This just in: football is shit.
Write that you’re ashamed of your country and the same bullshit argument descends like a dead snapper. Within three minutes Internet time, someone who doesn’t share your disenchantment will say “Why don’t you just fuck off to North Korea then?”
This is either a subtle recruitment strategy by agents of the Kim dynasty, or a series of Aussies woofing at the wrong foliage. Disappointment in your own country doesn’t mean you hate it and want it boxed up. It means you care enough that you want it to be better. Patriotism that denies all fault can dine out on a juicy choad.
There’s a story you know from thrillers and bad dreams. You have a heart-pounding escape from an evildoer. You reach safety, find an ally. Relief floods in, you have sanctuary. Then… the ally betrays you to whoever you were fleeing. Or you dodge the monster, bolt the doors…
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So it happened. The day I was both dreading and looking forward to. The World Cup match between Australia and the Netherlands; my sporting equivalent of nature versus nurture. It was weird. I impossibly wanted both teams to win. The internal conflict was as riveting (and at times as painful) as the one playing out on the pitch in Porto Alegre in the small hours of a Thursday morning. In a way the result spoke to both camps – a Dutch win sees them progress to the next stage and every chance of avoiding the home nation; a positive and stirring performance by the Socceroos bodes well for the future of the Australian national team. And my head didn’t explode, much to my relief!
I’m getting old.
Yesterday was St Patrick’s Day. I did get to the Celtic Club down the road for lunch, but when I ordered a Coke the double take I received from the guy behind the bar was Herculean in nature. There were a couple of Irish Government ministers being introduced to some of the punters to ask about their part in the Irish diaspora, and of all of the emerald-clad, stout-drinking, oversized-novelty-leprechaun-hat-wearing crowd present the G-men went straight for the two business-attired folk – my mate and I. And instead of shifting the green gears into 5th last night by giving my drunkenest rendition of The Irish Rover, I was at home. Kids were in bed, wife was out practising her choiring, me sober as a whistle. Then the TV told me that it was Monday night, and Monday night on the ABC is Q&A night. And the episode of Q&A to be aired in an hour’s time had within its panel one of my all-time heroes: Billy Bragg.
[INTRODUCTION] – I originally wrote this post at the conclusion of my traineeship with the Times of India in 1996, so if any facts are a bit out of date it’s because they are.
“Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it.”
It was about this time last year. I was chatting with my flat mate over a bottle of Margaret River Chardonnay when the topic of travel came up. He was planning to travel the world the following year, and as he was telling me of his aspirations, I looked over his shoulder to a picture of him posing the tourist pose in front of the Taj Mahal. It was at this point that I first thought of India as something more than some Asian country that plays cricket and likes a curry.
Not long after I took the plunge and applied for the International Traineeship Exchange Programme, a venture undertaken by AIESEC, an organisation which had been a part of my life for the previous 3 years. Here the big question arose… “Where do you want to go?” That was a toughie. Where in the world do I want to go? Let’s see. Scandinavia would be cool, and the Caribbean. Or somewhere exotic like Zimbabwe, no Brazil. All these places to choose from, all with a recurring theme. Different. A culture, a life different to my 23 years in Perth. Then I remembered the picture of Ben before the Taj Mahal. How about India? Yeah, that would be different. India.
I put in my forms for my traineeship, and in early December I received a phone call from my girlfriend at the time, who was attending AIESEC Australia’s National Conference in Adelaide. The first thing she said was “You’re going to India.” I could tell the concern in her voice as she said it. My Mum quietly freaked as well. She kept saying “Why don’t you go somewhere nice like Canada?” What’s the point of that? That would be just like staying here. I want to go somewhere different. Besides, India won’t be so bad. I can handle myself. This reassurance was as much for myself as it was for the people close to me. India won’t be so bad.
That’s a nice story, isn’t it?
I am a career hoarder. Anyone who knows me will tell you that. I have files on my work desk from ten years ago. A former housemate and I collected empty beer bottles to signify the countries whose beers we had tried (I kept them after he moved out). I own t-shirts from the 1980s and Phantom comics from the 1970s. I went to a comedy gig all about hoarding, came out of it afterwards with a 12″ single of The Church’s Under The Milky Way which I still own (thanks Corrine Grant!). I even have the ticket stub still, in my collection of comedy gig ticket stubs; which are not to be confused with my music concert/sporting event/movie ticket stub collections… or my beer coasters. I am a career hoarder.
It’s safe to say then that I have trouble letting go of things. This in itself is both a blessing and a curse, and truth be told is deserving of its own post. The reason I bring it up here is borne out of news that I received around six weeks ago from my family back in Western Australia. I’ll spare you the details; it can however be summarised in these four words:
My mother is dying.
The Great Wall of China is big. Nothing new about that statement you may be thinking, but for the first time traveller to Beijing wishing to see a part of this ancient horde-repelling superstructure, it provides something of a quandary choosing exactly which part. There’s Badaling or its neighbour Juyongguan, restored sections close to Beijing that attract their fair share of tourists (and the touts they attract). Then there are the sections at Mutianyu and Huanghua, less restored in parts but still close to town. Or there’s Simatai and Jinshanling; further out of Beijing (about three hours away) and less restored but less crowded and seen by some as a more authentic section of the Great Wall. Each part has their own pros and cons, but a bit of on-line research led me to a unique opportunity… to not only visit and walk along the Great Wall of China but to sleep on top of it overnight! And sure enough, with a couple of e-mails to a company in Beijing I was on my way.