Spots of Time

May 28, 2003

I'd Like To Tell You But ...

It's 11:33 p.m. and I'm jammed behind the blaring television and under the staircase of the Blue Gallah hostel in downtown Adelaide. I've just returned from a two-day tour of Kangaroo Island, which followed a 19-hour train trip from Alice Springs which followed a 10-day 4WD camping trip in the Australian outback. I've been bitten by a 10-inch centipede, frozen in a swag, woken up at 5 a.m. for sunrise, eaten alive by sand flies, learned how to say "good morning" "good night" and "dig in" in German, Flemish, Herbrew and Swiss German, gone without a shower for more than three days, and heard the morning cry of dingoes in the wild. Tomorrow I'm booked on a tour of the Barossa Valley (Adelaide's wine country). I should be the happiest girl in Australia but instead I'm tired, I'm cranky and all I want to do is go to sleep.

Welcome to the not-so-glamourous side of traveling life.

Not that I have any room to complain. I don't. I have put all of this on myself. Burning the candle at both ends can happen whether you're working in the real world or playing in the traveling world. Being halfway around the world where everything is new and different and knowing you may never be back can make even the most layed back person a bit frantic to "fit it all in." And while I am not at the extreme of the type-A personality spectrum, I would be lying if I didn't say I did fit in there somewhere.

The past two weeks have been amazing and wonderful and hard and scary and annoying and perfect and beautiful and long and sleep-deprieved and confusing and normal - all at the same time. And, I have so many great stories to share with you all. HOWEVER, as we speak my body and brain are beginning their emergency shut down procedures.

So, while I really do want to tell you the creepy crawly story about the kamakazie centipede attack, my brain is thinking about how comfy my bed is going to feel the moment I finish this column. And, while I would like to tell you what a group of dingos sound like at 5 a.m. when you are camped in the middle of nowhere with nothing between you and the elements but a down sleeping bag and a canvas swag, my brain is trying to compute exactly how many hours of sleep I will get before the bus comes to pick me up tomorrow morning.

The fact that I saw two koala bears fighting today is certainly worthy of a story, but my brain is having trouble focusing since the television that is two inches from my head is blaring some kind of Russian soap opera and my usual filter has ceased operation for the evening. I'd love to tell you stories about the very cool Israeli, German, Belgium, Swiss, and Irish people I met on my recent Outback tour but I can't seem to remember their names much less any interesting facts about them.

My sand flies story includes meeting an old Serbian opal miner at a natural hot spring in the middle of nowhere and finding out he was one of the men responsible for the amazing underground Serbian Orthodox church I toured in Coober Pedy. I could go on but at this time I can't remember any more of the story. I'd ask for details from one of the friends I am traveling with but at this time they are all tucked into their beds - warm, quiet and sleeping. Which is exactly where I should be.

So the bottom line is this: you will have to wait until next week. Assuming you are reading this column in the first place - which I'm not sure if you are and at this point don't even care. Because I am THAT TIRED.

So, Good Night. And, Guta Naght. And, Gooda Avunt. And, Layla Tov. And, Gwat Naght.

May 20, 2003

Five Minutes Being Turkish (Mike McGee)

By guest columnist, Mike McGee (

Early in my trip to Turkey I'd poked fun at my expatriate friend Colin for having once fallen in love with a Turkish girl, given his joking about how stubborn and volatile they could be. But when I said it, I didn't get the reaction I expected. There was no chuckle from him; no sheepish "yes, I should've known better" look. Instead, his face froze, the life draining from his eyes.

Later that evening in a terrace bar in Istanbul, after a few drinks and much personal history, Colin pulled up his briefcase and gently, almost reverentially, dug out a picture of his old girlfriend, Defne.

I was expecting a wallet-sized portrait, the standard "here's my wife and kids" type. It wasn't. It was practically an 8 x 10. Part of her face hadn't made it into the frame, like the pic had been taken at one of those little photo booths that spit out a strip of three. In fact, that's what it originally was, but Colin had blown it up so her thick black bangs, impish smile, and dusting of freckles were practically life-sized. These days, he carried the picture with him everywhere. It was only out for a second, hardly that even, maybe because, to him, it suddenly seemed silly to show it to me -- but I knew he hadn't pulled it out for me.

When I first met Colin, he'd already been in Istanbul seven months. Initially, he hated the country. A terrible hatred. But since then, he'd come to understand it, like it, maybe even love the place a little. And that qualified as a giant leap, believe me.

He and Defne had met in London, and had dated for two years, both of them very much in love. Missing her parents, though, Defne planned to go back to see them for three weeks in eastern Turkey. Colin was against it. Women virtually have no rights in eastern Turkey. It's the most conservative area of the country, where women, often as not, walk about behind veils. It's also the kind of place that spawns Turkey's more old-world political parties, the kind that recently distributed pamphlets on the proper way to beat your wife. For instance, Tip No. 1: Never hit her in the face. It draws too much attention. Instead, target areas her clothing will conceal.

But Defne was used to attitudes there. She knew her way around, knew just how far she could push things, and assured Colin she'd be all right. That was almost precisely seven months ago.

Colin recalled to me their last night in London, the two of them standing outside a pub. She'd looked him in the eye, her hand on his cheek. "I'll be back in three weeks. I have to go. And I am going -- no matter what you say."

For those not in the know, most Turkish women, by nature, are strong-willed. Colin had told me they could be a nightmare sometimes. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned? Correction: Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. And yet, they are hopeless romantics -- very passionate, very open with their feelings, the kind who'll go completely starry-eyed when they fall for a man, their heads zooming above the clouds, like rockets.

And so Defne had told Colin: the only way he'd keep her from seeing her parents was to actually beat her and forcibly drag her back home. She meant it. What's more, in Colin's mind nowadays, he believes she him to.

With Turkish women, it often comes with the territory.

For instance, at Colin's company these days, whenever he entertains the office "girls" at his apartment (virgins are called "girls"; non-virgins are "women"), he has to routinely "trash" them -- give them hell, essentially -- otherwise he'll be considered a wuss (or wimp, if you like) and prone to their jibes and abuse. So, he'll wow them with his more considerate western side, make them dinner -- something no Turkish man would ever do -- and then, before they get too comfortable and start pushing him around, for five minutes he'll become Turkish, ordering them about -- "Get me a coffee!" -- even though it's in his own place. And the women do whatever he tells them, willingly -- may to do it even -- because they've been bred to.

A few days after Defne arrived in Turkey, Colin's phone rang in the middle of the night. It was Defne. Her parents had locked her in the house, and meant to marry her to an eastern Turk, by force. The marriage plans were already in place. Her family had expected her return, and had been ready. She was calling from a cell phone she'd hidden in her socks.

The very next day, Colin was on a plane to Turkey, trying to formulate a plan. The idea was to rescue her and then make their way to the west coast and the Mediterranean where they could hire a boat and disappear into the Greek islands. Crossing Turkey wouldn't be easy though, given it's the size of the U.S. west coast. But Colin did have one thing in his favor. Since his mother was a Brit, and his father Bangladeshi, his black hair and darker complexion would make him look Turkish enough to skirt a great deal of unwanted attention. He'd even decided on a fake identity -- as a journalist -- so when he arrived in Defne's hometown and started asking questions, he wouldn't arouse too much suspicion -- too quickly.

When he got there, he signed in at the local hotel, made inquiries, and finally tracked down Defne's house. Slipping out of the hotel that night, he made his way across the darkened streets. When he reached her family's home, however, he discovered it surrounded by armed men, shotguns in hand. They had expected him.

Perhaps worst of all in this was that Defne was no longer a "girl" by Turkish standards, something which put her life in greater peril. If she were found out, she could be killed or put on trial at the court for immoral women (I may have the name wrong here, but that's essentially its function). If found guilty, she could be placed in one of Turkey's state-run brothels, known as the Genelevs. Her only chance was to fake the blood on her wedding night, possibly by cutting herself in the necessary spot.

Retreating back to the hotel, Colin thought to hire his own gunmen, to take the house by storm. But if it went wrong, Defne might be killed in the process. He wrangled with the thing over and over, coming up with scenario after scenario -- none of them good. This wasn't some Hollywood movie. He was alone; he could hardly speak the language; and he didn't know whom he could trust.

Slowly, a horrific weight on his heart, he realized he'd have to give up the venture, for Defne's own safety.

He remembers every word of his last call with her -- their final goodbyes. She'd been worried about him, too -- that if he tried to break in to help her, he might only get himself killed. Through her tears, she told him she'd made her decision: she'd destroy her cell phone -- partly to keep from being caught, and partly to save them both.

Now, seven months later, not a day goes by that Colin doesn't think about her and pull out her photo, sometimes to show others who might have information about her. Maybe that's why he remained in Istanbul. I'm not sure. Even now, he doesn't know if she's alive or dead, or sentenced to a Genelev as a registered prostitute. He's not even sure to discover her whereabouts, without endangering her life again. All he can hope for is that she survived somehow, that she did get married, and that she will grow to accept it, perhaps even to become content with the arrangement. A thousand things are possible when you surrender.

And as he put her picture away that night in Istanbul, there was a moment's hesitation after he closed the case, as if he were coming up for air again in the present, burying all those things he didn't want to think about -- the missed chances. I think it's that last one, more than anything, which haunts him now. That maybe he could've saved Defne -- if only on their last night together in London, he'd spent five minutes being Turkish.

For a sobering account of the Genelevs (or state-run brothels) of Turkey, I'd recommend visiting the following site:

May 13, 2003

Do You Speaka My Language?

You have to love a country that actually defines "woop-woop" in the dictionary.

woop-woop /wup wup/ n. 1. a jocular name for a remote outback town or district. 2. an imaginary remote place.

Last week at work, while finalizing the edits to the company’s Web site, I happened across the definition for woop-woop. It was my last week in the office and I was frantically trying to finish everything on my "to do” list. I’d created a lot of extra work for myself by not setting the Word spell checker to Australian English when I initially created the Web site documents. At the time I didn’t realize that there were spelling difference between the two versions of the language. Oops.

While looking up some of the words, woop-woop caught my eye. In just a few days I was scheduled to leave Sydney for a six-week journey to Western and Southern Australia – traveling through places that would genuinely live up to the dictionary definition of “woop-woop.” Though I had heard the term before and knew generally what it meant, seeing it in black and white reminded me that all English was not my English. According to an American friend also living in Australia, many Australians don't even consider what they speak to be English - they call it Australian. To paraphrase a saying, "Australia and the United States are two countries separated by a common language."

Before I arrived in Australia, I'd already heard terms like "G'day" and "no worries." I also knew words like "shelia" (girl) and "bloke" (guy) - no biggie. But when people started saying things like "She'll be right" and "I've got a sticky beak" and "paddock" - or when one of my co-workers called me a "Sepo" I knew I better get up to speed on the "Australian" language.

Spelling is just one tiny part of the difference. Just as the British spell certain words differently (colour, theatre, honour, etc.) the Australian's also follow their own spelling patterns. Australian's don’t use the “z” or “zed” (as they call it) as much as in America. Words like “realize” and “minimize” and “customize” are actually spelled “realise” and “minimise” and “customise.”

A very Australian word is "mate" - a term that Aussies (pronounced "Ozzies") especially men, use to describe their friends. Its usage comes closest to the term "buddies" in the US. "Reckon" is a popular Australian word, as is "heaps" - I reckon I could think of heaps more, mate, but lets move on.

While many of Australia's phrases, such as the ones above, are truly Australia-unique, some have been adopted from the country's first European settlers. As most people know, the first Europeans to settle Australia were primarily convicts from the UK. Many of these convicts were London Cockney's - known for their rhyming slang. This rhyming slang stuck in some parts of the country is still used by many Australians. While I have not heard all of these used in practice, the following list gives a good sampling: "blood and blister" (sister), "ducks and geese" (police), "ham and eggs" (legs), "steak and kidney" (Sydney) and "optic nerve" (pervert).

Aussies are notorious for shortening words too - Christmas is Chrissy, breakfast is brekkie, sunglasses are sunnies, mosquitos are mossies and Tasmania is Tassie. Being agro means agressive, a dero is a derelict, and avo is afternoon. Then there are some words that don't have a logical history. For example, tucker is food, a billy is a can, and whinging is whining. "Back o' Burke" is similar to woop-woop - a remote area in Australia.

In Australia, you don't call someone - you ring them. If you have a "sticky beak" it means you are an inquisitive (sometimes prying) person. To "go walkabout" means to be missing. And, then there is my personal favorite - the ideal response to a question. Why didn't you meet me out last night? I couldn't be bothered. Why didn't you clean your room? I couldn't be bothered. Its not that I was tired, or didn't feel like it, or didn't want to - its just that I couldn't be bothered.

Below are a few of my other favorites - some of which threw me for a loop when I first arrived to Australia. Try your luck and see how many you can get right. The first response with the most correct answers wins a package of Tim Tams and a congratulatory mention in a future column. Special thanks to Lindsay who let me "borrow" much of her list, as well as the theme for this column Good luck everyone! :)

1. Fairy Floss
2. Capsicum
3. Kumara
4. Singlet
5. Flat White
6. Flat out
7. Dad 'n Dave
8. fairy bower
9. little vegemites
10. Septic tank or Sepo
11. paddock
12. Fairy Floss
13. Car Park
14. Rice Bubbles
15. Pashing
16. Pom
17. Doona
18. Sultana
19. Icy Pole
20. Technicolor yawn

May 06, 2003

The Urban Jungle

The alpha male of the pack begins his approach, circling the targeted female slowly. She looks briefly in his direction but ignores him, continuing to drink at the watering hole. He assesses the situation, sees his opening, and is suddenly by her side. He marks his territory with a drink and the other males in the area move aside.

It was Friday night and I felt like the lone documentary filmmaker in the middle of a National Geographic special about mating habits. Except we weren’t in the wilderness and I didn’t have a camera to record the activities of the male urbanus homus erectus.

An unplanned series of events led me to my present situation – the only female out with a pack of guys. Without a personal agenda for the evening, I was happy to be a spectator – leaving the action – or more precisely the “thought” of action – to the males in the group. This is the only way to enter into this type of situation – as being “one of the guys” takes a certain squelching of your own desires.

Our group was diverse in age and I found the dynamic between the older men and the younger men to be fascinating. Like a fraternity or a group of taunting schoolboys, the older more experienced players egged on the younger recruits, alternating between brotherly encouragement and merciless taunting. The main obsession of the evening was one particularly scantily clad female, whose presence (body) was not lost on most any man at the bar. One by one guys would approach her – and one by one they would be turned away. No one in my group tried their luck, though more than one was encouraged or directed to give it a go.

It is important to note that the behaviour of the male in a group is different than that of the lone male – and Australia is no different than the United States (or most other westernised nations for that matter). When alone, the lone male can be the “perfect” guy - a chameleon able to blend into his surroundings and assimilating himself to the acceptable social mores of the environment. However, when surrounded by other guys, his behaviour changes and more frequently than not, the IQ of the group drops – to just below waist level. Especially when they are out drinking with the guys and beautiful women come into view.

Before every guy I know starts to hate me, I should mention that this pack mentality is not unique to the male species. A lone female also has the potential to be the “perfect” girl, adaptable in every situation. But, put her into a group of her closest female friends, add alcohol and a bar or club environment and suddenly even her boyfriend can hardly recognize her or her behaviour. To put it another way – while men may be from Mars and women from Venus, both planets revolve around the same sun.

As the evening progressed, I alternated between fascinated spectator, bemused friend and slightly offended female representative. Being “one of the guys” is harder than it looks.

My own natural feminist instincts were suppressed – I was walking a fine line with my presence and knew it. Bring too much attention to yourself and you’ll be moved to the “target” camp – too little and you’re totally ignored. Being a good listener, offering up the proper encouragement, agreeing with proposed tactics, and removing even the HINT of guilt about their behaviour from your vocabulary is required to be accepted within the pack – even if it is only a temporary acceptance.

In truth, the evening did not offer me any amazing insights into male group behaviour. It was all relatively harmless actually. The most that was exchanged was a few looks and the occasional phone number – though I doubt any of them will actually be dialled. However, as any good documentary filmmaker knows, the mere presence of an outsider changes the dynamic of a group. As I reflected later on the evening’s events, I had to wonder how much my presence affected the potential outcome of the evening. And, in truth, I really don’t want to know. Some of the mysteries of nature are meant to stay that way.