Friday, October 21, 2016

Familiar Again – Erich

Remember in school you had to do these compare and contrast essays. You were given two items, maybe two books or two characters in a book or something more esoteric like a pair of pliers and a can of tuna. Then you had to write about how they were the same (both a can of tuna and pliers have metal components) and how they were different (gosh, I can't think of any differences.)

Those were not my favorite writing assignments, but maybe they were yours. That would be a contrast. But my goal here is not to give anyone a writing assignment.

Instead I am reminded of compare and contrast because of our arrival in our fifth continent: Oceania. We are now in Australia. And I am noticing so many comparisons to our own home due to the contrasts to where we just were.

We were last in Southeast Asia. We spent time in Thailand, then Malaysia, and then Vietnam. After a few months in the tropics, coming to the southern side of Australia is a huge change. Well, a huge change from Southeast Asia. But in some ways it is a change back to the more familiar. Australia, thus far, is so much more like the United States.

We haven't been here long, but here are some of the things I noted right away. First, climate. We went from the tropics back to a temperate zone. Not only that, where we are is at latitude 38° south. Where we last lived in the U.S. was at 40° north. So not only is it similar in temperature, the day length is familiar again. Though I do have to remember that this is spring, not autumn.

And spring is a glorious time. We are in the state Victoria. There are rolling hills covered in green. There are farms around. There are some smallish mountains in the distance. In many ways, it could be Pennsylvania. Plus, it is nice to be cold, not frigidly cold, but cool. You could almost forget that it ever drops below 20°. (Below 20° you cry. I'm speaking in Celsius. That's 68° in Fahrenheit.)

You drive on the left here, which was also true in Malaysia and Thailand. (However, in Vietnam they drive on the right as we do in the States.)

Let's get a bit scatological. In public restrooms in Southeast Asia they have some stalls with the Western toilets (the kind we use) and some with Eater toilets (the kind used there.) This is actually very nice that they have Western toilets at all. But another big difference is in washing your hands. Usually, no matter how many sinks a restroom has, there is only one soap dispenser. So if you are at a sink far from it, you must make a trek and push your past other men to get to it. Then when it comes time to dry your hands, there is only one hand dryer. (There are never any paper towels. They are big into conservation.) So either you wait or you say that's what you wear shorts for and just dry your hands there.

Not so in Australia. Here there are only Western toilets. There are soap dispensers over all the sinks. There are multiple hand dryers and, lo and behold, paper towel dispensers.

Another change is hot water. In Southeast Asia, the only place there is hot water in the house is the shower. And you have to switch it on before you take a shower and switch it off when you are done. No hot water in the kitchen or bathroom sinks. Not even going into the clothes washer. In Australia, hot water is in all the places we would expect it, sinks, showers, and laundry.

The garbage is collected in a bin (a garbage can) and taken to the curb once a week for early morning collection. Like home! As for Southeast Asia, I don't know. We rarely saw a few individual houses, but we always lived in large apartment buildings. In those, you brought your trash to a trash room (though of course it is rubbish in a rubbish room). And then somehow it got collected from there and brought out of the building.

Here's one that I cannot yet explain, though I have a conjecture: Seagulls. In the States and also in Europe and also in Africa if we were anywhere remotely nearish the ocean we would see seagulls. But in Thailand we never saw any. Even when we were in Krabi, at the beach, no seagulls. And none in Malaysia. And none in Vietnam. But within a few minutes of leaving the airport in Melbourne, Australia, I spotted a seagull flying overhead.

Why no seagulls in Southeast Asia? My best guess is they must migrate. Maybe they don't like to hang in the hot, wet tropics during the rainy season. Maybe some seagulls migrate that way in November or December, after the rains end and when it gets colder where we usually see them. We'll be back in Bangkok in December, so I will keep a look out for them then, see if I can get any evidence in favor of or contradictory to my conjecture.

Oh! Right! And English! They speak English in Australia. Of course, everyone knew that. It's not a surprise. But boy, does it make everything easier.

Yes, there are a few differences between American English and Australian English (and British English and South African English if you want to get into the details.) But I won't get into all of those now. Maybe I will later. In a compare and contrast essay.

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