I used to work with a guy named Daniel at an industrial supply company in Los Angeles. At one point, we were both supervisors in the office, in departments that were next to each other. I remember one day our system went down, and representatives couldn’t access any information about orders. Being one of the supervisors in that department at the time, I casually walked around notifying people that the system was down and they’d have to hand-write orders and notes. Our system didn’t go down often, so when it did, people would scramble. Even though it’d usually be five-ten minutes, it felt like a lifetime.
Many system updates had been happening at headquarters, causing more frequent outages, so I was getting used to it. Daniel, who was supervising his department next to mine, was hustling. He was rushing around, trying to make sure things would go smoothly. He said to me, “How are you always so calm? This doesn’t even seem to bother you.” I shrugged, “I don’t know. I guess because it’s out of my hands. Sure, it’s not a good situation, but I can’t control it.”
I don’t know why I remember that comment so much. I think it’s because “calm” is not often a word used to describe me. I was proud when Daniel said it because maybe it meant that I was learning to relax a little and not be such a perfectionist. A few years later, I was working as the Recruiting Manager, and Daniel was a Manager in the warehouse. He was part of the interview teams for interviewing management candidates, so we’d meet for roundtables to decide who to hire. We worked well together, and he always respectful.
Daniel was now living in Melbourne. I hadn’t seen him in years, and we had never hung out together on a personal level, but we were able to connect through social media. We agreed to meet for lunch during his break at work. Daniel is in his early 30s, about 6’1”, and has short dark hair. After leaving the company years prior, he got his MBA from Stanford. Once that was complete, he moved to South Korea with his wife for a job. They had a daughter while they lived there, and his wife was currently pregnant. Daniel said they enjoyed it in South Korea, but the air pollution was terrible. After a year and a half, he got a job offer in Melbourne.
Daniel had been in Melbourne for nine months. He moved to Melbourne without having visited first, but so far, they really enjoyed it. We ate at a restaurant near his work, and I took his recommendation – pancakes that his wife always ordered. The pancakes were to die for. They had seeds, flowers, and all sorts of flavors with a dollop of whip cream. One thing I loved about Australia is that most places have all-day breakfast. I love breakfast food, so I ordered it often. The coffee was also amazing.
It was enjoyable catching up with Daniel – he’s an intelligent guy. I told him about my travels, and he updated me about his journeys over the last few years. It had been almost three months of traveling abroad, and he was the second person that I had met up with that I knew before my travels. It was like a piece of home in Melbourne.
Daniel had to get back to work, so we said our goodbyes. I told him that I was thinking about driving around the country, and I might end up in Melbourne again. We agreed to see each other if that was the case.
The War Remembrance monument for those fallen in World War I was nearby, so I walked over. Just as I approached, it started to rain. I rushed to the bench that was under a roof at the entrance and enjoyed the views. The monument sat on top of a hill with views of the city. I went inside and looked around. A large elementary school group was on a field trip. I browsed through the monument, and one sign explained that Australia had more deaths per capita than any other country in WWI. Anzac Day was the day prior, which commemorates those who served in all wars.
Once I left the monument, I walked to the Botanical Gardens. It was free, so I walked along the pathway outside. It was beautifully cared for with lots of different plants and tree life. I walked around a lake and into some woods, making it feel like I wasn’t even in a city. There was hardly anybody around, probably because it was cold outside.
I left the gardens and headed towards a train station on Google Maps. After walking a mile, I couldn’t find a way to access the platform because of construction. I was exhausted, so I ordered an Uber. I wanted to go to the mall that someone recommended days prior. It took a while to get there because it was out in the suburbs. I sat in the front seat and talked with my driver, Saif.
He is from Dubai and has been in Australia for three years. He went there to get his Master’s degree, and now he’s working. He drives for Uber on the side. Saif told me that he’s traveled all over, but hasn’t been to the U.S. He travels with a buddy of his and has tried to convince him several times to visit the U.S., but he can’t convince his buddy because he’s too scared. I asked what his friend is afraid of, and he said, “He doesn’t know how they’ll act towards someone who is brown.” That made me sad, and I explained to him that he and his friend would be fine. Sure, no place is perfect, but I was confident that they wouldn’t get harassed because of their skin color.
I told Saif that I had spent a month in Vietnam, and I stood out like a sore thumb because of my skin and height. People took my picture, pointed, laughed, and stared. Saif laughed and told me about the time he went to Vietnam. He took the overnight bus for eight hours and was miserable like I was because of how small the “sleeping containers” are.
Saif was wearing shorts and a tank top because it was so hot outside. He noticed that a woman next to him took his picture. He told me, “I saw her posting my picture on Facebook! I was like, ‘What the hell? Because I’m brown?’” He asked another woman what was going on. She explained to him that the reason was that he was so hairy. The woman told him that they don’t grow much hair so they couldn’t believe all of the hair on his body. Saif felt better about that explanation. We agreed that Vietnam is still new to tourism, so they’re not used to different people and cultures.
I arrived at the mall and said goodbye to Saif. When I walked inside, there was a grocery store with fresh food in front of it, making it look like a farmer’s market. The rest of the mall was similar to malls that you’d see in the U.S. They had many stores that I wasn’t familiar with, but they also had stores that we have in the U.S. like New Balance, Sunglass Hut, Pottery Barn, and Apple. After buying some items that I needed, I stumbled upon the movie theater. It was opening night for Avengers: Endgame. It was sold out, but as I talked to the woman about other times it was playing several hours later, a seat popped up as available! I snatched the chair and was able to get to the theater just in time.
The next morning, I worked on my blog. It was the weekend, and I found out that the zoo had a light show event that evening. To get there, I had to take two trains, walked a bit, and then paid $39 to get in. It was after-hours, so it was dark outside. I walked around, and it was mostly families with kids. I waited for one of the light shows, and it was a strange puppet-like show on the grass with animals blown up to several feet. The zoo employees wore black and moved the blow-up animal around, so it appeared they were moving. I’m sure it was entertaining for kids, but it was a waste of money for me.
On my way out, I saw another silent disco. I don’t know why these things are so trendy. I went to one in L.A. a couple of years ago, and it was awkward. You usually have two channels to choose from on your headphones that play different music. When you take off the headphones, it’s so strange because all you hear is feet shuffling around and people dancing in silence.
I didn’t want my night totally ruined, so I took the tram to a food truck festival that was going on by the river. By the time I arrived, it was 8:45 pm, and some places were out of food. There weren’t many people around. I got some food and ate alone. The city lights were pretty, but it was starting to feel lonely.
After eating, I walked along the riverfront and eventually came across a bar that was up one level. It was all outdoor seating, and I grabbed a stool at the long bar that overlooked the river. I watched people walk by while I listened in on the conversation next to me. Two young guys were to my right and talking about all sorts of topics. They were attractive, and one looked preppy while the other was dressed like a hipster.
I couldn’t help myself when they started talking about politics, and I joined in the conversation. The guy next to me worked in finance and spoke about his job. I used to hire guys like him into our management program, so I found the experience amusing. The guy told me that his position allowed the option to transfer to the U.S., but he has declined. A coworker took the offer and told him that Americans work all of the time (80 hours a week). I explained that, unfortunately, people in the U.S. are required to work a lot and get very little vacation time.
The other guy told me that he’s been to the U.S. a few times, and he really liked Washington D.C. I pointed out that I lived in L.A. for 15 years, and he said that he didn’t like it there. The guys were aware of our politics going on, and they both told me that they thought The Green New Deal that was proposed was crazy and unrealistic. They told me about things going on in Australia that they thought were problematic. People from China were buying up companies and property there because if the company is worth a few hundred thousand dollars, their kids can get permanent residency there to attend school.
I was enjoying talking with the guys. It was getting late, so we parted ways. The guys were friendly, and I enjoy hearing other perspectives from people. I think it’s one of the reasons why I enjoy cities over suburbs. In cities, there’s usually someone to talk with, and people are generally more open to talking with strangers. In the suburbs, people have families and don’t go out as much. When they do, they’re often with one other person or a group and have no interest in talking with strangers. As a solo traveler, I always appreciate when someone is willing to speak with me.
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