A week-long trip to marvellous Melbourne.

Okay. This post is not going to be for everyone because a) I took no photos of my week in Melbourne b) I saw only the taxman, 3 friends and a few family members c) covers mostly what returning residents to a city as marvellous as Melbourne do, when disinclined to see anyone.

Due to the many verbal sparring sessions I’ve had in leading up to my time away (I’d put it down to hormonal imbalance except one look at me will convince even the least observant person otherwise), I simply wanted and needed some time to myself to recharge my batteries. So I’m very sorry if I didn’t call you while in Melbourne. If it makes you feel any better, very few people even knew I was there.

Anyhow, HRH, Amanda and I took to the skies last Monday night, at the start of Amanda’s second week of school holidays. We arrived at the cock-crowing hour of 6am and by the time we made it to HRH’s bestie’s home in Balwyn, after first being conveyed to an off-site car rental company’s parking bay, then negotiating unfamiliar roads guided only by Google Maps on our half-dead mobile phones, it was close to 8.30am. Thoroughly jet-lagged, we had a quick breakfast with one of our gracious hosts and willed ourselves to catch-up on some much-needed shut eye. If there is anything I can say about flying budget, it’s this: don’t expect to get any sleep, especially if the person behind you is a giant whose knees keep kneading your back, but not in a good way.

I awoke mid-afternoon, showered and settled into a comfortable lump on one of the sofas with David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas for company. With HRH glued to his Iphone and Amanda still fast asleep, I remained utterly content in that semi-comatose position until one of hosts returned from work, and then another. We indulged in some chit chat, as old friends who’ve not seen each other in a long time do, then adjourned to the Straits Cafe in Doncaster where I managed to satisfy my long-held craving for fish head noodles. And that marked the end of day one.

On day 2, the 3 of us spent a good hour getting to the taxman’s office (yes, it does take forever to get anywhere in Melbourne) then another 2 hours holed up in his windowless room until our business with him was done. Leaving $2400 poorer (taxman has yet to bill us for his services but that’s the price he quoted beforehand), we made our way to Glen Waverley where we stumbled upon an ol’ haunt, The Grand Tofu, famed for Malaysian hawker fare, which with the on-going construction of the apartments above the railway station, is now housed a stone’s throw from the library along Kingsway. There, in place of the second bowl of fish head noodles I was hoping to eat (I told you I have a craving), had Penang assam laksa with extra “hae koh” (shrimp paste) as my first choice was sold out. HRH had curry noodles with 6 pieces of yong tau fu while Amanda had her regular wanton noodle soup. You can click on any of the highlighted links to see pictures and reviews of the restaurants I frequented.

We returned to our hosts’ home after that to enjoy the last of the sun’s rays. Fine weather such as what we had last Wednesday is so rare in Melbourne that when you do have it, the way to make the most of it is to do absolutely nothing – which is what we did. Changing back into my PJs, I went for a stroll around the garden and sat by the pool contemplating the many people who in one way or another, make up the fabric of my existence. Why do some irritate me more than others? Do I make extraneous allowances for those that don’t, therefore they don’t, or is there simply such a thing as an animal-knowing of incompatibility?

That night, our hosts treated us to a Thai restaurant called Jinda in Richmond where we feasted on crispy pork belly stir fried with chinese kale, green paw paw salad, fish with the traditional namjin sauce, massaman curry and shared two scrumptious desserts at the end. Walking back to their car, we came across a Thai grocer next door. Since none of us had ever been in one, or one completely dedicated to Thai food, we all went for a look see. If you love Thai food and are the lazy sort like I am, you’ll appreciate the wide variety of freshly cooked, boxed, curries, stir fries, snacks and refrigerated desserts on offer. Not only that but I spied quite a number of the road-side snacks I’d bought as a kid in Malaysia, such as fish satay and tamarind candy.

Since we were in Melbourne to essentially decompress, we spent day 3 snoozing until midday, then went to Box Hill’s Ramen King for lunch, followed by a spot of shopping at Chadstone, just to show Amanda “Australia’s biggest shopping mall.” She wasn’t as impressed as HRH and I were, nostalgic at the sight of Chaddy, an old friend that has grown into this sprawling capitalistic behemoth in our absence. We walked around pointing out the new additions to the the building to her, the way proud parents say, “Do you remember when our baby was just this high?”

That evening our host took us to  Tien Dat Vietnamese restaurant in Box Hill where we shared plates of broken rice, vermicelli salad, and crispy stir-fried noodles. As I’d picked up a jar of marinated goat’s cheese and rosemary flavoured Byron Bay-made crackers from Simon Johnson at Chaddy and HRH a 24 piece box of Lindor balls from Sweet As, we decided to have dessert in the quiet of our hosts’ home instead of competing for shouting space with the other diners there.

Day 4 was much like day 3, in that we also slept until midday; I, having risen earlier than the other two, took a break from Cloud Atlas to check out Jeff Mcmullen’s “A Life of Extremes”, which came highly recommended by one of our hosts; part travelogue, part memoir of a life lived out documenting many of this centuries’ worst wars, A Life of Extremes will make even the most restless first world dweller thankful for the relative peace and affluence we enjoy here. It is a read that will open your eyes to what it means to live and be alive like no other. Flipping through it’s pages, I was grateful to my maker not to have been born a South American or African child soldier, or any soldier for that matter, as a horrific death is almost a certainty in many of the encounters cited.

When the other two cared to join me after their shower, we went to Springvale for lunch. HRH and Amanda, hankering after mud crab, had that sea meat Melbourne is so well-known for, braised with noodles at an establishment named Hue Hue, where it’s currently going for $26 per pound. Meanwhile I walked to the neighbouring market and back, where I picked up a roast pork roll and a undiluted glass of freshly pressed sugarcane juice laced with tangy kumquats for a tiny $11. In the evening, we drove over to my brother’s place to sort out some stuff and take him and his wife to dinner.

Endeavouring to show Amanda what Papa and Mama got up to before we had her, back in the days when the two of us called Melbourne home, HRH ferried us to Kansai in Huntingdale, an old favourite, only to find the shop no longer there. So I got my first choice, which was a visit to another old favourite, an unpretentious little Thai place in Springvale called Papaya Pog Pog where we had 2 plates of fragrant crab fried rice, tolerably hot Thai paw paw salad, fermented crab Lao paw paw salad and thai chicken mince salad.

A word of warning: if you like 5 star establishments or silver service, most of the diners in Springvale will not be for you. Spingvale is one of those what-you-see-is-what-you-get type suburbs. Food is cheap for the simple reason that eateries are typically no-frills affairs. Having said that, produce used is fresh and of good quality, which is what I’d prefer to zen-out establishments featuring over-priced “Asian-inspired”, bastardised fare any given day. But that’s just me. You can’t eat the wallpaper anyway.

On day 5 we had to pull ourselves out of bed a little earlier as we had a date with HRH’s cousin, who lives in the same suburb as our hosts’ but 10 minutes by car away. It was good to see that he had relocated from Brisbane to Melbourne successfully and is by all accounts, very happy there. After a cup of tea or two at his place, we all left for Papa Rich, a franchise familiar to all Malaysians, synonymous with upmarket Kopitiam (coffee shop) fare. I suppose that for all our oft-proclaimed desires that society be flat and everyone equal, everyone wishes for a rich Papa, hence the popularity of the chain.

At the urging of HRH’s cousin’s wife, I tried their biryani and ayam masak merak set, which was surprisingly authentic. HRH had their nasi lemak, which he too was only too pleased with to extol the virtues of, and Amanda a couple of sticks of satay and some of my biryani.

After yet more sofa-warming back at our hosts’ home, we were taken to Kenji in Camberwell for one final good feed ahead of our flight back to Perth. There we had so many delectable Japanese dishes that for me to recall them all, I wouldn’t have been paying much attention to the food. After dinner, we went home for tea and one last yakking session because who knows when we’ll get to do this again? My last visit to Melbourne was a year and a half before this. With Amanda in school, we’re restricted to the school holidays when flights are most expensive and reasonably-priced accommodation scarce.

As all good things must come to an end, we enjoyed one last breakfast with our hosts, then  retraced our steps to the car rental company, from which we were spirited away to the Tiger terminal for our flight home. FYI, even flying Tiger cost $1000 + for the 3 of us. But reemerging in Perth, feeling utterly rested and refreshed, I can say it was money very well spent.