Joined October 2017
  • Day14

    Relative Miracles 2

    June 1, 2019 in Spain ⋅ ☀️ 8 °C

    One week in and we are spending our 'rest day' on the train between Legrono to Burgos. From Burgos we will walk a couple of days over the miseta plateaus to experience walking in the heat and flat terrain. Then on to walk the last 100km to Compostela to get our completion certificate and a pat on our backs and a tick in that box.

    I was talking with Katrina about the interactions on the Camino. Although we are meeting some really lovely people and when you are walking miles you are somewhat forced to talk to people you wouldn't normally, however I've found very few people on camino are 'my people'. People that can banter and talk politics and are more rational than spiritual. Katrina said she tells people she's a biologist and drops the 'evolutionary' from her title as she doesn't know how they will respond. I haven't had anyone want to know anything more about the fact I work in a union. We chatted about how we are comfortable with our selves and our professions, even if they are 'against god' in some odd way.

    After a first week of inspiration, I'm stagnating and becoming synical. It's a culmination of irksome feelings. On day two or three of our walk we chatted with an American family from Oregon. They asked if we were religious and we stated we are not, but they are. They asked us what we would say to God if we met him on the Way. Katrina responded somewhat jokingly that we would have some firm words to say to him, but the question bugged me so I fell silent and fell back on the path. I couldn't picture meeting God. Two days after this conversation I've reconsidered - I wouldn't know what to say to Him, because I'm Athiest. Not Agnostic, but Athiest. I would never sit with God. I could be knocking on the pearly gates of heaven but there would still be no God for me.

    I fundamentally disagree with the idea of a missionary. Suddenly the idea of doing a pilgrimage walk to visit the body of an apostle who spread Christianity through an otherwise Muslim country feels so wrong. But the Camino doesn't have to be about God, as they say, however it is exceedingly rare to find anyone on the Camino who does not have a Christian background. The majority of pilgrims are American, Irish and South Korean. Many of these people would not do the walk to Mecca, or the walk from Egypt with Estha and the Jews, or the walk across India to follow Ashoka's spread of Buddhism. Or maybe they would do these walks, maybe I'm writing them off too quickly and am being too cynical. To be honest, I probably wouldn't do these walks either. Despite being 3rd generation athiest, I come from a Christian background so subconsciously relate to the camino more than these other walks. This also buggs me.

    After my incomplete PhD thesis, I've been toying with ideas for a better research topic. Working as a travel wholesaler, I learnt that a foreign culture and holiday itineries for travellers are pitched according to your culture. If an Australian wants to travel to Japan for a ski holiday, they are happy with bunk beds close to the slopes, with a bar nearby. We are usually put with the Americans. The Europeans want comfort - perhaps a cook or a chalet style hotel. The Chinese want all-you-can-eat crab for dinner, apparently. Hotels will be built with separate wings, to segregate the cultures of people so everyone can have their ideal holiday and sample the parts of the foreign culture they hope to see. Everything is a snapshot that works within the ingrained stereotypes of our culture. We all go home having had a good time but ultimately seeing only what we and they want us to see. Cultures are fascinating. People are fascinating.

    This holiday is pitched as a way to find yourself on a difficult physical journey. It's an ancient route that has split into multiple Ways, following a man who brought Christianity to Europe then following his followers back to him. Its symbolic. I'm finding it a somewhat sad metaphor for the feeling the West has for more. For a feeling of incompleteness.

    The other night we went out for dinner, hoping to find a restaurant that would serve us authentic Spanish food. One look at our camino shell necklace and our 2 words of Spanish, and we are handed the 'pilgrim menu'. Generally a cheap and delicious 3 course set menu, but we are pigeonholed. We resigned ourselves to this, and sat with the other pilgrims, eavesdropping on their conversation. The spiritual Japanese man (the one non-Christian Culture I've met on the camino) was speaking to an American woman, and she was saying her friends wished her goodbye before she left, with a 'I hope you do find yourself on the Camino, so you can finally stop searching'. She seemed disappointed with this response. I also hope she finds whatever it is she is looking for to make her more comfortable with herself. I don't know if this kind of epiphany it is something that you can plan for, and this holiday seems very planned. Perhaps it's something that might be found under the couch at home, who knows.

    Troops of people, having a break from their lives to meet others in the same state and to hope to find more about themselves. Its beautiful and horribly sad. The Spanish culture isn't the main drive as I'd hoped. It's a capitalist sense of something missing and of a lack of integrity in our lives and our work.

    If I'm not going to 'find myself' on this walk, or suddenly wake up with my anxieties gone, and am not going to suddenly become spiritual, then what times have I felt the most enlightened?
    Listening to the stories of Hibakusha in Japan singing about their home towns that were bombed in the war. That made me feel an intense connection with others. Seeing the statue on the banks of the Hiroshima River of children holding up the equation 'E=mc2' made me shudder at the thought of the godlike power of humans, and our responsibility to use this for good. Reading Sarte in highschool where he states that everything that occurs in the world is a result of my actions in some small or large way. The WFYS conference in Russia where I ate with people from across the globe, but instead of discussing our hopes for enlightenment we discussed our welfare systems, and our methods of democracy, and could ask questions about the differences between Shia and Sunni with a Malay and a Pakistani over a shared meal. These were moments I felt so humbled. I felt so incredibly powerful, and so powerless. Being a white person from a first world Christian nation has so much weight and responsibility, and I don't know this is realised by others on this pilgrimage.

    It feels like us pilgrims are of one mindframe of an oddly individualistic nature, hiking incredible miles through the glorious Spanish countryside. Arriving into ghost towns during siesta, but when we sleep, the locals come out to play. Too busy looking at our own trudging feet that we can't see the pain or the happiness we create, or our responsibilities to others. If we focus on this, we will ultimately clear our own souls and find our ingegrity.

    There is a long walk from the top of Japan to the south - the peace march. Every year they start walking in May and arrive in Hiroshima and Nagasaki for the dates of the bombings in early August. They often are joined by locals and school children who walk with them in solidarity. They bang drums and sing and smile with bright banners. Some sleep in the houses of locals who offer them a place to stay, or a meal to help them on their way. St James did this Camino walk because - for better or worse - he believed in something beyond himself. Now this walk is purely for the individual. It's a sense of community that we are desperate for in Western capitalism. If we lived recognising that we are one of many and nurture this rather than run from it, perhaps we wouldn't need to get as many blisters while finding confort in this single life God or mother nature provided us.
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  • Day11

    Pilgrims and People

    May 29, 2019 in Spain ⋅ ☀️ 23 °C

    The Camino is full of people and of gossip. The first week where we walked with 'our Camino family' of pilgrims, you meet people with their own stories and share the stories of others you've heard on the way. Everyone becomes a legend. You overlap with people as you leap-frog from town to town, all trudging to Compostella.

    We hear of an Irish man who is walking his 3rd Camino this year. His mum always wanted to walk The Way but passed away before she got a chance. He walked it first for her and placed a stone at Cruz de Ferro in memory of her. It is tradition to drop a stone at Ferro - originally this stone represented a sin that you would leave near the end of the Camino, discarding before reaching the Church of St James. As tourists are, now there is apparently a pile of stones and trinkets left here.  The Spanish poor and gypsies collect anything left of value, such as baby's shoes for the miscarried, or necklaces and rings offered as tokens of love, lost. Every few months the pile of rocks and trinkets gets so high, a truck clears the spot so the sins can be replaced by other pilgrims'.  He walked the Camino a second time for himself and realised that the stone he had left for his mum had been carted away and was so angry about this that he decided to make a plaque in honour of her and will affix it at the cross so 'the bastards can't take it away'. He says this in Irish jest apparently, but for him I'm sure it is all a long grieving process. He would have probably spent more time this year on Camino than he has at home.  I hope after he places the plaque he can find peace.

    There's Takeshi the Japanese man. The one non-Christian-heritage man I've met who has walked perhaps 7 Camino. Seeking a different life than that prescribed in Japan he lives now in Spain. When people ask where he is from, he replies 'from everywhere'. Besides Japanese and Spanish, he speaks decent French and English. When we ask him why he repeatedly walks the Camino he replies in accent 'for the miracles'. It's hard to expand on his answer, so we change the topic and buy him another beer.

    We hear of a man who walked the camino with a dog. Depending on the story, he either had a pack of dogs or adopted a husky puppy. The alburge refuse to house him and his dog, so he camps by rivers on the outskirts of town. Over the meseta plains the dog overheats so he walks the distances at night. A 750km walk - the ultimate holiday for a dog and his man.

    Beautiful Pieter from Bourdeax has a wife from Romania, at home with his daughters. We bump into him by the Puente La Reina Bridge, eyes closed in the setting sun. I see him again in the church boarding in Estella, applying tiger balm to his feet which are suffering from tendonitis. I ask him if it helps and he replies 'not really' and shrugs. We pass him in Logrono, crossing the square eating ice cream. Of all pilgrims I've met, he seems the most at ease and the most calm. I've never seen him walking, but when in town he doesn't hide in the alburge or fumble for a nap and shower. He enjoys the travel and what the town has to offer.  The last I saw him he was leaving our table to catch another Romanian pilgrim, to practice his wife's language.

    The Canadian with the bright eyes and separated- toed runners has a quick break in a roadside stop. Although everyone looks at katrinas thongs in shock (our feet ache from our boots so our aussie sandals are a blessing) he points and yells that she is doing an amazing walk. He wants to walk the Camino next time in bare feet, giving himself double the time to make the pained distance. We walked with him briefly in Estella, where we nearly have to jog to keep up with his pace. He originally flew in to Barcelona with the intention to mountain climb, but on the plane he heard of the Camino and left his gear in a locker and headed to do the walk. He doesn't have much time so is jogging the whole thing - hoping to complete 30-60km a day, depending on the terrain. Although he wants to complete it, he is already disappointed he will never see the same faces again as he outstrips us on his way to Compostela.

    Mike from Canada and Paul from Ireland walk the Camino together. They met on a past walk and now, though both so different, repeat the walk together. Mike is a self proclaimed embodiment of the Camino - always offering advice on how to stretch sore legs, or which alburge have the most authentic experiences, or what to carry in your pack. He shares stories of grandure from his past travels, translates the menu, and repeats his anecdotes. In Pamplona, the first big city, Mike enters the bar and pulls the pilgrim to one table. Last year when he walked he came into the same bar and had a grest party, he wants to recreate it. The other Aussie girls, tired from the walk, leave to find a quiet dinner, but we stay to fulfil Mike's dream. He shows us his Camino tattoos and remarks how a real pilgrim carries his pack and starts walking before dawn. Paul sits quietly, sending the odd work email. He has done many Camino and looks so well with a glint in his eye and both feet on the ground. Patient, one foot in front of the other.

    Rachael from America is walking alone. A younger girl who has finished biology and is now studying dentistry. She is lovely and down to earth. She travelled to France with her boyfriend but now walks across Spain on her own. She tells us how in America, the poor children have such bad teeth because all their parents can afford is coke and Macdonalds. The rich kids also come in with holes in their teeth because their parents don't believe in fluoride. The poor and the privileged. She is walking because although she is smart, her parents paid for her college. She is doing the Camino for herself, so she can be proud of her own achievements. For someone so young, and travelling so alone, I'm already proud of her.

    One night we spent in an alburge in Zubiri, an old man came in who looked like he'd walked further than the two days from Saint Jean to Zubiri. Perhaps because of his age he had taken longer than most to cross the Pyrenees mountain? In the bar later that night over beers we hear that he is The Dutchman, who left his home in Netherlands to walk the camino, the whole way by foot. He left two and a half months ago and has only just crossed the boarder of Spain. Desperate, we want to speak to him, to shake his hand and ask him how his feet are. By daybreak he has gone.

    I have learnt, twice in my life now, that I have no real desire to conquer mountains or to trek for the sake of a stamp. Despite the repeated conversations and the constant search for enlightenment, I miss our original group of pilgrims the most. For as busy as the French Way is, the characters you meet on the way do form part of the legacy of the Camino.
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  • Day10

    I Am A Body

    May 28, 2019 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 15 °C

    At the end of a day I shower and sit on my bunk, slowly assessing my legs and feet. I don't have any blisters and for this I am so so grateful. I have a slight red lump on the front of my shin where my shoe top pushes into my leg. This is hard to fix as it's a pressure sore rather than from friction, however I have learnt that doing my boots up looser doesn't cause blisters and avoids the pressure sores a little. My shins also hurt from having my feet at right angles for 20-30km a day, and I am concerned about shin splints. I walked around the first 7km today in my flat day-shoes and that fixed this problem - perhaps I'll buy walking sandals and throw out my flats. My left knee aches badly on the inner tendon when I walk without a brace, but seems reasonably fine if I wear the beace from the beginning of the day. My kneecaps ache but are getting better - probably because we had less downhill today. The balls of my feet are so sensitive. This is just from walking so much and carrying extra weight. There is nothing I can do for this but elevate my feet every night and hope that they will callous.

    On day one I felt a twang in my groin muscle when I stepped badly up the mountain. I was so worried this would become an ongoing issue, but by morning it was perfectly fine. My calves ached after the Pyrenees, but now they only burn a little on the inclines, but recover during the walk. After day one I spent 20 minutes massaging them, but this isn't needed now. Day one strangely my hands were the biggest problem. The cold of the mountain top made them freeze. I couldn't feel my fingers from second knuckle down. I couldn't open my pack and could barely write to sign in to the albergue. When I walk now by the end of the day my fingers are swollen from all the blood pooling there during the day. Apparently walking sticks help this since your arms are pendicular with your body, but cause their own problems such as palm blisters and dry skin. Hands aren't as strong as feet.

    In the evening you go to bed thinking if you will manage it tomorrow, and wonder if you should have a sleep in or a rest day. By morning you feel recovered, besides a dull ache in your feet and knees, but fine to walk. We are like salamanders who can regrow their tails - at night our bodies heal more than we realise.

    We met a 66 year old South African man today who is riding the French Way in 15 days. He had a knee reconstruction 6 months ago. He is doing this to show his body that he can, and had the most genuinely open and friendly demeanour. I can barely walk the camino, riding in this terrain would be near impossible in my mind. But that's just it, it really is mind over matter.

    At dinner with a seasoned pilgrim in Pamplona he told me that the French way can be split roughly into 3 sections. The first five days to a week is about recognising your body. You cross the Pyrenees, you shed weight because your pack is too heavy, and your body is tender and blistered as it adjusts to walking. The second section across the plateaus is for your mind as it is boring with most people choosing to do 30-40km walking per day to get it over with. The flat fields and hot sun make you close into yourself and reflect. The last section is for the spirit, as you get giddy with the thought of being close to Compostela and the Ways converge so you meet with so many pilgrims with different stories of their own journies.

    I'm five days into my walk and although my feet ache and my knees still burn, I feel stronger. Hills aren't as tiring anymore. My back isn't as pained carrying my pack. I have more energy at the end of the day. When I walk I notice the pain and am able to often pass over it - if I can't it is time to rest. Today on my walk I wanted to spend more of it in silence. I got to the top of a hill and was inspired to write a stupid limerick or had a line from a book in my head. Beyond the pain there is inspiration. I wish I was walking the full 35 days to experience the whole French Way of the Camino. After the first week, your body is the vessel to get you there, you just have to listen to and take care of her.
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  • Day7

    Relative Miracles

    May 25, 2019 in Spain ⋅ 🌫 10 °C

    Everything is relative. When I hiked at home, the longest I did was around 20km, with most practice walks were just under 400m altitude, and I was tired by the end. Today i walked 21km and potentially could have walked more. Anything compared to yesterday's 27km in the icy cold is easy. Even yesterday with more steep parts would have been completely doable.  However yesterday we climbed practically the height of Mount Bawbaw, which previously would he a seemed inconceivable.  I woke up this morning after walking back from dinner like a 'velociraptor' as it's coined, with your legs moving stiffly theough your hips rather than at your knees (who knew kneecaps could ache quite so much) and still woke up fine this morning. Only a slight ace in my back (maybe I don't need 3 changes of clothes. Maybe I don't need clothes at all?). Though I can't really talk of pain, because to be fair, it is only day 2 of 2-3 weeks on our Camino.

    Depsite it only being day 2, I don't want to leave. Camino is its own culture. Its an addiction. Its a purpetual personal miracle. When I thought of epiphany I thought of a silent self-awakening, but on the most popular French Way at least is a social event. Yet its so completely wholesome in every possible way. When I walked the 'mere' 21km today, I felt good - we were walking with a fitter, younger 22 year old from Washington DC. His pace was faster than I would've liked after a hard day yesterday and when I'm carrying 5km more than him, with 7 years on him to top it off. But I didn't want to lose a friend. And what friends they are. When your conversation starts with a heavy, personal topic such as 'where are you from and why are you on Camino?' you are bound to bypass the aaquaintence stage of friends reasonably quickly. But there are so many reasons why we Camino. Personally, the reason I tell people depends on my mood. But every answer is true. One response is that I am finally in a career I enjoy but its exhausting and I'm terrified I won't last. The next is because of a weird closure on an unrequited love. Another is due to a new romamce and fighting my fear of self-sabotage. The basic reason is for a holiday to do a walk. The major reason is to be rid of anxiety. Everyone has the same mix of reasons on why they camino, which reason you hear just depends on how long the road is or on how many sangria are flowing when you get to the stop point.

    My walk today was so much easier than yesterday, but it was a bit faster than I'd've liked. On the steep downward decline into Zubiri I was happy and so relaxed but I lost my confidence. Its very odd to have those 3 feelings at once. I was worried that at the speed I wasnt comfortable with I would have lost my footing (and I nearly did so many times) and because I was so relaxed-out-of-it I was putting my foot in the wrong places and weighting wrong. But I didn't want to fall behind my new American and Irish friends. We ended up having lunch together in Zubiri where me and Katrina stopped, but they walked on to the next town just under 6km further on. Though at lunch they seemed more tired than me. The Irish were gastro and cardio doctors from Dublin, the American is a 22 year old collage graduate on a gap year before a career in finance.

    Yesterday was a completely different experience from today. In body, and stamina, and mind. There was no time to be too concerned yesterday, but today I couldn't shake the concern. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Every day is a different speed. Maybe I'm learning that there is nothing wrong with anxiety, it's just about time and place?

    A part of me wished I could have rested and gained my confidence on the slippery slopes so I could keep up, however if I had moved on I wouldn't have shared an alburge with a Japanese and a French who are seasoned pelegrin (pilgrims). The Japanese has done maybe 3 Camino ways and the French guy one short Camino previously, but this camino for him started in bourdeax and will finish in Santiago. Another nearly 70 year old man started his Camino in norther Netherlands. He started walking on 3rd March and is only in Zubiri today, with 700+km to go to Santiago. Try to comprehend that please for a moment. How inspiring is the Camino. How inspiring are the people on the camino.

    Our seasoned pilgrim friends told us that Burgos is 14 days of 20-30km walking from where we started - around the same distance to Santiago. It's when you have settled in to the walk and have your 'camino family' so everyone has a party when they reach Burgos. Burgos is a big town with a big church. I want to go there so badly. But it might not leave much time for our last 100km to Santiago - you need the last 100km to get your Camino certificate. However after the wholesome and stupid conversation tonight, a stamp seems meaningless. A party in Burgos with these wonderful people seems much more meaningful.

    Tomorrow we walk and easy 20km to Pamplona - a large city where we will party with our Irish friends who will leave the camino there, and our Romanian friend, and maybe the American and Irish doctors. We will definitely make other friends on the way before dinner too. Despite the overtaking and overlapping, we all seem to meet at random checkpoints along the way.

    When we asked the Japanese pelegrin why he continues to walk the Camino, he said 'for the miracles.' I don't know if, on day 2, that I belive in miracles, but i am beginning to belive in the way of the Camino. It in itself is a miracle. I really don't want to leave, particularly while my feet can still carry me.
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  • Day5

    En Route to Camino

    May 23, 2019 in France ⋅ ☀️ 21 °C

    One of the things I looks forward to most when I travel is writing these blogs.  I go through the travel-day looking for something that's culturally different from my life in Melbourne, or consider interactions with friends met on route to another location. It makes the holiday a social and cultural analysis. All day an idea percolates. The writing of the blog is the most strenuous part, often times I have to write a blog twice after the initial inspiration has gone because I didn't hit save (such as this blog). I write at night when all I want to do is sleep, or I write when I'm on a train in transit between cities or countries. The inspiration and writing is one aspect, but perhaps the main reason I write - although I wouldn't want to fully admit it - is to share the blogs with family or on Facebook to collect 'likes' and spread the FOMO to those who can be bothered reading till the end.  Such is the way of our social media age.

    I'm about 5 days into this trip and have not been as desperate to write as I normally am. I have also noticed that I'm taking this trip more at face-value and feeling far more relaxed than previous trips. This is the first, very apparent moment I have noticed that the 2.5 years of councilling for my anxiety has paid off. The adrenaline is not as high, the second guessing is at a minimum, and I feel more confident. I also strongly feel that this comes with age - last time I was in Europe I was around 24 years old. I wanted to fit in as much sightseeing  as possible but my head was stuck in grief. Travel forces you to stop wallowing in self pity and instead focus wholly on where you will get your next meal, or how to get to the station and buy a ticket, or how to ask a local for directions to the chemist. It forces you to live in the moment, but often the moment can be overwhelming when you are an outsider. Back then, the only peace I felt was in churches. I could poke myself and acknowledge the grief, but still feel like I was taking in culture and admire the archetecture. Churches are calm but exciting in their foreigness.

    This trip's aim is ultimately to do a bloody big walk. We will do 2-3 weeks on the Camino Frances across Spain to Compostela de Santiago. It is a pilgrimage route, following the way of St James who brought Christianity to Europe. Now its a tourist destination for white people to 'find themselves' and for at least a moment to reconnect with themselves. Everyone has a different reason for doing the Camino, and everyone's Way is different, but it is ultimately a reconnection with body if you are walking 20-30km a day with a 10kg pack. Our aim for doing this is partially a 'coming of age' - to purge the anxieties, the sadness of unrequited lovers lost, for new beginnings. Its a slower holiday than I'm used to, where I practically lived on a train and every dinner's meal was eaten in a different town. It will also complete my bucket list dream to visit 30 countries by 30 years old. It is the perfect holiday.

    And yet, despite all the weight put on this holiday - the expectations for epiphany and the hope to find inner calm through acceptance of self and of blisters - I don't particuoarly want to write. Not with the same ferocity as I used to.  I often had discussions with my Irish trotskyest shrink that I believe we place detailed narratives on memories to defign ourselves. These can be dangerous and self centred. My doctor doesn't agree fully, his speciality is EMDR therapy, not your standard CBT. I told him I'd written a diary pretty consistently since I was 8 years old and he wasn't half as impressed as I hoped he'd be. In a later session when I mentioned I haven't written in my diary for a few months, mainly because I didn't know how to word some of the events that had happened recently to my friends, and in turn what that would mean to me (I'd thought too much of the narrative than the act of simply writing events) he stated that a diary can be pointless as you have to choose what to include and more importantly what to exclude. It becomes tiring. I've found reading over them is quite humorous as you remember more what you specifically excluded rather than what you included. The narrative of my diary was getting depressing. I would write perhaps once or twice a month so the diary takes time to fill. One page would be the start of a new dating relationship, a page later it had ended. I also mainly write when I feel down, but then the diary seems like I'm a sorry sod who has no happiness, so I'd try to incoude something happy but it seems forced. Or I'd exclude the details on why I'm sad. Now the diary's seem pointless and more stress than catharsis.

    We met with an old high-school friend when we were in London who recently returned from a Camino with her mum. They walked around 650 of the 800km, but her mum injured her ankle and couldn't make it to Compostela. She is a playwrite and will be writing a script about her trip. She said initially it would be a play about a mother and daughter bonding on The Way and about acceptance of body. Now it will be a puppet play with turtles (as they walked very slowly) and on her Way she did a lot of thinking about Brexit and the value in remaining in the EU - the acceptance and lesser racism that comes with a union of different cultures. Now her play will be about self and about politics. For someone who also writes, she didn't write at all on her Camino. I'll be interested in how I feel while I walk. It might be a comfort to not write, or a desparation to type out my thoughts as they evolve over the trip. One foot in front of the other.

    These blogs aren't quite the same as my diaries. They are snapshots rather than an attempt to journalise. But still, with all the expectations and the range of emotions I have set for my camino, it may be hard for even me to put them into words!
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  • Day6

    For A Buck

    October 13, 2018 in the United States ⋅ 🌧 23 °C

    Money makes the world go around, but it works a little differently in America. It's a country that has had gold rushes, and that moved away from the gold standard - partially because gold was discovered in Soviet Russia and there was a danger that the Soviets could control the value of the US dollar by controlling the trade of gold from their country. From the point of dropping the gold standard, money became metaphoric, and capitalism went a little rampant with concepts of instrumental value, credit, debt, and the rest of the messy business.

    The first thing you notice about the physical American money is that the dollars are in notes rather than coins as they are in Australia, and also that they have one cent coins. Nothing is rounded up, you pay for every cent that is on the bill. Every cent has value. The coins in Australian and American money does not feel not as metaphorically "valuable" as the notes. I'd very easily put $5 in coins in a homeless man's cup but a note would feel like too much (poor guy). It's strange how the paper the $5 note is written on isn't worth intrinsically as much as what a $1 coin is worth if I melted down the coin, but the $5 has more symbolic value. The same is true in America, but the value is for a $1 note rather than a coin as it is in Australia. A dollar seems more valuable in America than it does in Australia, purely because it's a note.

    A buck is fought over in America. A dollar coin in Australia would almost be handballed around the table; "no, you keep the change, I don't want to fill my wallet with shrapnel". In America, a dollar is the difference between politeness and an insult. If you are ordering a drink from a waiter, you should pay $2 on the first drink then tip $1 for each drink after that. This is to ensure that the waiter knows that your business is worth their while and to ensure they come back to fill up your glass. The tip jars are full of notes, but I want to unload my coins into a tip jar, like at home. Although four quarters have the same value as a dollar note, I feel it's slightly rude to put coins in the tip jar. Maybe that's just me though. If you need to break a note, they will pay you back in a lot of $1 notes, probably in the hope you'd leave some as a tip? It's hard to know, but the amount of $1 notes they give you back as change seems to be trying to make a point.

    I expected American prices to be cheaper than Australia, but when you tip 15-20% off the low bill to get a total it would be about even with Australia. They don't mention that in America the tax on the quoted menu or listed price isn't included, but added to the final bill or at the cashier. So you are meant to tip 15% off an amount you aren't sure off until you receive the final bill. It's left me in a haze, no idea what I'm spending or what to expect when I get to the counter. Japan also doesn't list its tax cost on items until you are at the front counter, but adding a massive tip (massive when compared to Australia or Japan, where tipping is not expected and can be insulting), I feel very poor and quite cheated. After the meal has been paid for, I've probably paid the same as in a fancier Melbourne restaurant, but eaten just a burger handed to me by an ultra-friendly waitress. "I'll be your waitress and will take good care of you today ok?". Their customer service is often impeccable, but is for a tip and if you have stopped eating and drinking it's probably time for you to move on. Money makes the world go around, like they say.

    This leads to my last query of America and its money matters - if the menu and the hotels and the tours and the rest cost the same as Australia, but the minimum wage in America is around $10 lower than in Australia, who the hell is getting that extra money? My office aims to have no more than 53% of our money on wages. If the menu in a restaurant costs around the same as Australia, why are the people here working multiple jobs? What bonuses are the big bosses taking home? How much of the bill goes to the staff wages, and how does a wage work when the waitstaff are getting tips but the dish-pig at the back is getting nothing additional? A day tour today cost $140usd, and we were expected to tip the guide (who wasnt anything special) an additional 15%, so an additional $20pp US. If I'm paying $140, I expect service and would expect the guide to be paid for his job. Why not just absorb the 15% 'tip fee' and if the guide does and exceptional job, chuck him a couple of dollars extra? It's like you are judging everyone on how they serve you (which does make American service exceptional), but it would be quite a slap if you tipped nothing, so the service would have to be something abysmal to not warrant a tip. A tip is expected, it's listed at the bottom of your bill - different rates depending on the quality of the service.

    People have good and bad days, but I believe they should still be paid a living wage for their work and time away from their family. Particularly if they are working in tourist traps with Aussies and Japanese customers who are not all together clear on the tipping protocol.

    This is a real user pays society. The expensive hotels do not offer free water and you have to pay for areas of the hotel - such as the slightly fancier deckchairs or the cabanas. A cabana in our last hotel in Waikiki cost $175usd for 5 hours, that's on top of the near $500 a night the room usually costs. This has also made us nervous to assume anything here, as everything has a price. The bell staff will ask you if they can take your bags to your room while you check in, but if you agree you have to pay a tip. I've found it all a bit exhausting.

    The very fabric of American society lends itself to a society of working poor, and 1% billionaire CEOs. This must be where my money is going, if it's not going on wages, besides the tips. The receipt costs the same as it does in Australia where we pay our staff a living wage and also have a high standard of living, then the difference in cost between Australia and America must be going as bonuses or some kind of tax. Perhaps it's going to the staff in healthcare costs the employer pays instead of a government funded system? I really have no idea how America does America, but it's capitalism in all its grand and gritty finest.
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  • Day2

    Shopping & War - Excess & Extravagence

    October 9, 2018 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 28 °C

    What a wonderful mix of gaudiness America is. It's also very genuine, which is the part I'm most drawn to and is it's saving grace.

    Our first day out in Waikiki we got on a shuttle bus, coupons in hand, and went off to Waikele Outlets for some shopping. A couple of years ago I made a new year's resolution that I would not buy anything new that whole year. It was actually remarkably easy, despite the fact I was starting a new career from hospitality to corporate/admin so needed a whole new work wardrobe. I still only shop in op shops and even then have to be in the mood for it. I would be able to count the items I've bought new on one hand, and so pat myself on the back for not feeding into the fashion industry (the 3rd most pollutant industry after coal energy and food), I'm not buying into slave labour, and am not taken too heavily by trends.

    Shopping in Waikele was a treat, and so much fun. Like I said in my last two blogs, the American customer service is so good that it makes shopping so positive. Waikele also offers a coupon book if you sign up before shopping, which gives you a further discount on the already discounted prices. I bought two pairs of Levis and a lined denim jacket, dresses, Adidas runners, and sketchers shoes, all for a tiny cost. I definitely made up for the couple of years not buying new clothes, I'll have to do an op shop dump of my old clothes when I get home!

    To add to the excessiveness of the day we had dinner at Crackin Kitchen, where we ordered three flavours of sauteed seafood and the waiter proceeded to dump the food on a paper-clothed table, and we ate our prawns, crab, mussels and the rest with gloves and a bib. Forget the starving kids in Africa, there are plenty of starving children in the States who have little prospect of ever eating a meal like that, but we were living it up and gorged ourselves in the excess.

    The next day I'd booked us a tour of Pearl Harbor. I was interested it visit, as I've been to war memorials/peace museums in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Tokyo's Yasukuni shrine and war museum which arguably honours war criminals, and Changi where my great grandfather was held captive by the Japanese until he died on the Thai Burma Railway. I didn't know much about the history of why America entered the second world war, but I believe that them dropping the bombs on Japan was a means of testing their weapons on human bodies, and gave way to the cold war, as Russia was set to 'win' the war. Japan's defeat was days away despite the bombs, but America would have none of that. Of anyone, I think I needed to hear the American side of the story, at the one event besides 9/11 where they were attacked on their own soil despite having such power and causing such destruction across the globe.

    Unfortunately the USS Arizona memorial was closed due to repair work, which was the main section I wanted to see. The museum itself was OK, though it took a little while to get to the point as to why Japan attacked America - due to US sanctions on Japanese oil, and Japan wanting control over the American owned Philippines. I had been told that the museum was very pro-American but very touching, I'm guessing the Arizona would be the most emotional part, and next time I visit Hawaii I'll try to see it and the other sections the tour missed. Otherwise I felt Pearl Harbor was quite an average museum.

    There were a few aspects that struck me in my visit. The fact that the museum cost so much, and you have to pay for each individual section. If you want to go to the Arizona, you need a separate ticket. If you want on the submarine, that's another ticket. For all the attractions and general entry, it will set you back $72usd for an adult. That's an insane amount of money. All the other war memorial museums I've visited have been either free or heavily funded by the government, so you pay a small, couple of dollar fee to get in. It would cost a lot to maintain an area like Pearl Harbor, but given its importance to American history and the tourism it beings in, it feels very wrong to be profiting off that - surely the government could flip the bill for maintenance and staff costs.

    Another thing that I could not get used to was the nationalism there. On our tour was a middle aged American couple wearing red shirts with star spangled accents - the woman a scarf and the man had American flag socks. As we were lining up for our boat trip around the Arizona we had a talk from a war veteran. When he said he had been stationed in Afghanistan, about a third of the audience, in a religious unison, responded with 'thank you for your service'. There is so much to unpack in this. I dont know if I'm particularly thankful for Australian soldiers, which probably reflects more on me than on my country. I feel we are not at a threat from attack from any other country, and if we are it is purely because of our alliance with America. I don't think I'd answer with 'thank you for your service' but with more 'how was your time at war?' 'is the situation getting better?' 'do you agree with this war?'. I feel in America they don't question war at all, and it's like a kudos system depending on where you are stationed - the more dangerous the more respect, but America has bases all across the globe. Everything to do with war in America is glorified, and this is very disturbing. Even in a war museum, this should not be glorified as it was.

    The museum was also not about peace. Peace was mentioned - as it absolutely should be - but the museum was more a mourning of the soldiers who died on the ships and as a 'hoorah' to America. I dont know if I've ever heard the term 'valor' used before, but Pearl Harbor is dripping with that word, along with 'honor'. Hiroshima, where hundreds of thousands of people died in the most horrific way, ends not with a 'good on Japan for overcoming this' but with a picture of a flower growing through the fallout rubble. It ends with a message of peace and rebirth. Nagasaki does an even better job, where it honestly reflects allied soldiers who were in WW2 and who are given video time to justify why the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was necessary to end the war. Nagasaki's message is 'no more Hiroshima, no more Nagasaki - let Nagasaki be the last city to feel the effects of a nuclear war' . Pearl Harbor ends with a message of nationalism, which will only fuel future wars, as it has done. Changi was surprisingly nationalistic for the ANZACS, but was more a story of the harsh Japanese Imperialism. Singapore was stuck in the middle, and the Anzac were ultimately fighting for their freedom from Japan. Pearl Harbor was far closer to Yadukuni than it was to Changi or the nuclear weapon museums. And Yasukuni is connected to a Shinto shrine that honours war criminals. The thing with Yadukuni is that it remembers every battle the Japanese have fought in - from the domestic warring states period in ancient Japan, to the world wars. The shrine remembers all those who died for Japan, including the soldiers who were later found to be war criminals (I actually took part in a ceremony and was blessed by the shinto monk at this shrine, which was a very mind boggling experience). Yasukuni is a completely one sided museum, and is and should be known as being very nationalistic and an area of contention. There was no chapel that I saw to pray in for the dead at Pearl Harbor, but the place was run by the navy which also leaves a slightly sour taste in its own way. Pearl Harbor should be remembered but should not become a mantra.

    In the gift shop you could buy Pearl Harbor memorial tishirts that had been warn by a soldier in the navy. You could buy flags that had the specific time and year they were flown for Independence Day. At the very back of the shop I found a section of tshirts and tote bags that had paper cranes on them - the Japanese symbol for peace. I bought a tote bag that explained the thousand paper crane folklaw, that if you origami fold one thousand cranes you will have your wish granted. Sadako was a young girl at ground zero when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and later contracted leukaemia and died before she completed her thousand cranes. She is the symbol for peace and I suppose of Japanese nationalism in Hiroshima Peace Park. I was not expecting to see it in Pearl Harbor. The main reason I bought it was for the added 'Valor in the Pacific' written underneath.

    America - the land of excesses and extravagance.
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  • Day2

    Arriving America, Aloha Waikiki

    October 9, 2018 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 28 °C

    After winning accommodation and tours to Hawaii at our jtb Christmas party last year, me and the family are finally starting our kitch American holiday to the 50th state of sun and sand.

    In the race to hit 30 countries by 30 years old, I was very keen to go on this holiday as I've never been to America, and Hawaii seems like a good soft introduction. As we also won this holiday, it's been odd travelling and having little initial interest in the destination and no real plans or expectations on what to see. The first plan was to just relax by the beach and do some shopping. Now I want to see lava and eat a heap of American and Hawaiian food. We have had one full day in Hawaii and it has been a wonderful, extremely cliche but also very surprising experience.

    I've got a little older and have let the theories on cultural studies and anthropology settle from uni, and now have a string of countries travelled to under my belt along with time 'selling' countries in the travel industry. Experiencing a new culture can be compared more to my own and others I've experienced. Like when reading academic texts on cultural studies, the first lesson is to find out where the author is from, because we only ever experience a culture through the lens of our own upbringing. So reader, remember that I am a millennial Aussie of communist roots.

    Japan is always called the 'land of contradictions' or the 'country of old and new'. You can understand why, with their clash of ancient culture which is still so entrenched in their temples, tatami rooms and honorific language. It juxtaposes their hyper modern cities, high tech toilets, bullet trains and vending machines. Most cultures are a juxtaposition in themselves though, it's because cultures are made up of individuals and not everyone follows the same 'rules' as a culture should. A culture can also be very old, so has many different conflicting influences. The only culture that wasn't a contradiction was probably England, which was 100% what I expected it to be like, as grey and grumpy but delightful as you'd expect. Also a contradiction perhaps, but one that I was expecting.

    America is a contradiction. The contradiction of America is what's messing up the world. A country of people whos president has unfathomable power, who's pop culture is insidious, it's weapons kill so many but perhaps it's lie of an achievable 'American dream' kills more, and kills its own people. America has more debt (credit card debt, loan repayments, university costs, ect) than all of the African countries combined, apparently. It has less movement between its socio-economic classes than any other first world country, and yet its people still believe that if you work hard, you can be rich. Their society is a perfect example of how that isn't the case. And yet American culture is exported to the rest of the western world. Would it be a shock to visit the country itself? How much is Australia like America?

    Before coming I was so nervous I would insult someone because I don't naturally think of tipping on a bill. I read articles and have downloaded apps to help. I also assumed that since a waiter has to work so hard for a tip, or in some cases are only paid in tips then the customer service here would be contrived. Their customer service has been impeccable. But not only for people serving you, also for local Americans on the street, they seem so genuinely friendly. When we arrived at the airport we were trying to figure out the best way to get to our hotel. I asked a man near the info booth if there was a shuttle or if taxi was best, and he went on about how wonderful it is that we were in Hawaii and how he hoped we have a good time and we have to see the sunsets. He seemed so genuine I was grinning ear to ear by the end of the conversation. You'd never get a conversation like that with an Aussie. Australia's contradiction is that we are told culturally that we are laid back and are brimming with 'mateship', but in reality we are weary of strangers and quite cold. The Americans I've met in Hawaii have been so happy and friendly they almost seem infantile in it, but you can't help but grin along with them.

    Waikiki is very touristy that there are a few times when the niceness of the Americans and their customer service can lure you into a false sense of security and suddenly you are knee deep into a scam or time-share promo. Like travelling anywhere, you need to keep your wits about you a bit. I had been told that Waikiki was a bit tacky since it's so filled with tourists, but I've found it really beautiful and fun. As an Australian who has visited the Gold Coast, this is nowhere near as tacky as that. The streets are so clean, the shops are high end, the beach is beautiful. No meter maids or puking drunks at night.

    The way money works here is quite confusing and has been one of the biggest adjustments. It really is a 'user pays' society. There is no tax on the items in a shop, so when you get to the front counter you pay more than you calculated in the aisles. This annoys me because I like to count up my change first so I can unload some of my coins, but so far I've been paying in notes and have a small fortune in dimes now. You also tip 15% or tip on the first drink so you get good service for the next one. I've been tipping more than I should so am also going through my dollars a little quicker than expected. There are also parts of the hotel that you pay for additionally. By the pool there are cabana sitting areas. When I went down there with mum most of them were free which seemed strange as they were obviously the best place to sit. I asked at the front counter and they cost you $175usd for 5 hours. There was no sign or anything and for something that cost so much, we are nervous to sit anywhere in case we have just waltzed into a paid area. Also for some bars you have to pay to get in, then have to buy a certain amount once you are in the bar to earn your keep. And you tip on top of that. It really is a money society.

    This is disgustingly apparent in their TV ads. Did you know America has multiple cures for cancer? Seems a bit unfair that these cures haven't spread across the world. What I think they are is an alternative to chemo, which is such a strain on your body and probably costs more than the majority of Americans here can afford with their lack of healthcare that there are these snake oil companies that advertise their alternatives. It makes my heart ache. The ad for the alternative to late stage lung cancer breaks my heart as it's selling point is that you can 'extend your time with your family without feeling sick from chemo'. Yet across the puddle between north America and Central America is Cuba, who has discovered a preventative medicine for lung cancer. Their fear of government, tax run healthcare is killing them in the most devistating way. It isn't choice, it's crooks making money off poor people at the hardest time of their life.

    These ads were broken up by short bursts of fox news (the ad breaks are so often in American TV). I was excited to see the infamous fox news. I didn't think it would anger - or perhaps scare? - me as much as it did. I watched a show called 'the revolution' which is hosted by an English man who has recently moved to this beautiful country America - which is something he continually tells you - and talks about American politics from a slight outsider perspective. He was questioning this democrat Jewish man who was commenting on the supreme court system. Or more, he was trying to comment, because the scum English man kept cutting him off, scoffing at him and yelling over him that he was pushing his 'liberal agenda'. The democrat couldn't have been left wing at all. There is no way anyone liberal would go on this show, he must've been a plant to use as a punching bag to show what the republican ultra conservatives could do to a democrat's opinion. I watched fox news for maybe 20 minutes and it made me feel dirty, scared and I had to push myself to go outside into the Hawaiian night life, scared that there could've been people out there that believe so wholly that Trump and Kavanaugh could be a good choice in leaders.

    I've seen very little pro-Trump propaganda on the street. It took us a full day to find a newspaper, and though this newspaper was only 6 pages long (the rest was sport), the handful of articles were suggestive of being against Trump, in a newspaper 'unbiased' way. We saw a 'dump trump' poster hanging from someone's window. They have joke Trump souvenirs that make fun of his small hands and angry orange face. Besides fox news, the rest of America seem to be riding his presidency as the rest of us are: hesitantly, but with a big box of popcorn, awaiting his impeachment.

    Having said that, I did see a big American truck Ute thing with a bald eagle sticker covering their rear window with 'God bless America' plastered across the back. I guess you don't need to look in your rear view mirror when you have such trust in 'murica!

    Walking down Kuhio Avenue main strip, we passed multiple picket line protests from hotel staff. They were protesting their low wage and how they need a second job to supliment their income, protesting their employer healthcare insurance, and protesting the use of robots, taking over the jobs of the hotel staff. We went and chatted to the protesters, and they were protesting all through the hot day and into the night. Note that striking and picket lines are near impossible in Australia. People working in hospo also can barely get by on a single job, particularly now they don't get the same penalty rates on weekends. Let's not get to the same state as America, this land of the free but off track and impoverished. Though we could learn a lot from their friendliness and openness to talk to strangers.
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  • Day15

    Somewhere in the World

    October 23, 2017 in Singapore ⋅ ⛅ 28 °C

    Here I am, on my first 10 hiur flight from Moscow to Singapore, crying into my creamy chicken slops. There must be a poem somewhere out there that describes the feeling of being in transit. In a plane you have no internet, you have no country. It is unnatural, flying above the clouds over indiscript cities. I can barely ever focus on the in-flight entertainment, I usually just play a song on repeat for the endless hours. There are so many weird moments of metaphoric transit in our lives. On my flight to Japan I listened to Beyonce's Halo on repeat for the 9 hours. When my nanna passed away, I finally fell asleep to Claire de Lune by Flight Facilities.

    I was telling some comrades at the festival about my nanna. How she was the most eloquent woman, who until her literal dying moments was writing scripts for her activist news radio program on 3CR radio. She was also a bit of a ditzy old lady, asking the KFC staff for some 'chook chook' when we went out for her favourite birthday meal. She would giggle like a silly child when she he had wine, her tummy jiggling. I was so lucky to see her only a few days before her sudden passing. I wish I could remember more from that last one on one conversation I had with her, about the nazi group turning up to one of her protests, about the beginnings of her first radio program. Her feeling like she had so much energy that 'I could just go out side and dig a trench!'. I told my new friend, the graphic artist from Pakistan about how she had met Gaddafi and he had called her an 'uncut diamond.' I told about how she discovered the first planning of Pine Gap in Central Australia. I mentioned how she was held in the US airport by men with guns as she was in transit to Cuba - as though she was a threat that could single handedly take down the whole US government. He said he wanted to write a graphic novel on the life of my nanna. It is amazing though what can happen in these moments of transit.

    I miss her so much in these moments of my own self activism. Since her passing, we have found notes from her autobiography, written on the day I was born - her first grandchild by blood. We also found a letter she wrote to Japanese peace groups, telling them that I was studying Japanese in highschool, and that maybe one day I would meet the gensuikyo peace group. Like an Oracle, she predicted this before I had given it any thought at all. She always wanted me to follow in her footsteps and be an activist, but it is also because of her that I am resisting it so. The tough-as-nails anti racism activist Jane Eliot summarised it so well. When asked when she would stop being an activist, when she would retire from it, she started to cry and said that she would only stop fighting once racism had been eradicated, and as such she would be fighting until the day she died. This was literally true for my nanna. A peace activist who died all battered and bruised after her fall, still with an endless task ahead of her. Activism is a harsh, lonely job. Particularly women activists I feel are single old maids who spend their days hunched over their news sources, trying to make their voices heard. I dont want this for myself, but I'm almost destined for it. It would be so much easier to work an easy 9-5 job, with the white picket fence and a golden retriever, but I don't think I could ever be satisfied with this. I'm so unsatisfied with my job, and hate it so much when the company exploits us workers. I don't feel i could ever just sit back and accept that. Not when there is so much to do in the world, and when my own work friends don't see their own value.

    In this transit zone, flying somewhere over the middle east, I am filled with a terrified dread of arriving home. I have had such wonderful conversation with people from around this vast but small globe. Aussies are so painfully anti-intellectual. Even a political conversation, if you manage to get past the 'geeze mate, no need to talk about such heavy stuff!' comment, is usually a frantic argument filled with emotion. Even when we were discussing Syria, or Islam, or communism, or the welfare systems, all conversations I had in Russia were calm. It was a discussion over dinner, and a sharing of opinion. We listened and we said our part. I dont think I've ever had conversation like this, even with my own like minded family. It's a pure acceptance of position and a sharing of knowledge. I wish there was some way to maintain this when I get home.

    My biggest regret of the festival was that there was not enough time to have this conversation over a beer. I think there were only two real opportunities for this. I feel I've met the most interesting people of my 27 years, but have only scratched the surface of what we could share together. Rendezvous cut short. Just one more shisha and discussion about the protest nature of Shia Islam would be amazing.

    I'm glad I have the rest of the week off when I get home. I kind of hope my jet lag will help with maintaining my frantic passion. I want to find a new job that not only pays me what my labour is worth, but a job that does good for the world. Like Dorine from Ghana who is working towards aids education in her region, or Thearno from Greece who works in organising NGOs, or Max from Sydney who is helping promote indigenous businesses. Here I am, Fiona the travel agent. Perhaps it is about time I stopped riding off the dying pride in my peace group the CICD, and the nepatistic name of my nanna. Maybe it's time I made a change.

    The news of the world seems to make much more sense after this festival. The enemy is not Islam, or communism, but Imperialism. Unfortunately, the enemy is at the moment America. I remember my nanna saying after the illegal war on Iraq was declared 'I don't believe in hate, but I really do hate America!'. It's so hard to deny this when the person in the aisle in front of me is watching vapious movies like Bay Watch, and another watching Captain America. 'America the brave' is such a poor country, waging war on other countries to prevent communism and to prevent the sovereignty these countries would gain if the gas pipelines were ever completed. It would be hard to maintain the value in the US dollar if these dependent countries started creating value in their own currencies. It's such a disgusting state. The middle east was the home to western civilisation, and now it's being killed by our MacOverlords. They have made us dumb and complacent, and have skewed the wars to be about religion and fear. We really do need to continue fighting against Imperialism, in the spirit of the WFYS festival.

    In the melting snow on a Moscow street we said our goodbyes. 'Until we meet again, somewhere in the world'. Thankfully the world is getting smaller, and for us, flights are cheap. I would love to travel with my new friends to Damascus and party in the underground bunkers like the world is ending, because perhaps for them it is. I would love to go skiing in Kyrgyzstan. I want to meet with both Palestinians and Israelis in Gaza. I would like to help with aid in Yemen. I want to discover the whole subculture of youth from each section of the globe - Africaan protest music culture from Uganda, and street art from Iraq or Iran or Afghanistan. I want to watch more black comedy on sbs. I want to drink coffee with the Costa Ricans and dance with the Cubans. There is so much life in the world. Maybe that's the aim of activism. Maybe that's what keeps you going - focussing on the life rather than all the unnecessary deaths caused by wars and inequality.

    I have met so many wonderful young people from so many countries, and here I am on a plane back to Australia. We really are a backwards land down under. I have no culture and no pride. I will spend my week off trying to find a job locally, because despite my complacency with my country, these things always need to start at home. There is so much work to do with changing the minds of the average Aussie, maybe that is a good first calling.

    As long as I have the memory of my nanna, I know my passion won't die. I am so proud of her, and Australia should be too. I will definitely meet with my new friends somewhere on this wonderful planet, and the hope for this future meeting, when we have achieved so much more in our lives, will make the wait all the more worth while.
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  • Day14

    A Communist Soul

    October 22, 2017 in Russia ⋅ ⛅ 1 °C

    Two weeks with at most six hours sleep, and three nights where the sleep was skipped all together, it's no wonder these blogs are few and far between. The days as well blend together. Whatever blog entries I write now will be a summary. I think for this trip, a summary is best - I'll have a bit of time to let these new ideas percolate and will voice them first here, and review them later.

    I'm back in Moscow now for my final night in Russia. It snowed this morning apparently, and is sitting at around 1 degree compared to 20 degrees in sochi. If Moscow snows for us, that would be such a magical conclusion to this trip. There is something comforting in the cold, in it you can find a nice sense of solace.

    I came on this trip wanting to be an open book, with few preconceived ideas. When I arrived in Moscow I was so surprised at the hammer and sickle symbol still adorning many of the soviet buildings. I found that the Russian people I spoke to were generally impartial to their soviet history, if impartial is the right word. They were proud of what it had achieved, but recognised its flaws. It seemed many people also blamed its demise on corruption and a quick succession of leaders, rather than an actual failure of system. I would be interested to see how many people would support a communist system again, but I've also learnt that russia doesnt always work like that. Shades of grey.

    The festival was amazing in that communism was everyday, not a dirty word. It was the general standard school of thought of the majority of people there. Rather than being something people laugh at or are scared of, it was more 'of course communism is a wonderful system, look at their focus on education, women's rights, healthcare...' 'the real enemy to freedom is Imperialism!'. I met with communist parties from England, Vietnam, Venezuela, Russia, even the Ukraine where the party is outlawed. It was fascinating to recognise so many current communist states. Look at Cuba, who despite their decades of US sanctions are such a well educated, healthy culture of people - they have more doctors per capita than any other country. They have discovered a preventative cure for lung cancer! And their culture is so rich, they are so proud. I really have to visit Havana before more changes occur to their current socialist system.

    Although I have been dubbed as being 'red blood royalty' thanks to my pinko family, I have never really engaged fully with the ideas of communism. I've never joined the CPA, and even after this festival, I'm not sure I will. Though my reasons not to may have changed slightly. I have always considered myself a communist, but thought that being a communist was almost a waste of time. Life in Australia is far from a revolution-inducing struggle. It's comfortable, and there is nothing wrong with this, at least on the surface. I believed in the idea that all people should be paid and treated equally, and believe that capitalism is a fundamentally corrupt system that perpetuates itself on the promise of wealth while ensuring poverty, but we are still a long way from revolution. I never thought there was value in being a communist until the working classes begin to realise the injustice of the system, and begin to really struggle and seek change. I dont know if I agree now. Why do we have to have revolution to create communism equality? The answer of course is because the bougiousie upper class 1%ers don't want to give away their greed for the majority of people. If this is the case, then why do we have to wait until we are so impoverished before we stand up for our rights and equality? I suppose this is the question I'm now struggling with. Capitalism has really done a job on us - the fact that we are happy with buying the new iPhone at the expense of our education, healthcare, and liberty. All the while the upper 1% are holding more wealth than all of us combined. We make their luxury cars that we ourselves will never be able to afford - what kind of system is that? And we still believe that if we work hard and are worthy, then maybe we will get a taste of luxury? But again this is at the expense of the underprivileged. This system is the devil. It shouldn't take until we are starving and willing to give our lives for communism to revolt. For me, the communist ideology is true democracy that we should strive for every day, at every election, and in every aspect of life.

    I have met with many many people who are communists. Many people who, unlike me, have 'converted' to communism in university rather than being brought up with the collected works of Lenin on their bookshelves as children. I was most interested in these people, I wondered what was it about communism that made them put in so much time and energy for this political system. I dont put time into the struggle for freedom of the workers, but they have travelled to russia to man communist stalls to discuss the state of the party in their countries. We are so different in this respect! They are so dedicated, and yet I didn't quite feel like one of them. The issue I had was the politicisation of communism. I know this sounds very strange, given that communism is a political system. Communists are obsessed with the past personalities of the revolutions. They are either Stalinist or Trotskyists, and the majority I met from at least non-communist countries were very militant. I have such fundamental issues with this.

    In true communism - which the world is yet to see - the state would ideally whither away. In my ideal, the 'commune' is the ruler. People live in smaller groups like suburbs which allows them to have a louder voice rather than the whimper we have in our 'democratic' countries, and we trade and communicate openly with our neighbours. No boarders, just little communes. It allows everything to be divided equally, and in my mind it would eradicate much crime since there is bigger sense of purpose and community, and no poverty. We have never seen this kind of society. So why follow stalin, Mao, or even Lenin to the book? They revolted in a different culture, in a time before credit cards and disposable luxuries. The great October revolution was 100 years ago this year! Why are we arguing about the ins and outs of these dead revolutions? The idea of communism should be first seen as just that - an idea. Read Marx and Engels as a philosophy, because that is what it was. Lenin and Mao and Ho Chi Minh and Castro adapted this to their own cultures, that is testament to their equal greatness in character. We should read all works like the Jews read the Torah, as interpretations of the original script. Not fighting between the Stalinists and Trots, that is just absurd.

    Ho Chi Minh used his Confucian education to travel, and worked as a dish pig in France and a baker in the US. He used communism as a philosophy and used it as a lens to observe workers across different cultures, and used that information to create revolution in his home country. Vietnam is still considered a communist state, and they still love their old leader. You don't hear of Ho Chi Minh much in the western groups of communists. Che Guevara volunteered in a leper colony, and met with the workers of south America. Observation is key to finding cracks in capitalism. You don't have to look very hard, but it isn't until we struggle that we feel our chains, and in a revolution they are the only thing we have to lose. The problem with a lot of us White collar commies is we don't actually know the struggles of our country. The one thing all other leaders had in common was that they were educated, but they strove for an understanding of their people. We are too busy arguing over the best past leader or the funniest gulag memes. Or worse, focused on which soviet weapons did the most damage during WWII. This is not the aim of communism, this is the means to an ends. And the ends is peace. If we lose that basic focus, we are surely doomed.

    The first battle isn't over which revolution was 'better', but our first battle should be to give communism back its good name. It's such a dirty word nowadays. Even me posting this blog on the interwebs is a bad idea, for if I ever want to run for parliament this will be a big red stain on my resume. We should read all the works of communism, and then meet the 'proletariate' workers. I met with some Aussie communists who have fought for indigenous rights. This is the spirit of communism, and our indigenous people need communism the most. As the privileged leftist class, it is our job to help these people find their voice, and to create a fight where we are all on the same side. It is through working with these people who are holding the rest of us up in this capitalist system, that we realise the current, literal problems of capitalism. We should also try to break away from capitalistic greed. I believe this is the cause of all corruption, the desire for 'more'. We should practise being anti-consumers. In a system such as capitalism, this in itself is a soft revolutionary act. Soft revolutionary acts of kindness, before the bloody overthrow of the capitalist system. Haha.

    The biggest thing is kindness. We are all equal, we are all humans. We all deserve shelter, clothing, warmth, food, and education. I dont know how these basics became optional under capitalism,how they became a privilege. In striving for this, I think the most 'communist' thing we can do is work within the capitalist system in reformist areas, such as in trade unions and NGOs. We must continue the communist dialogue, but work for equality now, work actively within our communities rather than talking in closed rooms. One thing I have learned, or solidified in this festival is the importance of education. This is also the one aspect government's are so keen to erode, like cutting funding to universities and dropping arts units. We need to be smart, and spread our intelligence to everyone. We now should work with the people, and then slowly slowly we might create a better world for us all.

    Marx may have said that religion is the opiate of the masses. I do agree in part with this. But communism itself should be a moral for life, it should be a kind of spirituality. From these roots, a better world will be born.
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