I liked it, the Exclusive backpackers on Adelaide Street that is. Not for the normal things, but for it’s sense of irony. It was one of the least most exclusive places I had ever stayed in. The Greek owner had her own way of running the place, trying to act like your mother whilst fighting with her husband. She was one of these people that meant well.
There was a Danish librarian staying in the room, he had at least twelve books scattered around the floor. The German guy, without meaning to stereotype, was very, German. An awkward array of facial hair, a ‘City of Perth’ baseball cap, jeans that seemed to originate from the eighties and sensible footwear. They had stayed in the room for a long time, it was almost home to them. But despite the books and the hats, they were agreeable people.
Helena was from Denmark. She didn’t need to say, there was something very Danish about her. We talked for an hour, then after thinking we had got on well, I became a little startled. Where ever I went, her eyes went. It was like a watching painting. I didn’t even have to look after a while. If I was reading a book, she was reading my book. If I was folding some clothes, she watched me folding my clothes. When I woke in the morning, just by chance, of course, she would be looking over. It was all rather strange. I always made sure I returned a smile with her more often than not glances, little did she know that behind that smile was a “you are actually starting to scare me now” thought. Those Danish people must just be friendly.
“Ah, where are you from mate?”. The voice had a bit of English, Australian and South African all mixed into one. “You wont know it, Bournemouth” I replied. “Ah, yea, just come from there”. I smiled. Sense of humour. “Yeah, I have been staying in Westbourne, my name is Pat”. Okay. Maybe he wasn’t joking. So we talked. It then became apparent, rather quickly, that he was a character. So he was over forty but looked thirty, he had just come from a place that I didn’t think anyone would travel to. “So, I’ve got a car, I’ll take you out for a ride if you fancy!”. It had only been ten minutes but I had been offered a ride, a game of golf, a place to stay at Christmas. I thought he was going to set up a meeting with his parents next. He didn’t. They were dead.
As much as this person was interesting, there was something slightly strange, rather odd. He was staying in a backpackers. He said he offered a girl in Bournemouth five thousand pounds to marry him so he could get a British passport. He lived on people’s floors. He paid over a thousand pounds to stay in a hotel before he left, to treat himself after staying in hostels. He was a used car salesman by trade. A paramedic at other times. He had travelled around Australia nine times, been all over Europe (including Bournemouth). He had nearly broken the drinking record at the Okoberfest. He was the sort of person that had a story for everything, the sort that would be your best mate in half hour.
So we all sat in his tiny car, heading towards the Joe Cocker concert in Kings Park. I was squeezed in the back. I didn’t even have to look. Helena was still looking at me. I think she quite like the small rear space, nearly as much as my legs didn’t. You had to pay ten dollars for entry. We sat outside. Security was tight. A white robe. A four foot security guard from Jakarta (so we found out after try to talk our way in). So we sat there, drinking VB. The music played, Pat told us about the deadly creatures in the bush as we discussed sneaking in. Helena, well she just stared again. The German guy quietly nodded his head to the music. All in all it was quite bizarre, sitting on a piece of grass, listening to music that I had never heard of and thinking I had some of the strangest, yet interesting people around me.
I always based cities on my first impressions. You can a lot that way. More specifically, you can tell a lot by the first person that you meet. In the case of Perth, it was a fly, it wouldn’t say goodbye. I guess it was nice to be greeted at the airport by someone.
I had arrived on a Saturday. It could have been four o’clock on a Sunday. It was if there was some secret hiding place that everyone had gone, the streets were deserted. The shops were closed. The last time I heard, this was a city. Then again this was Western Australia, apparently they do things differently around here. Like stay indoors. I even felt embarrassed for the green flashing man, it seemed there was nobody to cross the street.
I thought this place was gong to be quite friendly. The few people I did see were waving at each other in the street. Then I realised. They weren’t saying hello. They were trying to get the flies from around their head. Then I realised I was doing it to.
The city prides itself on the ‘CAT’ transport, a free bus service that shuttled people around the centre of the city. Despite the free transportation on offer, I decided to walk as normal, after all, there might be some hiding out there somewhere. But after a short walk, I had found where I was staying, people searching had to wait.
“Yes, I don’t know what it is about them. I just have a fascination just to jump in there and be with them. I was always being told off by the instructors not to go in, other people were petrified. I guess I have been like that since I was fourteen. Yes in fact I’m sure. I have always had a love for sharks since watching Jaws. It the scared the shit out if me”. In truth, it was starting to scare the shit out on me. Just as her eyes began to fade with her shark addiction, for which she was in Australia for, she turned around and asked “So what’s your addiction or phobia?’.
Just as I was about to say “Well, does making strange and bizarre decisions count as an addiction?” I changed my mind. It certainly seemed that way. I had woken up in a bizarre and bewildering hidden and obscure hostel in Kowloon. I had then woken up two days later in less strange but surreal all the same bed in Sydney. It was like finding out that there is a website for internet addicts, something, and I didn’t really know what that something was, all seemed a bit odd.
“Well actually I have got a phobia of fish, I don’t know what it is. But yes, before you ask, the great barrier reef dive was an experience in more ways than one”. There was me questioning her love hate regard for Sharks, she was probably laughing inside at my hate hate for all things fish, finding Nemo certainly wasn’t one of my life ambitions.
At those three days in Wakeup hostel, I had decided to take a more pro-active approach to people, with a little experiment in social interaction. It had been bugging me for a while, can you really just start talking to complete strangers? Well, of course you can. Of course you have to pick your moments, calculate your odds of go for the kill. The count was on three. The French woman who had asked me about lockers, I asked her about French things. Then there was Jade. A distance close enough, and, most importantly, reaching out for her second cigarette. The first is always the token one. The second, well, that nobody has a second without a reason.
“Have you had a good day?” I asked. It was more a question of irony than purpose. Of course she couldn’t have had a good day, it was raining. But, more importantly, it had just reached twelve. Not that much time to celebrate having a good day. Then wait for the reaction. Twenty minutes later. A meeting at eight in the bar for a drink.
Sydney itself was just the same as before, nothing had changed. Even the price of a red weekly travel ticket was stuck at thirty two dollars. The Opera House was still that off shade of white, the bridge with the same flow of tourist walkers in the distance. The shops were still there, in the same order. The unfinished building sites were now finished buildings. There were still the same proportion of Asian people, it was almost scientific, like there was some city quota. Tuesday night at the cinema was still ‘tight arse’ Tuesday, or so the locals in the queue called it. The buses still ran from the same bus stops, the trains pulled in at the same stations and the bars still had the same posters. The ‘lovely people’ hippy was still calling people ‘lovely’ down on Bondi beach. He was even wearing the same hat. Just what I was expecting to change in a year and a half I didn’t really know. Then I realized what was different. They were no longer serving sweet and sour chicken balls at the Foodcourt at Martin Place. I was most distressed. The “Have you had a good day?” line had meant I was drinking a few chilled schooners of VB down at the sidebar that night. It was a flashback in time. It was like I had stepped back after a week of being away. The chilled glasses were going down quite well, before I knew it I was surrounded on the table by ten woman, the beer must have been good. Before I knew it I had become fully updated with who was being a bitch to who, which person had bad dorm manners, who fancied which member of staff, who drank too much the night before and an array of what was what and who was who. It got a little bit too much, at one am I realized I had endured my dose of Cosmopolitan type tales and made my fuzzy exit.
The three people in my room were from a village in Norfolk. They didn’t have to tell me, they sounded like they were from farming outpost. They were on holiday and this was the first time they had stayed in a hostel. “This is a bit basic, we had a television in our hotel and everything” one of them said. “It’s crazy, the bathroom hasn’t even got a hairdryer!” the other girl claimed. As she unloaded her second set of hair curlers from her huge three week luggage, it became apparent, they really were on holiday.
Over a three day period we developed a mutual sleeping pattern. I would come in at one am, get up at eight am. They would just come in at eight am. As I was leaving and saying goodbye, they would come in, fully intoxicated and say hello on the way past. They tended to live in the pub all day, sometimes taking a break to see the Opera house if time allowed. They knew they had come to Sydney for a reason, it’s just they didn’t really seem to know what it was. I did my best to inform them of the local sights and surroundings. But the question and answer session would always end with one question. “Yes, but what are the pubs like there?”.
I had quickly come to the conclusion. I knew Sydney better than any other city in the world, the result of extensive walks, research and reading. I knew where to find what and in what shops. I knew where to eat, where to sleep and where to walk. I knew how to get around, how to get back. I knew what time films were showing, the cost of bottle of water in different places and the expressions of people seeing the Opera house for the first time. I knew how to pick up different accents and different conversations in different places. It was either time to move on or time to stay. One minute I was on the plane, the next I wasn’t. One minute I was emailing a job agency, the next I was looking into flights back home. When people asked how long I was staying for, they were constantly surprised when I said “I just don’t know”.
I had tried the “Have you had a nice day” before, it was time for something even more unoriginal. They were on their third cigarette. This person was bored. “How’s it going?” I said. The conversation quickened. She took a deep breath and said “Well, you see, I have been emailing this dive instructor every day for the last two weeks, I really want to do a dive but can’t afford it. You see I have always had a fascination for sharks”.
It’s where all the tourists stayed. Apparently. Kowloon was a thirty minute bus ride from the airport, my destination was Mong Kok. There was nothing that could quite prepare you for the early morning explosion of people that this suburb offered. It was barely seven in the morning, yet people were swarming like it was the middle of the day.
As I headed towards my destination, it became apparent, rather quickly, that I was the only non Asian person it seemed in this district. Not only was the only non Asian person, I was also three foot taller than the tallest person I encountered. Something made me think that basketball wasn’t going to be their national sport.
The search for the hostel was interesting, dragging a bag in the market over spilling streets was a challenge, the people scurried around like they were late for a thousand appointments. Nothing could have been more important however than mine, trying to find a place that appeared to not exist. It was this point that I started to blame my troubles on the internet, just quite how you trust your life to a screen with a couple of pictures constantly amazed me. After a walk around the block, ten times, I finally found the entrance.
The Dragon Hostel was like a hidden underground hideaway for the most hidden underground people. There were no signs. Just a man sitting next to a lift. It was almost as if they didn’t want you to discover this secret hiding place. There were two lifts. Interesting. Well not that interesting. It was only interesting when I got into the left hand lift and realized it only went to even floors. Of course my floor was number seven. Just as I was debating the logistical reasons for having two odd and even floored lifts, I had arrived.
I had to double take. In the mist of local apartments with washing hanging attire and peoples front doors, there was a little sign, the ‘Dragon Hostel’. With a sense of relief that I had found this secret hideout, came a sense of ‘Umm interesting, I just hope there wasn’t a fire, knowing my luck the odd lift would be out of order’.
The walk around Mong Kok provided some interesting points of analysis. It seemed, all people around here ate dead cats, or liked to think they did. Along with the hanging rats in the shops, the smell of fish consumed the road. It was kind of like being in any China Town you had ever been to in the world, just a little bit more Chinese.
Another thought soon drifted into my head. People here really don’t like to sit down. There were no places to sit. Anywhere. After a three hour walk, sometimes a seat can be good for the legs. Maybe these people were too bust hurrying everywhere to think about sitting down. As I walked past the hospital I noticed that the are was on Blue Alert, apparently there was a risk of Avian Flu. I walked past a few masked locals and then thought that I maybe I shouldn’t hang out by the hospital anymore.
So, after hours on my feet, with no seat in sight, I had an idea. The cinema. There were two choices, risk an incredibly poor film in Mandarin or alike, or risk catching Avain Flu. After weighing up the pros and cons of both, I elected to take whatever film they would throw at me. I looked at the picture of the film. “Paparrazi’. Well, it sounded poor. It’s amazing how the title of film can be so off putting. In fact, I thought of the worst films that I had ever seen and came to the same conclusion. All had poor titles. There was ‘Wolf’, ‘Van Halsen’. And now there was Paparazzi. It had a picture of Mel Gibson on the cover. Was that just a ploy? I spent five minutes trying to choose my seat on their electronic seat display, I could help but think it was a pointless exercise, after all, it was twelve thirty, and they were showing ‘Paparazzi’.
As I entered the cinema one thing was certain. I was glad I had choose my seat carefully. The cinema was empty. Just like film names being a good indicator of a films quality, so was the opening credits. It took all of five minutes to confirm the review that I later read that this film only just got one star. Maybe I was being a bit harsh. Mel Gibson did make an appearance. For five seconds. I felt cheated. How could someone who is the main person on the poster only be in a film for five minutes? Before I could get too angry, the film had finished. It was brilliant in the end. I had managed to get somewhere to sit for nearly two hours.
Getting a middle seat on a twelve hour flight is like finding all the good sweets have gone in a box of roses. You still chew on the dark chocolate orange flavoured hazelnut whirl, it’s just you wish you got there sooner. With the window seat, you get to see the take off, and, if you are clever, can make pillow out of the indent in the glass. The aisle seat isn’t bad. Apart from hot drinks and flimsy trays being passed over head and the uncertainty of when the person is going to tap you on the shoulder for the fifth time for a toilet escape just as you start to dose, the aisle seat isn’t bad either. Well, the middle seat, that just for slow torture.
Mr Wim Chang Whom got off to bad start in my books. “Sir, you must put your luggage in the containers above before we take off” came the voice from the pink shirted steward. “Me, no understand, English is bad” came the short and sharp reply. I felt sorry for him in a way. It must have been difficult to read the Financial Times, after all, it was in English. It would have been easy for me to hold the aisle blocking bag against him in case there was an aviation emergency and I tripped up whilst trying to escape. There was something far more serious. His blanket was blocking the video channel selection button to my left. Not only was I missing the start of the Wedding Crashers (with hindsight not a bad thing) I also became aware he was omitting a strong smell of oranges. Maybe not the worst smell in the world, but rather strange.
Maybe my luck was in. The two people to my other side were talking about aviation, apparently, so it semed, the woman to my right was an air hostess. All the signs were there, immaculately dressed, perfume stolen from a hundred samples, manicured hands from a hundred bored stop overs, a ‘would you like anything to drink’ posh yet toned voice. But just like Mr Whom next to me with his citrus issue, I was to get a small surprise when she turned around to talk to me. I immediately started to sympathise with Luke Skywalker when he removed his fathers mask. Okay, her head wasn’t green and she was not the leader of all things dark, but she was thirty years older than I had pictured her to be. I she looked familiar. I swore I had seen her on ‘When plastic surgery goes wrong’.
So, it’s official. I have spent the last weeks of my life in hibernation. My crime? Watching the entire series of 24 in the quickest time possible.
It started to run my life. I wanted to set records. I watched 24 episodes in a row, from light to dark, from dark to light. I still felt guilty. I fell asleep at four am for a five minutes. I spent the next week in bed, recovering, suffering from headaches, a cold and a fear to go outside, after all, it’s difficult to trust anyone isn’t it?
I never thought I would get drawn in. I had been on the television before, of course. My dad liked it. That, by default, meant I would hate it. It was fiction. I liked fact. It was an American drama series. I rarely watched those. It had Keifer Sutherland as the lead. I hated Young Guns. But I bowed to pressure. It was like talking about a new sticker album at school, you didn’t really like the Garbage Patch Kids, in fact, you hated the Garbage Patch Kids, or you thought you did. But it was worth a peak.
So, it’s all over. I fallen in love and out of love with Kim Bauer (she is cute, but I decided I couldn’t trust her to make it anywhere without getting sidetracked) , wondered how they never ate a single item of food for four hole days, how they never got stuck in traffic, ever.
Then I realised. It’s just a television show. It doesn’t really exist.