Underthecurrent


Feels Like the First Time: Being a Foreigner
September 29, 2011, 3:19 am
Filed under: overtly political, voyageur | Tags: , , ,

A long time ago, this space debated the use of the word expat versus immigrant. For the record, when people ask, I just call myself a foreigner.

Work is a microcosm of the larger community. From behind a counter, a lot about relationships between local groups is apparent. One of the most interesting, personally, has been the relationship between Aussies and foreigners. As yet, I have yet to meet a foreigner who has been fully accepted by the community here regardless of how long they have lived in town or what they do. This initial impression has been confirmed by a little something that happens after ten at night and about twenty tiny little glasses of beer when yet another random mildly xenophobic comment about someone else in the bar is uttered. Maybe it’s the song they chose on the jukebox, maybe it’s talking too loud. Some will say they fit in fine, like it here even, but those ten pm truths are sharp and constant and for some the desire to fit in is palpable.

To be fair, no one has said anything truly xenophobic to me, but this is probably because I fit in a different category of foreigner. I’m transient, part of the entertainment.

I can’t help but compare with my life in Africa.

Maybe it’s because everyone is so different, so multilingual. Maybe it’s because the second passport is often a status symbol. Maybe it’s that people are more relaxed about things generally, TIA. All I know is that my life in small town Africa was marked by the openness of people. It’s not lost on me that a country notorious for xenophobic attacks over the last couple of years is a place where my own experience was tolerance and acceptance. Yet another paradox.

I really enjoy the people in this town, and they have been incredibly nice to me so far, but today I’m just a little homesick for that small town an eight hour flight away.

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Intermission
September 28, 2011, 7:46 am
Filed under: insight, when I grow up | Tags: ,

“You’re the new playthings in town, the new girls.”
“This is not my first rodeo.”
“I’m just saying – they only want to get you in bed and then they will break your heart.”
“How do you know that I’m not here to break hearts?”

So I got a non-industry job, got on a bus, and found myself in a small town an hour away from the ocean. I have no idea how to take a bus out of town, but I’ve worked every day since arriving in some capacity anyways. There is a nice coffee shop, a well stocked grocery store, a pool and a bunch of people my age.

The worst has been confirmed: I like it.

I had wanted to take a job outside of what I had been doing for the past five years to remember what it felt like to do some other kind of work. There was no way to do this discreetly at home, so the other side of the world it was. Conveniently, the recession really is just an idea out here and wages are delightfully high. Most of us at this gig sort of fudged our experience and some of us are not exactly what we represented; the guy in the kitchen has an Art History degree with a thesis on Prehistoric Cave Drawings.

The idea of whether or not I should attempt to re-enter the industry I left in about a year and a half begins to weigh. At a wedding this summer, one of my parents friends (half-cut) begged me not to waste my education. I promised not to (half-cut). But the suit I brought just in case hangs in my room like a halloween costume. I think, in the end, the problem for me was the Big Pretend.

Last week a friend sent me a message about being interviewed by someone from my class. They asked for the inside story. I flashed back to first year, the parties, the friendships. That year remains one of the best of my life. It was such a raw year for all of us, honest and sometimes hard. It was the year before anyone really started acting the part or looking at each other as serious competition. Answering the message, I realized I knew the most intimate details of that classmate’s life. In fact, I knew intimate details from most of my classmate’s lives. Who and what they loved, where they had been, what they had done.

By the end, most surfaces had changed. People bought different clothes, got different haircuts, but more importantly developed different mannerisms and ways of dealing with others. We imitated until we made it. I think for a lot of my classmates it was more natural, either they had grown up with a close family member they were emulating or their personalities meshed well with the demands of the job. For me, the big pretend was on.

Rather than selling just my knowledge, I had to sell myself and make myself into the product everyone was expecting. I was encouraged to get hobbies and join groups that would make me more enticing. My image became a bunch of clothes that, although much more expensive, felt a lot like the grocery store deli uniform I was forced to wear at sixteen. My social life involved attending parties and events where I monitored what I said and which jokes I told and whose jokes I laughed at. In a different universe I probably could have rolled the dice and just been myself, but I felt like doing that would jeopardize my opportunity to see if this was what I wanted.

Now my life is my own and only my time is for sale.



Stranger in A Strange Land
September 7, 2011, 7:00 am
Filed under: when I grow up | Tags:

Looking for work, even on perpetual holiday, is sort of a drag. It means instead of taking full advantage of the glassy eleven am unemployment waves, doing a lot of stuff that looks a lot like work but which does not result in glorious bank deposits.

The problem is that instead of spending five years tending bar, answering phones, working my way up in some corporate monolith, this resume has too much stuff on it, none exactly right. Hard to spin.

The funniest part about looking for work is the crappier the job the more references people seem to want. For my last four or five jobs, no one even wanted a reference page. I had gone pro, what anyone would say about me was irrelevant.

Slowly, I’m figuring out ideas, slowly working on a plan. It is actually a very good microcosmic kind of trial run.



West Coast Sunday
September 6, 2011, 7:29 am
Filed under: voyageur | Tags: ,

Sitting on the beach, talking about how amazing this later winter day on the coast had been, talking about being old and getting older, talking about why people never go home. The sun sets as we push sand between our toes.

Sunday night the sleepy town comes out for one more drink before the week kicks off, no one does shots. Everyone looks like this place feels, mellow and sunwashed. Momentarily, nothing outside this street exists or matters. This beautiful intranscience in a world that goes too fast and too hard. No, we will not go today, we will swim in the sea and feel the power of the waves and see our friends and take our kids to the park and talk to strangers about how their day, much the same, has been.



This Country, It Is Big
September 5, 2011, 7:28 am
Filed under: nomadisms | Tags: , ,

“Broome, it’s great.”
“It’s really far away though.”
“I didn’t know it was 3000 km away, they just asked me the day before if I wanted to go to Broome the next day and I said sure and they woke me up in the morning and we left.”
“When did you figure out it was a thirty hour drive?”
“Oh, about the third day.”

Bill Callahan – Too Many Birds is playing in the background of the most amazing library I have ever been to. What is there to say about Australia.

I was sick when I got off the plane, off the shuttle, ended up at the first place I saw. It was bleak but sufficient and I rode out jetlag and antibiotics and the general unease of leaving behind a not so bad life. This town is full of escapees, from New Zealand and Europe, running from the financial crisis, earthquake damage, winter. There is a lot of ramen and hope and shitty beer, a lot of people away from home for the first time, shelving themselves on bunk beds and figuring it out. The city itself was charming, the people well dressed, the museums free and pedestrian malls ample. So much better than ever imagined.

Feeling better, I got on a train and headed for the ocean.