Character Tuesday: When You Can’t Force Them To Care

After reading New York Times article “‘They are Slaughtering Us Like Animals,'” I send it to a former Filipina coworker. “What do you think of this?” I asked her, expecting to hear strong opposition. This was the same coworker who had explained who Duterte was, long before he was elected. She was also the person who told me about Ferdinand E. Marcos, the 1972-1981 dictator, and his devastating mandate of Martial Law, where thousands of people were imprisoned, tortured and disappeared. She sighed as she explained that many of her millennial peers fail to comprehend the tragedy of this era.

Later, she finally texts back. “That’s old news,” she writes, “That’s been happening since July.” I was surprised that such a nonchalant statement was all she told me. Maybe she was distraught herself, or maybe just busy. Tone isn’t conveyed well through text. I decided to go further. “Well,” I asked her, “What do you think about it? Are you upset? Are you scared?”

She never responded.

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: The cuartel in Oslob, Philippines. Photo originally appeared in this post.

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: 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.

 

Character Tuesday: A Phone Repair Man, A 1975 Date Stamp and A Lot Of Flirtation

Yasmine’s note: It’s been a long time since I’ve written my weekly post “Character Tuesday.” My three months at the mine filled me with so many personalities it was hard to keep track of, and even harder to imagine writing about them (but you can read overviews of them on the series Mine Camp Diaries). There was still one, a Filipino phone repairman, who stands out among the rest. Maybe it’s because I recently traveled to the Philippines, or maybe it’s because when I tried to escape the characters at the mine, I only found more back in Darwin. Against my will, Edward ended up being a fixture during those three months.

The first day I met him

People who live in Darwin say it has two seasons: hot and hotter. The first day I met Edward, it was still the hot season, but because I was so unused to being under the climatic fryer it felt much more intense than just ‘hot.’

I was temporarily living at Chili’s Backpackers, a hostel on Darwin’s main pub street, Mitchell Street. It was full of screaming, drunk British people and 18-year-old German girls who weren’t really sure what to do next in life. I was sitting in the open-air common room on the second floor when suddenly my phone went black. Nothing. Wouldn’t even turn on. I walked outside and a few feet away from Chili’s I saw a phone repair store.

I walked in and saw a short, scrawny Filipino man sitting at the desk. I explained to him my problem. He told me that my phone was still working, but the screen was broken. I noticed he was wearing camouflage army pants and a polo shirt as he spoke to me in perfect English, with only a hint of a Filipino accent.

He told me to sit down and started to test a few things to confirm that it was a broken screen. Other customers came in and out, and in between answering their questions he asked me some. When I told him I came from the U.S., he began to call me “Miss America,” a name that would carry through the remainder of our short working relationship. He stared at me while he looked at my phone, he was intrigued and very obviously enamored and didn’t stop at the small talk. He wanted to get straight to the core of who I was.

He started by asking me if I liked to go out, and motioned towards Monsoon’s, one of the most popular backpacker and military bars in town. Darwin has military bases for several countries, making it one of the most unbearable places to get drunk. You’re just trying to dance when an 18-year-old, 5’2” bald American tries to flirt with you by screaming into your eardrum over the pounding music. “Why don’t you find a German girl your own age,” I’m tempted to say.

Edward was still examining my phone when asked me if I liked movies. Asking someone if they like movies is a like asking if someone likes music, or if they like to eat. Of course. Even if someone isn’t a movie buff, they at least have a movie from their childhood that brings them good memories, or if they’re from the U.S. have probably watched movies socially.

“I like superman,” he said, “I can be your superman.” I laughed, unsure of what other kind of reaction a statement like that warrants. I could have said “thank you,” but that’s a bit too acknowledging of what he had to say.

“Give me a half hour and I’ll fix it, Miss America,” he said. “It’ll be $130 but if you decide now I’ll give you a discount.”

naptimewithyasmine-edward2
“Everything is very expensive.” That’s how I feel about Edward’s phone repair prices. Photo taken in Spain in April 2015. 

“Okay, thanks,” I said, “I’ll be back in a bit.”

In his closing line before I walked out, he referred to himself again as “superman” and made some sort of comment that communicated he was my superman and could do anything for me. Thank you, because I needed one.

When I came back a half hour later, I was halfway nervous he had looked through all my photos. There wasn’t anything to be ashamed of, but it’s just weird. It’s like knowing someone robbed your house when you were asleep. I would know how creepy that is, because it’s happened to me.

If when I dropped off my phone Edward was hinting at romantic interest, when I picked it up, he was showing complete honesty.

“Let’s go see a movie together,” he said, “We both love movies.” Even though it still pains me to turn people down (I don’t like to hurt people’s feelings), I’ve had enough feminist education to know that dancing around the subject and saying “maybe” isn’t benefitting anyone.

“No, I don’t think I’m interested in that, but thank you,” I replied. That’s about as honest as I could muster.

He didn’t stop there, though, he tried a few different times and in a few different ways; Asking for my phone number, asking if I wanted to get drunk. As I was walking out, I said,“You know, Edward, I think I’d like to keep this a professional relationship.” And I politely smiled, waved, and left, noting to never return to that phone store again.

Round two

After the first time I met Edward, I didn’t think I’d ever see him again. Nor did I care to. I don’t like people that put you in positions where you are on edge but feel like you have to be nice.

But two weeks after, right after I came back from the mine, I was at Chili’s when my screen wasn’t working well. I can’t remember exactly what it was doing, but the color was off, it was blurry and I was mad I paid $120 (with the discount) for a broken screen.

I didn’t want to go back to Edward, but I had a warranty there. After all, he had told me he was my superman and anything I needed he would do. So I rolled my eyes and walked across the street to the phone repair store.

When I walked in, his face lit up. He was helping two European backpackers with a new phone case, and suddenly very aware of my presence. He suddenly looked frazzled. His movements became more jerky and his eyes were spinning every which way.

Maybe he thought I was finally interested. Maybe he thought I missed him. I could see his wonder growing by the minute as I stood near him, waiting for him to finish explaining the phone cases to them. The feeling of having people be affected by your presence is both an uncomfortable and ego-boosting feeling. Even though I only wanted to get my phone fixed and spend the rest of my day doing other things, like writing or researching, I couldn’t help but enjoy the sense of power his nervousness gave me.

He looked up at me: “Miss America,” he said. He looked back at the two girls he was helping. One of the girls said in a thick German accent,“But this is $40 and there’s no screen protector.”

He looked at her, and he looked at me, and he hesitated. Suddenly he barked, “Fine! I’ll give it to you for $30!” And he threw it down and grabbed the credit card machine.

Turning his attention to me, we began to go through same conversation as we always had. He asked me hopeful questions, wondering what I was up to and why had it been so long since I’d seen him. Changing the subject, I told him the problem and he told me to again come back in a half hour.

After I came back, he asked me out again, an invitation which I rejected, this time a bit more forceful than the previous. I walked out, but only a few feet out of the door I realized my phone said “August 27, 1975.” I grunted out loud and cursed Edward. He must have done this on purpose to lure me into his closet-sized, dodgy phone repair shop!

“Edward, what IS this!” I screamed as I walked through the door, “Why does it say it’s 1975!” He suggested I update my phone, log onto the WiFi, or change it myself manually. I challenged him, wondering why suddenly, after I visited him, that it just now changed. He tried to work on it. A few minutes later, he said he fixed it.

I walked out and read the time stamp “September 2025.” “UGH!” I screamed again, this time too frustrated to even try. I let it be, and now I  still have photos that say they were taken in 2025.

The Last and Final Time

naptimewithyasmine-edward
“The end has arrived.” Graffiti in Leon, Spain. Taken while walking the Camino de Santiago, June 2015. 

Three weeks after my phone decided it was 2025, it went black again. I was thoroughly dreading seeing him again. I surely could have gone to another phone repair shop, but I didn’t want to spend more money than necessary. I had already spent so much with Edward, and besides, I was trying to save  for my upcoming travels to the U.S. and Argentina.

When I walked towards Edward’s shop, I had a growing frustration radiating through my body. I was angry; angry that I felt like I had to be nice to this man who continually asked me out despite my rejections. I was angry that men are taught they have to be the saviors; that based on Hollywood movies, women really don’t know what they want – it just takes a bit of convincing and they’ll be yours. I was angry that Edward was nerdy and clueless, because he probably hadn’t had much luck with ladies before. The fact that he was so hopeful after  my standard politeness show his inexperience. I felt sorry for him. And worse that I was annoyed at him. Is it his fault that’s he’s a product of society?

I wasn’t just angry, but I was also dehydrated. I was tired. I had just gotten off of night shift and I was not in the mood. I didn’t have the physical or mental strength to handle the demands he required.

I walked in without a smile. I sat down and waited my turn.

“My phone’s broken again, Edward,” I said, quiet and direct.

“What’s wrong with you?” he said, “You look sad.”

I should have told him the truth right then. I should have told him that I wasn’t sad, I was just angry I had to be at his shop again and wondered why he persisted so much despite my best attempts to reject him.

I pride myself on being patient, but I had no patience for this man. Finally, after a few minutes, he sensed it. He didn’t smile. He didn’t call himself superman and he didn’t call me Miss America. I took my fixed phone and I walked out.

The next day, I left Darwin forever.


Featured photo: A graffiti seen near Burgos, Spain, on the Camino de Santiago. Seen in June 2016.

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.

Character Tuesday: Barrow Creek Pub Barman

 

I walked up to Barrow Creek Pub stuffing Tim Tams in my mouth. I saw a balding, middle-aged man in a casual T-shirt in front of me. I licked the melting chocolate off the finger of my right hand and held out the sleeve of biscuits in the other. “Do you want a Tim Tam?” I asked him. “No, thank you,” he said as he went inside the door.

On my way in, I said hello to two people in denim outfits sitting at the table outside, drinking cans of beer. There were dim neon lights bringing a subtle glow to the woman’s face, framed by a short box-cut hairdo. I noticed she was stocky and serious, her greeting was warm.  As I followed him in to find my friends, I saw him grab a can a beer. No Tim Tams necessary here. 

©Allison Yates. barrow creek6
Inside Barrow Creek Roadhouse

It was by accident that my travel mates and I made our way there. We needed gas and considering the isolation and uncertainty of the outback, considered it a safe bet to top up before the 88km it would take to reach Ti Tree. We joked that this was the time we were going to be brutally murdered in the outback, stopping at dusk in a town that was only as a big as its telegraph station. But as soon as I walked through the door of the roadhouse and scanned my eyes around the room, I realized that we were not going to get murdered here but instead be one of the thousands and thousands of tourists who are lucky to meet Michael. The man who refused my Tim Tams. (I guess if you’re Australian they’re not such a novelty…)

While I was out stuffing my face, he had already started to impress the German boys I was traveling with. Name dropping important German figures and spitting off soccer statistics and beating their knowledge of German history, my mates stood smiling, almost incredulous. He pointed to German paraphernalia and took out souvenirs that – after over 40 years of tourists gifting things the pub – had amassed into shelves and drawers of excess. He walked us over to the back of the pub, where above the doorway he hung a license plate from West Berlin.

©NaptimeWithYasmine. barrow creek

He finished talking to the Germans and asked where I was from. “How well do you know your presidents?” he followed up. I mentally covered my face in my hands because I knew this was going to be another time when I was shown up on my own country’s history by someone who’s never even visited. He spoke passionately and quickly about conspiracy theories involving JFK and Lincoln, the Freemasons and who’s really going to be on the face of the U.S. bank notes.

©Allison Yates. barrow creek2

It only took me five minutes of sauntering around the pub to judge him as the man who appears to hold endless knowledge. The man who is friends with everyone but sits alone behind you at trivia and answers questions like, “What was the second name of the platypus’s third cousin in the children’s book written in Boise, Idaho in 1957 but later remade into a one-hit wonder in 1988 and referenced in the most recent Tarentino movie?”

He stood behind the counter, taking coins and notes from different countries, quizzing me on what I knew about all 50 states. He was the only moving figure around a seeming trash dump of still memories – snakes in jars above the mantle, two panties from Nigerian women hanging off the wall, worn-down passport photos of tourists who probably look nothing like they once did when they passed through these doors.

©NaptimeWithYasmine. barrow creek4

He works behind the same counter, day after day, year after year. He’s seen thousands of tourists. Yet still, he was full of energy, excitement and pride. He struck me as the person who doesn’t talk all the time, but when prompted, can give a spontaneous 20 minute monologue. Working behind that counter, his life is surrounded by cowboys, skippies (kangaroos) and cattle stations. He may stay in the physical confines of Barrow Creek, but he has the awareness of the entire world reverberating all around him.

©NaptimeWithYasmine. barrow creek3

Read more about the Barrow Creek Pub and its history here.

Featured photo: The Barrow Creek Roadhouse view from the bathroom. Two locals listen to music and drink beer at the end of the day. 

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.

Character Tuesday: Budge, The Man With The Owl Wallet

There’s always this moment with strangers. This moment when they finally make their move after you see them eyeing you. You see their wheels churning, calculating the perfect opportunity to wiggle their way into your space. While in Cairns, that moment was asking if my friend and I wanted a photo together after he had been lurking close behind us for several blocks.

For Budge, a 45-year-old Melbournian with a missing tooth, that moment was asking us if we liked owls.

His question wasn’t random. He may have been a “junkie,” been high on a substance or just odd, but he wasn’t born yesterday. (I know that for a fact. He asked me to guess his age, so I know for sure he’s 45. Which means he was born 45 years ago. He only looks his age, he claimed “because his brother was an alcoholic.”) He waited for my friend and I to pull our bulky suitcases across Dandenong Road and roll them down the tram stop walkway. We sat down and he started pacing, talking to his homely friend with a gray pixie cut at the bench next to ours just to make it seem like he wasn’t eavesdropping on our chatter.

“Do you like owls?” he asked, stopping his pacing in front of us. He held up a pink and orange faux-leather wallet. It had an owl on the front. “I’d give it to my mom but she don’t deserve it.”

We tried to politely decline but he just shrugged and said, “I was just trying to give this perfectly good wallet to you.”

Like most people who you’ve read about on this weekly series, Budge was also curious about where we were from. Opening the conversation, the question of ‘where our accents were from’ took us for a ride where we got to hear his views of the workforce (according to him, the worst part about working in hospitality is the amount of “inexperienced 22-year-old girls with an ash tray group mentality”), leadership strategy (“…you’ve to delegate, put them in the worst position possible and you’ll see how much they actually want it!”) and even politics (“I always vote for Greens, because they’re anti-labour and anti-liberal and the only ones thinking outside the box, because there is no box!”).

Our casual banter was innocent, even informative – to a certain extent. He warned us that, as he’s lived his whole life in St. Kilda, we shouldn’t go there. He even went so far as to tell us to cover up, because the boys will try to take advantage. While I appreciated his protectiveness, I didn’t appreciate his victim blaming.

He then started to explain the area’s shifting demographics when I heard his friend from behind holler, “It’s a Rhino!”

“No, it’s a W class!” he shouted back. We looked to our right and saw the tram approaching. As it slowed down near us, he pointed towards Balaclava, Caufield and down towards St. Kilda. “This is the start of the ghetto,” he said. “What do you mean?” I questioned him. I was praying it wasn’t what I thought he meant. Those areas of Melbourne have high Jewish populations.  “You know,” he said, confirming my suspicions, “the Jewish quarters.” I put my head in my hands.

The tram doors sprung opened and we stood up and threw our suitcases up the stairs. Later, during the ride, I noticed I didn’t have the owl wallet. I asked my friend if she’d seen it.

“I saw it drop as we got on the tram. I didn’t pick it up on purpose,” she explained.

Featured photo: Luna Park in St. Kilda. 

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.

 

Character Tuesday: The Man On The Darwin Bus With A 175 IQ

Around 8:45am, I sat on a bench at Casuarina Square waiting for the bus. Besides myself and my new acquaintance who just recently moved here from India, there were only a few aimless people roaming around. There might have been more,  but the passed out drunks let their bodies lay limp in the shade.

A man walked past me slowly, dragging his dirt-covered, worn down flip flops on the ground. Carrying a Woolworth’s bag in one hand and a “coke bottle” in another, he stared at me with gentle bug eyes, magnified by his thick glasses.

Sitting down at the bench next to me, I noticed that, just like his flip flops, he looked worn down. The skin covering his skeleton-like body was patched either with dirt or sun damage. The ripped fabric on his shirt and stained denim vest looked like it smelled stale of dried blood and urine.  Despite his gray hair and beard, there was something youthful about his demeanor.

“Strawberry?” he interrupted my friend and I, holding out a plastic carton filled with the fruit. I haven’t bought strawberries since being in Australia. They are around $5-6 AU for a handful. Considering this, I gladly accepted.

“Thank you,” I said after finishing it, “It was so delicious.” Just as I threw the stem away, the number 4 bus pulled up. I hopped on and my new friend and I continued our conversation about employers in Australia taking advantage of foreign workers. The strawberries man sat near the back of the bus, but overhearing the conversation he caught my eye and moved closer to sit behind me.

“It’s not just foreigners, its Australians too,” he said. I acknowledged his contribution but continued to speak with my friend. As soon as he heard a break in our conversation the strawberries man jumped in, asking me where I was from. When I asked the question in return, he replied with a confusing name, spoken quickly. It was the kind of odd old English fused with an aboriginal name that was hard to remember. “But I’ve been living on an island,” he clarified, “with only around 130 people living there.”

When he asked specifics on where in the U.S. I was from, I said “Indiana” and followed it by my usual addition: “sort of in the middle,” I always say, just to give people some context. He huffed a bit and said, “Just ‘cause I live on an island doesn’t mean I’m stupid.” Then he added, “and I don’t let them take advantage of me,” in reference to our earlier conversation of workplace exploitation.

I looked over at my new Punjabi friend who looked slightly nervous as I talked to this man. In my experience, foreigners are really uncomfortable with rough-looking Australians and don’t like that I don’t mind engaging with them.

Despite my friend’s concerned look, I commented on how smart he was for avoiding such situations with employers.

“Well I’ve got an IQ of 175,” he shrugged. I nodded and after a few moments of silence he said, “You’ll probably be about average.”

“Hmm,” I nodded again, smiling a bit. He continued, “Most people are about 135, you’d probably be around there. That’s average.” I didn’t know quite what else to say to him, so I sat without speaking. Suddenly I got a call  from my friend Erin and after hanging up with her, I noticed he has retreated to the back of the bus.

He was sitting far away from me, but over the roar and creaking of the bus, I could hear his indiscriminate mumbling.

Featured photo taken from Facebook. 

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 andidiosyncrasies.