Archive for September, 2011

Modern Time Travel

At 2am I am awake and at 3am I finally give up and get out of bed. I am fragile and disorientated, like I’ve napped too long and woken up after dark, which I have done the equivalent of in my timezone. It’s the early evening at home right now, about dinner time, and I’m hungry because my body-clock says I should be.

I take my computer downstairs. The night clerk, a friendly, bear-shaped man, looks up when he hears me coming down the stairs. He checked me in when I arrived, fresh from the plane and tied up in my bags. Vancouver was newly dark, flat wide streets, and walking to the hostel I wasn’t sure if I should be nervous on my own at night. He had assured me I shouldn’t be.

The hostel is cheap, creaky floorboards and lighting that closes in the hallways, and I don’t know the implications of a cheap hostel in Vancouver yet. That I’ll find out in the morning. When I checked in and dropped my stuff in my room, it was just a place to sleep for the night and I figured I’d go exploring and find something better in the morning.

The night clerk had recommended Granville Street as a place to go for a meal and something to do, so after dumping my bags I took his advice and wandered out towards the Skytrain.
“Hey. Hey! Hey, can I ask you a question?” The girl was smoking out front of the pub next to the hostel. She had brown skin and a fuzzy expression. She was swaying lightly.
“Uh. Yeah. Sure.”
“What do you think of guys?” She asked, slurring her Ss out into long wet Zs. Behind her, through the window of the bar, people hovered and leaned around the lights above the pool tables. I paused, not sure how to respond. “Ok, alright,” she paused to rephrase. “Or, when was your last ex-boyfriend then? When was your last ex-boyfriend?”
“Uh, well. I just left one behind in Australia.”
“Oh! You’re from Australia? I’d like to go to Australia. Australians like First Nation people – people tell me that. Is that right? Do Australians like me?”
“Uh, yeah, I guess. I don’t really know what that means,” I said, though I had already guessed.
“Oh, I’d love to go to Australia. Really. It sounds like such a nice place. I’d really like to see Australia some time.”
“Yeah. It’s a good place.”
Then, “I just broke up with my boyfriend of five years.” Her frame fell forward slightly, as if retaining that piece of information had been helping to hold it rigid. “Five years!” she went on. “Because he was lying to me about doing coke. I’m like, ‘you don’t do that stuff,’ and he tells me he’s not doing it but he’s lying you know. And I know he’s lying but he just keeps doing it and…” She kept talking but I found a pause, touched my hat and told her to have a good night, smiled and ducked away. She stared after me, and then turned to look at something else.

I had a few more conversations with strangers. I got the impression that people are quite friendly and open here, especially the beggars, who have learnt that conversation wins coin. There are a lot of beggars. The comparatively temperate climate of Vancouver means the homeless tend to drift here from the colder climates. I was surprised at how articulate they seem to be.

One struck up conversation with me outside the pizza place where I’d bought two slices too big for me to eat and a can of Dr Pepper. When he noticed the accent and found out where I was from but  that I was born here, he welcomed me home.
“Welcome home,” he said. “We’ve missed you.” He said this a few times.

Granville Street seemed very much like any central, strip-mall street in any Australian city. It seemed like Swanston or Bourke Street in Melbourne, or William Street in Perth, or Adelaide Street in Brisbane, except the people have funny accents and nobody jay-walks. By the time I got back to the hostel there was 45 minutes left of my 39-hour Sunday and nothing left to do but try to go to sleep against the jetlag.

But jetlag won and it’s 3am and I’m sitting in the lobby of the hostel with my computer, wide awake but dazed. Over Skype, Tim tells me that for such a sinner, I’ve certainly spent a lot of time with God. I ask him what he means and he repeats what I said about my 39-hour Lord’s Day. I say that I may be a sinner but I’m good, Really. Everything I do is well-intentioned.
“Whatever,” he says.
He asks me if I’m OK and I tell him I don’t know yet. I tell him everything feels funny, I feel funny about all of this. He says we use that word, don’t we? What does that word even mean, anyway. I say that it’s when there’s too many adjectives and none of them really fit and most of them are contradictory anyway.

Outside, the night is still and warmer than it should be. Tomorrow I will wake up, after not really sleeping, to the sound of seagulls. There will be a rash of bedbug bites across my back, which will be madly itchy for nearly a week. I will walk across the city and back again and by the time I check into the next hostel I will be so delirious with jetlag I’ll be hallucinating.

But for now, I sit on the sidewalk with my back to the building and watch the cars sweep past, feeling funny and wondering where those people could be driving at such at such an hour, where it is they could be going.


My 39-Hour Sunday

For something so expensive and booked so far in advance, it always seems to me that international travel should come with more ceremony. But, instead, it’s just another exercise of matching numbers and names with those on computer files, over-lit hallways, queues and waiting. I give the lady at the desk my Australian passport, then my Canadian, then my duffle bag and head in the direction of the security check.

I’m glad to be leaving Singapore, and I’m glad that Dad’s moving back to Perth soon and that I’ll have no reason to come here again. I buy a postcard and write to Tim. “It’s that constant, pervasive feeling of being inside that gets to me, even when you’re outside, even when it’s raining. Like they’ve got some sort of rain machine attached to the glass dome of a ceiling I’m so sure is up there, with sliding glass doors to let the planes in and out.”

It feels like I’ve been inside for four days – since Tim, Hilary and Eamon walked me from the carpark into the Perth International airport, since leaving home.

I board the plane and we’re in Taiwan in a quick four-and-a-bit hours. There’s no time difference yet – I’m still on Perth time. The airport is shaped like a great big H. The good bit, with the pub and the soaring, metal-laced ceilings and the “Outdoor Smoking Rooms”, forms the horizontal cross-stick, but I don’t discover this part until a few hours into my six-and-a-half hour stay. Instead, I am deposited – via some more corridors and transfer signs and security checks – into one of the long, underpopulated vertical legs of the H, which I wander up and down for a while, trying to figure out how to get on the internet. On the other side of the windows, Sunday fade outs like a screensaver.

There are a lot of very bored shop assistants around. They shuffle and pace, and I try not to enter any of the stores in case they ask me if I want anything. Eventually, I finish wandering and enlist the help of a small fleet of them to help me with the temperamental wireless, so can I get on Skype and kill time talking to far-away people on muddy lines.

The plane finally leaves at 5 minutes to midnight. I switch to my Candadian passport and head through the gate. I have spent some of the remaining time in the “Outdoor Smoking Room”, watching buses and cars stream in and out of the airport, and some more talking to a black guy from Vancouver who said lots of good things about the city. He had an intense, concentrated stare and eyes so dark it was hard to discern his pupils. The whole conversation, I was hyper-aware of how untrusting and fearful I was of him. I was thinking about my passports and my wallet and my laptop – news reports, movies – while he was sitting across from me being friendly and interesting and polite. It reminded me how tired I am of being expected to be afraid of everything, and of this being called things like responsible and street smart.

I sleep a long time on the plane. Every now and again we hit turbulence, and I am woken by the air hostess on the intercom who warns us of “bumpy air”. “Passengers please return to your seats and fasten your seatbelts,” she says “because now we are getting some bumpy air.”

When I wake, we’re nearly there. I watch the oversized plane on the flight scanner on the screen in the back of my seat. It moves in tiny increments, like an hour hand on a clock, creeping over over the Pacific, it’s nose nearly touching Vancouver. We’ve travelled nearly 9,000kms in the past nine hours, at a rate of 920km/ph. Humans were never meant to travel that fast. I wonder what it does to our constitution.

The same Sunday is fading again, this time outside the windows of the plane as it taxis over to the terminal. It is roughly 7:30pm – four hours before we departed Taipei. In Australia, it is tomorrow. I’m aware of having travelled to the other side of the world; I know logically how far I am from home, but all I’ve done is sit around in hallways and watch movies from seats in airplanes. Australia doesn’t feel so far away just yet.

Inside, the terminal is like an oversized living-room in a hunting cottage. It’s brown and slightly daggy, but warm and comfortable, and I half expect to see a roaring fireplace in one of the walls, maybe some deer trophies. At the customs desk I present my Canadian passport and the guy asks me questions. I notice how different his accent is to mine. He writes “17 years” in big red letters under the “Time elapsed since departing Canada” section of my arrival card and I get my bags and finally walk outside.

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