Melbourne. It’s been voted the world’s most livable city for four years in a row. One of the most friendliest and most resilient cities in recent times too. With over 140 nationalities among four million residents, naturally each of us in Melbourne find different reasons to live here.
Melbourne. It boasts a grid-shaped city with skyscrapers alongside narrow laneways lined with cafes. A city where I’ve lived for more than half my life, went to university and now work. A city that speaks to me the perks that come with being a part of the rat race in a first world country, and whispers to me the finer things in life.
The other day it was 4pm on a cloudy Sunday afternoon in June. The chilly winter wind whipped my face. I had two hours to kill in the city before catching up with someone. Standing at the Flinders Street Station intersection, cars whizzed by. As two trams rumbled past, the asphalt shook slightly beneath my feet.
Some say Melbourne is a city where getting around is easy. Besides tram or train, biking or walking is always an option. Sure, public transport here isn’t always timely and roads congested during rush-hour, but it’s pretty much the same elsewhere. As the pedestrian lights changed green, I aimlessly followed the crowd across the road to Federation Square, the corner of the city home to artistic exhibits.
Some say Melbourne is a city on the move, a cultural feast for the senses. A city that works hard, plays harder. Sporting tournaments, night markets and bars abound. A city championing self-expression and everything in-between: the plain and quirky, traditional and contemporary. Hippie fashion. Organic avocado-laden dishes. Modern Gothic arches. Beyoncé look-a-like high-rise.
I milled around the current car display at the Square, restless. I’m lucky living in a city earning a decent living. Fun and games everywhere. Know good company. What more do I want? I headed back out, making my way towards the casino end of town along the Yarra River. Overhead, the winter sky was beginning to darken. Night taking over day.
Arguably, Melbourne is a city with different faces, myriad facades throughout time. Historically, it was founded in 1835 by settlers from Tasmania, and it has long been debated whether John Batman or John Pascoe Fawkner is the rightful founder. Then there’s modern-day rivalry between Melbourne’s northern and southern suburbs: arguably the best coffee up north, arguably scenic landscapes down south.
Strolling past the casino, the only sound I heard was that of my footsteps slapping against the pavement. Absent-mindedly pulling my camera out of my bag, my mind wandered. Almost a decade ago, high school me didn’t want to leave Singapore when dad moved the family to Melbourne. Singapore, the tropical island boasting the best street food and world-class public transport system, and where I really liked living. Funny how the words “chink” and “nǐ hǎo” drift my way ever so often in the city I roam today, yet taking flight escapes my mind again and again.
Undeniably, racism is prevalent in multicultural Melbourne. So is the under-representation of Indigenous Australians. Melbourne, a city riddled with chauvinistic sentiments and where people disagree to agree. But still, cities move along in the face of daily stresses.
Ambling towards the western end of the city, Docklands, I passed by towering apartments. Towering apartments where there are probably ten or more people sharing a room in a time when there are both more and more travelers and homeless in this expensive city. Melbourne. A city where some find adventure yet a city where desperation lies. A city where some go to desperate measures to make ends meet. Either way, it seems many of us have hope for a better tomorrow here. As Italo Calvino wrote:
“With cities, it is as with dreams: everything imaginable can be dreamed, but even the most unexpected dream is a rebus that conceals a desire or, its reverse, a fear. Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears.”
Suddenly, I sensed movement in front of me. Man and woman passing by. Holding hands. Jolted out of my reverie, my feet followed them and hastily, I snapped a shot. As they walked out of sight and skyscrapers clouded my view once again, my heart pounded in my chest. They didn’t notice me. Alongside the emotions of desire and uncertainty swirling within concrete jungles, love and passion bubble deep within the depths of our being – the things that often make us tick.
Slowing down, we see the city for what it is: its people, us. In the words of Charles Baudelaire, “What strange phenomena we find in a great city, all we need do is stroll about with our eyes open. Life swarms with innocent monsters.” When we look beyond rectangular, uniform-esque skyscrapers and drab suits and appreciate the mundane around us in the city, we come to see beauty in the smallest of urban moments.
Was I nosy, taking that photo of the lovebirds like a creep? Yes. Standing beside the harbour at Docklands, I watched the last golden ethereal rays of Sunday sun disappear behind the Bolte Bridge. Just as the sun is the heartbeat of nature, people are the heartbeat of a city. Melbourne, a city where feelings of tender aspiration tend to triumph over strifes reflective from the monotonous metropolitan grind. A city where strangers mind their own business while going about their own business, insatiably chasing dreams, lust and passion of the heart. The city that stirred the writer in me, this blog and an upcoming book…all of which I’m thankful for. It’s never what we want or the chase that matters, but what we have and how we make the most of the present amidst the hustle and bustle.
I looked at my phone. Quarter to six. Plunging my freezing hands into my jacket’s pockets, I started hurrying back into the middle of the city. Feet striking the concrete pavement, I wondered what lied ahead next week, next year, in Melbourne. Or elsewhere. But what about tonight? I smiled. First smile of the day.
No matter what city we live in or where we are at a given moment in time, the finer things in life are always around and amongst us, always in the now.
Do you like living in the city? What’s your impression of Australia?