Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Hostel life

I know it's been a while again but it's hard to say something when not much new has happened to me. I've been living in Brisbane now for 6 weeks I guess and still don't have a job other than the night reception at the hostel that is getting me my free accommodation. I seem to have fallen into an attitude of complacency that is so unlike the true traveller mentality. But when you know something is going to be close to you for a while there is no urgency to do it right? The classic example is that the tourists tend to know our country better than we do. I've still seen almost nothing of Canada and other than one quick evening in which I went to the top of a local mountain for a nice city view because I was catching up with a friend from the Philippines who was staying with a couchsurfer that took us there, I have not been anywhere that I couldn't walk to in less than 45 minutes. It's a little ironic isn't it that when we have time to do something we don't. If I were here for 3 days as a tourist as I was in so many other cities around the world, I'd've seen and done everything a long time ago. As it stands, I will most likely accomplish nothing as a tourist in Brisbane. It does get me wondering if people with shorter life expectancies like 100's of years ago didn't actually get more done and enjoy things a little more because they had no time to waste.....
I spend most of my days sleeping in until about 10am or so unless I had an all-nighter working. Then I go to the State Library to use the free internet to pretend to look for a job until sometime in the afternoon before going back and hanging out with whoever is around. The hostel is more like a mix of immigrant community and refugee camp than a hostel of tourists. A huge percentage of the residents in the hostel are long-termers. I've been there 6 weeks without trying and there are dozens that have been there longer than me or arrived shortly after. As you can imagine this means a strong familiarity and mini community complete with competing factions being set up. The social dynamics are actually quite interesting to watch and "study". A few are working full-time, many are working part-time and the rest are like me, pretending to want and need a job. I have come to realize that it's actually really hard to psychological wrap my head around serious job hunting and wanting to get a job and I think I've been sub-consciously sabotaging myself for a while here. I also don't particularly need a job either as my daily budget can be as little as $4/day or even less if I were to really watch it. I do have the occasional splurge so the real average is somewhat higher but not by that much really. I am mildly amused by the fact that my daily budget here is less than a pint of beer in the pubs that everyone else spend so much time at.
I wouldn't consider myself a part of any group in particular but as usual more of a fringe player that everyone knows because I've been around for so long. I spend most of my time with Marcus the only other Canadian guy here (and the only other non-smoker and non-drinker) but John (the Scot from the farm) came back 3 weeks ago and so he's livened things up again. I don't go out with his group but I do know them as John and Marcus are in the same 8-bed dorm which has been dubbed the club house and is constantly packed with people. You literally can't see the floor for all the chaos in there. With nobody packing up and leaving there is no point cleaning it up and clothes are scattered everywhere and I think at this point there is a lot of communal stuff constantly being shared/borrowed. I thought my room was bad but at least it is quiet.

This is my room on a "clean day".
As an example of typical "backpacker" behavior over here I will briefly describe a night with John and co. I don't know how they do it. Maybe it's the fact that they are almost all British (with the odd Irish and German thrown in) but every night they start their drinking with "goon". It's some apparently strong and nasty alcohol sold in 4L boxes for $10 or something very cheap. Several boxes will be consumed nightly, often 1 each and once everyone is sufficiently prepped up then at about 1am they will head out to the bar or club to finish off the night, finishing anywhere from 4am (on an easy night) to well past dawn. The number of times people have admitted to waking up in random rooms and other places is just scary (I often find people passed out in the bathrooms or other communal rooms when working the night shift). Somehow they will then manage to get up to work or do whatever a few hours later and then the next night start all over again. Weekdays do not seem to slow them down much. Every once in a while someone will swear off drinking for a day but it usually takes a few attempts to pull it off successfully unless they recruited several others for a detox day because there is so much peer pressure to keep going.
Other European groups here do the same thing but the majority of guests are British and I realized that very few are actually interacting with Australians or Australia at all, including me. It's mostly a work just to afford what you are doing situation, but in some cases even that is a stretch.
I mentioned refugee camp here as well. There are people that are freeloading here as well. They sneak in and sleep in empty beds in various rooms or in a common area like the tv room quite regularly. The hostel has a policy of no non-guests after 7pm but it doesn't go around an kick them out if they come in before that. Most of these freeloaders are friends of the people staying here long-term so they are getting a lot of help. In many cases they are harmless enough, everyone's friend that was here, ran out of money and check out and just stay to save some money. Others are friends that have their own apartment but are not in any state to make it back home after a night of drinking games and can actually end up staying for days on end. As one for the night staff it's part of my job to find these people and kick them out but it's such a losing battle because the worst offenders are the other staff anyway so "blind eye" is the order of the day. I freely admit I have to do it and then hope that we don't all get busted and tossed. As long as everyone is happy and everyone keeps everyone else under control it will work. Like I said, it's a community and in a way, a self-policing one. It reminds me of when we were in Cairo and broke every rule in the place with Rhiis and got away with it because we were 25% of the guests anyway and had been there so long.
There are problem characters though. I constantly have food stolen from the kitchen even though I typically only shop one day at a time. I also nearly got into a fight last weekend when things between me and the worst of the "bad" group finally came to a head. It took 3 people to hold him back and another hour or two to talk him down after I had to leave, but it was good to know that half the hostel had my back in the event that something had happened (no, I wasn't picking fights, I was gentlemanly defending the honor of a female I was talking to at the time). It's an issue that is still being resolved but I can only say that some people simply should not be allowed to drink. But this also serves to show how politically tied I am with my job. I simply can't do it and alienate myself here. Ah, and we wonder how corruption ends up so prevalent everywhere....
There is one other group that exists but exists in a completely different world. The Asians, mostly Taiwanese and Korean, do not interact with anyone else other than their own little groups even when they do stay for a while. I believe that there is an unofficial policy to put them all in the same rooms on some obscure floor but I can't actually prove it. But even I have had very little communication with any of them and from the (rare) comments of the others the Asians may as well not exist.
My external interactions have mostly involved continued lunches with Ben when he is in town. It's always good to catch up and his projects and energy still blow me away. But I am jealous because he has some awesome stuff in the works. With the return of John I also put together our pub quiz team. John and I accidentally won it when we first got back so I figured it would be fun to keep it going, especially as we have a good chance at winning. There are food vouchers at the pub for the 1st and 2nd placed teams and we have a good shot at winning so why not? Anyway, we have come in 2nd place (by very narrow margins) twice and won it again as well. The crazy thing is that it has turned into a big social event and now quite a few people come with us as well. They don't actually contribute a whole lot to the chances of our winning, with only a third actually participating, but everyone loves to be part of a winning team. But how can I complain? Free steak sounds a lot better than another night of $1 pasta for dinner.
On a negative note, what's with civilization and sickness? Or is it winter and sickness? Must be something to do with the cold (even though it's still Vancouver summer temperatures here). The only times on this trip that I've actually had a cold (as opposed to a dodgy stomach) were in Israel (Jan 2009) and Turkey (Dec 2006) when I finally entered winter climes after a long absence. I've been sick twice this month, once with a head cold and now with a chest cold, both unrelated and occurring 2 weeks apart. Maybe now I'm starting to understand how it could be that Caucasians brought so many diseases to everyone else when they conquered the globe...
It doesn't exactly fit with the theme of the rest of this post but I can't not mention last weekend's Riverfire event as the opening of the Brisbane Festival. It was big. Half a million people congregate down at the riverfront to watch what amounted to a few barges and about a dozen buildings create a 25 minute firework display that was fantastic in it's coordination and scale. They didn't use the most advanced fireworks I've seen and they didn't need to because the real highlight was the F1 fighter jet doing 3 passes overhead while doing a fuel burn such that a huge flame was shooting out the back. It looked like a big fire streak shooting across the sky, the way you'd imagine a flaming superhero would look if such things were real. I love fireworks but have no idea what else is on for the festival.