May 12, 2002 1:16am
Hello all. China beckons! In a few hours I’m on a plane to Cairns, where I do a month-long English teaching course, then I hop on another plane for Jinan, China, to teach for a year.
(Apologies for all the unanswered emails – I will get to them, just very, very slowly. And hello to those of you I’m emailing for the first time…)
Been busy, as you might expect. Looking for quick cash, I made the mistake of choosing telemarketing. It was … an experience. Picture a dingy little room above a take-away shop tucked away behind the Milton brewery. It’s equipped with phones, desks, creaking chairs, a fridge and a new pool table that never seems to get used. At about 9am, the slaves begin to arrive. The new ones, dressed neatly, head upstairs for the induction. Meanwhile the veterans, dressed in ripped t-shirts and thongs, slurp coffee and hot chips downstairs until 9.30am. By then most of the new ones are gone; after 2 days, I was a veteran.
At the top of the stairs paces Cyrus, the Telemarketing Manager, dressed in expensive silks. Gesturing wildly, he goes something like this:
“OK people, it’s a NEW day! That’s GREAT! We were a LITTLE down on SALES yesterday – but that’s yesterday! TODAY, everyone’s going to get DOUBLE their quota! I’ve got a GOOD feeling, it’s a FANtastic day, it’s a WEDNESDAY, we’ve got plenty of FRESH numbers in the tray, so there’s NO reason why we can’t make EIGHTY sales today! At least!!! Who wants beer at the end of the week??! Where are those hands guys??? Come on people let’s see some of this ENTHUSIASM! DO WE WANT BEER?! Yes!!! Of course we do!! Well let’s get our QUOTAS!!! We’re here to make MONEY, so let’s stop talking and get on those PHONES straight away! “Hi, I’m CYRUS calling from Combined Services, HOW ARE YOU TODAY???!!! FANtastic! I’m just calling in regards to your business phone account!!” Make EVERYthing a POSITIVE! Be absolutely CRAZY!!! Their mother’s just died?? “FANtastic!!! That’s GREAT! You’re making LOTS of long-distance calls at the moment and that’s where WE CAN HELP!!!” Take CONTROL of the conversation! I want to hear ENERGY, I want to hear lots of CRAZINESS, let’s make them LAUGH! By the time you’re finished they’re not going want to hang up!!! You’re CRAZY people!! FANTASTIC!!! That’s what we want!!! Blah, blah, blah, BLAH!!! Blah, BLAH, blah, blah, BLAH…”
You get the drift. At the end of the day – about 3.30pm – the last thing you want to do is hang around for a friendly game of pool. The longest anyone had been there was 2 months. I lasted a week and a half. I just don’t have the stamina I guess…
A hundred times more interesting was my trip to Canberra earlier this year. Tara and I went down to see the Treasures of the World’s Great Libraries exhibition (http://www.nla.gov.au/worldtreasures/). Due to demand, it was open 23 hours a day – we got in line at 4am, and even then there were hundreds ahead of us, armed with sleeping bags and gas stoves.
It was worth the hours of waiting: original documents by Einstein (e=mc^2), Tolkien (his original dust jacket for The Hobbit), Darwin (Origin of Species), Shakespeare (original script!), Mozart, Beethoven, Dead Sea Scrolls, Egyptian Book of the Dead, Jane Austen (Persuasion), Ned Kelly (the Jerilderie letter), the list goes on. A bibliophile’s dream! Probably the best was an enormous Gutenberg Bible, the very first printed book (http://prodigi.bl.uk/gutenbg/default.asp). Only 20 complete copies remain. Beautiful. Oh, and let’s not forget some of the oldest words in the world – a 4000 year old Mesopotamian clay tablet inscribed with, yes, a receipt for beer. I guess some things don’t change…
While we were in town we also caught an exhibition of Rodin. Lots of erotic bronze sculptures and the famous “The Thinker”, which was enormous. I never realised how sterile photos of sculptures really are. You have to experience sculptures in person, walk around them, take in their size and solidity, the frozen movement of roughly-hewn muscle as the torsos stretch to kiss.
Also at the art gallery was a William Robinson retrospective. Never heard of him? Neither had I. He’s a Queensland artist who lives in the Green Mountains, a favourite place of mine. His interiors were sorta interesting. His farmyard scenes and self-portraits were fun. But his creation series was incredible. Multi-panelled works spanning entire walls, encompassing primeval forest, sea and sky from multiple perspectives. Some of them struck the mind with the force of a blow, overpowering with their sheer scale and mythic depth. Don’t miss them if you ever get the chance.
Then there was the sciencentre and the national museum. The museum had a ‘Mars and Beyond’ exhibition which, among other things, included a Russian moon probe and Newton’s personal annotated copy of his famous book, the name of which escapes me at the moment. All that in two days – it was an amazing trip. A massive hit of culture. Wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
Unfortunately, my trip overseas means I will be missing the chance to perform on stage in “Allo Allo”, a comedy set in a cafe in war-time France, and featuring the English, French Resistance, Germans and Italians.
Up until a couple of weeks ago I was playing the part of Herr Flick, a trenchcoat-wearing Gestapo officer who plays the violin, dances the tango, cross-dresses as a French maid, disguises himself as Hitler and gets to deliver lines (in his best faux German accent) such as “If zare iz enny hankee-pankee in ze back row, you…vill…be…shott”. Strangely painful to let a character die just as it was beginning to take shape. But perhaps it’s for the best that the world misses out on seeing yours truly in a French maid outfit…
There will be other plays. It may be wishful thinking on my part, but I actually hope to complete writing another one while I’m away, and even make a start on a novel. Not for a while though I suspect. As I keep telling everyone, the teaching course is 100hrs/wk for 30 days straight, and I expect it will take me a *little* while to adapt to life in Jinan. We’ll see.
If you haven’t seen me for a while (or never seen me, for that matter), you’re probably not aware of my new hairstyle. Or should I say, my lack-of-hair-style. A number of people have told me it really suits me, which is nice to hear. But, still, I was unprepared for a recent encounter in another art gallery, when an arty man in black came up to me and said: “Nice head”.
Now maybe it’s just me, but quite frankly somehow that felt a bit inappropriate. I mean, we didn’t even know each other and here he was complimenting my anatomy. (At least I think that’s what he was doing…) It made me feel naked or something. I smiled vaguely and suddenly saw someone on the other side of the room whom I urgently needed to talk to. Just another slightly odd encounter on the journey of life…
Speaking of slightly odd encounters, if you want to keep getting the occasional spiel from me you’ll need to sign up to my new mailing list on Yahoo: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/hydrolith/.
To subscribe, send a blank email to <firstname.lastname@example.org>. I’ll be sending an email to the list every month or so about my experiences in China and my thoughts on this and that. Some of my emails from previous trips are in the archive.
Why a mailing list? Various reasons, mostly to do with making life easier for me. But it’s also difficult when sending emails to tell the difference between an appreciative silence and the sound of one hand pressing the delete key. So this way I’m not sending my ramblings to people who couldn’t care less but are too polite to say so. Let me know if you’d prefer not to join, but still like to hear from me every now and then.
Oh, and thanks to everyone who indulged me by filling out those pesky forms the other night at the Tibetan Kitchen. Was good to catch up with you. Congrats to the person who adapted dal stains into their self-portrait … very imaginative, though perhaps presenting unique preservation challenges.
Enough. It’s 1am. Time to pack.