Mal In Melbourne

From his Airbnb apartment on the 59th level, Port Phillip didn’t seem like a port at all. The old man with his fading eyesight initially failed to see the gantry cranes on the first morning of his arrival. He was immediately impressed with his choice of accommodation when he first walked inside the massive condo, dropping his hand luggage on the fake timber floor as he rushed to the large expanse of floor-to-ceiling glass windows to soak in the stunning 250 degree view of Melbourne. Marvel Stadium, directly in front of the tower, sits on the water’s edge and further behind it, Bolte Bridge, a skinny bridge with two skinny chimney-like structures adorning it joins two sides of land that had been separated by the Yarra River many eons ago.

“Look, that must be the Tasman Sea,” the old man said to his son, pointing to the distant blue water that caps the horizon for as far as his eyes could see, its gentle curvature offering irrefutable proof that the world is not flat.

“No Ba, that’s Port Phillip Bay,” the son replied after checking the map on his phone.

“Port Phillip?” the old man asked, absolutely sure in his mind that he would have seen a long line of container ships queueing on the water waiting for their precious cargo to be unloaded just in time to satisfy all the Christmas wishes imposed on Santa if indeed there was a port outside the window. Port Phillip is surprisingly, a rather small port for a big city like Melbourne. With only seven gantry cranes to brag of, the port showed none of the hustle and bustle of a world-class port such as Singapore where on any given day, there would be a fleet of ships anchored close to one another not far from the coast rekindling memories of a naval invasion during WW2.

On land where trees used to be significant and magnificent, it is glitzy towers and building cranes that dominate the landscape. The sky is even bluer than the water on an almost cloudless morning. Without trees, we cannot see the wind. Seemingly still and with the sun beaming down directly from above casting very little shadows, the old man was lulled into thinking it was a warm day. Knowing that Melbourne can conjure up four seasons in a day, his Mrs told him to wear an extra layer. “Just in case,” she said in an uncompromising voice. Kind and caring, she meant well. Always. Except she, being a no nonsense woman all her life, does not bother to use a kind and caring voice. “Just bring your jacket!” she said.

A brave woman, she had her teeth implants done just the day before they flew to Melbourne. “It’s ok to fly tomorrow, right?” she asked from her wheelchair, as the fat nurse pushed her down a long steep ramp to the carpark. “Don’t let go of the wheelchair,” the old man said, noticing that the nurse appeared to be rolling down the ramp with the wheelchair. “I won’t!” came the reply. As the Mrs slid into their blue CRV which had turned into an old bomb after serving them for over twenty years, Murray, the family’s dog, greeted her as if he had not seen her for an eternity. Murray was to be sent to a pet hotel that same afternoon. Unaware of their plan to abandon him in a strange place with strange people looking after strange dogs, Murray licked the Mrs’ hand with real gusto and with real compassion as if he could feel her pain from the operation. “That’s unfair to my pal,” the old man said with disdain. “He would still show his love for us even if he knew of our awful plan to put him in the pet hotel,” he said. “This dog knows about agape, his love is unconditional,” he informed me. However, Murray would see to it that their horrible plan would be totally disrupted the next morning.

As soon as they arrived at Adelaide Airport, the phone rang.

“You best come and get your dog right now,” the voice on the phone said.

“That’s impossible, we are about to board our plane,” the old man’s son said.

“Well, if you don’t come, he may die,” the voice said calmly.

“No way!” the son said.

“He isn’t happy here and he tried to bite us,” the calm voice replied.

“He isn’t eating, and he hasn’t peed or pooed since arriving.”

“You better come.”

So, the son had to abandon his flight and bring Murray home. Fortunately, the old man’s little sister had without hesitation, agreed to check on Murray, the home alone dog. The unfriendly-looking man at the Qantas desk snarled under his breath and smirked at the son. “By rights, we can’t help you and you’ll need to repurchase a new ticket but since it’s Christmas, I’ve rebooked the 2 o’clock flight for you,” he said. Suddenly, he did not look unfriendly anymore although he still didn’t wear a smile. “See, we should not judge a person by his looks,” I said to the old man.

“Melbourne is pronounced as Mal-burn, not Mal-born” the old man said. “So, it’s strange that we Aussies don’t call the movie Burn Identity, right?”

“Yeah, and the people call themselves ‘Mel-burn-nians’ not ‘Mel-born-nians’.”

“Are you all spending your Christmas holiday in Mal-burn?” I asked.

“No, we are actually here to attend the AYO concert, to support Mal,” the old man said.

“AYO?” I asked. “The Australian Youth Orchestra?” “Who’s Mal?”

“Yeah, the AYO, best youth orchestra in the world,” the old man said. “Mal is playing in the concert, so we are here to support him.”

The concert was held at the Melbourne Town Hall on a Thursday night. Melbourne is an exciting place to be. A ‘very happening’ place with lots of events all year round. The streets are packed with revellers, maybe people are out doing their Christmas shopping or just soaking in the vibrant atmosphere appreciating the newfound freedom after a prolonged lockdown during the pandemic. “Quite unusual,” the old man said. Surprisingly, it was almost a sell-out concert for a weeknight.

“How was it?” I asked.

“What? The concert?” he asked.

“Yeah, what was the standard like?”

“It was fantastic! Mal played really well.”

It was a very interesting programme. They started with a cello concerto by Saint Saëns. Camille Saint-Saëns, a French composer, wrote his first cello concerto in A minor, in 1872. The music delivered a sense of French elegance and classical grace and showed off the vast range of the cello from its thrilling heights near the bridge to rich tonal depths of the lower strings and showcased the soloist’s remarkable technical prowess and masterful control of his instrument as his busy fingers raced up and down the fingerboard in the fast passages of the concerto at a scintillating tempo. “It was very exciting!” said the old man. Unlike the norm, the work is a single movement comprising three distinct sections. The Australian-born cellist, Pei-Sian Ng, Principal Cello of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, recently “played alongside Yo-Yo Ma in another exciting double cello concerto Violoncelles Vibrez! by Giovanni Sollima.” The programme notes mentioned that Ng performed Tan Dun’s Crouching Tiger Cello Concerto with The Festival Orchestra under the baton of the composer. The other works performed in the concert were The Meaning of Trees (world premiere) by Andrew Ford and Stravinsky’s The Firebird, with the English conductor, Matthew Coorey, bringing the orchestra to its apogee.

At the post-concert event, Mal somehow managed to get the old man and his companions inside the grand room of the Town Hall. Wine and champagne flowed freely and the seemingly unending serves of finger food kept the old man very happy. He congratulated the composer, Andrew Ford and thanked the soloist, Pei-Sian Ng for a wonderful concert. It was a night defined by great music performed beautifully with vigour and unbridled enthusiasm by a youthful group of high calibre musicians.

Long and short, high and low, define each other.

If you know beauty, then you know what’s ugly.

If you know what’s right, you understand what’s wrong.

Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

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