Reflections on The Bachelor – Desperation TV

It’s been a while since I posted. Post Fringe Festival lethargy!

But this TV show The Bachelor and the recent uproar! Wow! I don’t watch commercial TV, but “The Bachelor” came on my radar this last two weeks, so I watched the last two episodes. It’s not that I dislike all reality TV, just the non-sensical dating versions.
Apparently, the Honey Badger (seriously, wtf? his name is Nick Cummins) decided not to pick either of the two women the shows twisted process of shortlisting had reduced the pack down to.
Outrage! Some defended him, some defended the women. I’d like to say – let’s not focus solely on the contestants and look at the format as a whole and how it diminishes men and women.

I found myself angry at the rubbish being peddled as journalism. The whole thing is a capitalist neo-liberal wank-fest aimed at diminishing women to good looking brides and diminishing men to muscle bound bread-winners who call all the shots.

The 1950’s I hear you calling and I wish you would sit the fuck down and remember you lost.  Oh! How dare you! I hear some fans say. But hear me out because you don’t have to like the show less because someone else dislikes it (fancy that!).
“But the women are smart and he is successful and…” Blah. Blah. Blah.
Yes, but the entire premise is basically about the idea that women are only handbag like accessories to men and men are supposed to wear all the responsibility and make all the important decisions.

Even “The Bachelorette” is about old toxic ideas of men competing for sexual and/or social access to a woman. Dog eat dog, get the woman at all costs. Men, don’t be vulnerable or real, women be passive and nice even when you choose the men (cause you can’t really be in control because they will have “killed” each other to be front and centre). I am not the first to say this either…

But the offshoot of that is, in the recent Bachelor Nick Cummins, who allegedly told us all to “get over it” (and I agree with him), he decided to “shock” us by not picking anyone.  I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.

Some commentators were horrified that he defied his duty of objectifying a bunch of women and not culling the herd to just one of beautiful “girls” (for fucks sake they are women) who gave up jobs and lives to be on the show. Whilst there is some part of that resonates because women often are the ones to move to be in relationships, I think they had more agency than that – cause they are successful women in their own right before and after they were on The Bachelor.

Perhaps we should be horrified at something else. The fact that women with successful lives and careers and still in their “prime” physically should by portrayed by the media as not having any choice but to accept him and that somehow he took away that choice. The problem is not them as individuals, I respect their choices to be there. The problem, as I see it, is that this show exists to perpetrate the view that these women are still incomplete without a man and the backlash to no one being “chosen” is proof of that.

Folks, kisses are not contracts.  Remember that? And thank fuck they are not.  I don’t want to go back to the days of being forced to marry someone cause I kissed them or slept with them and the social authorities (as the media sometimes place themselves) deemed it necessary penance for being “sullied” (such bullshit). Fuck that shit.

I need to stress that the “contestants” on these shows do have agency in the perpetration of the networks dumpster fire delusion and that I don’t see them as victims.  I hope they turn it into something worthwhile (which many of them do). But the narrative impact on the masses is worrying. I think someone should do a study on what it does to their lives long term and have contestants reflect back every five years for the next twenty. Now that would be interesting TV! Maybe that would be worthwhile to counter the sexist rubbish the current show format is.
There are no winners here from a media point of view and there should be. Some parts of the media are using this to cling to old century views of rigid gender stereotyping.
The media has infantilised the women as “girls”. Nick should “explain himself to the girls” as though they can’t have an independent thought without a detailed analysis from him. Nick is diminished for not being decisive enough and for not being sure in something that could be predation and for being honest about being “a bit lost”. What crap.
Let’s look at this through a less old fashioned lens:

  • Well done Nick for not putting these two women through any more indecision and being honest and open about your feelings on air to millions of viewers. You are not less of a man because you decided not to stuff them around any further and were uncomfortable with playing with their feelings, despite what the network may or may not have told you to do. If more men walked away when unsure rather than play head of the household power games we would have less women and children being psychologically abused or, worse, dying each week at the hands of their intimate partners because they “can’t let go”. The pressure on men to be in charge is huge and it results in suicides and other toxic behaviours.
  • Well done to Brittany Hockley and Sophie Tieman and the host of other women who put themselves out there. But most importantly bravo that you all have lives to go back to and can make choices to be able to take this time off for a potential extension of your career to TV. How you have agency in the world is a choice and you are what we all fight for, women with choices who could take time off and enter this show. It may be a career move for many of you. Even if I think the show is rubbish, the fact you got in there and were successful before and after the show and have the ability to be mobile professionally to do so is a testimony to your personal agency as women. May you go from strength to strength.

But I do think we should create a whole new channel called DTV (Desperation TV) just for histories sake. So once, these things are history, we can sit and watch them as a glorious guilty pleasures of old.

Like the time we now go to the museum and gasp at the old washing copper boilers and wood fired ovens that we once slaved over by candlelight with six children at our feet.  Cause this is where this patriarchal bullshit belongs.

We can gasp at Desperation TV just for shows like The Bachelor, Farmer Wants a Wife, Paradise Island and The Bachelorette.
We can gasp at when people watched (and often modelled their lives off) the beautiful ones in captive environments like “Ken and Barbie Zoos” preying upon each other in some inane perfection quest to maintain a rigid gender trajectory that doesn’t really exist anyway.
Heteronormative bullshit at it’s best. I do love that Vietnam’s The Bachelor had two female contestants fall in love and it went to air. That is refreshing.
So let’s call this new TV channel – Desperate TV. Not because the individuals in the shows are desperate, but because the existence of these ridiculous and insulting programs is because the old world is hanging desperately on and clinging to the patriarchal life raft that is dating based reality TV.

I hope contestants are well paid – but they are probably not and that is a blog entry for another time…

*By the way, why isn’t The Bachelorette named “The Spinster” (which is the gendered term for older unmarried woman past her “prime”)? Oh…that would mean that it is clear that the entire show is measured against the old-school gender gaze…or symptomatic of the patriarchies desperation to keep women in their proper place. Young (or young looking), pretty, dependent on men for everything and happy to be so. The fact that older, successful, happily single women of all shapes and sizes who are independent in their own right (and queer too) exist would not make good TV according to the reality TV schtick. Sigh.  Can’t wait to shove that shit in a museum.

Day 6 – Remembrance

I am no good at goodbyes. I also don’t really believe in goodbyes. Today we can find each other again so easily, you never really say goodbye. This blog keeps me connected to people. I haven’t seen a lot of people here to say goodbye as such, because I am not gone completely. I will come back to visit, maybe even return for a period again possibly. Who knows? But a visit is definite.

img_1873So, this afternoon, after the packing and cleaning I went up to Untyeye-artwilye (Anzac Hill). I suppose I was saying goodbye, to the landscape and to the people I have worked with here that have passed on. There are many of them. But I took solace in knowing that they went back into country and that they are all around me here.

img_1875I remember sitting with one old man on his veranda. I won’t name him out of respect for his family. We sat there, on upturned milk crates with cardboard for a seat, and discussed the amount of development in the town the damage to scared places. I remember it like it was yesterday, but it was many years ago.

He taught me a huge amount about this culture, for which I will be ever grateful. This is not something you can get from books and I was very privileged to be able to gain that information. Today I stood on the hill that represents two cultures viewpoints of sacred, but the Indigenous space to me was the legitimate one. The imposition of a war memorial is a glaring testimony to colonial domination. War is hell and war memorials do little to sooth my views on this. As ex-military who saw the end of the Operation Desert Storm from Australia domestically, I don’t believe war is inevitable or any way glorious; I believe it should be avoided at all costs. Whilst I understand Australian’s ANZAC legacy all too well (my father was a WWII veteran), I struggle to understand why we cling to violent histories. I don’t believe we should continue to honour one perspective only and that all histories from all cultures are important.

So, I stood on the hill and remembered the custodians and elders I have worked with who are now gone. I remembered my commitment to a fairer, more just world filled with diversity and culture. I silently apologised to those elders for leaving, but promised that I would continue to work for that fairer and more just Australia through whatever medium that is presented to me.

I looked up at the Aboriginal flag flying proudly. It took 30 years and 14 years of debate to have this here, on top of this Aboriginal sacred site, alongside the other flags.

I am glad it is here finally, even if only for special commemorations and days of the year. When I next visit I hope it is a permanent fixture. img_1888

Tonight, I stay with a dear friend on her property 20km’s or so, south of Alice Springs.

There will be food and fireside chat.

It will be a beautiful departure.

Then up at 5.30 am and on the road the 1200 km to Port Augusta.

Day 2 – Reclusive Reflections

This is my public recovery journal for a little while.  I hope it takes both myself and the reader on a useful expedition. A tool of public recovery.

Today I walked down a path from my counsellor’s office to get coffee. Normally there is a coffee caravan near her office, but the owner of that has also, like me, decided to leave town after a long time here in Alice Springs.

The only nearest coffee is MacDonald’s, which this time of year is filled with travellers. I’m not partial to a packed MacDonald’s, but I put on my brave face and head down the road.

The ice-cold wind, which dropped the temperature from 11 degrees Celsius to around 5 degrees, blew directly into my face. I enjoyed it, the crisp desert winter air. I felt the pang of sadness again.

The sadness I feel at leaving my desert home of most of the last 13 years (I did go away for three years). Last time I left I felt nothing, this time I feel this sadness keenly.
Part of this journey recently has been the reflection that I have become more reclusive than I needed to.

As an Aspie I am very easily led. Not on matters of politics and social justice – that is my special interest and I will doggedly stay on track there (perhaps even to my own detriment). But I am very susceptible to other people’s idea of fun and I often neglect my own interests for the interests of whoever has influence in my life at a point in time. Rather than deal with this I have chosen to hide in recent times.

desert moon
Amazing example of a desert moon captured at Aputula community

Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t. Hiding can be a useful tool when you need to recover or rest or reflect. But what is better for me is actively reflecting on who to hang out with and why and then getting back out there. Wherever “there” is (funny expression “get back out there”?).

I stand in Maccas and make my order at the café, just for a latte and an iced lemonade. I get the lemonade because I can tell the coffee is going to be a while and I’m thirsty.

It’s super busy for Alice Springs Macca’s reflecting the winter months of June, July and August when we get a decent tourist trade. It’s a funny time to be local. Caravans, campers, 4WD’s with trailers and rooftop tents dominate our relatively old and narrow roadways. There it is…that word “our”. Yes, I think of it as my town. But it’s not my town, just one myself and my family have a long history with.

You can witness visible culture shock as people experience remote life when they visit here. People who think 200km between towns is remote…are suddenly presented with 500km, 600 or more kilometres between towns and literally nothing in between. Some stretches of the Stuart Highway you go 300km with literally nothing to stop at and then there will be a roadhouse and then nothing again for a similar stretch.

Ten minutes later (which is a long time in Alice Springs MacDonald’s) I walk back with my coffee. I have had my fill of people watching tired looking travellers and bored children.

Last time I left Alice Springs, in late December 2012, there wasn’t many in my social circle that had similar interests to my intrinsic interests. Those with the same political interests were there, but those aligned with my “fun” interests, not many. So, work was my focus during that eight-year stint from 2005 – 2012 and was super rewarding but burnt me out. There was not much fun.  There was sport, but that was more for survival to assist in the doing remote anthropology fieldwork that saw a lot of trauma and sadness and was physically tough work as well.   I had great friends here, but not many that shared my artistic passions.

So, this time, in the last two years in Alice Springs, I have sought out “my people”; performers and artists to hang out with and it’s been wonderful. But my work situation has been shithouse, to be frank (whoever this Frank is, sorry Frank) and my arty life rewarding. I need a balance and I need to shift my career to an art based one. I can be arty and political, in fact they go together.

However, there is this internal struggle that rages inside me about leaving.

Wherever you go in Alice Springs you are reminded of country. It’s all around you. If you are not familiar with the term country – it’s how Aboriginal peoples describe the landscape, but also its energy, it’s lifeforce and the bearer of their traditions, law and culture.

I’ve been very fortunate to see an awesome amount of that country with traditional owners and custodians.  That will always be with me.  That will always humble me and keep me on the straight and narrow in terms of social justice work in the future.

trephina
2008 – Trekking a favourite place – Trephina Gorge, 85 km east of Alice Springs

You cannot hide from country here. You cannot hide from the sweeping eaglehawks and galahs, native pigeons and ring neck parrots. At every turn here is a rock formation or hill or the caterpillar dreaming ranges.

It gives the place an amazing energy. I had someone I was travelling overseas once say to me “but in Sydney have the blue mountains”. Yes, of course, and they are magnificent. But you must drive some distance to see them. You cannot go anywhere here without seeing and feeling country.

I’ll miss that. I’ll miss the people. I will miss the culture. Inside of me lately is the slow shredding of who I once was giving way to who I am becoming. It’s interesting because the who I am becoming feels more like “who I really am” than I have ever felt and that is a strange feeling.

So this morning I spend time with my counsellor, going over the treachery my brain has committed in the last four weeks. I’ve been dragging myself to work, literally replaying an assault experienced at work in my head on mute.  It’s on a mute because I was suppressing it, not wanting to deal with it or feel it. I knew that if I did that I would be the mess I was a few weeks ago, when this episode began.

I’ve been masking my trauma, instead of dealing with it.  Masking is a powerful thing. I mask because I want to fit in and replay cues from my early life that said I had to fit in.  However now, as an adult, I don’t fit in and nor do I want to. Now I have to concentrate on not falling into old patterns of masking again.

However this place and it’s people and vast stretches of the country around it, have taught me who I really am.  I am sad to leave, but also immensely grateful for my experiences here.  I leave a big part of my heart here.  

I know I need to leave to heal and to expand the work in the arts I have begun here.

However, now that I am being more of who I know myself to be, I am not sure where I belong. Maybe it isn’t in one place. And that is something I am beginning to quietly celebrate.

Yes, you read that right.
Celebrate.

Desert dearth – love and loss

This post is a sad one, I am sorry to say.

I came to Alice Springs in 2005. I knew the place from many visits and travels in the 1980’s with my parents.  My father lived and worked here in the 1960’s.

Arriving a freshly minted, honours graduate of anthropology; I was a fierce 35 year old divorcee with a huge passion for social justice. With a seven year old son and an aging and cantankerous mother in tow, I was undertaking the bravest move of my life.

betterdays
2006 – Better days when my son thought I was cool and not the enemy.

I’d had a traumatic past, recovered from a serious and unusual accident and desperately wanted a happy future.

Did I get it? 13 years later I’ll let you be the judge.

I plan on leaving end of July. Partly because I came here to do what I was qualified to do, but the pressure to be a mother (and a bad one at that as far as I am concerned) and a career professional meant I moved away from my anthropological passion in 2009.  Since then it’s been a hodge podge of stressful community service work where I never felt I could achieve anything and where successive governments just don’t seem to recognise the worth of NGO’s.  Watching a community that you love die from government neglect is devastating.  For some they cannot leave and their heart and health is deeply connected to the place.

My first job here was a sacred sites anthropologist and I loved it. Lots of deep desert field work with people whose culture I admired and respected, in up to seven different languages.  Over an area of 583 000 square kilometres.

bulls
Three big camel bulls strutting their stuff on a ring road – Kata Tjuta. I remember the ladies in the car yelling at me to get off the roof of the Toyota Troop Carrier while I took this photo.

Old ladies danced for me and we would exchange stories of love and loss. I developed linguistic skills I didn’t know I had the potential for.  We mapped sacred places and stories and gave them legal protections.  It was complex work and my military logistical and technical background and love of mapping technology meant I loved the challenge of remote work.

When I say remote. I mean remote.  I once drove 2600 km for a one hour meeting, picking up women from three different language groups over three days.

I’ll never forget a memory from that trip. Not far from where Lasseter’s Cave is, almost to Western Australia and half way down Tjukaruru Rd we sat under a mighty desert oak.

Myself and four ladies aged 65 – 85 and who spoke nine distinct languages between them. I can’t name them as they have all passed now.  We talked about the women dancing dreaming.  The women noticed my scars on my legs from knee surgery.

This lead to a stripping off and comparison of scars. Cancer.  Childbirth.  Car rollovers.  Violence.

I have never felt so in awe of female strength. I have never felt so privileged to be considered worthy of this information. 

This work I will never forget. Leaving it I will always regret.  I left because my family thought my relationship with my son should have been more important.  So I came into town.

Not that it made any difference; I no longer have a relationship with my now adult son because of a long history that goes back to before my time at sacred sites. But that’s another story.  I never found love with a partner again, just abuse.  But that, again, is another story, for another time.

I left the love of my life, field work and I have never been able to get back to it.

Since then it’s been jobs that tore out my soul.  Community service, death and violence.  People working in senior positions with no skill but clearly benefiting from the suffering of Aboriginal people.  My skills being used up and becoming exhausted.  Burn out and severe illness.  I ran away for three years, wrote a book and came back in 2016.

The jobs got worse and I am tired of a government that spends $51 million on promoting tourism and nothing on community service.  But throughout this, all of this, there have been amazing times and experiences.

Some highlights:

  • Resurveying Uluru sacred sites.  Getting to legally register an important women’s site that hadn’t been registered for political reasons for 20+ years.  The path was moved and the women were delighted.
  • Driving over 36 000 kms off-road in a 4WD, often on my own.  Through amazing country and with amazing people.
  • Seeing amazing cultural and sacred places with traditional owners.  Over 36 major sacred sites projects.
  • Designing a new procurement system so that Aboriginal work-crews on construction projects got work instead of fly in fly out labour.  Community employment options that were not previously available and I got to hang out on remote community road construction projects.
  • The kids.  I love them to pieces.  My own family say I loved them more than my own son.  Not true.  But then my family never understood why I cared so much about remote communities.

The lowlights:

  • Death.  Losing people you work with and love.  All the time.  I can’t stress the sadness of the realities of working with disadvantaged Aboriginal communities.
  • Incompetence.  Government incompetence largely.  Senior bureaucrats running the show without a clue and the impact on remote communities is devastating.  Pointing it out means you eventually get a reputation as trouble – even if it is things that would not be tolerated in the cities that you are pointing out.
  • Corruption.  Chief Minister Gunner, I hope you are serious about an Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC).
  • My health.  It has taken a huge toll on my health and I already had disability issues when I came here.
  • Now.  How I feel now.  I don’t want to leave, but I have to, I can’t bear another job watching people die.  I feel I will be better used spreading the word about how it is out here from somewhere else.

I don’t think I’ll come back.  I’m sad about that.  There are people here I consider family.  But my heart can’t take anymore.  I cried when a friend posted pics of Uluru on her Facebook today.  I don’t think I will get back to thank the earth there.

I think I am going to study, I am not sure.  I will do more comedy and write some political satire about how shit government is.

Did I find the happy future? I’m not sure.  Depends on whether happiness is your only destination.  I found enormous life experience.  I found resilience.  I found love of culture but mostly loss.  But I also found me and I like the me I am now instead of that angry 35 year old.

There are some things I would do differently if I could go back 13 years.  For sure.  But I can’t and who knows what the future holds?

I love you Alice Springs.  I am very sad to say goodbye. I am fairly well broken.

An Outback “Royal” Wedding

img_1658.jpgThe bridal party stood between an old wind mill named the “Southern Cross” and the ruins of the Old Ambalindum station homestead. The reception was held at Hale River Homestead, 115km NE of Alice Springs, on the famous Binns Track.

It’s not very often I get excited about weddings.  But Laurie and Nico’s wedding was an exception.

The guests drove 55km of the dirt and heavily corrugated Binns Track (4WD only) through beautiful but rugged outback country. On the drive there I was passed by a ute carrying lounge chairs (little pieces of their home brought along). Later I would sit in these with groups of guests late in the evening, under the stars, toasting marshmallows in fire drums.

The caterers also navigated this road, with a trailer loaded with a bain-marie and other catering equipment. That must have been a precarious journey indeed.

This was a true outback wedding with reinvented traditions reflecting the unique and beautiful people that Laurie (Laurel) and Nico are.

Both the bride and groom are part of the very vibrant Alice Springs creative community.

Apart from the obvious remote logistics of the venture, this was far frimg_1659om your average wedding.  Besides being super relaxed, it was progressive and free from the constraints of old ideas about marriage.

The celebrant Dave wasted no time on the usual formalities of wedding etiquette and was funny and thoughtful.

The vows were delightfully heart-warming but also light-hearted.

Probably my favourite line would have been from the groom.

“You’re the chickpea in my hummus”

Myself and other guests joked about the ratio of beards to bare faces. A number of established rockers in group meant one of my favourite things (a good beard) was visible at every turn.

Whilst the preparation for this event was no doubt hectic, the wedding was far from hectic. It was all about the kind of love I aspire to – not judgemental, but authentic.

The reception. Oh my gosh…the reception. 

The venue is a large woolshed with a bar and kitchen area in the back is a feast of fun history and artefacts of outback and remote life.  img_1499
img_1655

The rustic and romantic venue lit up with strings of lightbulbs and fairy lights.

 

The food ranged from roast pork to vegan and gluten and dairy free. Everyone was catered for without any major fuss or difficulty in how this was achieved.
img_1742

Three awesome rock bands perched on the back of a truck, and rocked us into to the wee hours of the morning.

There was no formal (and usually pretentious) “first dance” song, just the bride and groom dancing with all of us, until all of us couldn’t dance anymore.

Laurie and Nico have what the rest of us in the world could invest in more often – both share a passion for an authentic, inclusive, creative and community minded life.  The wedding was a telling demonstration of that philosophy.

We were a colourful and creative bunch.  Most of us were combinations of performers, musicians, film makers, photographers, artists and writers. The conversations were lively and filled with laughter.

There were four of us gals with fluorescent hair colours, so I wasn’t alone with my vivid magenta and purple locks.

Throughout the night, cartoons were drawn, and tales told. I practiced some comedy material around the fire and made new friends.  The people that Laurie and Nico are was reflected in the similar people that surround them, creative, interesting souls.

I felt very honoured to be asked to this wedding and I can honestly say it was the most enjoyable wedding I have been to in my 47 years of life.

“Fly 990”

To finish, here is a short list of things that made this event truly beautiful to my way of thinking (I could list many more but this just the main points):

  1. Arrernte country was acknowledged in the ceremony. The land on which the wedding took place has always been and always will be Aboriginal land.
  2. The celebrant stressed that under Australian law “marriage is between two people”. The wedding goers whooped delightedly. Australia has just been through legal changes recognising same sex marriage and many people present were part of that fight to have those basic fundamental rights recognised.
  3. Laurie’s aunt and nephews and nieces serenaded us at the reception in Maori.
  4. There was no “Mr and Mrs” assumed. They were just introduced as “Laurie and Nico”. They are married and no old-world names or ideas about ownership (such as ridiculous traditions about surnames and titles) needed to be applied.

This was a wedding for everyone (not just for the bride and groom), there was no pretensions, it was 100% about love

Not only the love between two people, but love of life, music, community and each other. 

Dumping the bucket list in the bucket…

So many people are living for the rush of some idea of a future that isn’t grounded in the  right now. A future holiday.  A future job.  A future home.  A new smart phone.  And they forget to live in the meantime.

Like the ancient Pharaohs, it’s almost like a lot of people are stashing possessions for an afterlife – but in a twisted way that will just see them dried up, albeit pretty, corpses (maybe even before they die). Even the concept of a bucket list of travel experiences is used in this way, it’s not about enriching our experience through our lives, but towards some mythical end of life experience (which for many is too late).  I think we need to dump the idea of a bucket list and change it to the “Grateful heart list”.

In mentioning the Pharaohs, I mean no disrespect to Egyptian culture, I’ve just spent four weeks experiencing it and I love Egypt and the Egyptian people.  So the comparison between the Pharaohs lifestyle and modern Western materialism is very tongue in cheek of course.

Because folks, we Westerners are definitely not Pharaohs – late stage capitalism makes us more like consumerist addicted zombies.

I realised today that I haven’t had that kind of thinking for over ten years now and just how liberating it is to be free of it.

The irony is that since I freed myself of that kind of thinking all number of things I once dreamed about, happened.   Particularly in regard to travel and adventure (and on shoestring budgets too! I am far from wealthy in a material sense).

I do a running tally of all the “little” things I am grateful for every day, as much as I possibly can. This also means setting achievable goals for life’s experiences (like travel or study, not material things) that give me joy and a sense of contribution.  It’s all funded through meaningful community based work (in both community services and the arts) – work that I love (not dread).

I come from a family where travelling overseas was not common.  Not in my immediate family.  My Dad travelled to fight in World War II (he would be 95 his coming April if he was still alive) but for many of the generations before me, they didn’t get to travel like I do.  *I need to add that when I travel, I do not do “tourism”.  I use responsible and ethical travel options, homestays, support local economies and try and keep my carbon footprint as low as I can.  I do not do checklists of places to “say I have been there” and try to avoid hanging around in “cliques of foreigners”. I spend time with local people and immerse myself as much as I can for as long as I can (usually four – twelve weeks).  

Basically for the past three generations in my family – they travelled to (potentially) die in a war, migrate to another country, or flee a fascist regime.   They then built a life for themselves and future generations.  However for me I had to abandon the things they prized once settled in a place to achieve a more privileged form of travel.

I don’t have a mortgage and I don’t aim to own the latest in anything.  Happily, willingly.  When I move house it’s two small cars worth of moving.  I could pack up tomorrow and be in whatever location I desire, still earn good money and still contribute to any community.

I realise I am very privileged in this sense. I hope that my contribution to the world will mean that generations after me take what I have for granted. That is indeed my hope.

However I don’t own much.  What I do own is:

  • A heart full of respect for other people and their culture/s,
  • A passionate desire to see the world find some peace with itself,
  • A sense of joy at the beautiful little things all around me each and every day,
  • An appreciation of nature and it’s gifts,
  • A wealth of great stories about fantastic places and people,
  • Language skills in six languages now (from beginner to intermediate),
  • An ability to problem solve and feel good about my contribution to the world,
  • A university education (again something my immediate family were not privileged enough to be afforded), and,
  • A life filled with intelligent thoughtful work, art, comedy, writing, regular travel and adventure.

I don’t own a bucket list.  I threw that idea out with the ‘before you kick the bucket” bucket it came in.

What I do own is a grateful heart.  Let me rephrase that another way too.

A GREAT FULL heart.

Speak to me…

As an ex-pat Australian, I have just moved to a non-English speaking country and am experiencing what I know many migrants to Australia experience. I have to say I completely underestimated how it would feel, despite being (as an anthropologist by trade) more than thoroughly aware of the cross-cultural/linguistic issues.

I am also, in the most part, immensely grateful for the kindness and empathy of the Chinese people, my new friends and colleagues. My experience here is mostly positive so I can be somewhat resistant to prejudice and I laugh it off.  But that’s not to say it doesn’t exist.

I want be clear here. This post is not about Australian or Chinese examples alone. Mono-lingual overtly nationalist thinking is the scourge of the modern world as far as I am concerned.   Once upon a time (and fairly recently in comparative human history) we all spoke (or had basic knowledge of) more than one language. We had to, in order to get things done and negotiate and trade with our neighbours.

What I am writing about is the tendency for people to claim a superior attitude when dealing with people who do not speak their language and how toxic that attitude can be, world-wide.

I may not speak much Mandarin but I am working at changing that as best I can. I speak enough to make basic purchases and greet and be pleasant use a translator on my phone. I can, after a few weeks (and like many other people can) get the general idea of a conversation enough now even though I may not be able to fully engage yet. I know when people are speaking about me harshly because I don’t speak their language.   I have also been refused service in some places (only three times in 6 weeks) – but the negatives are all things I have observed Australians doing to new migrants too. It’s not behaviour isolated to any one language or country.

I have worked in highly cross-cultural contexts for over 15 years now. I don’t mean an office where you have people from different nationalities – I mean in contexts where cross-cultural communication is the purpose of the work. So when I listen to Australians complain about “multiculturalism” or engaging in prejudicial conversations about “us and them” in regard to language I am always a bit perplexed.

Prejudice – comes from “pre” and “judge”. Surely we are grown up enough to know that to judge something we have very limited understanding of is very childlike behaviour? I can guess (but not predict fully) some things before I experience them, but last time I checked my crystal ball was all out of batteries.

It’s everywhere you go and sadly is one of humanities nastiest piece of baggage, but still some people like to lug it with them despite what it does to their souls and their interactions in the world.

I stand out here. Not just a little, but a lot.   There are about 500 – 1500 (it varies) foreigners in a city of 4.4 million here. I’m doing my best to be me and blend in as best I can. I am learning from my Chinese friends and colleagues and take their advice about how to best do this.

I regularly get stares, pointed at and spoken to in very odd ways. Some people shout at me and use very overt hand signals because they assume I am stupid as well as non-Mandarin speaking. This is much like I have seen Australians do to new migrants as much as many deny it happens – it very much does.  For some people I can’t learn Mandarin quickly enough and they make that known. Again, it’s reminiscent of some Australians I have encountered when they deal with non-English speakers.

Notably many of these people have never migrated or learned enough of another language to even remotely justify their arrogance – that is something that I have found universal about people who actively practice prejudicial behaviour.   However it’s not ignorance in many instances, it’s a choice and people use it as a way to gain tactical advantages in their lives rather than actively engage with “others”.   If that sounds judgemental I apologise, but there is a vast array of behavioural studies done on this – I’m not just being a bitch!

In the face of nice and not-so-nice behaviour towards me – I do my best to be pleasant and kind to all, and I often find that the barriers fall away when I encounter people more than a couple of times.

I have had some beautiful experiences here in the majority.   This confirms my belief that prejudicial behaviour is a choice not a given.

Now some of us humans just seem to want claim a mono-lingual superiority that does not and has not ever really existed. In fact we are poorer intellectually and socially for only having only one language – and the behaviour of “taking the piss out of” another language and culture is symptomatic of that.

There are over 6000 living languages in the world – time to “get over” the “they really should speak <name of language>” thinking. Let’s just, instead, acknowledge that people speak language.

Here are three of the prejudicial thoughts I have observed in all countries I have been to in relation to new migrants and their language ability (and now I can speak with some authority on this as I have experienced it as well):

  1. If they can’t speak <name of language> they shouldn’t come here.   Yes, it would be ideal if people were fluent first, but this is a highly unrealistic expectation and people learn best when immersed in the new language. Sometimes their reasons for coming here may not require fluency, but skills other than fluency. There may not be time to be fluent first. But don’t assume they cannot understand you or that they don’t have a reasonable level of fluency. They will probably be able to understand most of what you are saying but may be nervous about replying. No manner of practice in their home country of the new language will prepare them for the reality and sometimes they will freeze or be nervous when speaking to you – so cut them some slack. They may have experienced being laughed at or even abused for having an accent or mispronouncing a word. In short, if you are an asshole they will respond by avoiding you or not speaking to you and the cycle of misunderstanding continues.
  2. They don’t respect us; they need to learn our language and not speak their own.   Yes they need to learn your language and they most probably are. But it’s not a fast process necessarily and believe it or not they may feel “lost” in your language world. It will be a daily struggle to even shop at first. They will have to speak their own language to manage a relative level of sanity and to be able to make decisions coherently. So unless you are going to hold their hand and translate everything with your own superior multi-lingual ability don’t expect them to. Again if the shoe was on the other foot and you were them, you would feel very differently.   Again, try not being an asshole about it and see how much more they speak to you in your language and how much quicker they learn.  Don’t criticise people for buying products they are familiar with from their home country, if you can’t be sure what you are eating – you wouldn’t eat it either, would you? Again it takes time and people will gradually use the products of the country they reside in now once they have experienced them. Show people and be proud of your culture rather than be a judgemental pain in the ass, after all, Vegemite is acquired taste! It’s not about disrespect, it’s about misunderstanding.
  3. If they can’t be bothered learning <naming of language> then I won’t help them. Wow! Again – read #1 and #2 above. Don’t speak about linguistically lazy behaviour and then practice it yourself. If you only speak one language don’t give me or anyone else this poor justification for nasty self-absorbed arrogance. Try not to be an asshole – it really does work wonders! Unless you carry the rare retro-active “I’m an asshole” gene and have a certificate to prove it – try something else for a change.

The world is a big place and if history has shown us anything, it’s that everything can change rapidly and we, as individuals, might not have much control over that. When Australians fear invasion so much they invade their own psyche with hatred and prejudice that only hurts themselves; a vicious cycle of provincial isolationism continues. The fact is the big island continent of Australia had 250 Indigenous languages and 650 dialects when the British clambered out onto its shores.   It had Muslim visitors and influences from Indonesia prior to that. It had had visitors from Portugal and Spain and other merchant and exploratory fleets.

No one and nowhere is really an island and when I think of the current rubbish going on in Australia in regard to multicultural thinking I have but one reply. Get over it and try being the friendly, welcoming country that we can all be proud of.

Countries and borders and national allegiances can shift, they are but human made. One day you just might find yourself in a foreign land just doing your best to do a good job at work, learn a new language and culture.  This may be something you have a choice in, it may not be.

I don’t know about you, but I would rather choose to help someone learn my language and culture than to belittle them for their culture and for not knowing mine.  We can’t possibly be expected to know what we do not know. We have to learn it.

Must we resort to belittling those learning our language and culture for the sake of our own fragile egos? I think not and I am a happier human being for it.   I’d rather learn from and respect other human culture than allege superiority.  My experiences in the world have been immensely richer since I made that choice.

Walking to work – A short stroll from “Ming to Modernity”

My walk to work is nothing short of magic. 

Guiyang is situated in one of the least developed regions of China, once ruled over by Kublai Khan (grandson of Genghis).   It is one of the smallest of China’s cities with a population of a mere 4.4 million.

Walking the 1.5 km to work is, as I have mentioned in a previous post, a complete delight. With each block there is a new sight and experience.

It’s like walking through time in some respects. There are pockets of town like areas still wedged in between modern high rise. Some of the lane ways in between the large modern four lane city streets are like the market towns of old.   You can see the same connection to the old village ways of living even in my own apartment complex.

This morning I walked through the car parks and weave my way in between the two other apartment blocks between mine and the road. I passed people boiling bok choy and Chinese cabbage to sell to restaurants and street vendors out the side of their ground floor apartment. It’s a large fire pot in the lane, the side door to apartment open and the kids rushing in and out. The hot coals under the fire burn red and the bundles of produce are stacked along the side wall.

They say hello to me now, and I always wave at the kids. Of an evening you can often here the group of children from this apartment rushing around playing out in the courtyard/carpark. It’s lovely to hear the sounds of their shouts and laughter as they play.

This morning a man was walking down the lane into the apartment complex carrying a freshly killed (unplucked) goose and a large hare. When I get the 50m out of the complex and onto the road I turn right and pass the dog grooming salon and peak through to see what divinely pampered creatures are there. On the way home they turn on a massive red neon sign that says in both Chinese and English “SPA”; for dogs, not humans.

Then another 30m and the village-like markets I have described. I love walking past these, food carts, fresh fruit and vegetables straight from the outlaying farming areas and prayer beads and some jewellery. There is an entire laneway that is pet products to the right and a complex of low rent shops that I have not yet fully explored that the locals shop at. I figure this will be my regular shopping spot and I have picked up some yummy treats here.

In the mornings, under the highway overpass that covers the market here, there are groups of people gathered sitting on their back baskets. These large baskets shaped to fit on your back are hoisted on like back packs and double as comfortable seats. They await an employer and sometimes there are many waiting and sometimes very few.

There are two areas like this one on my journey and they are the places I dwell the longest. You also see people with bamboo poles across their shoulders with two suspended baskets on the ends full of produce in these locations, a stark contrast from the rest of the walk through modern shopping areas. The food carts vary and there are a few that are clearly permanent and they are the ones I tend to gravitate to. Noodles and a variety of other things I cannot yet name and will describe at a later date – but nonetheless very tasty. A favourite sells delicious bacon and egg omelettes. Next to them is a stall with egg based pastries with a variety of fillings and shapes and sizes.

Some of the shops here sell massive urns with bluestone Chinese glazing with magnificent designs and one shop sells the most diving jade and other gem stone jewellery and statues. These more exclusive shops are tucked away inside the markets where you wouldn’t expect to find them. Unless you are a sticky beak like me! These are the places the locals buys beautiful things to grace their homes, not cheap crap, but things crafted by artisans.

Then within 100m you go from the old to the new and the Hunter shopping mall which is as glitzy as any in any other large city in the world. This is where the street is fronted by Pizza Hut, KFC and Starbucks as well as H&M fashion. In front of the high end shopping are fewer street vendors and I tend to walk more briskly pass.

I will sometimes stop at the Laodongmen relic site (see pics) behind which is the public primary school I teach at on Monday afternoons.

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It has the most divine eatery tucked up the side of it. Rows of little coal grills and they bring you skewers with vegetables and meats of your choosing (and tofu) and you cook them yourself and enjoy the heat of the fire as well. It’s a pleasant spot and I just love the way the seating is arranged, low benches and tables that encourage groups of four to six people to eat and enjoy close conversation. They are in a wide but quiet thoroughfare and are spread out far enough between them to create a leisurely eating experience right in the middle of the city.

In the mornings there is tai chi here and public dancing in the evenings. The rest of the way, the last 700m is largely shops until I get to work and every day I notice more and more. I do love my walks to work.