Thursday, January 31, 2008

Australia: First impressions and before...

As The Molekhi would guess without any prompting, I'm out on an office trip again. And therefore on blog. This time, it's Australia - Melbourne at the moment. Here for a month, hopefully. It depends on whether India manage to make it to the final of the tri-series or not. If they don't, it's a month. If they do, throw in another week or so.

The Long Flight Goodbye
Somehow, my office travel desk managed to put us on a flight sequence that goes Delhi-Singapore-Darwin-Cairns-Melbourne. Australia isn't Antarctica, so reaching here should have been easier. It wasn't. So I reached my hotel in Melbourne 34 hours after leaving home.

And, with apologies to all who swear by it, the Singapore airport was no great shakes. It's got a lot of space, lots of shops, eateries and stuff, but Kuala Lumpur is better. It's flashier, more stylish, has airtrains or watchamacallits, is better lit up and has more shops and space. Not to say that the Singapore airport isn't nice, but no one raved about KL before I went there, but everyone had this distant, affectionate look on their faces when talking about the Changi airport.

But on the flipside, Changi has Big Foot. The foot massager. In the airport. Aah, the pleasure! And it's free.

Darwin and Cairns
Four hours apart from each other by air, the little I saw of the two cities was breathtaking. Idyllic valleys, slopes, greenery, blue skies. Both places. Of course, my view was restricted to what the airport windows allowed, but I liked what I saw. Interestingly, especially in Cairns, everything was white - cars, signboards, houses, buildings... Made it all look prettier with the green in the backdrop.

And then, Melbourne
It's stunning. It's one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to. Picturesque as picturesque can get, helped by the widely known fact that Australia has more empty space than the rest of the world. Or something like that. There are huge, broad, empty roads. The only highrises are in the centre of the city, and make only for offices and malls and suchlike stuff. I believe Delhi is supposed to be the greenest capital in the world. Melbourne isn't a capital city, but is important enough to be one. And it's unbelievably green.

Before coming here, I had my apprehensions about Australia and Australians. Having spent a day and a bit in Melbourne, I am ready to eat my thoughts. Melburnians are wonderful people. Every single one of the ones I have met. I don't know if they are racist. I've been told they are. But I haven't seen any of it. Every single person I have spoken to - for directions, for help with paying the tram fare, for advice on where I can buy what - has been helpful. And they have spoken to me with a smile. Every single one of them.

It's full of Indians and other subcontinentals. Unfortunately, all the ones I have met are students or taxi drivers or help in hotels and counter-guys. Unfortunately because I haven't seen too many of them out in suits and ties, which would mean they are doing well for themselves. Now, having said that, I know from my acquintances that the taxi drivers here make a fair bit of money. So when I say 'doing well for themselves', I only refer to the 'respect' part. Obviously from a traditional Indian point of view.

And while on the subject of expats, I met a Somalian for the first time in my life. A genteel middle-aged gentleman by an unpronouncable and unspellable name who drove me from the MCG to the city centre (Flinders Street).

The other things about Australians, or at least Melburnians, is that they love putting up signs. Yes, signs are useful and helpful. But everywhere you turn, there are millions of signs. Nice looking compact signs that don't end up looking like Calcutta where it seems everything's going to tumble down on your head, but signs nevertheless. No complaints. Just an observation.

Oh, since I mentioned Calcutta, yes, the trams do exist here as well. They don't look like a Farex can you've kept on your terrace for 26 years. They are stunning. Somewhat like the new green buses that you see on Delhi roads these days.

And of course, there's the MCG to write about. Will do that slightly later...

PS: The kangaroos, emus, crocodiles and ostriches remain untouched for the moment.