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Going Abroad III: Being Abroad

I love travelling. Everything becomes simple. Straightforward. Unidirectional. In normal life, there are 99 problems to solve. Simultaneously. Not while travelling. Life becomes a succession of small tasks to solve. Complete focus. Pack your bags. Take your bags. Passport. Credit card. Take the train. Check in. Customs. To the gate. Your whole being can focus on these small achievements. So much more Zen. Focus on all the details. Fall into the now.

Arriving is different though. 99 problems? More like 9999. And it's a cascade. Begin at the beginning. Solve one, then move on to the next. First: put stuff down in hostel. Then: get computer fixed. It’s amazing how dependent I have become. No computer is a serious problem. That’s what you get for being a blogger apparently. When computer fixed, find room to live in. Another problem. I booked a hostel till March 1st. Sure to have a room in a week. But not without a computer. I tried to book some more nights. Impossible. Mardi Gras on March 1st. Biggest Gay Parade in Southern Hemisphere (they’re big on that here, being largest/greatest/biggest in Southern Hemisphere. Pretty easy, when your only competition is Argentina and South Africa) So, took the first room I could find. Now living with Chinese couple. Also two other guys. Not too shabby actually. Pay 200 dollars a week. But I have my own room. Heaps have shared room for similar price. Then, get a phone. Administration. Blegh. But you get through it.

Then uni. Australians abbreviate a lot. I mean Ozzies. Uni we use, too. But tute (for tutorial)? Or con for conservatoire? And they do speak pretty differently. You know when you’re in a different place when nobody can pronounce your name. But back to uni. It’s a city. It has everything. Ok, food court and some shops. A bank. But a dentist? And there’s so many clubs and societies. Most are based of having a common denominator. Religion. Ethnicity. Interesting that a country that focusses so much on a sort of chauvinistic “We are Australia” puts so much emphasis on subgroups. Puts me in a pickle sometimes. Lots of free barbie’s. That’s barbeques. But a free Barbie by Evangelists is a dilemma. Don’t like reli’s. Do like free meat. In the end I didn’t eat it. Clean conscience. Didn’t encourage the reli’s. Not that they need much encouragement anyway.

You’d think it’s easy, to join a club. Step up. Say hi. Say yes. Boom you’re in. No such luck. Membership through bureaucracy. That's what it's all about. You cannot do nothing here without become a member of something. I want to join the orchestra. First, I need an Access Card. Gives me access to activities. Then, in order to join, I have to pay membership fees. And then a semester fee. All because of bureaucracy.

Outside of bureaucracy, there’s groups. Not clubs. They get no funding. They’re unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Communists. Nihilists. Political radicals. Somehow, they think I’m a kindred spirit. I’m not. That doesn’t stop them. They make some good points. But they seem to worship Khrushchev. Not my role model, that’s for sure. And there are heaps of feminists. Don’t like them either. Too radical. Too one-issue-party. Too old-school. All men are bad. They dress horribly. Stereotyping? Yes. These people are what stereotypes imitate. Unreal.

Uni looks a lot different. Firstly, there’s the buildings. Looks like a Hollywood picture of a uni. Big, sandstone buildings. Big lecture halls, with wooden floors and chairs. Only real blackboards. People throwing frisbees. Sitting on the grass. discussing notes. Luckily, doing mostly Linguistic courses, I get to see a lot of campus. That’s because the Linguistic building is shit. Few rooms. Low ceilings. Understaffed. It’s a real treat. So I’m in a Physics lecture room. In the Vet building. Philosophy. All have different buildings. And there’s still room for sport fields. Lawns. Trees.

Secondly, the people look different. Of course, there’s a lot more of them. Supposedly about 50,000. Don’t know how many there are on main campus, but it’s a lot. Then there are the nationalities. There are a LOT of Asian people. Apparently, studying in Sydney is a lot more prestigious than in China. And they’re less strict here with test scores. Furthermore, nobody’s wearing any clothes. Very little anyway. Because it’s still raging hot. All the time. I cycle to uni every day. I have to take an extra shirt. Sweating like a pig. Unbelievable.

Talking of cycling, it’s different. Cycling in NL is relaxing. Put on some tunes. Dream away. Here, it’s all about focus. Not only because of the left-driving thing. There are no cycle lanes. Well, one. Bourke Street. Only cycle lane in Sydney. Look it up. So you drive on the road. In the beginning, I drove on the left. That’s what you do. Polite. Thoughtful. Cars can pass. Good solution. Problem is, the sides of the road aren’t very well maintained. Not good for your bike. Also, cars have a tendency to move in front of you.

Regardless of where you are. So you take up a whole lane. Especially taxi drivers don’t seem to like that. But what can they do? Can’t go through you.

So last time I raged about money. Not this time. Sydney is really expensive. But you become creative. See last issue. Job hunt is not going well. Lots of people need jobs. But we’ll get there. As the Ozzies say: no worries. She’ll be alright.

by Marten van der Meulen