Friday, July 19, 2013

How Ya Goin’? – September 2012


Getting settled in Brisbane has been a long and difficult process, but this month things started coming together.  First, my luggage finally arrived!  I mailed my suitcase from Japan at the end of July, on the understanding that it should take about a fortnight to reach Australia.  The fact that it took more than a month was a source of increasing distress to me, and I was overjoyed when a postal truck finally pulled up outside the front door and delivered my precious baggage.  Stuff!!!  How I missed you!

After viewing about ten rooms in all corners of the city I finally settled on one at the beginning of the month and moved in a week later.  It’s a bit more than I wanted to spend – rent, like everything else, is expensive here – but it’s close to downtown with easy access to public transit, and I’m quite happy with it.  It’s in a traditional old house, with a patio and palm trees in the back yard.

Lastly, I have a job!  This took quite a long time to find; I handed out résumés during my first two weeks here but got almost no response for a month.  Then, towards the end of September, two schools called me in for interviews that led almost directly to a place on the substitute teacher list.  Those in turn led to 6:00 a.m. calls for emergency relief work (“Of course I can be there in an hour and fifteen minutes; I’m practically out the door now!”), which led to near-simultaneous full-time employment offers.  I could only take one of them, of course, but this makes me feel a lot better about my desirability as a teacher, and I’m thrilled to be working again.

Although I’ve done this kind of work before, it’s been a bit of an adjustment.  I’ve spent the last three years doing either co-teaching or tutoring, and I’m having to recall my training and experience from Vancouver.  On the plus side, my students are at a much higher level than I’m used to.  I’m teaching the pre-intermediate class, which is quite low, but it’s an unspeakable relief to be able to say a sentence like “Take out your textbooks and turn to page sixteen”, and have the students comply without needing it translated!  They also seem unusually studious and enthusiastic about learning.  Maybe it’s the visa system here; in Australia students legally have to show up for class or risk having their student visas revoked.  Either way, they seem quite motivated, and are in turn motivating me to be a better teacher!

Now that I’m living on my own and working, I haven’t been getting out as much.  The most interesting event of the month was Mid-Autumn Festival, which was observed by the Chinese immigrant community despite it technically occurring in springtime.  I went with my Hong Kong acquaintance to a service at her Chinese-dominated church.  The event coincided with “River Fire”, a fireworks show over the Brisbane River.  We watched it from the shore and saw Story Bridge explode in coloured sparks.  It might not have been Sydney Harbour Bridge at the Olympics, but we were impressed nonetheless.

Otherwise, life in Australia is becoming routine.  The novelty is starting to wear off, although the local quirks still catch me off guard.  One that I still haven’t adjusted to is the habit people have of asking “How ya goin’?”  Not “How ya doin’?”, or “How’s it goin’?”, but “How are you going.”  Another idiom is the expression “Y’alright.”  Not "Y'alright?" as in "Are you okay?", but "Y'alright" as a statement of fact.  The meaning seems to encompass “That's okay", "No problem", and "You're welcome."

Apparently Australians count the seasons differently from us, because the first of the month was also the beginning of spring.  Not that that meant much to me, because it felt just like late summer.  In the middle of the month it finally rained for the first time since I’ve been here.  Much as I love uninterrupted sunshine, I’m looking forward to the grass turning green and hopefully the city starting to look a bit prettier.

In news out of Japan, one of my Japanese acquaintances recently went to Canada to begin a month-long homestay in (of all places) Saskatoon!  Though it’s a fairly small city, and not one I know a lot about, I know it’ll provide her with a great immersion experience, and do a lot to improve her English.

In the news this month, protests are taking place all over the world, including Australia, because of a video on YouTube that makes fun of the prophet Mohammed.  The protesters have called for the video to be removed and the maker prosecuted or even executed for breaking Muslim law and inciting hatred against Muslims.  Wanting to see for myself what all the fuss was about, I duly went on YouTube and watched the video.  Is it obnoxious?  Sure.  If I were a Muslim, would I be offended by it?  Definitely.  Does it promote hatred against Muslims?  Absolutely not.  It makes fun of Mohammed, but in no way advocates violence against his followers.  And it violates Muslim law by showing its prophet’s face.  So what?

Dear protesters: Cheap YouTube videos do not encourage hatred of Muslims.  Muslims who protest cheap YouTube videos encourage hatred of Muslims.  The way to prove that you are peaceful is not to commit acts of violence; the way to promote tolerance is not to outlaw opposition; and calling for someone’s death is no way to win em over to your side.  And I sincerely hope that the offending video never ever gets taken down.  It’s called free speech.  Deal with it.

Books I’ve read this month:

The Shack by William Paul Young – Modern-day fable about a grieving father’s weekend in the woods with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.  Never having dealt with bereavement myself, I find it hard for say whether I find this tale of forgiveness and reconciliation plausible, but I appreciate the down-to-earth tone and agree with most of the author’s thoughts on man’s relationship with God.

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin – More than a decade ago, I started watching a new T.V. show that blew my mind.  I’d heard lots of good things about it, and knew that it had received much critical acclaim, but until I saw it, I couldn’t understand how special it really was.  For the first time I was watching a show that didn’t treat its audience like children; that explored moral grey areas without being pedantic; that made loathsome characters loveable without trying to mitigate their crimes.  That show was The Sopranos, and I still consider it the best series I’ve even seen.

I felt the same kind of awe reading the first book in A Song of Ice and Fire: this is high fantasy for adults.  Despite owing a lot to the high fantasy genre, including the work of J. R. R. Tolkien, it tells a very different kind of story.  While it’s technically a fantasy, the fantastic elements are so restrained that it feels more like historical fiction.  Instead of Free Peoples battling an Army of Darkness, it has morally complex humans in conflict with other morally complex humans.  And while some of the principal characters are key players, they also include the helpless, the marginalised, and the victims who can only watch the horrific events unfold.

The writing is extremely disciplined: each chapter is told from the perspective of a single character, and Martin never doubles back and replays events from a different perspective.  The style is competent, though geared more towards readability than poetics.  The chapters are numerous but short, and since each one advances the plot a tiny bit, there’s little opportunity to get bored.  Martin also rotates between the different perspectives often enough that by the time I’ve started to miss one character it’s usually time for eir re-appearance.

This is the book I wish I’d written: a morally complex story with a diverse cast of characters and the perfect balance of cynicism and idealism.  I could never write a book like this though.  I’m just glad somebody did!