Here’s what I’ve known all along and my theory was confirmed shortly after getting here – for an Indian guy travelling alone to a far off land for the very first time in his 2 decades of existence, you tend to get by just fine, just about anywhere as long as i) you’ve been to school and didn’t start smoking pot early enough to cause damage to an underdeveloped brain, ii) you know the language of the land you’re going to and iii) have the basic means of survival i.e. pocket change. By pocket change, I mean enough pocket change for an emergency but not necessarily for luxuries.
On an unrelated note, this post comes to you live and fresh from a remarkably clean toilet at my hostel located in the central business district of Melbourne, Victoria. I’m beginning my day, as I usually do, expunging the organic epicness of the day before but for all you big picture aficionados, the 19th IAPRI World Conference on Packaging where I shall present a paper that I co-wrote with my teachers in the first half of day four of this trip. On a note further unrelated, this is the first time I’ve done something like this – write a blog post from the toilet and travel as far as this, respectively.
Day 1 begins with me landing here in a plane (another first for me), getting a ride to my hostel which calls for a deserved and grateful mention to one Vivek Singhal and coincidentally single as I learnt during a pleasantly chatty ride. I didn’t expect to speak in so much Hindi, so soon into my trip. I embark on a short walk around the hostel and returned to find Paul, my roommate who was easier to talk to than most people in my college. Paul Willot, as he is called resides in a suburb of Paris.
We head out around 9 to Brunswick as per his recommendation and it does not disappoint. It’s cold, with annoyingly mild drizzles and I get to play 2 games of pool at Palookaville one of which ends in an unsuccessfully close finish that my team loses and the other in a win against Paul who’s not very good, but I’ll take it. We’re not alone, there’s Sarah with us who’s also from France. She and Paul were polite enough to not have private conversations in French. I got to know her very briefly, she’s staying in a different room than ours and seemed a trifle disinterested, but then first impressions are seldom very accurate. It’s afterhours by the time we make it back to our room and I crashed on my bunk bed – a phrase I’ve desperately wanted to use, ever since I’ve never had a bunk bed. P.S. I had top bunk, so move along Charlie Sheen – there’s a new sheriff in town. #winning
***dream I’ve forgotten the details of***
It’s half past noon. I’m in a state of benign panic as I answer Sherin’s call, still half asleep trying desperately to sound more awake than I am. I’m supposed to meet her for lunch. I do. We go to a Mad Mex, as per her recommendation. I’ve heard nice things about the Mexican food in Australia. We eat, talk, and begin walking around; letting conversation work it’s charm. She buys me coffee and a brownie – She knows where to find the good stuff. We drift into a street show – a charismatic performer who’s about to do a stunt using stilts at Fed square. As we continue walking, an incredible thing happens. I find myself looking at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. We walk along the Yarra river and from out of nowhere, this majestic stadium throws itself into my sight (it’s really hard to just walk by it without noticing). This, I should add, is surreal to me beyond words. I make it a point not to shove the unforgiving cricket fan in me on people the way some people I know do. Sport, like politics evokes opinions from all of us and it’s not very nice to annoy people with them. Regardless, we walk around take one of the most memorable pictures from my shit camera phone. There’s a footy game on, throngs of fans are extruding out of Richmond Station. They’re vocal in their support for the local team. We make our way through this one sided descent of humanity upon us and take a train back to Flinder’s Street where Victoria University’s campus is.
I take the elevator to the 12th floor Conference Welcome Cocktail dinner, fifteen minutes before time as planned. I’m looking sharp, the Men’s room mirror confirms. I start the business of networking with the objectives of achieving personal gains. It’s cordial, I put faces to names that have been popping up in emails and have a satisfying 3 hours meeting people from the small community that’s going to strive to make a difference.
The best part of my day then begins. I leave VU, head back to my room to leave my blazer behind and make my way to Groove bar at Crown Casino where Kate McLennan, who I can now safely call a friend is going to perform. I enter Crown Casino nervously, not knowing what to expect, fully prepared to pay the entry fee unless it’s unreasonably exorbitant. I walk through the Casino, almost turning a blind eye to the fact that this is the first one I’ve ever been to in my life. I’m stopped at the entrance, the show’s already on, I’ve missed the first half. Luckily for me, Kate on next, she runs out to the ladies room, takes me with her on her way back in and I get to watch her dazzle a sizeable Sunday night crowd for free. I mean dazzle quite literally and not as a 21 reference. Her sparkling top is a solid opening joke and she pretty much has us all eating out of her palm for the length of her set. Turns out, we’re better friends than I thought. Then, as my night continues to get better, I learn that the closing act for the night is a certain Cal Wilson, who’s been on QI with Stephen Fry a show I like very much. She kills it with her effortlessly adorable crass humor, I’m smiling in between chuckles and applause. Kate introduces me to her later, she’s even more charming off stage, if that’s possible. I head back to my room after a wonderful night. It’s late, I need to catch some sleep to stay fresh for the three days of presentations and conferential activities that I’ve come all the way here for. This is turning out to be the trip of my life. Paul’s leaving at dawn. He’s left me a note in case we don’t get to meet, as he does. It’s breaking my heart.
My alarm’s set for 7:00 a.m. I’m up at 6:45. I head to the café right below for a coffee I know I’ll need to start an important day like this. It’s freezing. I’m clutching my tall paper coffee tumbler with both hands like it’s the life force restoring thermodynamic balance in my body (https://twitter.com/siddhantdwivs/status/478290984074113025). The coffee works. I make it to the conference keynote address, barely in time. I sit through presentations all day, saying hellos, biding my time, waiting for my 20 minute of attention. It’s nice being able to keep up with researches carried out and presented by people clearly far more qualified than me. It’s dry but I expected that. I’m meeting people during breaks discussing my prospects, exchanging ideas. The social dinner includes a guided tour of The Carlton Brewhouse. More socialising, listening to people. The bus ride to and back to VU are eventful. I get to sit next to Stan Moore the CEO of the Australian Packaging Covenant, discuss the APC with him and weirdly enough, he’s wearing a livestrong band which leads to a conversation about doping in sports. The APC is mentioned in the abstract of my paper. It’s all well and good.
So much beer, so little time
On the ride back, Juthamart Sayampol sits next to me. We talk about Buddhism and I try explaining test cricket to her. A game that’s played over 5 days seems incomprehensible to her. In her defence, I’m not trying very hard. The CFB situation in Thailand comes up too. That’s her research. Mondays don’t measure up to a weekend, ever.
Big day. Biiiig day. The 6:00 alarm wakes me up. I ate a good dinner so the day starts off just fine. I dress up, wearing my most reliable white formal shirt, the only tie I’ve ever bought for myself and head to VU. Tuesday’s proceedings proceed nicely.
I present my research, it’s well received. Once I’m up there, I do my thing. I do a standard behind the podium presentation, looking at the room, hardly looking down to refer. I’m reasonably confident, it’s timed properly. I have 4 minutes for question and answer. I’m asked two questions – first by Stan Moore and the second by Stephen W. Bigger. I answer them satisfactorily and walk back to my seat. Professor Stephen whispers “good job!” as I walk past him. Such relief. Such massive relief.
I contemplate extending my research based on some of the feedback I get. I feel quite dandy. Here’s the audio.
At lunch I chat up Kees Sonneveld. I talk to some others about what they thought about my presentation. The feedback is good. Ideas are brewing in my head. Dinner is following a tour of The Melbourne Aquarium. Nice place. The dinner is quite posh. There’s a string quartet and people are dancing. Networking possibilities are limited due to some tables being reserved. I’ve made plans to hit some pubs once I’m back with my other french roommate Arthur but it’s very late by the time I get back. I fall onto the bed and pass out.
I wake up late. Well, I wake up early but i stay in bed a little longer. It’s the last day and the conference will end by afternoon. This is a big day of sorts too. I have to do a five minute set at The Imperial Hotel tonight. I’m worried about the fact that most of my stuff is laced with hindi punchlines and local references. This is where I get my big laughs in Mumbai from. I’ve never performed anywhere outside Mumbai. Or beyond Andheri for that matter. Sherin’s agreed to come see me. Arthur’s coming too. Now I’m even more nervous.
We leave by 6:30. Arthur and I walk to Southern Cross Station where we meet Sherin at Mad Mex and take a train to Parliament. The Imperial Hotel is right outside, waiting in plain sight. I go in, ask around at the bar downstairs. The gig’s upstairs. We have an hour to kill before it starts so the three of us walk around. There’s like a million fucking pubs and cafes here. Dunno if Temples : India :: Cafes & Pubs : Melbourne. We finally decide on The LAB where for reasons known only to her, Sherin orders an iced coffee. Admittedly, it’s a coffee addiction she’s developed in Melbourne. It’s cold as fuck and I’m inadequately dressed so I order a Belgian Hot Chocolate. I don’t normally order hot chocolates. Arthur gets himself an ice cream with some nice looking toppings. I don’t envy him. Can’t eat ice cream when it’s so cold outside that it’s not melting away. We walk back to The Imperial. I’m talking to some of the comics here – Lori Bell is an established comic from Adelaide. This is a small room. there’s 5 rows of 8 seats.
It’s filling up. By the time the show starts, There’s people standing at the back. There’s around 50 people, they’re drinking and they’re loud. The MC, Xander Allan is doing a terrific job. He’s warming up the crowd quite well. He reminds me a bit of T.J. Miller. At the end of the first bracket, I talk to him, tell him where I’m from. He’s been doing this for 4-5 years now. He asks about the comedy scene in Mumbai. It’s just a 5 minute break. People get their drinks and come back. I’m on in the second bracket. FUCK.
I get on stage. I do my thing. I get off. It’s great. It’s fucking great. It’s fucking awesome. Insane crowd. Killed is the word. A fitting end to a trip of a lifetime.
I asked Sherin to take a photo of me but she claims she forgot because she was too busy watching me. If that’s not a compliment, neither was your mom.
We have to take two trains back to Flinder’s. I hug Sherin goodbye and walk back to the hostel with Arthur discussing packaging sustainability on the way. I’ve packed my bags. It’s almost midnight. I lay on the bed for two hours. Arthur thanks me for a wonderful night. I leave for Southern Cross in the middle of the night to catch a skybus to Tullamarine Airport. It’s cold, it’s cold, it’s cold. I have to wait there till 7:40. FUCK. The flight to Kuala Lumpur is late. I’ve caught some sleep, watched horrible bosses and more than a few episodes of the in flight sitcoms. I don’t mind that the flight is late, i have to wait for a long time at Kuala Lumpur anyway. We land, I walk around the airport. It’s quite familiar since I was here for an hour on my way to Melbourne. I’m craving noodles, so I get myself some. I watch Steven Wright: When the Leaves Blow Away and a bit of Jim Jeffries on a charging laptop till I board the flight.
The last flight of the trip is the shortest. We reach on time. I get out of CSIA, take a ric to Andheri stn and take the midnight train back to Churchgate. Technically it’s day 7 but I’m home so I don’t care. I’m gonna miss you, Melbourne.
The corner of the street I stayed on,
That kitchen, and everything.