It’s 12:30 p.m. I’ve just landed at Brisbane International Airport and have only 1 hour to get to the city center, ditch my bags, and meet my friend, Brad, for lunch. Underdressed for the chilly Melbourne morning and overdressed for the heat and humidity of Brisbane, I am kicking myself for not giving myself more time and sweating profusely from the 20 degree change in heat and extra weight of my backpacks. Despite the time-sensitive challenge, I feel rejuvenated simply by the thought of reuniting with friends I met on my travels last year.
With beads of sweat running down my forehead and back, I power walk from Roma Street Station to Queen Street where we decided to meet and was assured that it required only a 10-minute walk. Text messages exchanged, he spots me, and even though I look like I just ran an olympic marathon, we hug and quickly agree to a welcome, sit-down lunch at a Korean restaurant — a treat for me and comfort food for him.
Walking into the restaurant, the air conditioning hits me like I’ve just entered the pearly gates (a blessing). Sitting down with chopsticks in hand, scanning the menu, I realize I would be content with anything. Not offering my usual favorite, japchae, I go for spicy ramen and dumplings instead (perfect for a hot day, right?). Ramen, dumplings, kimchi, and a variety of side dishes and noodles make their way to the table and become a feast for the senses. I feel like I’m finally having my moment on a Korean variety show like 2 Days and 1 Night where I always enviously watch them inhale heaps of different soups, meats, and/or noodles. I swear I can always smell it through my computer screen, but now, it was my turn. I digress.
K-Pop group, MBLAQ’s “This is War” comes on the stereo, a song that, by now, has been played hundreds of times on my iPod. My foot starts tapping under the table, head starts bobbing to the music, and I can’t help but smile. In between bits of conversation, the slurping of noodles, and fresh crunch of kimchi, I take deep breaths trying to catch up from the rushed morning. Brad reminds me of the next trip he has his hopes pinned on, Nepal and India, and speaks frankly about the immediate future and his desire to get married and settle down in Australia, perhaps with his current girlfriend. I catch him up on my most recent travels and happenings over the past year, and we start to bring the best of the travel bug out of each other, sometimes smiling and laughing about nothing except the fact that we’re glad for eachother’s company. The world around us disappears, and in the series of moments, I realize I’ve returned home. Eating a type of ethnic cuisine I don’t have regular access to in Detroit, catching up with a friend I met last year in Hiroshima, on the other side of the world in Australia, listening to the people around me speak a language that reminds me of my best friends of 15 years and a language in which I wish to die fluent, this is my utopia. This is what it is to travel with me. It’s as simple as sharing a meal with old friends.
His eyes disappear with the sincerest smile, and I unintentionally match his expression. It hits me, as it often does, how fortunate and happy I am to be here, and it shows.
So We Meet Again
Home base in Brisbane was at the apartment of one of my roomies from my trip to Penang, Malaysia. She goes by Blaise, but I’ve recently nicknamed her Trail Blaiser. What you should know about our friendship is that we share a similar outlook on life, we’re both obsessed with the television show FRIENDS to the point where it could be deemed unhealthy, and if you saw us together in public, you’d probably think we had known each other our whole lives. So when she invited me to stay at her house during my time in Brisbane, my head answered with a “HELL YES,” but my Facebook message was one of polite appreciation and acceptance.
On a quiet side street in Brisbane’s west end is where I slept on a makeshift bed made out of couch cushions which was surprisingly comfortable, and the sound of crickets was replaced by squawking birds and the occasional possum. It is also the neighborhood where I found an eclectic palette of delicious, cheap eats. I’m positive that if I were to move to Brisbane, I’d live in the same neighborhood so I could become a regular at some of the joints we ate at, and of course, have a good friend nearby as well.
One thing I truly cherish about the people I know and have met is that no matter how much time has passed since we last spoke or saw one another, we always pick up where we left off. Together with Blaise, we reminisced about our Penang adventures, pondered why people behave the way they do, schemed up all sorts of debauchery for a South American reunion/travel reality show with our other Penang roomies, Qin and Anna, and laughed until tears were streaming down our faces and our stomachs felt on the verge of rejecting whatever delicious food we had just eaten. I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time, and sometimes just like a good cry tires you out and puts you at peace, such bliss was overdue.
From markets in South Bank and the West End to feeding kangaroos and petting koalas at Lone Pine Sanctuary to getting lost walking through the Botanical Gardens on the way to a symphony concert where the real entertainment was little kids running around like adorable maniacs, my time in Brisbane was a perfect mix of site seeing and downtime. At no point during my stay did I feel like a tourist. I felt accepted, like I belonged.
After a relaxing, slow-paced 4 days, I rest assured that where there are friends, there is home.