Dec. 18, 2014
By 5 a.m., I couldn't take it anymore. The “quiet hallway” turned out to be one of the main corridors that led through security. It just happened to be closed when I first had seen it. But now it was open, and there was a constant chatter of over-caffinated travelers, dragging their luggage across the floor.
I packed my stuff, put on my backpack and got a cup of coffee. While walking through the airport, I felt something digging into my shoulder. When I took off my backpack, I saw that the metal frame had snapped. I had owned that pack for about five years and I had put it through the ringer, so I wasn't surprised that it had broken. Still, I wished it wouldn't have happened at the start of a two-month “vacation.” I took the frame out, shoved the broken end into my empty coffee cup to prevent it from ripping anything and added it to the front of my now-flimsy backpack.
When I stepped outside, the warm air confused my body. Jet-lag wasn't the issue – Melbourne is only three hours ahead of Beijing. But I was going into a sort of “seasonal jet-lag,” the result of traveling from winter to summer. This was actually a disappointment, considering how much I loved ice climbing. There would be none of that in the Australian summer.
I walked up to a curb, searching for the bus stop. Something so unusual happened, it took a few seconds to register: a car stopped and allowed me to cross. No car had ever yielded to me during my five months in China. Other strange things were happening. I had already practiced my English on the locals in the airport. Then when I got to the subway station, I saw people lining up on the left side of an escalator so others could pass. And when I wanted to exit the train, people waited outside until I was off. In China, everyone pushes their way aboard, so you have to force yourself through the crowd to exit. Compared with traveling through China, Australia really was going to be a vacation.
When I reached downtown Melbourne, I walked along the Yarra River, which passes through the center of town. People were sitting at riverside restaurants, having a beer and a laugh. Next I found Flinders Street, walked past the iconic Flinders Street Station and Saint Paul's Cathedral and ended up in the Treasury Gardens. It was only about one square block, but it had a green lawn, and eucalyptus trees provided plenty of shade. Last time I had seen such a nice park was in Shanghai, and when I had taken a nap on the grass there, a cop had woken me and kicked me out. But in this park, people were napping and picnicing all around me. A few guys were even playing a friendly game of cricket, Australia's national sport. I fell asleep for about an hour, and was not disturbed by the police, nor anyone else.
Across the street from the Treasury Gardens was Fitzroy Park. It was bigger, and in its center was a conservatory, full of flowers, fountains and ferns. Nearby was a miniature village that was a gift from the citizens of Lambeth, England, who sent food to Melbourne during the second world war. I also saw the “fairies' tree,” which took Ola Cohn four years to carve in the 1930s. Later I walked past a graduation ceremony for Melbourne University and took a stroll through the world-class Melbourne Museum.
At the end of the day, I met a local couple whom Katie had known from her time teaching in Berlin. We had a nice chat and called it an early night at their home in the suburbs. It wasn't the most exciting first day one can imagine spending in a new continent, but the blue sky and warm weather were just what I needed to reset my body after having spent so much time in Beijing. And bigger adventures were just around the corner.