Monday, December 12, 2011

Global Language and the Collapse of Civilization

 Have you ever thought about what Will Smith sounds like in Germany, where all of their movies are dubbed in German? Think about it. Apparently, the same voice actors always portray the same celebrities in foreign countries. It makes sense, after all it is much more natural and pleasing to our minds to always hear the same voice coming out of the same person. However, this leads to some interesting problems. A an old favorite American movie may not be enjoyable for a German who, hearing the English version for the first time because the actual voice of the movie star is so different from the one they are used to. Also, what would happen if the voice actor died before the actual celebrity?

This gets even trickier if the actor is in the process of making an epic movie series that is being filmed and released over several years, like Lord of the Rings? This is not confirmed, but I have heard that the German voice of Legolas died after the first film was released but before he was finished dubbing the entire series. Imagine it, the search for a similar sounding German voice would be intense, given the budget of the movie and it’s potential to make money in the German market. All right, maybe not massively intense in financial terms, but still, think about what it would be like if you were somehow in charge of finding the replacement.

Thinking about this makes me consider the prospect of making a living out of using your voice. What if you were a poor, homeless beggar, but you had the perfect voice to be an announcer for boxing or some other sports? From rags to riches, just because you were in the right place at the right time, begging with the right voice. I’m sure the people in charge of German voice actor replacements have a better method than going out looking for bums, but you get my point.

Having conversations with people from all different backgrounds can bring out all sorts of things, such as how different humour is different across cultures. Occasionally this difference leads to the hearing of a really funny new joke, but for the most part it leads to some polite fake laughter or a chuckle. Actually, that is being generous; often, it leads to blank expressions and “I-don’t-get-its.” Especially across languages, because subtlety cannot be translated.  A many great jokes lose much of their flare in translation.

Even in English, the punch of the joke can be pulled by the differing mannerisms between American, British, and Australian English. Actually, more specifically, because of the different slang in different regions, these divisions are much more acute than at the national level. A Scottish joke might not be so funny to a Welshman, just like a Southern joke might not be so funny to a Yankees fan.  But linguistic asymmetries aren’t the only things that make humour different across cultures. Trust me, the British sense of humour greater differs from the rest of the world.

One of the reasons I like traveling is because I like learning about these sorts of things, and thinking about them. Language, and the English language in particular, fascinates me. In the today’s quickly globalizing world we are moving closer and closer to a common language. I don’t know what the statistics are, but do I know English the common language on the international backpackers circuit, and I imagine it is the most widely recognized on the planet. Albeit, it is often spoken as a second or third language, and in many cases with an extremely limited vocabulary, but it is the most useful language to know in most places around the world. Consider how long it might take before most people on the planet could effectively communicate with almost any other person in the world, if ever.

It’s interesting to notice the changes in the way the way that I speak the longer I stay away from home. It may surprise you to learn that many people are often surprised to hear that I am American, even after hearing me speak. Clearly, if they listen to me for long enough it becomes pretty evident. That being said, both consciously and subconsciously I pick up phrases I hear and incorporate them into my vocabulary. I don’t do it with the purpose of fooling people, but I must admit that the idea of having a unique way of speaking all to myself allures me. After all, don’t reporters work on their ‘non-regional dialect’ so that they can move up in the broadcasting world? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not devoting too much attention to intentionally change the way I talk or write; the change is organic. Just now I noticed that I spelled humour the British way when spell check told me it was wrong, a complaint I have often heard from British users of American word processing software.

I’m making money with my labour at the moment, (notice the unintentional British spelling, again,) and it’s not a bad way to live. I am also still waiting to hear about the nightclub job, which I am still hoping to get. I still don’t know how long I’ll stay in the city, or what I’ll be doing in a month, which is also not a bad way to live. Life is what you make it, and I am happy with the experiences I am making at the moment. Life is too short to spend it toiling away at something you don’t like to do, and if you have the means, wherewithal and courage to do what you really want instead, I highly recommend it.

On that note, I just want to share how thankful I am that I am in a position to be where I am right now. I think about the millions of people who don’t have the same opportunities that I do. Many times, their choices include working in an unsafe, dirty factory or starvation. Or worse yet, the choice between following a certain political group or gang and being raped, tortured, and murdered. Politically speaking, I don’t want to claim that I have some superior knowledge on how to best run the world. However, I do know that it would be possible to feed every person in the world. I do know that it would be possible to offer internet access to the entire population, given enough time, effort, and sacrifices. I only hope that I can take my life of freedom and opportunity to somehow help make that happen.

We live in an exciting time in human history. The future is less predictable now than it has been in all of recorded history. What technology awaits us in the coming years? How will the geopolitical environment change in the next fifty years? How will the climate change in that time? Americans from my parents generation all know where they were when they heard the news that President John F. Kennedy died, and I know that all Americans from my generation know their exact circumstances when they heard about the planes crashing into the twin towers on the 11th of September. Will the next generation have a similar moment of remembered shock? Hopefully they will, for I believe that the alternative is a life so full of shock that such moments will have lost their punctuality.  Still, I am an optimist. Civilization isn’t going to collapse anytime soon, not at least if I have any say in the matter.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Kangaroo Roadkill

I watched the sunset through the window on the train ride home. Yellow faded into orange and then purple: it was beautiful. The train was crowded but I didn’t mind. I was listening to music in my headphones and enjoying the setting sun. Life is good.

 I was coming from an interview for a job bartending in a nightclub. The interview seemed to go well, but they didn’t give me to job on the spot. However, I left confident that I had made a good impression and done all that I could do to get the job. They said that they would call me by Monday either way, and if I don’t get the job, well, then it simply wasn’t meant to be.

That isn’t to say that I believe in predetermination, or a set-in-stone fate. However, the universe does tend to conspire to push us in one direction or another. This may seem paradoxical, but I am often able to find peace by answering ‘yes’ to a ‘this-or-that’ question. Just because our logical process can’t simultaneously grasp the truth of two seemingly dichotomous viewpoints doesn’t mean that there is not truth on both sides. I’ve been sitting here for fifteen minutes searching for a simpler, more succinct way to explain this, but so far have not been able to think of one. I will continue to search for means to express the ineffable, but in the meantime, please allow me to digress.

I saw my first Kangaroo in person. Unfortunately, it was dead, on the side of the road, and being eaten by a scavenger bird. Still, it was an experience that I won’t soon forget. I was in a moving truck driving to a job about an hour north of the city of Melbourne. It was amazing at how quickly the scenery changed from an urban landscape to seemingly endless tracts of yellow grass and farmland. Even though I was working, I still tried to absorb the landscape like an adventurer on holiday in a foreign land. While the landscape wasn’t exceptionally beautiful (as a matter of fact in reminded me of west Texas,) this mindset helped me to turn a mundane drive into a life-long memory.

I am greatly enjoying working for the moving company. It is physically demanding, but not overly so. I like the people who I am working with, and we are able to have a good laugh while we are working. Or, to use a bit of the non-American English I’ve picked up, we have a good crack whilst we work. My co-workers consist of an international community of locals, expats, and travelers, and the conversation usually sheds some interesting light on some foreign culture.

 In addition to the myriads of differing words between the various manifestations of the English language, I also learn quirky little tidbits about cultural differences. For example, a great deal is imported to Australia, from knick-knacks to cultural items such as movies and TV shows. However, the culture that does spring from the land down under takes on it’s own form. The hip-hop produced by Aussies is overwhelmingly political, the slang that they use is completely unique, and, in my opinion, they television shows they produce are atrocious. I must admit, I must admit my American upbringing makes me incredibly biased. Clearly, the TV production here is of lower production value, but also the Australian sense of humor differs from my own sense of humor in such a way that I don’t even appreciate the good bits in their shows.

So, again I am falling into the routine of a semi-normal life. I have been exercising through my current job, as well as becoming more regular in my Qi Gong and meditation practices.  Furthermore, I am looking out a few yoga and dance classes to supplement my not-so-mundane routine. I might be headed off into the outback to do some regional work (to qualify for a second year visa in the country) in the near future, and I want to get the most from my time in the city. Sometimes I have to remind myself what I really want out of life: happiness. Only you can walk your own journey through life, and only you know which roads will make you happy. For me, it’s a struggle to remain mindful and conscious of my priorities. Trust me, taking the time to think about these things is well worth it: it pays dividends. I'm always happier when I take the time to align my life with what my ideals.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Reflections on the Rocks

I felt the Antarctic wind blew up from the south as I looked out over the sea. I experienced the smell of salt water and spray from the waves crashing on the rocks hit my face. Even though it’s December, the summer sun was more than enough to keep me warm. It was a beautiful day. I had come looking to see a few wild penguins, but unfortunately they decided not to show. Still, I made most of my time and used the opportunity to meditate, as well as go through my Tai Chi and Qi Gong routine that I had learned in Thailand.

A lot has been going through my mind in the past few days; it all started on Saturday night. After working at the restaurant, my boss sat me down for a discussion. He told me that because I didn’t have enough experience that he was going to cut my hours to Saturdays only. It seemed a bit odd because I had been there for three weeks already and already knew the drill around the restaurant. To be honest, I think it was because I didn’t get stressed out when the restaurant was busy, and I think he wanted me to. However, I was quite happy he gave me the opportunity to leave the job. Despite not liking the atmosphere there, I was staying because I gave him my word to work through Christmas. Even though he didn’t treat his employees with any respect, my integrity is important to me. Therefore, when he gave me the chance to terminate my employment, I took it with a smile on my face. I think that my smile pissed him off even more. Oh well.

Although I was laughing on my way home with a former coworker as we poked fun at the antics of the restaurant owner, I was soon confronted with a more somber reality: I was now in a foreign country with limited funds and no income. This is certainly a serious situation and I think that most people would begin to worry. Worrying, however, is not in my nature. Besides, there is plenty of work in Australia, especially during the summer. After all, I had found that job less than 48 hours after my arrival in this country. I would go on to vent about my former employer, but really should thank him. Not only had he given me my first experience getting laid off of a job, he had also released me to embark onto the next step of my journey.

I originally left my career in the United States determined to go on an epic adventure, with the ultimate goal of figuring out what I’d like to do for the rest of my life. I had certainly already figured out that it wasn’t working in the package delivery business. Now, unencumbered by a work schedule and with enough financial security to survive for at least a few weeks, I again had the task of finding work. This time I didn’t want to get involved with something I hated. I explored opportunities in the mining industry, working in the outback for the seasonal harvest and, of course, more hospitality jobs.

Clearly at a fork in the road on this journey called life, I took my time looking down each path. It seemed to me that I would have to spend money on every one of these paths. The only inroad I was able to find in mining was a employment agency that charged over two hundred dollars. It seemed that the best way to work on the farms would be with a commercial driving license driving a truck instead of toiling in the fields, which also costs over 200 dollars. Finally, most hospitality jobs either required barista skills or a certification to sell alcohol, which can also be bought for the predictable price of $200.

I deliberated for a day, just letting the enormity of the possibilities soak in. I spent the following day applying to jobs, that I would like, online. Unlike before, when I first arrived here and I applied for every job I felt qualified for, this time I only applied for bar jobs in nightclubs and bars. Also, just to be safe, I applied to a few call centers. I figured if I couldn’t find a job I liked it would at least hold me over for a few weeks. Additionally, I got contact information for a moving company that my flatmate worked for. He was leaving the job, and he reckoned that there was a good chance that they would be looking for additional help to fill his spot.

Well, it is now a day later and there no longer seems to be any reason to be stressed. It is a good thing I never stressed out in the first place! It turns out that the moving company could use another set of hands, and I start tomorrow at 7:30am. Additionally, I received a call from a nightclub to come in for an interview on Thursday. Once again, it only took me two days to find a job. While I’m not saying which path I’ve decided to take, at least I wont be starving on the streets anytime in the near future. Life will never stop presenting me choices. At least I’m taking time to think about them. I’m not just blindly following the path of least resistance, or just doing what is expected of me. Let me tell you, life is a lot better this way.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Jaywalking with Pride

One of my favorite things to do whilst away from home is to jaywalk. For whatever reason, unbeknownst to me, many people around the world seemingly need to wait for a lighted sign telling them it is safe to cross the street. I first noticed this phenomenon in San Francisco 8 months ago, and with the exception of Thailand, where it seems like there are no traffic laws, it’s been getting worse the farther I’ve gotten from home.

It’s hard for me to describe the pleasure that I derive from walking past a group of standing people who are waiting to cross an empty street. Of course I take the time to look both ways before crossing, and while sometimes I have to wait, more often than not there is no traffic in sight. I find it funny that after I safely and confidently cross the street, without the aid of a cross walk or a flashing light, others are inspired to do the same. I see this unique look of confused possibility cross their faces, see them look both ways, and try jaywalking themselves. It’s hard for me to understand why people would wait at a street corner when there are clearly no hazards in the road, but I guess it’s a cultural thing. The northeast tells me never to wait unnecessarily while the rest of the world is told to respect the law… or something like that. I haven’t quite figured it all out, but I’m filled with pride in my civil disobedient street crossing.


I do have to admit, I was almost in a traffic incident once. However, this was only because I am used to traffic running the opposite direction, even though I just spent months in Thailand where they also drive on the left hand side of the road. There, I wasn’t living in a city, with city traffic and traffic patterns. Quite the opposite in fact, I spent most of my time in a remote town where you could ride your vehicle in the middle of the road most of the time.  A friend of mine from LA, who has been in Australia for ten years, says that he had the same problem when he first arrived. Now, he tells me that he has his fair share of near misses when he goes back to California because he looks the wrong way before crossing the street.

Now for something completely different: Traveling internationally, I have been exposed to a multitude of sports. Honestly, I try my best learn and appreciate the different sports around the world.  International football, the name I’ve given to what Americans call soccer, is so greatly loved by such enthusiastic fans I’ve started to see some of its appeal. However, I wouldn’t dare call it soccer to an Englishman ,just because I wouldn’t want to hear them rant about how its proper name is football and how Americans have no right to take that word. I suppose they have a point, but just for the record, Australians call it soccer as well. All that being said, it’s just not worth argument, so I’ve adopted the term ‘international football,’ and that seems to get the point across.

Now that I’ve discussed the most popular sport in the world, allow me to discuss a few other observations I’ve made about sports while traveling. Firstly, and surprisingly to me, basketball seems to be the most popular American sport abroad. Secondly, while I don’t fully understand the subtle intricacies of the rules regarding rugby or Australian Rules Football, or footy, as they call it, they are both games that I can respect and enjoy watching. Furthermore, the Irish guys I’m living with have put me on to Gaelic football and Hurling, which seem incredibly intense. Now I want to visit Ireland and catch a few games.

Finally, I want to discuss cricket. I am really, really doing my best to appreciate this sport. It is a sport played in England, Australia, South Africa and India; and, given the last country, has the second most fans in the world. I understand that playing the game is probably fun, as is attending the game (read: drinking all day.) Still, I’ve been watching the test match between New Zealand and Australia today and it just seems silly. I’ve been asking my housemates questions about the game and they haven’t really been able to answer them to my satisfaction. Because they aren’t cricket enthusiasts, I’ve been forced to go online to do more research. Even understanding the rules, the game still seems dumb to me. I’ve met people who love the game but I just don’t get it. After a bit of study and effort I’ve come to enjoy many foreign and unknown sports, but this is one that I just can’t get wrap my head around. Sometimes matches last for days, it seems as if the fielders are just standing around with fun hats and their collars popped, a batter can tip the ball behind him and still score runs, and the bowlers (pitchers) run about 20 steps before throwing the ball. I guess it’s just my culture, but I’ll take baseball over cricket any day.