Working in Buddha country

Alternative title: Why nobody outside of Australia gets Darryl Braithwaite's "Horses"

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Leading up to an overseas trip there are many ways you can prepare. You can write lists on your phone. You can Google a lot. You can tell everyone everything and hope that they remind you how to be an adult.

20 minutes before I need to leave to the airport I’m sprinting to Chemist Warehouse at Victoria Gardens that’s about to close to buy a pregnancy test.

Other late-night shoppers in this fluorescent hell hole seem less concerned about whether something is growing in their uterus but whether or not they can acquire the hydrating moisturising crème for half-price.

“Your catalogue says it should be $39.95,” Lady with fake tan demands at the counter. Lady needs her cream and she needs it cheap.

I grip the pregnancy test box in my hand.

It’s not that I would mind my “eggo being preggo” as my pharmacist sister has informed me via text when I complained to her regarding some symptoms which lead to drop my bags and run to the nearest pharmacy. It’s just rather inconvenient before heading to a country where beer is $3 a litre.

Inconvenient, but not impossible. I have a perfectly good drawer in our one-bedroom apartment in which to raise a baby. Or better still, IKEA is ideally located near us with a decked out show room we can move into. We can name our dear little one something Swedish (Lack or Rissna) and raise it big and strong on meatballs.

Plus I could also finally source those overalls I’ve been wanting for years but friends have advised are “only for pregnant women, or, for painters.”

Lady finally gets her discounted goop and I slide the box and my credit card to the Chemist Warehouse guy. He looks at the pregnancy test box. He looks back up at me and smirks.

“Fuck you,” I think. 

I’m at the airport when my sister then informs me that the test will be useless because I haven’t missed my period yet.

“Read the packet,” she texts and I imagine she is sighing loudly at my incompetence. 

“No time.” I reply. I’m going through security and thinking about how stressful it would be to work here. Telling people to put their bags in the plastic trays. Empty your drink bottle. Take your laptop out. Phones out of your pocket. Just listen. Put down your phone and listen. Are you even listening?

“Well, at least read it before you pee on it.”

Mid-flow I do.

And, she’s right. The pharmacist is always right. Which in my mind means I’m not definitely not pregnant at the moment and free to drink beers and cocktails in the hot humid sun of Thailand.

“Meanwhile Dan is getting nervous … ?” Sister asks.

I had forgotten about him and quickly send him a text reassuring him that no kids yet. But who really knows?

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I’m on the plane to Bangkok sharing my personal space with a leather-skinned middle-aged Aussie woman with short peroxided blonde hair. Sitting beside her is her bald black American lover with a deep booming voice. I avoid eye contact as I have a habit of getting sucked into chatting to strangers and becoming friends on Facebook and being best friends forever. 

The couple are with a bunch of other middle-agers who send off strong party vibes. They pass around what appears to be small chocolate balls.

Curiosity gets the better of me and I pull out my earplugs and swivel my head around in my $7 neon pink neck Kmart pillow.

“What’s that?” I ask. 

“Liver detox tablets darl,” she says knocking back a pill with one quick  movement, “Looks like possum shit.”

The middle-agers then proceed to see if these tablets work by taking advantage of the drinks cart every time it rolls by. Plastic cups full of red wine.

The flight attendants ask me if I want anything to drink. The middle-agers look over at me with their stained lips and misty eyes. Will I join their party?

No.

I put my earplugs back in, eye mask on and go to sleep to the hum of jet engines speeding across the Indian Ocean.


Steamy Bangkok airport. Move like cattle from one vessel to the next. Fill in the arrival card and tick here ‘here for business’ and feel immensely satisfied but also sweaty.

But I always feel weird when I have to write in my occupation:

MEDIA STUFF.

But it’s a real thing and there’s a conference for my work and I’m writing and doing media stuff and there’s going to be over 1,200 people from 83 countries and it’s pretty damn exciting.

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Don’t follow the Germans.

But I do. I get off the plane at Chiang Mai and instantly meet some friendly Germans from my organisation.

“It’s hot isn’t it?” I say.

They agree.

“Good beer weather,” I add.

Nothing.

“Probably too early for it anyway,” I yawn, it’s 11am. But I still really want a beer.

I share a taxi with the Germans and end up at the completely wrong destination. I should’ve realised early on we were not on the same wavelength.

“We believe in teaching the gospel of Christ,” One of them says and I nod.

The Christian element of my organisation globally I was prepared for. Some countries were pretty keen on all that stuff and I was going to be OK with it. I explained how Australia was non-religious and they looked at me confused.

“And here we are at mission camp,” The leader announces as we pull into the local hostel surrounded by tropical palms.

“This isn’t the hotel,” I say.

“No, mission camp first for three days!” He smiles.

A Thai driver who doesn’t speak a word of English drives me to my hotel. When I get there I go to my room and cry. I then go eat some chicken vegetable rice and read the news. Thai cave boys are on the front page. On page 6 is a massive dead alligator. My thongs stick to my feet.

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On the street I see:

·      Street vendors

·      No beer

·      Stickers of pop stars and knick knacks and pop stars being sold

·      A rollie polly dog inside an education centre

·      A stray skinny cat


Mario is the most Italian Italian I have ever met.

The second most Italian man is my brother-in-law who is only half Italian and doesn’t like tomatoes or olives.

Mario is from southern Italy in Siderno and used to be a lawyer.

We will be working together and so we become best friends even though he can’t understand me and sometimes his Italian mannerisms really irk me like:

·      He pays for everything

·      He doesn’t understand my sarcasm or my jokes

·      Thinks John Lennon’s “Imagine” is romantic which I strongly disagree with

·      He is always wanting to party – or at least stays awake later than my bedtime

Within hours of becoming besties we become more like a bickering old married couple. The highs and lows of two jet lagged travellers.


Fall asleep, wake up at 2.30am. Unsure where I am. Wake up at 4am. Wonder where I am. Fall asleep. Wake up. Repeat.


The thing about a working holiday is that you will feel constantly conflicted because you’re in a new country and you want to explore that air that smells like coriander, steam, rubbish and chilli and spend all that baht.

A working holiday is, in many ways, a contradiction.

You’ve got a job to do. You will live in that office, in that conference hall and hotel for 12 to 15 hour days. But it’s fine because you love your job.

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What’s it like working with mostly European men (3 Germans, 1 Swiss, 1 Italian, 1 Brazilian, 1 other Aussie):

·      They talk about the football a lot (World Cup, it’s a big thing apparently?)

·      They stay up really late

·      They understand each other better than they understand me

·      We all drink beer


One afternoon I find a cute little bar in a side street and drink a small can of Chang. I’m sweating in a way that reminds me that chafing is a real thing. The bar Mickey Mouse toy with a hook in his back hanging up, wearing sunnies, completely covered in dirt. 

Chimes jingle-jangle. A Thai singer serenades me through speakers. I watch a Thai hipster drain his beer and smoke. Hipster because he’s in chinos, black frames and a grandpa style hat. It smells like dog biscuits here. My feet are swollen and red from walking in thongs.

It is perfect.


A quick community service announcement

I’m not pregnant.

I’ll spare you the details, but you get the idea.

‘No preggo eggo sis,’ I text her, and then Dan eventually. When I remember …

The air smells like laundry detergent for the many, many Laundromats that wash tourists clothes at 100 baht per kilo.

There is a homeless man surrounded by banana peels.

Kids in the alleyways playing. Kids on snapchat holding phones as big as their faces. A Muslim mother in a hijab with her family driving a motorbike with a sidecar.

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In the meetings I’m restless. Restless to get out of the air con and into the humid air where my hair is damp on the scalp and each breath feels like I’m sucking through a straw.


Getting to know you games

Where are you from?

What do you do there?

Do you eat your coat of arms? We do.

What’s your media like?

What do you think of Brexit/Trump/The Royal Wedding/The World Cup?


 

I play my German workmates Darryl Braithwaithe's "Horses" but they look confused. Real confused.

"This is popular in Australia," I say.

"Why?" They ask.

It's a good question. I put something else on. 


Mario always wants to go out and tonight he is wearing a nice shirt. I tell him it’s nice.

“I’m never wearing this shirt again,” he says.


Escape temporarily on a tuk tuk and see the Old City and eat mango ice cream and the raindrops sparkle and shimmer across the canals and the tourists buy loose fitting hippy pants with elephants on them.

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 A Swiss man tells me that the Switzerland unemployment rate is below 2% and how the mountains and chocolate there is perfect. Although he doesn’t like chocolate. He is an engineer for a high-speed rail company. Bad PR where a train crashed and injured 4 people. But the media in Switzerland, people trust. Government is neither conservative nor liberal.

But the Swiss are always complaining, complains the Swiss man.


What the world knows about Australia

ACDC

I come from the land down under

You lock up asluym seekers don’t you?

Tim Minchin (one German fan)


Breakfast with a Tanzanian talking about religion, my lack of, his strong beliefs and also what he eats for breakfast

Lunch with Germans talking about immigration and refugees

Dinner surrounded by French Africans and French Canadians and I can’t understand a word they’re saying because for some reason they’re speaking in French?

A Peruvian guy who likes eating Guinea Pigs

A Swiss man who says I sound like an old man

A Czech girl who announces she is gay to over a thousand people

A Nigerian who gives me a bottle opener keyring, which I find out later at the bar, doesn’t work

Talking about youth empowerment with the most agreeable Europeans at 3.30am and realising that I want to leave the bar and the conversation because who wants to be so agreeable?

An intense discussion with a Brazilian on what to call a USB stick (memory? Flash drive? Pen drive? “What is USB?”)

A lot of English who chant “it’s coming home! It’s coming home!” (It’s not, sorry.)

Everyone who’s not English going for Croatia in the World Cup finals.

People saying to sorry to me when England loses, because I’m white and must be devastated by the loss.

A South African asking if my name is Stacey. I say no, “but don’t worry, all white people look the same,” and she laughs and laughs.

A Serbian who is always very drunk and sweaty.

A Syrian Armenian refugee who speaks to me about making friends with the East Jerusalem delegates they know what it’s like to be from a war torn country.

A Norwegian singer who always has a toothpick in his mouth wearing a Free Palestine t-shirt and when I ask him what the deal is with the toothpick he just shrugs and says, "They're everywhere here."

Someone forgot Korea in the presentation for the opening ceremony – it wasn’t me.

A Swedish man who is the biggest feminist I have ever met and can quote statistics at the drop of a hat.

Aussies in the daggy yellow t-shirts – I give mine to Mario.

A Thai volunteer with yellow hair who hugs everyone at the club and says thank you, thank you.

A Lebanese woman who asks for me to vote for her in the lift

A Canadian mum who has done Christmas shopping because she loves Christmas (six months early?)

A kiwi that personally knows Jacinda Ardern

An Uruguayan who flew 42 hours to get to Chiang Mai and has avocados on his shorts.

 Your last meal is of course delicious. But you will flick this in your eye and start crying and a Thai lady will think you're a wuss and can't handle the spice and will bring you more water, while you watch a Thai talent show on the tv.

Your last meal is of course delicious. But you will flick this in your eye and start crying and a Thai lady will think you're a wuss and can't handle the spice and will bring you more water, while you watch a Thai talent show on the tv.