Neediness

I got two new plants this year.

They are the same species. They came from the same parent plant. When I first got them, they were the same size.

It was still summertime, so I put both of them outside, on my balcony. The only difference I made about them was their positioning. One, I put right there in the forefront, into the blazing sun. The other one, I gave a bit of shade, shielding it from the harsh sunlight, anticipating the brightness to probably burn it.

The two plants developed very differently, to my surprise.

The one that I trusted to be able to fend for itself, I had unknowingly exposed to everything it needed to grow into a beautiful, lush plant, by not protecting it.

The other is hesitant to grow at all, looking fragile and weak, and even when I then did put it in the sun next to its sister-plant, trying to fix my mistake, it never developed these healthy leaves.

It’s growing, too. But never with quite the same beautiful bushiness.

And this, my dear, is life.

plants1I can’t afford cats, SO…

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Keluar

Or: Exit

 

 

I don’t know if I read the bus time tables wrong or if the bus was just so much faster (the driver DID drive like a maniac. Try going 130 km/h on bumpy roads. It’s like losing your virginity all over again), but I arrive in Kuala Lumpur at 1 AM, not 7.

 

All I have in my pocket are S$5. Which no one will accept here. Did you know that in Malaysia the ATMs shut down at night (sort of defeating their whole purpose)? The friendly guy in 7/11 explains to me. So, what am I gonna do to get Malaysian currency?

“I’m having the same problem”, a gentleman behind me laughs.

 

But at least Starbucks is open for another 5 minutes, and they do take credit card. I’m buying a tall Latte and sit in their outdoor area while I’m trying to figure out what to do.

“I was looking all over for you”, the gentleman from 7/11 calls out behind me. “You said you can’t check into your hostel until morning, but it’s dangerous out here. Come, stay with my family.” He, his wife and daughter have a room in the huge hotel just above Starbucks, and they are kind enough to let me spend the night on their couch.

When he shows me the brightly lit Petronas Twin Towers from the living room window on the 27th floor, I have to hold back screams once again. I can’t wait to wake up in the morning and explore this city!

 

In KL (yup, we call it KL here) I slowly begin to transform. First it’s just the open toed sandals that I’ve refused to wear during every German summer my entire life just because I hate feet and especially my own. Then it’s the Aladdin pants which turn out to be so comfy and airy. Jeans really are unwearable in this humidity. Then it’s the Pashmina scarf gently draped around my shoulders whenever I enter highly air-conditioned facilities (which are all facilities). I end up with a Henna tattoo on my right hand. And last but not least: when the lady piercer in the Times Square Mall only asks for RM 8 for a nose ring, I totally go for it (her tiny shop looks clean enough). Spur of the moment thing and all. I am slowly turning into the thing I hate the most: A hippie.

You know how sitcoms always depict their characters like that? Coming back from an exotic place with braided and beaded hair. Well, you really cannot understand until you’ve been to one of these places yourself. It totally make sense now. Sure, to the locals I am sticking out like a sore thumb, looking like a brightly colored idiot dressing in cheap garments that none of them would actually be caught dead wearing. But that’s what we think they wear. And that’s not what I would wear back home. And I came here to be and do different.

 

ImageAt least we agree on the joys of eating.

 

 

I only have a couple of days in the city, so I try to make the most of it. The Petronas Towers are quite breathtaking, when I finally get a chance to stand right in front of them. I’m not big on architecture but somehow, I think they are beautiful.

I am checking out all the malls and shopping places KL has. My favorite being Times Square. It’s just so freakin’ cool with the piano stairs and its own theme park including rollercoaster inside. Not that I would ride it. I did, however, sit in the McDonalds right below it. Same fucking thing.

 

A train ticket from Sentral to the Batu Caves only costs a ridiculous RM 2.

When I get off the train and see the huge golden Murugan statue in the distance, I feel this sensation coming up inside of me again. That’s what I came to travel for. Tomb Raiding (appropriately, I am wearing my hair in a braid).

But: Watch for the monkeys. Vicious little thieves they are (even in Tomb Raider III they keep stealing your Medipacks), one stole an entire bag of chips right out of my hand before I even realized what was happening. And do not even think of touching them. Of course I did, because if it’s furry I wanna touch it, and I’m lucky I got out of there with all my fingers still attached to my hand.

 

I am gonna be honest here and I hope Malaysians will not hate me (I have at least one Malaysian friend on facebook so please forgive me): I find KL a bit boring.

On my third day I don’t even know how to pass the time anymore. I take yet another stroll through Chinatown where the shopkeepers already hate me because I’ve been getting so annoyed with their pushiness that I keep throwing in their faces I don’t want their fake crap and if I did, I’d get it at the mall for one third of their price – I guess I was in a really bad mood that day.

 

ImageMalaysian street art.

 

 

Everything is always “under maintenance” – coffee machines, bathrooms, ATMs, info boards, monorails …

Can be a pain in the ass to find some of these in the first place, and then finding it closed, is especially painful with bathrooms.

What makes KL is its people, who are so friendly and helpful that even though they probably think you are the weirdest person alive, they would never show it. It’s a shame I can’t explore other parts of Malaysia, as I am sure there are remote places worth seeing that aren’t big touristy cities, but time’s ticking.

 

My plan is to travel to Bangkok by train, not realizing how far it actually is, but I’d rather spend two days on a train than flying anyway. This means, I have to switch trains once close to the border to Thailand. When I board the train at KL Sentral, I get to share the department with a bunch of Malaysian soldiers. Which is in itself not a problem for me, but all of them are carrying heavy sniper rifle-looking fire arms in their laps. I am not sure if I should feel safe or be afraid of getting shot. For the next three hours, until they exit the train, I am trying to pretend I don’t exist.

 

When I arrive at Butterworth station (Penang) at 10:30 PM to change trains to Bangkok (in exactly 16 hours from then), I find everything abandoned. No hostels or hotels open. This is what I get for not planning much in advance. For wanting to be adventurous and spontaneous. Everywhere I try to sit, people tell me to go somewhere else because either it’s not allowed or it’s too dangerous. I walk to the temporary train station (because the permanent one is – surprise! – under maintenance) contemplating if the chances are higher of me getting raped or getting mugged.

At the station I find three older gentlemen who introduce themselves as a Police guard, a KTM employee and a “Vietnamese guy”. Initially they kick me out of the train station but allow me to sit on a hard stone bench outside. After a while, though, they seem to feel pity for me because they decide to join me as bodyguards (their words). At 2 AM they even let me inside the station. I suppose it’s because they are tired of the mosquito bites.

 

The KTM employee takes off on his moped just to come back 10 minutes later with a bottle of coke and two bags of cookies and nuts for me. “Sleep, sleep!” he says then, but I am scared to close my eyes because despite their niceness, people have told me so many horror stories about stolen luggage in Asia that I don’t want to let my backpack out of my sight. But eventually my tiredness gets the better of me and when the night shift workers start going to sleep in the waiting room, I figure it’s safe to close my eyes as well.

 

At 5 AM, the KTM employee wakes me up by slapping my face. He tells me I need to eat and drink, and fetches me more snacks and coffee in a plastic bag before his shift ends.

 

 

ImageI did eventually figure out a way to drink this.

 

 

I stash the snacks in my backpack, knowing I’ll be on a train to Bangkok for another 23 hours. Then I play the waiting game once again.

 

As I sit in that temporary train station, I keep feeling the tears building up inside. I can’t even explain why or where exactly they’re coming from. All I know is I can’t cry because I don’t want to show weakness in front of other people. And it’s not easy right now. There are only a handful of people that have ever seen me cry and I prefer to keep it that way. Maybe it’s the lack of sleep. Maybe it’s because I finished the last half of the Hunger Games trilogy in one go while I am waiting and I hate Suzanne Collins for ruining Katniss’ and Gales’ relationship because they belong together – and it’s just a very upsetting story in general (seriously, do not read it if already in an emotionally fragile state). Maybe it’s because I’ve never felt this lonely and abandoned in my entire life. And this is a bold statement for me.

I’ve got my adventure, alright. But instead of fixing something, it just rattles me even more inside. Yes, traveling did help me figure out a lot of things that I wasn’t sure of back home. But I see no way these things are gonna change. But, isn’t figuring out the problem the first step of the solution?

 

And for everyone who was wondering: Day 9 of the nose piercing – still no infection.

 

 

A Whole New World

Or: Clearly I’ve been to Singapore

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At Brisbane right before my flight to Singapore I run into an old friend. One of my jungle mates happens to share the exact same flight (I figure, once you’ve spent three days in the jungle together bathing in each others pubic hair you’re allowed to call yourself a friend). And as coincidence has it, the seat next to me stays empty, so once we’re in the air, he comes to sit with me. This turns out to be an enormous relief for me, as we endure some shitty turbulences which felt like were going on for 2 hours+ (I swear I am never boarding a plane again) – in actuality probably only 10 minutes. I’m having a slight panic attack which causes the guy in front of us to start a war. We can’t really hear him over the noise of the plane (his answer to our questions are “You heard me!”) but the annoyed look on his face speaks for itself. It doesn’t help my already upset stomach thinking that it might come to a fight in 10km height but finally he sees sense and asks the flight attendant to move him to another seat.

We do make it to Singapore alive, where my jungle mate and I have one last cup of coffee (slang for McDonalds meal) together until we go our separate ways.

 

And then I realize it as the humidity hits me in the face: I am in freaking Singapore. For years I’ve dreamed of coming to South East Asia and now that I’m finally here, it feels so surreal. I have to hold back screams in the back of my throat when the taxi to my hostel passes the Singapore Flyer and the Marina Bay Sands Hotel in the distance.

 

My hostel is located in the Arabian district (subtly labeled Arab street) and is quite clean. Some might be surprised that I am surprised. I can’t quite figure out how to use these showers, though.. they say “Made in Germany” but that’s clearly a lie. Like the Gucci labels. The toilet and shower are in the same tiny room, so I end up just hosing myself down with the thing that I am sure is for those Asians who don’t use toilet paper. But let’s keep that our secret. We’re all friends here, right?

 

It turns out I’m an excellent haggler when next morning, a tailor on Orchard Road (that’s the main shopping road) offers to make me a dress and goes down S$200 in price because I keep telling him that all this is very nice but I honestly cannot afford it (it wasn’t tactic, my good man). As my first time in Asia, I would feel horrible to just ignore him and walk away, so after 20  minutes I manage to excuse myself by saying I will think about it and come back later.

In Chinatown, the only shopping street I can afford, a friendly lady shows me how to use chop sticks which kind of forces me to buy a pair. While walking down the street, I keep practicing. This seems to make all shopkeepers I pass very happy and they tell me I am a natural. I am sure they were being genuine.

 

ImageSingapore ❤s you

 

 

My favorite place in Singapore is definitely the Gardens by the Bay – especially at night. It’s like Darnassus has come to life and I honestly don’t want to leave. If someone made me choose one place on earth where I had to spend the rest of my life this would be it. It’s my fantasy come true. For those of you who don’t know: Darnassus is the capital city of the Night Elfs in World of Warcraft. And that’s enough Nerdism for today.

 

2 days is not nearly enough to see all of what Singapore has to offer. It’s a beautiful and clean city that keeps me occupied, but also a bit too pricy for me. Cheaper than Sydney, that’s for sure, but if I am to survive in Asia for another 8 weeks (and I have to – flight back to Australia is already booked!) I need to get out of here. Everyone in Singapore speaks nearly perfect English, so booking a bus is easy-peasy. Only finding the bus stop causes a bit of a problem. But Asians tend to freely ask if you need any help if you’re starting to look too puzzled, and politely point me in the right direction. Next destination: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

 

 

A Beauty and a Beast

Or: All good things come in Threes – The Lord of the Rings, Tequila Shots and Starter Pokemon

 

 

I usually like long journeys (except planes. I just don’t trust anything so heavy that high up in the air. Yes, it does interfere a bit with my plans to travel the world. I guess I’m just gonna have to buy really comfy hiking boots. And get a boat license. And a boat. And a few million bucks).

As I was saying; it gives me time to catch up on my reading and/or writing. I love looking out of the window, watch the landscape pass by and think, make up stories. I’m a straight-up mind person. Everything is happening up there for me. As opposed to, down there, I guess. That’s why my mind is so easily fucked. It’s also the reason why I don’t like to drink very often (which didn’t make me many backpacking friends. Seriously, sometimes I felt I was being 13 years old again having to prove something. The Oktoberfest being part of my culture also didn’t help much to change people’s perception of me).

Anyway (I’m a little distracted today, aren’t I) – This time, the 8 hour journey from Leeton to Sydney seems never-ending. Maybe that’s because it’s winter and even though I have left the Fruitshack early in the morning, it is as dark as a monkey’s butthole when I finally arrive. Or maybe, it’s just because I can’t wait to get there. You know why. I know why. Everyone knows why. Because Mindfuck. Still on the train, I already know what I’m gonna do. I am also pretty sure of the outcome. Why am I doing it anyway? Because, reasons. Shut up and go away.

 

In the city, I meet up with my old roommate who, despite me taking my time to actually talk to her for the first time, turns out to be pretty amazing. She sort of runs her own café. She knows everyone who is walking by, never shy to give out a scoop of ice cream or wise words over a cup of tea, and is always smiling and happy. It’s a modern take on Cheers, if you will.

So as we sit in her café basically all freakin day – even long after it’s closed – we have some of these life-changing, eye-opening conversations that I cherish so much. She makes me feel my age, for once, instead of an immature fantasy-loving basement troll who is never gonna be happy unless I gain the ability to shoot energy balls out of my bare hands and enslave the rest of humanity to do my bidding. In case you were wondering – that’s a good thing. The first thing, not the latter. I am definitely not crazy. Definitely. Trust me.

My dream was to one day be able to say “I’ve lived in Sydney for two years, and then I’ve lived in Tokyo for three years, and after that I went to New York for 7 months..” etc. and not to say “I rushed through Australia in a year”. I wanted to experience every little nook of a city, become a part of it, LIVE there. This is where I went wrong when I thought I had to travel up the East coast back in November just because I have a backpack, even though Sydney actually offered everything that I wanted (yes, for the rest of my life I’ll ask myself where the thing with Gustav could have went if I had stayed). I like being abroad, but I don’t enjoy traveling.

 

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Australian Gilmore Girls. Sorta.

 

And that’s when I decide to take a time-out. Take the little money I earned from farmwork and go to South East Asia as I’ve always wanted. As much as I like to occupy myself with the lovey-dovey stuff, I have to clear my head and think straight again. After, I can come back to Straya and do what I came to do – make money. Just not in Sydney anymore (seriously, I am not making this situation any better). In the words of Elrond: “Why do you linger here where there’s no hope?”

I send out a very last message (for real this time) to Gustav saying my goodbyes. I try to make it sound less sappy and more casual. Which I know won’t matter in the end, but whatever. Gustav reads my message but – Surprise! – doesn’t dignify it with an answer. That’s probably a good thing. Makes it more 500 Days of Summer-esque. Maybe that’s why I keep writing him, hanging on to something that isn’t real so I don’t have to face something real. I can just pretend this is was something special.

“You-hoo-hooo-hoo think we’re something that we’re not”, sings some starlet ironically on the radio in the mall, –

as I spend my last day in Sydney walking around my favorite places one last time. This includes Ultimo, where I lived for a couple weeks (really nothing to see here, I just like it), the CBD, because I am a big fan of rush hour and love complaining about people running into me, and, of course – Hyde Park, where I want to drink my last decent Flat White and have a slice of cheesecake. It has a nostalgic kind of value to me. Okay, I lied. It’s no slice of cheesecake. It’s actually a whole cheesecake.

 

Half a year in this country, I never even lost so much as a pair of knickers. But suddenly, my phone is gone. I am freaking out. No way I can enjoy my cheesecake now. Hectically I go through all my pockets. It happens to me a lot that I think I lost something valuable, but turns out I just forgot where I had put it. Not this time. My first idea is to backtrack – coffee shop. As I start walking still going through all my pockets and whispering “Fuck Fuck Fuck” to myself, a guy behind me stops me.

“Uhm, excuse me.. uh.”

I turn. “What?!”

“Uhm, I just, uhm, I saw you over there and uhm, I wanted to ask you for your phone number, maybe.. uh..”

I look at him with tears in my eyes.

“I just lost my phone!!” I cry out and walk away. I don’t realize what the guy had actually said until I see him a minute later on the other end of the park, where he instantly turns and walks back the way he just came when he sees me.

The café owner is nice enough to call my number, and, when no one picks up, to send a text saying to please return the phone to his place. He says I can check in again later or tomorrow.

 

I am pretty sure I lost my phone at the souvenir shop (I so badly wanted an I ♥ Sydney-mug). I knew it was a bad idea to put it in the not very deep pocket of my jeans when I did, so I don’t know why I did it in the first place (this seems to be my thought process for a lot of things). I ask the Chinese ladies at the counter if anyone returned a phone to them. “Yes, indeed”, they say. “Two girls and a boy brought one here saying they found it and left, but 5 minutes later they came back saying it was theirs after all, so we gave it to them. So sorry, we didn’t know!” I have to hold back not to scream at them. Because me killing three tiny Chinese ladies would be considered a hate crime, when it’s actually their idiocy and not their race that aggravates me. The irony in all this will be, that I have found two phones while staying in Sydney, and I returned them both to their respective owners. Spoiler Alert: I, on the other hand, won’t see my phone again.

 

In a last-ditch effort, I go back to the café the next day before my bus leaves to see if anyone replied to the café owner’s messages. To no luck.

“I don’t care about the phone, it was a piece of crap anyway. I’m just really sad for all the pictures and memories that are gone.”

He makes a sad face. “Here, let me make you some coffee, on the house.” There is nothing a free cup of coffee can’t fix in Sydney. When I turn around to leave, I stop. “You know,” I start, slightly turning my head, smiling. “I’m definitely gonna come back to Syndey. I love this city!” And I totally mean it.

“Yes”, he beams back at me, “it’s a great place, eh?”

 

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[picture missing]

 

When the night bus leaves the train station, I am having trouble holding some tears back. I wish I would have done things differently. I wasn’t supposed to feel that way. I was supposed to have the time of my life, like everyone said. And I feel like I could have, if I had not felt pressured into doing something that was never on my list in the first place.

In the morning, very close to Brisbane, where my plane to Singapore is leaving from in a week’s time, I see my own reflection in the bus window. With heavy bags and dark shadows underneath my eyes. I hate myself lately. I’m just a pile of whiny bullcrap because I’ve been feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders again. The blob is annoyingly active these days. Time to calm it down with cheap massages, soothing temples and of course, bugs out of a frying-pan.

 

ImageI took it as a sign. GET IT??

The Spiders in the Grapevines

Or: That dirt will never come off my hands again

Once upon a time there was a farmer named Michael.

Michael lived in a very funny place people generally referred to as ‘Down Under’, as everything in this country was upside down. His ancestors had come to the state of New South Wales many decades ago, from a far away land called Italy in Europe.

To honor their memory, Michael decided to take over a grape farm with hundred year old grape vines, and vowed to use them to make the best wine in all of New South Wales. He called the farm ‘Fruitshack’.

Luck wasn’t on Michael’s side, and he soon realized that harvesting grapes was tedious and very hard work – way too much for just one person. The big bad winery he had a contract with demanded tonnes of grapes, more than he was able to pick himself. Each day, Michael grew more and more weary and anxious. He couldn’t give up the Fruitshack…

In his very desperate state, Michael made a fateful decision: On a quiet and particularly dark Wednesday night, he visited an old witch that many didn’t know was hiding in the surrounding forest. He promised her 3 bottles of his finest wine each month if only she would help him out of his precarious situation. The witch agreed to this deal, and put a curse on the Fruitshack! No one who was to come here would be able to leave within at least 6 weeks, and was magically bound to help Michael pick grapes despite getting paid next to nothing. The poor souls should be happy and do the work with a song on their lips and good spirit in their hearts.

The curse proved to be a tremendous success; the Fruitshack was saved! Everyone was happy, and if you’re really quiet during grape season between 7 AM and 5 PM, you can still hear them yelling for more buckets.

True story.

ImageIn no way digitally enhanced dreamy sunrise beautifully captured by Emma.

The Fruitshack is a working hostel in the charming small farm town of Leeton, NSW. That means, in theory, the lovely owner Michael finds work on surrounding farms for you, when you’re not picking grapes for him on his own farm.

This includes orange picking, spraying weeds, nursery (trees – not babies) and everything in between. As with most farmjobs, the pay isn’t all that great. But something about staying at the Fruitshack feels very rewarding, even if you have earned only $20 on a 10 hour day. Maybe it’s because we’re ALL broke, and misery famously enjoys each other’s company. I think is the saying.

Initially, I came here to help with the grape harvest. Purely out of the goodness of my heart. And because I want to get my 2nd year visa done. Meaning, I put in 88 days of “regional and specific work” in rural Australia and get to fight for survival for another year. But the grapes keep getting pushed back. We were supposed to start picking the same week that I arrived at the Fruitshack, but they keep telling us that “the grapes aren’t ready yet”. Whatever that means, I will never know (I have learned a lot about orange farming during my stay here, but not much about grapes – more on that later). By now, we are roughly 25 – 30 people living on the farm, all lost souls dreaming of making a buck or two. Most of us with no jobs or hope. Sitting around all day every day with nothing to do creates a lot of, let’s call them ‘interesting’, situations (it almost makes me wish I hadn’t given up on Sociology yet).

Two boys raking the leaves behind the shed becomes one of the most interesting activities going on around the farm. I and two other girls spend a full 15 minutes watching them in complete silence.

It’s like Survivor without the island. Who’s gossiping about who? Who gets voted off next? Who has sex on the bus?? (It’s not what you think – it’s an old double decker that has been revamped into a bedroom) A daily reality soap. There is so much drama, intrigue and lies going on (may be mildly dramatized) that when the grapes finally start, everyone is more than happy to get up at 6 AM every morning.

On the first day, Michael explains to us what we have to do to successfully pick grapes. Some of us get to be bucket boys/girls, counting the buckets of grapes that the pickers have picked, as well as emptying them into the tractor so Michael can load them onto the big truck and take them to the winery. Most of us, though, are pickers. Or, in other words, get the shit end of the stick, because we get paid per bucket, and that’s most of the time not even a full dollar. We suck it up and get to work anyway. (Who’s to blame? The witch, of course.)

“Try not to cut yourself with these”, says Michael, lifting up one of the cutters high in the air so all of us can see it. “Only the bunches!”

Thinking this to be a lame joke, because it’s pretty much a given, I get started. Diving gracefully into the vines like fat kids (me) into cake.

But the vines put up one hell of a fight! They don’t go down easy, pulling on your hair or single branches slapping in your face. After a hard day’s work, all of us look like we just came from an 80’s theme party with a ridiculously teased hair-do.

And then, it happens. I have cut off my thumb!!!!

…. is what I am thinking in a panic. In reality, I have just cut a little through the skin so that it is bleeding a bit. Nothing a quick band-aid can’t fix, though. I think I’ll live.

Time goes by without being noticed. No one has any idea what date or day it is. They just seem all the same. It’s either hard work on farms, or sitting around trying to pass time with movie marathons and kitten-cuddling. The highlights are shopping days – which means going to Woolworth, and on a day you really want to treat yourself, McDonald’s.

ImageTraining for my days as Crazy Old Cat Lady.

I think I’ve never worked that hard, physically, in my entire life. On my days off from the grapes, I am going to another farm. It’s a huge orange farm, and I am taking care of the nursery; baby trees that need to be tended to and make sure they grow straight. The already pretty wealthy farmer is gonna make half a fortune off my work, my “babies” as I’ve grown to fondly call my trees, but my salary is less than minimum wage. Still it’s one of the better jobs around here, and that is really saying something. My boss there is a funny, middle-aged Australian bloke who likes to talk about real estate, drugs and orange juice. He teaches me so much about orange farming that I actually feel ready to become an orange farmer myself – if only I had patience and the back of an 18 year old. After work, he lets me ride around his farm on this awesome four-wheeler chasing kangaroos, which is something that I have dreamed of ever since I was 12 years old playing Tomb Raider III (well, minus the kangaroos). In these moments, I think life is beautiful. Nothing to worry about, just feeling the wind in your hair while kangaroos are hopping next to you. There, going 18 km/h, I finally understand those movie moments á la “I am the king of the world!”

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My new best friends.

Unfortunately, days off on a farm far away from any civilization (farm towns don’t count – trust me, live in one for a couple of weeks) gives you way too much time to think. I am falling back into my habit of contemplating the point of life, my life to be exact, and where I am gonna be 10 years from now. So far, I have figured out that I want to travel more (maybe I am a masochist). That I’d like someone to share it with (I am definitely a masochist). That morning, I wake up from a horrible dream about Gustav proposing to a girl sitting next to me at a runner’s conference. Yes, a runner’s conference. A conference for all runners. I am invited because I am a runner. Sort of like a Jennifer Lopez movie. On Gustav’s head covering his wild hair is a golden gladiator helmet, and his bare chest is covered in golden paint. He is the star of a running commercial and showed up to the conference in costume to ask for his girlfriend’s hand. I am not too sure about the meaning of that. If you do, feel free to message me.

During my sixth week at the Fruitshack, I spontaneously decide to leave. I guess I have grown tired of cold showers and dirty dishes after all. And I’m sure I have milked the place for as much money as I can get. It’s winter, farm jobs are getting scarce and I don’t want to spend it all while waiting for something to come along. Ironically, I have earned more money working 3 hours a day in a cowgirl costume in Sydney than I have with full days of hard labor.

Never thought I’d say it, but I’m gonna miss this scrubby old place.

I’ll miss the hectic after work kitchen hours that give me something to complain about. I’ll miss the weekly Fruitshack dinners that I was never invited to by the cool kids. I’ll miss the “German club” that was highly disliked by every non-German. I’ll miss trying to figure out who stole eggs out of my box. I’ll miss the smell of oranges fresh off the tree. I’ll miss standing in line for a shower.

But most of all, I’ll miss you people who make me miss this place.

On my last day, I immortalize myself on the walls of the toilets that have been scribbled on by people since 1997.

“I came to make money, but I didn’t make any money” – It’s a really good joke. I guess you had to be there.

Back to the motherland – Back to Sydney.

A Quickie in Melbourne

Or: Should I stay or should I go..?

 

In only one short three hour train ride I have made it to Melbourne. Figured, I’d check out the city for a few days while I wait for my next farmjob to start (because it was so much fun the first time..)
When I arrive, I feel lost. I didn’t book a room, I have no address, and no idea where to go. So naturally I walk up and down the same street for a while and wait for someone to solve my problems for me – aka, someone to stop and ask me if I need any help and provide me with all the information that I need.

Even though on “Hostelbooker” – an app that is, as I have been told, a must for all backpackers because of its supposed ‘usefulness’ – all the hostels in Melbourne seem to be booked out, I still get a room at Discovery. A huge hostel that offers an extremely nice free breakfast including three types of different cereal and bread. But all that doesn’t help against the emptiness inside. Boo Hoo..
Not only am I completely alone once again, but also it’s Valentine’s Day. I keep thinking of Gustav and if I should try and call or text him, but I decide against it. I suppose underneath all the insanity I still have a bit of rationality left.

 

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A monkey contemplating life.

The loneliness is making me feel really depressed. Don’t know how other travelers cope with it, if I’m just really terrible at making friends (I know I am) or if I am the only one traveling alone. So since no one in the hostel is talking to me at all, I decide to pamper myself a bit to cheer me up, and not even worry about money too much for the moment. I think I deserve it.
This includes a food coma day. Oh, what am I saying. Every day in Melbourne is food coma day for me. After an elaborate free breakfast at the hostel (1 large bowl of cereal, 2 wholegrain toasts with peanut butter, 2 glasses of milk), a homemade lunch consisting of ramen noodles, German cocktail sausages, carrots and zucchini, I take myself to Southbank for afternoon coffee and subway cookies. When the magician I’ve been watching for half an hour asks for a donation, I steal off to Maccas for a chicken burger meal. On the way back to the hostel, I see a sign that advertises $2 pizza slices – and I have been craving pizza for weeks. To round this off, I am getting a $2 Hungry Jacks caramel sundae for desert. The only thing I need now is a comfortable bed and I’m good.

Next morning, I am walking the 4 km to Melbourne Zoo, because I am too cheap to buy a ticket for the tram and because I am also feeling guilty about my fast food splurge.
I do love zoos. I can’t exactly explain why, but after a day at a zoo I always feel calm and relaxed. I do not like the hordes of babies because, in my opinion, it’s pointless to bring a child younger than 6 years old because they don’t really understand what they’re looking at. But for some reason, humanity seems to think that zoos and babies go together like fish and chips.
Reptiles are my least favorite zoo animals. They just hardly move. And if they do, they’re slow. Ya know, like politics. Ha Ha. Bad joke.
Monkeys, on the other hand.. oh I love them. I find it highly amusing how they are like people. I could just stay and watch them for hours.

It’s the middle of February, but I haven’t seen the second part of The Hobbit yet. A quick internet search shows that in one of the adjacent suburbs the movie is still running. At 9 o’clock in the morning as their only show, but at least still running. I book a ticket in advance to secure myself a seat. Don’t wanna take any risks.
But when I get to the cinema two days later (after much ado about getting there by tram.. I knew I should have just walked!!) I am literally the only person there. So I stretch myself over 3 seats and enjoy the private presentation.

Melbourne is beautiful. It’s artsy, and vibrant, and.. yes, hipster-ish, but I think the city makes it work. It doesn’t make me sweat like a pig, so that’s a big plus.
Some criticize the city for being “too European” – quite frankly, I have no idea what they mean by that. I really don’t. No, I mean – I don’t know what makes a city “European”.

 

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Cologne Cathedral. Errr…

The city is littered with street artists. Whether it be musicians, magicians, dancers or chalk-art on the pavement – lovers of the bohemian will definitely get their money’s worth. Personally, I like to sit on one of the hundreds of benches and enjoy some acoustic guitar with a frozen yogurt.
There is always something going on, so even for loners like me it’s hard to get bored.
Furthermore, it’s such an active city. Going for a walk down on Southbank, by the Yarra River (hope I got that right), you’ll always run into joggers, cyclists and rowers. The tennis and cricket stadiums are right nearby, and it’s nice to see German Vettel look stoically at you from one of the many formula 1 posters. I usually don’t care about formula 1, but Patriotism, fuck yea!!

Melbourne seems very young and hip. Seriously, I hardly see people over 50. Or maybe they all just look so young because of their annoyingly healthy lifestyles (I’m sure the at least 7 Maccas’ in the heart of the city are purely used by tourists).
Where in Sydney there are convenient stores next to convenient stores, here it’s souvenir shops. I am seriously tempted to buy some of this crap that wouldn’t survive a week. Fortunately, reminding myself that I don’t have any more room in my backpack keeps me from doing something stupid.

No, I don’t want to go home – not just yet. I get depressed at times, that’s true. And I find being here very hard more often than not, just wishing I was back in the comfort of my own home with everything that makes it so. It’s not Australia of 2007 – this is 2014. Jobs aren’t lying around on the streets anymore free for anyone to pick up. Backpackers can’t find employment because of their horrible reputation. And to be honest, a lot of them do deserve it. The cities are crowded with travelers. Everyone does it. Most of the things I was told about Australia didn’t happen. Time’s a-changing, babes.

But I also enjoy the feeling of being half-way around the world, experiencing these cities, people, and this culture. If I left now, I’d kick my ass wishing I was back in Hyde Park stalking amazing skaters.
Or is it just that I don’t want to admit failure? I told everyone I’d try to stay away as long as possible, but if it’s just to “be away” without really enjoying it, where’s the sense in that?

 

 

Picking Pears

Or: The Art of not falling off Ladders

 

 

On Monday morning 7 AM sharp I sit at Sydney Central Station sipping on my flat white (do we have these things in Germany? I may be addicted). I hate leaving this city. But one must do what one must do. There are more adventures to be had in Australia, and I don’t want to (well, that’s debatable) get hung up on one bloke once again. Either way, I have to go, for now.

 

Fruitpicking – a backpacker’s nightmare. Most of us go through it at one point or another: for money, to obtain the 2nd year visa extension, or simply for the experience as some claim (riiiight…).

Of course most farms shamelessly rip us off. You get shit accommodation, some of which they even demand rent for, the pay is shit, and the work conditions are shit as well. I suppose that’s how Romanian onion pickers feel in Germany (I salute you).

After an 8 hour train ride I finally get to Shepparton. It’s in Victoria, about 3 hours from Melbourne, and famous for nothing but farmwork.

 

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Absolutely nothing in Shepparton.

 

My first impression is “Duuuude… that’s less than desirable”. I was well aware that I shouldn’t expect much, but this place makes even the worst 16 bed dorm, bleach stinking bathrooms and tiny overcrowded kitchens seem like the Hilton Hotel. There are signs everywhere that demand cleanliness – otherwise no money on pay day – but their perception of a clean surrounding is a ton of spiders in the kitchen and toilets covered in spiderwebs and dust. The “common area” consists of two broken tables and a bunch of mismatched chairs, some of which have wooden boards as cushion.

That’s all fine and dandy, I am not a Princess Peach. But I was told there would be tents available. Turns out – there aren’t, and the next town is a good 10km away and no one willing to drive me there so I can buy my own accommodation.

 

One of the boys offers me to share his one man tent, just for the night. I think, well, I am short and tiny, I can fit into almost anything. Of course I hadn’t calculated that the guy would creep closer and closer in the middle of the night (is that a pear in your pocket that I am feeling on my arse or are you just happy to see me kind of style) and in the morning asks with a surprised face why I am lying all the way at the wall of the tent so that my head is sticking out funnily. I am not really one for cuddling, even less so with strangers, and the next day I am more than happy to set up my own private “room”.

 

Pears – a pain in the ass to pick. For someone, as I have mentioned, short as me. You get ladders to reach the tree tops, but they feel less than unsafe, and there are a few times where I am thinking, this is it. I am gonna drop to my death. Paranoid? You may laugh, but it’s not so unlikely. Just a few days before I arrived, one of the workers fell off the ladder and onto one of the huge bins, and apparently died. Another girl fell off and was hospitalized. Not so funny now, is it? Luckily, I am not hearing these stories until I am on my way to leave this place, or else I would have, well, left anyway.

 

On to the fun stuff: Your day as a stalwart fruitpicker starts at 5 in the morning, as the idea is that you want to use as much of the morning as possible. Around 11 or 12 it gets so hot that you can fry your lunch eggs on the hood of the tractor. If you don’t get up in time your team (usually consisting of 4) will leave you behind. Because no one really gives a fuck about you. In that case, you have to hang around the shed all day, with nothing to do but count the seconds as they pass by, which is much more of a punishment than to work all day in the hot sun.

 

If you do manage to get up – Congratulations! You’ll now come to enjoy watching the beautiful sunrise while sitting in a tree. It makes you feel really in touch with nature. Until your supervisor screams at you to work faster.

The pears you pick first go into a large bag that you are carrying around your shoulders like a big kangaroo pouch. They get quite heavy, and I can feel the glute gains going up and down the ladders with them. With those bags, you fill a huge bin. Bag after bag after bag… Don’t ask me how big, because I’m just a girl and we have no comprehension of size, but it takes me almost 3 hours to fill one bin. Some of the guys are quite fast and take only one hour. We’ll not speak about Asian machines who take about 30 minutes (they must have found some kind of cheat code). A bin pays $30, and I am happy if I make $90 a day. Most days (well, the three days that I actually picked) it’s only two, and on the day I leave, I have spent more money on train rides and camping stuff than I earned picking pears.

 

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Pick up a copy of the 2015 friendly farmgirls calendar in your nearest gas station.

 

Farmlife reminds me of the Jungle. Your only form of entertainment is to talk about each other’s lives, and waiting around for dinner time. The only difference is that we get to use modern technology, even though reception in the middle of nowhere is – you guessed it – not always quite there.

On my second day, the Turkish supervisor fires me. On the new trees, that me and my team are supposed to work on, grow three different kinds of pears. One is green, one is half green half red, and one is red. Without even having started, he is convinced that I will fuck up. Instead of telling me himself, he sends one of my teammates over to kindly send me home. For good. No, this is in no way a comment on the treatment of women in Muslim countries.

Turns out, my tentmate saves the day: as he tells the supervisor that I have picked three bins on my own the day before, I can stay. All that counts is productivity.

 

My plan was to stay on the farm at least two weeks and make some good money. But when on the third day the weather forecast indicates rain, I pack up my single-skin tent and head for the nearest trainstation.