“Didn’t you notice it was a manual when you got in?”

My stomach dropped as I climbed inside the rental car and saw the gear shift stick between me and my passenger (friend!), Alicia. By looking for the cheapest rental car possible, dang you frugality, I had accidentally booked a manual car instead of an automatic. My mind flashed back to me at 21 years old convincing four girlfriends that I could drive the South African terrain into Swaziland in a manual car, conveniently forgetting to mention to them that I had only learned how to drive manual the summer before on country back roads. I like to think I handled that road trip well, but I also think I was more fearless at 21.  It’s been over a decade since then and I had driven manual plenty of other times, but I not on the “other side of the road” since that African road trip.

Bringing myself back to the present I took a breath and stepped out of the car, practically sprinting back into the car rental office. “I am fully capable of driving a manual car,” I smiled at the receptionist. “I was just not mentally prepared for it. Do you have any automatic cars available for hire?” Her no wasn’t sorrowful at all, more annoyed. I smiled again and went back outside.

“I can drive a stick shift, Alicia.”  I said aloud, more for my benefit that hers. Her response was immediate, “I believe you! I can’t help at all as I don’t have a clue how to drive manual”. She was super supportive, even when my mind went blank and I forgot to push down the clutch when attempting to start the car. Haha, oops.

Driving manual is like riding a bike, really. It all came back as I started driving around Hobart, even while using my left hand and driving on the left hand side of the road. As soon as I began to pick up speed, however, the car refused to accelerate. I had the pedal to the metal as they say, and it started going slower instead of faster. What? My first thought was that I was doing something wrong. We had just entered onto the highway after I had barely made it over a hill when I pulled over onto the shoulder. I took a deep breath, once again telling Alicia that I knew how to drive a manual. I am a safe driver, I am! After I gave myself a pep talk I tried again. This time we were halfway up a hill when I had to pull over again, the stupid car just wasn’t shifting gears and accelerating the way it was supposed to. Whyyyyyy? I looked in my rearview mirror at the abandoned car behind me, also on the shoulder of the road. I tried again and again to get the car started and moving forward and every time I tried we rolled backwards. Cars, trucks, monster trucks, bigger than monster trucks were flying past us around the curves on the highway. Some honking, all speeding.

Swallowing my pride and after many nudges from Alicia, I finally agreed to call the car rental company. I had a short, curt, and demeaning conversation with a receptionist, let’s call her Kasey, who at one point said, “Didn’t you notice it was a manual when you got in?” Kasey was convinced I had it in reverse, I wasn’t, but my second guessing nature and natural inclination towards I must be the one doing something wrong, had me agreeing with her. Telling me that the worst thing I could do was to panic, Kasey instructed me to try and try again. I actually wasn’t panicked, I was irritated. Alicia was extremely calm this whole time, both of us keeping our nervous energy on the inside (aside from my terrible shaky leg on the clutch).

I ended up rolling backwards into the left lane of the highway around the abandoned car (still rolling backwards mind you) and back onto the shoulder in order to avoid smashing into it. To say we got a few more honks would be pretty accurate. Finally, Alicia succeeded in convincing me to call roadside service with a simple statement, “It’s not safe.” I agreed, this was ridiculous, and absolutely not safe. How in the world was I able to drive a manual for the first 15 minutes of this journey (not to mention the last 12 years) and then forget? How does that work? I was frustrated and grateful, at least we were still safe.

When the police officer pulled over on his motorcycle I can fully guarantee that I had never been more grateful of a cop stopping behind my vehicle in my entire life. I beamed at him, relieved as I rolled down my car window. After explaining the situation to Steve, (real name because he is AWESOME) he began coaching me through what to do, even though, I promise I knew what to do! Steve changed his mind halfway through his instructions and asked me to get out of the car.

Less than 1 minute of sitting in the rental Steve shook his head, got out of the car and said, “The clutch is gone, this car is broken.” VINDICATION. And relief. Also, I am not a mechanic and I know next to zilch about cars so for all of you reading this who already guessed that the clutch was gone, good job. I am happy for you. I called the rental place back and wouldn’t you know, Kasey completely changed her tune when I explained what transpired since our last little chat. She promised to get a tow truck to us immediately and then hoped we would ‘stay warm’ in the chill Tasmania winter. Jee, thanks.

Steve stayed with Alicia and I the whole time, stating he couldn’t leave “damsels in distress” and called for another cop car to come and block the lane further down as cars continued to speed around the curves. He gave thumbs up to the cars being safe and opened his arms wide to the more reckless drivers. Seriously, I love Steve.

IMG_1574

Almost 30 minutes later two men in a pick up truck showed up to tow the car… interesting. “I can smell that!” One of them said towards Steven as he neared the car. Neither men said a word in our direction as Steve ushered us to the back of their truck, what a good person he is. Steve pointed out the oil leaking from the car and I heard one of them tell the other, “Probably needs a whole new gearbox.” We sat in the truck as the car was hooked up. Silence. One man sat in the broken car to steer it behind us while the other merged the truck on the highway. Silence. “So are you Jason, or is the other one Jason?” I asked referring to the name Kasey had given of who was picking us up. “We both are.” Then. Silence.

By the time we got back to the car rental’s office I was fuming. What kind of car rental loans a broken car. In all fairness, I know that you can’t predict when a clutch will go, but surely some kind of safety tests are in place before cars are hired out so you can try not to hand over a worthless car. We stood for a good 10 minutes in the office waiting for Kasey to come and speak with us. She finally emerged and without preamble started explaining how she had given us an upgrade and an automatic car was ready for us.

I gave her a hard look. “I am sorry, I don’t know if I am ready to get back into one of your cars.” Kasey looked a little taken aback and said, “We give our cars safety checks before they go out, there is no way to predict when a clutch goes. People rent out manuals without knowing how to drive them. The last person who rented the car must have driven it to the ground. We are not blaming you.”

“Of course not, it’s not my fault,” I mentioned a few other things about how we lost half the day already, etc. “No one even asked us if we are okay,” I shook my head not believing how this huge safety hazard didn’t even make a blimp on this car rental’s radar.  Kasey paused and looked at us. “That’s just the boys. Are you okay?” She asked quickly. Not exactly flippantly, but not with any deep conviction either.

I held back my anger as I realized I actually appreciated her no-nonsense attitude and really wanted to head out to the Tahune Airwalk. It didn’t hit me later as I was driving the automatic out on the open road that just a few hours before, they said they didn’t have an automatic car. Hmmmm…

In the midst of the silent guys coming to get the car I didn’t get to properly say goodbye to my hero of the day, Steve. Thanks for everything, Steve!

We made it to the Tahune Airwalk.

IMG_1035

Advertisements

Lemonade- Not the Beyoncé Kind

Hi Family! Hi Friends! Hi Strangers!

It’s been a minute, I know. But I am stretching my fingers and cracking my knuckles (yup, literally just did that) and itching to get back on this keyboard.

Living in Melbourne, Australia for the past eleven months has been a whirlwind of adventure, excitement, disappointments, incredible favour— speaking of which I don’t know how the world of Commonwealth countries are able to tolerate American spelling, it just looks wrong to me now, and I am American! How does 31 years of American spelling look wrong after only 11 months? Okay, so there are some things that America got very, very right, I still can’t do Celsius and I love measuring things by inches, pounds, and miles, I do, though I know there is a huge controversial debate on the States going fully metric—errr.. Back to my time in Australia being a whirlwind, I think the biggest shock for me is that I am still getting shocked… culturally. See what I did there?

A couple of weeks ago I went to the movies with two people who have become kind of like my Australian siblings. When I first met my friend and coworker, Alicia’s, little brother, Michael, I creepily whispered, “Be my brother.” and then forgot about it. Apparently, Alicia’s mum (I still prefer mom!) heard it and thought it was funny, which I was obviously trying to be, and told Michael later… he thought about it and said, “Yeah, I’d be her brother.” Ba-da bing ba-da boom, I got myself a little brother.

Back to the movies. We were eating burgers beforehand. Alicia ordered herself a classic burger and a Sprite, and she got a burger and a sprite. I ordered myself a classic burger and a lemonade, and got a burger and a Sprite. What the heck? Tell me this, does coke have another name other than coca-cola? I think not. But in Australia, Sprite is also called lemonade and lemonade is whatever brand of the lemonade it is (Lift, Solo, blablabla). I was super confused when I got my Sprite and stuttered on about lemonade. Meanwhile, Alicia is holding her Sprite and I am holding my Sprite and wanting the Lift lemonade I see clearly behind the glass cooler and the confused cashier is saying, “I can change it for you” but not moving to do so and because I am so flustered I just say, “It’s fine” and walk away. Why did I do that? I really wanted lemonade! I mean Lift! I mean, whatever!

You may think, what a silly thing to have culture shock about. But when all of those silly things add up and every day you’re feeling like you are missing the joke, or the inside knowledge on something, it can be pretty taxing.

It’s the beauty of living abroad. And though I wish the moments didn’t happen quite as often as they do, I love it when they happen just the same. Does that sound contradictory? Well, welcome to my life.

Are you a lemonade or a Sprite person? Shoot, never mind, according to Australia those are the same thing.

Cheers!

How to Speak Australian

Truth be told, I am still learning how to speak Australian. Before I moved here many people told me I would have culture shock, even though this is an English speaking country. I believed them. Except, I didn’t really believe them. I mean, I knew. But, I didn’t know. You know?

My first day of teaching Year 5 (translation: 5th grade) proved to be the most culturally shocking. It felt like every other word that came out of my mouth was an ‘American’ term that they in turn had an ‘Australian’ word for. I said sweater, they said jumper. I said sneaker, they said trainer. I said sweatpants, they said trackies. I said braid, they said plait. I said candy, they said lollies. I said markers, they said texters. I said backpack, they said bag (I flipped out on them at that point, “If you understand what I am saying enough to correct me, then don’t correct me. One of our classroom agreements is to, ‘Celebrate Our Differences’ are you celebrating our differences right now? NO YOU ARE NOT. If you really don’t understand what I am saying then ask politely, otherwise don’t say anything.” The class went pretty quiet after that. For about 10 seconds.)

They still accidentally correct me if I say a word ‘differently’ than they do. Data, inquiry, maroon, Adidas-turns out that one Americans do say wrong because it’s an actual German company and it’s NOT pronounced the way we say it!-but all the rest is tomato or tomato.

I have started a list in my phone to keep up with my Australian colleagues. There are times when they text me or I have conversations with someone and I get very confused. For example, “She shouts all the time” does not mean someone is yelling. ‘Shout’ is when you pay for someone’s meal or coffee. I know right?

Here’s just a few more (really this is the very shortened list):

Ta- Thank you
Wag/Wagging- skip or skipping, “Wagging school to go sight seeing I see” is a text I got once.
Bogan- hicks
Sticky beak- being nosey
Lollies- anything that I would call candy
Arvo- Good afternoon
Pash- to make out (I didn’t learn that one from experience)
Cuppa- hot drink (often tea)
Daggy- worn out, uncool, unfashionable
Woop-woop- Middle of no where (my assistant principal taught me that one!)
Sweet as/good as- I don’t want to finish that but it means something along the lines of: awesome! nice! really great!
Fair dinkum- Are you serious? Are you telling me the truth?
Horse riding- Horseback riding (seems incomplete without the back to me)
Aluminium- spelled differently, said differently. Al-Ū-min-ium. So weird.
Herb- pronounced with the H
Maccas- McDonalds (they like to shorten everything. I had people calling me “Mel” that hadn’t even met me in person yet)

And instead of saying, “Hi, how are you?” as a common greeting, everyone here says, “How ya going?”

Not only am I rewiring my brain to do everything opposite… I still say, “left, left, left” in my head when I am walking on the sidewalk or trying to figure out what side of the road to get the tram on, but I am learning how to greet in another language. Good ‘ol Australian English.

Snail Mail Making a Comeback

For half a decade I have had a very faithful pen pal. We met in South Korea on August 20, 2009 and lived together for 10 days in a small dorm room as we were acclimated to our new jobs and country of residence. That random room assignment has given me a gift that keeps on giving. Christina has inspired me through her adventurous spirit, and her letters, and her gift of photography, which you can see on her blog. I am grateful for her faithfulness in writing me letters, because sometimes it takes me months to write back, but she never gives up on me.

A week after I received Christina’s letter in the mail I got another letter from a best friend since childhood. April blogged about sending something in the mail to someone you miss. I read the post and loved it and secretly hoped she would write me a letter one day soon, and then guess what showed up in the mail?

Thank you friends. I love my letters.

A few days after I got my letter from April, I received a package. Mail! It’s the best thing ever.

When I left Korea I had a group of beautiful friends form a committee (without my knowledge) to plan my going away party. As part of the party (before, during, and after it I should say)  the committee asked my church community to write me letters of encouragement. They printed out pictures and put together a massive binder of the letters and pictures and verses. You know you have teacher friends when you get a book of encouragement organized to last a whole year. I am not allowed to open the letters as I please, they are set up for me to open 3-4 a week.

Thank you Dyanne (those pictures, yay!), Tammi, Zara, and Delia. Thank you especially to Delia for putting it all together and for mailing it to me instead of making me carry and extra 12 pounds of weight to Australia. Thank you for knowing me so well. I love and miss you all.

Accent? What Accent?

I spent three weeks in Texas when I was 14 and when I showed up to the ranch that, unbeknownst to me until I got there, had been donated to YWAM by Melody Green (the person I am named after) one of the first things a Texan said to me was, “You’re from Michigan.” Not a statement, an observation.

“How did you know that?” Confusion. Probably the best look to describe my face.

“I can tell by your accent.”

Mind blown. At this point in my very sheltered, country-living upbringing, I had met very few people outside of the States and I thought the only accents that existed were British ones. Because those were the only people I had met outside of the USA.

I had an accent? Me?  It took a minute to wrap my head around the idea. Once I realized that everyone has an accent to someone else, well this revelation was the beginning of my journey to becoming more cultured. A journey that hasn’t stopped since leaving Michigan, the home of my accent, and living in South Africa, South Korea, and now… Australia.

The people I am in cahoots with the most are diverse and come from a broad range of countries and backgrounds with a variety of accents. This has caused me to forget accents exist. I meet someone and once I get to know them I think, “That is how so-and-so sounds.” Their voice becomes like the color of their skin, their eyes, their hair, it’s not an “Australian accent” or a “Kiwi accent” or a “British accent”, it’s “Danielle’s voice” and “Joanna’s voice” and “Ryan’s voice”. This in turn has caused me to forget that my voice isn’t “Melody’s voice” to strangers I meet. It’s a very thick “Michigander’s accent” that may have become slightly convoluted by years of international living. I’m sorry, is that one too many quotation marks? I’ll move on.

For example, when I order at restaurants or chat with cashiers at Woolworth’s a strange pleasant look usually crosses their faces as they pause. “What accent is that?” A lovely woman asked me the other day when I was shopping for groceries. I told her where I am from and she said, “I was going to say America, because I just visited family there, but I didn’t want to offend you in case you were from Canada.” Haha, those sensitive Canadians. I told her it’s always okay to guess Canada first, because if they are from my neighboring country they will be so happy that someone guessed Canada before the USA and if they are from the States they won’t be bothered too much. And people say Canadians are the nicer ones (okay, okay, usually true…).

I was ordering food at a restaurant when a handsome waiter started bantering with me (not unnecessary details) and asked where I came from. He then proceeded to try and guess which state, and he didn’t say California or New York. Mad props. He guessed Colorado and another state that I can’t remember. This impressed me greatly as the majority of Aussies I meet don’t know where Michigan is.

While living in South Korea I started losing the ability to remember skin color. When people asked me what someone looked like that I just met I would sometimes have to guess if they were Asian or Caucasian because I would actually forget. Now, I am losing the ability to pick up on accents. It’s a wonderful thing, living abroad.

10 on 10 Project, I have not failed you.

Tomorrow is September 10th. I missed posting pictures on June 10th, July 10th, and August 10th. I will not fail in September, and yet if I do forget or don’t have time because there are other important things on my mind, that’s okay too. Part of me is ready to drop the 10 on 10 project for the rest of 2016 and start up fresh in 2017. But “starting fresh” or having pictures to document every single month isn’t what the project is about for me. It’s having archived memories to look back on and see my life and my photography, two things I love very much.

 

Thank you, Korea.

Have you ever knitted a scarf before? You are almost finished and you see a dropped stitch creating a big hole right in the middle of your soft, thick, creation and you think great now I have to unravel it because the idea of having a whole in my scarf is too terrible to comprehend. At least that’s how dramatic my thinking usually is. You unravel all the yarn and proceed to take the end of it and wrap it around your hand, because you need to do something with all of the yarn or it gets too tangled. And you wind the yarn over and over and over again, around your fingers. Around and around until the ball of yarn gets bigger and fatter and your fingers get squeezed tight and you have to pull them out of the yarn and keep wrapping, around and around again.

I feel like for the past seven years I have been wrapping a ball of yarn. Every job, every apartment, every friend, every student, every moment, a turn of the yarn goes around and around. Memories wrapped around memories, layers over more layers, creating a giant ball of life that is just waiting to get knitted together into a beautiful scarf to keep me warm (and stylish) as I move away from Korea and on to the next place.

I will never forget you, Korea. I will never forget the memories because I wrote them all out. Here. Where there is spit on the street.

Thank you for teaching me how to use chopsticks, for giving me the discipline to learn Taekwondo, and for introducing me to jimjilbangs. Thank you for assigning seats during movies, for having a top notch public transportation system, and for letting couples dress exactly the same and not judging them for it (except maybe sometimes, a little bit). Thank you for the people who love practicing their English with me, and for the adjuma who picked me up when I fell (literally), and thanks to those kind Koreans who helped me carry my stuff down the street because I overestimated my strength and got over-excited while grocery shopping. Thank you for the jobs, all the jobs. Thank you for red days, for your closeness to many other great Asian countries, and for sparking my interest in photography. Thank you for the Han River and tandem bicycles and for convenience stores on every corner. Thank you for the Lantern Festival, the Mud Festival, the Strawberry Festival, the Ice Festival, the Cherry Blossom Festival, the International Fireworks Festival, the Apple Festival, the Ceramic Festival, the Green Tea Festival,  the Mountain Trout Ice Festival (okay those last four I have never been too, but I am still thankful for them)… Thank you for my colleagues, my students, my students’ parents (even the challenging ones because I learned so much about myself as an educator from them), and my masters degree.

Thank you for Korean BBQ (this deserves it’s own line).

Thank you for Han Wool. Thank you for my overseas family. Thank you for my church.

I wrote this blog 70 days ago and I forgot about it. I just now found it in my drafts. Today marks two weeks in Australia and I already have so much to be thankful for. 

Thank you God, for the opportunity to live and love and learn in cultures so very different from my own. Thank you for the appreciation this brings.

Now everyone go out and try something new! 

And now for some random pics from Korea I found in my phone^^