My long-awaited work/fun trip to Melbourne finally happened:
- Flew on Quantas. The airline has a bad reputation in my mind, but I was impressed. And apparently on some poll, it’s one of the top 10 airlines in the world. Heh. The cabin looks nice, the normal amount of legroom, one of the best touchscreen TVs I’ve experienced (even if the selection – though wide – was not to my liking), decent food. The service staff were older but good, they did a lot of old school things like several rounds of the cabin – with bottled water, with (delicious) juice in a jug, with the arrival cards, over and above the regular drinks service.
- On the flight there, I managed to score an aisle seat and then groaned when I saw a kid in the seat next to me. I was sure that his parent would request me to change. Turns out the kid’s parents were in business class and they switched a couple of times in the night. The person he switched with was his grandma, who spoke only Mandarin as used me as her interpreter to the service staff. It was cute and I was happy to help. There was an awkward moment when I decided to watch Girls Season 4 and a sex scene came on and I became acutely conscious of the kid sitting next to me. The problem is I couldn’t find anything else to watch that I liked, so I took to fastforwarded the adult-rated parts.
- Everyone in Australia is super friendly. It’s like a breath of fresh air coming from Hong Kong. First of all, everyone speaks English so there isn’t the usual communication hurdle posed by language. And then people have a friendly disposition. After I had finished all the bureaucratic formalities, acquired a SIM card, changed into warmer clothes and was ready to go find my bus to the city, I realised that I had left the folder with all my booking as well as my conference paper at the immigration counter. I could have given up on it as I could print out everything else, but I was vaguely uncomfortable with all my booking information lying around. After surveying the area and finding noone that looked like an official, I saw a ‘customer service guy’ roaming around. Asked his help, and he advised me to try Border Control. This did not sound like a Border Control issue, but I went down to the office with some trepidation. To my surprise, the guy at the counter said: “Let me call them.” In ten minutes, someone from Immigration had come down with my file. I was so impressed.
- I stayed at Jasper Hotel on Elizabeth Street near Queen Elizabeth Market and I highly recommend it. I arrived two hours before check in time but they let me have my room which was a great help as I could have a nap before heading to my conference drinks reception. The room was clean, modern and much larger than I expected. The toiletries were amazing Appelles products. The hotel is located walking distance from Melbourne Central Station, with a tram stop opposite to Flinders Street station and other tram lines and a number of nice little (inexpensive) restaurants down the street.
- And of course Queen Victoria Market. It’s a wholesale market, with a lot of fresh produce etc, but also some lovely artisinal shops such as bakeries, chacuteries and chocolate shops. It opens early so I picked up a cheap and delicious breakfast there every day – freshly baked gozleme or bratswurst sandwich with toppings.
- On the evening, forced myself to wake up from my nap and head to the university for the conference opening drinks reception. It was a good thing I needed to get out, plus I met some people, who then became people I could talk to the rest of the time. I did notice that the white people stuck to each other, and it was a theme that continued throughout the conference. It was very white and Western, and although there have been critiques of this for decades, I was surprised that despite the talk of diversification, the problem still remains in practice.
- My paper presentation the next day went okay. Low expectations are key. I was advised to read slower and this is a reminder to me to a) resist the urge to pack everything in b) resist the urge to put in long quotes c) find a way to talk not read. I got a tough question, but it was friendly.
- Over the course of the conference, I made some new contacts, listened to some really interesting papers and actually made one contact who I think will be really useful, so I think I can rate it a success, despite my critique of it being too Western-centric and my determination to stop going to philosophy conferences. So it was a positive experience overall.
- That evening, very old friend K arrived. As knackered as I was, she dragged me out. We discovered a very yummy South East Asian place with delish nasi lemak that we ate twice over the weekend. And then lots of chatter of cocktails, having the drinks spilled on us, giggling madly, continuing to chat, taking mad pictures with the guy who spilled the drinks on us, and finally making our way back to the hotel only to continue to chat some more.