During my far-and-wide travels the past year, I've been (like my ancestors long before me) "a stranger in a strange land", and I've been dwelling amongst all manner of strange and foreign people (many of whom were also far from home). It's no secret that I'm an Aussie; and naturally, "where you from?" is one of the first questions that gets asked and answered, when meeting new people while on the road. But until this trip, I never before realised just how strong and widely-known the stereotypical Aussie image is, or how much of a preconceived view this could implant in people, before they've even spoken two words to me. I've never really considered myself to be anything remotely close to the "quintessential Aussie bloke"; and having now been an ambassador of my country in the big wide world, I feel that I've done a dismal job of representing patriotically. Unfortunately, I've discovered a sad but undeniable truth about introductions: it's not who you are, it's what you are.
In joyful strains then let us sing,
"Advance Australia fair!"
Jan 26th — Happy Australia Day, folks!
We may not know all the words to our national anthem (and some even deny the existence of a second verse). We may have less respect for our politicians than for a skunk in rehab. But there's one grand tradition for which us Aussies do hold national pride: we know how to put on a good BBQ! So, to celebrate this momentous day — when, 220 years ago, an English dude landed on our beloved soil, whacked a Union Jack into the ground, and promptly impaled several tribes' worth of Aborigines upon it — the Aussies of Ko Tao pulled out the grill and sizzled up some sossies. The fine folks at Chopper's (the one-and-only Aussie bar on the island) offered a free BBQ for 2 hours this evening: all you had to do was purchase a beer, and a generous plate-full of meat 'n' salad was on the house. Aus-tra-li-a, F$#% YEAH!!
Camilla's an Aussie girl from a small country town about a ½ hour drive west of Brissie. Her father is from Finland: and you can tell, too, what with her blonde-haired, blue-eyed, hawk-faced complexion. She works in the town as a high-school English and maths teacher, although she now lives in Brisbane proper. Camilla is also a vegetarian — something that's surprisingly hard in Thailand, because despite being Buddhist, the Thais can't get enough of their meat and seafood (particularly pork and shrimp). Camilla was one of my classmates in today's cooking class.
There aren't nearly as many Aussies here at Kabul as there are Brazilians, but there are still quite a few. The two that I got to know the best were Deanna and Jenny, two Brisbane girls with whom I'm sharing my dorm room. Deanna and Jenny both have a biting sense of humour, and they're both here for a short vacation, before they do "that Aussie thing" and head over to England in search of some long-term work. There are also a few other random Aussie guys staying here, and I've seen them down at the bar on most nights. There are some nationalities where no matter where you go, you're never alone — and mine is sure as hell one of them.
These three buddies are good blokes, and they're all staying here at Cat's to celebrate the New Year, madrileño-style. Dan and Matt are both Aussie boys, who are of Italian heritage, and who have been living and working in Italy for the past few months. They also both have Spanish girlfriends, who they've come over here to visit. Kenny's a friend of Dan and Matt, who hasn't got a Spanish girlfriend, and who isn't an Italian Aussie — actually, he's a Brit of Spanish heritage. Complicated little groups they've got themselves into around here, don't you think? Anyway, we all had a blast this evening for el Año Nuevo ("the New Year").
Jake and Mitch are two Aussie brothers, one of whom has been to Kitzbühel before (and who just can't get enough of it), and who seems to know everyone in town. These two are absolute champions: they're utter bogan knobheads, and they're fond of getting wasted well beyond the limits of regular mortals; but they're also ridiculously friendly. They rocked up to Snowbunnys this evening, where they'll be staying for a few weeks, while they try their hand at snowboarding up on the mountain. At least, they might try some snowboarding — assuming that they can make it up the mountain, which is only possible on the rare occasion that their après-ski sessions finish before the sun rises.
Craig and Sarah are a friendly couple from the wonderful Aussie city of Perth. I met them last night at Yoho, where they basically arranged our big Augustiner Bräu visit. Sarah's (almost) a dentist, but she's not too evil (yet). This evening, they were joined by their friend Kade — also a Perth boy, and now living in London and working as a high-school music teacher. The three of them (co-incidentally) are coming to Kitzbühel with me tomorrow, where we'll all be hitting the snow for Christmas.
Here's a good little souvenir for all your confused American friends. Around here, they also prefer a good schnitzel to shrimp on the barbie.
Did you know that the word "Aussie" has 4 different meanings, here in Germany? First, it refers to Austrians — Germans have been calling their southern brethren "Aussies" for yonks. Second, it refers to Australians — naturally, who the hell doesn't know our affectionate national nickname? Third, it refers to East Germans, whom their Western brethren sometimes like to joke about. And finally, it refers to Ozzie! At least, that's according to Ozzie himself (yep, that's his name): the (allegedly) quarter-native Bavarian, 100% black, 110% crazy tourguide who took half of Wombat's on a tour of Munich this morning.
When I visited the Australian Embassy today, I was amazed to see that no less than four other Aussies had also had their passports stolen in Italy during the weekend — two others also on the train, one on a ferry, and another on the street. Ridiculous: theft is absolutely rife and out-of-control in this country! Plus, most of them were exercising at least as much care with their valuables as I do, if not more. There was a middle-aged couple from Wollongong, as well as two women from Melbourne, all of whom had been robbed just like me. We kept each other company in the embassy today, while we waited for our new emergency passports to be issued.