip of somebody’s waltzing up the station ramp replenish my boyish fascination. Exhausted. Annoyed. Schoolboy. Clueless. Petite. Tourist. Terrorist? Obese. Joyous. Nonchalant. Casual. Classy. “The next train to arrive at platform two will be the seven forty-six service to Sandringham”. My own call to vanish.

Prior to my arrival, I may have been a tad guilty of stereotyping Melbourne. I may even have believed that Melbourne was simply the greater stage of its infamous export, Neighbours. (For those neglected souls, Neighbours is a TV soap full of chirpy rotund men, dangerously good-looking schoolgirls and a 100% white Caucasian population. One out of three isn’t bad.) The truth is, Melbourne is easily as diverse as London, with flourishing populations of Indian, Indonesian and Chinese as well as thousands of visiting tourists from across the globe. I expected to see jinxed by-products of the persecuted Aborigines, but I can count on one hand the number I’ve encountered. Melbournians have told me they presume themselves to be standoffish, snooty and cagey. However it’s the complete opposite. In the formative weeks of my arrival in Melbourne I was offered help so often I genuinely became suspicious that something was going on. I wondered if they were on some kind of commission scheme. Then I wondered if there were tax-benefits for helping tourists. Then I became conscious that Big Brother must be watching, so I started smiling and stopped blinking. Even now I get a shock when someone is off-key in their attitude; it’s a reality check, a reminder I can blink (if I’m quick).

One of the biggest surprises however, is the number of characters I’ve encountered with mental disorders. That sentence just spread a tricky sea of eggshells for me to traverse; forgive me if I break any. But. There is hardly a day goes by when I’m not singled out by a twitching gentleman for a couple of stuttered lines of abuse. It’s a sad fact that each time I’ve sat next to an elderly lady in the CBD (city centre) I’ve triggered a worrying speech to no one in particular. Then there’s fellows such as the Ginger Beer man who I’ve mentioned before (he spent half an hour falsely raving about the beer having ginger in it); then there was a guy I gave twenty cents to so he could buy his bus ticket, only, the thank you part was replaced by a tempered hurl of abuse – and spit – because apparently I’d told him I’d call the police and report him. Which I promise you I hadn’t. Then there’s the Southland’s Headphone Guy. Everyday he takes a fast voyage of strides and leaps around Southland shopping centre, but always in his headphones. SHG is so famous he’s got himself a cult following. In the same shopping centre I’m regularly accosted by a middle-aged woman who hits on me to the point that I have to physically back away. One step. At. A. Time. But like most of these anomalies, she’s harmless. That equaliser doesn’t count for the violent man who out of nowhere launched a verbal attack at a fellow tram rider which ended in (excuse my French) “if you don’t get off this fucking tram I’m gonna stamp on your fucking head!” And last, but by no means least the not-so-gentleman Reb came across on a tram, who witnessed a cyclist crash, but decided that it would be more appropriate to laugh and hurl grotesquely sarcastic abuse than to help the injured rider. Yes, Melbourne has these people too.

But it’s not always them. I’ve had my fair share of moments. Every time I soak myself in Carlton Draught or stain myself with Australian red I find my memory banks brimming with conversations with another unfortunate Indian cabbie; “Where are you from originally, mate?” I stutter “Oh, bloody ‘ell mate, I loved that place. It’s in Punjab, right? Nope, wait a minute” hiccup… hic “I know where that is, by Rajasthan?” hic, hiccup “Oh, it’s in the south is it mate, yeah I love that place. I love India. I love Indian people mate.” About now, I’ll probably lean forward and pat him on the shoulder, then attempt a breath and continue “I love you mate. Can you take me home to meet your family? I’d love that” hiccuuup. belch. “Here’s fine mate!”

It’s all true though, I miss India more than I miss most of my mates. If you gave me a choice between a day with either, I reckon I’d lose a good three quarters of my Facebook population. To summarise, I’ve found you only really know a place when you’ve been there long enough to see the cracks. In that way, places are very much an extension of the people that visit them – and it’s exactly the reason, that there really is no place like home. Or India.


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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

[F]oxymoron October 26, 2008 at 6:17 am

… tax benefits for helping tourists… Obama, McCain, you hear that? I leave for India shortly, I’ll let you know if it is like home!

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Anil October 28, 2008 at 12:04 am

India is a seductive country, so many interesting things and places to explore.

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Becki October 29, 2008 at 8:00 pm

I hate to say I told you so. But I did. I’ll say it again. I told you so!!!! India rocks! (even if it is painfully awful when you’re actually there!)
Welcome to the club my friend – welcome to the looks of disbelieve from mates when you look teary eyed into the distance, and sigh, ‘ah, I remember, this one time, when I was in India and I had the shits and a homeless guy spewed on my foot. Ah, those were good times.’

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