Saturday, December 6, 2008

Greetings from Asiatown


The flat is on the 12th floor and the view from the balcony is rather spectacular and a voyeur’s dream. Were I so inclined I could probably sit out in the sun with my bird-watching binoculars for hours of free entertainment peeping into the rear windows of hundreds of other flats and offices. It’s right in the heart of the city—wonderfully convenient for me since I can easily catch a train to any suburb in which I might happen to work. The majority of the immediately local residents are Asian immigrants who do most of the actual cardiac work of pumping nutrients of coffee, toast and muffins to the gray-matter suits who commute in for the city’s daytime cerebral tasks. Many cafes don’t even bother to open their doors on weekends.

To call the area Chinatown might seem superficially appropriate for an American such as me who cannot discern between different East Asian ethnic countenances, but it would really betray the true diversity. There are loads of Chinese, but also Koreans, Japanese, Indonesians and Thais (the restaurant below the flat is called ‘Thainatown’). The above nationalities have a terrible reputation among backpackers and flat-sharers for anti-social behavior: hiding in their rooms, not speaking English, emitting unpleasant aromas. I am lucky enough to share with a rainbow of foreign nationals: India, Germany, England, New Zealand, who all speak English and coexist well. As far as I can tell nobody born in Australia actually resides within the CBD. When somebody calls the flat on the intercom from downstairs the ring fittingly plays the tune of "It's a small world after all."

When I step onto the basketball court at the park by central station, typically as the only non-Asian, I’m greeted by awestruck faces as if nobody has ever seen anyone taller than 6 feet before (isn’t Yao Ming supposed to be Chinese?). The standard is always pretty terrible and the NBA jerseys most of the players wear rarely represent ball skills or game knowledge. I haven’t had any trouble at all meeting fascinating and friendly people; the climate and weather are great; and the city is exciting and busy. But the lack of a decent basketball game in town and the fact that I haven’t caught a single Duke game (more a problem with the time difference than a lack of potential venues) are what make me most homesick.

Actually the lack of decent grog is a rival problem. Like most warm-weather countries, the Aussie beer lacks diversity and flavor. It’s also extortionately expensive. A 6-pack of standard tasteless lager costs about 15 bucks and it’s tough to find a case for much less than 40. The popular alternative among backpackers is wine, which by comparison is essentially free. That is especially true of boxed wine which is referred to affectionately (or loathingly) by Aussies as ‘goon.’ Once the cask has been emptied, the Mylar sack within the box can be inflated like a balloon to make what supposedly in some aboriginal language is called a ‘goon,’ but what us Anglos would call a ‘pillow.’ Aboriginals have a reputation similar to Native Americans when it comes to drink. As they get decent government financial support, many make a profession out of public park alcoholism. You certainly can’t walk from central station to my flat with passing at least a dozen aboriginals that appear severely intoxicated. Anyway, all it takes to join them is $10, which buys a 4.4 liter box of dubious ‘wine.’ After finishing all that, especially if you’re in the park, you would certainly need a pillow, which just happens to be the prize at the bottom of the box. I guess I’m just spoiled by America’s craft beer revolution and the U.S. macro-brew economies of scale.

Do you drink beer? Then you could definitely afford to become a member of the wilderness society. All it takes is one beer a week (assuming you would have paid about $4.60 for it at a pub) to give us 1,000 lobbying points in parliament and save 150 hectares of wilderness per year!

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