Saturday, February 10, 2007

Oy! Oy! Oy!

It’s my final night in Australia. There’s been much to marvel at in this country, though not much to stare at or take photographs of. I think I find the people to be the most comforting aspect of Melbourne. I take all kinds of delight in a collective attitude of being laid back. They’re laughers here. It’s all about good seafood and finishing up whatever they need to do so they can all head down en masse to the pub to grab a bitter. There’s slang that permeates the language, too, so that, while they do speak English, they have their own way of going about doing so. Some speak that slang so “well”, I look at them blankly, taking cues from the enthusiastic responses of, say, their wives or friends. Additionally, I take great joy in having someone come from Asian or Indian descent, only to have words come out Paul Hogan–flavored. That never fails to amuse me. As a self-proclaimed accent guy, I believe most sound better with the Ozzie flavor.

As I sit here, overlooking a spectacular view of the Yara River (and, yes, even the Crown Casino), I’m dwelling a little on the idea of a utopian society. It’s not that I’m entirely convinced that Melbourne has got it right, not exactly. I will say that this place tends to rub off on you after a bit – I want to stay here for six more months or more, long enough to see a kangaroo and learn more about the sad fate of the Aborigines and explore this landscape completely by foot, both urban and not – but it’s Singapore that I can’t quite shake. We had the opportunity to breeze through there for a couple of days before we landed here, though again, it wasn’t quite long enough. I was, however, pretty intrigued as to how they went about things there.

Case in point: My co-worker (and consistent traveling mate) Brooks lost his wallet while in a taxi cab there, only discovering a few hours later that he had done so. I saw him sweat some bullets as a result. Using the receipt and a fairly knowledgeable concierge, however, not only did we track down the taxi cab who still had the wallet on his back seat, but he returned it to us INTACT for the cost of a cab fare. I’m not sure that kind of honesty exists in very many places in the States (or the rest of the world, even). In fact, almost anywhere else, he’d have expected his wallet to remain lost or stolen. In Singapore, though, it was almost unanimously expected that he’d get it back. If too many complaints get filed against a driver, he’s liable to lose his ability to drive, no questions asked. As such, being on your best behavior is highly encouraged. A bad attitude could permanently affect your chosen livelihood.

This is also a place that, should you be caught stealing, the likelihood of your losing a hand is quite high. Literally. If you’re caught drug trafficking, you will be hanged. You enter the country and it says – right there on the immigration form, in big bold capital letters – DEATH TO DRUG TRAFFICKERS. Someone shared a recent story about how two Nepalese men were caught with drug paraphernalia and promptly arrested, tried and found guilty. Their prime minister even visited the country, attempting to plead their case. He wasn’t successful. Both were hung within the week.

I can’t say for certain that Singapore has got it right. I mean, they’ll fine and possibly jail you for carelessly spitting out your wad of chewing gum. I will say that, the more I learned about the place, the safer I felt during my visit. I walked through a crowded Chinatown without so much as worrying about my wallet in my back pocket. I walked along the street at night and never felt threatened. Not in the least. In fact, it ended up feeling like a cleaner, prettier, nicer version of some undiscovered spot in the United States. We’ll never be able to replicate what they’ve carved out for themselves, I don’t think – and perhaps it’s not even quite a utopian society, should one even exist in this world – but I will say this: they’re definitely on the right track. They’ve got an entire nation of law-abiders on their hands and they’re rightly happy about that, thanks.

In my dreams tonight, I think I might like to live in Singapore, as long as I can take some extended leave of absences in Melbourne. It would exist as my hometown, while Australia would provide the spot where I could let my (newly shorn) hair down. Isn’t that a lovely dream?*

*Those dreams have nothing to do with that nagging desire I have to ride an ostrich in a race, either. I’d like to believe that it might come true, but it likely won’t. It’s not that I don’t have faith it will, either. I’m just one of those silly realists. I’m too big and the bird’s too small. I was just reminded of that sad fact again today and it took the wind out of my sails. That dream remains comfortably – albeit unrealized – inside my head.

1 comment:

Mikusan said...

I too want to ride an ostrich - but with a jousting pole...over a pit of lava.