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Monthly Archives: February 2012

Today felt different than other days I’ve had here. There was more creative involvement and it promised more to come in the future. My ever-shifting job description has moved to that of marketing and visual content destined to tell the story of the Australia Studies Centre throughout the year so as to ensure it continues to have a story in semesters to come.

It presents an exciting opportunity to put in more writing consistently than I ever have. A steady stream of visual work will also follow.

Pause

I am sure I‘m not the only person to have this thought:

A blog is essentially an online journal. I have been writing this blog for almost two months now. I have also been keeping a handwritten journal on the side. I have never written so much content containing the word “I” in it. I can’t help but think about how selfish this seems. I mean, this would fit so well as a chapter in one of those books titled Stuff Post-Grad-TravelingWhite-People Like, “They like to write about their feelings, they chronicle their every life event and post it so the world can see, it makes them feel special.”

I don’t mean to offend anyone else writing a blog or journal or diary or memoir or emotionally influenced recipe book. And now that I’ve made us all self-conscious about every time we use “I” in the future, I’ll try to steer this conversation somewhere more productive.

This is probably less about “blogging” (that word is starting to become sour to me) and more about the life I am blogging about. Perhaps I wished I was part of a story that was more captivating so that I wouldn’t have to keep writing about how my bike tire became flat or about how my host family desecrated perfectly good avocados for dinner last night by mixing them with mayonnaise, (that is not ok) all in an attempt to make it more interesting.

It would be really something if there was a story unfolding all around, waiting to be told. It would be fantastic if the very curtain of the universe was bursting with energy and life that needed only that careful observation of an artist to free it into the light. If anyone is a seasoned journalist or artist of any kind, they might be nodding their heads as if to say, “oh, I remember when I was there.” Thank you for your understanding, hopefully your not just in my head.

I was recently introduced to a song, “Somebody I Used To Know” by Gotye, I was very inspired. (Also, I may or may not have an incurable crush on Kimbra).

*This photo was not taken by me*

However, inspiration for me has usually been a painful experience. The recognition of something beautiful is often followed by a feeling similar to a hot needle piercing my chest. In English we call it “jealousy.” To save you a trip to Webster its defined as, “I wish I could create something like that,” or even, “I’m convinced that that potential for beauty is within me, I’m simply at a loss for how to help it escape.” So it seems that this issue with first person pronoun is in fact an issue with the first person.

As with many thoughts, and more to come, there is no concise answer at the moment. No. Rather I am still,

always,

on the move.

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A few weeks ago our family heard news that Great Grandma Tuin (Lillian) wasn’t doing well. Doctors had found that cancer had struck again and this time it seemed that this would be the last of her suffering.

My grandparents, Lon and Jan Tuin went to Colorado to be with her a few days ago. They sent an email yesterday that told all the Tuins across the US (and the world) that Lillian was suffering no longer.

A time like this is both somber and joyful. But when my grandmother described she and my grandfather standing at the foot of Lillian’s bed singing over her the old hymns that generations before had sung, I was moved to tears.

I couldn’t tell if the tears were from sorrow or from the beauty of that image.

What a way to leave this world.

***

I just got back a roll of film that I had processed. The roll started in California and ended here in Australia. It is amazing to see the last month told in images.

Sunset over The Superstition Mountains, AZ

Northern New Mexico

Cahokia, IL

St Louis, MO

Cuz

Dad

Cold

The Sydney skyline from Watson's Bay

North Head from South Head. Sydney, NSW

Iron Cove at Sunset

As of Wednesday, February 22nd my job has become so much better.

Our mush-anticipated students stepped off the plane and into the excitement of The ASC staff and The Wesley Institute student helpers (Wibblies). It is relieving to think that all that preparation is finally coming to a climax. Though I will certainly be exhausted by Friday night, this week will have been well worth it.

Much of the past few days has involved orientating students to Australia, Sydney, The Wesley Institute, their homestays etc… It has been so encouraging to see how much care goes into the preparation for the students’ arrival now that I’m on the other side of the story.

During one of the orientation sessions, Kimberly (the program director) explained that study abroad experiences usually fall into one of three categories: the drop, the island, the group guided. The first airdrops students into the university, country, homestay and simply leaves them to be immersed in the culture. There is much value in this approach, however, not always sufficient processing of experiences so as to learn from them constructively. The second creates a bubble of sorts that allows less contact with the outside nation. The third seeks to learn, be successful and fail together while processing experiences, wrestling with thoughts, ideas, or feelings that may be shaped as the semester moves forward. The ASC is certainly designed in this way.

I am so excited to be a part of that.

Thursday evening we went on a harbour cruise to welcome ASC students as well as first year Wesley students to the school and to Sydney. It is fabulous to see timid, slightly awkward students make their way onto the boat and hours later leave with the beginnings of new friendships and a sense of belonging to an institution of higher learning. Something about the sun setting over the harbour and Sydney skyline as well as the live music, dancing and food creates such a welcoming atmosphere with which to begin the year. It should be a good one.

As the students are arriving this week I decided to take the train south as far as the transportation pass would go and explore further from that point in order to scope out possible places to take students.

I knew Royal National Park lay at the southern edge of the Sydney suburbs and it has a network of bike tracks traversing it.

Taking along my bike meant my transportation was limited to ferries and trains. First stop: Drummoyne Wharf.

From there I took the ferry to Circular Quay:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the Circular Quay rail station I saw a couple waiting for the train. They were older, maybe 50s. Something about their style was familiar to me but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Then I heard an Australian woman talking to them trying to explain a map of the rail network. The older man’s accent immediately clicked. Mexico! So when the man looked around confused because he couldn’t understand what this Aussie was saying, I stepped over to help.

It was so good to speak Spanish. It is strange but speaking with this couple from Mexico felt like home. They were on vacation for a couple weeks in Australia and so I explained to them some of the sights around Sydney. They told me about Chiapas and how they found Australia to be quite a different world altogether.

Then we parted ways and I continued to the southern line:

I alighted at Sutherland, which was at the end of my pass, and cruised down some local side streets. I realized at that point a map would have been an acceptable addition to my supplies for the trip. But it wasn’t hard to find my way from civilization into the vast, extensive ‘bush’.

Royal National Park is a beautiful place I will have to come back to perhaps next time with an actual mountain bike.

 

 

 

 

 

I only went a couple kilometers into the park and then turned around. But on my way out I saw the most unsettling tree.

             I’ve seen these before.

 

 

 

 

 

And of course I set my bike down in the middle of an ant hill.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, after barely escaping Mirkwood with my life I decided to ride over to Cronulla Beach, several kilometers northeast of the park.

Strange that after traveling several thousand miles I managed to find southern California.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But just north of Cronulla lies kilometers of secluded and pristine beach.

After walking around, eating lunch and biking around the paths, I decided it was time to go. Tropfest, the world’s largest short film festival was taking place in Sydney in a few hours after all.

Australia is so vast. There seems to be a never-ending amount of places to explore. Unfortunately, I’ve seen so much within the transportation pass already. Guess I’ll have to bike further next time.

Ferrying under the Harbour Bridge

I had elaborate plans for the finale of this fine Thursday afternoon, however, since I feel like I got rolled* in an alley I’ve decided to open the windows on both sides of my room and enjoy the breeze while I write. It is hotter than a goanna* in the sun here but when the breeze blows your skin stops boiling for a minute or two.

Yesterday the back tire of my bike exploded while I was quite a ways from my destination. So I had to walk my bike up a hill and down another and up a final hill that made me wonder who invented bike tires anyway if they just deflate all of sudden without warning. It was so hot I could smell my hair burning and I ran out of water within a few minutes. Even so they keep saying that its the rainiest summer they’ve had in ages.* The sheep station we were scheduled to travel to for the Outback portion of the semester is underwater. There are pictures of people rowing to their mailboxes. And supposedly there are more rains from up north that will take weeks to arrive by way of the Darling River and will further drown the back o’ Bourke.*

But back to being rolled in an alley. Recently my job has involved copying, binding and hauling the “View from Australia Reader.” This fantastic piece of former-rainforest is essentially the textbook for the course and is comprised of important readings selected from various books about Australian culture, religion and history. Every so often a new Reader is required. Lucky me, I came at the right time.

There are 37 students (and I have to make a few extra just in case we have more next semester) and each Reader has 160 back-to-back pages. This involves territorially staking out the copy machine and holding it down for a solid 4 or 5 hours while the thing rattles off ream after ream. Yesterday I literally cleared out the paper supply in the whole copy room and that was it for the rest of the day. Everyone had to wait until this morning when someone could get a key to the paper storeroom.

Then comes the binding. I think this part is where my back is not happy. The binding machines are leveled for a much shorter person and it takes an average of 02m 45s to bind one book which means that I spent about 1 hour and 50 minutes of pure binding. I eventually figured out a way to do it so my back wouldn’t hurt so bad but it basically involved me doing yoga in the copy room which made for some awkward introductions as I am still “the new guy.”

Awkward Co-Worker from another department: “Oh, you’re the American, right?”

Me: “Yeah that’s me.”

ACWfad: “Oh, for some reason I expected you to be a girl.” (sips coffee and leaves room).

Me: “What? Cause I’m an assistant?” (awkward guy is out of earshot and does not respond).

Iron Cove: one of the most polluted waterways in Port Jackson (Sydney skyline in background).

The mundane work has given me time to think and I’ve actually spent a good portion of it thinking about the students who will be coming. The longer I am here the more details return to me about my first few experiences here. From what I understand, many of these students will have never been outside the United States before. Australia is somewhat of a kids pool in terms of culture shock compared to some other places but all the same it can be an live-changing experience.

Spending a significant amount of time outside of the country of your passport (longer than a 2 week vacation) allows one’s world to be significantly expanded. This can be especially challenging for Americans who are typically naive about the world beyond their own borders. Students seem to react in one of a few ways: they either flee from the ‘different, strange and amazing’ seeking refuge in the comfort they knew before, or they immediately feel betrayed by the image of a simpler world they were led to believe in and thus they dive headlong into whatever is not typical and comfortable and sometimes go quite literally overboard. Hopefully a few will realize the fact that their universe is suddenly expanding and catch a desire to learn. And in learning, may they find a more authentic worship.

I realized today that I cannot wait for the students to arrive.

Drummoyne Wharf

*GLOSSARY of Terms*

‘Ages’ (Australian English) – A slang term con notating a long time, similar in usage to ‘Squints Palledorous’ ever-famous “FOR-EV-ER.”

‘Back o’ Bourke’ (Australian English) – a saying used in New South Wales to describe a place being geographically remote, the American equivalent being “the boonies.”

Goanna – a general term used to describe any variety of Australian monitor lizard.

Julia Gillard – The current and 27th Prime Minister of Australia.

‘Rolled’ (Australian English) – To be robbed or mugged by a group of hoodlums. Could also be a single person, in which case you should go to the gym or carry a bazooka.

The great thing about moving somewhere completely new is the ability to custom build your life.

Most people are familiar with the Simms? Yeah, that’s me for real. Obviously there are outside influences that shape my life, but for the most part I get to decide how I’m going to spend my time. I’m essentially starting from scratch (again).

Yesterday I was introduced to Tough Mudder. I cannot believe I hadn’t heard of this before; an overland obstacle course covering 20km crafted by the British Special Forces to test you to the very last ounce. Also, its in the Australian bush. I’ve officially registered to volunteer the event. So I’ll be setting up the race before hand, pumping up the crowd at the starting line and serving at various stations throughout. And then I get to run the race for a discount with the other volunteers.

This is a magnificent use of a weekend.

Another development is for orientation week when the students will first arrive. There is a worship service put on by The Wesley Institute that both Australian and American students will attend (I vaguely remember this event through the debilitating blur of jetlag). They were looking for a bass guitarist and heard that I had some musical experience.

“Why yes, I can play the bass guitar.”

I have never, ever taken lessons. I played once at an elementary school chorus concert when I was in high school…and that was a grand total of two notes on the same string for about 15 minutes.

I’m currently scouring the internet for bass tabs of various worship songs and any chart or graph that will explain bass clef to my trebled mind.

When the initial excitement of a new place begins to settle into comfort, questions immediately begin to show themselves. This being my second time in Australia, the giddy excitement left quickly. This is not to say that I am at once unhappy with my new home. I mean only that I have a more realistic view of this place as a new “normal.”
It seems that no matter where a person is, they adapt. They create out of any situation a “normal” within which they can live. My normal is not even so far outside the bounds of common experience. And so the danger of “common” is imminent.
During my short time in LA I gained valuable experience working in an exciting field, however, I did not often feel fulfilled in my work. And so, when the offer arose to apply myself in an environment completely apart I jumped at the opportunity. That and the unbelievable traffic on the 405 that morning persuaded me to dive headfirst into an unknown.

As with most of the choices I’ve made in life, it seems, I actually sat down to think about this one halfway through the point of no return.

Specifically it was the 15 hour flight over the Pacific where I was forced to sit down when the realization struck me: I was moving across the world to commit to a job that I may end up not liking very much, to a place I may want to leave before I am able. I was willingly putting the shackles on. At least freelancing in LA I could have driven to Arkansas if I wanted to (there is no reason why I would have wanted to). I was free. An actual feeling of panic literally came over me, I had to pause the (4th) movie I was watching and find a window to stare out of. Of course on long overnight flights they close the windows and I was in the center of the row.

Now, after settling into the routine of this place, the questions begin to show themselves. This job may be a great experience, but what after that? What happens at the end of this year when I still haven’t found a place to call home? What if the entire year is still more torture of having energy, talent, drive, passion and no place to put them, no place to feel significant? What would the red earth matter if all of those uncertainties still hung over me? What if I am still just a small voice lost in the vast desert?

I have a suspicion that if you search thoroughly enough, these questions are the furnace inside everyone, fueling us toward a destiny we do not know yet cannot be content without. It is almost as though they are there by design.

So how do you enjoy a plate of Fish ‘n Chips with this on your mind? (Well I don’t, my taste buds have shunned the monochromatic distortion of perfectly good meat).

The fact is: at the moment I would rather be nowhere else than here in Drummoyne, New South Wales working with a fantastic team to help prepare the way for students who will undergo a life changing experience. I get to be a part of that process! That is the subject of my hard work and I have the opportunity to invest and enjoy my labor. And of course I’m a grand total of 8 days into this year; there is no telling what will happen in the next 10 months. So this subplot is only introduced, not yet resolved. The weeds will continue to grow among the crops.

They’ll be sorted in the end.