Saturday, November 22, 2008

Obvious Observation

This was originally written on the Saturday before Thanksgiving:

Rain and a bit of hail changed our plans for the day. Mark had a couple of surprises that were postponed, so we spent hours at the Melbourne Museum, another few hours at a local bookstore, and caught a movie at a suburban mall. Unfortunately Australia doesn't come out until Wednesday, so we decided to stick with a Jason Bourne-type-movie and watched Body of Lies.

At the Melbourne Museum focused on the forest, Melbourne Story, and Aboriginal exibits. While watching a silent movie from 1910 at Melbourne Story, Mark and I burst out in sounds of shock met with laughter. We were met with awkward side-looks and turned heads. The movie showed someone getting run over by a horse. We were astonished, and coped by laughing hysterically. Why would they show a person getting run over by a horse?  Every museum should include a blooper.

After exiting the Aboriginal exibit, I was overwhelmed with feelings of guilt. Their story is somewhat like the Native American story in that their land was colonized. My history is a bit average on this topic, but my imagination got the best of me. I pictured an unkown tribal civilization that had weapons 100 times the strength of any other country. They come to and colonize, say, Europe, or the US, or China. We are bombarded w/new disease, enslaved, and/or forced to live in territories. I know the world is more in the postcolonization era, and having tribal civilizations raise their banners on Myrtle Beach is impossible, but putting myself into a different pair of shoes provoked a sense of sympothy of those who quite possibly found a more peacful way of life.

Daniel Quinn, author of Ishmael and After Dachau, offers a different perspective on the way things have progressed in the history of humankind. After Dachau tells a story about a world where WWII ended with the Axis prevailing, and paints an important picture of the aftermath. I recommend his works.  I'll let him know to write a story about my obvious observation from Australia.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Australian Identity

I arrived in Melbourne on the 13th. Having stayed up most of the night before my flight, I was able to sleep through most of the 13 hour flight across the Pacific. Miraculously, I managed to jet awake when the food cart rolled by, scarf down the pitiful food, and wander again into sleep. I was a little wobbly catching my baggage, and managed to somehow find the exit and greet Mark.

We hired a car for the trip, and received a free upgrade after raising a tiff about the absence of an antenna on a micro car. Our Ipod radio transmitter was essential for a successful road trip, and the 4-door, automatic roadster did just the trick. We have raced through Melbourne, trekked through the Australian Alps, and met Sydney rush hour - Jason Bourne style.

It has been wonderful being able to travel about Australia with Mark - he is my personal tour guide. I think of random questions, and he answers them to the best of his ability. I have learned far more on this trip with Mark than I would have if I traveled solo.

One conversation arose about Australian identity. I had been wondering what stories I would tell friends upon my arrival back to the States. I didn't want to just talk about 'roos' and Kuala bears. There is far much more to Australia than animals and a big red rock. Mark said that most people who travel to AU for a couple of weeks leave only with a feeling of having visited the US. It takes far more time to absorb Australian culture. I asked Mark if it were possible to do this - to go deeper than the KFC's and McDonald's and wonderful accents. He advised that we spend more of our time hanging out in coffee shops, pubs, and other public places, meeting and talking with Australians.

So far, I have learned that Australian identity is extremely diverse. Mark was heading a tutorial with undergraduates and the topic was Australian identity. The class wrote their grandparent's country of birth and how many international foods they had eaten in the previous week. Over 30 countries were represented by student's grandparents, and far more international foods were consumed.

We camped one night in the Mt. Buffalo National Park and shared a campfire with six Australians. Much laughter and story-telling was had, and I was able to acquire a better sense of the country's culture. More on that story to come. In the meantime, Mark and I are headed for Melbourne today, with a backpacking trip in Wilson's Promontory and surf lessons on the red-blazen horizon.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Third Place

Ray Oldenburg, in his book The Great Good Place, notes that our subdivision nation has suppressed one of the most necessary public goods: The Third Place. Instead of being cooped up in a house and watching TV, people could walk down to the local pub or coffee house for a daily taste of informal public life. This public sphere has been the grassroots shaper of our nation, hosting productive conversations between people from extremely different backgrounds.

I stumbled upon this book in attempt to find more information about my yearning for another place beside work and home. I often called the church my third place, but finding employment in a church kept my place count at two.

Since moving to Danville, I was subconsciously looking for another place, and interestingly enough, began working at The Hub Coffee Shop and Cafe (which is located directly across from the big yellow building in the picture above). I found my third place.

I left the Hub in August, and after a busy couple of months at work, found the urge to revisit the Hub, this time as a patron rather than employee. I hope to be a regular someday.

After visiting for a few consecutive days, I was delighted by the many interactions I had with different people. Having some conversations that were more in depth than others, I found the Hub to be a place all about connections. Not those connections you maintain through your alma mater to help find a job, nor the ones that could be some sort of use to you in the future; these connections of the informal public life serve to enrich our daily lives and awaken a solidarity among a small town.

(On my walk from the Hub to work one morning, I bumped into an acquaintance whose phone number I had shamefully lost, and who I hadn't spoken to for weeks. Good thing I found my third place.)

In establishing my third place, I think it important to understand the background and importance of coffee shops in America. Over the next several days I will be reading through Oldenburg and making observations at the Hub.