Remembering 1997: The Sweetest Year in My Life (Part 16):

By late August, I began to fully adjust with life in Australia, both on and off campus. I generally felt very happy to be there. It was the first time that I live overseas for more than 1 week, and I truly cherished every moment of it.

I also began to fully understand the student’s attitude based on their nationality. When I compared the Japanese and Koreans, it seems that the Koreans were more open than their Japanese counterparts. The Japanese may had more refined manner, but they seem to be slightly hesitant to socialize with people outside their peers. The Koreans, on a contrary, are always up for fun. Even the most conservative like Sung Ho can sometime throw interesting stories or even jokes, despite of his partial limitation on his English.

Sung Ho Park sat on the table at Serpentine park accompanied by the girls.      

Although not exactly star of the class, Sung Ho always able to deliver something amusing in the class which make the teaching materials livelier. Whenever the teacher asked students to deliver some stories, he can always make interesting stories. And he always delivers that with excitement. He can add just about anything to make certain topics become lively and interesting. He often correlated the topic with his personal experience, or just any current affair topics of the time.

Off the class, we always spend our time together. And he is exciting guy to go out with. We frequently exchange personal stories as well as aspects of our culture and customs. What is not known among other students is the fact that he actually held black belt in Taekwondo, Korean’s famed martial art. A few months prior to arriving in Australia, he had just finished his compulsory military service. That’s quite an amazing achievement for a person with humble looks.

The Koreans are very proud with one of their culinary item: Kimchi! This pickled vegetable in chili sauce is said to be the most essential part of Korean cuisine, so much that a meal is not complete with Kimchi. One day Sung Ho and group of Korean students invited me for a lunch in a cinema near Barrack Street in city center. It was the first time I get to taste Kimchi. It is spicy, but not as spectacular as what I initially thought. Still, it was an interesting food.

On the other hand Japanese were not that reclusive. They don’t actually mind if non-Japanese mingled with them, despite occasional language barrier. Once in a while they would also show us some nice Japanese food establishment around the city. And I also found some Japanese girls love to mingle with boys from Indonesia.

A few hundred meters to the North of the college there was a cheap Japanese food outlet ran by a group of Japanese migrants who sell Chicken or Beef teriyaki.

After a while, I began to notice that there are actually some European students in our college. Due to their very small number, (less than 5) we could easily mistake them as teachers. All of them attending a special advanced class designed for university preparation.

One is not quite European, but rather a Eurasian girl from Singapore of dual British-Singapore citizenship. In fact her family name has English sounding too, despite the fact that her appearance is more like mix of Malay and Chinese. Once in a while I came across her during lunch break or in the library. She spoke impeccable English with perfect English accent. It makes me wonder, if her English is so good, why did she had to attend this college anyway?

The other is Turkish students. Just like the Singaporean, they’re also attending advance university preparation class. I initially thought it was an all-male group, until I notice that the smaller and skinny Turk has boobs! Her very short hair, combined with her masculine dress and her penchant for soccer game (she frequently played the game in the college’s football pitch), did a good job in concealing her female identity. No wonder why the person looks so intimate with one larger peer. If I never found this out, I would mistake them for gay couple! Yet, despite of these, at one point I was smitten with her. I could only imagine, had she have long hair she would have looked very pretty.

And also there was one Italian student whom I frequently mistook as teacher. It was only when my class joined other class for one large workshop class, I found out that she sat in student’s chair, and then I realize that she is a student.

However, change began to happen in my class. By last week of August we receive a group of new batch of students in the campus. They’re mostly Japanese. But there are also some students from variety parts of the world, including Indonesia.

One of them is Reiko Matsui. She is from district of Kawasaki, near Tokyo. She came to Australia to improve her English. She is quite an outgoing and sociable person, who doesn’t hesitate to socialize with people other than her Japanese peers. Unlike Japanese newcomers, her English is actually quite good, although nowhere near perfect.

Her occupation back home is an English teacher. Now this fact has become subject of contention among the teachers in St. Mark’s, because her English is admittedly quite poor. Indeed she regularly scored lower grade in the assessment exams than me. This fact led one teacher to openly questioning her competence as an English teacher during a class session.

Anyway, this batch of new students also featured a group of European students. Well, apparently the images in the brochure didn’t lie after all! They are all from Switzerland, from its German side to be exact. If I’m not mistaken there were about 5 of them coming on that day.

One of them went into our class. His name is Heinz Gubler. He came from the town of Winznau, near Olten or about 10 km to the west of Zurich. He worked as an engineer near his home, where he lived with his fiancée.

Heinz Gubler working in a workshop in 2005, or 8 years since the last time I met him.

For me it was the first time that I befriend white person. Before that, I always felt nervous and shy whenever I met white people. How did I perceive them was akin to meeting an alien from outer space. In fact back then there was a misconception that white people are superior and more perfect race than us. We were instilled with such inferiority thought.

Personally, by befriending Europeans, it will serve as a proof that the inferiority concept is false, and we are actually on par with them. It also increases my confidence in communicating with white people. Still, I’m curious about how does it feel like to befriend white person. And especially those that are not from Australia or England.

After several days, I get to know him well. We often caught up when I arrive near the campus, where he disembarks from his the bus. We often walked together into the campus, and our class. His presence in Australia is purely for vacation. Since he is self-employed, he can allocate a very long holiday time. Back home in Switzerland, he work as a car mechanic in his own workshop.

Heinz often tells his story about his outdoor activities during holiday, such as climbing mountain or sailing. His favorite hobby is hang gliding. He often flew his kit above the scenic Swiss Alps during summer, where the thermal can keep him as long as possible in the sky. He occasionally joined some hang gliding competitions in Europe, and sometime won the trophy.

Being a Swiss, he also had to take mandatory national military service. So he is very much an accomplished rifleman himself.  He frequently tell me the stories about his experience in the military, such as climbing steep mountain as a part of military exercise, or using exotic rifles. Yet, despite of his military background, he is very much an apolitical and peace loving person, who loves traveling around the world.

Military conscription is mandatory for all Swiss men who have reached certain age. Although it is not compulsory for women.

I can’t recall the identities of other Swiss students in our college. Most went to lower classes due to their poorer English. Indeed most of the Swiss seem to score lower English marks when compared to the Asians. But it didn’t prevent me from getting close with them. It’s interesting to note that for most of them, it was the first time that they travel outside Europe. And it was also the first time that they get acquainted with Asians.

From what I learn from them, they seem to have strong sense of “Arian superiority” although they didn’t see me as inferior being when compared to them. This attitude seems to stem from their Germanic identity. They assume that their language is “the most difficult in the world” because “German language itself is difficult, ours is even more difficult”.

They also admit that the Swiss German tend to be narrow minded, although not really racist, while Swiss French are more open minded. They also have a belief that Switzerland is “located in the center of the world” because “it is located in the middle of Europe which is the center of world’s civilization”.

Since I was just an innocent teen, who was excited about learning about the world outside mine, I didn’t get offended at all by their superiority remarks. And since they were all friendly, I find hanging around with them was amusing.

Although I am already adjusted to living in Australia, and not feeling weird when seeing and socializing with Caucasian/white people, still I don’t socialize much with Australians beyond the people in my campus. Their straightforward and occasional brash attitude, added with their habit of speaking in loud tone and thick accent, deterred me from socializing with Australians at that time. They would sometime ask critical question on the topics that were generally taboo to discuss among Indonesians. If they’re not satisfied, they would keep digging in on us, much to our annoyance. Not all Australians are like that, some are very nice and understanding, but their attitude generally contrasting with the Swiss people that I befriending with.

Perhaps the Australians that I interact with are mostly bus drivers, customer service officer in Perth station, workers in book store, or seller in newsagents. Well, it is inevitable that I would interact with them as I would use their service often.

Once I brushed with the poorer side of Australian when I receiving one phone call. At that time, Shah Jehan wants to sell his old car. He listed it on an advertising column in one local newspaper, so some people made inquiries about that. And most of the time the phone was received by Shiraj, Feroza, or Shah Jehan himself. One day I received a phone call of one person who interested to buy the car. Since he spoke in quick manner with thick accent, I get confused to understand his words. Then I replied “Umm, I don’t know”. Suddenly, for the reason that I never comprehend up to this day, the person at the other end of the phone got enraged and scolded me “What do you mean you don’t know? Don’t you understand what I said???” I was shocked and nervous upon receiving such treatment, and start blabbering on the phone. He then bombarded me with violent remarks, and asked in loud and rude manner “And where are you come from??” Instead of replying, I decide to quickly shut the phone, knowing that he would probably lambast me further with racist rants. That was my first taste of Australian rudeness.

But on the other hand, Australians are actually friendly and hospitable person, and can be more sincere in helping others than Indonesians. They’re helpful, even to strangers. I remember one day I got lost and confused when visiting the suburb of Morley. Then, without asking anyone, suddenly one anonymous lady approaching me and asking in warm and polite manner “Hello young man, how can I help you?” I said yes and asking for the direction to return back to the city to her, and she thoroughly answering my question. In the bookshop, I often find the shopkeepers would take initiative to ask me whenever I browse for books, and they will politely directing me to the type of books that I’m looking for. Majority of bus drivers would wait longer at the bus stop, if they spot you running after them, and would warmly greet you when you huffing and puffing at the entrance door of the bus.

In general, despite of the adversity that I mentioned earlier, the Australians are actually more humane and sincerely hospitable people than Indonesian in many ways.

And one thing that I respect about Australian is their strong sense of nationalism. They can develop bond with their country, having reasonable amount of patriotism, and willing to defend their country, all at their own will. Yet, they’re very open to outside world, even felt like part of it. That is despite the absence of militarism in civil society (like morning flag ceremony or military style marching like what I had during school in Indonesia), and almost no military presence in civil life.

What is the secret?

Australia has a much better welfare system, education system, and excellent law enforcement (in comparison to Indonesia). This makes Australia into a safe and peaceful country with largely humane and friendly people. This environment makes anyone feel like at home in the country, and the love of their comfortable home is what nourishing their sense of nationalism.

Although at first glance, chauvinistic and narrow minded Indonesians often underestimate Australians as “spoiled and inferior as us, because they never endure hardship and tough militaristic life like us”, in reality Australia is a very strong country. Indeed its military have also been involved in many major military conflicts including two World Wars. And they regularly commemorate their victory and sacrifice in ANZAC parade which is held every year.

An ANZAC Day parade at St. Georges Terrace, back in 2008.

I was lucky enough to see the event during one weekend where soldiers, youth scouts, and veterans (like those from Vietnam War, Korean War, Second World War, or even First World War!) also joined the parade. I remember they paraded along Adelaide and St. Georges Terrace, before they muster at now demolished Esplanade Reserve open ground. It was a rare chance for me to see how Australian military and flag ceremony is held. I was truly overwhelmed by what I see (I was also told that the Japanese are advised not to come as they would normally be treated with hostility at the event).



About bagus70

I'm an adventurous railfans who love to seek out the world of railway, beyond the border of my office.
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