His Royal Highness, Amanda and I were having a big meal at our favourite Thai place in Fortitude Valley when the issue of moving away from Brisbane came up. There’s no point denying it: I enjoy living in Brisbane and dread the thought of uprooting to go elsewhere.
In my close to 3 short years of living here, I’ve made so many friends that I can’t even go 2 steps around West End without running into someone I know. Almost everyone in the school community seems to know each other and if you’re as gregarious as I am, you’re bound to have friends in other suburbs too, which makes leaving a particular pain.
Amanda has almost as many friends as I have here and it is by sheer will on my part, that we don’t get dragged off to a play date everyday after school. If we relocate, there’s no question we’ll have to start all over again, building bridges and forming connections, and the worst bit of all this is that at the end of next year, we might have to do it all over again.
His Royal Highness has finished his specialist training and for the first time, he’s free to secure employment wherever he wants. We can go overseas to Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada, the UK, anywhere really – certainly anywhere around Australia and New Zealand – but there’s no other place I’d rather live but here in Brisbane.
Around West End and most of South Brisbane, I can walk around without being reminded of what I am racially, because almost everyone is a minority here. Even the white Aussies. We’re just such a diverse community that when Amanda was in prep – and I counted – there were 22 kids from 14 different countries. You do the math. If there are two of more from the same country, you’re in the majority. Half breeds of all sorts are a common sight.
We had one little boy named Oliver whose mum is Nepalese and whose father is Hungarian. We had another little boy named Junyi who mum is an Australian Born Chinese and whose father is Polish. One little girl with the bluest eyes you’d ever see, had aboriginal ancestry. Of course there were Chinese from all parts of the world: China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Australia…
Unfortunately, surgical specialist jobs are thin on the ground in Brisbane. His Royal HIghness has another couple of years to go before he’s ready to join the private sector. Even when he does, it’ll probably only be part time, as he intends to spend the other half in public service. Many see working for the government, at substantially lower pay than the private sector, as a way of contributing to the community in which they live.
Like I said, we can really go anywhere, but I’d much rather stay here in Brisbane. I’m three blocks to the Cultural Precinct where I spend a lot of time perusing masterpieces, old and new, drawing inspiration from the wellspring of intellectual thought around me, having the occasional coffee by myself in one of the sculptured gardens, some times just staring off into space, over manicured lawns so well-tended they’ve never seen overgrowth.
On the weekends I frequent markets where I come across friends, buy knick-knacks, have breakfast and yet more coffee. As far as I’m concerned, for a middle class, middle income person, life doesn’t get any better than this. I should know, because I’ve experienced so many alternate lives living around Australia that I could write a whole book about it.
It must be my horoscope but my life has been characterised by perpetual motion. I’ve attended more schools than any of my siblings, moved cities more times in the last decade than all of them combined. With all the fixity in my birth chart, I find the experience of constantly pulling roots and replanting them elsewhere disconcerting, but one I’m set to continue doing for the foreseeable future. I have no choice.
On the bright side, my travels have taken me to more places across Australia than the average Aussie. So when I say I know Australia, you’d better believe me, because bar Alice Springs, there are few towns I haven’t been to or lived in. I suspect life will throw me there someday.
There are few people in my path I haven’t spoken to, at least once. I’m such a busy body that I want to know everything about everybody. I like observing people, eavesdropping in on their conversations, and if circumstance permits, conducting casual focus groups. When I lived in Darwin, I fell in with a group of Indians and learnt all about finding a wife on the internet. I was highly amused to find the groom uninvolved in the selection process, with his female relatives identifying and shortlisting candidates on his behalf. Watching them made me question the validity of what most of us in West practise – falling in love first then marrying – as it is undeniable their marriages are a lot more durable than ours.
That aside, they taught me traditional beauty practises and how to cook various curries. They knew they had to teach me how to cook their food well or else they would have to keep eating my bad indian in exchange for every time they passed me a dish, I passed them one back. In the end I was forced to confess my goal of learning to cook Indian food until the end result is indistinguishable from what they would cook themselves.
In Cairns, I frequented a playgroup where almost each and every one of the 40 Japanese women members were married to Australian men. At first I told no one I was Chinese. I simply sat there and observed proceedings. When anyone asked what I was, I’d say Malaysian. After a few more visits, I admitted to being Chinese, but by then I’d inveigled my way into invites to peoples homes so what I am was less of an issue than who I am.
As usual, I wanted to know what they had for dinner in the confines of their own homes. There’s a trace of a sociologist in me, in that I’m interested in the mundane details of people’s lives. I want to know what it’s like being a Japanese who’s married to a man who doesn’t eat fish, or perhaps makes minimum wage as a chef in a high-class ocean-front restaurant. I ask people I meet hard questions out of genuine curiosity and perhaps because they can’t slap me or tell me to get lost, answer me; almost all, honestly.
In Townsville, I mixed more with white Aussies. One thing’s for sure: I was eating more white food than I ever had in my life. I met Frances, my astrology guru there. Originally from Adelaide, she’s probably one of the most well-read people I know, and my appreciation of the classics and discovering of Marlon Brando, is almost entirely due to her. We’d spend many an afternoon calling up charts and going through her precious volumes on astrology. These are books you have to order through specialist bookstores or from Amazon as few booksellers stock them. She was then reviewing music from the 70s – Frances likes to work through time periods – so we’d have lengthy discussions on how 70s groove compares with the music of today. She even got me to watch Puberty Blues, a movie by Bruce Beresford, based on Gabrielle Carey and Kathy Lette’s book by the same name, about growing up in Australian in the 80s, true classic Australiana I was told.
I’ve been to many other places, met many other people, few of whom will be immortalised in this blog but whose guiding hand, soft or firm, I’ll continue to feel for a long time to come. It is this last thought that gives me hope for where I move next to, although I really don’t want to go anywhere.