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??

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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.