Sunday, July 24, 2011

Close Encounters in Melbourne

Had a great catch up with a friend tonight who was here from NSW for a conference. Unfortunately, he had a busy schedule and we could only catch up around midnight, so I brought him to Oldtown Kopitiam in QV.

I had not heard from him for about eight years now, so it was good to see where life had taken us and how we had both grown up in ourselves and our relationships as well.

At around 1 am we decided to go for a spontaneous tour of the city of Melbourne. It was wonderful walking in the city in Saturday twilight, and I had forgotten how magical the city could be at night.

We gazed up at the imposing fluorescent-lit cathedrals, dodged the drunken late night revellers and walked past the post-party queues at KFC. There was a busking band playing Latin music on Swanston Street and a group of people had started spontaneously dancing along.

I showed him Fed Square and Flinders St station, and we saw the upside down neon ice-cream cone that was the National Arts Centre in the distance.

I walked him back to the hotel, and then we said our goodbyes, promising to catch up again soon(er than the eight years it had taken us to catch up this time).

As I turned the corner away from the hotel, I lifted up the hood of my jacket over my head. I exhaled - hands in both pockets - and then steeled myself to take on the treacherous road home through Melbourne's CBD.


You must be thinking, what on earth are you talking about, Heng Khuen? Melbourne's a safe city!

So I thought until I heard this story a couple of weeks ago where a travelling friend-of-a-friend's was mugged by two guys in front of the State Library while he had gone to get some kebabs from Stalactites.

All he wanted was some supper, and he ended up $500 poorer (he had only brought cash for his short trip) and a Welcome-to-Melbourne, Please-Come-Again bruise to his left eye while trying to fight off his assailants.

And so it was with this story fresh in my mind that I quickly paced through the streets of Melbourne by night. I kept to the brightly lit areas, tried to stay where there were crowds, and sussed out whoever was walking my way. I followed my gut instinct - couples are usually safe, groups of friends with at least one girl in it are safe and girls are safe. Beware the lone male or a group of two.

I had made it past Russell Street, walked down Bourke, and made my way past the Latin buskers on the opposite side of Swanston Street. It was a wonderfully festive atmosphere - the music was infectious and the dancing group had now increased three-fold.

I afforded myself a little smile at how people were having a great time enjoying Melbourne on this beautiful Saturday night. The air was carefree and footloose.

It was at this exact moment when I approached the Swanston St Church of Christ on a quiet corner of Little Lonsdale Street.

I caught the eye of this big Caucasian guy loitering there with who I assumed was his girlfriend. It took me all of two seconds to realize that his 'girlfriend' was actually a skinny male with a hood over his head. My guard, which had been let down just a second ago, leapt up immediately.

My Spidey senses screamed out as the fat guy made a nod in my direction, and the both of them suddenly sprung from their relaxed positions and walked purposefully towards me. I picked up my pace, leapt onto the kerb and walked as fast as I could towards the nearest people about twenty metres in front of me.

I was about an arm's length away from them, and heard the skinny one say 'Damn, a jumper,' whatever that meant, but I sure as hell didn't hang around to ask.

I waited nervously on the corner of La Trobe St, my heart racing, looking out of the corner of my eyes to see if they had followed me. Luckily for me, their pursuit had ended as quickly as it had begun.

It wasn't until I got home when I could finally breathe a sigh of relief again; hearing the door lock behind me, keeping the city at bay for one more night.

Whether true or perceived, I must say this encounter has shaken me. I'd like to believe that it was not mere coincidence but Providence that I had heard the story the other day, and had been more vigilant tonight.

A split second too late, and this story may have very well ended differently.

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