Personal Journey - Reminiscence Of A Fateful 1997
On balance, my nearly 7 years in Australia has been a sheer delight and a joy. I consider myself blessed to live in a country where everything just runs smoothly, where social services, infrastructure, transport and the like works so well. This is not an article on Australia but were it so, I would delight in page after page of accolades and praise. It truly is the lucky country and I am truly lucky to be living here.
Since I now live in Australia, I want to write about some of my own head-bumping here. I write cautiously since my own experience is that people the world over, find great difficulty in hearing anything about their own societies or societal norms. They instinctively and viscerally get defensive on just about anything and my experience has taught me that the only thing I can get away with in my comments, without any fear of an emotionally-loaded backlash, is to comment on which side of the road cars drive on. So, I am safe to say: "Its quite difficult getting used to driving on the left", or even "you guys drive on the wrong side of the road". Anything more that that invites all sorts of reactions.
Well, here goes.
To offer the Australian reader some flavour of what I am trying to convey (well, I actually live here), I still cannot understand aspects of privacy laws in Australia. In some of the modules of my Masters Degree at University, we were asked to give our names and phone numbers for distribution amongst the students of the course. We were given the assurance that these details would be held confidentially for the duration of the course but would be destroyed after the end of the module. It all made perfect sense in terms of Australian norms and accepted practice, but it made no sense to me at all since one needs only to phone 1223, the local Telco directory enquiries, and one can get the very same telephone numbers in respect of which such solemn confidentialities are promised.
So, too, equally un-understandable to me is the fact that all escalators in Australia have warning signs saying: "Stand between the yellow lines". Actually, it is not possible to ride an escalator standing outside the yellow lines (perhaps one could try to balance on the moving hand-rail!!), so the signs make no sense at all to an outsider - they are as rhetorical and hollow as a sign saying" "Please breathe". But Australians never notice the seeming rhetorical illogicality that they see every day as they travel escalators, until such notion has been pointed out to them. And even then, generally they do not experience this new insight as more than a perhaps charming observation by an outsider.
So, too, a seemingly innocuous activity which I used to enjoy with my sons in our previous country, is a criminal offence here in Australia. We used to go to the petrol station every weekend and I would buy the cold drinks while one of my young sons filled the car. As someone under 15, it is an offence here in Australia for a child to operate the petrol pump! Oh, and no petrol pump in Australia has the facility to pump automatically - the little latch just under the handle is always disabled here in Australia.
Little things, but they, too had to be learned, internalised, introjected, taken on board. And then there are the expressions which have such strange meanings (as do all local expressions). I am constantly reminded of the charming song "Let's call the whole thing off" - Fred Astaire (words by Ira Gershwin; music by George Gershwin) Introduced by Fred Astaire and Ginger rogers in the film "Shall We Dance?"
Things have come to a pretty pass, Our romance is growing flat, For you like this and the other While I go for this and that.
Goodness knows what the end will be; Oh, I don't know where I'm at... It looks as if we two will never be one - something must be done.
You say eether and I say eyether, You say neether and I say nyther; Eether, eyether, neether, nyther, Let's call the whole thing off! You like potato and I like potahto, You like tomato and I like tomahto; Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto! Let's call the whole thing off!
But oh! If we call the whole thing off, then we must part. And oh! If we ever part, then that might break my heart! So, if you like pajamas and I like pajahmas, I'll wear pajamas and give up pajahmas. For we know we need each other, So we better call the calling off off. Let's call the whole thing off!
You say laughter and I say lawfter, You say after and I say awfter; Laughter, lawfter, after, awfter, Let's call the whole thing off! You like vanilla and I like vanella, You, sa's'parilla and I sa's'parella; Vanilla, vanella, Choc'late, strawb'ry! Let's call the whole thing off!
But oh! If we call the whole thing off, then we must part. And oh! If we ever part, then that might break my heart! So, if you go for oysters and I go for ersters I'll order oysters and cancel the ersters. For we know we need each other, So we better call the calling off off! Let's call the whole thing off!
Things in a new country often do not make sense at all to the immigrant and I mention the above local Australian vignettes in an attempt to offer some glimmer of understanding to the reader but in truth, all they illustrate is some Rashomon effect - some quaint diverse observation on local differences and perceptions. They give no clue as to how lack of sense, of uprootedness, of reliance on known certainties no longer certain, of an identity which is progressively rent until suddenly there is the epiphany of the realisation that the old identity no longer exists and one knows yet not what has taken its place. All this is alienating, infantilising, threatening and a frightening dimension of immigration.
Today, some 7 years into our life here, things are working out and we all feel a lot more at home. But I have to say that the journey has been great - challenging, wonderful, frustrating, exciting, frightening. But above all, it has been a privilege and an opportunity - for which I will always be grateful and thankful.
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