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.

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.

 

 

 

In the jungle

Or: I am actually not supposed to talk about this, but..

The Gold Coast tires me. Sue me! I can’t stand beaches! I find them extremely tiresome. And all the hippies that they attract. Seriously, I don’t know why anyone would want to come to Southport especially (sorry Southport-ians), and Surfers Paradise might as well be called STDs Paradise. It’s all about nakedness, it feels dodgy and lacks sophistication. The shops open late and close early so everyone can bust a surf out, because that’s the only thing to do here. Everyone wears flip flops and bikinis all day, and the heat makes me too lethargic to do anything. Yes, I hate the Gold Coast!! – there, that’s my rant for today.

By now, I am also extremely annoyed by my flatmates, who don’t seem to understand that my “room” doesn’t have a door and it might bother me when someone puts their music on blast in the middle of the night. I am weird like that. Sleeping at night and being awake during the day and all.

The once smokin Brazilian is now just annoying me with his hippy-ness (no, I don’t really think your plastic Buddha candleholder makes for an ace decoration) and his weird “morning sickness” – he wakes up with a cold every day smelling like a dying dog – is making me sick to my stomach.

I have started to hide my toilet paper from my roomate, who I am sharing a bathroom with, because he never buys any himself. Also, because every damn night he wakes me up with his snoring and abnormally loud farting. And I’m pretty sure he’s been using my butter, too. I have never used it to butter bread, so where the hell are all the bread crumbs in there come from, huh? HUH??

But I keep all this to myself and silently plan their murders.. uh, I mean, silently count the days until I can leave this hellhole.

The only reason why I am still here at this point is because I am waiting to hear back from a German reality TV show that I have auditioned for and that is being filmed close to Southport. Now don’t get too excited, I won’t be on TV – I and 10 other lucky bastards would just be stand-ins mainly to test camera angles right before the actual show starts.

What made them choose me, I will never know, because as a person I am pretty boring, but on New Year’s Eve I get the call that I made it. I am gonna be part of a once on a lifetime experience.

The show is called “Ich bin ein Star, holt mich hier raus!” (I’m a celebrity, get me out of here) and is pretty popular in Germany and England, especially. If you know it, well then you know what’s about to come. If not, this is the show: 11 more or less “celebrities” move into the jungle not far from the Gold Coast (I signed a contract that I am not to reveal the exact location). There, they have to live for two weeks (three in England) and do all kind of disgusting trials (we’re talking cockroaches, spiders and snakes here. Some of which you have to eat – alive) to earn their food. Daily provided is only a small portion of rice and soy beans (70g each per person). Other activities are treasure hunts to earn extra goodies and lots of fireside talks about their lives and problems. You’re in the middle of the jungle, there really isn’t much to do. Technology isn’t allowed, besides the cameras that film you 24 hours a day.

On our first day, we have a wardrobe fitting. Everyone gets their own set of jungle clothing, complete with your own name on everything, which I thoroughly enjoy (I love my name. Good job, mother). We have several briefings with the producers and the infamous Dr. Bob before the TV people pay for our dinner. Everyone gets their own hotel room before we’re going to the jungle early the next morning. I finally for the first time in a long time I don’t have to smell any farts but my own. TV life is good.

I get up at quarter to 5 the next morning and enjoy the last shower I am gonna have in the next three days. All clad in our jungle outfits, we’re being driven as close to the location as possible, in a completely shaded van, to keep the appearance up that all of this is somehow top secret. We have to hike through the jungle to find our campsite (as it will turn out three days later, the TV people are punking us and making us walk in a circle around the camp to make it seem further in the jungle than it actually is). A 10 minute walk turns into 45 minutes because we stop every few meters to give interviews. The producers are highly interested in the sweat that is running down the middle of our boobs.

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I am definitely no egomaniac.

Finally reaching the camp, we start exploring. We’re not allowed to leave the campsite at all for the production of our little pre-show (which we never got to see), but they have set up a pool (a tiny lake), a shower (a waterfall) and a toilet (an outhouse), which is protected by potato sacks.

Just when I am crouching down to check out the first aid kid, not suspecting any evil, “God’s” voice sounds for the first time. “Silvana!” it says. I start. “Please come to the Junglephone.” Great. I have to do a trial. I know it. My campmates look at me with pitty in their eyes as I walk towards my fate. Turns out, they just call me in for an interview, to ask all kinds of weird questions about the smell of the jungle and stuff. Phew. Dodged a bullet there.

Not half an hour later, as I am feeling save again, I get called in a second time. I rejoiced too soon. Of course my gut feeling was right and I am the first person to go to a trial.

What it is? I may get in trouble if I talk too much, but let’s just say it wasn’t pretty. It was smelly, and wet, and involved loads of creepy crawlies (if you have watched the German show, it was the very first trial the celebs had to take). But I mastered it as well as I could, and not even refused to eat a fermented egg – protein, bitches. I got my team 8 out of 11 stars that day. Which meant crocodile feet for dinner. And even though people think I am disgusting, I am proud of my accomplishment.

If you aren’t doing a trial, or a treasure hunt, the jungle is almost as boring as Southport. It’s a lot of hanging around in terrible humidity, and you would never believe how adamant 11 people can argue about the preparation of rice and beans. Sometimes, if you’re really quiet (quite a lot), you can hear the cameramen in the artificial rocks around us talking, sneezing, and even listening to music.

Our past time activities include coal face-painting and twister made out of differently colored leaves. Because life in the jungle is so boring, the TV people try to stir up trouble. I become the pubes-bitch. I made the mistake of shaving off some hairs on my legs pretty close to my crotch (I was definitely not spreading my legs in front of a camera and shaving my 5cm long pubes, mind you, as the made it sound like). But the damage is done, and from now on people keep complaining about having to swim in the pubic hair pool.

Then, one night, we face the dangers of the jungle. Many people believe it’s just a TV set – which it is, but a TV set in the freaking jungle. Funnel-web spiders! If you don’t know, they are so venomous that they can actually kill you. But according to Dr. Bob, they can’t climb (what kind of spider are you..) so I am feeling save in my hammock and let the security guys take care of them. But, when they don’t find one of the two, they just shrug and go to bed. Well, we’re nobodies, after all. No one is gonna miss us.

On the morning of the fourth day, “God” wakes us up to let us know we’re to leave the camp soon. I feel relieved. As much as I wanted to come here, as much I am now happy that the experience is over. It was good, I met a lot of great people, I got to take a look behind the scenes (and in the future will watch the show with completely different eyes) and did things I never thought I’d do. But enough is enough. I am craving a real shower, and most of all sugar. I have a new-found respect for the people who manage to live here for two weeks. Where I used to laugh at their foolishness, I now admire their strength. The jungle can and will drive you insane. So, have a heart for the poor souls just trying to make a quick buck.

The upside is, we get to have breakfast from a huge buffet with the crew and the actual show hosts. Once again people compliment me on my eating skills (I knew I had some kind of talent as well).

The jungle has brought many new opportunities. Everything is planned out: I and one of the girls I befriended there would go on a short road trip, followed by a cheap trip to Fraser Island, organized by another dude that was in the jungle with us, before I would finally get back on a bus and do what I’ve been looking forward to for 2 months: Go back to Sydney! On top of that, I have already secured an apartment in Sydney, because this time I am planning to stay. I intend to keep my promise I have made to someone.. but more on that next time, kids.

It would be perfect. Or so I thought. But if everything sounds too good to be true, it probably is. It most likely is. It definitely is.

After pretty much telling my flatmates to go fuck themselves, I’m out biatches!, the girl leaves me hanging for a couple guys. The dude explains that he has to work and Fraser is falling through as well. I am left stranded.

But for every fucktard I know, I have a person in my life that I can truly and genuinely call a friend. So David, who I’ve known over the internet for quite a while (Tomb Raider can bring people together) and who happens to live only a stone-throw away, offers me the luxury of staying at his air-conditioned house playing video games until my bus leaves 5 days later (thanks for everything, mate).

And so endeth the lesson: Never trust so-called backpackers, and never come to the Gold Coast again!

One night in Brisbane

Or: Party all day (fuck all night)

 

 

It started as a very regular and boring friday. Southport is very slow. Laid-back. There really isn’t much to do but hang out in the sun by the pool – yes, all buildings come with a pool, and it isn’t any sort of luxury here. It’s pretty essential for survival. The sun comes up so early in the mornings, that at 7 AM it already feels like midday.

I was hanging out at the library to get some free wifi, when I decided, I should go for a run later and get rid of some of this burger grease that has planted itself on my hips (I have never in my whole life eaten as much junk food as during my 5 weeks in Sydney).

But in Australia, it’s pretty pointless to plan anything. You never know where you’ll be in a month, a week, or even an hour from now. As I go to the hostel to pick up my running buddy, I run into Leigh instead – that’s that guy who remembers people by the kind of drugs he did with them. Like, the kid from Terminator 2 is the guy he did coke with. He’s covered in tattoos, and the first guy to at least intended to get my initials on his body, in theory. In practice, when he had his tattoo done, that was supposed to show all the cool people he had met at the hostel we both were staying at, mine was the only one he forgot (and people call me paranoid).

He tells me about his plans of going to Brisbane that night, to see some rock’n’roll bands, and if I’m down. How much it would cost, I wanna know. „Nothing“, he says and grins.

Well, I’m down for a very inappropriate adventure, as it’s surely gonna be with Leigh. Shit, I’m in Australia, I wanna have some crazy stories to tell as well when I get home! So here it goes.

 

While Leigh distracts the bus driver, I just get on without paying. Check one. At the trainstation in Helensvale, we don’t buy tickets. We are meeting two guys, Skip and Shawn, that he had met the night before and were totally down for seeing a free concert as well.

Because I am a bringer of bad luck, there is security on the train. Before they get to ask us to present our tickets, Leigh urges me to get up and walks me to the bathroom in the back of the train. „Act as if you’re sick“, he whispers. I lock myself in the bathroom, sweating. Oh god, I am too innocent for this! Maybe I can flush myself down the drain… A short while after, he knocks on the door and tells me to come out, the coast is clear. When I get out, he explains to me that I am his pregnant wife and have a terrible case of morning sickness. Instead of giving us a fine, the security lady offers me a breath mint, which I gladly take. The rest of the train ride they keep eyeing us and I have to pretend to be sick to my stomach (which I did very well, according to various sources). Right before we get off at our stop in Brisbane, the lady kindly yells at Leigh that I am gonna die tonight if he makes me do drugs. Check two. Gotta love Australian hospitality. Or should I feel offended that she actually believed that I was pregnant..?

 

Brisbane feels extremely nice. Of course it’s dark, and I can’t see much, but it feels good. Warm. Exotic. There is excitement in the air. We walk to the location of the concert and try to find the weak spot in the fence. And it doesn’t take us long to find it. „I’m going first“, I say, feeling confident, and ripping my shirt in the process – which isn’t nearly as sexy as it sounds. Leigh follows me. As we get to the other side, we are trying to help Skip and Shawn to climb the fence next. And then it happens. A flashlight, a yell. „What are you doing?!“ Caught by security. Shawn and Skip have bolted, and me and Leigh are trying to make a run for it inside. But I don’t react fast enough, and she gets a hold of my arm. The security lady vigorously pulls on my left arm, while Leigh is pulling my right arm, and I don’t know whether to cry because we apparently got busted, or to laugh because the situation is totally absurd. „Let go of her!“ Leigh screams, „she’s pregnant!!“ (at this point, I don’t even know anymore how many women in Brisbane now think that my rockstar husband feeds his pregnant wife drugs). The security lady lets go, and flashes her flashlight in some kind of morse code to get back-up. Leigh and I stand still as to not make the situation any worse. A guy in uniform shows up, and asks the business. „Sorry man, we just tried to let our friends in, they don’t have tickets, really sorry, won’t happen again!“ If it’s because he’s Australian, or just doesn’t want any trouble, he nods and says „just keep walking“. How he ever believed that story without asking to see our tickets or failing to notice that neither I nor Leigh are wearing one of the bri ghtyellow wristbands that you got at the entrance, I will never know. Maybe he simply thought „These guys look too poor, they deserve to listen to some good heavy metal music.“ Either way, we’re in. Check three.

 

It’s like an open air festival. People are smoking, drinking and making out. We missed the first two bands, but made it just in time to see the main act: Steel Panther. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of them. The best thing about them are their funny costumes. But I am acting as if a life dream of mine came true, just to fit in.

„You wanna see the stage?“ Leigh yells at me over the music. „Sure!“ I nod, not thinking ahead. Without warning, he bends down to pick me up, and literally throws me onto the crowd.

I am fucking crowd-surfing. At this moment I am completely psyched. I can’t even recall anymore if anyone did or at least tried to grab my shit. If they did, I was too high on life to notice.

 

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A happy peeface.

 

After the concert, Leigh suggests we find the after party. „I know a dude who knows the band, we’ll get to party with the band!“ Sounds legit.

Seems like everyone who was just at the concert is now on the way to the after party, and we don’t stay alone for long. A guy is sharing his Rum and Coke (mixed in a Coke bottle) with us, and just when I hand it over to Leigh, we have apparently arrived at the location. „You’re not getting in“, says the bald bouncer, pointing at the bottle in Leigh’s hand. „What? That’s just Coke! I was thirsty!“ explains Leigh, but Baldy takes the bottle out of his hand and smells it. „Nice try. Now get lost.“

Leigh is pissed. I somehow feel that it is my fault for naively handing him the bottle and not thinking. This isn’t Germany where we even have a word for drinking alcohol in the morning (Frühschoppe). This is Australia, where alcohol laws are only rivaled by the United States of America. „It’s fine“, he says, albeit very annoyed. „We’ll find the back entrance.“

And walking around the block proves once again that you don’t need a plan to get by in Australia. There isn’t a single security at the back entrance. We simply walk in. Happily that we outwitted security once again, we buy drinks. And as Leigh turns around, Baldy is standing right in front of him. „Didn’t I tell you to get lost?!“ He escorts him out, and I try to hide in a dark corner.

„Come on Silvana, think on your feet, you can do this, you can do this!!“, I am cheering myself on. But I really don’t know what it is that I can or should do, and so I just keep standing in my dark corner waiting for a sign from Leigh. Baldy comes back up the stairs and walks straight towards me. I turn around, thinking there is no way he recognizes me. But I underestimated him, and when he taps me on the shoulder I just throw up my arms and shout „All right, all right!“ and walk outside, where Leigh is already waiting for me. „Let’s find another pub and figure out what to do“, he says. So that’s what we do.

 

„Let’s get some free drinks“, is his suggestion at the next bar. I don’t understand how, though, the drinks are free for me, when he tells me to buy the first round. „It’s simple“, he says as we carry our red wines to an empty table that has some half full glasses standing on it. „Put your glass right next to the one that was already standing there.. and then down them both.“ Disgusting? Well, I like to think of it as „rock’n’roll“. Soon some guys are starting a conversation with us, and Leigh has a blast pretending to be a guitarist from Hollywood and mispronouncing Melbourne (‘Mel-born’), even though that’s where he’s originally from. The guys think he’s such a hot-shot, they keep buying us authentic Australian drinks thinking they are introducing to us a whole new culture.

By the time we go outside for a smoke, I am already pretty tipsy. Don’t know how it works, but Leigh has already started talking to another guy who is offering free cigarettes. Together, we crawl to the next pub down the street for even more drinks.

 

And that’s where it happens. Leigh is just gone. He’s left me. I am all alone in Brisbane with no cell phone battery or rationality left. I walk through the pub about 5 times, but there is no sign of him. The last dude offers me his couch, but I don’t feel comfortable going home with someone I just met. So I just walk off. When in distress, I’ve learned your best bet is to make for the trainstation.

I have actually no idea where I am walking, but something tells me which direction to walk in (possibly I saw a sign in my drunken blur).

Man, I am completely out of it. I have no idea if I make myself be that way, or if someone has spiked one of my drinks, or what the hell is going on. I feel like Alice in Wonderland.

As I am wandering around Brisbane and thinking, I actually like this city!, I come to stop at a traffic light. As I have lost all sense of direction (I am now just following the greasy smell of McDonald’s) the impossible happens – there come walking Skip and Shawn. They are on their way to the trainstation as well, assuring me that I am not completely useless after all.

„You up for Maccas?“ they wanna know. I just nod. Skip’s got it, they say. I am not arguing. But instead of ordering my one Chicken Burger Meal, Skip orders three. And three Cheeseburger Meals, three Big Mac Meals, and two servings of Chicken Nuggets. I mean, a huge plate of food makes me happy, but hadn’t I just decided on losing some weight? Well, don’t do today what you can put off until tomorrow, as the English say. They are pretty impressed with my eating skills, which took years of practice. I do finish my three meals, and some chicken nuggets, and before I can eat even more, they give the rest to some homeless guy roaming the trainstation.

 

Skip and Shawn give me a ride home to Southport not so early in the morning, where I fall into bed without noticing the questions in the eyes of my flatmates. I don’t hear from Leigh until two days later, when he texts me and asks if I am ok.

Here isn’t where I wanna be

 Or: I should start sleeping with pen and paper next to me because I had a really good title for this in mind right before I drifted off to dreamland.

 

This one is me doing what i do best – whine about my first world problem: depression.

I’ve been dealing with it since I was 13 when I first had a major episode that I consciously remember. For no explicable reason at all, I just started to never leave the house unless I had to and kept blowing all my friends off until they didn’t speak to me anymore. I suppose it’s genetic? Not entirely sure how trustworthy Bill Bryson is, but just the other day I’ve read in one of his books (granted, that came out in the late ’90s) that a „worrying-gene“ actually exists. Meaning, some people can’t help but constantly worry about everything, while others just naturally go with the flow (gosh, I do hate this saying. After all, I am not a surfer high on marijuana, just a neurotic German lady. Kawabonga, dude).

I figured, I could learn to be happy here in Australia. Everyone else who has already been here loved it so much. That coming out here and handling this thing all by myself, it would boost my confidence, putting myself out of my comfort zone like that. Or that I’d be at least too busy to get depressed. But here I am, can’t shake that feeling. This time even worse, because it’s not just the usual „something is missing“, but the very essential „Oh lord, how am I gonna come into money and provide for myself?!“

 

Many fictional characters have names for their mental illnesses and diseases – Dexter’s ‘Dark Passenger’, anyone?

It’s not so absurd! I have a name for my depression as well: It is – lo and behold – „The Blob“ …… Aaaaahh!! Hide your children, hide your wife!!!

It doesn’t sound very impressive or dangerous, and it’s not like one day I sat down and decided that the poor thing needed naming; that was just always how it felt inside of me, squirming around. Basically, the Blob lives in my stomach and eats me up from the inside like a parasite. Unfortunately, it doesn’t eat fat. It feeds on negative emotions only. As soon as the tiniest negative thought crosses my mind (‘Hm, I think I gained about 50g?’) it jumps on that, has sex with it and multiplies thousandfold until there are thousands of related negative thoughts in my head and little blobs in my stomach. Yeah, that was a bit gross.

 

I suppose I have a tendency of running away whenever the Blob gets too active. It’s the whole reason why I came to Australia! I felt like I had to cross half-way around the world just to outrun that disgusting oozeling in my stomach (I should actually try to draw it one day) (Never mind, it would just end up a white bean with a squiggly line for a mouth). This is rather pointless, though, since it’s moving with me. „Where I am, there I am“, + Blob. I always needed to go through the same lesson many times before I learned it. I actually don’t think I’ve ever learned anything.

And it gets even more ridiculous when I tell you that I have figured out it’s not the location that causes the Blob to be active, it’s the people that matter. Yes, I am very codependent. My rational side, that I am trying to surpress more often than not, has realized that.

My emotional side, however, tends to act much too impulsive. Essential for my mental well-being is the company (did anyone really think this was easy? Ha.)

 

Image

The Blob

 

The Blob is a thing that is so frustrating because it holds me back. It’s the voice in my head (or, in my stomach) saying „You can’t do this! You suck! Nobody likes you!“ You know, like repeatedly poking a sleeping dragon (haven’t we all done this before?) until he snaps and lashes out at everyone in his range, regardless of them holding a stick or not. This is one of the many reasons why I hate facebook – at least since Marc Zuckerberg thought it was such a splendid idea to show if your message sent has been read by the receiver. Everytime I send a message that goes without a reply, the Blob is raging! „They hate you! They’re ignoring you! They wish you were dead!“ … Okay, maybe not that extreme.

I should take this opportunity to apologize to everyone I have snapped at in the past for something that wasn’t your fault (pretty much everyone I know, I suppose) but rather the monster’s inside of me. I sincerely hope this makes sense and is understandable. I don’t wanna confuse anyone. I promise, I am just as confused as you.

 

I do remember to a T the last time I felt truly happy, no Blob, no negativity, just comfortable happiness, no worries whatsoever. This situation occured not too long ago, and it was one that I hesitated to put myself into at first. It was one of those times when you actually live in the moment, past and future do not exist, there is music playing, albeit not hearable, just feelable, and a magnetic feel that guides your body to exactly where you should be. I am trying my best to put it into words and hoping at the same time not to sound completely and utterly insane. It’s like a Disney movie come to  life. Which leads me to believe, the people at Disney must be an extremely happy bunch (but I know better).

But the Blob fucked it up royaly for me (it’s nice to have something to put the blame on, that’s how religious people must feel) and is now inside of my stomach, with an evil grin and rubbing his hands together. Actually, he doesn’t have hands, but you get what I mean. Since that happened, he won’t go away anymore at all. Sometimes, when I drink alcohol, he hides, because that’s sort of like his kryptonite. I suppose I now understand how alcoholics come to be.

I just want that situation, the feeling back. And I’ve been wrecking my brains on how to get there. I have figured out the key components, but they are hard to come by. It truly is an epic quest, and sometimes, you just have to sit back and breath in, breath out, until your head is as clear as possible again (for some more, for some less clear). This is what I am doing right now, well, while worrying about how I am gonna pay rent next week. So less for me. But there only is one ultimate goal for me, and I’m gonna be working towards that until the end of my days. They’re my shoes.

I’ll be back

Or: It’s not a tumor! GET TO DA CHOPPAAAA! You’re a funny guy Sully,  I like you, that’s why I’m going to kill you last.

 

I spent a total of 5 weeks exactly in Sydney. Two of those, I was miserable and constantly questioning my decision to become a world-traveled adventurer (the idea was that I’d find a fedora and/or dual pistols along the way and stumble upon hidden ancient treasure). But three of those, I met some great people, had way too much to drink and got sunburned one too many times (hello skin cancer). I did wanna leave Sydney, and I didn’t, but most of all I had to, for the simple reason that most backpackers AND non-backpackers venture out to Sydney for New Years for seeing the supposedly amazing fireworks from Harbour Bridge, celebrate in the „first major city to begin the new year“, and the hostels taking massive advantage of it. Raggedy rooms that used to cost 20 bucks a night are now up to 60. That’s IF you can still find a bed, anyway. So, if I have any advice for future working holiday makers, plan that time of the year well in advance. But don’t plan anything else. Things will always end up differently than what you thought.

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Sydney’s equivalent to pigeons.

 

In Germany, I used to sleep the days away. Nothing to do, no one to see. It feels like since coming to Australia, I have slept a total of 20 hours all together. You wake up early, do some crazy shit like hiking in the Blue Mountains all day – and the ‘all day’ part isn’t even done purposely because, well, you walk down some very steep 900 steps and at some point decide that there has to be another way back up so you’re wandering through the forest at the bottom of the mountains, hoping for an elevator to appear in the mists (in hindsight, one of the most awesome experiences ever) – just to get back to the hostel where someone is always waiting with a box of goon, ready to party like it’s ’99. And that’s on a tuesday. Backpackers have the amazing ability to drink all night and still be at work in suit and tie at 8 AM. Might have something to do with the whole ozon thing.

 

Yes, after those two first weeks that I felt horrible, it finally all began to make sense. The cheap wine. The massive bats and cockroaches. The weird jobs that you do. I thought people actually wearing signs was a myth invented by Hollywood movies, like 555 phone numbers. Not only did I get to wear a big sign, but also a glittery blue cowboy hat, which was very popular especially with little Asian girls and skaters.

 

This is Down Under! Even the locks on public restrooms turn the other way! Crazy Australia is all over the place! Like, when you’re sitting in Hyde Park and feel like you’re in an 80s movie because, apparently skateboarding is kool again. That’s kool with a k, yo. Gettin’ jiggy with it. He was a skaterboy….. hmm, song has been stuck in my head for days. Wait, no! I don’t want your Schnitzel! It’s not genuine!! .. Sorry about that, got a little carried away there. Phew.

 

ImageI bin a bayrisch Cowgirl.

 

 

In Sydney, I learned about coffee culture. All thanks to the Slovakian legend Thomas, who cringed when I told him about my daily $1 Latte at Hungry Jack’s. I reckoned it was good value. He took me to his café Coco Noir inside fancy Westfield Mall where he was assistant manager and introduced me to all his barista friends (which I first thought was just a sophisticated Australian word for bartender), who, in turn, gave me free coffee with funny milk animals in it after hearing the sad story I just told you, and I love free stuff anyway so who am I to pass that up?! I have to admit: I’m sorry, Hungry Jack, but your coffee tastes like baby dhiarrea in comparison.

Yes, Thomas was a bit rough, as you would expect someone from Eastern Europe to be, but he had a good heart. The free sandwich he got me to make up for, after telling him about my depression, calling me an ugly lesbian with small boobs, is prove of that. You have to understand that to Slovakians, that’s the only reason anyone would ever be sad.

 

I also wanna take a quick moment to talk about the Indian guy, one of the people with whom I shared a 16 bed dorm for 3 weeks. I still can’t remember his name, even though I have asked him so many times that by the time I moved out, he couldn’t be happier that annoying little forgetful drunk German was finally gone. No, it wasn’t Raj, racist motherfucker! I remember it started with a B.

I suppose this was the first time I encountered an „authentic“ Indian person, complete with Bindi and the shrine in his locker that he would pray to every night – one prayer for each God, and I don’t know how many he had up in there, but it always tooks him precisely 23 minutes.

I never found out why he ate curry without a fork at all, why in the middle of the night, and why it had to be so noisy during and after (nice picture there). It was interesting and gross at the same time. I try to keep an open mind, though.

 

Most backpackers that I encountered in Sydney were French or Korean, both of which are very hard to communicate with, as their English is usually below average (lo siento, mates. Yes, my French isn’t really any better). On top of that, Koreans also sleep a lot. They have to, as they secretly run the city.

 

Everything happens faster here. Maybe that’s the traveler’s lifestyle. It would have to, since you’re moving on so quickly. Back home, developing a friendship or any kind of relationship takes time. Get to know one another until you feel comfortable to be yourself (or is that just me), spend time, bond. It’s a process, for introverts like me usually slower, for some faster, but it always takes time. Over here, imagine that process being filmed with a really high speed camera. „G’day, nice to meet you, wanna go for a drink? A splendid, we’re best friends now, that was really fun you crazy son of a bitch, well ok gotta go, add me on facebook, see ya!“ And you probably never hear from them again.

 

I’d wish to be able to keep in touch with all the people I meet. But it just doesn’t always work out that way. Backpackers never get attached.. I am different in that aspect, but it isn’t always up to me. There are more adventures out there that want to be adventured, I guess. Gotta learn to stop looking back.

 

Well, what I wanna say is this: Sydney is amazing if you give it a chance (apparently, lots of people don’t like it when they first arrive, so I wasn’t at all alone in this). The people make the city. And there are some truly awesome and interesting people to be met.

 

Some last thoughts: You’re not a real backpacker in Sydney unless you’ve slept one night in Hyde Park. Only newbies don’t j-walk. Coles has $3 mince meat. You don’t have to buy anything at Hungry Jacks to use the free wifi. The road will tell you which way to look for cars if you wanna cross, for confused Europeans. Saturday nights in the city are crazy. Go and find out why (you might get a cookie. Hint: there is more than once correct answer). And finally, the tap water might taste funny but you will get used to it quickly when you see the prices for bottled water.

 

I’ve been told: Sydney is like the model girlfriend who treats you like shit but is so beautiful that you always keep coming back to her. I think that hits the nail on the head.