Spin the Globe with Justin Butner

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

What I Learned In Oz (pt. 1)

Written 13 – 15 November

[This series is written following a comment by a friend about a previous entry in which I explained where I wanted to head in the future. He indicated I hadn’t really addressed where I am today relative to one year ago. This series attempts to begin that answer.]

Well, It’s over.

One year in Australia has come and gone. And the story arc is not one I would have predicted. I worked jobs I never would have considered back home. I became self-sufficient while finding my own way, living a lifestyle outside the mainstream without fear of blending in or repercussion. I made friends and family in the numbers I expected but to a degree of intensity I had no expectation to receive. I saw amazing sights. And I survived it all with hardly a scratch.

So where am I from a year ago? What have I come out of this experience with?

Realignment of the words “necessity” and “luxury”

I’ve always lived according to the rules that modern Western society has taught. The questions of luxuries were ones of cable vs. dish network, of broadband vs. FIOS, of electric stoves vs. natural gas. And in a place without good public transit, of a car or a truck. But when living on the cheap in an expensive country with a laid back attitude towards pretty much everything, the questions of luxuries slide further down the scale. It isn’t about cable. It isn’t even about a television.

It is about electricity to begin with. Living with the modern conveniences of a mobile phone and a laptop means that electricity becomes a commodity. Every time I went into a café or restaurant I was scanning the walls for a power port. Every stop in to a friend’s house usually involved me plugging in. Library stops got introduced so I could suckle from the state.

In the last four months I have spent very few nights in hostels. The past month has been spent living in a house where the family adopted me in. The several months before that was spent living in a tent or in my car. Accommodation cost nothing a night for my car and some of the tenting, and only single digits on camping. I’ve learned the value of money. And I’ve learned what is a necessity and what is a nicety.

Water.  Can’t live without clean drinking water. And so I kept carrying capacity for 25 liters in the car. If I had access to a tap with good-tasting fresh water, I filled up and could go for a week.

Food. Can’t really live without food. And so the back seat became my kitchen. Groceries that stay good without refrigeration. A camp stove and fuel for things that need some prep work. The foods that used to seem like basics become treats. Meat has to be consumed on the day it is bought. Generally meat that requires cooking wasn’t worth the effort. Dairy was gone. And the foods that had been a statement of bland unoriginality in the hostels only six months prior – pasta, toast, ramen – were now an endeavor in opulence and effort. Eggs… If I had fried eggs and toast it was going to be a special day.

Plumbing. I’m a guy. Most searches for plumbing were solved relatively quickly and off the grid in a pinch. It wasn’t the most polite of solutions, but in a world where I’m unemployed and saving every penny, it was one I could manage. And Australia is a country where toilet facilities aren’t too hard to find. It is one of the totally reasonable yet completely disconcerting differences between Oz and the States. In the US, every establishment has facilities. They are for patrons only. If you want to use them, you have to at least look like you’re going to buy something. But here toilets are much less often the domain of one shop. Shopping centers have them, train stations have them, public parks. Even some street corners have stand-alone units. Find the public facilities and you don’t have to worry about spending anything.

Showers. Back home these were a daily requirement. Every morning was a shower involving shampoo and conditioner. Then I put on clean clothes. Here, not so much. I can brush my teeth wherever the car is using bottled water. I can rinse my face in the same manner. And if I need to rinse my hair, I lay across the back seat, shoulders up sticking out of the door, and poured water over me. If I was near a river, I could bathe there. If there was a waterfall, I could feel like I was in a body wash commercial. Shampoo and conditioner were cut back to every fourth or fifth go. And clothes got about three days of use before being retired to the wash bag. As long as deodorant was applied every day, no one really seemed to notice. When you live in a cool climate, you don’t sweat as much. Which means you don’t smell as quickly. I lived in a car with other people for much of the trip and no one ever said anything. I know that people aren’t that polite.

Shaving. I kept an overnight bag together for the times when I was invited in off the streets. Or for the days when I wasn’t and needed to refresh. Walking into a public bathroom or a fast food place with a towel gets you strange looks. Walking in with a backpack doesn’t raise an eyebrow.

Shelter. Growing up I thought that I would always need my own room. We didn’t have a huge house but I never had to share a room with a sibling. In university I got used to having a roommate. But still I could see that I was close to the top of the chain in that regard. When I moved into a three bedroom house with two friends, our next door neighbors were several families crammed into an identical dwelling. We had our suspicions about the legality of their residence, but they were fitting about a dozen people in there. Now I look back to that and laugh. They had utilities. They had four walls, some semblance of privacy, and the ability to stand up inside their place.

I lived in a Subaru. There were minuses. No plumbing. No separate rooms. No place to move about. But the positives outweighed. It was mobile. I could take my home anywhere I wanted. Going out late and public transit wasn’t going to be running when I got done? Bring my bed with me. Going out drinking and don’t want to deal with getting my drunk self home? Put the home stumbling distance from the pub and set up my bed in advance. Going out of town? Take home with me. And one of the key parts of the selection process had been finding a car with seats that folded down in the back to provide a flat(ish) sleeping surface. After a couple nights in the car I even had a system. I could move from the driver’s seat to the back seat. I could set up a shelf using part of the car’s paneling I had taken off. Move a few bags up there and I could fold the seat down. With space to stretch out I could pull out my overnight bag and slip into pajamas, roll out my sleep pad, crawl into my sleeping bag, and lay flat for the night. And I could do it all without opening any of the doors. And by lowering my expectations of privacy I could exist quite comfortably like this. In all my time doing this, I never noticed someone noticing me. Sure some people probably figured it out, but no one stopped or knocked or called any authorities. So as far as I’m concerned it was a success.

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This entry was posted on November 25, 2012 by in Australia, Self Analysis and tagged , .

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