PACKET NOISE

charlie lempriere


The selection of packet noodles is very poor here. Distinct lack in spice. Too many packets claiming to have actual meat inside. I propose an alternative idea to my pal J. I say let’s go to the grocery store Tokyo Hometown in the city where they have a larger selection of packet noodles and then we can microwave them at the university RMIT across the way. The idea is a go. We go.

Maybe each night on the radio news there should be an update on the progress of the Metro Tunnel construction. I revel in its light chaos, but would really appreciate to know what’s actually going on. Why are they shutting down some of my favourite city stores and not providing a guaranteed new location for their place of business? Somebody is pulling the strings and we ought to know.

To get down A’Beckett Street, due to the construction, we have to squeeze through a narrow overhead scaffolding and through the urban basketball space that always tempts me to join in. Where the selection was before disappointing, the abundance of noodles at Tokyo Hometown is intimidating. J goes for a classic choice, the Nongshim Shin Cup, not feeling game today for any fishy flavours. My flirtations with intrigue have backfired on me in the past when confronting packet diversity of such scale, so I respect J sticking to his guns. There was a moment in all this when I suggested we should get baguettes instead at the other end of the city. Everything would have turned out so ordinary had we followed that scenario.

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The packet noodles are just for J. Analysing the location and reflecting on J’s short lunch break time constraints I decide that there’s just no going past Wonderbao. I’m currently working my way through their entire menu. The best thing I’ve had so far is the “fried silky tofu gua bao”. Today I get the “cheung chay bao” and “char siu bao” and “choi bao”. It’s really hard to not eat them immediately but I have to remain loyal to J. We walk to RMIT.

A street-sweeper on Swanston Street is kicking up a mighty dust. I get bad hay fever and I will suffer later for this. The brutish noise of the cleaner’s machine is matched by dance music coming from up a flight of stairs in the RMIT building where a DJ is perched. There are some waving arms and a TV screen displaying information. I’ve come to expect such displays of panache from students of this school and don’t take much notice.

At the entrance to the big concrete staircase that leads into the main food eating spots of the campus we spot our pal H who is with her pal L. I loosely know L from my past. We re-introduce each other so it sticks for the future. H asks me where I got the Wonderbao from and I say that I got it from Wonderbao obviously. Turns out people have been scoring free bao and other nice food because RMIT has been running for 130 years and there is a massive celebration on right now. H and L are trying to locate and listen to a student produced sound installation. They picked such an awful day to do this. The little speakers are so overpowered that we are convinced it’s mediocre art even if on another day it could be impressive. The focus has firmly switched to free bao.

On the second floor the cacophony of sound is absurd. Configuring the appropriate acoustics for the space seems to have eluded the many sound specialists that attend the school. Walking from one room to another is a cool experience because the content of the music transitions so decidedly from each DJ and performer, usually tucked in the corners. The volume is very loud and the in-between points when both sound sources clash does not sound vicious and frustrating, but rather excels in affirming the high octane university sponsored fun. Occasionally I scream out in delight, wanting to be apart of the soundscape. I could be sitting on a bench eating a baguette.

They didn’t have any cutlery at Tokyo Hometown for J. A shit load of people are lining up in queues all over the place. Normally I’d want to jump in the queues for the sake of it. The residue waste from the stand handing out free chain-store chips is foul. Uneaten chips and little plastic containers are scattered over the tables and floor. I stop myself from picking at the leftovers. J finds a used plastic fork and this could be his best bet.

It has dawned on us that the bao mission is naive and worth avoiding. H asks to have a bite of my bao. She is vegetarian, so I have to bite both bao to check the insides of which one she can eat. J takes a bite of the char siu. They both respond pleasantly. Outside there is a big proper stage with a lame corporate music act taking up space. A ferris wheel spins behind that. Today also marks the unveiling of a major new building that is an embodiment of futurist eco-utopian design. Last night H and L had a big one so they peel off to cool down.

The cutlery is exhausted. We walk past a woman awkwardly placed in a corridor singing “Halo” by Beyoncé. J washes off his found fork at the bathroom taps and we try to get through sliding doors that are locked. A guy we ask who has heated up food says you have to go through those locked doors to get to the microwaves. Unsatisfactory advice pal. There’s a second route and it involves walking past the woman who is singing “Hallelujah” now. Security guards are standing outside the microwave room. We just want to heat up a goddamn Shin Cup!

Photograph by Samuel Xu

Photograph by Samuel Xu

To reach the microwaves is a precarious manoeuvre that involves skirting past a theatrical karaoke ensemble that is also singing “Halo”. I let J go it alone and I do believe in him. Two people are handing out free beers. I’m not a beer guy. I ask for one. The woman hands me an Asahi when I actually want a Tsingtao. Luckily she hears my plea for the lovely green can just before she opens that which I don’t want. I’m not sure what the difference in flavour is.

Noodles are hot now. The woman who appears to be orchestrating the karaoke is moving across the room. She says can we please sing a song. We say we really don’t want to sing and that’s just fine and understandable with her. There are a lot of confident people in the room who volunteer instead and the music never stops. People are filming the performance. Cheering and pumping their fists. Perhaps they all know each other. This is RMIT.

The balcony was meant to be a respite. We round the corner for a seat and are met with the full force of the Franklin Street Metro Tunnel construction site. Woah! These drills are exhilarating. It’s not very conducive to a small chat and noodle lunch though. J doesn’t seem phased that he is going to be late to class, and when he assures me this I stop worrying on his behalf. The Tsingtao is going down great.

After a few uninspired song choices the karaoke scene is lifting off inside, belting out anthemic Australiana I wish I didn’t have to hear again. People are out of their chairs and actively getting down. The drilling stops. A fire truck swoops down Swanston Street and gets banked behind several trams, its wailing siren in stark focus. I want the drills to start again so the sonic trilogy can be complete. It doesn’t eventuate. A hooded guy opens the fire exit door for us and we leave onto the street below.


CHARLIE LEMPRIERE

Can play a G-chord on a guitar. Wants to learn more chords. Wants a pair of cords.