This is probably my last post in the yearningforlove Series as I intend to go for an extended hiatus from writing. Work has been stressful, but fulfilling and rewarding at the same time, especially when my efforts result in a marked improvement in standards or when I receive compliments from my clients. That said, the hours I’ve dedicated to the job has really taken a lot out of me and this “mini-vacation” (of sorts) is truly a welcome break for me.
This trip to Brisbane is largely unplanned, with most of my arrangements done just days before my departure. The main purpose of the trip was actually to help settle Priscilla (my sis) down in Brisbane, as her school term starts this coming August, after she was accepted into University of Queensland’s (UQ) School of Agriculture and Food Sciences. Dad and Mum had done the necessary prep and the original plan was for them to fly over with Priscilla to aid her in setting up what would probably be her home for the next 4 years, whilst helping her assimilate into a new culture and environment. I was a last minute inclusion, after I had managed to make the necessary arrangements from work to squeeze out the five days where I will be able to spend with my dear sis as she embarks on a new journey in her life.
If you’ve been reading my series, I am not much of a stranger to Australia, having been there four times before; Brisbane in 2000, Sydney and Melbourne in 2013 & Perth in the years 2002 and 2014. This is however the first time I’ll be staying in Brisbane City as the previous trip in 2000, we had opted to stay along Surfers Paradise in Gold Coast instead. This time round, in order to be closer to the campus grounds, we decided to forgo the fun of the sand and surf, and decided to stay within Brisbane city centre for easier access and facilitation. That’s not to say I didn’t get to have fun or enjoy myself as Brisbane also offers its own unique sights and views. Here’s a day by day account of my mini break in Brisbane as I head once more to the land down under!
Day 1 – 8 Jul – Goodbye Singapore, Hello Australia
As my plans for the trip were quite last minute, I chose not to fly SQ with my family as the fares were almost twice of what I had budgeted for the trip. As such, the most economical and convenient option for me was to fly Scoot to OOL (Gold Coast Airport), where I will then hop onto an airport shuttle to transfer to Brisbane city. The flight departed on time at 2225hrs, and it was my first flight on a 787 Dreamliner. It is also the first time I’m flying since I began working at SATS, and it was pretty weird to be flying on a flight whereby my staff were in charge of the departure handling just minutes before. Anyways, the flight was pretty routine. With Scoot being a low cost carrier, there wasn’t much to do on board, and with my phone (mandatorily) switched off, I had one of the best undisturbed sleep ever since my days in Lost and Found.
Day 2 – 9 Jul – Brisbane Awaits
I touched down at Gold Coast Airport at about 07:30am, just slightly ahead of schedule. As I had tagged my belongings on my parents’ flight on SQ, I had no checked-in baggage except for a small cabin bag and my laptop. As such, I did not have to wait for any luggage at the baggage carousel and could spare some minutes to grab a quick coffee before my pickup to Brisbane. The drive from Gold Coast to Brisbane took approximately an hour, and I got in to the city a couple of hours before the rest of the family arrived. Our residence (Evolution Apartments) was just off the city centre, along Tank Street, which provided a very stunning backdrop of the city and the Brisbane River.
After a quick shower and freshening up, we decided to go explore the Fortitude Valley area where Brisbane’s Chinatown lies. With my sister’s extended stay in Brisbane, my parents were interested in seeing the accessibility (and prices) of Chinese food and supplies over there. It was comforting to know that we could still find things like Essence of Chicken from Brands, Nin Jiom Pei Pa Koa, and fresh Chinese greens around, but the prices were pretty astronomical as compared to Singapore. That said, being alone in a foreign land, when you are feeling homesick or craving for something familiar from home, I’ll gladly pay the premium pricing.
After surveying Chinatown, we headed to Queen Street Mall, which is Brisbane’s version of Orchard Road. Australia has a culture of early closing hours, so we had to rush quite a little before the shutters of the shops came down. The first thing we had to do was to sign up for a mobile plan for my sis. I had assisted with a project when I was doing my rotation in Marketing as part of the GAP Program where we were looking into the sales of SIM cards onboard flights in and out of Australia. As such, I was a little familiar with the various offerings from the major telcos over there; mainly Telstra, Vodafone, Lebara and Optus. We settled with Optus as they were currently having a promo, with additional 1GB free data and unlimited outgoing overseas call to Singapore, which suits my sister’s needs just fine.
The day was rounded up with a simple dinner consisting of pies paired with a bottle of watermelon flavoured wine before we all retired for the night.
Day 3 – 10 Jul – Eat Street Markets, South Bank and Making New Friends
We headed to one of Brisbane’s many weekend markets on the morning of our 3rd day in Brisbane. Eat Street Markets, which is located at Macarthur Ave in the suburb of Hamilton, is one of the best in the city based on recommendations from my JC classmate Sharon and it did not disappoint. Billed as the ultimate foodie extravaganza, Eat Street Markets offers a selection of international cuisines and handcrafted boutique beers.
We tasted a smorgasbord of different food from all around the world; beginning with some Fresh Seafood from Phunky Dory, to Vietnamese Spring Rolls and Greek Honey Puffs, followed by Mexican Chipotle Wings and Italian Wood Fired Pizzas; all of which are washed down with Homemade Ginger Beer and freshly brewed Chai Latte. I highly recommend the Moreton Bay Bug (aka crayfish) from Phunky Dory, which are BBQ’d with a delicious garlic butter concoction and served with either Beer Battered Chips or Sweet Potato Fries. Catch them before they sell out!
After satisfying our taste buds, we took a bus back into the city where we explored South Bank. South Bank is Brisbane’s premier cultural and recreational destination and is home to the Queensland Cultural Centre and the Wheel of Brisbane. As the name suggests, South Bank is located on the southern banks of the Brisbane River, and it regularly holds delightful events all year round celebrating the Arts and Culture. The Le Festival (Brisbane French Festival) was being held at the parkland grounds while we were there. It does cost you a little to enter the event grounds, but if the festival theme interests you, why not enjoy the sights, food and the entertainment that it offers?
After covering South Brisbane, we headed back to the apartment where we freshen ourselves up for dinner. We were invited to Auntie Ee Leng’s home (Dad’s acquaintance from work) whose kids were also students from UQ and my parents thought it would be good for sis to gather some advice and information for her stint over there. The Yeos were very hospitable and we quickly clicked despite not having met each other before. It wasn’t long before we natter away whilst dining on the delicious dinner spread that Auntie Ee Leng and her daughter Kat had prepared for us. We spoke about life in UQ, working at the airport (given my position at SATS and that both Dad and Auntie Ee Leng are SQ luminaries) and the differences between Australia and Singapore. It was almost midnight when we bid each other goodbye and it was very nice of the Yeos to offer to drive us back to our apartment and for Auntie Ee Leng and Kat to offer their assistance to my sis should my sis require anything during her stay in Brisbane.
Nothing beats having a familiar face in a foreign country and it is nice making new friends and contacts.
Day 4 – 11 Jul – Moving into UQ
UQ awaits us today as we helped sis transport her belongings into her student house in Cromwell College. Founded in 1909, UQ is one of Australia’s oldest and selective universities, and is consistently ranked among the top in university rankings worldwide. Universities nowadays are not just a place for academic learning, but is also a place of interest. The University of Oxford draws thousands of visitors yearly due to its use as a filming site for the Harry Potter film series, while my alma mater NTU has also attracted some photograph enthusiasts to capture photos of the uniquely designed NTU Learning Hub (affectionately dubbed the dim-sum building due to its resemblance to stacked dim-sum steamers). UQ also has its own appeal and allure, with the Great Court being one of my favourites within the campus grounds. The Great Court is a heritage-listed site that was added into the Queensland Heritage Register in 2002. The court was built upon extensive sculptural work featuring historical artwork, coats of arms and Australian cultures and traditions. It has now transcended to a place of aesthetic significance and is an important part of UQ’s identity. I also love the fact that students can choose to study on the grassed area in the centre of the Great Court – a huge contrast to the concrete jungle that we are so used to in Singapore’s universities. The Great Court is also surrounded by beautiful sandstone buildings which are now the dominant feature of the St. Lucia landscape. Definitely worth taking some time to stroll around the beautiful campus grounds.
As for the student house itself, I must say I was pretty impressed with the facilities and amenities provided by the university. My sis was housed in an apartment unit shared with 3 other housemates, all of which are international students. Each student is given her own personal room, fully furnished with bedding, wardrobes, study desk and other basic needs. The apartment also comes with a kitchen, living room and a balcony, which allows for simple home cooked fares and a place to hang your laundry. It is much better than what is being offered in NTU, where most halls are simply single room units shared between two students with only basic pantry services available at the common area at each level (although we do get air conditioning here at NTU). That said, the cost of living in UQ is almost 3 times as much as what one pays for at NTU, so I guess what you pay is what you get.
We had lunch at Burger Urge where feasted on burgers, wraps, chips and onion rings. The limited edition Mrs Clinton’s burger (named after Hillary Clinton) was my favourite item from the menu. Featuring a soft toasted wholemeal bun, a tender piece of fried chicken, maple smoked bacon, jalapeños, melted cheese and chipotle mayo dressing, my advice is to cut the burger in half, take a bite and enjoy the messy but strangely satisfying jumble of different flavours in your mouth and then do it everything all over again once more!
After lunch, we went to Toowong Village to stock up on daily essentials for my sis while I also took the opportunity to shop for (everybody’s favourite) Tim Tams to be brought back to the loved ones back in Singapore. The wide range of Tim Tam flavours were really fascinating, from conventional flavours like Chocolate and Salted Caramel to exotic flavours such as Strawberry Champagne, Pina Colada to Chocolate Banana and Pineapple. I spent a mini fortune on the Tim Tams, enough to fill up my entire hand carry with nothing except the delicious little treats.
Once we were done with our shopping, we took the CityCat back into the CBD where we had dinner at Jade Buddha Bar and Kitchen, located along Eagle Street Pier. With spectacular views of the Brisbane River and stunning sights of the city lights, Jade Buddha is a great venue for a cocktail or a casual meal whilst in Brisbane. Boasting a menu of Asian fusion cuisines, we went with a Jade Buddha Platter, Barramundi served in Coconut Cream and Butter Chicken dished up in a delicious creamy Tomato Butter Gravy with crispy Pappadums. The meal was made complete with a pint of Australian cider and their signature Chocolate Buddha; a Chocolate Lava Cake served with Vanilla Ice-Cream. The food here is pretty decent, although the prices was a bit on the steep side given its location and setting. Dinner for 4 (including drinks), will easily set you back abit, with my bill coming to around 150 AUD.
With our tummies filled, it was time for me to get back to our apartment to pack up and rest as I was due to leave for the airport early next morning. From Eagle Street Pier, we took the free CityHopper ferry service to North Quay, where it is just a quick 5 minutes walk away from Evolution. It is nice of the Brisbane City Council to provide such free services, which benefits both the locals, and also provides tourists like myself an affordable and enjoyable mode of transportation as we took in the Brisbane River and city sights. If only there was a similar service in Singapore that provides complimentary river cruises along the Singapore River.
Day 5 – 12 Jul – Bidding Goodbye, First Flight on Qantas and Appraising The Graduate
My pickup to the airport was due to arrive at 0840hrs in time for my 12:15pm departure on QF51 back to Singapore. My parents were staying over in BNE for a few more days until my sis starts her orientation at UQ. As the airport transfer pulled in, it was an emotional farewell as I wished my sis all the best in her endeavour at UQ; the sudden realisation that it would be sometime before we’ll meet again in person (Thank God for Skype/Facetime/Whatsapp/Email and Viber!).
I arrived at the Airport with loads to spare, and I took the time to grab some breakfast before making my way through immigration. This would be the first time that I will be flying on Qantas, and I was pretty excited at checking out their cabin amenities, in-flight entertainment (IFE) and cabin services. Being in the aviation industry for almost a year now, I guess I can’t help but to “audit” the flight, especially on the arrival handling in Singapore, which I am part responsible for too.
The Airbus 330 was in a 2-4-2 configuration with a decent seat pitch and width in Economy. I was seated on the right-side aisle in the centre 4, and it helped that there wasn’t anyone seated beside me, giving me a little extra legroom at the sides. The IFE was also quite respectable for a full-service carrier like Qantas, with a generous range of movies, games and music (although I think SQ still has a slightly larger selection when compared) to choose from. The thing that stood out for me was their “Classics” selection, which features Academy favourites such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Dirty Dancing, Pulp Fiction and The Graduate, of which I watched the latter, reliving some of the most memorable quotes and scenes from film history (cue Benjamin Braddock: “Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me. Aren’t you?“).
As one of the most praised films ever, The Graduate is a coming-of-age film set around Benjamin Braddock (a very youthful looking Dustin Hoffman), an innocent and confused (and lovesick) youth who was (somewhat) exploited, mis-guided and seduced (literally and figuratively) by Mrs. Robinson (portrayed brilliantly by the stunning and beautiful Anne Bancroft). The movie was one of the ground-breaking films of the late 1960s, and set the path for Hoffman as a heavyweight in Hollywood, while making Bancroft a huge sex symbol with many boys treating her as their first sexual fantasy. The film however, had more serious undertones to it, with themes such as the shifting social and sexual mores, the alienation of the (then) younger generation and the growing dissatisfaction of the middle-class community all being featured and/or discussed in the film. For those like myself who are too young to have caught the film when it was released, do take some time to catch some of these classic movies whenever possible – they are called classics for a reason.
On the food front however, I must however admit that Qantas failed to meet my standards. Having also been in catering during my GAP rotation (see A Week in August), the food served on the BNE-SIN sector really was quite disappointing. While you get to pick more choices (3 in fact) than what I normally get from flying SQ, the food really wasn’t quite appetising. The Western choice was Lamb, which I decided to give it a miss since I had red meat mostly in the last couple of days, while the Asian menu was an Indian Vegetable Curry – which I am not a fan of Chickpeas and Chutney. I ended up with the alternate choice, Chicken Salad with Vermicelli, which was really not how I had imagined it to be when I first saw the menu. For the first time ever, I did not finish my meal and left half of the dish untouched. Dessert was not any better; it was some sort of pastry/cake with some berry filling which was too sour for my liking. The best part of the meal was (surprise, surprise) the bread roll, which was served warm with a garlic butter inside. A pity no soup was served as part of the menu in coach. It would have taken my disappointment away.
Anyway, I touched down back in Singapore just after 6pm and was greeted by the familiar faces of my staff and colleagues. Headed straight to office to pick up some stuff, drop off the Tim Tams for the team and started clearing the snowballing number of emails that have piled up over the days. As I will be on reservist from the 13th till the end of the month, there will be more emails to clear and more work to be done off-site. So not looking forward to it.
In any case, just wanna end the post by wishing my little sis all the best in UQ. Go with an open mind and heart and enjoy yourself. Grow as a person and experience new adventures and cultures. Most importantly, stay safe and have fun! And also, special thanks to Amy Quek (Sharon’s sister) who I must thank for showing my family around Brisbane despite me having flown back to Singapore first. Much appreciated and hopefully I will finally get to see you the next time I visit the capital of Queensland.
For now, G’day and G’bye.