Making sense of Mint

When I awoke this morning with nothing to do, I mused at the rarity of it. I always have something to occupy myself with over the weekends. After rummaging Facebook for a while, I concluded that I could either go to a street market, where I knew a few of my friends would be, or take a solo trip to the Royal Australian Mint—something I’d been putting off for a long time because it was just too far away.

The food market sounded fun, but considering I’d probably buy nothing and wander around aimless, I decided to do the wandering at the Mint instead.

After two buses and about 45 minutes, I entered the building that runs Australia’s coin system. A big pot of gold coins greeted me. Next to it, a staircase led to the upper level and the main exhibition. Stepping upwards, I couldn’t miss the thousands of coins studded into the stairs.

On the upper level, famous Australian bushrangers greeted me in large cutouts. From time to time, the Royal Australian Mint makes comparative coins marking important events and people. This year, they’ve made a unique set of coins to acknowledge and appreciate the contribution of bushrangers to Australian cultures and stories. It was an excellent way to remember history’s villains, most of whom died in captivity.

Moving on, I entered a corridor full of stunning displays. Hundreds of coins marked the timeline of Australia’s currency system, dating way back to the first foreign coins found in shipwrecks. Since some of the first outsiders to arrive in Australia were prisoners and war slaves, most of their currency became the initial seedling for Australia’s current monetary system. These coins gradually replaced the natives’ barter system.

Walking my way down the timeline, I learnt how, from using coins of unknown lands, the country progressed to establishing a proper way to assess the value of these random coins. From there, they moved on to adopting the shilling-and-penny system that Britain was using. As a country, Australia was under the British reign for a long time, and it only made sense to use the same coins. 

Then came the decimal period. From farthings and halfpennies, Australia went to cents and dollars. Displays showed how designers formulate the images and engravings that mark a coin. Looking at the detailing of each drawing, I was amazed to see how most of the coins in current use incorporate unique Australian fauna. There’s more to this country than kangaroos and possums. And sometimes, even though we handle and pass on these coins countless times every day, we don’t often pause to observe. 

Apart from these coins, the Mint also had displays of other collectible coins and medals that it’s made over the years. There were 1kg coins in both gold ($3000) and silver ($30) marking the Mint’s partnership in the 2016 Olympic games. There were gold, silver, and bronze medals offered to winners at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. Also on display were the medals presented at the 2019 INAS Global Games. And my favourite, three special coins celebrating the Great Barrier Reef.

Great Barrier Reef - collector coins - Royal Australian Mint

It took me about an hour and a half to look and read through all the displays. From the various metal combinations tested for a single coin and the different designs they considered, to the actual robot that helps with heavy lifting and transporting during the minting process, the Royal Australian Mint has so much awe to offer. I’m glad I skipped the markets for this.

Tea or coffee?

“Er—”

As a lover of both, it’s one of the biggest dilemmas I face in a gathering. Most people are either tea drinkers or coffee fanatics. I understand that. However, I come from a long history of tea estate owners and workers who used to wake up to the decadent smell of dewy tea leaves outside their windows, and who washed down their morning carbohydrates with a steaming pot of black tea. To say I’m a tea lover is like saying the Joker is eccentric. It’s moot.

That said, I also partly come from a society that relies on the laxative power of coffee to kickstart their day and metabolism. A hot cup of flutter coffee infused with sugar and milk is the stable beverage of a typical south Indian household.

And so when choosing one, I struggle like a mother being forced to choose between husband and child. While the former leads to the discovery of the other, the other only increases her passion for the first.

I like tea. I like coffee. And I always struggle to choose between the two.

So for a long time, I made a compromise in such a way that I give both of them equal importance in my life. Instant black coffee served as the first dregs of fuel for my engine, kicking off the day, whereas a cup of tea became my standard breakfast. Afternoons were dedicated to either lemon tea or black filtered coffee, depending on the weather, while the other one became my regular dinnertime beverage. Some days lemon tea went with lunch and some days with dinner. Either way, I was sure to get enough of both in a day.

Then I went to Melbourne for the first time, the coffee capital of Australia. It offered me some of the best-tasting coffees I’ve had in my life. Not to mention affordable, even in the central business district (CBD). However, that wasn’t the most noteworthy thing about Melbourne. Aside from the impeccable coffee, I discovered a strange thing called dirty chai.

Dirty chai with cinnamon topping - Melbourne

One of my American colleagues (who was visiting Australia) introduced me to the miracle that is the dirty chai. I had no idea that you could mix tea and coffee and end up with a concoction so addictive and mesmerising that it’s unbelievable it’s not more prevalent.

Yet, there it was—a simple brew of stewed tea leaves and a shot of espresso, melded to create a beverage that not only thrills the tastebuds but also satisfies, satiates, the penduluming soul of the tea-coffee lover.

It’s one of the many reasons to love Melbourne. It has such good coffee that it transforms a plain chai into a dirty chai that you’d love to cuddle between your palms, taking in one of the world’s best fusion creations.

The small Tudor village

Art finds countless ways to make history. When in Melbourne, attending a work conference, I managed to wander into the Fitzroy Gardens. It’s a massive nature haven with a 150+ year history. What’s more, it’s in the heart of the city, making the city far more prone to desirable infection from beautiful greenery, flora, and thousands of chirping birds.

Part of Melbourne’s charm, aside from its century-old Victorian architecture and artisan coffee, is that everything has a history worth remembering—or trying to remember.

To appreciate how deeply history and art are embedded in Melbourne’s lifestyle, I had to see the Tudor Village.

Tudor Village in Fizroy Gardens, Melbourne

Among the many historical elements in the Fitzroy Gardens, The Tudor Village is a piece of art and a gift from a British artist. Mr. Edgar Wilson was 77 and lived in Norwood, London when he made villages as a hobby. Modelled in cement, the Tudor Village is one of his three works and is a miniature replica of an English village during the Tudor period.

It took me a while to notice them, but the village comprises of thatched cottages, a church, school, hotel, a barn, and all the public buildings you’d expect in a self-sufficient small town. Even the architectural elements were precise to that period.

The Tudor Village, however, isn’t just any gift. It was a symbol of gratitude to the city of Melbourne for sending food to Britain during the Second World War.

It’s such a great icon in the gardens. There I was in Victorian Melbourne, dropping my jaw at an ancient Tudor-period village.

If you visit Melbourne, stop by the gardens. There’s plenty more to see as well.

I swear

Until March of this year, my vocabulary had limited swear words, uttered sparingly and with extreme caution. Using the F word in any gathering that’s not your bosom buddies was a thing to frown upon, and you might even get a talking to from strangers and colleagues alike. It’s not uncommon for people to mutter it under their breath, but it was certainly unsuitable to say out loud.

Seven months on, and I now live in Australia. Though my swear vocabulary is still rather limited, I hear them in conversations around me countless times a day, in varying pitches. For instance, my non-Australian housemate, who’s lived here for four years, walked into the kitchen one morning.  I was peeling papaya. He hey-ed at me, and I, him. He then opened the fridge and went, “Oh, fuck.”

That’s how we roll here. Most words deemed uncivilised and unfit, even for domestic use are casual and overused in Australia.

You hear these words in places and in situations that have no reason to have them. The reason my housemate said what he said when he looked into the fridge that morning is because there was some food leftover that he’d forgotten about. It was still good enough to eat, though. Besides, it’s not as if he worried about wasting either. Regardless, that situation warranted swearing.

My point is, swear words are so common that they’ve melded into everyday colloquialism. I knew it even before I got here, though. Refer to any website offering travel advice, and you’ll always have a note about says how heavy swearers Australians are.

It’s not just the F word. The  C word gets around quite a lot, too. Chances are, you can’t and won’t have a regular conversation with any (or most) Australians without hearing the swear words a fair few times.

I’ve been here a while now, and it doesn’t bother me as much. I’ve come to realise that in Australian speech, these—and the many other swear words I don’t recall—are meant as emphasis words. Like literally in place of figuratively. Like actually, honestly, really, very, and all other adverbs that all writing guides cast away as unnecessary.

It doesn’t bother me since I’ve been here a while now. But I can imagine how gutting it would be for someone new—like my mother, for instance. Once, ages ago, burnt out after work, I swore in front of my mother. Recalling that incident, she asked me a couple of days ago if I’ve stopped swearing now that I’m no longer under the same stress.

“Of course, ma. I don’t swear at all nowadays.”

Well, at least that puts her mind at ease.

It’s good to get lost

When I woke up this morning, I didn’t want to be around people. It just wasn’t a socialising day. Within minutes, I decided to get lost in the Australian National Botanical Gardens.

The first time I went there, I was a traveller. A high-energy trekker, equipped with a backpack full stuffed with a jacket, cap, water, and snacks. And I tried to cover the whole area in one day—because that’s what I do when visiting a new city. I crave to see everything, experience everything in one visit. As a result of that over ambition, I lost my way in the gardens, strayed from the main path every time I saw a flower or a streak of sunlight glinting through a puddle, and ended up missing a few parts of the garden.

This time, I knew better. I had a plan, a purpose. I chose a trail—the eucalyptus walk—and decided to stick to it. 

Except, I got lost again. It took me longer than it should’ve, but I went around in circles before finding my way back on to the trail. 

And you know what? It’s ok. It’s ok that I got distracted by plants, that I gravitated towards weird shaped-branches and odd-named bushes. It’s ok that I didn’t follow the trail exactly as it was mapped. Because at the end of the day, it’s not about seeing them all. It’s about appreciating what you did see. 

And I saw a lot.