CHINESE international student Cassie Shi remembers her first weeks in Melbourne as a trial of the taste buds.
Slowly, the plane was landing. Sitting next to the window, I couldn’t wait to take a good look out.
“Indeed, Melbourne is such a big village,” I mumbled.
That was three years ago and I wasn’t in the city for more than a few hours when I encountered the result of what was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make – choosing where to live:
- On campus? Too expensive plus I can’t cook.
- In a share house? Again, I can’t cook.
- With a local family? Not that cheap, but at least I don’t need worry about going hungry.
And so, I hopped in the car (courtesy of Monash University international students’ pick-up service) and went to meet my host family.
I found the home-stay online with reviews from former students and simply made an oral agreement with the family. I knew nothing about them other than they were an old couple who had immigrated from Europe, but had spent most of their life in Australia.
What would the family look like? I wondered. And more importantly, what kind of western style feasts would they be offering?
I arrived at the front door of a two-story independent villa and it was wide open. Through the closed security door, I saw a dark corridor with a wooden floor.
The driver seemed to feel how nervous I was and offered a hand. He walked up to the porch and opened the security door, letting out a “Hello?” as he did.
Somebody responded and soon a Father Christmas-looking man appeared. I pretended to stay calm with a smile and a confident, “Hi, are you David?”.
I was led into the house. The narrow and dark corridor opened into a warm, spacious living room.
I was calm on the outside but inside, I was screaming for joy. An old-fashioned piano, a fireplace, floor with carpet, a garden at the back and puppies! It was all I could want for in an ideal suburban house.
I took a nap in my room on the second floor and woke up at 5pm to meet my housemates – two other Chinese girls.
The whole afternoon, I had been looking forward to a big dinner, especially after David told me he was a good cook.
But he was in no rush and it wasn’t until well past 7pm that I was told dinner was ready. 7pm! Two hours later than my dinner-time back home, I felt like I could eat a cow.
As if in consolation, there really was a cow waiting for me, or more precisely, one big steak, a large portion of gravy mashed potatoes dotted with beautiful green peas and cauliflower, all in a plate as big as a washbasin.
I was in meat-eater heaven. In the following days, we had sausages, spaghetti and fish and chips. I was definitely born for western food, I thought.
Sadly, my interest in this oily and meaty food decreased as the months wore on. My weight, on the other hand, ruthlessly increased and I developed the first love handles I’ve ever had in my life.
But at least I enjoyed the dinner in the beginning.
Breakfast was painful from the start. Back home, we eat porridge, noodles or meat buns with soy bean milk, something fluid. Here, I was greeted on the first morning with two pieces of toasted bread and a glass of juice. David suggested frying an egg to eat with the bread. Hmm, sounds alright, right? Make your judgment after you taste it.
I still have a clear picture of me stuffing that dry bread into my stomach with water and a miserable expression on my face. Soon after, I decisively turned to two-minute noodles as my loyal breakfast companion.
But what about lunch, you ask?
I don’t want to disappoint, but we didn’t have a proper lunch. David and his wife taught us to make sandwiches. Two pieces of bread (again) squeezed around a piece of cheese, a sausage and two pieces of lettuce together, and hey presto, my lunch for the first few months.
After all of this, I guess it’s suffice to say my first weeks in Melbourne were a trial of the taste buds. And the lesson I learnt? Take the time to pick up some simple cooking skills before going abroad. It might save your stomach.