No Writing. No Time.

Not only has my café been taken away, so has all my writing time. I’m now working forty hours a week as a barista and I’ve got a sewing project for a friend, Rainbows, who is leaving the country. Next Monday in fact. So I have no time for writing. And no time for even reading.

Working six days a week I can only wonder at those that still find the time and energy to write at the end of a long day. Amazing.


A Minute of Silence

As I was walking to the inner city write-in in Newtown tonight I walked past a wreath laid at the foot of a war statue with the words ‘Lest we forget’ written across it.  The previous day I had noted it was Remembrance Day but 11:00am totally passed me by.

So rather than passing it by again, I stopped before the statue and decided that I would follow the spirit of the tradition if not the time itself(I actually think the Melbourne Cup stops the nation more effectively than Remembrance Day, oh well).

Looking down at the wreath I thought of the Aussies who had sacrificed their lives in war. I thought why do we have war? It’s usually because people wanted land or some resource that another people owned or were sitting on. It’s over some point over which neither side will budge. And so we threaten each other and fight to take what we desire.

How can we avoid war? How do we avoid fights? Talking, right? Communication is the key, right? But in war the sides have stopped talking. They can’t agree. They won’t budge!

Even if you try to think about the other side’s position, understand why they want to keep what you desire, somehow you can’t stop desiring it. You must have it.

But what if your approach was to imagine what your war will do to their people? Who will you kill? Whose body will you maim but leave to live? Whose families will you do that do instead?

And what if it was you in their place?

This is what I thought in my minute of silence (though I didn’t time it as I thought that was going against the spirit of it all).

Ahhh but the governmental/military types would call me naïve.

In the Snow Country

Sometimes the grass is greener on the other side of the fence and sometimes it’s fine just where you are. More than fine in fact.

I’m currently wintering in snowy Hakuba, Japan, a ski resort village chock full of Aussies. While that in itself is not the best thing for trying to immerse oneself in Japanese culture, it does provide me with a way to make a living and thus able to spend the season honing my snowboarding skills.

When I originally found out that I would be able to extend my visa and thus have plenty of time to spend 3 months of it in a resort town I was excited by the opportunities. I wanted to head to Hakuba as it was a place my friends had been to before and loved. As luck would have it a friend I had met earlier in the year in Nara had an acquaintance who was a manager of one of the hotels in town and there appeared to be work available. It’s good to have connections.

After multiple attempts to get details and confirmation of the job, however, the hotel manager seemed too busy to talk to me and that prospect fell through. I may have missed some vital communication due to the language barrier but I felt like I was being strung along a bit. I decided not to wait any longer hanging my hopes on that job and went back to the internet to attempt to find a job on the ski slopes. That proved to be quite troublesome as all the resort jobs were listed in Japanese and the task of translation was more than a little daunting.

In the end I found an older job advertisement for work in a ski rental shop. I filled out the forms and fired off my resume with photo in hope they were still hiring. One phone interview later I was offered a job and my winter prospects had gone from uncertain to great. I had originally come to Japan to experience its four seasons and what better way to appreciate the winter than in the snow country.

I feel truly fortunate that I’m working in the rental shop. Not only do I get the chance to learn about all the different nuances of ski and snowboarding gear, I pretty much get to take that gear out and try it out on the mountain, every day if I really want to. When I ride the chairlifts and see the workers sitting in their little operator huts or standing in the wind and snow keeping the snow clear of the chairs, I think to myself how lucky I am to be able to work in a nice and warm shop only 5 minutes walk to the chair lift. Life is good.

During the season I got a chance to assist a hotel that was short-staffed for one day. My job involved cleaning the small bathrooms each room had on one of the floors. While it was a new experience for me and even a little enlightening, it certainly wasn’t as fun or as profitable ideas-wise for me as my ski rental job. Had I gotten that first hotel job I would have never have learned all that I have about snowboarding and skis. Hotel work is hard and a little boring I think. Whew, dodged a bullet there.

When things fall through in the first place sometimes they really can end up working out for the better. You just gotta keep riding it out till the end.

Living the dream.

Giving, Receiving and Power Adaptors

Until recently I had an adaptor which took many different countries’ power plugs in and converted it to fit into the Japanese sockets. The person I lent it to, however, neglected to give it back before returning to Germany which in turn ticked me off for a little while. I have, however, come to the point where all the electrical devices I use have Japanese plugs, so the loss of the adaptor is not so much a pain as an annoyance since I paid good money for it.

As a side note, prior to that I also owned a big, green, round universal adaptor, the kind that accepts any country’s plug and can convert it into any other country’s plug. In that case though I forgot it and left it in Okinawa at the farm I was WWOOFing at. I hope that future international visitors there get good use out of it.

I bring all this up because my friend, Sand Dreamer, asked me if I would sell my single remaining adaptor, a simple one that would take an Australian or New Zealand plug (two sloping prongs) and convert it to fit in the Japanese sockets (two vertical prongs). As I mentioned I don’t currently need any adaptors but I did want to hold onto it just in case something came up and I needed it, I wouldn’t have to go out and find another one. I asked Sand Dreamer to let me think a bit about it, also saying that I couldn’t remember the cost. I think it was either 200 or 300 yen which is about $4.

I gave it some thought and realised that I was holding onto it for a potential but improbable event need arose but otherwise it would just reside in my backpack unused. My friend needed it because his own chunky universal adaptor (the same type I left in Okinawa) was falling apart and he used it to power his laptop. His need was certainly greater than mine. Certainly he could have gone out and found something in Akihabara (this is Tokyo!) but that is besides the point I think. I had something which he could really use and it would even mean less useless crap being lugged around in my luggage, negligible though it may be.

The only decision left was what price to sell it at. I really can’t remember if the cost was closer to two or to three hundred yen but then I realised that the difference was a mere 100 yen and agonising over it was a waste of brain energy. More than that though, the entire cost was small; why not just give it to him for free?

It comes to me that the easiest and cleanest way to not worry about the price of something is to give it away for free. I can’t go giving everything away for free but this was definitely a good opportunity to do so.

I don’t know what value Sand Dreamer will put on this whole affair but it’s worth something to me to make a gift of it. There is something that just leaves you feeling better when you give something away rather than sell it. It’s not about how much something costs. It can’t be measured in dollar terms. It is simply a gift or it is not.

It reminds me of a lesson another friend, Ricardo, an American/Mexican, taught me when I was travelling in central Europe around Serbia & Montenegro. He noticed that when it game to giving and receiving I had a tendency to get hung up on keeping things even. At the time a chance-met backpacker was selling his hiking boots which were in mint condition. He’d just bought them but it turned out they were too small for him.  They were a pretty sturdy pair of boots and the weather was turning cold and wet. Unfortunately, even though they were better than my boots, I too had just recently bought mine and I didn’t want to spend any more money. I decided not to buy them.

As that backpacker was leaving the hostel dorm for the last time I awoke from my bunk and he said that I could just have the boots for free. He certainly didn’t want to carry the useless boots around in his backpack. Did I accept his gift? No. Rather than that, I offered him the little money I had on me at the time. I think I got the boots for around ten euros, an absolute steal, but that’s still a lot of money for a backpacker like me.

Later Ricardo commented to me that my view of gift giving and receiving was different from his. When I gave a gift, maybe bought a friend a coffee, in the back of my mind I was making an entry into a log book, keeping track of who bought what and how much was spent, who owed who. I was giving with the expectation to receive. Not only that, I was receiving with the burden of reciprocating in kind. I think it has to do with how I was raised, it may be a bit of a Chinese cultural thing. Everything is kept balanced on the books. Favours. Gifts. Everything.

Ricardo’s view was the complete opposite. When he gave he gave, he told me, he did so without the expectation of receiving something in return. He was backpacking like me and so was also tight with his money so he added that he didn’t just give anything away but that when he could afford to part with something he didn’t need then he would give freely. The corollary to this was that when he received he also received without burdening himself with some obligation to pay the person pack. When he was offered something he felt no need whatsoever to pay that person back. He received freely.

In the case of the boots, Ricardo thought I should have taken them for free and not felt some vague sense of guilt about it. Later in my trip around Europe I realised that if I had taken those boots for free, then I would not have felt obliged to sell my original pair of boots and recoup some of the money I had paid for them. If I had received the boots for free I would have felt much more easily about giving my original boots away for free. Instead, I lugged them across the breadth of Europe looking for someone with the same boot size to sell it to. In the end I just left them in a hostel for free, without even a recipient in mind. It might be that the hostel staff just threw them out with the trash.

I’m not sure how long it took for me to really understand this new concept but now it’s a concept I try to embrace fully whenever I can. The acts of giving and receiving haven’t changed but my way of thinking about them has. It’s liberating to not have to constantly keep some book of accounts in the back of my mind, to both give and receive without attaching any unnecessary mental and emotional baggage to those acts. It’s kind of like karma. Hopefully my giving away of gifts will have a ripple effect and flow on to the next person and the next and so on so forth. That’s a good enough reward for me.