Wednesday, October 29, 2003

The Backpacker

In June 2001, I went to Poland with my Grandma. For the first couple of weeks I was there, I didn't get to do much travelling or sightseeing at all. I didn't speak Polish and most of the time Grandma was my only English-speaking companion. It was observed that I was not as bubbly and chatty as my sister, who had visited Poland before me. I kind of resented the comparison, even though it's true.

It wasn't until some other Australian relatives arrived that I got a bit more organised in planning some activities, and finally just before we were due to leave Poland, I even plucked up the courage for a short trip alone. I spent about three days visiting various places in Krakow and surrounding areas (including Auschwitz) with my aunt, uncle, and cousins. Then they all went back to the farm at Kamien, and I got on a minibus alone to visit the mountain town of Zakopane.

This was my first overseas trip, and I had spent most of it so far in living rooms eating cake and drinking tea, or in the farmyard kicking a ball around with the kids and befriending the dogs. So I was feeling raw, inexperienced, and tongue-tied.

I had borrowed a backpack from my cousin, because I had travelled to Poland with a suitcase. The pack was really too big for me, and even without a lot of gear in it, surprisingly heavy. I wasn't really comfortable carrying it far, and had already had trouble with it, bumping into people on a crowded tram in Krakow.

My general instinct as a tourist - and actually any situation where I'm a stranger - is to be as cool, calm and collected as possible. My (possibly stupid) rules are: 1.Work it out yourself rather than asking dumb questions. 2. Bluff. You might be ignorant but don't show it. 3. Avoid showing surprise or amazement.

So at the same time as feeling a bit uncertain, I was also being Ms Cool & Natural and trying to blend in with the scenery.

I checked into the hostel, which I had picked out of the Lonely Planet Guide, at about 6:30pm, having arrived in Zakopane much later than I had intended. The young woman at the reception desk spoke English haltingly. Because I would be staying in a 12-bed dorm, and I wanted to go out and explore the town, I asked if there was somewhere I could lock my bag. She said 'I'll just ask someone', which I thought was a bit strange. A few minutes later she came back with a big guy, maybe a security guard, who proceeded to carry my bag up to my room for me. Suddenly I realised that that was what she thought I had asked for, some kind of porter to carry my bag! I was completely mortified. I felt like an utter failure as a backpacker, and I was glad when we got to the room that there was only one other person there to witness my terrible shame.

In the end I took my valuables with me and left my bag in the room. I actually had a very interesting stay in Zakopane, and I might write about that some time.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

I'm dobbing on you!

My two dogs are litter-mates, brother and sister, and people are always surprised that Mia is the dominant one. Well, she is quite a bit bigger and stronger, and more of a smarty-pants. Someone has to be the boss.

She used to be satisfied with tricks like abandoning her chewy toy to steal the one Elvis is working on. She also makes him swap bowls repeatedly as they eat their food, so she can take full advantage of her much faster eating speed. And every now and then she gives him a thorough licking (literally) in a parental sort of way.

Lately she's gotten more grouchy. She'll growl at him randomly - sometimes she's protecting her favourite spot on the couch, even though he's not even trying to get up there - but sometimes it's for no apparent reason. Just to let him know she is the boss. And most especially, Princess Mia is boss of the bed.

These days Elvis doesn't even jump up there at bedtime. Left to his own devices, he'll go to sleep on the blanket on the floor. Fine, more legroom for me. But then, in the wee small hours of the morning, I wake up to a pathetic doggy crying sound. He'll be sitting on the floor at my side, waiting to be picked up and placed on the bed. He's afraid that if he just jumps up, he'll land too close to Mia and get snapped at. He's probably right. I should note that Mia never, ever growls at us. She knows she's only the boss of the dog pack, not the whole household. I've told this story a few times, and always get the reaction 'awww, that's SOOOO cute!' Not at three in the morning it isn't. (Well, actually, I can't back that up. It is pretty cute).

Elvis got his own back today, though. I heard this little yowling sound, as if he wanted the back door opened so he could go out. I knew it was already open though. When I looked in the laundry, there was Mia, chowing down on some dry dog food that she'd stolen from the packet. No way was she sharing with him. So he dobbed on her! I rewarded his snitching with a few pieces of food.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2003

This template is not really the look I'm going for. But I really wanted a links sidebar, and don't have the skills yet to do it myself. Eventually I will stuff around with the template and customise the nice plain format that I had before. Meanwhile, this will do.

Speaking of the links, could I take a moment to point out - an oldie but a goodie. Great for checking out those mass-forwarded emails, not just urban legends but also the ones that promise money, to you or a charity, the ones that tug on your heartstrings, the ones that ask you to sign petitions or click on links. The world would be a better place if everyone checked with snopes before forwarding anything.

Saturday, October 11, 2003

If U were mine...

Last night I went to the opening of 'If U were mine...' an exhibition of the works of three painters: Noël Skrzypczak, Kirsten Farrell and Madeline Kidd. The wine was good and the art was even better. It's on at the Canberra Contemporary Art Space in Manuka until 19 October, and I definitely recommend checking it out.

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Wednesday, October 08, 2003

More substantial entries to come, soon. I promise.

Meanwhile, Arnie is now the Governor of California. I can't be the only one who didn't think this could really happen!


Wednesday, October 01, 2003

A couple of weeks ago, I went to see Pirates of the Caribbean (Arrr!) with my sister and some friends. Before the movie we had coffee and cake at the nearby bakery.

A young girl took our orders at the counter and we sat down outside. While the coffees were being made, she approached us.

The way she said, "Excuse me, are you uni students?" was almost like you might ask someone who you think is a celebrity if they were who you think they are – if you do that sort of thing.

She was in year ten, and she was certain she wanted to go to university. She wanted to study criminal law. She was very determined that she wanted to go to university but seemed less certain that she could. But then she said her teachers encouraged her and she was getting straight As. She seemed to be seeking our approval. Maybe going to uni was not the most obvious choice, either in her family or her group of friends. We all encouraged her, saying she had plenty of time and would be sure to go to uni if she really wanted to.

One of our friends is a teacher, and she recognised her from relief work. After the girl left, she mentioned that sometimes the quiet ones you don't notice in class can really surprise you when you talk to them outside.

She was just so unaffected and honest and keen that she really made an impression on me.

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"If a little dreaming is dangerous, the cure for it is not to dream less but to dream more, to dream all the time."

Marcel Proust

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