Getting out of that cushioned chair was like easing out of five hours of inertia; the old fellow next door had begun rising up from a dream, seven-eighths submerged, with drool lingering out the corner of his dry mouth. And then, the captain announces we have landed. With the remainder of what felt like an hour, our graceful plane plodded along to the nearest passenger boarding bridge—during this time, I imagined being in one of those mobility scooters, except, on a much grander scale. They’re fantastic! When I first saw this contraption a week later in Booragoon, it had zoomed past me faster than I ever remember seeing the village delinquent, running from his upset Mother’s wooden spoon.
I had entered the unknown, or, rather the once known; things are a little different when you’re a fresh newborn birthed out of what Huxley had called the ‘strawberry pink alcove’. It was now seventeen years and, a hundred and twenty-seven centimetres later, when I emerged out from the passenger door. Then a phantasmal herd of bison charged towards me with, six degrees of centigrade trailing in their wake.
The journey down the passageways and immigration hall echoed some of my thoughts from Orwell: Humans in transit, bodies not so concerned with the space between where they have been and where they will be. Before having reached the desk manned by an endomorphic man, topped with a tuft of blonde hair, and framed by a not-so-flattering uniform. I swapped my Thai passport for its Australian companion with one, smooth motion—it felt like, espionage.
Greeted by the exit of Terminal One, the sliding doors opened with a whoosh; more frozen tendrils lashed out at the corners of my lips. After having lived right on the equator, the local tropical climate could never have amounted to this temperature. More shocking, was how the environment was so—for lack of a better word—sterile. I breathed in air that had no moisture. This open space felt so pristine, as if I had just gotten out of a warm, winter bath, hurrying for my towel. Then I looked up, saw how there weren’t any fluffy white sheep left, roaming above; and smiled at the lovely greeting made, from that cerulean sky.
My world was filled with a multitude of noises, except, without the smog, and screeching of motorbike tires on black asphalt. Perth, felt so, organised; buildings were arranged in such a way for no lost space, panes of clear glass towering high above like the giants in our ancient mythology. I had my mouth agape and kept it like that, for there was no fear of a stray fly having a pit stop on my cherry pink tongue. This place was too clean. Although, there was the occasional squashed plastic cup: remnants of some much-needed rehydration, after a rough, night out.
Then I began to miss the street food: grilled marinated chicken, som tum, the alluring smell of some noodle soup broth; and, all the spice, sneaking out of a bowl of freshly chopped bird’s eye chillies. But, I later got introduced to a new assortment of aromas, from roasted coffee beans, green smoothies, to the novel strawberry punnet—not yet rejected by government regulations.
A light meditation on the Short Story
Communities have a heartbeat; they echo notions of an ecosystem composed of individuals—unique in their own way. Perth is a very progressive city; we can see that, from the bustling of leather boots beating across St. Georges Terrace, to the social life, clubs, and parties. Compared to the gentle rhythm of a walking gait, this city is a bustling run. And the strangest thing, perhaps, was getting used to this slower expression of social intimacy.
Where I come from, everyone greets you and asks whether you have eaten: nourishment throughout Thai culture has remained the basis for our total wellbeing. And the most personal questions play a vital part in its everyday interactions; expressing candour even with some complete stranger. So, it took time to get familiar with this climate of metropolitan indirectness. To make this clearer, let’s recall the journeys you may have had; when travelling, there is often a nature of curiosity that imbues itself within you, allowing us to easily warm up to those new people. Getting out of your comfort zone has a lot to do with this kind of social climate and, we seem to be encouraged to remain unrestrained from our own personal roles—ones we may have had to play from our places of origin. Thai culture appears to follow this—warmness you feel while travelling; soon, the people of their community all know each other, and inauthenticity between its members becomes a frowned upon subject. This is not exclusive with being in transit, people can often be found sharing stories on a bench, chatting on the public commute, such that the only thing stopping a new conversation taking place, is our restrained curiosity. You may imagine, how I found Perth a foreign land, coming from an ancient culture where people aren’t afraid to express their candour.
We could also say that Perth’s social groups in terms of age are a bit, non-inclusive. Elderly people are placed in care homes away from other generations; they don’t often get the chance to form new relationships with younger people—those who aren’t a part of their extended family. For comparison, I’ll summarise Thailand’s social ecosystem in regards to their age groups: children from one family tend to interact with distant neighbouring families, teenagers sit beside the elderly, and, a person’s experiences may be communicated between all age groups within their society. Aside from the fact that there are always family members and people from the community to care for their elders, there’s an underlying absence of general fear towards foreign persons outside of someone’s bloodline, and it seems that this foundation of mutual trust remains embedded within their native culture.
As a pair of weathered hands work hard at crushing betel nut, another child sits beside a grandmother’s lap; seafaring people, gaze out into the horizon, between tokes from their hand rolled, nipa palm leaf cigarettes, they pass on helpful advice to a soon to be young adult. I haven’t seen a lot of this kind of intermingling between the age groups in Perth, except for, friendlier suburbs where some people know a neighbouring family. And it is still important to point out how insightful it is to hear what our elders have to say, for they have already lived through the many hardships and intrigues of their own journeys.
Words by Chakris Srisuwan