journeys, people watching, society, travel, wanderlust

observations on oz

“A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.” – Moslih Eddin Saadi

Every journey begins with one small step. In this case, it began with one very long flight. Fifteen and a half hours from LAX to Sydney. (I think I slept for part of it but that’s still up for debate). I’ve had a few weeks back in my real life to process everything I did and saw during my two week stay in Sydney. I originally thought that the trip would inspire an entire series of blog posts (and likely will still) but for now I’ve decided to take the easy way out and  to compile a list of the things that stand out the most. So, in no particular order and without bias, here goes:

  • When opening the drain of a sink or flushing the toilet, the water really does circle the drain in the opposite direction. Watching it do so is not, however, as exciting as my mind had built it up to be.
  • When planned and executed correctly, public transportation can be as, if not more, effective than personal transport. It took me a few days to figure out the buses and the transfers, but by the middle of the first week I was commuting like a local. Busses, trains and ferries criss-crossing the Sydney metropolitan area are clean, always on time and easy to navigate. I was starting to feel like a pro by the end of my stay and it was actually kind of weird to have to drive myself to work when I got home instead of catching a bus down the street from the house.
  • Only pretty people live in Sydney. No, seriously. I stood out with the rest of the tourists. The locals are easy on the eyes and in great shape- all of them. I was starting to get really self conscious walking around town. 
  • There is no free parking. Anywhere.
  • Fish & Chips taste better on Bondi Beach paired with a cold beer and good company. 
  • Apparently there are people who think Bruce Lee was in The Karate Kid. WTF?
  • Whilst Australia might be home to more creatures that can kill you than anywhere else on the planet, they are surprisingly  hard to find. I still checked my shoes before putting them on though. 
  • Despite all of the jokes I’ve heard about it, national healthcare isn’t bad. Two companion trips to the hospital for tests and imaging and I found the staff to be friendly and the process to be rather efficient. The main waiting room did have a slight “people of Wal-Mart” vibe going. 
  • I’m ashamed it took me well over 40 years to go to a professional rugby match. I’m hooked.
  • Meat pies. Thanks for teaching me, Shay. They aren’t as sketchy as Sweeney Todd sings about them being. I was a bit concerned, though, over what was meant by “Australian meat.”
  • Australia’s politics don’t lean quite as far to the left as I has assumed. While I was there, there was heating debate among politicians and citizens about marriage equality. I had assumed it has passed in Australia along with the rest of the Commonwealth well before it did here in the States. 
  • After several days of being driven around town, an American can almost get used to riding as a passenger in the seat they are use to driving in. The left turns still feel like they are taking you head on into oncoming traffic.
  • Higher Education bureaucracy may be the one constant in the universe. 
  • The coffee is the best I’ve ever had. I think I may be swearing off of Starbucks (except in drastic airport and convention center circumstances).
  • Kangaroos (especially joeys) are much cuter in real life and koalas are so fucking over you and your photo op.

Sydney. Sydney. Sydney. You have won me over. You are far more beautiful and welcoming than I ever imagined. You are full of life and damn fine coffee. In the end,  it wasn’t really about the tours, the opera house or the amazing climb to the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.  The most meaningful thing I took away was the importance of, and the respite found in, being so far away from all that can drag you down (like office politics, Facebook bullies and partisan politics).  It’s about spending unhurried time in the company of one of your best friends and being made to feel like part of the family- so much so, in fact, it was a jolting reality the last night to realize you actually live somewhere else. 

Time to put the pennies in the piggy bank and figure out how to do it all again.

“People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.” – Dagobert D. Runes

rant, society

crowdsourced entitlement

Don’t get me wrong, I use social media. Some days, I even like social media. It’s how I keep up with several close friends and family members that don’t live nearby. At times, one picture can bring a smile or make you feel included with something happening next door or on the other side of the world. I’ve accepted, however, before then end of this exercise I’m going to sound like one of “those people.” There has a significant societal paradigm shift the last several years. Social media has, in fact, made us far less social in some regards.

But what do I mean by that?  I’ll do my best to steer clear of United Airlines in discussing it.  I know we’re sick of that example, too.

As we’re busy hating on each other from behind then safety of a screen name and avatar, wen also seem to be rapidly gaining a sense of entitlement. I blame the selfie, frankly. I’ll spare you all of the psychology behind why I think that’s true, but will sum it to say you can’t expect people to constantly take and post pictures of themselves all day and not begin to believe they’re the center of the universe. Problem is everyone can’t be the center (although in an unrelated event in Japan it seems everyone can be Snow White). It seems every time someone’s coffee isn’t refilled fast enough, the cruise line doesn’t give them a free upgrade or they’re subjected to watch someone pray in public they white on Facebook or Twitter and wait for the pilers-on to agree with them and how u justly they were treated- regardless of what the rest of the story was.

Case and point.

There was a viral story about two years ago covering the unjust service a couple received  on New Year’s Eve and how events in the restaurant made them feel unimportant.

“I will never go back to this location for New Year’s Eve! After the way we were treated when we spent $700-plus and having our meal ruined by a watching a dead person being wheeled out from an overdose my night has been ruined… The manager also told us someone dying was more important than us being there, making us feel like our business didn’t matter…”

Initially, they lady who posted her story got sympathy from people on social media. People began calling for the restaurant to make it up to her. A few days later, the manager replied with the rest of the story. It went something like this:

“First of all, the ‘overdosing junkie’ that you speak of was a 70-plus-year-old woman who had a heart attack… But I can completely understand why you think being intoxicated (expletives) that didn’t understand your bill should take priority over human life.”

This incident has a relatively happy ending. The customer who suffered a heart attack survived and the notoriety of the story help raise $15,000 towards her medical bills on GoFundMe.

The author of the Facebook post later claimed that someone hacked her account and that she is not responsible for the rude post. She then deleted her account. I wish more people would delete theirs.

It’s kind if that whole idea about “I’m not wrong just because you’re offended.” You’re not a victim just because you think you deserve better.

Images:  Top imaged sourced from Flikr Creative Commons.  

headlines, media, society

on citizen journalism

Something has been weighing on me for a while now. It became more evident during the final weeks leading up to the election and then became top of mind again for me with the United incident last weekend. I’m not going to go into any details of those. I think we’ve all read and seen about enough.

We have historically relied on mass media to keep us informed about local, national and global events. Relentless journalists who exhausted every lead and overturned every rock to protect the greater good and help keep us honest. That’s one of the reasons I originally chose to get my undergraduate degree in journalism. That was longer ago than I like to think about and things have definitely changed.

There has been an understandable decline in profits and circulation of print media. So many things are available in the immediacy of a digital format and by the time news hits the front page of tomorrow’s papers it’s not really news any more. There are several speciality magazines that continue to thrive (Men’s Health for example) and an increasing number of iconic titles, such as US News & World Report,  have ceased print publication. This hasn’t diminished the bombardment of messaging and “news” at every turn.

We all have our preferred media outlets for news (mine happens to be Reuters). Why do we have favorites? Because we follow and trust the outlets that we agree with.  You pick your news source because you agree that they are “fair and balanced” or you like the fact they provided the questions to a particular candidate ahead of a debate or maybe because the debate moderator is showing favoritism to the person you plan to give your vote.

Journalism, in its purest form, is the collection, editing and reporting of facts. It is not the presenting of opinions or sensationalism. Let me be very clear here- those in the media are not necessarily journalists.

Don’t believe the media sway popular opinion at their whim? Think you’re being protected by legions of true journalists out trying to fight the good fight? Try this on for size. There are basically five actual news outlets. That’s right, five. If we remove Facebook and Alphabet (Google) then five media conglomerates control 90 percent of mass media in the United States. All of them have ties to the establishment and the power-elite in this country.  Viacom, News Corp, Bertelsmann, Time Warner and The Walt Disney Company control most of the newspapers, magazines, books and broadcast stations in the United States. This gives them the leverage to manipulate, and even control, our social, political, economic and moral values.

With the majority of mass media reporting on behalf of “the man,” investigative and cause-based news became everyone’s obligation. Everyday citizens armed with a cell phone, Twitter account and an opinion began to report the events and injustices of their surroundings. I’ll talk about a sociological shift from this a bit more in a few days.

During the Twitter Revolution back in 2009, Iranians began going around state-controlled media to protest election results on Twitter. This was a brave, groundbreaking and seismic evolutionary event. While this wasn’t its exact genesis, citizen journalism was born out of this civil disobedience. Yes, it had existed on a small scale before then but it dominated the world stage and on this day revolutionaries wrote the world’s headlines. How amazing it was.

Fast forward to present day and things aren’t so amazing. In the years since the elections in Iran, the need for citizens to report the truth has grown exponentially.  The statistics shared earlier about media conglomerates speak for themselves. Remember though, people like to get news that agrees withy their views. It shouldn’t be a surprise then that people also like to report “news” that backs up or reinforces their views and personal biases. That’s not to deny the need for citizen journalism. People need to take out their phones and record abuse by the system, human rights violations, wrongful yielding of authority, unsuitable living conditions and countless other matters. So often a video goes viral and the Internet reacts. We all jump on the hate wagon- I did as much just this week. It’s important to stop and think about what else is going on off camera and outside the frame. What other factors, people or events are driving the scene that everyone is watching? Just because something is recorded and posted doesn’t make it injustice. Just because something is recorded and posted doesn’t make it news. And just because something is recorded and posted doesn’t make it criminal or illegal. Sometimes, though, it very much does. Viewers and consumers of media need to learn to tell the difference. We all need to separate the factual wheat from the sensationalized chaff.

Here’s an alternative, a challenge. Put down the camera. Society needs the documentarians to capture the fight and tell the story. But what it needs more is the planting of feet and locking of arms in defiance, the common belief that good will always win, the extending of a hand to help someone whose been pushed down, a hug of compassion, a word of kindness, a tear of empathy and a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves. Put down the damn camera and act. Don’t capture the act- be the act.

When the smoke clears, the protest signs come down, the rights are wronged and skies clear, we must find beauty. Pick up the camera now and capture a smile. Film a belly laugh. Photograph the embrace with those you love and those who love you back. Record a toast and the singing of a song of praise.

Injustice needs to be captured, it needs to be shared, it needs to be forced into the collective field of vision. But so does joy. So does beauty.

header photo is not my own.