Sunday, October 12, 2003

Culture Shock

The vast expedition. Turning oneself into neutral gear, impassive, patient and philosophic to endure the hell that is travel. That somewhere nowhere of transit. All other consciousness is put on hold. There is no other world. There is no other. Just the impersonal.
Transit lounges are purgatory and travel is hell.
Well, perhaps not for the pampered rich. But for the rest of us it is restrictive binding of tight seating, toy food and dead air, trapped in a flying metal cylinder.
Even economy has been economised. A few years ago Qantas kept the fearful insomniac traveller distracted with movie marathons - recent movies run one after another for 14 hours straight. Now they have put tiny screens on the backs of seats and introduced channels with programs. The movie choice was predominantly blokey and violent. The television choices were small and dreary. I watched a David Attenborough episode on seabirds twice - because it was the only thing that interested me.
With the seat in front laid back to its full extent from the getgo, I could not move my legs or get out of the seat, let alone reach my things on the floor. They play a video demonstration of in-fllight anti-DVT exercises to people who can't move.

Now, from autumn, I am in spring. It is much the same, really. Sunny or cloudy days vaguely cool. Nippy nights. But here there are the new-greens of rebirth among the deciduous trees - and the rainbow lorikeets dip and dangle in the garden trees feasting on I know not what.

Work was a warmly welcoming place and I realised, not for the first time, how blessed I am in colleagues. But it took a day and a half to open the mail - which had cascaded over the crate I left for it, and had amassed in dauting piles all over my desk. As for email, there was so much that Systems had closed my mailbox. Ironically, most of the mail consisted of their messages telling me that my mailbox was full - several hundred such messages.
Of course it only takes half a dozen large PDF attachments to overload the mailbox - and one can never teach those over-zealous PR people that their show-off high-image fancy PDFs only impress their clients. To recipients they are just a burden.

I thought I had beaten jetlag. I pushed myself straight onto the clock and bubbled through the first new downunder day. I woke like a bird on the second and bubbled off to work. Then, suddenly, late morning, when it was bedtime in the US, I turned into a zombie. I felt as if I had been hit over the head by a "stupid bat. This was most inconvenient since I was scheduled to give a speech at lunchtime. In a spaced-out state, I tottered to the art gallery where I found I was to speak in the darkened exhibition room containing the surrealism exhibition. The darkness was seductive. I felt all the more somnulent. A very pleasant crowd of people assembled, all with that sincere and expectant expression that audiences seem to assume. The organisers hooked me up to a body mike and I was on. Oddly, jetlag turns out to be a good condition in which to give speeches. I threw my carefully-prepared notes away because it all seemed too hard, and I extemporised. I suppose I "talked" as opposed to "gave a speech". And it was all very easy. I had a lovely time.

Walking back through the city, everything looked extremely beautiful. The Mall was sunny and crowded and the flower and fruit stalls were rampant with vivid color. People looked relaxed and happy. I kept running into people I knew - which seemed strange after the sense of anonymity I have in the US.

I went to the Boost Juice shop and ordered a liver cleanser with a double shot of wheatgrass which I sucked down ravenously. Oh, how I have missed those juices in the US. Just as I have missed our coffee. And milk in coffee. And proper cream. And, perhaps, the laid-back atmosphere of this culture.

And, I realised with mild suprise, I had also missed the Asian faces. It suddenly struck me what a large proportion of our population is Asian. No Latinos. A few blacks. But lots and lots and lots of Asians. And, in the spirit of this country, they don't call themselves "Asian-Australians". They're Aussies. And they are very much one of the things which make this a smart and lucky country.

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