Tag Archives: travel

Licensed to Drive

Source: Wikimedia.org

Source: Wikimedia.org

A gum tree is a poor landmark. Especially if you are in parts unknown in a suburb of Western Australia (WA). Definitely so, if you are doing a driving test. “Needs more directions,” scrawled my lanky Aussie examiner on his form after I stopped in front of the wrong house in the “Leaving Something Behind” part of the test. Certain I’d failed, I proceeded to compound my crimes by hitting the kerb while turning into a car park. It’s the 31st of December – what a way to end the year.

“I know you passed,” said my husband, el geólogo, when I returned to the Cannington Driver and Vehicle Services centre. I’d lasted the full thirty-five minutes while all the other candidates had long since returned. Yes, dear reader, I am now married. I was so thrilled and relieved that I promptly turned into a waterspout. Not for being married, of course, but for having passed what is described as the most stringent driving exam in Australia. Umm, the crying jag could have something to do with raging pregnancy hormones. We won’t go into that. I have no wish to be a mommy blogger, although both “mommy” and “blogger” I soon hope to be.

So why do a driving test? As a temporary resident, I drove with my overseas licence. This is a slightly battered little paperback book, encased in a cover kindly provided by the Good Luck Driving School – Mumbai’s solution to driving lessons. The Driver Services official, a slim and horribly efficient looking young man of Asian descent paged through this – somewhat grimly, I thought. Upon reaching the page with an inky stamp from the Mumbai Road Transport Office and the squiggly signature of An Important Police Person in the Mumbai Police, he shook his head wryly.

The other lane: a road sign in Mumbai

The other lane: a road sign in Mumbai

“I have never seen a driver’s licence like this,” said he.

“It’s the only licence I have.” I replied, somewhat touchily. “It’s ten years old.” Surely, the very shabbiness of the licence proclaimed its genuineness?

Now, as a permanent resident, I need to and will drive with a WA driver’s licence. This beautiful blue laminated card, a key to many doors, will arrive in the mail in a few weeks. It will have a photo of me, quite likely looking teary-eyed, dishevelled, and perhaps with only one earring. I discovered the other clinging to my dress after we left the centre. It is after all one of the unwritten laws of the universe – thou shalt always look your worst in an official photograph.

So here I am, after a series of lessons with Perth’s excellent Defensive Driving School, one minor accident, a double puncture, and much driving practice later, a proud possessor of a new licence to drive. I feel strangely liberated – this is a real ego-booster. Yet, fond as I am of my blue Ford hatchback, my sturdy driving test companion, driving is still a necessary evil rather than a pleasure. I hand the car keys to my patient husband. I may have driven us to the test, but he’s driving us back home today.

If you need to know more about the WA road rules, try the only quizzes that help drivers prepare for the theory test at: http://www.transport.wa.gov.au/licensing/road-rules-theory-test-quiz.asp

Also, read about my first adventures in Australian driving at: https://perthinent.wordpress.com/2013/07/06/keys-to-drive-again/

This is Melbourne…

Bridge on the River Yarra: A canoe streaks past across the Melbourne cityscape.

Bridge on the River Yarra: A canoe streaks past across the Melbourne cityscape.

I have been away – away from this blog and away in Melbourne. I haven’t been in Melbourne for six months though – just under six days. It was cold. It was wet. It was windy. It was inspiring – enough to get me writing again.

Scooter art: Can you spot Bart Simpson on this wall?

Scooter art: Can you spot Bart Simpson on this wall?

Melbourne’s cold has a smell – it’s a wet smell of winter rain at the entrance to Flinders Street station. It’s the mild reek of garbage as you pass brick alleys lit up with street art. A pong of horse manure dropped as a buggy passes by. Very reminiscent of Mumbai. The smell of a city.

For me, Melbourne represents the Other Side – the rest of Australia. The bit I’ve not yet encountered. She is far more fashionable than Perth – the passers-by are smartly dressed and pressed. My Target coat feels like a dowdy sack when one sales assistant looks dubious at my announcement that I am a Medium or perhaps even a size 10, thank you. “Why you’re tiny!” she exclaims when I strip off my precious warm layers. I’m still not sure what to think about that. I bought a new coat.

I’d like to reel off, guidebook style, just what you can see and do. I’d never finish. The city has a lot to offer and I’ve only scratched the surface. I have walked and walked – into Gothic-spired cathedrals, across leafless parks, through an exhibition of Renaissance art from Spain, into an aquarium with king penguins, onto a tram that went to Richmond instead of Toorak village – yes, I was lost in Melbourne – and finally from an enthralling performance of The King and I to our gracefully aging hotel.

 

From a distance: The magnificent dome of the Royal Exhibition Building

From a distance: The magnificent dome of the Royal Exhibition Building

I can now recognise Melbourne’s skyline in the morning news. A snapshot of a frame with “City Centre” is now distinguishable as a tram sign. Nameless glittering spires turn into headquarters of leading banks. Melbourne has meaning now. I hope to return one day and renew the relationship – all of it – her stores and stories, spires, alleys, museums and galleries. Perhaps when it’s warmer, although I have a new coat now. I highly recommend the experience – and a good pair of walking shoes.

 

A Latin(o) Australia

I have become a chocolate snob. A warm buttery waft of cocoa tempts me round the corner of the Northbridge Piazza. San Churro, the chocolateria promises all sort of good things in chocolate on its menu, but I’ve not ventured in as yet. You see, I’ve sampled the real thing – homemade Latin-American-style hot chocolate brewed from such brands as Rexim and Blooker.  I’ve sampled the flavours of Colombia, Venezuela and Nicaragua in Willie’s cacao blocks sold at Kakulas. These heady concoctions are but my first taste of latino Western Australia. Conclusion 1: Cocoa is truly is the nectar of the gods.

I came to Australia expecting to see England with a few kangaroos and koalas on the side. It amazes me to find so much of South America here instead. Further down James Street, strains of Spanish music spill out of Guzman y Gomez, a Mexican taqueria. The supermarkets sell El Paso taco-making kits and the local coffee shop has bean-filled burritos. Conclusion 2: they really like Mexican food here.

Then there are the dances – I can now tell a merengue from a salsa (no, these are not names for food) and a bachata from a champeta (some things are better left unexplored). A local bar offers salsa on Thursday nights, but if you’ve been reading my blog, you know that the less said about dancing the better. The rhythms are irresistible though, and some nights I draw the blinds and try the steps with YouTube lessons. Maybe someday….Conclusion 3: Dreamer.

I’m truly impressed and touched by the warmth of Latin hospitality and the friendship extended by people from various corners of the Spanish speaking world living in Western Australia – Colombia and Peru, Chile and Ecuador, Mexico and Argentina. Here are homes where I have learnt to cook arepas with Harina P.A.N. (corn meal) and eat changua, while listening tongue-tied to Spanish chatter. The clear tones of Argentina are easy to follow, but I struggle to decipher the fluid accents of Chile. Here are countries where to be “Indian” means something else. Yes…I’m Indian. No, from India – yes, we do look South American. Or perhaps it’s the South Americans who look Indian? No? My apologies.

There is a sense of family and fellowship that reminds me, achingly, of people back home. There is an openness that I think of as purely Australian. There is a love of soccer that only a South American can understand. Why don’t they play cricket? Just joking, of course.

The Day of the Little Candles: An Advent celebration or Latin living in Perth?

The Day of the Little Candles: An Advent celebration or Latin living in Perth?

A few days ago, I lit candles to celebrate the Advent season in the style of Colombia’s Dia de Las Velitas. As I watch the tealights flicker to the tune of “El Burrito de Belen,” I celebrate the cultural pluralism of nation to which I belong and the multiculturalism of the land I live in. I came here expecting to see a half-forgotten corner of England. Who would have thought I’d find a Latin Australia instead?