My first week of high school, I became best friends with a girl called Suzanne. We were inseparable. Very quickly I noticed the questions that followed her around school wherever she went. The main one being,
"Where are you from?"
I couldn't BELIEVE the gall people had. Kids she didn't even know would come up and point-blank ask her. Her reply was always the same.
Some would get the hint and move on. Some would press and ask her again and again. I took on the role of her ethnic defender, told people to piss off, stop asking, and leave her alone. She would get really upset. One day I went to her house and noticed that her dad was white Australian, and her mum was from Singapore. All had broad Aussie accents.
I was struck by how other people saw Suzanne as so different from themselves. I saw her as my friend, my best mate, someone who I got into a LOT of trouble with.
My two boys have this cute habit of shouting SPOTTO! whenever they see a yellow car. As soon as we walked outside Melbourne Airport last week, they took one look at the long lines of yellow taxi cabs and it was game on.
"SPOTTO SPOTTO SPOTTO SPOTTO." (Taxis cabs are boring white here in NSW.)
We took taxis everywhere in Melbourne.
(SPOTTO SPOTTO SPOTTO. It grew old real quick.)
Some drivers were rude, some lovely ... one dreadfully racist one was unbearable. There's a thriving Indian community there, many of them are taxi drivers. In our last cab to the airport to come home, we met Harpal. He's called Australia home for fifteen years. Has a wife and two girls, aged 3 and 5. ("She must be busy!" I said. He laughed.)
Harpal is from the South of India, and I asked him if he missed the food.
"HA! I do, but there are very many restaurants around Melbourne that will suffice."
He told us if he saves $20 each week, at the end of the year he can take a road trip holiday with his family. His wife rang during the ride and he apologised for taking her call. I loved that he took her call, and even though I didn't know what he was saying, I loved the way he spoke to her.
I asked him what the racism situation was like for people in the Indian community in Melbourne.
"Well .... it's ... ahhh .... you are either a decent person, or you are not. It has nothing to do with colour."
He said that some parts of India have snow, that he misses it but he really loves living in Australia. Dave asked him if he was viewed as rich when he went back for a visit, and Harpal did that beautiful head-lilting thing that the Indian people do.
"Yes! Very much ... I am not rich here but over there, my friends and family think that I am very lucky. And I am."
He is. We all are. Driving up to departures he shook his head when I asked him about the gang-rape, sexism and equality outcry going on in India.
"Yes, it is very big and very sad. That lady went on the bus ... should have made it home. It was a terrible thing to happen. To anybody."
Dave told him to look us up if he ever takes a road trip to the Blue Mountains.
Harpal said he would.