By Divya Balakumar
‘Welcome to Adelaide, ladies and gentlemen, and to all Australians and residents of Adelaide, welcome home.’
Falling into the former category, I shrugged, unperturbed. Ten minutes prior, I was looking out the window in anticipation, trying to catch a glimpse of this city I had chosen as my home away from home. Having requested an aisle seat, this was difficult, so I was mildly annoyed.
I tried to hide my nervousness—I did not want to seem like the new kid on the block. But I was sure my expression had given it away. All I saw was barren land, short buildings—oh wait, there’s an IKEA! Hurray! —and a cluster of semi- tall buildings.
Hearing the landing announcement, I tried to compose myself. This is it, though. This is your next three years, Divya.
Coming from vibrant, bustling and fairly noisy Malaysia, my first impressions of Adelaide, formed during the drive from the airport to the city, were that it was
3. not busy; and therefore
4. not exciting.
I tried to fight the emotions when the lack of apartment buildings, hawker stalls, and people (really) got to me. This isn’t Penang’s twin city! This is Penang 20 years ago! I was heartbroken.
Arriving at my accommodation did not help my lack of love for this city. Having chosen something close to campus, I ended up far away from a social life. The hiccups I encountered on that first day will always be a lesson for me to be more thorough when reading emails, and to always ask questions, no matter how trivial. With no electricity for two days, I took up the offer of bunking with my friend in a heartbeat. I needed comfort, and comforting.
On my fourth day in Adelaide, I got lost. I walked around aimlessly—my takeaway lunch in one hand, phone in the other. I called the Adelaide Metro phone line, but upon being asked where I was, I began to cry.
‘I don’t know, I’m on a bridge, there is a river, I see some train lines, there are cars, I don’t know.’ Obviously, they would not be able to help me. Crying my way to the nearest bus stop with a seat, I proceeded to have my lunch. I did not have a plan.
‘Are you getting on this bus, darlin’?’ yelled out the bus driver who pulled up in front of me.
‘Are you a B10? Are you going to Magill?’
‘Afraid not, sweetheart. You’re at the wrong bus stop. Go two streets over that way,’ he pointed. ‘You’ll get a bus there.’
The kindness in his voice and the concern that took shape in his eyebrows gave me comfort. But needless to say, my relationship with this city saw a rocky start.
‘Everything comes to us that belongs to us if we create the capacity to receive it,’ said the great Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore.
It happened over many months—neither consciously, nor concertedly. I started wandering around the city, bit by bit, discovering its quirks in little nooks and corners. I discovered a cupcake shop, which, according to me, serves the second best hot chocolate in Adelaide. I discovered a vegetarian burger café with the steepest steps atop a high fashion store. I discovered ‘Delhi Street’, which made me smile and think of my Indian roots. I discovered a beautiful rotunda—and decided that my future husband would propose to me there. I discovered that people were a lot more friendly and willing to give you a smile here.
Accidentally, I fell in love with Adelaide. It has been three years, and I have decided I cannot leave. I may have been born and raised in Penang, but it was in Adelaide that I grew up.
These days, when I hear the landing announcement on the Adelaide Airport tarmac, I smile to myself because despite what my travel documents say, I am home.
* Update: The author wishes to gleefully inform readers that she was, in fact, proposed to by the man of her dreams (oh, hold that puke) at the beautiful rotunda. They will live happily ever after (fingers crossed) in Adelaide.