March 18, 2003
Everyone Has A Story
"I was the Sultan of Brunai's personal chef for four years," Xavier said to me. At this point I did not know his name was Xavier or that he was Swiss or that he was now an artist living in Tasmania. He was just the guy at the table next to mine in the cafe across the street from the Devonport bus station. The guy that almost made me miss my bus to Launceston.
I'd arrived in Devonport, Tasmania the night before, from Melbourne, via the Spirit of Tasmania I - a cross between a very large ferry and a cruise ship. The next morning I booked myself into an adventure tour traveling down the eastern coast to Hobart, Tasmania's capital. The tour left from Launceston the next day.
After buying my ticket I wandered across the street, past the bus, to a cafe and got a coffee and some breakfast. It was during breakfast that Xavier and I got to talking. I'm honestly not sure how the conversation started, but pretty soon we were chatting away, guessing where the other was from (I guessed France, he guessed Canada) and generally having one of those great, random travel conversations.
Everyone has an interesting story to tell - most people just never get asked. I'm not sure what makes people open up to travelers. When it comes to problems, I think it's something to do with it being easier to talk to strangers than close friends. Getting a chance to get something off your chest but also knowing you will most likely never see them again. With good, fun stories, it just offers you the chance to spin one of your well-worn and personally-liked tales to a completely new and appreciative audience.
Every so often during my conversation with Xavier, I would peek my head out the window to see if people had begun to gather around the bus. Every time I looked, it was dark and quiet so I went back into the cafe. I remember thinking what an interesting life this man had led and wondering if, when I was his age, I'd have some equally great stories to share.
I asked Xavier if ever in his wildest dreams he thought he would end up in Tasmania at this point in his life. He laughed and said no, though he had always known he would travel - that is why he became a chef even though his first passion was art. Now, years later, having seen the world, he was back to what he loved most. In Tasmania of all places.
At one point Xavier began telling me about a birthday party he went to at the Sultan's palace. The party was for the Sultan's niece who was turning 18. About 150 guests had come to the party and it was considered quite an honor to be there. After the entertainment announcement was made, Whitney Houston, Elton John AND Bryan Adams appeared on stage. He said at first he couldn't believe it. Apparently, the Sultan of Brunai is one of the richest men in the world. Xavier said he'd heard that Michael Jackson had performed at a previous party.
I asked if the people of Brunai were treated well by their ruler. He said they were and were generally happy. He said that in the middle of one of the cities is a huge amusement park with the latest rides and attractions. The park is open 24 hours a day, year round and is absolutely free.
At that moment I remembered the station master saying that the bus would leave from INSIDE the bus station. I looked at my watch and realized the bus was due to leave that minute. I grabbed my bag, said goodbye to Xavier and ran across the street to the station. The driver was just shutting the doors as I ran on board.
I thought about Xavier and his stories most of the way to to Launceston and wished I would have been able to talk to him a bit longer. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I could have just caught the later bus. They'll always be another bus. How often will I get one degree of separation from the Sultan of Brunai?