Spin the Globe with Justin Butner

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

Off the Beaten Path

A few years back I started getting into travel. When I asked for a month off from work instead of a week, it was granted. When I wanted three months, I had to quit to get it. My co-workers seemed a bit impressed but also confused. Why the hell would I give up a job to go travel around the US?

When my company announced it was going to close down everyone around me started going Chicken Little. “The sky is falling! The sky is falling! I need to get out of here ASAP! I need a new job!” These people, the same ones who had been complaining about management, about hours, about pay for as long as I could remember were now looking to replace it. We were given a timeline and an agreement to get a severance check at the end of it all. A lot of people jumped ship immediately. They wanted to get out. I was completely happy to stick around. I knew that I could finish all of my work in plenty of time, and since we wouldn’t be getting new work in the door, I would be spending a lot of time getting paid to be a warm body. And so I brought books in. I researched the world. And while everyone else was stressing about trying to find a job in the same niche industry at the same time as a few hundred other people in our area, I applied for an Australian working holiday visa.

My co-workers didn’t get it. What kind of job was I going to get? That was about the only question that was ever asked. Job job job. Everyone needs a job. If you don’t have a job, what do you do? I was happy to derail that train. I’ve had a job. It was a nice thing to do for a while, but it was time to try something new.

My friends and family got it a bit more. They weren’t necessarily jumping out of their jobs to do the same, but they understood.

And so I moved here with a clique I hadn’t met yet. The young. The restless. The oft-disenfranchised. The ones at convenient break points in their lives: end of high school, end of uni, end of a job. I found a sort of kindred mentality here, on the other side of the world. A collection pool of those who weren’t catered to at home.

And I met them over and over. Many of them were on their way out to the travelers bars, or they were staying in the hostel drinking goon (box “wine” made of fermented fish bits; kinda makes Franzia look good). They weren’t here to see Australia so much as to party with other people who weren’t at home. Maybe it gives a certain freedom to party so far away from your parents and the systems you learned to fear as a kid. But it just seemed silly to me. Why would you come to Australia and hang out in a group where the only nationality you were pretty much guaranteed to not meet was Australian? And so I would go wander the city at night, seeing the sights lit up, trying to meet locals, and to explore food that wasn’t listed in Lonely Planet.

And then I got to Melbourne. Lovely city of laneways and street art and live music. The scene of travelers here broke out of the hostel bar fly mold much more. They went out. They saw more of the city. But so many of them seem shocked when I tell them just how easy and free it is to see good live music. They read the guidebooks and see the sights, they get jobs, but they don’t live the culture. It isn’t presented to them so they don’t know to seek it out.

They often faced the same rut I faced and still face. Day to day routine. Get a job, work it, come home, crash. Or don’t have a job, lack focus, don’t see the sights, and just veg out. Eke out a living by making money or spending as little as possible. One day bleeds into the next until you realize that months have gone by. And all the while eating pasta and two-minute noodles and salads and stir frys. Eating cheaply. Living in a hostel. After all, how can you eat better food when you have to pay for a hostel every night?

And so I struck off in search of a better answer yet again. Apparently you can get a room in the trendy awesome fun neighborhood for half as much as the hostel. Or you can join Occupy Melbourne and camp for free with restrictions on the hours you can sleep (they wake you up at seven). Or you can camp out in a park.

I don’t tell many of the travelers about it. After all, they know where I’m “staying” and if they decided to spill the beans to my base hostel, I would need to find a new place to store my stuff, a new kitchen to cook in, a new shower to use, and a new wifi network to hop on. I would have to figure out a new system to game and build it up from scratch. I have a good thing, and while helping out a fellow traveler is important, not when it compromises my security.

The funny thing about it all is that I don’t seem to be able to just go with the flow of what is happening around me. And it isn’t some stubborn contrary thing. (I know I have that tendency, but thankfully this isn’t me just being difficult.) The flow around me just doesn’t seem to be what I want. I have no commentary on brainwashed masses or sheeple. If someone is genuinely happy doing something, within reason, then good for them. If that is a 9 to 5 and a quiet dinner, I don’t need to emulate it but I can let them do it without trying to tell them they are wrong. But even when I got out of mainstream society and started to travel, I found that the travelers have their own mold to fit into, their own patterns to parrot. And they don’t work for me completely either.

So here I find myself. In Melbourne. Living out of a backpack. Sleeping in a park, clandestinely, hidden in the undergrowth. Making friends wherever I can, talking to people as often as possible, and trying to understand the world through their eyes. Trying to figure out what it is that makes me happy. Searching for things to learn, things to keep me entertained, things to enrich my life, and ways to ensure that when I look back on my year here I have no doubts that I did it my way the best that I could.

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This entry was posted on February 21, 2012 by in Australia, Self Analysis, Victoria (Melbourne).

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