Tag Archives: strangers

Bus to Ballarat | Blog Narrative

We left our service apartment in a hurry, lacing up our boots in the lift. My friend, Lin, and I were making a day trip to a wildlife park in a Ballarat, a town 110 kilometres north-west of Melbourne. We arrived at Southern Cross station, only to find out that the train service had been disrupted, and we had two minutes to catch the only outbound bus to Ballarat. Thankfully, we did.

View from our bus window on the way to Ballarat, Victoria
View from our bus window on the way to Ballarat, Victoria

Our journey to the west was very pleasant. We passed pastoral scenes of cows, trees, hills and farms. Lin and I were beaming with anticipation about meeting kangaroos up close.

Two hours later, we arrived in the town of Ballarat which looked particularly empty that day. Having dozed off on the ride, we were the last of five passengers to alight. As we walked toward the rustic station doors, we heard a low voice call out from behind in Aussie-inflected Mandarin:

The man's first question in Mandarin
The man’s first question in Mandarin

Surprised, we turned around and saw a man in his early 30s. Before we could squeak out a response, he shot another question, this time in English: “Where are you from? Beijing? Shen Zhen?”

We courteously replied, Singapore. “Oh, Singapore,” he said, walking toward us and speaking enthusiastically about how lovely he thought our country was, except for our strict gum laws.

“Don’t people get caned for chewin’ gum?” he asked again. This seemed to be a common misconception so we assured him that chewing gum is allowed. However, selling gum might land one a hefty fine or a staycation at Changi prison.

“If you guys don’t chew gum, how d’you keep your teeth so white?” he asked with a deep smile.

“Dentists,” I replied, with a look of caution.

By then he had sat himself down on the bench by the station doors, closer than necessary, and we noticed that he had bandages on his right fist and forearm. While we were bundled up as thick as sheep in layers of fleece and wool, he was wearing nothing more than a shirt, bermuda shorts, socks and sandals. He continued his questioning, asking about our ages and what we were doing back home. Being a pair of non-confrontational Asian girls, we obliged, and he seemed a tad too happy upon hearing we were 21.

“So, what are you girls doing in Ballarat?” he asked, staring intently. With growing hesitation, we explained that we were on a day trip from Melbourne to visit the Ballarat Wildlife Park.

“I have a wildlife park. In my home.”

He replied in a serious tone. He proceeded to roll up his shorts, exposing even more of his legs to the chilly winter wind. Are crazy people usually climate-resistant? Lin glanced at me, trying to convey with her eyes that we should make an exit, however the man continued,

“You girls ought to be careful. There are many bad people in Ballarat… Why don’t you come to my place. I’m on the way to pick up my car.”

Upon hearing this proposition, we thanked him, declined and excused ourselves, insisting that we were late for our bus and were only in town to visit the (real) wildlife park. We left the station, debating the man’s intentions till we stopped at a map signboard outside, trying to orientate ourselves using our trusty Google Maps application. Panic set in when we noticed a lightly dressed sandalled figure approaching us from the periphery.

Google Street View of Ballarat Station with added notes
Google Street View of Ballarat Station

The man from the station had reappeared. “I’m going to pick up my car now, so I can show you around.” Gesturing at my mobile phone, he ordered, “Take down my number. O, FOUR, FOUR…”

Stunned, I only managed a vague “umm…” for a comeback before he continued, “Go on, O, FOUR, FOUR, TWO, SIX, TWO — ”

I interrupted him, maintaining that we were late. We thanked him, said a curt goodbye, and walked as fast as our short legs could take us without looking too obviously like we were running away. We glanced behind and saw that he was following us.

Born and raised catholic, my faith miraculously grows in proportion to fear. Barely religious, I started mumbling Hail Marys and making the sign of the cross every road junction.

I like to think that it was due to our masterful manoeuvring through side roads and alleys that he lost our trail. But, more likely, he got bored of following us after several blocks.

Despite getting lost once more, the Ballarat Wildlife Park was thoroughly enjoyable. At dusk, we left the town with two discoveries — firstly, kangaroos had surprisingly sharp genitalia; and secondly, perhaps we shouldn’t speak to strangers so indiscriminately.

Kangaroo basking at the Ballarat Wildlife Park
Kangaroo basking at the Ballarat Wildlife Park

Exercise 1 | Connecting people; Creating spaces

We set up this week’s exercise as a group at both indoor and outdoor locations and observed the user behaviour. We experimented with three different objects to emulate a new space; a flexible tube, a robe with adjustable loops at each end, and a rope shaped into a ring on the floor. Each time, two participants would interact with the object.

exercise 1 materials

Reactions, interactions and takeaways

Most participants were unsure of the situation and showed varying levels of comfort. Especially when pairing strangers together, participants either started conversations (they said talking helped to make it more natural) or called out the awkwardness of the situation. Some continued what they were doing beforehand. Ideally, the interaction should be seamless and natural so participants don’t feel uncomfortable or confused (unless intended).

At first we weren’t sure how much to tell participants when we asked them to take part in the exercise. The amount of details we gave likely influenced their behaviour (“please stand in the circle” vs. “here you go”). We need to find a balance between instruction and organic response when framing these works. It should be subtle and not too explicit, yet it shouldn’t be too open (this potentially doesn’t capture interest, maybe due to a lack of specifics/context, and confuses the participants). Environmental factors (i.e. indoors with aircon or hot sun) could also influence user behaviour.

We also tried telling some participants to interact with the objects in whatever way they felt was most natural, for however long they wanted. Some participants took the initiative to test the limits of the space and objects such as untying the laid out ropes etc. These active participants enhance the space by introducing unexpected interactions.