I’m Heaps Beached, Bro.

28 04 2010

Good afternoon, babies!

As I write, vicious & noisy gusts of wind whip through the trees outside, beneath the overcast cloak of ominous clouds. The weather has taken quite a cool turn, and I imagine is a bit closer to what Melbournian fall generally feels like. It had been unusually warm over the past week and a half (following my initial blog posts where I complained about how chilly I was…) Leaves have started to change color in certain parts of the city which is quite beautiful, but makes me nostalgic for the blanket of color that is Virginia or New England in the autumn. I’m grateful that when I return from Australia I’ll be coming back to warm weather, beach time, & an opportunity to regain the tan that I am rapidly losing here!

Monday was a laid back day, chock full of sleeping, eating, & movie watching. L & I began “Boondock Saints,” which is generally deemed one of the most badass movies of all time from the perspective of usually any American. We only got through about half of it, and though L was enjoying it, it was clear he wasn’t enraptured the way I am each time I watch the film. It’s a common theme that I’ve been experiencing here; the excitement of sharing American culture & humor, but finding that it doesn’t always translate & often falls flat. Alas I can’t make him appreciate everything.

Come on, how is this not the best movie ever…I mean, really. Irish accents? Brothers? Matching Mary tattoos on the neck? Can lift toilets out of the floor with handcuffs on?? Yes, please!

But the problem arises frequently- for instance, I’ll think of a hilarious youtube video to share with Luke, but realize halfway through that I’ll need to pause it in order to explain certain elements, terms, or jokes. And you can understand how the humor & appreciation can rapidly dissolve. I know L has struggled with the same thing with me; having to stop and explain things left & right so often can be frustrating for both parties, & seems to take the magic/all humor out of it. But what I’m also realizing though is that the beauty doesn’t have to rely so much on what’s being explained, or what the joke is necessarily. The beauty lies in the discourse. The energy, the emotion, the passion behind the drive to explain- the interaction; the sharing of culture between individuals, is what makes it all worthwhile…

After a number of conversations with Melbournians about American v. Australian culture, I’ve begun to see that for many of them, this might be the only significant American interaction they might experience, apart from what is shipped out internationally: music videos, news clips, & American cinema. Similarly, had I not come here for an extended period of time & been able to engage in these discussions, my understanding of Australia & its culture would be limited to the meager bits of their culture I had experienced over the years; merely a snapshot of the diversity, beauty, & wealth of culture that Australia boasts. I’ve realized that these conversations I have might forever impact one individual’s opinion of a country. It’s an intimidating thought. And I feel like a poor representative.

I don’t think I had ever really, like REALLY considered how the international community views the States. I suppose I thought about it a significant amount following the decision to invade Iraq, imagining how ally countries must feel when being brought into such an interaction, most likely unhappily. I’ve thought about it at times when presidents have met with international leaders; hoping that each would have a pleasant & polite exchange that would benefit both countries. I’ve thought about it when I’ve traveled abroad, but only then simply because I was the odd man out. I’m forced to think about it then because I’M the alien, the outsider, the only American accent in general proximity. But each time I’ve considered it, it tends to fade away after a short period of time. The Iraq War eventually wasn’t part of every news headline, the presidential meetings would end after a day or two & seem to go off without a hitch, & I would return home to America after my short travels; back to everything safe, familiar, & easy. It was a simple click of the heels, & my ruby slippers had transported me back to my comfortable American womb.

Being here has been quite a different experience. I keep thinking to myself “this doesn’t feel like vacation!” But I’m realizing that maybe that’s okay. Maybe that’s what’s held me back in the past. I hadn’t felt any immediate need to engage, like REALLY engage with the culture, in an effort to learn, & in an effort to teach. This has been a more difficult adventure for me by far, but I have a feeling it will probably be the most rewarding. I’ve been taken out of my prenatal shell of cultural security, & although the lights are bright (sometimes quite unpleasant) and I am both cold & intimidated, what I am seeing here is so much more than I could have anticipated otherwise. I am really beginning to understand how Australians must feel when their culture is reduced to “a dingo ate my baby!” & “do you have kangaroos in your backyard?” It’s the same feeling I have when an Australian seemingly reduces my culture to the frivolity of Hollywood, the closed-mindedness of characters on a Jerry Springer episode, the gluttony of the fast food industry, or simply a country that has no interest in understanding other cultures. We end up selling ourselves short when we play into the stereotypes. For the sake of simplicity, or humor, or just willful ignorance, we reduce both ourselves & others to fragmented bits of culture shoddily glued together. I’m hoping that through my time here, I can really access something beyond this incomplete & biased perspective for the sake of my own country & its reputation & to bring back much more insight to the States, I suppose, for the sake of Australia. I’m beginning to feel it a part of a responsibility as an American,  as a member of a global community, & ultimately as a member of a spiritual community.

All right, who’s going to start up the Kumbaya? Come on, C#, let’s go folks.

Goodness, I got pretty existential for a bit there, didn’t I? All of this has just been weighing heavily on my mind over the past week. I’ve had so much to think about & to process, and as I said before, this is one of my only outlets to do so! I wish there was some way to convey it all to you. There is so much beauty here. Yet it’s such a bizarre feeling; such an amoebic state of in-between when one travels internationally. I feel torn between my homesickness, the longing for familiarity, versus the inevitable bond that is growing to this city & this country, & the eye-opening experiences I’m having on a day to day basis…

I spent yesterday working at the Jesuit Mission Office in the morning, pricing & sorting books. I felt a bit more comfortable there this week, since most of the faces were familiar ones, & since I have mastered the art of riding the tram alone. (Although shout out to Renae here. She’s my go to girl for pretty much any & all confusion/frustrations! She helped to allay my tram-anxiety by giving me a detailed step-by-step map on my first day’s venture to Hawthorn. It’s safe to say that I would have had legitimately 5-6 panic attacks during my time here had it not been for her & Frith. ha!)Yesterday afternoon L’s mum picked me up from the office & took me to Onemda (www.onemda.com.au), where L’s sister Lucy attends a daily intellectual disability program. Lucy introduced me to all of her friends, & gave me a tour of all the different units. There was so much joy emanating from every individual there, it was really inspiring, & beautiful beyond words. Afterwards Jenny, Lucy, & I stopped at the enormous nearby shopping mall to run a couple errands & waste time until Lucy’s dance class. Lucy decided just before her dance class that her ears were bothering her too much & that she didn’t want to go. With a little coaxing, we ultimately arrived at the rec center & got her inside. She then decided she wasn’t going to participate. The only way to get her to actually get up and dance was if I got up and did it with her… So there I was, doing the chicken dance & the macarena with Lucy & about 10 others, all in front of L’s mum. After a bit of self-consciousness, I really ended up getting into it & having a great time dancing with Lucy. She soon forgot about her ears popping, & the class was a success.

After getting dropped off at Newman, Luke & I had a lovely dinner at a gorgeous Italian place along Lygon St. I always forget though that after about 10 bites of gnocchi, I generally get tired of gnocchi. haha, Oh well. Afterwards, we stopped by the local indie film cinema & saw an Irish film- ‘The Eclipse,’ a sort of pseudo horror-romance-drama. I definitely freaked out/yelped a couple times in the theater, but fortunately there were only about 4 other people in there with us. We had a nice stroll back to Newman as I railed against Irish cinema, & I called it an early night. Realized that I have a heater in my room as well, which was a great success!

Got a sim card today for the cell phone which is awesome. Had a hilarious conversation setting it up with the cell service provider representative, Rishma, who was definitely speaking to me from a call center in India. (Good old customer service outsourcing. Shout out, CEB…) She asked me what the weather was like where I was & if I “liked rain.” And each time I said “yes ma’am” she’d say “oh come on, you can call me Rishma! Haha!” It was one of the more interesting customer service conversations I’ve ever had in my life.

Anyway I’ve rambled enough at you for the day. I’m off to rendezvous with Tom the Kiwi. We have plans to get beached as.

Thinking of you all. Especially those of you who are approaching UVa graduation!! I have no idea when it is and what’s going on, but I’m thinking of you & praying for you hardcore. I hope preparations are going well & that you survive finals, all of you, although I know you will! I need to hear plans for beach week & everything! I want to hear how you’re lives are, so please don’t hesitate to email me or shoot me a facebook message!






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