notes from the road


Job hunt tip #142: SMILE!

Thirteen days into my new life in Melbourne and I am really starting to feel it. Not exactly the coolness, culture and creativity that I had envisioned but instead the strains of the job hunt. Working gives a sense of achievement. Even when you hate it and are counting down the minutes until the weekend – at least on the weekend you revel in the time you’ve got to relax. I am hunting within the typified work hours and  am making progress  but I still haven’t got much to show for my work which doesn’t send the spirits soaring. Yet I know that the fashion that I am going about it may take time. All I have heard is that it is contacts that will get you a job, so I have been working on developing my contacts extensively since I’ve been here. This has lead to some interesting leads and I feel I am gaining a lot of useful knowledge. But…. at the same time I also feel that I’m entering into relationships – regardless of how fleeting or twitterised they may be – with an agenda.

I want a job, and I will put on any friendly facade to get one.

The funny thing though is that none of my new contacts have provided any fruit yet I still feel much better for branching out. Something that I constantly seem to forget is that when you move to another place where you hardly know anyone, you hardly know anyone. Though there are plenty of people around it takes a while to melt the outer layers and really get to know them.  So the more people that I meet the more roots I feel I am planting in this place. While not showing it’s worth in a professional sense yet, it certainly has on a social level, and that is something that shouldn’t be overlooked with the job hunt.


I think I understood the French better…

‘There were a few big names like Spongle and Saber death but mainly just sinth, prog and glitch bands’ the girl said to me as I tried to look like I had any sort of idea of what she was talking about. Then a girl with a semi shaved head who appeared to be constantly yelling even when she was whispering told me the intimate details of a lass who she was text flirting with. All the while I shivered in my winter coat on this bitter summers day.

This is the most freaking culture shocked I’ve ever been and I haven’t even left my country!

Melbourne is a wacky place, it’s big, takes ages to get anywhere and is full of so many, different,  people. I am yet to meet anyone who has been less than friendly and I feel that my initial alienation is just part of the initiation process. The body tries to push away the bionic arm before it fully embraces it!

My last month at home was great and now faced with many challenges in an unfamiliar environment  I think about it fondly.  The first step into a new city is always a challenge for me, but it gets easier. I’ve almost walked into some accommodation for the next three weeks, and will hopefully leap into a job shortly too…

Travelling: Experience it now in 3D!

London Heathrow to Sydney Kingsford Smith took me 7 days, and it was the most enjoyable hemisphere swap I have taken yet.

Breaking up the big flight back to Australia, my sister and I decided to stop for a week in Malaysia. It seems like a no brainer – get to stay in a new country for as long as we want and not have to pay anything extra for flights. The downside could be though that we would be so keen to get home that we’d waste our time there pining for our homecoming. Thankfully this wasn’t the case and Dru and I spent a pleasant four days wandering around Kuala Lumper by ourselves, indulging in the local food, getting our groove on in local dance and marvelling the phenomenal temples. I thought we were really getting a good feel for the place, until we met with a friend of a friend of mine who lives there – and all of what we’d experienced seemed suddenly 2D.

Badri works for the Petronas energy company, the largest company in Malaysia which has built the countries best known building – the conjoined twin towers. He took us to real Malaysian restaurants and monuments, showed us where he shopped, treated us to a coffee-tea (mixed together!)  and let us snack on the greatest food unknown to western man – Pau. Even more valuable than this though was how he explained the economy, political structure, religious beliefs, social habits and way of life from the perspective of a Malaysian citizen with all its idiosyncrasies.  This could not be read in a book, seen in a tourist centre or talked about in a youth hostel. It really brought Malaysia to life and solidified the importance of seeing someone from the country you visit in order to understand it’s culture. It is certainly not the case that just by backpacking in hostels you will miss out on culture. Backpackers get to experience a culture quite rare and exciting – that of meeting many other young and adventurous people from all over the world with similar objectives. But they don’t necessarily get to fully experience the place they are visiting.

When thinking back about my time in Malaysia, the first thing that comes to mind is not the flag, the towers, the food or the temples, but Badri and everything that he taught us about his country.

I’d even be prepared to wear dorky glasses to experience that again.

Train of thought…

Lets talk French trains. They cop a bit of flack for being late and often never running because of the omnipresent strikes, but really this hasn’t ever really botherd me much – why shouldn’t a conductor get to retire at 55 with full benefits? No the thing that blots out the light of my glowrange is that they are very deceptive. Many a time I have walked onto a French train holding my 2nd class ticket and have been bamboozeled by the decor. Surely, I think, this plush velvet lined cabin must be 1st class, what are paupers like me meant to do with power outlets, wifi and folding tables? But upon searching the whole train I find that it is the 2nd class and that 1st class is exactly the same but just in a different colour. How deceptive can you get?!

That’s why I like German trains – there is no confusion. Right now I am in a fine example enroute to Brussels and there is not a shadow of a doubt that I am in the second class. I am sitting on a hinged seat adjacent to the bike rack with an off cut of carpet covering the wooden floor. Germany – thank you for your honesty.


Language review

Summing up language wise – I am pretty stoked. In this last week I have been meeting with lots of people and having a really great time – all using this language. I make many many mistakes, but the conversation flows and I feel confident I can present my true self in this garbled form. I can even understand native speakes enough without them needing to constantly repeat themselves and I’m at the point where I’m thinking in French – I forget that I’m using another language and just fall into thinking about the topic at hand. Success! Yet I also know that I have some fundemental flaws with my understanding of grammar and pronunciation and that it will take years to be able to join in seemlessly with the overlapping hundred-mile-an-hour conversations. Using it is very gratifying.

At a friends birthday party I was surrounded with people from four different countries and we were all speaking together in French. I had such an enjoyable time and wanted nothing more than to continue life travelling and meeting people from different places – especially Khazakstan and China. I’m sure that as time passes in the next few weeks and months I will be able to reflect more on my time here, but for now I feel pretty content as I sit her on the train en route to Belgium. This year, just like a mountain range has had many valleys, but even more peaks.

Who’s the adventurer?

I throw caution to the wind, I chase the morning sun, I live on the whims of fancy and drink from the cup of the unknown. I am an adventurer.

At least that’s what I thought until I heard qbout my little sisters latest escapades. She has been tropsing through Europe with mates in tow but without a mobile phone as she lost it in a London Hostel. She then proceeded to have both of her passports pickpocketed in Italy but was able to get back on track, water off a ducks back, after a stop at the embassy in Paris. Completely unperterbed she now wants to change all the plans that I carefully arranged – discarding our safe pre-booked tickets to see family in England. Why? Because she has fallen in love with a pommy chap in Valencia and thinks it nothing to jump on a cheap plane and traverse two countries to see him for a few more days. What about my idea of resting easy at our relatives farm, drinking a few cups of tea, chatting about the weather and perhaps reading a book? That’s still pretty adventurous right?

Actually part of the reason that I came to France in the first place was the chance that said little sister would do a gap year in France and learn French and I couldn’t have her out adventuring me. Well I’ll give credit where credit is due – she has been adaptable, postive and spontanious and has certainly done well this time. But I’ll come back and adventurously lead the way like only a big brother can – just as soon as the weather is a bit more predictable and I can find my sunhat.

Do you have a dollar, do you have a dollar for me?

I’ve seen lots of homeless people asking for money in the last two years and I’ve had time to test out many different ways of dealing with them. Giving them money outright, ignoring them completely, taking them to fruit stores and buying them something or sharing any food that I’ve got with them. This last one, though I know is not water tight, is the one that I go for now. There are always people who need more that I can give money too but halving a sambo with someone whose a bit hungry will at least appease one belly. It also won’t offer any sort of long term solution and might actually reinforce the dependence cycle but it can’t be exchanged for drugs and sharing is caring right? Despite it’s shortcomings it is my go to plan – just hope you run into me on my lunch break.

Recently I had a run in which had me willing to abandon this plan entirely. It was with a woman who left me amazed at her savyness and entrepreneurial spirit. I was walking along the street when I first saw her coming towards me. Just a few metres in front she bent down to pick something up. I didn’t not see anything on the ground but in her hand she produced a chunky gold ring, and she looked at me smiling and asked me curiously if I thought it might be gold. I took it in my fingers and found on the inside rim a few punched in numbers – which was confirmation enough for me that this was the real deal (I wasn’t about to bite it as it was on the ground – I’m not that hungry for money!). She then told me that I should have it as it is against her religion to wear gold, and she showed me neck barron of all that glitters – and this was proof enough for me. I had just had an unbelievable stroke of luck. As I turned around and walked off wondering where the nearest police station is (In Oz if you hand something in and no one claims it within 3 months then it is yours – I have an engagement ring at home that testifies to it!) the women who was by now ten metres away yelled back asking for a little money. I walked back and we talked a little and it turned out she wanted something to eat – a kabab. It was about here that I realised that I had been played, but I was willing to pay up because it was a very good show. It really was an elaborate and brave way to beg. She would have to know the success percentage of the gambit and then analyse whether her average profit margins would make the ploy viable. Very impressive.

I couldn’t see any stores nearby, and  I only felt like giving baguette money so I put two euros in her hand and placed the ring on a nearby window sill for her. She was quite insistant on getting more money for a kabab though, so not wanting to disappoint her and lose two euros I took my two euros back and wished her well.

It was a very good show indeed and I was willing to pay for it but she needs to put a bit more work into sealing the deal.

Catch you later France!

This last week has been one of my busiest, hardest and saddest yet. It was the week of goodbyes and I always forget how difficult it is going to be. I was really surprised at how keen everyone was to see me before I left and each day for the past week I have been catching up with two or three groups of people for a goodbye session. It is exhausting and sad stuff. I’ve been told that the people in the north of France are a lot colder than the people in the south, but once you crack open that hard outer shell the inside is warm and loving. I would have to concur wholly with this. The first six months here due in a large part to my language skills were a bit tough but it has done a full reverse. I have been given so many presents to take with me that it’s actually quite difficult to carry them with my already crammed bag (what a  lovely problem to have). I’ve met many many people recently who I was just starting to hit it off with. And ten people came to see me off at the train station after already seeing me off earlier at one of the many get togethers that I had, and there were tears, real ones! I felt like saying, ‘hey hold up guys, it’s just justo – it’s no biggie!’.

To be honest I’ve felt a bit like a celebrity, always at the centre of attention at these get togethers, accepting gifts and making little thank you speeches – it’s a bit uncomfortable. I love a good analagy and I’m going to through another one on you that always seems to come to mind when I ‘up and go’. I feel like a goey ball, perhaps a bit like bouncing putty. When it is thrown hard at a surface it bounces back quickly, but if you sit it in the one place for a while it melts into the cracks of the surface and you really need to dig your fingernails in to get it out. Each time I move I seem to seep deeper and deeper into the cracks and like an impatient boy told to clean up, I fear that I leave little bits behind.

Enter level 2: The mocking zone

I have made an unfortunate advancement with my French. Apparently I have reached the point where it is alright to make fun of  my language skills. Before it was all cutsey

‘ahh, look at the little Australian trying to speak our language, coochee coo, through all of his mangled vocabulary, atrocious pronunciation and non existant grammar I can actually sort of understand what he means – who’s a clever boy!’

Yes it certainly sounds patronising when I write it here, but I quite like it. It makes me feel clever. Every time someone says ‘Oh you speak very good French’ I glow a little on the inside.

But now, thanks to my study and practise I have reached a stage less comforting for the confidence.

‘Oh, you’re actually a guy, see Justin said ‘Une Amie’ not ‘Un Ami’ on the telephone and I thought he had a lady friend, oh actually while we are on the subject check out this hilarious message Justin sent me the other day – look how he misses a few letters out and it makes no sense at all – ahh what a fool’.

In this last example I was actually trying to be a bit clever and use some French colloquialisms, but I did indeed make an error which would have looked like ‘G’day mate, how going?’.

Yes just a small error, and one that you could brush over, but not now that I have entered the next zone. Isn’t progress great?

Though slightly belittling, I will look forward to each mock and will wear it as a badge of pride knowing that I have entered the next level of language learning.

Dance…the path to language success!

Four years ago while I was studying in Leeds I joined a Regaeton dance class. I’m normally a sport instead of dance sort of person but a mate of mine was keen on a girl who was doing it  and he wanted some male company. For those of you not up to speed with the latest in latino  booty shaking – just imagine Shikira doing her thing and you are getting pretty close. While practising my body roles and pelvic thrusts with this group of ladies (and Ben) I never thought that the experience would lead to a success in language learning, but indeed it has.

The lass that my pal was keen on was from France, and after he danced his way into her life we all became chums and did some travelling around together. Céline was (and still is) her name and she spoke very good English. Despite four years of little contact I thought it would be a shame if we didn’t catch up considering she is living just a few hundred kilometres away  in Lyon. So last weekend I went Lyon taming – and I didn’t get my head bitten off.

I recognised Céline  at the station she introduced me to her boyfriend Boris and it was established by aquiesence that our language was French. Being able to usefully use the language felt amazing and I couldn’t help smile sometimes as we chatted away using words that upon our last meeting meant nothing to me. Despite the numerous errors that I knew I was making, we were able to discuss all sorts of things from renewable energy to yogurt making while traversing the grand parks, the old town, exploring the upside down elephant church, watching an ice-hockey game, eating the finest Lyonaisse cuisine and having a crêpe party.

Lyon is a very nice town, but my time here wouldn’t have been half as good if I wasn’t with Céline and Boris – for me it’s the people not the places that make travelling worthwhile. And for the first time yet, I have been able to do this using another language.

Thank you Reagaton.

When you’re alone

For three weeks in October my family came to France and we had a splendid trip around the country together. Following that my little sister stayed with me for almost another three weeks and she has just recently left for further travellings. While here we cooked together, chatted about random stuff and even made a website dedicated to oranges just because we could – . But after the first few days that she left I started to feel quite lonely. No one to greet me when I got home, no one to hang out with and do fun stuff with and my spag bol just didn’t cut the mustard. So it was of course time to turn to my other mates here, and with a few squash games, chats in pubs and group get togethers I’m now feeling tipy tops again. But it’s got me asking the question. What would I have done before I could speak the language well enough to have friends here? Probably sat in my room and studied French. Ohh. Very un fun.

It does seem rather obvious and probably doesn’t need to be experienced to be believed, but speaking the same language as other people makes it much easier to make friends. As was probably always going to be the case, now at the end of the trip I’ve got friends and am starting to make some good headway with really using the language  and I’m heading off to start again somewhere new.

I’m rather enjoying work now that the higher level class has started but this hasn’t stopped me from counting down the days until I leave. I’m up for the next big move.

Bonjour, goodbye.

Before I came here I had heard that the French are rude – and though I hadn’t experienced it with exchange students that I’d met in Australia, there was certainly a bluntness about them. Yet upon living here I have found that they aren’t rude, just different. Certainly at some times their actions may be in no way appear polite (smoking over your shoulder as you eat dinner) , but they make up for it in some of the cutest ways (tough gangster men kissing each other on the cheeks) . And I am starting to warm to this French style.

The other day as I stood on the crowded bus for my half-hour long ride to work, someone that I knew from my table tennis club got on to. At this moment I panicked.  In Australia you have two options: pretend you didn’t see the person, or talk to them.  As he was standing less than two metres away I felt I couldn’t faint the former and sure I liked him and we got on alright, but I didn’t want to force small talk for half an hour. Instead I went for the glorious French option that I had seen many a time used by school friends, workers and grannies alike.  I shook his hand (as we weren’t close enough physically or emotionally for the kiss), said ‘Bonjour ça va?’ and went back to studying my French words. Though I still felt a bit uncomfortable it is totally socially acceptable to ignore someone after you have acknowledged them, it didn’t seem to phase my friend at all.

The greetings are very important in France and it can be a very time consuming thing. Even in groups it is important to do the rounds and kiss or shake hands with everyone individually, though at least for work I skip this and give an Aussie group wave to everyone. I know that this makes me seem like a cold foreigner, but I can wear that tag  from time to time. Once the greetings are out of the way though you can do as you please. Though this may seem a bit vacuous, it is great for a bus ride.

I struck out

Riding along on my pushbike on Tuesday morning I felt joyously French. Not only was I riding a pushbike (which you only need to see the Flight of the Concords ‘faux do fa fa’ song to know that all French are velo lovers) but the reason that I was there and not on some public transport was because there was a strike on. ‘Oh how great the French are for banding together and sticking up for their rights, they are an example to us all, such proud and determined people’ I was thinking as the chill morning wind rushed through my hair. And then ‘BANG’. My front tyre popped, good and proper. With no other option to get to work on time, I rode the next 9 kilometres with a completly flat tyre accompanied by the soundtrack of flappy rubber slapping my front forks. All I could do was wave and smile to the people who turned their heads as I cycled past, the same people no doubt who had forced me onto the flingin flangin bike in the first place. Making some inroads to calm my now very anti-strike attitude was a table set up at the train station with free orange juice and lollies for people who were affected. It was a nice try.

This latest social disturbance is brought about by the changes in the age of retirement. It used to be 40 years people would have to work before they were cared for, and it is going to be 42. The workers have put on big demonstrations walking through the streets several times now on selected days with banners and flares, and now it is the students turn. In Australia, a student strike seems almost laughable – ‘students skip class all the time, it’s no biggie’. In France though they have some clout. From my classroom yesterday where I was teaching I could hear the cheers of thousands of students who had congregated in the main square, and one of my English learners warned that it was likely they were going to turn over and burn cars, again. There have even been references to the May 1968 student riots which prompted further national riots leading to 23 percent of the workforce shutting down and the deaths of several protesters. With no sign of it winding down in sight, it could be a good idea to get a new tyre.

The French take their cheese, bread and strikes very seriously and with experience in all they are not to be taken lightly.


I can speak Kazakh!

If someone ever asks me for advice on learning a new language I will tell them this: take some lessons on how to speak the language.

It is rather simple advice, yet I managed to overlook it for the first six months that I lived here.  Now a week after finishing my three week course I am still reaping the benefits  – more direction in my study, improved conversation skills, but by far and away the most important thing – I have friends who are learning French too.  This last weekend I have been socialising to the point of excess with my new friends picnicing, salsa dancing and playing soccer and table tennis. It is quite exhausting actually, but very good for the French. The interesting thing about my new friends is that they come from all over the world, places that don’t have traditional links with Australia, like Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Brazil and Namibia. Everyone can speak English, but we all stick to the French lingua franca and it works a treat because if we spoke English not only would it not help the French learning, but Dave (a Canadian) and I would be able to speak it far better than everyone else who speaks it as a second language. In French everyone is on a similar level. It is hard sometimes to understand the Chinese pronunciation of French words, but truth be told my Australian word mangling probably doesn’t make things that easy either. It feels good because we speak equally, just like I speak equally with my mates in Australia. I can speak on the same level with people from many many countries with only having to learn one other language – that’s surely worth the few euros it cost me for the course.

I’ll Kill Him

About two years back a few mates and I put together this little song – a direct rip off of a cute song by a French girl (Soko – I’ll kill her). I wrote it after I had just discovered that a French girl who I was a bit keen on already had a boyfriend. I’m still in contact with her, but I haven’t told her about it. She might be a bit scared.