Australia

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Even with the protective wet suit I paid extra for, I got stung.  Red jellyfish regularly roam the waters where I grew up and my first jellyfish sting was half a world away in Cairns, Australia, on a boat tour of The Great Barrier Reef.  Inside my hand it felt like my nerves were slowly burning.  The pain was seething, as disorienting as the storm quite suddenly blotting out the midafternoon sun.  From the boat I could not identify my attacker inside those turbid waters.  A reel of dangerous creatures played in my mind, the box jellyfish of particular fascination since my arrival to Queensland.  Just that morning the lady at the front desk of our hostel had used the deadly box jelly as excuse for why she had remained off the reef.  The pain remained localized, indicating a less brutal fate, but there were other reasons to be frightened.

 

The boat that had seemed stately in the harbor rocked atop the roiling liquid surface like a runaway cradle, and I could only hope that the saltwater crocodiles that lurked beneath these continental waters lacked the stamina to venture this far out.  Nausea and growing skepticism about the protective capacity of our seafaring vessel gnawed at me just as our tour guide announced on loud speaker that sharks had been seen nearby.  He sounded jolly about it, oblivious clearly to the fact that a movie recently had been made about the real life disappearance of a couple touring the reef, who presumably died from shark attack after their tour boat left without them.

Panic fiercely rose within – the ocean was everywhere, our boat was small, we were hours from shore, I was trapped.  I wanted off, away, to be back in the harbor, to have this day over.  We were spending a shared average of five dollars a night to backpack our way around the world, our bank accounts at best anorexic, but I wanted to scrap all future destinations for an immediate air lift out.  Others were doing it, retreating, I repeatedly watched them go.  For a few hundred we could leave too, retreat to the safe quarters of our hostel, perhaps get a beet root burger or some frozen yogurt, anything but the imagined finality of this ocean excursion.  I wanted to feel solid, stable ground, to regain equilibrium.  I convinced my partner we should leave but as we approached the man arranging the transfers I saw him signaling the air lift to depart without any more of us.  The storm was too serious.  It was not safe.

It was at that moment, between courage and collapse, when I learned of my bravery.  My only choice was face the storm, face the ocean, face the sharks, crocodiles, jellyfish, that or face my imagination as I sat paralyzed on the deck.

My partner stayed behind but I lowered myself into the water.  Of the dozens left, only a couple of us were that brave.  I was handed a flotation device, a foam noodle, advised even the strongest swimmers could be swallowed by the storm.  I sensed the water was deep.  How deep I could not tell.  The dimension was distorted, by the violent curling of the waves, throwing me sideways every time I attempted to stay still, by the muted palette the impish storm painted into the molecules of water and air.  Without light to illuminate the oceanic landscape I had to trust my intuition, trust that from behind me a shark would not with bladed grip clamp down on my feet, or surprise me from the side, trust the salty slap of the waves would not shove me under.

I focused on what I could control.  There were dangers, everywhere, but danger need not also hedge from within.  What was going on inside me, that I had control over.  I felt with my hands the sultry curves of the waves.  I listened to the ocean vent her frustrations.  I looked back to see my partner standing there watching, and then I looked within.  Even in the dark it was beautiful.  Coral caverns coiled like mighty beasts, and wild fish added breathing color to the calm underworld.

How could two such different worlds exist within feet of each other?  Above tumult, below peace.  With each stroke I felt my initiation deepen, into an ancient ritual of bravery.  Conquer what consumes you, take back your breath, focus on what you can control.  Fears splashed away, I forgot about the sharks, the sting of my hand, the rocking boat.  I felt drenched instead with the inner peace of the ocean beneath the storm.  I watched that harmonious world silently surrender to its natural rhythms and I felt hopeful that I too had that power.

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Burnt Offerings

 

After Adelaide, South Australia, was hit by severe wildfires last month, it was with some reluctance that I visited one of the scenes of the fire.    

The new year catastrophe had cost South Australia dearly. The final tally was 27 houses destroyed, 125 outbuildings razed to the ground and over 130 reported injuries. Animals including koalas, kangaroos and family pets were killed or injured as they struggled to get clear of the flames. The monetary cost is expected to be around A$13 million. The saving grace of the event is that there were no human fatalities. But this does not take away the truth that many things were lost in the fire.  

In the township of Kersbrook, which was arguably the worst hit area, 12 houses were lost. I felt myself becoming dizzy when I saw the havoc that had been wreaked by the fire.  Tree skeletons were all that remained, despite the best efforts of the CFS (Country Fire Service), who worked tirelessly to stop the wildfires from spreading further as temperatures and winds soared, intensifying the disaster.

There were some 700 firefighters battling at the fireground to contain the inferno, which had spread out from Sampson Flat, and swept across over 12,500 hectares of the usually picturesque Adelaide Hills.

In the face of such indiscriminate devastation, there comes a point when there is nothing else you can do. Except be brave. 

I visited the fire-fields a week after the final blazes had been extinguished. Scorched trees waved branches stripped barren of leaves to cloudless, rainless skies. Black and grey were the primary colours of this desolate-looking landscape. Verdant such a short time ago, this place had been stripped of colour. And the blackness everywhere marked the scars.  

However, the lengthy and difficult clean-up process had started. Members of the community and outsider volunteers alike had cleared away the fallen trees and darkened matter that had swept across roads in a futile bid to get away from the inferno and the searing heat it brought with it.  

It was overwhelming to see such an altered place. The stark remains made me feel weak. It seemed hopeless to think that this place could ever look like it had before the fire. But then I peered at the charred remnants more closely. Inspecting the bare trees at close range, it was clear to see that something was happening.

Many of the branches showed red splotches of colour that, at first, looked like bloody wounds to the very wood. But these were not wounds. They were fiery red blossoms that had been woken by the fire. The life cycle of these trees had not been cut short. Resurrection was taking place.  This was a landscape in the process of change and it promised to be beautiful once again, despite – or perhaps because of – the fiery purge it had endured.

After just a short time since the disaster, there is already regrowth on many of the trees, shadows of their former selves in this thankfully temporary state. The burnt offerings are transforming into something strong and living, proving that in the face of ruin, life still finds a way.

 

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Sydney wasn’t at the top of my most desired places to go on my trip around the world. Africa was first, since that was the reason why I had planned the trip in the first place, but I definitely thought I would love Thailand more than Sydney.

When I arrived in Sydney, it was freezing cold, and raining – not the typical warm, sunny weather that everyone boasts about. However I wasn’t the least bit concerned about the weather. I was just happy to have made it there on Malaysia Airlines and with absolutely no money at all.

My debit card and credit card had gotten stolen in Thailand, and I had used my last bit of cash for the cab to the airport. Luckily, I had gotten a hold of my mother who was able to wire my money to me when I landed in Sydney. I was grateful to have cash, but it still made me worry, especially since I was traveling completely solo…for the first time.

At first I thought it was going to be a complete bust. I thought I’d end up sitting by myself at a café with nothing to do, and no one to talk to. But boy, was I wrong! I stayed in Bondi Beach, a local area, and immediately fell in love. The shop, café, and restaurant-lined street made me feel like I was meant to be there, and I even texted my mom to tell her I wanted to move.

Since I was solo, I was really able to take in my surroundings, and discover how it feels to live in this other world. I figured out how to budget my money, and although I ate pizza for every meal, I felt so proud and excited to be figuring out how to be completely on my own. It wasn’t long before I felt comfortable walking from place to place in Sydney, and taking the City Sightseeing tour bus – which doubled as transportation – to and from my “apartment” in Bondi.

I became so confident with myself that other tourists would stop me to ask if I knew how to get to certain streets! It also made me not only comfortable, but also eager to meet people.

Just by smiling, saying hello, or even taking a photo for someone led to a new friendship, which six months later, still exists. These new friends made me love Sydney and Bondi even more than I already did.

I told my new friends about my volunteer trip in South Africa, my misfortune in Thailand, and how I had be winging it with my limited amount of cash in Sydney, and their responses were the greatest compliment I’ve ever received.

They told me I inspired them. They said they were so inspired that I had made it around the world despite many hurdles, and was still so confident and happy, that it made them want to travel more and help others.

Suddenly, I had found my purpose in traveling. I travel to inspire others.

As luck would have it, my new friends took me in, and took me around Sydney and Bondi as if I had lived there forever. I knew I couldn’t afford to eat at the places they would take me, but when they noticed I was only ordering one house wine and a glass of water, they insisted on treating me so I could really experience local life.

These strangers who I had only just met helped me so much, and it made me realize something. If you’re kind, grateful, genuine, and confident, your energy will be noticed and appreciated by other people. I realized that I really was all of those things, and even more importantly, I was happy.

 

I thought I was so lost when I first got to Sydney, both literally and figuratively. But by the end of my journey…I realized I had found myself.

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I have always been afraid of the dark.  I do my best to say this with as little shame and embarrassment as possible, given my age (let’s just say, “twenty-something”).  From childhood my irrational fears transitioned from monsters to ghosts to intruders in the night, with scary movies serving as fuel for my overactive imagination. I remember once confessing this fear in my late teens only to be asked the question, is it truly the dark you fear, or the unknown?  I was stumped, and I could only mutter, “Both?”

Many years after that moment my travels brought me to Australia, and as an avid SCUBA diver I had to explore the Great Barrier Reef.  I signed up for a three-day, two-night live-aboard excursion to the lesser-touched outer reef.  While I had been diving for years I had yet to experience a night dive.  Though each dive was optional, the thought of being sixty feet below the surface of the water in pitch-black terrified me, but I could not pass up the opportunity to see what mischief subaqueous creatures got up to at night.  I decided it was time to face my fears.

All divers were gathered for the briefing, paired up and then sent out to gear up.  Before we were dismissed, our dive master yelled out to the crew at the stern of the ship, “Are the sharks here yet?”

Taken with natural curiosity we ran to the stern to be met with a sight I was not prepared for.  Sharks circled the swim platform feeding on the squid the staff members were throwing overboard.  It was this exact spot we were to enter the water.  To say I was apprehensive was an understatement.  Though I liked to consider myself enlightened about the true nature of sharks, and had encountered them in prior dives without incident, you never know what may happen in the darkness.  After all, sharks feed at night.  Suiting up my heart raced as I was about to immerse myself in the unknown.

Thankfully, as divers entered the water the sharks scattered, but I knew they were everywhere.  I would have nothing to protect myself; the only accessory I would be taking with me into the water was a flashlight.  In air the light spreads, but in water, a denser medium, the light is emitted as a narrow beam, illuminating only what is directly in front of it.  Unlike the previous dive, the reef wasn’t under the boat so my dive-buddy and I would have to swim through thirty feet of open water alone to reach it.  As I swam through the abyss I shone my little beam of light around it reflected in pairs of green dots.  Shark eyes.  These curious, inquisitive yet unnerving creatures were everywhere and there was nothing to protect me from them. Though, as far as I knew, they were not the man-eating species, I clung to my dive-buddy as Jaws played in my mind in high definition.

Once we made it to the reef I relaxed finding comfort in the more enclosed space.  The activity I saw amazed me.  At night the fish sleep in crevices and an array of life feeds in the corals; you can even help the larger fish feed by shining your light on their prey.  So long as you weren’t one of these unlucky creatures there was nothing to fear.  Feeling more comfortable on the swim back, I let go of my dive buddy and watched the silhouettes of the sharks swimming under the boat without fear.  Once back on the boat I felt so silly that I almost let fear hold me back from that incredible experience.

Fear, I truly realized, is all an illusion we allow our minds to create.  We let movies, television shows and especially other people, convince us that the world is a scary place and because of this many people never step outside their comfort zones.  They never challenge themselves to live to their full potential.  They never live their dreams because they are afraid of the unknown. This to me truly is the greatest tragedy of life.   So going forward I decided to not let what others say paralyze me with fear, I’d have to embrace it and face experiences with no expectations.

Since that night I sleep peacefully engulfed in complete darkness, fearing neither the pitch nor the unknown.  The unknown, it turns out, is the best part of life.

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My reason for falling in love with Melbourne, the most livable city in the world

Oh, the city of Melbourne…
 
When I think of Australia…. And why shouldn’t I be thinking of this wonderful country…. Being a cricket crazy Indian, I make sure that I wake up early morning every single day and switch on the TV set to watch the scintillating cricket match going on between the two great cricketing nations.
And every break between over, as we are shown the Australia Tourism advertisement welcoming us to this picturesque country, I can’t help but think and dream of only Australia. With the current test match going on in one the greatest cities of this country, which place other than Melbourne can I dream about. The modern, cutting-edge designs of its skyscrapers and buildings added to the fascinating mix of heritage architecture, makes us feel that that this city is never the same every single time we visit it, with its constantly changing skyline. But mind you, talking about skyscrapers, building height limits and heritage controls have kept the city at a human scale while highlighting its diversity and creativity.
There is a lot to love about Melbourne – just ask the locals. Melbourne’s lifestyle, the climate and its future plans are all part of what inspires so much passion in those who live hereWith the city’s vibrant energy, restaurants, fashion boutiques, café-filled laneways, cool bars, unbeatable galleries, spacious parks and village-like inner suburbs, each with its own special character, no wonder, it has been ranked as one of the world’s most livable cities.
We just need to take a walk through the streets of Melbourne to really enjoy it’s labyrinth of connecting laneways and arcades which provides us an ‘other world’ experience of intimate spaces and mystery. And believe me, it is while you stroll through these streets, where you get a feeling of openness and natural light, but still you find it home to many of Melbourne’s bar, dining and shopping ‘secrets’.
The streets of Melbourne provide a logical canvas for artistic expression and its laneways are home to sometimes controversial street art. And did I not mention that the locals also love a party, with the year-round calendar of events offering something for everyone.
And if you lose your way through this labyrinth, there’s no need to worry at all, because the locals are known for being friendly and inclusive, strongly advocating the city’s strong culture of philanthropy and volunteering. Looking worried and lost, and don’t be surprised, if you are confronted immediately by the City Ambassadors, the dedicated team of tourism volunteers.
Being and odd man out in a foreign country is something which you would never feel in this city. Melbourne has a multicultural population, being home to people of 140 different cultures: Indigenous Australians, post war European migrants, and recent arrivals from India, Somalia, Malaysia and beyond. Yeah, you heard it right! Indians, you find in plenty there.

And in all these absolutely stunning things that I mentioned about Melbourne, did I forget about its geography. For those who are keen on this, Melbourne is located in the south-eastern part of mainland Australia, within the state of Victoria. It is the capital of the state of Victoria and the second most populous city in Australia.

But believe me, it’s not the geography, but the lifestyle that makes Melbourne a magnet for so many people lie in the combination of these things. It is the sum of its parts – and more.

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After three days of constant packing, driving, and roadside camping, I was relieved to make a longer than usual stop in Byron Bay, a famous beachside town on Australians east coast. Slowly, my girlfriend and I had journeyed up from Sydney, stopping at Forster and Coffs Harbour along the way for a night before our arrival. With the surfboard strapped to the roof of the car and the backseat rammed with blankets, guitars and camping equipment, we cruised toward the town in the early hours of the evening and watched young local’s parade around the streets on their custom made skateboards in board shorts and tie-dye singlets. Young backpackers with stylish nose piercings and homemade dreadlocks sat roadside, busking their favorite Bob Marley tunes whilst friendly neighborhood dogs laid outside boutique shops, panting with a mild look of fatigue on their faces.

A sign reads ‘Welcome to Byron Bay: Cheer up, Slow Down, Chill Out’, inviting us in with warmth and hospitality as we made our way closer to the coast, bumping along the road that was littered with deep potholes. We pulled up to a campsite at the back end of town and found a small spot before making our way to the beach for the final hours on sunlight. In the twilight haze, birds could be heard singing in unison amongst the lush green flora whilst a few dedicated beachgoers made the most of the remaining surf, paddling out on their long boards to glide along the mellow humps of rolling water that gently crashed into quiet white bubbles. Beyond the perfectly formed waves the ocean sat almost perfectly still, reflecting the orange glow of sunset which shimmered all the way to the horizon. From this bronze haze, spouts of water rose to the sky, revealing a group of humpback whales that breached the surface at steady intervals; the weight of their huge bodies crashed down into the water and could be heard from the shore. Not far from us, a surfer catches a wave and rides it all the way to the shore, walking to the nose of the board and back in peaceful nature before dropping of the side.  Just as the sun was setting, a pod dolphins turn up and play with the boarders in the surf, cruising alongside them and leaping out the waves with incredible agility. The frantic journey up to Byron had been worth it for this brief little moment.

Strolling along in the ankle deep water and watching the incredible display of serenity, the two of us held each other closely and uttered not a single word as night crept in on the warm coastal winds. I can’t describe how grateful I was right then, for her and for us, for life and for the journey, for those whales and those dolphins, for the surf and the surfers, for Byron Bay and for Australia, for nature and for that beautiful moment it revealed a peaceful side to us that some don’t ever to witness.

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Grateful for the Journey

It started with a dream in June 2012, shortly after my cat Hamish, the last of my animals, died. In that alternate landscape, I was climbing polished wooden stairs as large bay windows revealed the dark night sky on either side of the staircase. I tried to make out the stars but they were eclipsed by the moonless sky. Suddenly from nowhere, an almighty bang and a streak of lightning so brilliant in its metallic energy,  broke through the blackness completely revealing  the landscape in every detail.

When I awoke I knew what I had to do. The clarity of the lightning bolt had galvanised me to change my life completely. I would sell everything and move.

Two years year later, constant movement is a big part of my life. Through synchronicity, that wonderful connection between desire and manifestation, a friend Elizabeth had suggested I try house sitting. She knew my love of animals and my new found fear of being stuck in an environment which might be beautiful like the previous one,but did not feed my soul. House sitting seemed to fit the criteria I was after in a lifestyle; freedom to learn and grow, animal companionship and travel. Suddenly fear emerged in the form of “Ifs” and “buts”. I recalibrated my attitude asking  “What have I got to lose?”  and decided to take the plunge. I remembered the Tarot card of the Fool, a youth with all his possessions wrapped in a cloth at the end of a stick which he carried over his shoulder while he smelt a white rose. A small dog accompanied him, while with one foot on the ground and one in the air above a cliff, his face had that joyful look of optimism that everything would be provided for on his new journey into the as yet unformed land. He became my role model.

I was fortunate to start off well and will always be grateful to my first home-owners, Lorna and John, who welcomed me to their beautiful home in Jan Juc on the coast of Victoria.Such a positive initial experience gave me the confidence to continue. If you have ever seen the film “Puss in Boots” then you will know what Archie, their cat looks like! and Della, his sister also bears a striking resemblance to Kitty soft paws from the same movie. How lovely it was to have animal companionship again and the opportunity to explore one of the most beautiful parts of the Australian coastline.

In meditation, a daily journey into inner landscapes, I had another epiphany, I could use house sitting as my magic carpet to travel around Australia, visiting places, the many places, to which I had never  previously travelled. So in December 2012, on my first interstate house sit, I travelled to the Adelaide hills to care for three dogs while their owners went on holiday. Since then I have perfected the skills of adaptation and flexibility which are the core requirements of the lifestyle and make the most of each house sit. Like the Fool, I travel lightly with one suitcase, a handbag containing my tablet,  borrowed cat, dog or horse, and absolute trust in the journey.

Australia is a huge country and to traverse it from coast to coast, or Pacific to Indian Ocean if you prefer, is a similar distance as between Moscow and Paris. The land itself shifts and changes as you fly across the country, from the viridian hinterland of the East coast, across the browning dust of outback Queensland and New South Wales, over the leached silver of the dried up lakes of outback South Australia and finally to the pristine turquoise waters of Esperance and Albany in South Western Australia. The first time I took this flight I clutched my heart and fell in love with the land. Since then when reprising the same flight across the ancient continent, it feels like reconnecting with an old beloved. I can never tire of flying over this land.

As I travel around the country , meeting new friends, human and animal, and reconnecting with old ones, I feel grateful to be at this stage of my life where my sense of adventure is restored and I have the confidence and trust in myself and the Universe to lead me into new territories. I also give thanks for that lightning bolt.

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Whim Tripper

By Ray Beard

She stood on the clean white sand in her pink bikinis under a brilliant blue sky.  A few surfers were catching four feet waves gently rolling in on an otherwise smooth sea. It was all round a picture perfect scene, albeit if she had not been in the frame I may not have noticed it.  With so many days like this you take it for granted.  She raised her arms to the sky at a forty five degree angle and they remained there for a good minute before she ran back to my side.  

“What was that all about?’ I asked.

‘A thank you for all this glory,’    

‘Oh.’

I liked her despite her peculiarities. Her many. She dried herself and announced ‘I must get back to my hotel, I have to ring Mom before she goes to sleep.’   I obeyed. A minute from her hotel in the city center of Perth, a twenty minute drive from the beach she said ‘quick, turn into Kings Park, I’d like to see it.’  I obeyed.

‘Did you know Jack is it about nine hundred acres of mainly natural bush?  I couldn’t find any other city with that sort of acreage on the edge of the CBD in a natural state. ‘

I replied with ‘that’s interesting’ rather than ‘of course I did.’  On reflection I wondered if I did.

We parked and walked through a plethora of wild flowers. It took an hour before she would budge from the plants. ‘This one must be the most beautiful flower  in the world’  she would say with regularity, to a different plant each time.  We eventually made the edge of the park overlooking the city skyline and the vast expanse of the Swan River. She raised her arms again. ‘More thanks?’ I asked. ‘Too right’ she replied,’ as you locals might say.’

‘Well, it is a long way from New Jersey’ I said.

‘That’s why I came here. I discovered Perth was the most distant city from my home.’

I laughed. ‘So I guess you came on a whim.’

‘No way. Oh, I decided to come in five seconds of learning how far away it was but I then did my research.  Do you know it’s on the same latitude as San Diego, but with more sun and with more rainfall everything is so much greener.  You have an area of forest starting just beyond the suburbs bigger than England and with some of the biggest trees on the planet and tons of brilliant local food and wine in it ……and then there’s another  million square miles in this state to explore and thousands of miles of beaches where you’ll be lucky to see anyone else……. Isn’t that wonderful, you know, having beautiful beaches all to yourself. Sorry I’m gushing.’

‘Probably. Of course if I went with you I guess that would spoil the isolation bit.’

She squeezed my arm and smiled. Darn, I was hooked.  I sighed and nonchalantly said ‘I suppose this knowledgeable Yankee could teach me a lot about this state of mine.”

‘Too right. Got a few weeks?  Lets go.’

I obeyed.

 

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A Special Place

The invitation came out of the blue and couldn’t have come at a better time.  I was twenty three  and had been caring for my mother for the last four years until she died.  I was alone and at a low ebb and when I was invited to spend a week at a friend’s holiday cottage by the sea I jumped at the chance. 

The lady who invited me was someone I hardly knew. She was much older than me but we got on well and she seemed a pleasant peaceful person to spend time with. 

Her cottage was close enough to the sea to hear the waves breaking on the sands and as the week went by we didn’t do very much at all.  There was a hammock on the veranda and I spent a lot of time there reading and sleeping.  We walked along the beach barefoot and sometimes we swam and afterwards sat on the sand  in the sunshine and watched the horizon.    In the evenings we sat and talked and from being little more than an acquaintance, she became my confidant and friend.   She told me that she had known what a difficult time I had been through and she wanted to help and she said she often asked people in need of a break to come and stay with her.  It was a wonderful week and when I went home I felt renewed. Even now I have only to hear the sound of the sea to be transported back in my mind to that special place and that special friend.  

Time went by and my friend was no longer with me except in memory.   I married, had children and got on with my busy life.  Things went well for us and as our children grew older we often went on holiday by the sea.    When the children were in their teens we bought  a small cottage close to the beach not too far from where I had spent that magic week so many years before.   The family loved being there and it became our special place where we could relax and enjoy being together.   

More years went by and once again I found myself alone.  I lived in the city but still kept the cottage by the sea and my children and eventually their children too, came and spent time with me there.  I had many friends and acquaintances and sometimes I became aware that life was not always treating them well so I began do for others what had once been done for me.  I invited people to have a week at my cottage.  Often they were people I barely knew and I am sure my invitation came as much out of the blue for them as it had for me all those years ago.  It  pleases me to think that the kindness shown to me by my special friend and the renewal it brought  me is being passed on once again. 

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About the author:  I am 75 years old and I immigrated to Australia with my family 45 years ago.  I now live on a farm 100klm north of Sydney.

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The faint peaceful intro of “in the morning” by the Living End disturbs my sleep, before the guitar kicks in and I quickly kill it so as not to disturb the house, Living in a big South Tyrolean family house on the edge of Caldaro Italy is definitely a little bit of a culture shock for this Australian. But I’m used to it, ever since I lived in Hanoi when I was 18 I have loved the feeling of a different culture or situation to live in its apart of what makes travelling so exciting and this is the best place yet. I decide to leapfrog my slowly stirring Girlfriend and run downstairs for a coffee run before a quick shower, I’d better make her one as well, she usually always does the morning coffee run. Today is going to be hectic, no doubt about it, an early start with Ivan, a 14 year old German speaking Italian, his English is good but he is lazy at times so the challenge is to get him enthusiastic, not a bad challenge for an English Teacher. I get dressed, kiss my girlfriend goodbye and walk down the long winding hill to the bus stop.

This is my favourite part of the journey because at quarter past seven in the morning the temperature is cool and the suns light is flowing off the mountains like an endless wave. It’s something special to take in that beauty and I usually like to bask in it for as long as I can but today out of sheer luck my girlfriends Mother spots me and offers a lift, into to Bolzano we go. For those who aren’t so sure Bolzano is the biggest city in South Tyrol an area that once belonged to Austria but was then handed over to the Italians at the end of the first world war, it still has it far share of German speakers including the majority of Caldaro which is the small town where we live, about twenty minutes from Bolzano by car. The hour with Ivan goes smoothly, he forgets to do his homework so I threaten to tell his Mother, and then we read. Being an English teacher is different to what I’m used to in Vietnam. My classes are small or privates and they desperately want to learn, but they don’t have a set curriculum, I plan my classes with my own ideas. Involving a lot of reading and a little bit of talking as well as grammar activities, and generally they love them. As you can imagine this gives me a kick as a budding teacher who is still finding his feet in the educational world, every lesson is a little bit of a learning experience as well and it helps me grow in confidence, it gives me more and more ideas.

Enough of that, I have a test with a Wall Street student; I’ll have to catch a bus over to Bolzano south, the industrial side of town. Wall Street Institute of English is my main school and they deal with upper class Italian Adults, mostly easy people to deal with and usually some fun to be had. But really it’s not about the students I work with, they were born into this life, they decided what they wanted to do and worked at it, some are doctors and some are nurses but all they are really is a few common nouns with a lot of money, I will always enjoy teaching, whether it be English or Australian culture or god forbid mathematics because it shows me a life other than the one I’ve known, I’ll go home to my girlfriend again with her beautiful smile and indulge in a little German because well that’s when in Rome right? My students will go home to their wives or their mothers, they kiss them and smell the sweet smells, it isn’t a culture shock to them, they don’t know that phrase, for me however every day is new. Is it freedom? Is it a true chance for me to be myself? Well I tell this story from an apartment in Hanoi and for the first time in my life I know exactly where I want to be and it isn’t here or Australia, I don’t care what freedom is, all I want is my girl in a little town in northern Italy where they’re surrounded by mountains and speak a lot of German. Freedom is a state of mind, I know where my mind belongs.

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