Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Disappointment and inspiration

So here I am, living in a backpacker hostel, wondering where all the travellers have gone. Maybe I was away too long but it seems that standard western backpacking has completely changed. It's all been taken over by big business and in my opinion, traded in it's traveller/adventurer soul for a vacation soul. I know these changes haven't been sudden and the system is also the same in Europe, but I'd been lucky enough to avoid it for the last couple years and wish I could avoid it still.
What am I talking about exactly? I'm talking about the death of freedom and spontaneity. I'm talking about hostel chains that organize everything for you, who give discounts for booking ahead of time online and are in possession of everything you need to the point where going outside is simply optional and not necessary. I'm talking about a hostel full of "backpackers" in which that word now means young people of 18-23 with rolling cases of 25+kg rather than backpacks and even the guys are carrying hairspray and 4+ pairs of shoes.
This is not travel. This is not adventure leading to personal growth. This is just people trying to get away from home without really leaving it. Everyone with their ipod, laptops, cellphones and other comforts following along a well-oiled tourism machine. This stop for the skydive, that stop for the surfing lessons, here for the parties, there for the outback adventure, and don't forget the zoo before you go. It's perfectly set up for people that have money and want a good time without much thinking involved, and the Australians (or in Europe too since it's pretty much the same) just get to rake in easy tourist dollars. No, let me rephrase. Almost all tourism everywhere is like this. But it just seems so much worse here where people actually believe they are doing something unique and special and different from home.
Is this a problem? No, if that's what people want I'm not gonna stop them. What I do have a problem with is if you guys start thinking that is my scene. I am not one of these people. I have found my biggest culture shock now. It's that I do not fit into this crowd to which you think I belong. This is not me on an ego trip after having been to so many more places and for so long. After many conversations with people here I've come to the conclusion that for most of them, the psychological, mental and motivational gaps between us is just as large as the people at home reading this that have never travelled anywhere or not thought much about it beyond their short holidays. These people want to go back home to the "real" world and also think I'm crazy.
But that's not what I want, not what I need. I needed the challenges. I love the freedom of just showing up somewhere and then choosing where I'm going to stay, which bus I'm going to take and what I'll go see. I love the spontaneity of sitting with the rest of the family and saying "let's just completely reroute the whole trip because we can, and see what happens". It's the unknown, the hitchhiking, the bush camping, the days you get completely stuck and question why you haven't gone home yet. It's the sunrises you never expected to see and the people you should never have met in the normal course of events. What is life without the taking of chances? No, I'm sure that for me Australia will not and can not be a fulfilling destination. There are things I'd like to see, for sure, but I strongly suspect that if I were to follow along with the rest of the crowd out here I will just severely disappoint myself.
Every once in a while I meet someone with a little more ambition or with a different purpose in their travels. You can pick them out very quickly and so I seem to be trying to hunt them down to talk to. I suppose that's why I've always preferred the far out and difficult places to travel, you meet like-minded people doing the same thing. Here they tend to be just getting started and so I try to encourage them and pass down a little wisdom or advice. Next month it will be the 10 year anniversary of my first time backpacking abroad alone and I can only look back with amazement at how much I dreamed back then that actually came true. They've easily been the most rewarding and challenging years of my life (wow, do I talk like an ancient guy now or what?) and I wonder how I got so lucky. I still remember the travel masters that I looked up to and sought advice from and it feels good to have the tables turned and be able to inspire others as well. Most of the time I still feel alone and misunderstood but the strong, instant connections with these occasional others is undeniable. So perhaps that is my new goal, my social purpose while I'm here. To inspire/corrupt the minds of others, to give back what had been given to me all those years ago and hopefully somewhere along the line I'll find my own encouragement reflected back upon myself to keep living the dream....

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Based in Brisbane

I told you my next blog would be more positive and it is. Mostly my days have been largely uneventful, just wandering around town running errands or job hunting online, but I have had a day or two where things just clicked and it looks like my luck is starting to turn. The first good thing to happen to me was landing a regular job at the hostel. Well, sort of. I will be working the night shift at reception a couple times a week for a total of 14 hours in exchange for a free place to stay. Not a terribly challenging job, just dealing with a few late checkins and making sure the drunks don't burn the place down in the night with all their partying. This is a great deal for me as it frees me from the stress of having to pay for a place to stay while trying to look for a job. My expenses have thus been cut way down and it also tipped the scales toward staying in Brisbane longer, rather than start moving around to look for work in other areas. It's actually not that uncommon as there are several people in the hostel working for accommodation, be it reception, cleaning or odd jobs. They have a staff dorm that I have now moved into. Talk about total chaos. Good thing I have all those years of living with my sisters to help me prepare for this mess.
The other great news for me is that I was also eligible to transfer over my expired driver's licence to a local Queensland licence. It is only a car licence rather than the bus one I had before but having it now opens up a huge range of additional work and travel possibilities for me. I also watched "Inception" and thoroughly enjoyed it and then with David and John won a pub quiz that we didn't even realize was going to occur. We just happened to be in the place having dinner at the time and decided to give it a go. The food voucher we won will do wonders in diversifying my currently repetitive sketchy diet.
So, in summary, I will be living in Brisbane for the next several weeks at least, barring any major miracle jobs elsewhere suddenly appearing. I am also going broke slower than before, the stress levels are dropping, opportunities are increasing and I've met a couple of interesting people finally.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Back in Brisbane

It was a bit sad to leave the outback when we finally did. I'd been there 6 weeks in total and John and I felt a little like members of the family. I know I have been missing mine lately. It was also tied for the 4th longest I've been anywhere and more than any of the others had the feel of a proper home as well. Bit strange to leave that and head off to the total unknown yet again. John, David, Alex and I all caught the bus back to Brisbane together and ended up in the same hostel in the city centre. The Base Embassy Hostel is part of a chain of monstrosities that normally would not appeal to me but I didn't have a lot of choice. The good thing is that it is undergoing renovations so the beds are the cheapest in the city at $20/night. That's still brutal to me and my money won't last all that long at those rates.
It seems to be quite common in Australia for hostels to just hire backpackers to do odd jobs for a while as they come up and pay them in free nights. John, David and I immediately scored work helping the carpenters in the hostel and got our first few nights for free. Basically for every 2 hours of work around the hostel they give you a free night. So we moved furniture around and did a little house keeping as well. How politically incorrect would it be to say I feel like a Filipino or some other 3rd worlder by showing up in Australia with no money, got a job as a farm labourer and then switched to housekeeping right after? Not that that is a permanent gig anyway. The hostel is big with over 100 beds and most of them full. The problem with that is that the kitchen is just too frustrating to cook in with so many people using it all at once. My eating habits have quickly deteriorated and no doubt my weight as well.
I know this blog is going to sound on the negative side but now comes the part where I suffer the culture shock and city shock as well. With all the partying going on and being in a 6 bed dorm for the first time in 2 years I have not had a good night's sleep in the week I've been back. I had all sorts of errands to run and what with all the government offices moving around recently and the rules to follow I feel like the 1st world isn't any less hassle than the 3rd. It just takes a different form. Seeing police on bicycles deflating other people's bike tires because they aren't wearing a helmet, $100 fines for jaywalking and not letting me in a bar for wearing steel-toed shoes (the only shoes I have to my name right now) make me shake my head and long for the chaos of other countries. The stupidity of the political campaigning (they've just recently called an election here) with all it's blatant lying and corruption, drunk people peeing on shop fronts in the city centre and the surprisingly ridiculously slow internet here make me think I still am in the 3rd world.
One thing I've heard quite a lot before I came down here was how racist Australians are. Many Asians have told me that and although i am not Asian I have been triggered to keep an eye out for it. I'd actually have to say that I think such statements are quite justified thus far. I think they are more racist than Canadians anyway. Maybe it's a little strange to say this but I don't really like being the majority race in a country not of my nationality. Maybe it's my form of patriotism but I actually don't like the thought of people seeing me walk down the street and thinking immediately that I'm Australian. At least before in other countries it was obvious that I was a foreigner but now I would have to talk and even then a Korean on the street would still just assume I'm a racist local.
When I first arrived I didn't even notice but now that I'm looking for it, it is true that there are a ton of Asians in Brisbane. It is very multicultural for sure. Of course I am partial to such things so I am quite happy with it. Our hostel has people from everywhere it seems and I am having fun trying to guess the nationality of everyone. I happen to be much better than the others at guessing the Asians :) It is probably not too surprising that the housekeeper is Filipino and I immediately made friends with her too. The sushi in Brisbane is of high quality and there are a million sushi shops everywhere. Well, you can find anything here I guess, but it was sushi that was haunting me the other day.
The real killer for me has been the fact that it's tax time and everyone has a different story about what it means but the general consensus is that I will not get my tax back. Apparently no matter how much I make I have to pay 29% income tax in Australia. That can't be right but if it is then that is just the worst anti-foreigner attitude I've seen in a government in ages and I've already gotten into 2 big arguments in the tax office about it.
It's not all bad though. Brisbane is a nice looking city. Most backpackers seem to think that it is boring as a tourist attraction but it is very livable so don't come on vacation but come to study or work. The weather is fantastic for winter, about the same as a good summer day in Vancouver (as in a bad summer day in Vancouver is worse than a typical winter day here). I also broke down and finally bought a small laptop. I have no idea how I'm going to fit it in my bag as well but it was on sale and internet is so expensive here that I need to take advantage of the wireless. The only problem is the wireless is approaching African speeds of connection so you still can't get much done. But it does mean I can prepare stuff a little better so hopefully my blogs can be more like the last one.
I have also met up with Ben a few times since I've been back. We've had a few lunches and I watched him finish the Brisbane marathon last weekend. He's looks great and everything is going so well for him still it is amazing. I still haven't committed to any plans just yet, I am just job hunting and trying to decide whether I should stay here or head elsewhere to look for work but I'm sure if I stick around we'll see much more of each other. Right now there doesn't seem to be much available in terms of work unless you are female. I'm trying to stay optimistic but you can obviously feel my current frustration. The next blog will be happier. I promise.