Monday, September 28, 2009

There was this night that I sat along the tip of the continent with two people I loved dearly. Bright reds, greens, blues, and whites exploded overhead and I heard far more American accents than I had for the past 4 months. We couldn't have planned a celebration abroad any better, and yet we found ourselves missing home.

Almost 3 months later, I miss our alternate home nearly as much.

I think more than anything, I simply miss parts of that way of life. Waking up at 8 am to a quiet apartment, making tea and eating toast, parmesan, kiwi, or whatever struck us at the moment. Trips to Cotton On, buying $9.99 t-shirts and sweaters. Wandering through Central Station, which we grew to know so well. Beautiful Bondi Market. Lingering in the bookshop, scouting for $7 classics. Taking the Opera House for granted. Singing "Forever Reign" and being utterly swept away by God. Seeing Brooke Ligertwood at city campus in a uber long t-shirt and leggings. Sitting around with Dave and Bec, watching Master Chef. Stunt driving with Russia. Those early, early days in Sydney where we spent 75% of our time at the beach.

This era has past, for even if I return, it will be so different. I look back at that life with a controlled longing, and an attitude of gratitude that can overwhelm.

It was the best of times, even during the hardest moments.

Monday, August 10, 2009

I woke up this morning and I had 3 emails that each contained a little slice of heaven. I laughed over comments on pictures and according to Mel, it was like we took happy pills. I wish every one of you woke up on Monday as happy as I did today.

I arrived back in the States roughly 10 days ago, and there are times that I’ve had difficulty adjusting. Those difficulties tend to revolve around the extremely opposite mindsets of Australia and America. I’ve grown to cherish the Aussie mindset, so mind you, being back in this rushing, busy, competitive society has effectively rattled my mind.

But I find that these frustrations and limitations have taken a backseat to the utter pleasure I have found in the people for which I returned to this city. Some of those people left this city during my absence, and others left long before my departure. I haven’t seen everyone that I want to see by any means yet, but I have absolutely been lavished with the brilliance of my friends’ company.

And so, life is good.

Here are a few things I’ve learned or remembered about the States or myself or random things in the past 10 days:

Everything is bigger in the States. Everyone says it, everyone laughs at it, but it’s true. Macca’s small in Australia is the size of a kiddie drink in America and the large is equivalent to the States Medium. There is no such thing as a 32 oz drink in Australia - it might as well be labeled a bucket.
American internet is freaking fast! And unlimited!
We waste a ton of condiments. Only Macca’s gives you free ketchup in Australia, and even then it’s like trying to pry a steak from a Pitt Bull’s mouth to get more than 2.
America has the best shopping, hands down. Cheap, trendy clothing or high quality expensive clothing. Options, options, options! I struggle with hating infinite options in many categories (see: career path), but too many stores is not one of them.
Walmart, Target, and Payless are actually CHEAP.
$2.50 movie theatres exist. And they are the bomb! Even normal movies, at $10, seem cheap.
Zoolander is my favorite Ben Stiller movie.
People respond positively to politeness laden with happiness and laced with genuine interest in what they have to say. Obviously. I love it. This is true in America AND Australia.
Leslie can go an entire day at work without turning left. She is not always an ambi-turner.
Random calls from Hillsong on a phone number I got 24 hours before (meaning that they had to work to get my digits) make my day!
Jet lag from Fiji is horrific. I think I finally adjusted in the last 3 days or so. Maybe part of it is not getting enough sleep in general. Heh.
Nashville is in the central time zone. If you tell your Nashville friends that you are leaving at 9:30am, they assume central time, even if you meant eastern. And none of you think about it until you’re 70 miles south of Chattanooga and they are 200 miles north.
Going through boxes you packed 4 months ago is a bit like Christmas. Old clothes become new!
Shiatsu massage by Sonny is the best. Better than Swedish or Deep Tissue. For reals.
DO NOT drive down the left side of a street. And if you do, in the middle of downtown Orlando on a Friday night, be certain that your best friend is NOT following you. Else you might both get a ticket/die. And remind Mel frequently that Orange Ave is a one way street heading south. Thank God for frantically waving pedestrians who care.
Top Gun rocks.
Gary owns Gigli. Wait, I think he sold it. Point is, he paid for it.
Pizza + Red Wine + Kate’s Porch + Awesome people = best Sunday night back in America yet.
God’s wisdom is something mysterious that goes deep into the interior of his purposes. You won’t find it lying around on the surface. 1Cor2:7
If you’re away from Status for 5 months, you won’t recognize people before the service. It’s because everyone you know knows that nobody shows up early. Right on time, or late. We should change this!
Chickfila is just as good, just as tasty, and just as unhealthy as I remembered. My arch nemesis.
Myers Briggs and superhero talk are bound to resurface at least once on Kate’s porch.
Apparently, I never get to survive a movie on my own. This is crap. “I’m not jealous.”
The Lodge has an 80s night. And nobody but us dances. Apparently, I am a fake-80s fan.
The Greek Corner is delish. Now, they just need hummus.
Vintage sales by Kate + Dana + Jamie + etc. I don’t even need to add an adjective to this sentence; it stands alone.
I’m on the search for a quality cappy in the States. So far, no good. Starbucks and Seattle’s best taste a bit burnt. Who knows of a good mom & pop coffee shop?

Mel’s dad told me, the day that we flew back into Orlando, that these blogs are kind of like Seinfeld - writing about things that are utterly pointless to everyone not involved. The sad thing is that his tone indicated that it was no where as entertaining as Seinfeld.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

136 days

Our life for the past five months.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Almost Home

Tuesday, 28/7/09, 10pm: our Air Pacific flight departs from Nadi, Fiji. Sadly, it is not empty, like the 747 we flew to Fiji back in March. We are rather cramped in row 47. Happily, there is a very cute guy sitting across the aisle. Think Jake Gyllenhall meets Adam Levine from Maroon 5. Mel tells me later, as we’re in customs at LAX, that he might be a celebrity, but she’s not sure. But back on the plane, she is ‘extraverted sensing’ and she gleans all sorts of information 3rd handedly. He’s from Seattle, he’s eating candy (we nickname him Chunky, Pudge’s soulmate), he’s reading a thin book, he’s very friendly (he instigates conversation with both the elderly couple to his right and the girl between him and Mel), and he’s a vegetarian. And I wish he was in 47C.

We finally have dinner (a chicken sandwich) around midnight Fiji time, and we pop sleeping pills. I cover my eyes with the sleeping mask Air Pac kindly provided me with, and don’t wake up until they serve breakfast roughly 6 hours later. I watch an episode of Flight of the Conchords, Season I, and we get ready to meet America.

I told Nathan a while back that I thought I’d have culture shock when we landed in America, after 4+ months abroad.

And culture shock we had.

We prance off the plane just in front of Chunky (gentleman that he appears to be, he insists we exit first), and are immediately greeted by the chaos that is labeled LAX. It’s 1pm PST, but our brains are thinking it’s something more like 8am. The loudspeaker is positively screaming our flight/baggage information and the noise pollution is overwhelming. Nobody greets us with a “Bula” or a “G’day” or even a smile. We get on the walking sidewalk, momentarily forgetting to stay right, instead of our now learned left tendency. We hear the American accent everywhere. We keep talking in the Aussie accent, because we miss it so, so, so much.

We stand in line for passport control, and I’m fantastically pleased with the speedy and efficient passport service. What took 30 minutes in Fiji takes 10-15 in LA. People in line chat a bit, but for the most part are quiet and keeping to themselves. We make it through customs successfully, losing Chunky as his single, but stuffed, backpack arrives far before our massive 4 tanks/suitcases arrive.

We re-check our bags, and head to United to check in. We hike about half a mile around to another terminal. Along the way, we wander through a cloud of cigarette smoke, and I’m caught off guard. I had forgotten about this American/Euro custom. Surely, some Aussies smoke, but I haven’t walked into cigarette smoke once the entire 4 months I’ve been there, because it’s not as prevalent. I believe the reason for its rarity is the extremely graphic advertising the National Government shows everywhere. I step off the lift and notice a man talking to himself, and I’m reminded of America’s need to constantly be on the phone, to be hands-free, etc. I also haven’t seen a single bluetooth since I’ve been in Australia. I’m sure they are there, but I’ve not witnessed even one. Only in America do we look like we’re talking to ourselves. I stifle a giggle and wander on.
I think of our friend Christian’s perspective of America, based on TV, people, the world: “It’s dangerous and Americans are fat.” During our time in Australia, I rarely found myself being extremely aware, because its not necessary there. Crime rates are fairly low, at least in the areas we spent time in. However, these stereotypes of America from the Aussies have rubbed off on me, because I find myself being ultra aware of my surroundings, people, and my passport/money.

Mel and I find ourselves lunching at a restaurant in the International Terminal after we’ve checked in for our domestic flight, which is a mere 7 hours away (ugh.) We are thrilled to drink unsweetened tea (brewed tea is fantastic!) as we leisurely feast on spaghetti and a caesar salad. As we’re figuring out the bill separations, we almost walk out without tipping - oops. We are so used to the tip being included as part of the bill that we trip over our old habit.

I also notice that I keep trying to figure out the exchange rate, another old habit, even though I’m using American money now. Mel hands me a $20 and two quarters, and the quarters feel like play money, compared to the heavy Australian and Fijian coins. I see a Bank of America ATM, and it seems oddly out of place.

Things are measured in inches again, distances denoted by miles. The date format is different, and I find myself still using the Euro/Aussie format. The domestic terminal houses flights to cities I haven’t thought of in months. Mel’s old American cell phone works, while our Aussie phones are rendered useless at least for a while. Hulu now works again (I celebrate with a tweet of happiness) since our connection is from an American server. We watch some SNL, the Alice in Wonderland trailer, and a few other brilliant bits online.

Along the shuttle ride back to our terminal, Mel and I quietly notice and chat about the difference in people. It seems that LA is almost the polar opposite of Australia in so many ways, but primarily the mindset. In this city, people are reserved with each other, mostly avoiding eye contact, keeping their iPods on, and ultimately being focused on the internal rather than what is happening around them. This is far different from Australia and Fiji, where everyone along your path throws a quick witty comment or a smile followed by a big hello.

Just as we notice this, a man who works for the airport boards the back of the bus as if he’s inspecting or surveying the driver as he works. He greets us, “Hello girls!” and offers us gum. We chat with him a bit, and then Mel nudges me as a new passenger arrives with Swiss luggage that matches mine. I engage him in conversation with this bit of shared experience, and we end up talking for about 15 minutes until he reaches his terminal. He’s going to Melbourne in December, we are happy to hear. These two people have made us realize that WE need to be the change that we want to see in America. We can’t react to people and how people are, but rather we must engage with people if we want to have those conversations.

After making it back to our terminal and through security for the second time, we head to our gate. Mel takes a quick nap as I ramble on and listen to a few friends online. I soon need to charge my computer, so I shake Mel awake and I tell her where I’m going as I give her the rest of her bags.

I walk away from her, only to turn around as I near a power outlet because my cord still has the Aussie adapter on it. As I near her, she opens her eyes and says, “I knew you were coming for the power adapter. I’ve been hearing Prabaker’s (one of the Indians from Shantaram, which I’ve given her to read) voice in my head saying random phrases in an Indian accent, and all of the sudden, he said, ‘Your friend, she very very much needs your power cord.‘ and then you walked up.”

I swear to you, this has been happening to us very frequently the past few days. I have a theory that we are both so used to being around each other, that we’re now able to read each other’s phermones and sometimes know what the other person is thinking before she says it. It’s creepy, and kind of cool.

I think about our next flight, and I’m struck by the oddity of it. We left Fiji at 10pm on Tuesday night. We arrived into LA at 1pm on Tuesday afternoon, ‘time-traveling’ 9 hours backwards. Our flight to Orlando leaves at exactly the same time we left Fiji - 10pm on Tuesday night. It’s kind of cool. We lost our St. Patty’s day back in March, when we flew from LA to Fiji, so we’re having a very, very long and complicatedly-timed Tuesday. I’ve never been so disoriented about what time it is, particularly since my computer clock is still on Fijian time. Hopefully when we go 3 hours further into the future, it will be less confusing.

Finally, we are only about 6 hours away from home. I told Mel that part of coming back wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. I’m very happy to be home. But I still believe that part of my heart is back in Sydney, and one day, I’m gonna get it back for good.

And thus ends yet another era of my life. It’s odd, how my mind divides my life into different sections: college, New York, Florida with Brad, Florida after Brad, traveling in Australia w/ MJW, living in Australia with Mel, and now, back to Orlando.

The future is so blurry and I don’t know what it looks like. I am welcoming back Orlando with open arms, hoping to find and/or stay within contentment while I am led to be in this city. It’s a challenge, leaving a country and a people you’ve grown to love without truly knowing if you’ll make it back. It matters not how much I plan, for plans often turn out far different than originally arranged.

Welcome Home.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Things I learnt whilst in Fiji

Bula means hello. All Fijians will greet you with this word, and it’s a two-way greeting. It sounds like BU-Lahhhh.

Matamanoa is a couples-only island. If you are part of a same-sex friendship, visiting this island is certain to cause gossip amongst the staff.

Kava is a traditional drink to the Fiji islands. It makes your tongue numb, even upon drinking one coconut-half-cup full. It tastes a bit like muddy water. It’s technically a painkiller, as well as anesthetic.

Green coconuts are simply ‘immature’ coconuts. Brown ones are more mature. Coconut milk is actually clear. It can substitute for water if you are without it, in the Fijian bush, apparently. The interior of a green coconut is sweet and a bit slimy, though not in a gross way. The interior of a brown coconut is what is included in candy, cakes, pies, etc in American, though it’s far more sweet in our desserts. The brown coconut is a workout for the jaws.

Ben is a commonly adopted English name for men on Fijian islands. We met at least 5 on the small Matamanoa Island.

Losing your Einstein Bobblehead doll from your suitcase on the boat taking you to your remote island is likely to result in hilarity. See Mel’s blog.

Apparently, Sundays result in more fish being on the reef. Or so says Ben #2 of Matamanoa Island, aka Bobblehead, due to his involvement in the previous statement.

If a Fijian asks you if someone is pissed, it means drunk, not angry.

Jellyfish still bite, even in Fiji.

Matamanoa is apparently the island that all Italian couples come to when booking holidays in Fiji. “Italy versus the world!”`

Denarau is beautiful, when it comes to the resorts and the rooms. But you must, absolutely MUST, go to an island to experience Fiji.

Staying on Matamanoa is a bit like Adult Camp. There is an activities board. Everyone knows your name (not only the people working at the camp, but also the other guests). There is no privacy, at least when it comes to your name, where you’re from, etc. There are set times for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The #2 choir in all of Fiji is composed of the staff of Matamanoa. And they have beautiful voices. I love the “goodbye” song, but I hate the “goodbye”. Oh, life.

Kayaking in the ocean is entirely different than Kayaking in a lake.

The Milky Way is best seen from the dark, dark side of the island. We’ve seen stars in Bermagui, the Outback, and here, and I’m tempted to denote this island as the best. Shooting stars are rather frequent from this location, since the surroundings are so dark that you cannot be biased by unnatural light.

If 3 Fijians pull ashore to your island in utter darkness, they are likely picking up one or more of the staff from their long workday. They already know the path by heart, so light is apparently unnecessary.

If you are staying on Matamanoa Island, mail only goes out once a week, and by helicopter.

The helipad is a dock, right on the ocean. We thought it was a lost Dharma station.

If the boat you are taking back to the mainland is running late due to choppy water, you will make up lost time by bounding across the waves, frequently going airborne.

Life in Fiji can often feel like a musical, particularly at dinner time when the men serenade you with songs.

Shantaram is fantastic.

The infinity pool is infinitely cold.

When the parasailing instructors say they will ‘dip’ you in the water, they mean they will dunk you, at least to the waist, in the ocean. Beautiful.

New Zealanders find America to be ‘vibrant’. We think it’s a nice way of saying busy and loud. Ha!

Fijians and Aussies know flashlights as torches.

Bon fires on the beach, protected by the rocks from the raging ocean, in Fiji are unparalleled.

No tipping is allowed at resorts in Fiji. Instead, you can contribute to their Staff Christmas Fund. We figure their Christmas parties are massive, because they are so nice that you want to throw money at them.

The massive size of our luggage is irrelevant here because the porters insist on retrieving your luggage anywhere you stay.

Melissa has eaten so much seafood she might turn into a Squid. I told her I’d still be her friend, but I wouldn’t hang out with her as much. She said she wouldn’t eat ME if I turned into chocolate (well, maybe a nibblie or two...), but I don’t know if I believe it.

The forecast of “rain” means there may or may not be a few white clouds in the sky. It might also mean that a small rain cloud will drop a few sprinkles on you before blowing completely over the tiny island you are staying on.

Fiji hospitality is unmatched, at least in the places I have been. I wish everyone was able to seemingly appreciate their work as much as they do.

It’s creepy to hear scary stories about Fijian spiritual beliefs when you are surrounded by crashing waves, a dying bonfire, and what appear to be stone altars.

Finding Our Island

"Do you think we should call someone to bring our luggage down? It's almost 11," I ask Jeanne. It's our second day in Fiji and we are leaving the Radisson at the main hotel for one of the smaller islands to the west. One thing I love about Fiji: all the men eagerly carry your bags and absolutely refuse tips. Apparently you can contribute if you feel strongly enough, but all contributions go directly into the staff Christmas fund.

Like the efficiency-disciple that I am under Jeanne's keen tutelage, I have helped her formulate a plan for the day: Check out is at 11, and we've scheduled pedicures at noon before our boat departs at 3:15 to take us to one of the Manamuca islands. We forego breakfast and decide to just eat lunch somewhere between 11 and noon.

"Sure, do you mind calling the concierge? Concieeeerge." Jeanne has this endearing habit of saying things either in French or with a French accent every now and then.

"Nope." I phone the front desk. "Do you mind sending someone to help with our bags? Thanks."

Two minutes later, we hear a tentative knocking and a "Bula!" outside of our door. That was fast.

I open the door and a large, smiling Fijian man greets me with "Bula! Do you need help with your bags?"

He confidently piles all of our bags together on the trolley, and cheerfully strolls us down into the elevator. He gestures us to go in before him into the elevator. I thought he would follow us in with the trolley and our suitcases, but then the elevator door begins to slide shut. "Wait! Wait!" Jeanne and I fumble around with the elevator doors, as there is no clear arrow or "Open Door" button. The doors slides back home and he is looking at us with a puzzled look on his face.

"Do you want to come in with us?" Jeanne asks him.

He hesitates. "Are you sure? Is there room?"

"Yes, yes, plenty of room!" His face brightens.

We ride down the elevator together, and he begins to lead us to the lobby in a cheerful, casual stroll. He introduces himself as Livai. He tells us that we need to go to Samoa, where his wife is from. He stops in the middle of the hallway. He says that in Samoa, there is this a crazy place where you spit down into this long dark hole and, then your spit explodes when it hits the bottom.

"Wow, that sounds crazy."

"Yes. Crazy thing," agrees Livai. "Which island are you going to?"

"Matamanoa."

"Ahh, Matamanoa. You must try the coconut there. Best coconut in the world."

He takes our baggage to storage and our laptop bags to reception. "It's safer there," Livai assures us. "I will give you my address later, that way you can come visit me."

We say goodbye to Livai, and he tells us he will see us in a little bit, when we return to pick up our luggage. Next objective: lunch.

We take the long, winding path around the pools and restaurants by the beach. "I like how they call the rooms here 'garden views.' In the States, I'm pretty sure it's a euphemism for a standard room," I say to Jeanne. "You might as well call them 'landscape views."

Jeanne laughs. "Yeah, it's to make the people without a "beach-view" or a "pool view" feel better." This is probably true, but I'm starting to think I prefer to think of it as simply drawing attention to what's actually around us, rather than lamenting what's not there.

We approach the buffet. It's closed. We check the pizza place. Closed. We picked a grand time to eat lunch. Finally, one of the waiters directs us to the one menu in the whole resort that actually serves food between 11 a.m. and noon.

We sit down to lunch, a club sandwich with fries, then decide to kill some time by sitting by the water and read more of our books, Shantaram and The Idiot.

"If you could travel anywhere in the world next, where would you go?" I ask Jeanne. Terrible. We have just spent four months in Australia, are currently in Fiji and are still planning our next getaway. We joked earlier about how we are not going to be able to get a job anywhere, not when we have huge three or four-month chunks of time each year that we spend traveling.

"Honestly, Australia is still at the top of my list!"

With a pang, I know what she means. "Mine, too."

"Good thing we're going next year," she smiles. "But no, seriously, Egypt is still at the top of my list. What about you?"

"Maybe parts of Europe? There's still so much I haven't seen," I say, thinking of Italy and Greece. "I definitely want to see Greece. And New Zealand. But I'm not sure."

We discuss the Caribbean. How despite living in Florida, neither of us has actually been there, and how it's so close that because we COULD go there anytime we want. South America. Costa Rica. Brazil. I see a South American/Central American trip in our future. I wish I could take Jeanne to Africa, particularly Tanzania. Jeanne remarks how Australia feels like a second home, and she wishes she could simply pick up all of our friends and move them to Sydney.

After some more plotting, it's almost noon. Pedicure time.

We arrive at Harmony Retreat, a shaded oasis in the middle of the resort. After checking in, we are soon ushered into an thatched hut, where two smiling ladies greet us with tubs of hot, soapy water for our feet. "Bula!"

By now, we are used to this greeting and we say "Bula!" in return.

This is exactly what you think getting a pedicure in Fiji would be like: you're in a hut, surrounded by flowers and foliage, and calm, soothing music that sounds like a movie soundtrack but with panflutes is playing from the background.

Jeanne chooses a bright, classy reddish pink color. I opt for something different than my usual light pink or purple. "I want the color of Fijian waters in my feet," I tell Jeanne, picking a bluish green.

One pedicure and a few chapters of Shantaram/The Idiot later, we find ourselves at Port Denarau, the main departure point on the main island to the outer lying islands.

We check in with the boarding crew and soon board our ship. We climb all the way to the top deck. Nobody is up here.

"Look, we're following Yella." I see where Jeanne is pointing as our ship pulls away from the dock. Our ship follows closely behind another large yellow ship. When Jeanne says "Yellow" it sounds like "Yella." I comment how it's lucky for us, in case Yella hits a rock and sinks, we can avoid danger and sail around them.

"You're ridiculous," Jeanne tells me. She tells me that a lot.

Soon we are out in open ocean, streaming away from Port Denarau and toward the first island, Matamanoa.

We are no longer following the yellow boat. Our path diverges when Port Denarau is far behind us.

"Goodbye, Yella!" Jeanne yells at the boat.

It's only an hour or so ride, so Jeanne pulls out Shantaram once more. I want to listen to my iPod. I think about turning on Hillsong, but since we've been binging on Hillsong music, I decide to give them a rest, and instead opt for shuffling my playlist.

First, Josh Pyke serenades me with his "New Year's Song":

And there are many ones that one can divide a life and I've got mine
I was flying home and I saw the sunset from the sky
I saw the dark come spinning down upon the land
And I thought about the distance we all cover and it made me sad

And as the old year took a bow and joined the setting sun
It comes around like a refrain
And we all sing along and think of things we should have done
til one year when the new year never came

Little comfort, little comfort I'm afraid you're not enough
I've had some learning, but unwelcome and unkind
And it's seems there's but one story told then reworked all throughout time...

Phil Wickham comes on. I've never paid much attention to this song before, but out here, in the remote middle of the Pacific Ocean, on a ship, sailing to a remote island, the song suddenly makes a bit more sense: Your love is deeper than any ocean/Higher than the heavens reach/Beyond the stars in the sky/Jesus Your love has no bounds.

Then, Ben Folds with his lilting piano and soft, insistent lyrics: I must give the impression that I have the answers to everything/You were so disappointed to see me unravel so easily/But it's only changed only everything I know/Even if the things that seem still are still changing... La da la da la da da da da da la da la da

Jeanne must have thought that I was sleeping, because I move slightly and she immediately asks me if I am awake. She promptly asks me for some of the sour rainbow licorice I have tucked away in my purse. We think about busting out some Tim Tams. Jeanne has a good point though: "It kind of seems like a waste to have a Tim Tam without the Slam."

It's okay though, because our ship is pulling offshore from the first island. It's a small stretch of white sandy beach lined with palm trees. There is one wooden building surrounded by large white umbrellas. It looks like a resort. "Is that our island?" I ask Jeanne. "This is OUR island," I growl at Jeanne, like Mr. Friendly from LOST.

"It must be."

I realize the first obvious thing: they're no dock, no pier. I see a tiny boat motoring toward us from the island. Oh. So THAT's how we're getting to the island.

We step into the tiny boat, where they've already loaded our ginormous luggage. Jeanne at first sits next to our luggage and I am sitting across from her. Then she realizes it might be better to evenly distribute the weight so as not to tip the boat. She sits next to me. Prays that our boat doesn't tip over, an account of our epic-sized baggage. Our luggages are so large, we've nicknamed them. Jeanne's is "The Tank" since I'm pretty sure it's a retired military vehicle. And mine is "the Pumpkin," on account of its large, orange qualities. I often wish it would transform into a carriage so we wouldn't have to pay to take all of this public transportation.

"Good-bye! Good-bye," our boathand shouts cheerfully as we pull away from our cruise ship in our tiny boat. He is holding a small plastic Einstein bobblehead. The ones that come in the McDonalds Happy Meals. And Einstein is waving good-bye to the cruise ship passengers. Huh, I think. I've got one of those too. How cute.

"Good-bye!" Tiny Einstein shouts.

The boathand is waving Einstein around, as if it's the Fiji flag and it's Independence Day. He mumbles something about Einstein having fallen from one of the suitcases.

"Oh, it's Einy!" Jeanne laughs.

A shot of recognition through me. "No, it's Albi!."

While we were visiting Bondi Beach, Jeanne's mom bought each of us tiny Einstein bobbleheads from McDonald's (Macca's, as the Aussies say), since we both were tickled at how darn cute these little guys were in the Night at the Museum 2 movie. Jeanne named hers Einy, and I named mine Albi.

Of all the things to fall out of my suitcase.

I sheepishly laugh, stuff Albi back into The Pumpkin.

As we pull onshore, we are instructed to take our shoes off. No problem.

We jump off of the boat and are greeted by a smiling Fiji lady with a guitar strapped to her back. "Bula!" she smiles.

"Bula!"

She gracefully lays a seashell necklace on each of our necks and says, "Follow me." We notice a handful of other tourists sitting on the pool deck, watching both us and our boat interestedly, as if this is the most exciting thing that's happened to them all day. She tells us to enjoy our welcome drinks--tall glasses of pink and white sweet frostiness, topped with fresh pineapple--and that she will brief us as soon as we are checked in.

Soon, we are surrounded by a half dozen Fijians that are singing a welcome song, something lovely about how happy they are that we are here, and that hopefully this is an island where all our wishes come true. I hope they've pre-ordered a Joel and a Sawyer, for Jeanne's and my sake.

After we settle into our little bungalow villa, we realize the sun is almost setting so we stroll around the beach, seeing if we can walk around the perimeter of the island before the sun sets in 10 minutes. It's that small.

"You know the best thing about this island?" Jeanne asks me, grinning. "No shoes."

We make our way onto the beach, stepping over pieces of coral and rocks. We sit on a rock, and look out toward the sun.

Somehow, we got on the topic of honeymoons. "My poor husband. The more traveling I do, the more picky I'll be," laughs Jeanne. "I don't know where my husband is going to take me that I haven't already been."

"Yeah, I mean, Fiji might have been one of those places I would've liked to go on my honeymoon. But now I've already been here. Scratch that off the list."

"Now Tahiti sounds exotic."

"Or Samoa."

"You know you're spoiled when Fiji no longer sounds exotic," we laugh.

Although it's true what my mom said," interjects Jeanne. "When you're on your honeymoon, the most important thing is that you're with your husband. The place doesn't matter so much."

As if on cue, a couple walks down the stone steps leading down toward the beach, greets us and asked us if we just arrived to the island today. This island is so small, the other resort guests know when you're new. Ethan Rom from Lost wouldn't have lasted a day.

We watch the sunset over Fiji. I try to dwell on how surreal this moment is, trying to stare at the water and the sun.

Maybe I shouldn't have stared too hard at the sun, because now I feel like I can't see.

"The sun burned my eyes out," Jeanne says.

We walk back and promptly get lost trying to find our bungalow. Guess the island isn't THAT small. I feel like we should send Sayid up the mountain with his transceiver to triangulate our position so we can go back to our room to change into jeans (with the sun gone, the air feels much cooler) before we head to dinner.

After a grand total of a minute of being lost, we find our room and get dressed and stop at the bar first, ordering half a carafe of white wine. The bartender smiles and pours us each half a glass of white wine. We stare, puzzled at the glasses. "I thought we ordered half a carafe of wine." Jeanne looks at me and shrugs and we take our glasses to to the deck to enjoy the view of the darkened water and sand before us.

After a few moments of silence, Jeanne remarks. "Where's Walter when you need him? We need him to talk about how we would, I don't know, escape this island if we needed to."

"Well, how would you escape the island?" We attempt to hold a candle to Walter's imaginative and random musings, but fail slightly. Or at least long enough for each of us to drink a glass of wine, the sand in our Fijian hourglass.

"I wish we had more wine."

"I thought a half carafe came with more than just two glasses."

"Well, we can always order more wine."

We trudge back to the bar, sad that we got scammed on our half carafe of wine. We are stopped by one of the waitresses who asks us if we are having dinner yet. It's 7 o'clock.

"I think we are going to order some more wine first." We head to the bar, trying to figure out what the next drink will be.

We see the bartender and she smiles at us. "Laaaadies," her voice rings out in a singsongy voice as she holds our gleaming carafe half-full of white wine. It's enough for a glass and a half each.

White wine, it is.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

MJ, Meet Fiji. Fiji, get ready for MJ.

Wake up: 8am. Shower, repack, put the Tim Tams (yes, all 5 boxes) into a paper bag to smuggle into Fiji. Check, double-check, and triple-check the apartment before we leave, before we officially lock ourselves out.

Stop and get gas for the rental. Drive to the pump on the wrong side of the car. Drive to the wrong pump on the right side of the car. Pull up, aligning the correct pump with the correct side and the gas tank. "3rd time's a charm!", Mel laughs at me.

Turn in the rental car. Check in all 4 bags, carry on 5 more. You'd think, after mailing 4 boxes to the States, that we'd have less luggage. The lady who checks us in chides us for not printing out our e-ticket itineraries, saying she cannot let us check in until we do. "I have it on my laptop, will that work?" "Yes, I suppose so." We both thank God, once again, that we brought our brilliant Macs along.

We go talk to Elizabeth, the nice Air Pacific lady, who promises to seat us together. "You wanna meet two nice boys? I just sat two boys together in row 64. I asked them, 'why do you want to sit together? You should be sitting with two pretty girls!' You two check them out and re-arrange seats." We laugh and certainly agree to do so.

Go through border control/customs. Next, security. So many steps to get out of Sydney!

Of course, Mel gets "randomly searched". Right. She tries to hide from me, but hears my loud laugh as I see her behind the glass partition. She always gets 'randomly searched.' It's only happened to me once. It's because I'm white. They've forgotten the Irish are just as dangerous.

We head down to the gate, gate 32. We're early, despite the 3 checkpoints we had to maneuver. We sit down for a minute and watch "What Happens on Tour" from the "I Heart Revolution" Hillsong DVD that Mel bought at our last church service. We laugh and laugh at the goofiness of Jad, JD, Joel, Phil and the other people on the United We Stand tour. I tell Mel that if we were famous, people would definitely think we are as funny as these guys - basically, they are just video blogging like we always do, being silly. I find them entertaining. We laugh and make comments for a good 15 minutes. As we leave to walk around, Mel whispers, "That guy over there has been laughing at us for the past 15 minutes." "He probably knows these guys, and is thinking we're ridiculous." "Maybe they will be on our flight." "Maybe they'll be in row 64. I already know what line I'll use. Excuse me, but you're in my seat, Jad. Yours is right here (as I hand him my own boarding pass.)"

Mel rolls her eyes at me - a common occurrence.

But alas, as we board the plane a bit later, no Hillsong boys. The boys in 64 are a bit young for us, I think. We settle in and sit on the plane for another hour. "We've had to load an extra 1000 litres of fuel, because there are thunderstorms in Fiji. We're all set to jet, but we've just got to recalculate the balance of the plane."

Mel falls asleep, and "In the Skin of a Lion" falls out of her hand, jerking her awake. I, reading Shantaram, laugh at the sequence of events I see out of the corner of my eye. "Fall asleep?" "Yeah. The book woke me up, just like Salvatore Dali's keys." "Did you have any dreams?" "Um, I think so? I thought we'd have been in the air by now."

Sooner or later, we take off. I have found myself lately more engrossed with watching people and thinking about them instead of reading or being in my own mind. The guy next to me, across the aisle, is an Indian man. I later peer across the aisle to see his customs form, and find out he's actually a resident of Australia. He's got a hat on with the American flag and an eagle, and it says USA on the back. I catch him looking at me every now and then, but I never talk to him. I wish I had.

There are also two kids in the row behind him, who have apparently never been on a flight. There are a TON of kids on this flight! Anyway, as we take off, the little girl is chanting "I'm scared, I'm scared!" as her mom replies "Hold my finger." Both the little boy and the little girl have massive grips on their mom and dad's fingers. "How cute", I say to Mel.

We eat dinner, have bourbon and cokes, and then they come around with tea. I look at Mel. "Tim Tam Slams". She holds my entire tray of food, balancing her own tray and both of our tea cups as well, as I scoot out of my seat and retrieve the half-finished tray of Caramel Tim Tams from the luggage compartment above. We celebrate our imminent arrival in Fiji with 3 Tim Tam Slams each, and we marvel over the fact that they are far better with tea than hot chocolate.

As we land, it seems as if every Fijian who works at the airport lines the outdoor walkway to the inside. "I feel like a celebrity", I say to Mel. She nods her agreement. We hit our first queue of the Fijian Airport: the passport control queue. It takes forever. Luckily, 'the tank' and 'the pumpkin' and all of our other checked bags arrive quickly thereafter. We hit our second queue: the customs declaration line. We successfully make it through, and a man sends us to our taxi, to bring us to the Radisson at Denerau on the main island of Fiji.

The lady in the customs line had told me to make sure that the taxi driver charges us per the meter, instead of a flat rate. The taxi driver refuses, saying that the hotel is outside of the meter zone. Our bags are already neatly packed in the back, so what can we do? I mumble a few comments under my breath (I so hate feeling like I'm being taken advantage of), and then simmer down once I realize he's charging us only $25 in Fijian dollars - a mere $12.50 USD. It reminds me of part of the book I'm reading (Shantaram) where he says that he pays $6 a day for the hotel when he knows he can get it for $4, because it helps the deskman to feed his family. If he only paid $4, the hotel owner would be the only one who made money, and the deskman barely survives on his salary. I'm a spoiled American.

We are heading towards our hotel, down a dark road. I look out the window, entranced by the beautiful stars. It's very, very dark, and I can see them well. It reminds me of being along the southern coast of Australia (between Sydney and Melbourne) in Bermagui and also of being in the Outback. I love it. Suddenly, we make a sharp right turn down a deserted dirt road. My cautious side is a bit suspicious, and I think of a book I read by Jeffery Deaver about a serial killer/taxi driver who removed all the locks on his door before killing his airport victims in Hell's Kitchen. I instinctively look to check the locks, but I can't see anything. I shake off this ridiculous notion and feel easier when I see a sign on the side of the road with the word "Denerau" written on it.

We pass a car only about every two minutes, and we keep passing Denerau signs. We are in the middle of nowhere, on a remote island in the middle of the Pacific. We pass farms of banana trees on both sides. There is a small wooden structure that looks like a bus stop. Suddenly, we pass a black man in a bright white shirt, standing at the end of this driveway, looking for someone or something. I think to myself, "Good thing he's wearing white, or nobody would see him.", and we pass another car.

We get to the gates of Denerau - I had no idea it was a gated resort area - and we pass through easily because we're in a taxi. Mel and I laugh out loud as we drive past 3 native Fijian men who yell through the cracked windows, "BULA! ULA-ULA-ULA!" which means welcome (and maybe goodbye, also). The taxi driver laughs, too.

We pass the Westin, The Sofitel, and other random hotels. Mel says later she was thinking, "I hope the Radisson is as nice as these." We pull into our hotel, which seems pretty rad from the driveway. The lobby is all open-air (just like Hawaii) and they greet us warmly as we check in. The man who insisted on pulling our luggage out of the car and up the stairs rejoins us with a smile to accompany us to our room. "Is this the first Fijian face you've seen?" He asks. I have to ask him to repeat it at least twice because his voice is soft, his accent lilting, and he's a bit far from me. "Yes, I think it is." But Mel corrects me and tells him that our flight attendants were Fijian. He smiles. "On holiday? Done with school? Finished working?", he fires questions at us. "Kind of", I say. Mel replies, "We've been on holiday in Australia for quite a while now. We're taking a last holiday before we head back to the States." "You'll love Fiji!" He exclaims.

He leaves our luggage on the second floor as he escorts us up the stairs to our hotel room. He pulls out the key, opens the door with a flourish and insists we hurry in. "If anything is not perfect, if anything is missing, please tell me." He says, as he rushes back down the stairs to bring up our luggage. "Oh my gosh. LOOK at the SIZE of that bed!" I say to Mel. "Look at the bathroom!" "The Chaise! "The balcony!" "The TV!" We go back and forth for a while. You'd think we've never seen a nice hotel before. We stayed at the Novatel in Cairns with my mom when she came to Australia, and we thought we hit the lottery back then. But we had no idea.

Our concierge smiles at us as we beam towards him, "This place is lovely!" "Thank you. Now, come on, I want to show you the restaurants. You must be sure to see the entertainment - it is starting now. It's only on Tuesday and Friday, and you will not be here on Friday." He takes us to one of the five pools and says, "Follow the footpath." We almost walk right into the show itself, then backtrack to the far side to avoid disturbing such beauty. We order a Margharita pizza and go to watch men twirl fire. They are all between the ages of 18 and 24, I'd guess, and they are fantastic. We stand there a while, forgetting entirely about our pizza. Eventually we wind back to pick it up and head back to our glorious balcony to eat it. Somewhere near the fourth pool, I look at Mel and joke, "Australia-who?" She laughs, in reference to a joke I made about America the first time we were in Cairns.

We eventually locate the ice machine for our Cokes - it simply must be here for Americans - and gorge ourselves on lovely $10 pizza.

After we finish, we head back into our room and I say "How the heck do you turn this fan off? It sounds like it's about to lift off our room!" Mel and I play with all of the buttons, but no luck. I keep trying to forget it, but it's driving me crazy.

I ring the front desk and ask the receptionist this question.

"Do you see the switch to the left of your bed? What room number are you in?" He asks, as if he's going to come personally show me. "Oh, never mind, I see what button you mean!" I laugh loudly into the receiver and he chuckles back. I can sense this is not the first time he's gotten this question from a tourist.

"If you want to turn of the light, just give us a call back. Haha! Good night ma'am."

Monday, July 20, 2009

finding the window

Jeanne and I went out to our sundrenched terrace to bask in Sydney sunshine and to drown our sorrows in a bottle of freshly brewed sweet tea. The knowledge that we are leaving Sydney in less than 24 hours brought about some kind of emotional cloud.

"I don't want to talk about this anymore. This is depressing me." We sit in silence for a few more minutes. Jeanne gets up to grab the rest of our sweet tea, our drug of choice for the afternoon.

"I want to write down goals for when I am back in Orlando," says Jeanne.

"What kind of goals?" I have in my head attainable goals such as: 1) eat a Chick-Fila sandwich and 2) go see a $2.50 movie at the Colonial Promenade.

"All kinds of goals. Running. I was thinking of running. I have to run a 5K in a month!"

"Ha. I haven't RUN a 5K in a month."

Goals. I think of one. "I want to be more Australian."

This, I remember, is something that I want to be a part of my life. Being in Australia has changed my perspective on life. Being a part of the Hillsong community has transformed my attitude toward my friends and community back home. But I can't let myself off the hook. I remember how only a few weeks ago, I was lamenting the terrible weather, the lack of deep friendships in Sydney, and the lack of employment opportunities.

"Two weeks ago, I was feeling miserable about Sydney. Today, I have all these warm and fuzzy feelings about Sydney because we've just had the most beautiful weekend we've ever had in this city. My feelings toward this city are clearly fickle. But the reality is, that there are so many reasons why we need to be back in Orlando."

"It wouldn't make sense for me to stay through March. Yes, we would have been here for a year, but it would have been with such a temporary mindset. I mean I guess I could have found work in a restaurant or a cafe, but it contributes nothing to what I want my purpose to be or how my attitude has shifted . It would have been enough to make money to travel and to come back home. But leaving now, I can immediately get a job that has something more directly to do with what my purpose is.

"The window in which we are leaving is perfect. If we had left when Walter left, we would have missed all of what's happened in the past two months with Hillsong and appreciating Sydney."

"We would have appreciated Sydney, but not enough to draw us back in the future," Jeanne says, processing with me.

"Right. And if we had stayed even until Mim had come, it would have been a bad situation. We would have been wanting to come home, we would be running out of money, and not happy once she got here. The window of leaving, the timing of us leaving now is perfect."

"It was long enough for us to appreciate it, but short enough for us not to become complacent," Jeanne says, like a wise, Hindu guru.

"That was very profound, Jeanne."

We smile.

And just like that, the cloud lifts.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Things I learnt my last week in Sydney...

- Having a car would have changed my entire interaction with this city. We rented one for our last 4 days and didn't stay home at all this weekend. Even if the weather is rough, a car makes it easier to tolerate.

- Bondi Beach, particularly the Sunday Market, is a great place for fashionable men. "Goodbye, Bondi, You've been sexy."

- Saying the previous quote out loud results in Sydney, your ex-lover, strutting half-dressed men with surfboards past your window. No lie.

- A God Encounter, as defined by Brian Houston, is a collision with the Unexpected. Yes, indeed.

- If you shun Sydney, in an attempt to return to your roots, it will lavish you with a final glorious weekend of beautiful sunshine, warm temperatures, fantastic worship/messages, and natural beauty - both surroundings and mankind. "I feel like Sydney is trying to seduce me."

- If I were a character from The Idiot, I would be Aglaya. A stubborn and haughty young woman who loves both carefully and carelessly at the same time. She deeply loves the beautifully good Myshkin, but fails to conquer her own insecurities.

- The Northern Head of the Sydney Harbour, in Manly Beach, is a great date/make out spot. I do not know this from experience :) The Southern Head, in Watson's Bay, is more beautiful. And, according to Mel, possibly the final shot in Mission Impossible 2.

- My left hand is far less 'simple' than I made it out to be. Ellie calls her dominant hand her 'clever' hand, so I labeled my left hand my 'simpleton' hand. He's rebelled by straining my left thumb. I now realize how much I need my left hand.

- Aussies are my favorite, culturally. They understand how to live life to the fullest, they are very relaxed and un-stressed about life as a whole, they understand what it is to be unselfish in community (at least those I know), they embrace markets to the fullest, and they have the most fantastic beach culture I've witnessed.

- The Sartorialist continues to be my favorite blog/photographer. His photos inspire me to move to another foreign country, preferably Italy or Brazil. Maybe France... maybe.

- Hugh Jackman (sometimes accidentally referred to as Hugh Jackson when my mind is on another) was, apparently, just a phase. I hate it when Walter is right.

- Bruce, the vegetarian shark from Finding Nemo, sounds suspiciously like Brian Houston from Hillsong. I've never noticed the Shark say "Good on ya, Mate!" until now, when I know what it means!

- Valkyrie came very close to succeeding. I wonder what the world would be like if it did?

- Getting to the IMAX 45 minutes before Harry Potter does not make a difference. Next time, show up at midnight.

- Fiji has a ton of islands. Trying to find a rad place to stay in Fiji is difficult.

- Hillsong has previously considered 3 cities for its American Campus: Miami, LA, and Orlando. I'm voting for Orlando. And then, I'd like to figure out how to steal Brooke Fraser, Joel Houston and Jad Smiley-Guy.

- Romans 11 in the Message reveals a whole different side to the word envy. "Now, they're wondering what they walked out on!"

- Depression and Loneliness are a plague in our world.

- Mel is better at blow-drying my bangs than I am.

- Paddy's Market - the cheap souvenir place - is almost identical to Tokyo. Or what I think Tokyo would be like, given that they have the population of America on a tiny island.

- Tim Tam Slams are far better with tea instead of hot chocolate. And the dark chocolate Tim Tams are the best. Tim Tam Slam Seduction is what they should call them.

- It costs $20 to get to the Hills Hillsong Campus from the city. And it was worth every dollar tonight.

- Master Chef is Australia's new craze. It sucks you in, even if you only watch the final 40 minutes of the season finale.

- Tear Down the Walls does not have a DVD recording. I looked everywhere.

- MJ is pretty sure that Hillsong hired stylists at some point between their older DVDs and their newer ones. "Joel, put the flannel down. Back away from the flannel."

- If you ever unintentionally lose a bet, so that now you have to buy your best friend dinner, arrange said dinner in Fiji, where the food is imported and clearly not all its cracked up to be.

- When something MJ has been talking about comes up in the church message of the week (or day), don't be surprised. Just laugh and appreciate the Confirmation.

- Blockbuster at Rockdale Plaza has more stolen DVDs than anyone. Don't start watching a series unless you check with the cashier to make sure all DVDs are accounted for. And then do a double check yourself.

- The concept of living presently (and thankfully) is a pivotal lesson to understand. I get depressed when I think that every moment that I have cherished - in which I have had a wonderful conversation with someone, in which I have laughed until I cried, in which I have wondered if my reality was real life - is now in the past and unaccessible to my physical self. I suppose this is why I have thousands of photos.

- The version of "Your Name High" on A_CROSS// The_EARTH is a lot more fun. They either yell "What!" or "Hiya!" in the chorus. And we got lucky enough to hear it tonight! "What!"

- Sydney does not have any radio stations that are static-y enough to please the iTrip. Finicky thing.

- Sometimes a question is not a question, but a statement to get you to listen. To hear with your spirit, maybe.

- MJ is going to annoy everyone with the way we say a word, and then repeat that word in an Aussie accent. "Shark." "SHAHK!" "Arden." "AHDEN!"

- All the Aussies I've been attracted to wear horrible 80's sunglasses. I suppose I can get past that, though.

- India is a fascinating place, as portrayed by Shantaram.

- There is no way to live a city you love without having your heart break. Even if you've already booked a ticket to come back in a year.

If you have made it this far, I applaud you! This stuff is very funny and interesting to me, but it's my life :)

Friday, July 17, 2009

time, the arrow.

Jeanne once wrote: "If time is an arrow, we dance along a razor-thin line of uncertainty."

Mellow conversation over medium-rare filet mignon and Shiraz Cabernet. It's a frigid night in Sydney. We spent an afternoon wandering along the cliffs and beaches of Clovelley, Coogee and Maroubra, the eastern beaches of Sydney. By the shoreline, we found a narrow pathway between a tidal pool and a concrete wall, and Jeanne urges me to run alongside with her before another onslaught of waves comes to drench us. "Come on, it won't get us here!" she shouts at me cheerfully, as if the ocean is a writhing, seething monster that we can cleverly outthink and escape from.

Standing upon cliffs overlooking the ocean often makes me feel awestruck and peaceful, but now with the wind whipping around my heels, I feel unstable and unsteady. I do not trust the edge, and feel as though the wind would topple me over the edge without a thought.

And time is the same. Often, I marvel and wonder at its passing, but tonight I am wary to look out over the edge.

And now we are sitting at our dining room table, feeling melancholy and reflective.

"I was thinking about this lately. But. It seems that life is just a series of moments that disappear as soon as they're experienced. We waste so much time looking to the past or looking toward the future. We so rarely actually live in the present." Jeanne looks at me. "I want to enjoy being in Sydney NOW."

I look around and try to remember this moment. The table we sit at, the chill in the air from the screen door that was previously slid open. The last embers of warmth from the gas grill on the porch have dispersed, swallowed up by the wintry air. The mood of contemplation that seems to settle around us like a blanket while we recover from the biting cold. The inevitably of moments slipping away, the present becoming the past, the moment its existence is acknowledged and understood.

The other night, Jeanne said something about Walter being here feeling like three lifetimes ago.

I know what she means.

Here, in Australia, the phases and times keep shifting. First, Walter was here, then he wasn't. With us, the three of us were driving from city to city, checking into the next hostel, splitting meals, seeing the next sight--and then he was gone, and we found ourselves back in the same city where we had started. We lived under cold and rain near Maroubra Beach. I learned how to light a gas stove, and a baby would wake us every morning with her tiny cries and tiny hugs, and we could always count on Russia for a visit. The scenery changed again, and we live in a bright, sundrenched room and plan meals and drink wine. We don our boots and coats, and we sit on trains and wander through familiar streets.. The Russian doesn't come around as much, giving way to a friendly Egyptian and Italian.

Four months ago, this church was merely an event. Now, it is a living, breathing mass of a memory of warmth and friendly introductions, shared meals and conversation, time spent and help freely given, pounding drums and piercing electric guitars elevate the room, while truth is sung and declared by a crowd of worshippers. Yes, the lights are brightly colored, but the words resonate and lift my soul, for they ring true when I see kindness and sacrifice manifested in people's actions and hearts. I see the shift occurring, a shift that now seems to pivotal and clear.

But even this feeling and its vibrancy shall pass.

A few days from now, we'll be in Fiji and Australia will have seemed like a dream. And a week from then, we'll be back in Orlando. And once the dust settles from our triumphant return, we'll settle back into a routine and the thrill of being back home will pass and there will just be nothing to tether me to the past.

And who knows what will unfold upon our return.

"With so much uncertainty, life becomes that much more frightening, and that much more interesting."

"What do you mean exactly?"

"I just mean that every time we've been in this place of uncertainty, not knowing where we were going to live, even up to a month ago, not knowing we'd be back in Orlando so soon, there's always been this unknown. It's scary, but it makes life that much more interesting or exciting."

I look around the room, I look at Jeanne. I will myself to memorize how fragile this moment is. I hold it within the palm of my hand, tuck it away for later.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Mini Purple Sharpies

In the invisible, swirling spirits and realities surround my deeply oblivious body. But here on the streets of Sydney, all that is visible lies in front of me, clamouring for the attention of my senses. I stride away from Paddy’s Market in my red double breasted jacket, my peacock-eyed scarf, my tall black boots, and my ever-necessary black sunnies. Oh sunnies of mine, you keep the world from staring into my soul. Most days I applaud you for this highly dangerous task, but every so often, I want to rip you off of my face and stare into the eyes of Medusa herself. I’m not afraid of her reported powers.

Alas, today is a day of hiding, and I’m clapping on the inside. Loudly, vibrantly.

As Central station looms on my visible horizon, I begin to notice people around me. This part of town - Chinatown - actually feels more similar to Japan, specifically Tokyo. Or at least what I expect Tokyo to be. The crowd is pulsating, humming, pushing, pulling in all directions. It’s chaos, disorder to the highest degree. There is no emergence, no pattern to the comings and goings of those caught up in the tangle, the web of humanity. The multitudes continue to throb, surging towards their daily supplies. I do my best to shake off the American who lives at my core, who thrives in large personal space and quiet. Oh, she’s screeching rebelliously against such close quarters.

But soon enough, I walk away from Chinatown, leaving its bustle to its own citizens, and I enter the semi-quiet, easygoing, Australian Central Station. Mel is a few steps ahead of me, soon falling a few steps behind, doing her own tango with the Aussies and foreigners who traipse amongst the trains that are quickly arriving and departing. I lose sight of her quite a few times, mostly due to my distraction with the people around me. I see a lady pull 3 coins from her pocket, totaling $4, and I imagine that she’s traveling back to Bondi Junction, maybe to buy that pair of heeled boots that she’s been admiring for quite some time. It’s gonna take more than $4, or at least that’s what I read as I intently stare into her face. I stroll past two backpackers who are standing at the entry stalls of the intercity trains, debating which track their train is departing from. The pony-tailed guy is pointing at the roughly sketched train-maps sprawled above the stalls, and both are ignorant of how they are annoying other passengers trying to inch by.

I carefully step onto the down escalator, ever nervous about missing the step and rolling down 50+ escalator-stairs. As I walk through Central station, I imagine myself in that movie scene (there are so many) where the protagonist in the bright red coat is stopped in the midst of a busy place, people flowing around her. It is one of those elapsed-time scenes that are intended to imply how busy life is, how rarely we stop to think, and how alone we can feel. Sometimes, I think they also use these scenes to show how someone is waiting for something that never comes.

And so all of those story-morals probably apply to me today as I slowly stroll through Central, listening to my iBuds with my ears and listening to the people with my eyes. I see a guy my age hiding behind his sunnies, and I swear he’s staring at me. I’m glad he’s got them on, because I don’t want to know his soul right now. I have pieces of souls floating within my own soul, and I already feel quite overwhelmed by those (oh yes, in a good way.) Maybe another time, another place, Mr. Sunnies.

I sit on the ledge of the escalator - 8 minutes until the Sutherland train, going to Rockdale, arrives. In the meantime, I change my song and lose myself in thoughts. 7 minutes later - an early train! - I climb aboard the train and sit across from Mel. I pull my reporter’s memo pad from my purse (which is now far too heavy with today’s purchases) and begin to write in purple ink. I love this Sharpie, this mini-purple Sharpie. Some days I wish I was a purple or maroon mini-Sharpie. I wouldn’t feel less superior to the bigger sharpies - I could go where no Sharpie has gone before as a mini! The click-Sharpies, though, are an entirely different story. But I suppose we all need something to keep our pride in check, hey?

I’ve had thoughts in my head that I wanted to transcribe to paper the entire walk to the train, but what instead comes out of nowhere is Russian Literature. I ask myself this question: Of the three Russian novels that I’ve read (Anna Karenina, The Idiot, and Crime and Punishment), to whom do I relate to the most? Who would I be, if I were cast as one of those characters based on my own character? I find myself furiously writing about who I am not, and when I surface for air, I am staring absentmindedly out the train window at the concrete, trees, people, and air passing me by.

I’m suddenly thinking of how I feel like I’m in one of those foreign films... the protagonist is staring out the window, considering her writing - its vulnerability, its imperfections. I even hear a voice-over (in French or Italian, of course) in my head echoing my thoughts. I smile at my silliness and wish my life were a movie, or at least a reality show.

I head back to my question and my notepad. I’ve often thought that the Russians are rather extreme in their characters who are burdened by self-loathing, who are bent on self-destruction. What I realized in writing down how I relate to the Russian characters is that the only reason I am not lost in these ideas is Christ.

I love Jesus.

And upon realizing this, I cut those characters a bit more slack. I lament, in writing, momentarily how I am not as gracious, naive, caring, or honest as Prince Myshkin (aka the Idiot). And then, I realize I am a combination of Kostya (Anna Karenina) and Aglaya (The Idiot).

And I’m happy by this revelation, although I want to be more like other characters. It also makes me excited to read Brothers Karamazov when I finish Shantaram, to see if I relate to any of those characters.

God, please make me more like Myshkin. I want to see the good in people. I suppose the correct thing to say would be please make me more like Christ.

And so, I disembark the train, happily alone amongst 50 or so people.

Oh introvert, how I’ve missed you so. And dearest Sydney, I have convinced my heart that I will leave you with no regret - I will not regret our sudden departure. I hope deeply, incessantly, that our paths will cross again, that my children will know you on an intimate level. You are so beautiful, most notably in your citizens. But in the next 4 days, I will love you like you’ve never been loved before.

I am a passionate and sincere lover, dear Sydney. Be prepared to be left longing for me. Oh, be prepared.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

oh, how her affections have turned.

Thursday night, while walking home from Hillsong Conference, Jeanne and I are slowly lagging behind Christian and Giovanni. Our Egyptian and Italian our fully engrossed in a conversation several meters in front of us. They are probably talking about finance or uni assignments.

Jeanne pulls out her "bag tag," a makeshift label that includes her name and phone number. At Conference, all the volunteers could leave their jackets and purses or bags in a room. Our personal belongings were labeled with our names and phone numbers.

"How funny would that be if you just handed these out to some random person walking down the street? It's like a pre-made way to just give someone your phone number," I laugh.

"No way, man. I gotta hand this out to somebody who is WORTHY," Jeanne smiles. "Like Joel Houston."

"You should just hand that out to the next hot guy you see."

"I think I will."

"We should play this game for the remaining time we have in Australia. Keep this ready in case you see Joel."

"Or Hugh Jackson."

I stop dead in my tracks. "Hugh WHO?"

"Jackman. Hugh Jackman," Jeanne tries to recover, but the damage is done. It's finally happened.

"Hugh JACKSON? You have name of another man on your lips! Joel's made you forget Hugh Jackman!" I am stunned.

This is only the beginning of the waning of Jeanne's affections for Hugh Jackman.

At Hillsong Church, for all of its amazing atmosphere of faith and worship and community, there is a slight celebrity culture that's been inadvertently fostered, due to the popularity of worship leaders like Joel Houston and Brooke Fraser. I would like to preface this by saying there are far more attractive looking guys here in Sydney, Australia than in Orlando in general. And many of them happen to be in church.

And yes, some of them are leading worship.

While we were walking home from the grocery store today, I told Jeanne that I liked Smiley Guy that Leads Worship better than Joel. Or at least I thought he was cuter. I think his name is Jad. I'm not sure. But anyway, I thought he was cute from that video blog they put up during the Hillsong United tour.

Don't get me wrong. Joel's a good-looking dude. And occasionally even looks hot. He also just occasionally looks like a caveman. Or a lumberjack.

"Didn't you say you would never date someone who wears flannel?" I ask Jeanne, referring to Joel's occasional lumberjack look. "I distinctly remember you saying once you would never date a guy that wears flannel."

"I would if it were Joel Houston."

"I can't believe it. You would make an exception to the flannel rule. For Joel."

"He's worth it." Jeanne's got that mischievous half-smile/half-smirk she gets when she gets some kind of delicious idea in her head. Unbelievable.

"I think Joel seems like a cool guy. And I love the lyrics he writes and his heart and personality that comes through onstage. But I wouldn't date him, necessarily," I say.

Jeanne looks at me like I'm crazy. And, then: "Girl, you are crazy."

I revise, slightly backtracking, "Well I'm not saying I would turn Joel DOWN. I just like Smiley Guy better."

"You'd BETTER not turn Joel down. I would kick your ass if you turned him down. I mean, I'd probably kick your ass if you didn't turn him down. But I'm MORE likely to kick your ass if you DID turn him town. It ain't gonna get better than Joel Houston. That's perfection!" Jeanne declares.

Later that night, we are in our kitchen, making chicken parmesan. Once again, we have severely over-estimated the amount of meat necessary to feed a small number of people. We have "chicken for days," as Jeanne likes to say. Or enough to feed a small army. (Not Costa Rica's army though, since they apparently do not have an army, according to Walter).

"Jeanne. Look at all this chicken. We have enough to feed ourselves, our future husbands. And our future kids." I stand, gaping at the array of chicken parmesan before us.

"Hmm, let me see. There's Joel's chicken. And my chicken. And our children's chicken."

"What about Hugh Jackman's chicken?" I have to keep reminding Jeanne of her former passion. It's an uphill climb. "So in one parallel universe, you are married to Hugh Jackman. And that's his chicken. In the other parallel universe, you are married to Joel Houston. And that's his parmesan chicken."

"And in another parallel universe, polygamy is allowed. And I have Hugh Jackman AND Joel Houston."

I used to think we needed Walter to carry on with these kinds of conversations.

Tonight, I am not so sure.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Top Eight Reasons

I've realized that some of my quirks and behavior and instincts have been shaped by this dear friend I have been spending most of my days and weeks with here in Australia. Here I present to you: The Top 8 Reasons I Know I Have Been Hanging Out Way Too Much With Jeanne Cannon.

Reasons I Know I Have Been Hanging out with Jeanne Way Too Much:

1) I now pronounce "insurance" as "IN-surance." Not "inSUrance."

2) I have developed a mild, occasional Southern accent.

3) I regularly snack on chunks of Parmesan cheese. I did not know this was even possible before hanging out with Jeanne.

4) I can now support justification for spending $396 dollars on shoes. And not just any shoes. Manolo Blahniks. (See, I told you).

5) I can now mind control Jeanne to bring me water whenever I'm thirsty without saying a word. I think our thirst glands can mysteriously communicate somehow.

6) When Jeanne tells me about a dream she had the other night, I immediately ask, "Oh, what were we doing?", automatically assuming I was with her in a dream. And it is usually a correct assumption.

7) We can have an entire conversation and not say anything and know exactly what the other one means. Like Rusty and Danny from Ocean's Eleven, i.e. "What do you think about..." "But if we..." "That might be too..." "Yeah, you're right."

8) My instinctual response to everything now is to wonder what Hugh Jackman would do if he were here.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The things we do for church.

This morning, Jeanne and I resolved to go to the Hills campus for church, rather than the City campus of Hillsong Church, which is actually much closer to where we currently live. The Hills campus is a beautiful, 3,000-seat capacity building, but it's tucked away in the Western suburbs, a 40 minute drive from our humble suburb in Sydney.

We scouted out how much of a trek this would be using solely public transportation. We were chagrined to realize it would take a total of 2 and a half hours, if you count the moment we step outside of our front door and make the 10-minute hike it takes to get to the train station from our house.

According to the website, this is what we would have to do to make it to the church by 11 a.m.:

Sunday 11am Service
Getting to church from City via Parramatta Station

Train departs from Central station – 9:21am or 9:36am (intercity platforms 4-15)
Train arrives at Parramatta station – 9:52am or 10:07am
Hillsong bus departs from Parramatta station – 10:15am [outside of Max Brenner CafĂ© West side of train station]
Hillsong bus arrives at church – 10:45am

So in this order: walk, train, Hillsong bus, arrive at church.

Unfortunately, we arrived at Central Station to realize the trains for the particular line we needed were completely shut down for the weekend due to trackwork. So we actually had to catch a train to another station, catch a replacement bus in order to catch the original bus to take us to church.

Even with the unexpected detours, we miraculously made it in time, with about 11 minutes to spare.

The service was led by Darlene Zschech and Israel Houghton, and Jentzen Franklin spoke. Suffice it to say, the morning was completely worth the trip out there.

But I certainly am looking forward to having a car once again:)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

How we start our Sunday mornings

Mel and I were talking this morning, actually about very serious Spiritual stuff, when I said "Jesus loves MJ!" I wanted to make this my status, but I realized that my status always starts with "Jeanne", and so I said Jesus needs status updates!

Mel went on to create (mentally) a Jesus twitter account, with the following tweets:
User Name: Jesus Christ
Location: Everywhere

- Jesus Christ just got scolded for hanging out at the temple. Don't they know this is my Father's House?

- Jesus Christ just walked on water! Woohoo! Twit pic: www.twitpic.com/3djf4

- Jesus Christ just turned water into wine. Sorry if you didn't get the Facebook wedding invite. LOL!

- Jesus Christ: Party at Simon's Sunday pm, open invite! All are welcome!

- Jesus Christ just threw out more demons. Props to God!

- Jesus Christ just hung out with Moses and Elijah. Peter freaked. Dudes were happy to see me again.

After 3 days of no tweet activity, suddenly, his "followers" see:

- Jesus Christ just rose from the dead! What a sonny day!

- Jesus Christ is ascending to heaven right now. BRB!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Water-Prismatic-Illusion

Monday morning. Less than 24 hours until my mom sets foot on Australian soil, and I am heading out for a run.

I pull on my black track pants, white Hanes t-shirt, navy blue hoodie (which is getting smaller and smaller due to the wash) and my nikes. My nikes used to be neon green and white, but since our combined 19 Kilometer hikes in the Outback, they are now tinted slightly orange. I bid Mel goodbye, as she gets ready to catch the CBD train to the city and head outside.

A quick glance at the clay pavers outside shows that it's been raining this morning and it's fairly cloudy now. I throw up a quick prayer that it won't rain while I'm out, and hit the pavement.

All eyes on me in the center of the ring just like a circus.

Britney's silly lyrics ring in my ears as I set my pace to one of my favorite tunes by her. She's not bad to run to, I think. I run down Garnet towards Bay Street, which then heads to the beach. I suppose it would be more accurate to describe Brighton-le-Sands as a bay.

Why does love always feel like a battlefield, a battlefield/You better go an get your armour.

I mentally thank Drew for sending me this recommendation, as it's another great song to run to. I don't love Jordin Sparks, but it's pretty decent. I run past the bus stop and there are about 10 people gathered, waiting to hitch a ride into the city. Yesterday was technically the first day of winter in Australia, and thankfully, the days are getting longer now! These people are dressed appropriately for Sydney's winter: layers, layers and more layers. A run under an umbrella that an elderly lady is holding in my way, as the sidewalk is far too narrow to run around her. She smiles at me and I smile back.

Right as I near the 'downtown' of Brighton-le-Sands, where the cafes, boutiques, and coffee shops start, it starts sprinkling. I dodge in and out of the raindrops beneath the covered sidewalk and the streets, and I start calculating my route in my head. I'm not sure how far I want to run in the rain. Sprinkles aren't bad, but Sydney is quite schizo in it's weather, so one can never be sure whether sprinkles will turn into a downpour. I'm already quite hot in my hoodie, so I decide to run until it gets unbearable. I'm only at the first mile of three, anyway. It's a mile back home, so I might as well run a bit farther.

I wait at the longest light ever, where Bay Street meets General Holmes Drive. This is one street I haven't figured out how to jay walk yet, since the lights and arrows go at all kinds of crazy times. I rest from my run as the sprinkles continue. Finally, the light changes and I run to the boardwalk, which runs parallel to the bay.

Just dance, gonna be okay...

As I run away from the city, Lady Gaga is ringing in my ears. As appropriate, this song always makes me want to dance. The rain is very slight now, and the sun is coming out. I run along the morning traffic and I notice half of a rainbow over the sand just in front of me. Suddenly, I am chasing this rainbow. I want to run beneath it! I then notice that it is a complete rainbow, passing from the sand, over the road, and beyond to an area I cannot see. I run and I run and I run, but it's always just out of reach. I thank God for Him, for the rainbow, for His love. The rainbow puts me in an even better mood than I'm already in, which is hard to conceive.

At my 1.5 mile marker, I surrender to my humanity and give up on running beneath the rainbow. I am still curious about what that water-prismatic-illusion looks like from directly beneath, but I could be pursuing this rainbow for many kilometers.

If I could bottle up the sea breeze/I would take it over to your house/And pour it loose through your garden.

I desperately wish it was the summer.

I turn back, running down the asphalt path for bikers and runners, seeing nobody along the way. It is rather enjoyable to run alone this morning, though part of me does miss Mel. There is something about being solo which makes you appreciate your surroundings much more. There are no waves to crash upon the shore, so the sounds are purely man-made this morning. I finally pass three guys who are heading into work, running between them as they obstruct the running path entirely. I smile at them, happy with life.

"I want to get away/I want to fly away/Yeah, yeah."

I run down the ramp to the beach, gearing up for the hardest part of the run. I laugh aloud at the song playing, as a plane is taking off from the airport just across the bay. I love irony, I love coincidence like this. I run after the plane, challenged by its speed. My mind envisions an explosion of the plane, the horror of seeing it, being thrown back onto the sand by the sight, the sound and the reality of it. It's even more repulsive since my mom is currently flying towards me in Australia. I am grateful that this morbid vision is only in my head, but I wonder why I imagine such odd things.

The city looms in front of me, about 20 kilometers away, hazy in the early morning rainshine. I am careful to avoid the green John Deere tractor that is combing the beach, and I head to the part just by the water. I hurdle over the net, which I assume is either for jellyfish or sharks, thrust forward by my magnificent and powerful legs.

I realize about halfway down the beach that the non-combed area is packed down due to the rain, so I run up the beach a few meters to the softer sand. What is the point of running on the beach if you aren't using your core to stabilize? The tractor has gone back to it's post now, as the driver has completed his rounds. I give it a final effort and then find myself standing on the far edge of the boardwalk. I rest for a minute, watching the beach workers storing the tractor and preparing for the rest of the cleanup.

I don't wanna be a maybe, Baby let me drive you crazy, I wanna be your dandelion

The sun is coming out more fully and I stand watching the runway at Kingsford Smith Airport. I am entranced by the landing and the take-offs of the many planes. There is a Qantas 747 on the runway, and I keep hoping to see it take off. The smaller jets commence take off far sooner than the large ones, and I want to see the 747 make it just to the end of the runway before pulling up its wheels and turning on its thrusters. Exhilaration.

But alas, it's not meant to be. It's apparently, even after 5 minutes, still 2nd in line for take off, pushed even farther back by the incoming planes. And so, I wave adieu to the 747, wishing its travelers a safe journey.

I run back through Brighton-le-Sands, which is less busy now that rush hour is a bit farther behind us. I weave in and out of the elderly people who wander through downtown, purchasing a bit of fruit, a newspaper, or coffee. I look longingly at the only convenience store to house A&W root beer in Sydney, but keep running because my money is at home.

Yesterday I had a dream I could fly through the sky/Then I woke up in a sweat, not dead yet but on the ground/I'm up in Johnson City Tennessee/Looking for the wind in me/Lord fly me over Pontchartrain/Back to the land of sugar cane and summer rain.

As I wait at yet another light (how these lights slow down my run!), listening to my favorite song from my favorite movie (Love Song for Bobby Long), I watch two kids in a double-decker stroller across the busy road. Their grandfather (I assume) is decked out in a yellow Nike shirt and black track pants, looking as impatient as I at these slow, slow crossing signals. The boy in front is actually the only one I can see, but I think there's a little girl in the back. He looks to be 2 or 3, decked out in a red gap shirt, blue jeans, with an army green truck on his lap. I think that his parents must have been to the States, as there is certainly no Gap store in Australia. I watch as he babbles on to his inattentive grandfather about the truck that is speeding by in front of him. The green man FINALLY flashes across from me, and I start my run back up again, passing them on the way over. I momentarily wonder how grandpa plans to get the kids in their non-boat stroller over the river of water that I just hurdled, but I don't look back to find out.

Someone tell me how I feel/Its silly wrong but vivid right/Oh, kiss me like a the final meal/Yeah, kiss me like we die tonight.

I am THRILLED that my current favorite song by Elbow has randomly popped up in my shuffle at the end of my run. I pass Garnet street, and turn left down Aboukir, extremely happy to notice that there are simply no more clouds in the sky to rain down upon us in Sydney. A blue sky on the second official day of winter: I can't complain. This has been a great run.

As Elbow notes, farther along in the song, "Oh, anyway, it's looking like a beautiful day."

Indeed.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Chip Food and Staff

While Jeanne and I were on the bus, heading to the vintage market at Bondi Beach (lots of cool jewelry, clothes and used books), I received a text from our Russian friend Alexey, inviting us to meet him in Chinatown after church at 3 o'clock. The text read: "Lots of markets. Chip food and staff:)"

"Chip food and staff? What does that mean?" I asked Jeanne, laughing.

"He's saying 'cheap food and stuff' I think."

"Or maybe he's saying chip food, like chips, and staff. Maybe he's going to Chinatown and eating french fries with some of the staff from Hillsong."

"Or maybe he's eating cheap food WITH the staff."

We go back and forth, chuckling over Alexey's lovely Russian-accented text. We remember that he's not so much a fan of facebook or chatting on Skype because he's not nearly as good with writing English as he is speaking.

We text him back, and tell him we'd meet him in Chinatown after we were finished at the market. A few bracelets, one journal, and two used books later, Jeanne and I were finished with the market and on a train, heading for downtown Sydney to meet up with Alexey.

As we exit the train station through a long corridor that dumps us out on George Street, we see Alexey, smiling and waiting for us up ahead. One thing I am surprised to find that I like about Russian/European culture is how friends greet one another: an embrace and a kiss on the cheek.

Alexey greets us and immediately begins leading us throughout the city, first stopping by Paddy's Market, a bustling, confusing maze of stalls and kiosks of everything from boomerangs to baseball caps. "I need to find some pants here," he says. "In the first year I live here, I come here once a week." We turned a corner, and descended a flight of stairs to the fruit and vegetable market in Chinatown. Hundreds of people milled around, while dozens of Chinese grocers yell prices at each other, and piles and piles of colorful fresh fruit and vegetables are stacked everywhere, at dirt cheap prices.

As we're trying navigate our way through the chaotic hubbub, Alexey turns around, a lone, happy statue in the midst of a loud, pulsating, crushing mob with a grin on his face and exudes, "I love this place. It is like Moscow!"

He ricochets from stall to stall, full of fruits and vegetables that I do not recognize. "So many weird things here. I do not know what this is," he says.

"What is that?" Jeanne asks, pointing to a bright green, bulging fruit that looks like a bullfrog that swallowed a burrito from Chipotle.

"This," says Alexey, grabbing the bullfrog fruit. "This? No clue." He tosses it back into the box.

We wander through Paddy's Market some more (Alexey is still searching for some pants), then wander upstairs to Haymarket Plaza, which is more of a mall. Dressed in his light pink button-down shirt, gray slacks and black jacket, Alexey clearly takes his clothing very seriously. He gushes over a shirt as he's purchasing it, saying it is "Good quality. Best price. And all made in Australia." He points out his favorite stores to get clothes and where he gets suits.

He takes us through the food court, where Jeanne and I split a fountain Coke (these are somewhat rare in Australia) and I get a spring roll. Jeanne suddenly gasps, "This would be a good time to settle this." She turns to Alexey, "Alexey, is Russia in Europe or Asia?"

"Europe."

Jeanne smiles in triumph, settling a long-standing debate we've had over this very question: whether the land mass of Russia is considered Europe or Asia, and whether or not Filipinos are considered Asian.

I make a face at her. She replies, laughing, "I already conceded that you're Asian. What more do you want from me?"

Back out on the street walking toward Chinatown, Alexey calls out encouragement to a young skateboarder trying to jump down a short flight of stairs. "Good! Go!"

He turns to us and continues: "The Asians and black people are going to take over the world. The whole world will be dark. No more white people."

"What about the Irish? The Irish will still be around," Jeanne insists.

Quoting the film In Bruges, I reply, "But we have the Vietnamese!"

As if to prove his point, Alexey asks, "Have you ever seen a blue-eyed Chinese person?"

"Yes," says Jeanne, not wanting to admit an Irish defeat. "They're genetically altered."

"Or have blue contact lenses," I added.

After passing through Chinatown where Alexey points out his favorite pseudo-Russian restaurant, we wander over to Darling Harbour, a beautifully-lit section of Sydney that sits directly on the wharf. Alexey treat us to ice cream, and it tastes delicious despite the freezing cold.

Alexey is an endless reel of information and interest. He talks to us about salsa dancing, incredulous that neither of us have either been salsa dancing. "You should know salsa. You are from a Spanish country!" Alexey believes the U.S. is a Spanish country.

He asks us if we've heard about Korean sauna, saying it's better (meaning hotter) than American saunas, but not nearly as good as Russian saunas. "Russian saunas," he said, "will melt your face off. You must start at a lower level, like, an American sauna."

"It is the BEST, when you have a guy, like beat you on the back with the branches of this plant, and then they turn up the steam really, really hot, and you feel like you're gonna die. That is the best. I love it."

"Alexey, that sounds like torture. Some countries do that when they are torturing and interrogating suspects."

"Well, I stick needles in people for a job. What do you expect?" Alexey is a massage therapist and also performs acupuncture. "You know, acupuncture used to be torture. The Chinese used it for torture. They put needle in skin, so the person doesn't pass out. Doesn't lose consciousness when they are being tortured. Then they discover, "Oh, if I put needle here, it is good for health." He shrugs. "It's all about your health."

Jeanne and I have contemplated trying out acupuncture some time. Seeing our faces, he assures us, "Don't worry, I will stick needles in you girls. No problem."

Later that night, after church at Hillsong (during the sermon, Alexey turns to me and whispers "When woman speaker, boys fall asleep."), he invited us home for dinner. As we are walking to his car, Jeanne asks, "How tall are you, Alexey? Two meters?"

"Yeah, yeah. Meters." He shakes his head at us in our ignorance.

"Maybe they measure in decimeters."

"Or centimeters."

"Or millimeters. Jeanne is 168,000 millimeters tall."

"CENTIMETERS, girls. Centimeters," Alexey looks at us in exasperation. "Come on."

As we walk through his front door, we wave hi to Petrovich the bird, and Alexey gives us each a pair of Russian slippers to wear around his apartment. The meal is absolutely delicious. It's a chicken and tomato stew that's been slow-cooking for about 16 hours, with slices of cob bread, pieces of chocolate with almonds, a glass of port.

He explains, "I have to cook the chicken before it dies."

To Alexey, vegetables or meat spoiling means it "dies." I laugh though, trying to picture Alexey chasing a live chicken around his apartment, trying to catch it and cook it.

Jeanne and I sit there, over steaming bowls of delicious chicken stew (perfect for a cold, rainy night) and agree that this is the best meal we've had in a really long time.

I sigh and mumble to Jeanne, "This is comfort food. This is like something my mom would make."

Alexey couldn't hear me, and says, "Sorry?"

"This is comfort food."

He shrugs, not comprehending, and waits for me to explain.

"This is comfort food. That means..." I search for a way to explain the phrase. "That means that it feels like home."

He suddenly smiles, holding his hand over his heart, and he bows his head slightly. "That is good."

Later, that evening, he is driving us home. With his Russian disco music blaring on the stereo, Alexey asks us, "So will the soup make the book?"

We laugh at this comment. Yes, the chicken and tomato soup/comfort food will definitely make it into the book.

Thanks to our new Russian friend, his hospitality and his dead chicken stew, Sydney is starting to feel like home.


kansas

goodbyes are so barbarian.  one minute, you're with someone, their laughter pounding your ear drums, their smell tickling the inside of your nose, and then next minute they're gone, ripped apart from the physical space you once shared.  for me, the shock of such separation is like the slice of a deep, sharp blade;  i don't even know i've been cut right away, but then the pain comes, pulsating, growing larger throughout the rest of my body, causing me to grab hold of the cut, put pressure on it, try to make the bleeding stop, make it go away.  

 i've left the land of oz and have returned to the land of origin.  all the funny voices, all the funny roads, all the funny creatures...gone with the click of my heels.  my funny friends, who braved the haunted forest, walked the rusted rocks, flew through the crisp air...gone with the chant of home, appearing now as old faces all too familiar but not quite the same.   

i've traveled through time and found myself right back where i started, left with the knowledge of all that has occurred and the decision to change, to be better, to maybe do it a little different.

 


Saturday, May 30, 2009

Alexey the Russian

It's 8pm on the first Friday we've officially lived in Sydney. Winter is supposed to be 2 days away, but I think it arrived early this year. The day brought freezing weather (okay, probably in the 40s) and tons of rain. This city is schizo when it comes to its weather personality. All day it varied between drizzle, blue skies, downpours, and sunshine. It's near impossible to dress appropriately without carrying around a huge bag to put your 10 layers in.

Alexey, the Russian, waits outside in his car for us. Mel and I gather our jackets, scarves, etc and run out to his hatchback in the cold rain. We're currently staying with Sarah, a friend of Mel's friend, Chalis, for 2 weeks. We have entertained the idea of (and would greatly enjoy) living with the Russian, but at the moment, his current flatmate is still living in his flat and searching for a new apartment. Apartment hunting in Sydney is not like Orlando - it's a vicious game of 15 minute inspection times, falsely advertised units, and high rents. Needless to say, it's unknown when Alexey's flatmate will officially move out. So until then, we are trying to find either another temporary place to stay (until Alexey's other room is open) or find a more permanent place of our own closer to the city.

We make small talk about the cold weather and Sydney and life. I try to impress Alexey with the story of meeting Will Farrell at the World Premiere of Land of the Lost, but his response to "Will Farrell was there" was "What is that?" Mel and I laugh and wave the story off.

So tonight, the Russian is taking us to meet his friends Rebecca and David, who live in a 3 bedroom flat in Rockdale, which is about 20-30 minutes outside of the CBD (Central Business District, or downtown). This is the same city we'd live in if we live with Alexey. Alexey is very entertaining, and quite straightforward. There is an obvious culture difference which I absolutely love, and it is that Alexey will say things that I'm not sure Americans can get away with, at least in America. A great example of this is something we laugh over which he says to Rebecca at her house (she's just over 3 months pregnant): "Look, if you stop working for a while after you have your baby, you become dumb. You stay with kids all day. They are annoying." (Please re-read this aloud in your best Russian accent.) I constantly find myself either appreciating or laughing at him for these types of comments.

We show up and meet Rebecca and David, who host a Hillsong Connect group at their home that Alexey and several others attend. We chat about favorite movies, the States, Russian and Chinese dumplings, and our potential staying at their place. Their place is the nicest apartment we've been in thus far - it's more like something you'd see in the States. It would be a great place to live, temporarily.

Alexey is a good friend of these two, and he quickly makes himself at home when we are visiting at their place. Mel and I chat about it today, and she says it's like something from a sitcom. She compares him to the ever-lovable Kramer, who barges into Seinfeld's house repeatedly unannounced, rummaging through his stuff, etc. (I should interject, in case Ah-lex-ee, as he beautifully pronounces his name, reads this later, that he's clearly not being rude or intrusive - they don't seem to mind one bit.)

He slices up an apple as the rest of us sit in the living room, coming around to offer it to us. He lays on their couch, looking very comfortable as he mentions he is hungry. David and Rebecca kindly offer us the pasta they have leftover from two nights ago, and David casually mentions that Alexey ate this same dish at their place last night. David sets off to making us fresh hot chocolate (have I mentioned these Aussies truly know how to treat their potential flatmates?), and Alexey says, "David is going to serve you some wine." David looks up at Alexey's statement, and in turn start to rummage through the fridge to find an open bottle of local Riesling. Alexey grabs 3 wine glasses and starts pouring for us. David and Rebecca turn down the wine, and David questions whether we still want our hot chocolate, which he is in the process of making. We nod and think that pasta, wine and hot chocolate are a combination that the Italians should have come up with, but haven't. Mel polishes off her glass rather quickly due to the steaming hot pasta, and he immediately replenishes her glass with another, as if he is the host.

Rebecca goes to bed and we head back into the living room and wrap up the evening with a viewing of the YouTube video of Matrix Pingpong. Alexey drives us back to Maroubra Beach, and shows us the infamous Maroubra Beach rock pool (you have no idea how rad these things are...) and we end the evening by setting an alarm (the first time in MONTHS!) to wake up Saturday morning to go apartment hunting, yet again.

Since finishing Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, I've wanted to meet a Russian named Alexey (both the husband and the lover are named such in the book). Australia has assisted me in this endeavor of mine, and I've now realized the goal of meeting a Russian named Alexey. And he is rad.