On Australian Values And Working On The Mine

My series ‘Mine Camp Diaries‘ is over, but there’s still a lot to be said. (Very confused? Read the first Mine Camp Diary entry!) Here’s a non-academic, amateur assessment of Australian values. 

I was on a plane from Las Vegas to Houston when I first read about the quintessential Australian values. I flipped through the pages a book my mom picked up at Half Price Books. I can’t remember the exact title or author, but it was an informational and practical guide targeted at American audiences considering relocating to Australia. It covered the logistics and basics about health care and work culture. Reading briefly about the colonial history and favorite Aussie past times (drinking and footy, to name a few), I was especially interested in the section describing some of Australia’s core values.

In my experience, a nation’s core values often seem like gross exaggerations or stereotypes. At first they appear impossible, but with a closer look are unmistakably present in life in the country. It’s not always as in your face as a Wikipedia description might seem, but it’s there.

What I first dismissed as stereotypical characteristics that probably wouldn’t show up in daily life, I began to see demonstrated. It could very well have been a self-fulfilling prophecy. Or, it could be that analyses of Australian mainstream culture are accurate.

Disclaimer: This is a non-academic approach to describe a very complex topic. I oversimplify and perhaps am too dismissive of subtle yet important distinctions in the following national values. I aimed to provide a first-person experience as a foreigner interacting with these values.                                                                           

Fair Go

Fair go is a term that used as is in vernacular is still hard for me to understand. But the ideas behind it aren’t, and rather evident in the everyday. It means giving everyone an equal chance, no matter where they came from or who they are. Many immigrants to Australia were either convicts or destitute, crossing great distances to make a living. It’s of upmost importance to give everyone a shot to prove themselves.

On my first day on the job, I walked into the rec room at 7:28am. I was supposed to start at 7:30. Thinking that 7:28 was an appropriate time to arrive at work, I was surprised when everyone was already sitting in a circle, silent, waiting for the morning meeting to start. They had already signed in, signed the pre-start meeting form and done their breath-os.

“Ah, the Yank, coming in a bit late but it’s her first day,” my boss announced as I walked in. “But it’s 7:28!” I said, wondering what all the fuss was about. I was not late. I looked around and everyone was silent. My boss didn’t respond. She stared at me. “Oh, shit, I’m sorry I didn’t realize how sassy that sounded,” I said, embarrassed.

Everyone laughed at me and I sat down. I was wondering when I was going to learn to think before I speak. I made a fool out of myself on the first day, but no one held it against me. They gave me a “fair go,” an opportunity to redeem myself despite my wrongdoings. Even so, that didn’t mean that it wasn’t a favorite way for them to take the piss out of me for the next three months. I heard that story repeated many times to all the new people who came in. If someone was late, someone in the audience would shout “Don’t worry, the yank’s always late, too!”

Mateship

Usually describing the strong bonds between males and said to describe loyalty, equality and friendship, mateship has been criticized by some for helping to create the strong homophobic culture in Australia. Having roots in the early colonial period, newcomers were forced to give each other a hand to survive. This tradition has carried on, and you can see strangers helping each other out in every sense.

A very obvious example of mateship is the way Australians refer to each other as “mate” no matter how close or far their social distance. Putting everyone on the same level socially, the convicts are said to have referred to their jailers as “mate.”  There are also more subtle ways of showing equality and solidarity. I witnessed several acts of kindness in Australia that created a sense of togetherness. On one occasion, I was especially touched (figuratively, of course) by a man on a Melbourne tram who helped a drugged-up man come to when he was being kicked off.

On the mine, when people sensed my confusion or inability to do something, they would immediately jump in explain or show me how it should be done. They did, of course, make fun of me for it relentlessly, but nevertheless they wanted me to know that I wasn’t going at it alone.

Love of the underdog

Love of the underdog is something that I relate to wholeheartedly. I find myself naturally supporting the odd one out.

Coincidentally, this is one of the fundamental values Australians hold is to cheer on the underdog. Be it a sports team, the last runner in the race or the one who failed the test, someone always wants to root for the least likely to succeed. Related to the previous point about mateship, Australians at the mine enjoyed that I was clueless at my job. While, as I’ve already emphasized, they loved to point out my flaws, they also expressed their desire for me to succeed. They didn’t want to see me fail. They did what they could to root me on, to watch me improve and to show their support, verbally and with actions.

Tall poppy syndrome

My first day cleaning the mine site, it was just Martha and I, figuring things out on our own. Even though the mine site and its employees are considered this company’s “client,” the people there didn’t shy away from helping us out. In a subtle informality, one of the superintendents of a department caught us and said, “Look, if you’re not doing what you’re supposed to I won’t tell on you. But just watch out for some of these other blokes.” By these “other blokes” he referred to people who were tattle-tales. Narcs. The ones who defied mateship and sought approval from authority. In other words, people to be shamed.

A few weeks later, I was back at the mine, this time just Rebecca and I. Martha is a very good worker. Yeah, she might get her panties all bunched up sometimes, but she works hard and does things with integrity which was something I really respected about her. On the other hand, Rebecca, although well meaning, lets her personal life interfere with her performance on the job. I would much rather work with Martha than Rebecca. During one of Rebecca’s sessions where she complained about the day shift workers – i.e., Martha, not doing their job right, I corrected her. “No, Rebecca, I worked with Martha and I promise, she always does an excellent job and it’s really important for her to take pride in her work,” I said. “Yes, I know,” she said, distrustful, “Sometimes too much…”

Too much, so that she stood out as a good worker. Too much that she cozied up to management and became their friends. Just too much.

Throughout my weeks at the mine, I got the overwhelming sense that the real enemy is out there, and its authority. Anyone who sticks their head over the masses and cozies up to authority is not to be trusted. In doing too good of a job, Martha stuck out amongst the rest and threatened their equality and loyalty.


Featured photo: Lipton tea, taken at the jumping crocodile cruise at Adelaide River

Character Tuesday: Moalboal’s Goofiest 12-Year-Old Street Vendor

The air was sticky. It wasn’t even the rainy season, but the humidity felt like the inside of a Japanese onsen. The sun shone over the dark water, tinted by the millions of sardine schools underneath its surface. There were a group of three toddlers screaming and pointing to a kite in the sky, as one of the boys- the ring leader- repeated the same word over and over again, nodding and widening his eyes at the others as he did.

My sister and walked through the dirt-floored alley way of tourist restaurants and kiosks that opened up to a view of the ocean. There was a concrete wall against the water’s edge where children were playing. Beyond the walkway we saw women giving massages to European men at the top of a hill.

“Souvenirs!” we heard a girl scream behind us. We turned around and saw a petite, girl with a bob haircut. She was wearing a bright shirt and skirt and holding a basket close to her shoulder like it was a serving tray. We said “hello” and said “no thank you.”

Then, my sister uncharacteristically changed her mind. “Ah, well,” she sighed with a shrug, “Why not? I’ll see what you have.”

I was mostly distracted by the children playing nearby, thinking about how cute they were, screaming at each other in a language I couldn’t understand. I glanced over at the trinkets my sister was touching. There were plastic turtles, beaded bracelets and other things that looked cheap and frivolous. These were the type of products that you would feel guilty for not buying, but later would realize such a purchase does nothing to advance you attempt at a minimalist lifestyle with less junk. (Plus, there are thousands of reasons why not to buy from a minor!)

“Yeah, well, I don’t really like anything here,” my sister told her honestly. The child vendor resisted a bit, trying to convince us, then shrugged and walked in front of us.

Walking a few feet further, she had a trail of followers- younger girls, probably apprentices- and she giggled. She turned back at us with the other hand on her shaking hip, bobbed her head around and sang, “I’m sexy and I know it!” then promptly turned away again, laughing with the sound of a 50-year-old wrinkled smoker. .

My sister and I exchanged smiles and laughed, walking behind her with the sound of the waves against the wall.

This post is part of weekly series titled Character Tuesday, where every Tuesday I bring you a story about (a) unique individual(s) I’ve encountered. Like I always say, life can be good or bad, but as long as it’s entertaining, that’s all you need. This series is meant to celebrate our quirks and idiosyncrasies.


Featured photo: These kids in Oslob ran up to us and started screaming, “HELLO HOW ARE YOU!” Then a woman on the street had to intervene to translate more.

Character Tuesday: Fort Myer’s Vulgar Violin Player

“I got to play the violin…” said before he trailed off into a crescendo of Italian opera. “No one should be working on a Sunday,” he continued.

I gave him a sideways glance at him from behind my computer screen. I was curious, but careful not to encourage him. I was trying to get him to loose interest. He continued as he fumbled with his things, taking out papers and putting them back, rearranging the order of his belongings. “That’s why I ain’t got a girl… ya can’t trust them. Hell, I can’t trust myself with them…” I wondered if that was some sort of warning.

A few minutes before he started indirectly warning me from a few empty tables away, he had flung open the door of the café and casually looked me, careful not to be too obvious.

I was sitting alone drinking hot ginger tea in the shady patio of a café in Fort Myers. There was enough seating to hold twenty or so people, but at golden hour on the day of the Super Bowl, sports bars were more attractive to the retired crowd than vegan coffee shops. I was there with my computer, my journal and my kindle, trying to escape the noise of my own home.

“Hello, how are ya,” he said without looking at me as he walked in front of my table, taking a seat at the table next to me. He was wearing a striped polo shirt, jeans and tennis shoes. I noticed from behind his backpack that he hand a hunched back, and he walked with the sort of stride that hinted at an injury that never healed or an aging hip that no longer worked well.

“I’m good, thanks,” I politely said.

“Well it’s Sunday! Everyone’s great on a Sunday! You’ve probably seen me before, out playing violin on the street,” he said, squinting at me from behind his glasses. Before I answered, I turned to him. He was short, middle aged and had stringy, strawberry blond hair. I was scanning him to remember if I had seen him. I hadn’t been in Fort Myers very long, but, there was a chance.

“No, actually I haven’t,” I said with a tone of surprise. When he acted surprised, I didn’t feel like explaining that it was probably me, not him-  I only recently got here. I turned back to my computer and started to open the article I was working on.

“But I don’t play on Sundays!” he said, “Sundays are for rest!” I didn’t look back at him this time. I had just gotten to the café and didn’t really feel like talking.

He must have missed singing on a Sunday, because just a few seconds later he belted out, “Ayyyyyy, yaaaaayyyyy yaaaaaaaa……!!!” From my peripheral vision I could feel him staring at me, but I still ignored him. Was this going to be one of those times where if you don’t acknowledge someone they eventually go away?

I started to type a few words when I heard him speaking sarcastically below his breath, chin down as he rummaged through his backpack. “Oh sorry, you’re working, I hate when people keep interrupting me when I’m just on my computer…” I could barely make it out, even though he was just a few feet away. Then, he repeated the same phrase “Oh, sorry, you’re working…” again. I usually don’t mind engaging with strangers, but I could tell he was trying to taunt me.

“Yeah, I’m really trying to work,” I told him, barely looking.

“Well exactly, that’s what I just said, you’re on your computer! Don’t you listen?” he quipped back. Not responding, I kept my eyes on the computer screen in front of me, hoping the words would spill out of me and I could look deep in thought even though I was distracted by this man and thinking of ways to get him to stop bothering me.

I heard him chuckling softly, and then he talked under his breath too quietly for me to hear. He continued to do so for a few more second and then suddenly stopped when I turned to look at him. For the last few minutes I had tried to let him think that his presence meant nothing to me. Now, I stared directly into his eyes, hoping my uninviting glare would deter him.

When he started to talk to himself again, he wasn’t discreet about it. He raised his voice and looked directly at me, his squinted eyes and curled lip showing he was content with himself. “You’ve got big boobs –”

“I would prefer if you didn’t say those things,” I said, cutting him off. I wondered if it was time to ask management if he could leave.

“– and you’re a really pretty girl…” he kept talking as he picked up his backpack and carried it in one arm, slowly making his way to a table further away, diagonal from mine.

He continued to murmur about violins, and working on a Sunday, and girls, until the peppy café employee opened the door and bounced over to him, handing him his smoothie.

He grabbed his smoothie and hoisted his backpack over his hunched back.“You have a good day now,” he said slowly, taking his time as he walked towards the door.

“You too,” I told him, wondering if I meant it.

This post is part of weekly series titled Character Tuesday, where every Tuesday I bring you a story about (a) unique individual(s) I’ve encountered. Like I always say, life can be good or bad, but as long as it’s entertaining, that’s all you need. This series is meant to celebrate our quirks and idiosyncrasies.


Featured photo taken in Budapest, December 2014. 

What You Need To Know About Claiming Back Taxes And Super After An Australian Working Holiday Visa

I normally don’t write how-to posts like this, but since struggled in this process I believed it was important for someone on the internet to search for and find.

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You’ll need that money if you get your car stuck in the sand like this.

Foreigners working in Australia on a Working Holiday Maker Visa (subclass 417 and 462) are ‘residents for tax purposes’ and eligible to claim back superannuation and taxes (note that as of 1 January 2017, the first $37,000 earned will be taxed at 15%).

When I filed for my tax return in Australia in June, I got money back within a week. Now, after leaving Australia and filing for my tax return, it’s a completely different story. It’s not the quick turnaround I banked on. If you’re leaving Australia before the end of the fiscal year and you want to claim back taxes, don’t plan on getting it back quickly. Claiming superannuation was another obstacle. Make sure that even though you’ve left you haven’t lost track of any crucial information, such as your tax file number (TFN), Australian bank details, all previous Australian residential addresses and login details for online super and banking.

Below are some tips to making your process less stressful. But first: Here’s the key to getting back a ton of money after your working holiday visa:

DO NOT WORK CASH-IN-HAND.

It might seem tempting and it might seem like the best option at the time, but working cash in hand means that more likely than not your employers are cheating you while cheating the system. They’re not paying taxes which does nothing to help you, because  you don’t have to pay taxes! (at least not prior to 2017) This also means they are not paying into your superannuation, which you are also eligible to claim back.

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This describes the process to getting all that $$$$.

LODGING YOUR TAX RETURN

The most important thing to note here is that this process takes time if you do it before the end of the fiscal year, so don’t expect to get your money back quickly.

Here’s what you need to do:

1. Collect payment summaries from all of your employers. Sometimes they will resist (most frustratingly, Hays Recruitment), so if they do print out every pay slip you received.

2. Read this from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). Make sure you fulfill the requirements to lodge your tax return early, which for those on WHM visas means you’ve left the country, your visa has been cancelled or is expired, and you will no longer receive income from Australia. Note that you have to mail in your paperwork if you lodge it early. It cannot be done electronically.

3.Download and print the tax return for individuals form for the appropriate year. To lodge mine this year, I downloaded the most recent, which was from 2016, and crossed out 2016 and wrote 2017 on every page. Nailed it!

FINALLY: Collect all your payment information paperwork and with your tax return form (#3), mail it to Australia. If you are mailing it from abroad (which you probably will be), address it to:

Australian Taxation Office
GPO Box 9845
Sydney NSW 2001, Australia 

Now,  all you have to do is wait. The ATO says it will take up to five weeks.

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Maybe you worked in a cafe like this one in Alice Springs. 

CLAIMING SUPERANNUATION

Also known as ‘departing Australia superannuation payment’ (DASP). Claiming DASP seems simple, until you realized that the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) is giving you a headache. That’s right, they’re a pain in the ass. Even though you may have left Australia four months ago and your visa has expired, you still have to cancel your visa before you’ll get your DASP. In fact, they won’t even let you submit your application for DASP before the DIBP clears you a runaway. (I only found this out after a week of confusion and finally messaging the ATO on Twitter.) So here’s how to do it:

1. Email Super Hobart (super.hobart@border.gov.au) with the following information:

  1. a clear statement that you wish to have your temporary visa cancelled,
  2. your full name and date of birth (and those of all people who hold a visa because they are a member of your family unit, or hold a visa only because you hold your visa.),
  3. passport number when you visited Australia,
  4. subclass of the temporary visa you wish to have cancelled,
  5. current residential address,
  6. the date that you departed Australia.

Note that this process can take up to five weeks. Once this process has been cleared, you can complete your DASP application, or if you’ve already completed it, finally submit it.

2. Read the DASP application instructions on the ATO website.

3. Complete the online DASP application.

Now,all you have to do is….

WAIT.

Have you claimed your taxes and DASP after a Working Holiday Visa? How did it go?


Featured photo: Degraves Espresso, on Degraves Street in Melbourne’s CBD.

 

 

Read These Books & Watch These Movies Before You Travel To Australia

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AUSTRALIA


The country-continent Australia may only have a population of 23 million (compared to the U.S.’s 318 million), but it is one of the most multicultural countries in the world. Films and books are an ideal way to begin to understand the history and society of this grog guzzling, coffee-obsessed, friendly country, even before you embark on your trip. This is absolutely not an exhaustive list, but I chose some of the most informative and entertaining for me. I’ve put an * on my favorites.

Film/TV

*Tracks A 2013 film starring Mia Wasikowska and Adam Driver based on Robyn Davidson’s memoir Tracks. The film follows the story of a young woman who treks solo through the Australian outback in 1977, where she confronts physical as well as emotional challenges. This film is not only one of the  most aesthetically beautiful works of art, but gives the viewer an understanding of the dangers, distance and isolation of the outback. Robyn has to handle sexism, a changing tourism industry and the wisdom of local indigenous people she comes across.

Red Dog A friend at the mine told me, “Everything you need to know about the Pilbara, you can learn by watching Red Dog.” While I do think this may be somewhat of an exaggeration, this 2011 film will inform you about the 20th century European immigration,  the mining industry and the inhospitable region of Western Australia, all while making you laugh and cry.

Russell Coight’s All Aussie Adventures This 2001-2 mockumentary series starring Glenn Robbins was also recommended to me while working at the mine. The hilarious take on the travel genre gives viewers insight into the outback and Australian slang and humor.

The Castle This 1997 comedy focuses on one family who is faced with the threat of being kicked off their property. Viewers get an understanding of some of the most quintessential Australian values, including supporting the underdog. In 2010, 37% of Aussies chose this movie as representative of them.

Muriel’s Wedding Toni Collette’s first major role is of Muriel, an underappreciated girl in society and in her family. Muriel takes a journey from her home in Queensland to Sydney where she starts a new life and seeks to find the love her life. This movies gives a fictitious look at Queensland in the 90s.

*Prison Songs One of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen (no expert here, but it’s amazing), it’s not just a documentary but a musical documentary. The filmmakers capture the lives of the prisoners of Berrimah Prison in Northern Territory, mixing sad histories with comedic interpretations of their present circumstances. It takes viewers into the complications of being indigenous, highlighting domestic violence, identity, alcoholism and tradition.

*Stingray Sisters Stingray Sisters is a (very) recently released documentary series that follows three half-indigenous, half-white Australian sisters in the indigenous community of Maningrida, Arnhem Land, Northern Territory. The sisters showcase the confusions of having multiple identities and the grassroots struggle of modern day aboriginal land rights. Buy the series on their website. Trailer below.

Chasing Asylum Is a startling 2016 documentary that examines the Australian government’s treatment of asylum seekers trying to reach Australia. They are detained indefinitely on Australia’s offshore detention centers on Christmas, Nauru and Manus Islands. This is a film that anyone with interest in current migration issues needs to see.

Books

In A Sunburned Country, by Bill Bryson Bill Bryson shares his tales of traveling through Australia, giving insight into social issues, history and travel. This book is a great way to get overview of the Australian character

*Foreign Correspondence: A Pen Pal’s Journey From Down Under to All Over, by Geraldine Brooks A lovely memoir of Brooks’s journey from being a child in a working class neighborhood in Sydney and dreaming of exotic locations, to her adulthood as a foreign correspondent and reconnecting with her childhood pen pals. Brooks teaches her readers about working class Australian life and gives a first-person look at Australia’s changing cultural scene with the influx of European immigrants in the last half of the 20th century.

*Different White People: Radical Activism for Aboriginal Rights 1946-1972, by Deborah Wilson An adaptation of Wilson’s doctoral thesis, this dense (yet fascinatingly informative) recount of the aboriginal rights movement and its relationship to the communist party of Australia. This book teaches about Australian history, politics and aboriginal land rights through a rarely examined lens.

*Cloudstreet, by Tim Winton One of Winton’s most famous novels, Cloudstreet tells the story of two families during the span of 2o years, 1943-1963. These families, coming from rural and working class backgrounds, live through the end of the war and the transformation of post-war society in Perth. This novel teaches readers of fundamental Australian themes and Australian vernacular English while Winton writes in profoundly lyrical language. (Note from a non-literary critic: I love this book in part because it reminds of Latin American magical realism.)

*The Crocodile Hotel, by Julie Janson Anyone traveling or living in the Northern Territory or other primarily indigenous populated areas would be interested to understand the identity, marginalization and history of indigenous communities in colonized Australia discussed in this novel. The main character, a half-indigenous single mother, who by her appearance passes as a white Australian, leaves Sydney in the 1970s and accepts a teaching position in a remote aboriginal community hours from Katherine. There, she encounters disgusting racism and sexism, becomes involved in the land rights movement and faces intense personal struggles. This beautifully written novel gives so much inspiration to work to combat the issues we still encounter today.

Praise, by Andrew McGahan Reading Praise feels a bit like reading The Catcher in the Rye or even On the Road. Not much happens. There’s a lot of doing nothing. Of contemplating. Of taking drugs and feeling worthless. But that’s just the point. The book explains that the 1990s in Australia was “A time when the dole was easier to get than a job, when heroin was better known than ecstasy, and when ambition was the dirtiest of words. A time when, for two hopeless souls, sex and dependence were the only lifelines.” What I liked about reading this book was that even though it was written in the 1990s, I saw so many parallels between the attitude of the characters and some millennial Australians I met. It was like they were a misinterpreted version of relaxed Australian attitudes, that instead of being ‘chill’ formed into utterly lazy people.

Great Australian Ghost Stories, by Richard Davis This suggestion is coming from the unabashed ghost tour participant. These short stories are sometimes scary, sometimes boring but most of all historically interesting, giving readers a glimpse into Australian culture and colonial rhetoric. Especially interesting for those residing in Victoria and New South Wales, as many of the scary stories come from those states.

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As seen on my road trip from Brisbane to Cairns.

Are you Australian or lived in Australia? What books and films would you recommend to visitors? 


Featured photo: a tree with fabric hanging out of it, taken along the Red Center Way near King’s Canyon.

Want to learn more about Australia? Check out these resources for visiting or living in Melbourne:
where to learn something new,
websites to keep you up-to-date on what’s happening around the city, and
how to find feminist events.

Photo Friday: Toilet Signs Of Japan, Sydney & Bangkok

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That Japanese toilet may look standard, but it’s far from it. It heats your bum up when you’re cold and plays music to drown out the sound of your shit dropping. Genius!

This past winter, I traveled for two months in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines and a short stopover in Bangkok.

Japan and Bangkok had creative signs, while the places I visited in Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines were less entertaining.

Japan


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Selfies 4 Eva

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I sense a lot of pink in these Japanese toilets. Tough on the gender roles, maybe?

*Bonus from Japan*

How to use a toilet:

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Sydney


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The Customs House in Sydney

Bangkok


 

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Love toilet signs as much as I do? Don’t miss pictures of toilet signs taken in the Australian outback, Southeast Asia and the Camino de Santiago.


Featured photo: Toilets in the Oslo, Norway airport. Can you feel the sleekness? 

Character Tuesday: The Happiest Yoga Instructor

I took my camera to Abbotsford Convent on afternoon last fall in Melbourne. Practicing photography with my friends, we sat down to eat at Lentils As Anything, a vegan, pay-what-you-can buffet restaurant. The staff, who are all volunteers, are all ages and backgrounds, but often backpackers dressed in colorful, vintage clothes.

One waiter (pictured above) saw me taking photos and, despite his busy shift, posed for several shots. He was from Japan, but I can’t remember his name. After he posed, he invited us to his weekly pay-what-you-can yoga class on the lawn in the same convent. He smiled calmly as he walked with a lightness in his step and made each person feel welcome in his space.

The next week, I went back for his yoga class. When I looked around for me, the other volunteers told me he was at an immigration appointment. The next week, I left Melbourne, so I never got to his class.

This post is part of weekly series titled Character Tuesday, where every Tuesday I bring you a story about (a) unique individual(s) I’ve encountered. Like I always say, life can be good or bad, but as long as it’s entertaining, that’s all you need. This series is meant to celebrate our quirks and idiosyncrasies.