Down Under

I flouted a key rule of travelling on my first day in Australia__ acclimatization.

A friend from the Indian Army had adviced me to take a day for acclimatization after every 700 kms of travel. “Just lie in bed and do nothing that day,” he had told me.

If a journey spans more than 1000 kms and the variation in temperature is over 12 degrees Celsius, then a three day break is necessary, as per the rule book. In Shanghai, the temperature was an average 35 to 38 degrees Celsius and in Perth, it’s less than 17 degrees Celsius. On my first day here, I woke up early but noticed that the rest of my roommates were fast asleep. I decided to lie on the hostel bed till 10am.

As it’s cold outside, everyone tries to stay in bed till it’s sunny enough. I had forgotten about free breakfast being served in the hostel upto 10am. By the time I remembered, the time for breakfast was over. I munched on Chinese cookies and salted ground nuts on my first morning in Perth.

I knew that I shouldn’t venture out for long walks for at least three days. But I couldn’t afford staying indoors. Australia is an expensive country and the gap between its currency and the Indian Rupee is too large. Financial help from Indian friends wasn’t going to help much and I knew that I would have to take extra efforts to stay afloat down under.

I have a standard operating procedure whenever I travel to a new area: I walk around, find out where the working class eats and figure a place to buy fruits and veggies for cheap. Margaret Thatcher had said, “If you want to understand society, then go to the grocer, find out prices and people’s reactions to them.” She was right. There are direct relations between agriculture, local industry, transport, economy, food habits, health of society and international relations.

In Shanghai, I had figured out that pears are sold cheap wherever apples are. Sugar costs Rs 180 per kg in China while in Perth (Australia), it’s Rs 50 per kg. Milk costs Rs 30 per 250 ml in China and it’s sold at Rs 50 per litre in Australia.

I have arrived at some conclusions: Sugar is a foreign product for the Chinese and they do not have sweetmeats like India does. India imports several products from China but China has restrictions on imports from India. If China imports agriculture products and medicines, these could be available for the Chinese people at cheaper rates. Also, Chinese people prefer consuming meat compared to milk. Australia is an agrarian economy.

In Perth, I noticed that products sold in malls are priced reasonably. But they still end up being expensive for Indian nationals. There was a section called ‘clear stock’ in a mall where prices were 50% lesser. This comprised of stale and defective articles. I bought four  bananas for 2.99 Australian $ and a muffin for 1 Australian $.

In China, I couldn’t consume much of milk or sugar due to high prices. But in Perth, I bought a two litre can of milk for myself. Milk is pasteurized in a few parts of  Australia so one can drink it without heating. But this doesn’t work in all cases.

When I asked my hostel receptionist at Perth how do people drink milk in Australia, she gave me a cold, hard stare and said, “What?!!” I repeated my question and she started laughing loudly. She had found my English funny and I decided to rephrase my question.

“Do you need to boil milk before drinking it?,” I asked. She said that wasn’t necessary. I went out and sat on the edge of the pavement. There were no vehicles and no  pedestrians, but the roads were unusually wide and clean. I started surfing the internet on my phone and did not realise that I had gulped down half a can of milk. I would have had more but the fear of suffering from an upset stomach restrained me.

After the ban on social media in China, it felt great to access Facebook in Perth. It had been two months since I had accessed social media. I started checking what people had been up to, liked a few posts etc. I started to feel sleepy as I had had milk. I slept for an-hour-and-half. As a result, I got late reaching the community kitchen.

In Perth, a group of Indian origin people run a community kitchen. More than 500 people of different nationalities eat here. This includes Australians, Indians, Chinese, Pakistanis, Africans and Europeans. The menu is rice/ pulao, uttapa, sambar, two vegetables and a  sweet. The policy is pay whenever you are capable to pay. Several Indian students as well as Australians volunteer at the kitchen.

I spotted an elderly woman cleaning tables. I requested her to give the wiping cloth to me so I could clean tables instead. I also started carting away heavy baskets of food. I wanted to post pictures of the community kitchen on my blog and social media. But I have decided against it as my parents dont read and write English and may not like to see me cleaning tables.

A simple meal of fried rice in a modest restaurant costs 9 Australia $. The community kitchen serves delicious food. Other than adding some chillies and spices, there can really be no improvement made to the food served here. But I guess, Australians may not like spicy food.

I worked at the community kitchen till 9.45 pm and then head back home. My first day in Perth did not end there. Tons of messages were waiting to be read on my phone. Some of them were spam while a few were rather important, snatching away my sleep.

One of my Indian friends was pushing me to write sooner for my blog. Both, she and I, have the same mission on our minds__ the welfare of farmers in Maharashtra. For the sake of the mission, I stayed up and wrote this post while the rest of the world snored.

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