Saturday, December 25, 2010

The pilgrimage to Melbourne (Part 2)

I was up early again, and made my way downstairs to the lobby for breakfast. This time I met a guy from Texas, USA. We chatted and I told him that I was going to watch the cricket match today. He informed me that he went to the match yesterday with some of his Aussie friends and enjoyed himself. However he got sunburnt really bad. We had a discussion on how strong the sun is in Australia. He told me that in 25 years or so of living in Texas he has never had to use sunblock and even then has never really got sunburnt. Its interesting that quite a few of my American friends found cricket to be fun. Or at least that's what they told me. Tony, Fatima, Ben. Perhaps cricket has more action when you compare it to baseball. But I'm not entirely sure about that either.

I thought it would be a good idea to visit the Melbourne Aquarium before I went to the stadium, since it would close to visitors by the time of stumps. Someone had suggested that it was a nice place to visit in Melbourne and I was also running out of other ideas. I didn't want my whole Melbourne trip with only memories of the MCG and noisy trams. The Melbourne Aquarium was slightly expensive at around $25. The marine life at show was quite interesting, but still did not warrant the price they were charging.

I reached the stadium at around half past 10. Australia hadn't lost a wicket even with the nightwatchman, Nathan Hauritz, batting. He went on to score a career best 75 and Australia declared at a score of 450 odd runs. Almost all of our batsmen got starts, but each one of them failed to capitalize. At stumps, Umar Akmal was there at 10 and Pakistan was a hundred something for the loss of 4 wickets.

I also got a bit tanned. I blamed it on my naive use of sunblock. I had only smudged some of it on my face before leaving the hotel and didn't bother to take the bottle with me. Afterwards, I would have the sense of using it very liberally and at regular intervals. The weather was still good, although it was getting hotter. After the sun would go down, it became a bit chilly. I love Australia for its erratic weather. You could have all four seasons in a single day. In Adelaide, at times, the temperature difference could be 20 degrees in consecutive days.

After stumps, I decided to take a walk in the city. I called home using skype on my phone and did 'The Matrix' thing with Omar. Omar would talk me through on where to go using Google Maps and would also highlight some important and historical buildings in the area. At some place in the city there was a street band playing. They were not bad at all, although the size of the crowd wasn't too great considering the rather good quality of the music. They played a song by Radiohead, that I can't recall now. They also did 'Yellow' by Coldplay, with a saxophone solo in between. It was close to brilliant. I regretted that I only got to hear the last few songs that they played.

Moving on, someone had mentioned earlier that Melbourne is cheaper when compared to other cities. I hadn't bought anything since I had come to Australia, and it had been nearly 5 months. Hence, I let go of my usual thrift mindset and went to a few souvenir stores. I got myself some tourist t-shirts that I thought would be good presents. The shirts cost around $12 each. On a later visit to Melbourne, I would get the chance to go the famous Queen Victoria Market where I got a couple of cool shirts for $5 and $6 each. The Queen Victoria Market was actually only a small walk away from the Hotel Discovery, the place where I was staying. However, I was not aware of its presence at that time.

I grabbed a subway sandwich and took it with me to the hotel's dining place. Sitting by myself on one of the tables, I was joined by a friendly German couple who had been backpacking across Asia and had reached Australia. They were very warm and delightful people. We talked about all sorts of things, including world politics, culture, sports, etc. They seemed to be very well informed and I enjoyed our conversations to the fullest. They spoke English very fluently, especially Peter, who didn't have much of an accent either. I could tell right away that Peter was an academic, based on his manner of explaining things very elaborately and gradually, and also because of his vast general knowledge. His girlfriend was a sports instructor. They asked me if I had signed up for the free beach trip tomorrow that was provided by the hotel. I told them that I hadn't and registered right away.

Next morning, I made my 40 min walk to the stadium. Time used to fly whenever I was out walking by myself. I always enjoy solitary walks; it is a time for a lot introspection. I tend to talk to myself a lot when I'm by myself. Sometimes I even argue. I'm not sure how many people do that, or even if it is a healthy sign at all. As soon as I entered the stadium I heard loud applause. Umar Akmal was batting with great aggression and the crowd was loving it. He had just hit two consecutive 4s. Nevertheless, I was just in time to witness a magnificent pull shot for 6 the very next delivery and a 4 the ball after. However, after a couple of overs, his cameo fifty ended with a catch in the slip cordon. The batsmen were continuing with their habit of getting starts without any big scores. I left the stadium during lunch, with Misbah batting alongside the previous day's nightwatchman, M. Amir, with the score nearing 200 for the loss of 5 wickets.

I made it back to the hotel in time for the bus to leave, with my German acquaintances also on board. Before leaving, I met the Korean guy, Jang, again. He seemed very interested in going as well and rushed to get his stuff from his room before we left. The bus driver provided us with somewhat of a tour of Melbourne, and also gave us the option of choosing between 3 beaches. After passing through all 3 options, we ended up at Brighton beach. It wasn't the prettiest beach that I had been to in Australia, but it wasn't too bad either. Jang told the Germans that he could speak a bit of German himself and spoke a few phrases. His knack of remembering such things did surprise me. There was a Russian in the group who spoke in a manner that was similar to Roger Federer. There was also a girl from New Zealand who, it seemed, was bonding quite well with the Russian. We enjoyed some sun and continued with our conversations. The Russian and Kiwi girl left together after some time. The four of us decided to leave after a while ourselves. While we were looking for transportation for our way back, Jang said something to us, which we were not able to fully comprehend, and he then just walked away. He was indeed an odd and funny person. We tried to decipher the tram maps and schedule that was planted on a board at the tram stop. Another thing that I found a bit irritating while being a tourist in Melbourne was that most of the transportation within and to the city is via trams. Unlike traveling by bus where you can always ask the bus driver regarding which bus to take or which stop to get off, you're usually on your own when it comes to trams and have to ask around for an approximate route or a stop near your destination. We managed to reach the city and I grabbed myself something to eat while the German couple bought something from the supermarket to cook for dinner. We had dinner together at the hotel.

Next morning, I had bought a half dozen doughnuts from a Krispe Kreme outlet in the city for the match. Having heard so much about Krispe Kreme, and being an eager doughnut consumer, I chose from a different variety of unusual flavors and types to see if I could find their best doughnut. However, I was a bit disappointed. The doughnuts were only slightly better than ordinary and didn't have the same softness and delectable taste as I had become accustomed to with Adelaide's Gourmet Glaze doughnut shop. Perhaps, the doughnuts had lost some of their flavor since I ate them gradually over the course of the day and as the match progressed.

4th day of the Test, and Australia were 3 down for a hundred after Pakistan had been bowled out for around 250, just managing to avoid the follow-on with Misbah undefeated on 60. Australia resumed, and Shane Watson was dropped on 99 by Abdul Rauf, after the fielders and bowlers did an amazing job keeping him nervous and fidgety in the 90s. He remained undefeated on 120 and Australia declared giving us a target of more than 400 runs. Again, our batsmen were getting starts but not converting them into centuries. By the close of play, Pakistan was 30 short of 200 and had M.Yousuf and Umar Akmal batting with 3 batsmen out. A win or draw was improbable but not impossible. We had been playing some good cricket, but had let some of the intensity out during key phases of the game. On my way out of the stadium I met a South African woman with her Australian partner. They were nice people and she told me to not lose hope as South Africa had come back from a similar position a year earlier in Perth to win the test match on the last day. We also discussed how the crowds became rowdy as the day progressed and the number of drinks consumed increased. And Australians, being louder than most people from other places, would generally make quite a lot of noise and disruption when intoxicated.

I visited the War Memorial that the bus driver had mentioned the day before. It was an interesting place, even though I was late for visiting the inside of the memorial. The royal botanic gardens of Melbourne were also nearby. I continued my walk and did a whole tour of the gardens. I perhaps ended up walking more than 3 hours that day; all by myself and with only my thoughts. I went back to the hotel and met my German friends there. We decided on walking through the city and then afterwards went for a movie. We went to a Hoyts cinema at Melbourne Central, and ended up watching "Did you hear about the Morgans?", a romantic comedy starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh Grant. It was a light movie about how an estranged couple reconciles as a result of certain events and circumstances. The Melbourne Central itself is a great shopping plaza built around the 120 year old "Coop's Shot Tower". It also serves for a city loop railway station that is underneath the mall.

I really enjoyed my time with my new friends, and we roamed around the city for a bit more before calling it a day. We agreed to meet in the morning before I left for the stadium for the last day's proceedings. In the morning, we met for breakfast and Jang was also about. It was a nice sunny day so we went outside and took some pictures. Jang rushed in again to his room, after only telling me to wait for him. We waited for 5 to 10 minutes while we joked about his amusing oddities. He came back with a piece of paper that had the name "Lt. Jang" written along with his email address and phone number. The other side of the paper had "Visit to Korea" neatly written. It was a very nice gesture. I remember writing my name and email address in his diary. Peter and I also exchanged email addresses and suggested to add each other on facebook. I also welcomed him to tour Pakistan someday and told him that I would be more than happy to be his tour guide. He offered the same to me to tour Germany.

I made my way to the stadium to only see Australia wrap up the innings just shortly after lunch in front of a handful of spectators (well still 5000 people!). I got to visit the National Sports Museum during the lunch break, which is in the basement of the MCG. It was an interesting experience, but I enjoyed the cricket section the most, for obvious reasons! The baggy green caps of different eras where put up on display, and caught my fancy. However, the thing that really blew my mind was a room that was made to look as Shane Warne's dressing room (since the MCG was his home ground). There was a lifelike hologram of Shane Warne projected in this room, as he talked us through his entire cricket life. It really felt as if it was the actual legend right in front of us, as he turned on a television set, showing us some of his bowling clips and also tossing a ball around the room. It was a fantastic experience and one I would recommend every person who visits the MCG to undertake.

I came back to the backpackers hotel and collected my luggage. I tied my belt to the suitcase so that I could use it to drag it around without having to bend too much. I just hoped that my jeans would resist falling down! I had asked the hotel reception for directions and to find out which trams to take in order to reach the station on Spencer Street. I had tickets for the Firefly bus service that was to reach Sydney in 12 hours. I've always loved buses. However, I had a spare ticket that I had bought for Omar a couple of weeks ago. I asked the Firefly people if they could refund me the cost, but they said that they didn't have a cancellation or refund policy. I pleaded with them that all seats were booked for the day, and that they would be able to find people who need a seat easily. Upon my insistence, they told me to hang around the office and if anyone showed up, they would direct them to me for the ticket. Apparently there was only one person who needed 2 tickets, hence I was to embark on my trip to Sydney with the luxury of having extra leg space as a result of a spare ticket.

It had been 6 days of excitement, loneliness, enjoyment and a lot of adventure. It was my first real stab at experiencing a new city on my own. I made some good friends, witnessed a life-long dream and learnt about other cultures. It was an experience I would never forget.


Anonymous said...

Boxy Brother, I remember when Watson was dropped on 99. I have never figured out why Rauf was fielding at gully? I can't believe the plan of bowling to him way outside off stump actually worked! Didn't Watson's 100 open the floodgates for everyone else to follow suit (or was it Katich that made the first 100 of the series?).

P.S love the pic of the tower


Abdullah Farooki said...

Well I don't think the dropped catch had a very big influence on the outcome of the match or series, but it was still demotivating for the team.

Btw, that's the only picture I didn't take myself.