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Melbourne Beginnings: Cece Nguyen

Presented in partnership with Study Melbourne, this annual storytelling competition is open to all international students living and studying in Victoria. This year, entrants were invited to write or create a visual work that shares their Melbourne story.

Winners will be announced at a virtual award presentation ceremony on Thu 21 Oct. Book your place here.


Higher Education Shortlist

Wonderland Melbourne – Never Stop Changing by Cece Nguyen

It was a scorching summer day in Melbourne. As I stepped out of the tram between Flinders Street Station and Swanston Street, I had a strange feeling that my soul was leaving my body somehow. Upon my walk to my sister’s house on Lonsdale Street, I felt my body lifted in the air and the breeze was closer to my skin than ever. It did not simply touch my hair but made its way through my shirt hem, making me unconsciously shiver. I can see my legs hovering in the air and I was floating! Suddenly, I turned into a leaf. This is how my story began.

“Wait, there is no way.” I comforted myself. “This must be a dream. Why is it so hot? Am I absorbing the sun?” I panicked with a series of thoughts.

This must be a dream. I could still be sound asleep in Vietnam, dreaming of arriving in Melbourne though the D-day is yet to come. That must be it. It is absurd to think I have turned into something, not nearly as dead nor as alive as a healthy human being.

“Help, is anybody there?” I screamed to the top of my lungs, hoping it would wake me up from this realistic yet hazy dream.

No one answered. I stopped and started using my logical sense. Something caught my eyes. The leaves across the street were talking to each other. And oddly, I can understand what they were saying. Even more horrified, I turned around and saw the other leaves staring at me, not with a judgmental but empathetic look.

“Did you just arrive?” A yellow leaf, or a matured woman if I was convinced that they were humans like me, with a low-pitched and condensed voice, brought me back to reality as I zoned out.

“Yes, I just got here.”

“Did you not want to ask us what the hell happened and how you ended up here, with us?” Someone asked.

“We know you must be terrified. Feel free to ask us whatever you want. Believe it or not, we have more experience in this situation.”

“First of all, are you humans or leaves?” My voice cracked upon a question that sounds ridiculous but somehow reasonable in this circumstance. “And can someone explain this situation?”

“We all turned into leaves, mate. By the way, call me Grace.” said the one next to me.

“Nice to meet you Grace. So, have you guys found out how we ended up here?” I asked hastily, not waiting for Grace to finish her sentence. I was so stunned that I could not think of anything else but getting myself out of the situation.

Grace laughed. She answered cheerfully.

“I will tell you a secret. I think the Melbourne God has everything planned out for us. At first, I was not sure. But after a while, observing people come and go, I think I know the rules now.”

“The rules?”

“Yes, the rules. Everyone arriving in Melbourne will become something. It depends on your first thought when you landed.” Grace turned to me, looking curious.

“My first thought? I haven’t got a chance to think of anything,” I looked around like I was defending myself in a court. “I remember admiring the scenery, but that is it.”

“See, you unconsciously chose to observe and do what we call, test the water. Others might think of an exploration trip right away, which is jumping straight into the water,” she said.

“It is all about the different expectations of us at that particular moment, darling” Some girls at the back chipped in. “I became a leaf, but my sister became a bicycle. After a while, I would probably want to become a bicycle and she would want to become a leaf.”

“That’s what Melbourne offers us. You are never the same after being here for a while.”

“You mean, a revolution?” I asked.

“I wouldn’t say a revolution. More like different states of life. We just need the right moments for everything.”

I started to look around. The street was so crowded. Somehow the surroundings blended perfectly with the hectic movements of the pedestrians. It was too easy to guess where they were going or what type of person they are, though tangled in a big block of fast-moving and rushing-off-their-feet Sapiens. The businesspeople would normally do either of these, heading straight without looking around – eyes on the street, coffee in one hand, purse or bag in the other hand, or constantly looking at the watch. I thought to myself, there must be a button embedded inside their bodies; “Stop when it is red light” and “Think of the presentation later on” choices between which the button switches flexibly.

My eyes searched for other patterns on the street. The homeless were making their space at the corners of the streets, next to them laying an old dog or a sloppy combination of blankets and self-made mattresses. Everything was so alive, so vivid. Was it because a leaf was supposed to have a perfect sight? Or was it because I have never seen such a beautiful city?

What a leaf does during most of its day did not excite me, however, it is exhilarating to know that besides the boredom of staying still, a leaf has its moments and privilege. A privilege to observe the outside world and change when the right season comes. If I had joined the hectic groups of people in the street, busy working from 9 to 5 and spare no minute, even when crossing the street to stop and look at the sky, I might have missed out on the beauty of this city. Also, according to Grace, once we have experienced all four seasons of Melbourne, we can be relocated or even better, transformed into something else.

Depending on our expectations for the next journeys, the so-called “Melbourne God” will allow us to become a train, a tram, or a bicycle (if we are ready to explore); Grace said that there was a Chinese girl who once broke the cycle, she finished her leaf life in just four months, with three relocations to other trees in South Melbourne and later became the 35 City Tram. She enjoyed her life to the fullest, according to what Grace knew. Though, no one had heard of her after the transformation. She could be a plane flying to Geelong or Sydney now. Everyone remembered her as a natural-born adventurer. Of course, not everyone became the 35 City Tram. Some become a 75 or 65 Tram, exploring other corners of the city.

I conformed to the cycle. I stayed a leaf for one year then turned into a bicycle and jumped on trips. Everywhere I went, I met new people and explored things that I have never tried when I was a leaf. I would not say that I did not enjoy my life before, but this is just another way of living.

I reminisced about my conversation with Grace. We had a deep conversation the night before I turned into a bicycle (The signal for this? I felt like I was ready).

“Well, do you think there will be one day that this process stops?”

“To some. Yes. But to me, I don’t think I will stop aspiring and dreaming of what comes next.” Grace set her sight on the faraway building.

We never want to stop. This city has too many things to offer. It is unexpected and full of hopes. I am now living the best life exploring places and meeting people. Others might take a different track. But we all meet each other on the same spot. We have changed vastly since we arrived in Melbourne.

In the future, who knows what is on the other side? But I only know one thing. Seize every opportunity. If you are a leaf now, make the most of your ability to observe and admire the city’s beauty. If you are a tram or a train, make sure to aspire to take different paths. While trams and trains enable us to explore, they follow the same tracks. When you are ready, Melbourne has different options and opportunities for you to seize. So never stop aspiring for something new.

I will do too, and this is not how my story ends…