Various shades of Oz: Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth.

I was at the dentist yesterday, having my twice yearly check-up and clean like a good girl, when, between being X-rayed and scaled, the dentist and I got chatting about the many capital cities of Australia. For those of you who skipped Geography in school, there are 8 capital cities, also known as metropolitan areas, to match the 6 states and 2 territories. You might think they are one and the same, given the deep anglo roots of this country, but having lived in, if not visited, all of them, plus many country towns along the way, I can safely say that each are characters in their own right.

Darwin for instance, is the Hawaiian-shirt wearing clown of the bunch. Sydney is the primped and pedicured, brand-wearing fashionista. Melbourne is the late-twenty-something-year-old connoisseur of cafes and culture in the occasional pea coat. I see them all personified and dressed differently because as a woman, clothes are what I notice. It’s been said that women dress for each other and that is generally true.

The dentist, a terrific-looking blonde from the U.K., who’s only been in Perth slightly longer than I have, was mainly interested in Melbourne and Brisbane.

“What’s there?” I asked, after she asked me to gargle with the minty-flavoured water.

“Work for my partner. He’s in marketing.”

“There’s a lot of black in Melbourne, especially in the city on workdays. You’ll sometimes see shades of olive and grey, towards the end of the week. Somehow the weather makes the typical Melburnian dress more sedately than say, a Queenslander. Few wear red or other really bright colours.”

One of my Brisbane buddies went to Melbourne for a work conference and came back telling me she felt like a flamingo at the Hilton, dressed in red with slivers of pink.

“It’s like the U.K. then,” says the dentist.

“Is that what people over there dress like?”

“Either that or it is the U.K. influence in Melbourne.”

I wouldn’t call it that since many living in Melbourne have never been anywhere near Europe. It must be the grey skies then that convince people to dress in sombre colours.

Queenslanders are all about the shorts – very short shorts, board shorts, knee-length tailored shorts, short skirts and thongs. Their personalities are as loud as the colours they wear. There’s plenty of yellow, red, fuchsia and aquamarine to be seen. In my suburb, the Cultural Precinct, everyone wears semi-structured clothes in a riot of prints. Some have that boho-chic thing going on. My daughter’s best friend’s mother for instance, has a knack for working 3 seemingly clashing prints into a single outfit. I don’t know how she does it, but she does. Until 6 months ago she also used to sport a head full of red dreads. It’s amazing how creative types dress.”

Arriving in Perth, I pulled out my silver-purple, leopard print kaftan-dress with salmon ties to wear and HRH said, “Advertising for Queensland, are you?”

“Queenslanders also drive a lot faster and tend to be a lot more aggro on the road.”

“It’s funny you should say that,” said the dentist, fitting together more equipment to put in my mouth. “I’ve read that Perth drivers are some of the worst in the country.”

“No, that can’t be right,” I said. “Perth drivers are exceedingly courteous. Driving around Nedlands, I’ve found most to only drive at 40 km/ph (which explains why I’ve started driving again). Almost no one horns, and at the roundabout, cars on your right, which you’ve to give way to, seem to hesitate before entering the roundabout.”

I’ve also seen many cars go over the curb in an attempt to get into a side-parking instead of doing a proper parallel park.

“If Queensland is the teenager and Melbourne the late twenty-something, then Perth is most certainly middle-aged. Here in Perth’s Western Suburbs, people tend to be chic, if conservative, dressers. On Amanda’s first day at school I noticed many mothers wearing fitted dresses and their good pearls,” I said, after gargling with the minty water yet again. “In Queensland, I wouldn’t even wear my pearls to dinner, let alone to school.”

A jeweller in Nedlands told me that’s because like most Melbournians, I tend not wear what I own. It turns out there’s still something left of Melbourne in me after so many years of living away. But I’ve since decided to do as Romans so in Rome and give my outfits a final flourish of bling because everyone from school administrators to the lady who owns the consignment store across the road, treats you better when you wear something that temporarily blinds them.

“What about cliques?” asked the dentist while loading green goo into mouth trays. “I’ve heard that Melbournians tend to be cliquish.”

“It is true but it was never a problem for me because I have family and many friends there. You just have to find someone willing to introduce you to his or her circle of friends.”

Or if you’re the kind dentists have trouble shutting up, you just make your own like me.


Cairns, an old friend with a new haircut.

Last Tuesday, I flew the red-eye to Cairns to visit some friends of mine who call this touristy country town home. Back when I was living there in 2007, there seemed to be more Japanese tourists than locals. Official records say they numbered in the thousands. This time around, a casual stroll through Cairns’ famed Esplanade revealed next to none.

There were tourists all right, but they were mostly Chinese. I could tell because as you might recall, I do speak Mandarin as well as Cantonese. I overheard them speaking to each other in the shade of the overgrown palms lining the periphery of the water attractions. I was there with my friends trying to get some respite from the midday sun.

Even without hearing their  chatter I could tell they were mainland Chinese because of the way they dressed: long black pants, black sports shoes, loose T shirts. This is what my mother and the other ladies in our neighbourhood in Ipoh wear for their morning walks.

Over the next few days, I discovered that the well-known Japanese shop “Kazaa” selling Japanese knick knacks had since shut its doors to business. When I visited Cairns in 2009, it had shrunk from a double shop with 2 entrances to a single shop with only 1. Now it was missing altogether, another victim of the GFC along with the strong Aussie dollar. It’s become much cheaper for Aussies to holiday in Japan than it is for Japanese to come holiday here.  

The year we lived there, His Royal Highness and I made it our goal to sample every single Japanese restaurant in Cairns since, due to restrictions on His Royal Highness’ time, we were not able to take advantage of the direct flights to the land of the rising sun from there. At the time, Cairns had roughly 25. That number has shrunk to slightly less than half.

Happily, I noticed that our favourite Ramen shop “Ganbaranba” is still there. Prices are still what they were in 2009; it is $8.90 for a tonkutsu ramen or $11.90 for my favourite Ikemen. If you go during lunch time, you can get 5 FREE Gyoza as part of the B lunch set.

A picture of Amanda and I at Ganbaranba in Cairns, Queensland.

I cropped the photo out of respect for my friend who wishes to preserve the privacy of her child. A picture of Amanda and I at Ganbaranba in Cairns, Queensland.

A picture of my Ikemen noodles at Ganbaranba in Cairns, Queensland.

My garlic infused Ikemen noodles with half an egg, slivers of Char Siew, half and egg and black fungus.

Having been away for 5 years, Amanda and I were no longer recognised by the owner of the joint. That’s a pity really, because we used to frequent the place at least thrice a week. It was in Ganbaranba that as a 2 year old, Amanda fell in love with noodles and learnt to use chopsticks. His Royal Highness and I were so enamoured by the mustard pickles served in covered containers on each table that we’d empty the container every time.

Around the corner from Ganbaranba was Orchid Plaza. It’s still there, with its many food-court style eateries, jewellery stores, language school and probably the only Japanese grocery store in town, Maruyu, which has a branch down on the Gold Coast. There are other Asian grocers in the city, but they are Korean, reflecting perhaps a change in tourists.

Cairns Central was devoid of Japanese too. There weren’t too many locals there either. Strolling around the mall, I wondered how businesses in there survive. Perhaps a sign of the times, I caught sight of large posters advertising direct flights to Shanghai. I picked up another Oroton bag in Cairns, my highlight of the trip, other than seeing friends of course. It costed much less than what it would in any of the major capital cities or online.

 A picture of an advert for flights from Cairns to Shanghai.

A sign of the times: A picture of an advert for flights from Cairns to Shanghai.

A picture of an advert for flights direct to Shanghai, China from Cairns, Queensland

A picture of an advert for flights direct to Shanghai, China from Cairns, Queensland

Feeling particularly nostalgic, we went past my old house on Minnie Street, four blocks back from the Esplanade. It’s still there in all its white and green glory, along with the next door neighbour who accosted me for allowing my child to cry in the middle of the night. Townhouses should have concrete between units, I tell you. Don’t ever live in one with plaster-board dividers if you have young children.

We also rounded the Sebel hotel which used to be known by another name. With my parents baby-sitting Amanda, His Royal Highness and I frequented a Japanese restaurant there for my 29th birthday. Not used to it being just the two of us, we sat there wondering what Amanda was up to. From memory, His Royal Highness seemed as relieved as I was when dinner was over.

Cairns suburbs were much the same: quiet, sleepy, almost like any other country town. The weather was beautiful most days, a balmy 20-something degrees. Plenty of sunshine, perhaps 1 shower all week.