a family christmas - part one: interstate

I started the new year to a quiet house. The festive holidays are over and the normality of work has settled in. It was many days ago when the house was filled with the life of 14 people. My family from interstate (Sydney and Darwin) and overseas (England and Germany) had come over during the festive holidays to visit my father who is ill.

A week before Christmas, my brothers, my British cousin Steven and I made an impromptu decision to fly interstate. We bought the tickets and left for the Gold Coast a day later with only our carry-on luggage and after spending a night's sleep in Sydney because of flight cancellations, we arrived to a backpacker's hostel in Surfer's Paradise.

Upon arrival, an Australian surfer boy looked at us in disgust and muttered something racist under his breath and it was soon realised that we weren't welcomed to make friends with any of the residents there because of our skin colour (it's funny though seeing they were the same colour as us due to all the sun their skin had soaked in). We spent our days sightseeing the Gold Coast and our nights talking inside our room while the rest of the residents drank and partied outside on the volleyball court. I peeped through the curtain windows often to watch the life outside and I'd wish that there was more love in this world because I would have enjoyed their friendship.

  flying over clouds

flying over clouds

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  the view from the cable car

the view from the cable car

  at the shark bay, sea world

at the shark bay, sea world

We met up with our second cousin Benji who took us to a night market that had opened up along the beach. It was the first thunderstorm-free night in the Gold Coast and the night was still as humid as it was day. I bought gelato from a corner shop and it started to melt as soon as I grabbed onto it.

On our last day, we met up with our aunty who had driven down from Brisbane to take us kayaking. We

paddled to a secluded island and snorkeled amongst the native fish. Although it was not in any way magical as the photos I've seen of the Great Barrier Reef, it was still a beautiful moment.

  a man going home from the night market

a man going home from the night market

  myself, my cousin and my brothers

myself, my cousin and my brothers

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Later we flew to Sydney. We stayed in a hostel right in the hub of the red light district of Kings Cross, where the night streets overflowed with dolled up girls in tiny dresses and boys in tight shirts that showed off their big arms. I shared a room with a nomadic British couple who hadn't been home in Manchester for a year. I never grabbed their names but they were the sort of people that I could not forget. The girl always smelled of strawberries and I borrowed her shampoo one time after I had left mine in the shower and it disappeared. I smelled of strawberries too and I liked it. The hostel was so full of different characters from all over the world that I could have stayed inside and listened to everybody's stories but Sydney was calling me to explore it.

We walked for 7 hours one day, going to everything that was on our tour map. We took a ferry to Manly Beach and spent a day splashing in the waters and digging holes to bury each other in. I dropped my lens in the sand and watched as it rolled into the waves but it was okay. I let it dry in the Summer's sun and it worked again albeit a little rigidity because of all the little specs of sand stuck in the wedges of the lens.

  my roomates

my roomates

  a man playing music to the pedestrians

a man playing music to the pedestrians

  standing on sydney cove

standing on sydney cove

  mother and daughter

mother and daughter

  'stumpy' the seagull who hitched a ride with us

'stumpy' the seagull who hitched a ride with us

  sydney opera house

sydney opera house

On one night, we went to a hotel bar and met some Japanese international students. We soon became friends and asked them where a good place to go on a Friday night would be. One of the boys replied 'Three Wise Monkeys' and together we all started walking towards the pub with the three monkeys on the building. My little brother was still underage at the time and so Steven started a conversation with the bouncer as a way to distract him while my brother disappeared inside. Eavesdropping into the conversation between the bouncer and my cousin, I learnt that our newly made friends had tried several times to get inside the pub but because they spoke in broken English, they were always shooed away. The bouncer had only let them inside this time because we were with them. Although it hurts to know that there is still some discrimination in Australia, seeing the smiles on Mitsuyoshi, Michiko and Shohei's faces during the night made my blood warm again.

We danced in a room upstairs and it was my first time clubbing in Australia (I had been to the clubs when I was fourteen in Saigon but that is another story) and I didn't quite enjoy what was happening around me. I saw a drunken couple kiss and touch each other in the corner of the room and I knew it wasn't real love. Nothing was real there.

After filling ourselves with sinh tố bƑ's and bÑnh mì's from Cabramatta with my cousin-in-law, we took a train to the airport to catch a flight back home in Melbourne. I sat on the top decker one last time, daydreaming about the family Christmas that was about to unfold at home.

  the beginnings of a fight through the train's window reflection

the beginnings of a fight through the train's window reflection

  steven sleeping on the plane

steven sleeping on the plane