Monday, October 22, 2012

A dash of Melbourne

Right in the center of the Federation square, a few feet away from where I stand, an Australian free-lance artist juggles three fire-torches in the air, enthralling a multi-cultural audience comprising hugely of Aussie nationals and a whole bunch of Asians - mostly Chinese, Koreans and Indians. Every few minutes, there’s a spattering of jokes in his act, some lame, some witty. Across the street, teen kids dance to punk music as a crowd gathers to watch them. A few blocks away solo guitarists play their instruments and croon along. Along Swanston street, there’s a sprinkling of spray paint artists too - mesmerizing people with their skills. Armed with brochures and tourism pamphlets about the city and my newfound knowledge about the upcoming Arts festival, I attribute the presence of artists to the festival, but I soon learn from the locals that a lot of it is a common occurrence.  

Flinders Street Station, Melbourne, Australia
Flinders Street Station, Melbourne
There are hundreds of people walking the streets, people coming back from work, people walking to their shifts, some using the omnipresent public transport, some eating, gossiping, biding time. From Mumbai to Minneapolis to Melbourne (leaving aside the ones I have lived in for shorter durations), I have loved each and every city I have lived in for reasons I cannot even begin to list. Minnesota kindled in me the love of driving. Driving down those non-populated streets, long winding roads and open freeways with the wind on my face was always an adrenaline rush. I have since concluded that people who do not drive are definitely missing out on that one high! But a true Mumbaiite at heart, I have also always been a city girl. I have loved the feel of being one in the crowd, having your own unique pace and yet being one with the mass. And now, Melbourne has brought me back full circle. Not in a position to own a car right now, I whisper a silent Thank you for the myriad forms of public transport in Melbourne, be it the trams I have come to love in such a short period of time, the trains, the buses or variations of the said like the City Circle Tram. We talk about the upcoming Monorails and Metro rail in Mumbai, wonder if it would help with the ever booming population. Talking of population, did you know that India produces an Australia every year in terms of births? 

I grab a cup of coffee from a local Australian deli, there are scores of them - Aussies seem to be a patriotic lot, I don’t see many big brand names or store chains, local produce is well marketed. Passing by fast food restaurants, I notice Indians manning every other counter, sometimes successive ones too. Many more pass us by every few steps. My husband and I are astounded. Stretching our legs under a Subway awning, I strike up a conversation with the Aussie store manager of Subway while my husband chats away on a work call. I ask him about his experiences with Indian employees, I am curious. He tells me they make great employees because they are hard working and trustworthy. He tells me he would rather trust an Indian with money during an evening when he needs to step out rather than an Australian teenager or a European. We talk about the shifts they work, the fact that most are students but some are wives of working men too. He tells me about racist customers too, the feelings of anger that arise within them when they see hordes of Indians landing well-paying jobs in the city. He doesn’t try to justify their actions, he’s simply stating his experiences. I wonder if his words are sugar-coated because he’s talking to an Indian, but then he stumps me with a hard-fact, something that I also believe to be true. He tells me Indians majorly lack customer service as a skill and that it’s not an individual who’s at fault but the culture. He tells me he’s been to India and he’s learnt Indians do not believe that customers need to be pleased. If one isn’t the next would be, if he also isn’t, then there’s always another one in line. We chat some more, I thank him for his honesty and get back to walking and observing people around me.

On the train I observe Aussie women, who seem to be more aggressive and not particularly beautiful. Many have told me that Indian women symbolize beauty. I do agree to a large extent. There’s an earthy beauty, a  compassion in Indian women that I haven’t seen elsewhere, not that I am an expert on the multitude of cultures in the world. American women exude a sense of confidence that I have always admired. The Chinese women I see come across as dainty and refined, petite elegance. Every spoken sentence has the word ‘mate’ thrown in! Quite a few Aussie men, many more than usual, seem feminine. I reflect that Aussies don’t use the Golden words of Please, Thank You, Excuse Me and Sorry as much as Minnesotans did. Again, I cannot generalize Minnesotans to Americans, but having stayed in a quaint little Minnesota suburb for a good part of my life, I cannot help but compare the two. 

League teams play a cricket match on a sunny day at Fawkner Park, Melbourne.
Image credit: humeweekly.com.au
Flash-forward a few days. Jogging/walking along the trails of the Fawkner park we find dozens of men indulging in the one sport that the nation is famous for internationally, CRICKET! On about six of the eight grounds in the park, we see padded and gloved professional uniformed Aussie men along with an Indian/Pakistani or two in their midst enjoying the sport as typical white-hat umpires stand by observing. Now, these look more like the Australian players on television, the non-feminine kinds! On the sidelines, other men work at net practice or cheer their fellow mates on the ground. The atmosphere is rife with excitement and every few minutes we hear cheers and yells as someone is declared out. In the other two grounds, un-uniformed regular-wear tracksuit clad Indian/Pakistani men with unrequited love for cricket indulge themselves in an intense game. My husband is elated, he looks like he’s finally attained Nirvana. I strongly believe that if you put him on an island with cricket gear and just enough of them to play a game, he’ll gladly stay stranded. On the way to the city, the light towers of the Melbourne Cricket Ground - the famous MCG, loom high on our right. He can't wait to visit. 

Little penguins come waddling in at Penguin Island, Melbourne
Image credit: journals-worldnomads.com.au
Over the weekend, we pay a visit to the Melbourne visitor center and lap up information about the areas around Melbourne. Philip Island looks promising, we’re told that thousands of penguins waddle into the island every evening. So does Ocean Road, looking at the pictures I am already transported to a world of my dreams. We discuss some more and leave the place armed with more brochures. Through phone calls and Facebook, we find out about a couple of our friends in the vicinity. I learn about a long-lost relative of mine staying close by and I think of catching up! Around us, posters of the fast-approaching Melbourne cup are in full display; the Derby horse races which are touted to bring the nation to a stop! I chat with a dear friend of mine in Sydney and we make plans to meet sometime around the Australian Open. Back home, our families are eager to know how we’re managing and curious to learn more about the new continent. From hearsay, they’ve gathered that racism is rampant. We assure them that so far, we haven’t witnessed any such incidents. 

Outside, it rains a little and the sun plays a game of hide-n-seek with us. Spring is slowly giving way to summer, temperatures are on the rise. The cost of living in Australia is way more expensive than in US or India, we figure. We still have to find an apartment to move to, the company provided accommodation will last us a week more. Groceries to be purchased, internet, utilities to be set up. A regular member already at the city library, I apply to jobs and scout for apartments in parallel. Sure, moving entails a lot of work. But the promise of a land unseen, of new sights and experiences, new friends and acquaintances keeps us going. It’s already been a week and it feels like we landed just yesterday. The Hindu festivals are all lined up along with the Christian ones - Halloween’s just around the corner. My friend tells me New Year in Sydney is supposed to be magical. I sigh. There’s so much more of the world to be taken in, yet so less time!

Upon my arrival, a good friend of mine emailed me, suggesting that I pen a post titled ‘USA to AUS: Been there and beyond’. A little too early to do that, but, how could I resist? And hence, this post is simply a bowlful of my musings in this new foreign land, that for the next three months, I would call home. 
I would love to hear your views!

33 comments:

  1. I had mailed you to help me out for the Finals in such a hectic time of packing and unpacking but still you obliged to my offer, I am so grateful for it, Deepa. Thank you so much. It was really nice to read about your experiences in a new city. I wish you all the very best. :)

    PS: They think Indians lack Customer Service skills? I wonder why all the customer service jobs get outsourced to India then? :D

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    1. You're giving me undue credit :) It wasn't that difficult. Sure, I wasn't able to get it done on Saturday as was expected, which was I mailed you asking for more time, because I so didn't want to miss the opportunity. I had a good experience too judging the IBL. Thank you for your kind words about the post.

      As far as customer service goes, here's my thoughts, again, simply my individual perception.
      A lot of BPO jobs and IT gets outsourced to India yes, but that's because Indians are very good with technology and the main driving factor, they get real cheap manpower. Its more to do with a cost-benefit than the customer service that we provide. To a certain extent, we are not that good with people or tolerance because of the sheer number of them we deal with in the line of customer service. Shop owners, fast food chain folks are way more patient in less-populated cities like Minnesota. But the same food store in NY or NJ gets termed as rude customer service, because they deal with way more people and do not have the tolerance to spend the extra few seconds exchanging small talk with their customers. Same with India. Too many people to deal with, too little patience coupled with other factors like travelling worries, the weather. Too much heat can drive one crazy. Again, not trying to justify it, just understanding it based on my experience in different cities.

      Also, I believe there's no real focus on improving the presentation skills or the talking abilities of our children in their school days. Yes, there are debate competitions and elocutions but we give them a ready made script and have our children memorize it. They don't learn to talk up there in a front of a crowd by themselves, I have had team members being sent back from US simply for the lack of English speaking skills even though they're excellent at their work. Yes, in IT. Along with bookish knowledge that's imparted, we need overall development to happen, and I believe things are definitely moving towards that. More and more schools are changing curriculum to include such kinds of courses too, encouraging individual thinking, making study more practical and open so children develop more self-confidence in their ability to talk to people at a much younger age.

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  2. Mmm! Evocative prose and little flourishes of humor! Stick-in-the-mud though I am and more inclined to wilderness than cities when I move my behind off the couch, you made me hanker to visit cities for a wee moment :)

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    1. I must admit I have not been to much wilderness, never been on a country-side trek to know how it feels. I would love to do that, I have been camping and rafting and stuff, but I wouldn't classify those as wilderness. I am hoping I get to experience that too! And even if I do end up loving the experience, I still thinking from a long-term-stay perspective, I am going to stick to the city :)

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  3. Interesting post! I haven't been to Australia but have worked with a lot of Aussie clients. It is rather hard understanding their accent, isn't it? But Australia seems like such a fun destination. I am sure you will have a great stay there.

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    1. LOL :) They do seem to roll their words around in their mouth a lot! :) So far so good Rachna, we'll see how it goes from here! :)

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  4. A striking Polaroid of Australia....and I agree with your observation about Indian women.

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    1. Thank you Alka, I don't think I noticed that much in the US but that was probably because I was usually flanked by a lot of Indian friends and didn't observe much w.r.t. other women, here, it just struck me because I don't know anyone yet, so everything is new and un-influenced! :)

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  5. Lovely musings from the streets of Melbourne. All the best for your stay there!

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  6. Wish you all the best living in Australia Deepa. People always says grass is greener on the other side but you will get to experience it in real life. Who knows, you will either love it or hate it. Which ever the way good luck with your life and dreams.
    HARRY
    PS. Gud Day as Ausi says.

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    1. Thank you Harry! I agree with that saying completely. Read the link here. It is one of the quotes I think applies most of life! :) And then the quote #1 too! :) So yes, I am always going to have some ups and downs whichever decision we go with, or a place we go to, but either way, I hope things work out for the best! :) Thank you!

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    2. Hey Deepa

      I loved those quotes Deepa. The problem I have is, older I get bitter I have started to become. I have lived most of my life abroad and one thing I have learned is no matter what you do for others they will never return the favour and that part is more upsetting me then before. I have become a grumpy old man at young age of 42. My mother used to tell me that a man is only defined by his action, What good is a man if he is not good. I have always gone by this and I don't think this is working in my favour. This has kind of stuck to me and I don't know what to do about it since she has died. On this thought have a great life where ever you are. :)

      HARRY

      PS Are you staying for short term or is this long term in land of criminals ( Brits used to send it's criminal there in olden days.) :) The other thing, the facebook friends are not real friends Deepa, Thus I don't do facebook. Have a good one.

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  7. Nicely written. It was interesting to hear about your views on women of various nationalities. I never thought along those lines, however, your post makes me think. Look forward to more from your experiences in the next three months.

    I guess the hardest to understand is scottish accent. Or may be irish.

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    1. Thank you Sabyasachi. I hadn't given it any thought too earlier when I was in the US because I had a lot of Indian friends already and this thought didn't cross my mind. Now that I don't know anybody here yet and I am left free to explore the streets on my own in an un-influenced manner, quite a few such observations come to mind :)

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  8. It gave a bird's eye view of Melbourne and on the whole a pleasant read giving an insight of the Australian mind on Indians.My best wishes to you in finding a good apartment and a nice job close by.

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  9. First hand info of Melbourne... Wish you all the best :) the stay is meant for 3 months only?

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    1. So far yes, you probably know how IT is, we don't know much well in advance and situations have a habit of changing at the last minute. We'll see! :) Thank you for the wishes Jas!

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  10. You doing good mate.. :-) he he
    I did not go to the city should have.. so next time I will make sure ..

    Australia is a beautiful place..

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    1. LOL. I think I should probably count the number of times I hear it in a day! So far haven't ventured much outside of the city, except to a few suburbs as part of the house-hunting project, but that's what everyone's been telling me - that its beautiful! Need to chalk out a plan to go visit a few surrounding places :)

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  11. You have lived every city in the true sense of the word. I have not been to many places but I try to take the best from where ever I live. And you are so right about women, especially about Americans. BTW, that title sounds so exciting, you should write.:)

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    1. :) Thank you Saru. Honestly, even I haven't been to many either, in this post I have only compared Mumbai, Minneapolis and Melbourne. The first two - I have lived in for quite a good part of my thinking life. The last one - I am guessing its going to be atleast three months too. I have visited a few other places, but those have been purely as a tourist. Very different than experiencing it living there! :)

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  12. Hmm...Considering a lack of proper accommodation and adjustment in the new city that was an amazing write up gal...Have fun :) India produces an Australia every year in terms of births? Lol!

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    1. Aww, you give me too much credit Jaish. We did have company paid-for hotel accommodation for two weeks, the search for apartments was for later! :) Thank you! And yes, the number of births in India every year equals the total population of Australia. Its from the economics course for the 11th/12th standard.

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  13. Loved this! Every single bit! Very well written :)

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  14. Your post gave such a nice snap shot of your experience. I could actually visualise everything. Very well written.

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    1. Thanks VK! :) Nice to see you here!

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  15. Interesting post! Liked your experiences and observations in a new city!
    Have a great time in Australia! :)

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    1. Thank you Shilpa! :) I don't know if its just the initial attraction to a new city or if the feel-good emotions would stay, well, we'll see :)

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  16. Nice, your writing style for this one reminds me of RK Laxman's travel writings (Idle Hours). Very laid back and casual.

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    1. I haven't read Idle Hours but I surely will now! Thank you! :)

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