Important hints and tips on how to be an adult.
Sovereign Hill, Ballarat.
Retire, after spending the day at Sovereign Hill’s historic Goldrush Town, to your hotel for dinner. You should have just wasted hours watching your brother kneel in the river, panning endlessly for fragments of gold. He will be tremendously sunburnt. He will be disappointed, and the fisherman’s basket he will order for dinner will give him such diarrhoea. With limited menu options, opt for two servings of chicken soup instead of a full meal. Wide, white bowls with cream and chives in the middle of them.
Barrington Tops National Park, Hunter Valley.
Dinner each night will be in a communal dining room filled with women your grandmother’s age. The two old ladies who will be your table-mates the whole week are part of a party, more old ladies, travelling through the land, but in the guest-house gardens — in the parks where you feed the kangaroos, in the hiking trails where your mother gets leeches — these two seem to only walk alone.
Who are they? What’s their deal? Soup choices will be pumpkin or chicken, alternating nights. When you have a choice, choose pumpkin to win respect from the old ladies around you. They know how shitty your eating habits are from talking to your family every evening for a week. The next morning, pick leeches from your mother’s heels.
If your grandparents have picked the right location, then the hotel and recreational centre where you are all viewing The Karate Kid 3 will have an intermission and dinner-break halfway through. Pumpkin soup in small bowls with choice of chicken or vegetarian main; a long wait for the dessert buffet. Forget where you are up to in the movie and, either way, fall asleep in the last act along with both of your grandparents.
Sometime into your first trip you and your school group should arrive at a hotel with a buffet-style restaurant that offers “Viking-Style” dining-reasoning that “smorgasbord” and Vikings are both Scandinavian concepts. You will eat green-tea ice cream and orange ice cream, spaghetti carbonara, katsu curry. This is where you will first try miso soup, after you are unable to argue with your mother, a chaperone for the trip, that it is any grosser than a regular broth. This will be a revelation to you, and you will eat little else for the rest of the trip. When, during the home-stay portion of your trip, your hosts ask you what you would like to eat for dinner during the week, answer, “Miso soup, please,” and they will laugh until they realise you’re serious.
On your last trip with your mother, after the long drive from the airport into the capital, rest in one of the few western hotels in town, overlooking a partially built fountain that acts as a meeting point for gangs of stray dogs. While you are watching Indian television with your brother, your mother will come in from a walk and say, “You should come see all the cute dogs. But you can’t pat them; don’t even go near them please. They will bite you and you will die.”
That night eat the first of several recurring meals-western soups, usually leek, with semi-traditional meals of stewed cheese and chilli. These are toned-down versions of Bhutanese cuisine, where people eat chillies as whole vegetables, as if they weren’t specifically evolved to harm you.
Eat these soups twice more — once in the mountains on the way to see the Himalayas, far off on the horizon, once in the valley on your last night in the country, where your guide will convince your mother to let you try “regional holy water”, or “alcohol”. Earlier, you should have stood together in the shadow of a monastery and looked out over the afternoon valley where, your guide said, sometime soon, black-necked cranes will be migrating from Tibet. They will circle the monastery three times before landing, and there will be a festival. You stand and wait but you don’t see anything flying. Just the stillness in the mountains, your mother breathing heavily from the walk up the hill.