Spin the Globe with Justin Butner

A world citizen may provide value to society by using knowledge acquired across cultural contexts.

Show What You Know

Note: This entry is almost double the length of my other ones on this trip.

“What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know what there is to do here. I leave it up to you.”

It is an unfair burden to put on a local friend in any location. Were someone to show up in DC and tell me that I should come up with an agenda and show them around what would entertain them, I would be clueless and demand some guidelines. At best I’d come up with options and make suggestions for them to pick and choose from. But despite this lack of ability to do it myself, it was exactly the task I put on Cathy and Evie.

And so meeting them at the bus station, capsicum in hand (I was behind on breakfast) and clothes on my back, I prepared for a day of … well, whatever they suggested. I had only one hope for the day. Cathy works as a counselor at a Salvation Army-sponsored outdoor camp for kids. She runs events like ropes courses, rock climbing and fox flying (zip-lines). One perk of the job is that she can bring in friends for free provided camps aren’t running that day.

They asked one more time what I wanted to do, knowing I wouldn’t really help with an answer. And so having confirmed, we headed into the train station to catch a ride to the harbor.

“This is Central Train Station”

“I know. I slept here a couple nights ago.”

“There are – wait, what? Why?”

And we walked across the harbor to the ferries. I looked a bit confused and got an explanation. They live in the Northern Beaches. Sydney spans a river. The Northern Beaches – as the name implies – are the suburbs surrounding the east end of the north bank. Parts of it are posh and pretentious and expensive, parts are middle class. Parts are crowded and overrun and a bit poorer and trashier, though they still manage to be overpriced. We would be getting the ferry over to Manly Beach – one of the posher locales around town.

The ride was choppy as we hit the inlet of the ocean. To the right is a secret military thing (I could see the battleships, so I’m not sure how secret it was). To the left is the PM’s residence (huge, nice, view of the Opera). They were my personal and intermittent tour guides explaining as much about the culture and their own lives as they were about the scenery. It was the mix I was hoping for. If I just wanted the history and views I could have hired a tour company; this way I had friends to hang out with who interjected sporadic knowledge.

In Manly we occupied a giant wicker teardrop in an upscale beach bar. I felt like I was in the first manned space module had it been designed by Jimmy Buffett. The barmaid came by and offered us pillows but didn’t request drink orders. The tables outside were odd geometric shapes, white plastic tables with built in ice buckets for bottle service next to white plastic-coated metal benches – beach barware by Ikea.

We moved on to a chocolate shop, Max Brenner – Chocolate by the Bald Man. Pastries with chocolate dipping sauces and decadent drinks – candied almost shakes and hazelnut cappuccinos. We discussed science jokes, memes and British television.

A long meandering drive through the suburbs was narrated by Evie over a soundtrack provided by the Ramones. We wound up and down hills, through roundabouts, past lush trees and pretty houses wedged into the vegetation in a logical and planned yet not mundane fashion. The towns blended into each other and reminded me in parts of Seattle, Albuquerque, Silicon Valley, and Sarasota. The weather had been mispredicted so under overcast but dry skies we eventually ended up at the Salvo camp. “Remember, there may be kids around so no swearing.” Well, fu…dge.

I’m predicting now that the laid-back approach to life is the Aussie thing I’m going to walk away with the most. Shawn had told me of seeing a woman wearing a white dress enter a restaurant and an unobservant waiter spilling a bottle of red all over her. No screaming, no demands for dry cleaning. Just, “No worries.” As I clipped myself into the safety lines on the ropes course, watched by Cathy on the ground but without the need for a certified camp employee to do it for me, I confirmed that this did not seem to be a society built on lawsuits.

Evie, less a fan of heights requested archery next. We shot a few rounds and while I couldn’t reliably take an apple off my son’s head, I could reliably hit a 1 meter target from 20 paces. I’m going to consider that a victory for me. Another victory was finding two people who know who Salad Fingers is. (It is a reference that isn’t worth investigating, but one that I did steal the term “mouth words” from.) And while Evie played guitar, Cathy belayed me down a 10m abseil (repelling). First shot down was a very quick one with no fear of heights on my part and a section of about 6m straight drop. Second shot involved a nice smash of my knee and the third a more thrilling sensation as I looked around and fully appreciated that a snapped rope would result in my death.

We headed in for tea and water and then walked down to the nearest town for ice cream and chips (fries) with chicken salt. Note to the US – start offering chicken salt. Note to AU – get Old Bay. Note to both – peanut satay sauce. Over the welcome nourishment we spoke of soda preferences, ice cream delivery systems (types of bars, cones, and sticks), accents and university / college setup. The system over here makes a lot of sense if you know what you want to do – better and more in depth training over a shorter period of time. The system back in the states makes a lot more if you don’t – much more variety. And I certainly knew how to work the system back at Duke in a way I think few took advantage of. My courses included Astronomy, Vampires in Literature, Subcultures, Music Scenes (Ethnography) and Underground Rock Music. And so on that jealousy-inducing list of classes we wound down. About 16 hours of hanging out over ten days. And as much as I’m ready to get out of Sydney, I don’t want to be leaving such an awesome group of people. I’ll consider myself blessed to keep having this problem.

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This entry was posted on December 3, 2011 by in Australia, NSW (Sydney).

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