This is Sparta

Part 1 of 3

As I stood on an uneven keel this morning, tottering a little in front of an evil smelling coffee bar at Melbourne airport, I found myself beset with the tyranny of small tasks. Groping for change while lamenting the hours of sleep lost to tossing and turning and trying to contort a primal call for a nice big jug of brewed coffee into the polite request for a "long black," I was hardly all that aware of my surroundings.

I did not see who left the package, this worn cardboard box with packing tape patches and a slightly torn corner. It was bound meticulously with cheap synthetic yarn, plastered in several labels bearing script I could not read. I looked around and saw no one it might belong to. I seemed to recall a large Chinese family standing near me moments before, their trolleys stacked high with cases and bags bulging at the zips. Or perhaps not. There is a fine line between memory and the conspiracy of logic and imagination. Not wanting to be an alarmist, perhaps even out of a defiant urge to prove to myself that I was immune to the culture of anxiety that defines the modern security state, I noted the presence of this lone box and put sugar in my coffee.

Utter swill. They know how to make a mean espresso in this country, but when they stuff it up they do so with about the same enthusiasm. It is what I imagine the gunge on the inside of a cigarette filter to taste like.

I turned my attention back to this package off to my left. I casually circled it as the nagging voice in my head insisted that maybe this was one of those times where one ought to "say something." Before I could resolve to act, I overheard the young woman behind me pointing it out to her partner. Lattes forgotten, they discussed the potential origin of this bundle of parchment and twine, as ominous as it was innocuous. Her voice pitched sharply as he stepped forward and pried up one of the flaps to look inside. I braced myself for a deafening roar and a hail of nasty metal bits that would surely accompany it. Instead, he exhaled and stood tall. "It's a blender," he announced. Crisis averted.

The flight to Singapore was pretty good, as far as discount airlines go. Half of the seven odd hours were spent just getting out of Australia, and I spent much of the time gawking at the otherworldy sight of the vast arid expanses of the middle of nowhere. My charming seatmate, the best I've had in a number of flights, seemed just as excited as I was at the prospect of flying right over Ayer's Rock. Alas, a mere 40 kilometres from the site we found ourselves staring at thick unrelenting cloud banks. Better luck on the way back I guess.

An old classmate met me at the airport. As we rode the formidable MRT down to Arab street, he bombarded me with observations from a year spent in this dysfunctional little polis. For such a quiet boring place, there are a hell of a lot of kids walking around with guns and badges. The fact that all the public transit stops between midnight and six in the morning definitely put a wrench in my plans for a sleepless night of debauchery, in fact the whole atmosphere of this place made the prospect strangely unappealing. More on this later, after I get some sleep.

A few more hours in the Singapore airport and then I'm off to Hanoi. Apologies for the typos, this netbook takes some getting used to.

Next stop Hanoi