Tuesday, 21 August 2012

You've lived, like, everywhere! PART ONE.

Someone asked me why I swap countries so often.

Since the age of eleven, I haven't lived in one place longer than five years (and for that lengthy period only once).  My parents decided to emigrate* from Sydney to a small country town.  I left high school as soon as it was legal to do so and moved alone straight back to Sydney.

After flopping backwards and forwards between Sydney and my parent's house, I moved to Japan.  I taught English until I could speak Japanese (do not learn to speak the language of the country where you are teaching English - you will end up with your students refusing to learn English!) and took up translating, interpreting (yes, there is a difference), copy editing and writing lifestyle articles for the major expat newspaper.  That was also when I had my first short stories and poetry published.

(Why Japan?  QANTAS was hiring Japanese speaking people as flight attendants.  What better way to see the world?  So after interviewing and being told to come back after I'd learned the language, I took off for Tokyo.  Logical, of course).

On a working holiday visa, an invite to contribute to the local economy expires after 18 months.  Via a bureaucratic sleight-of-hand I managed to extend that for 6 months, arriving at a grand total of living in Japan for two years.

I returned, not to Sydney, but Brisbane, to complete my university degrees (I had enrolled as an external studies student in the same year I left Australia).  Via another administrative mangle, I succeeded in remaining a student another 6 years.  The final two years were not spent in Brisbane, however.  I decided to write my doctoral thesis on the Ethiopian and Mozambican economies.  Nothing for it but to head off to Africa to undertake my research.

After a stint at the UN, I was offered what I thought was a fantastic opportunity to keep travelling AND make money.  It wasn't.  There I was, chewing on the bum end of a stick, wondering how to return to safe ol' academia, when  a friend suggested I take up being a tour guide in Europe.  Hmm.

My mother is italian (and I have an extremely well-known cousin who is a political leader)** but we didn't grow up speaking the language because my father is english.  My first tour was with a group of Canadian students whose teacher was later dubbed La Strega del'Inferno (the witch from hell).  She could not only speak Italian (I didn't) and French (yup, from that part of Canada), but insisted on using both languages with me at every opportunity.  My 'si Signora' and 'oui, Madame,' lasted about five minutes before she was on the phone to the office demanding to know why her group had to be saddled with an ignoramus like me.  The excuse they gave was that I was a last-minute sub.  That was my one and only tour for the Easter rush.

I moved to Rome and boarded for a while with a descendant of the Borghese family (yup - THE Borgheses) and was finally persuaded to put down some roots.  In the form of buying a tumbling down 800 year old pile of rocks that once passed for a goat stable built into the side of a mountain.  I spent the remainder of that year working on patching the leaky roof - and in the end it had to be entirely replaced - and dumping bucket loads of  crumbling, ancient plaster into the street for the donkey to collect (oh yes, this is a hillside village, and the only way in, or out, is either on foot or in a saddle).

Mid summer the agency rang desperately seeking a sub again.  By that time I had enough of the local lingo under my belt that I could manage to order more than a cappuccino.  I worked until winter set in and returned to Brisbane for a summer holiday.  When the season started the following year, I was expecting to return to Rome.  The first tour was in Paris.

I hated it.  It wasn't italian.  It wasn't romantic, it wasn't flirting, and it certainly wasn't being lost in ancient history roaming around tiny alleys and stumbling across relics from a by-gone era.  I couldn't wait to return to Italy. No such luck.  On top of which, when I tried speaking French with the locals, they kept responding in English - my accent was so strongly italian they couldn't resist the opportunity to show how much better and more cosmopolitan they were than a lowly southerner.  On the other hand, if I was stupid enough to speak English, they jammered at me in a volley of French.

The season had wound down in late autumn.  I was offered a position teaching English (had I really graduated to go back to a job which belonged to my student days?) and being utterly penniless, I took it (back then the pay for being a tour director was $2 an hour).  One of my students had a tiny studio in the 15 arrondissement and I stayed there, teaching and playing at being a starving writer in a garret, until reality hit home in the form of a friend.  He'd been hounding me grow up and find a proper job BEFORE IT WAS TOO LATE - to marry, have a career, have kids, own a house (well, I'd done that - if you could call a cave a house), fit in, settle down.  Whatever.

So with no better excuse than an expiring love affair, I headed off to London.

...to be continued

*it was the same as crossing oceans and discovering the locals speak a different language.
** it's true.  And I'm not telling who.


  1. Wow, I really wish I'd travelled as much in my life as you have! What an adventure you have had. Look forward to part 2. :)

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

  2. Hey Wendy, nice of you to drop by. I'm glad you liked the adventures.

    There's nothing like making up for lost time and I'm sure you will do some more travelling after being in Australia this year.

    I lived in Redfern when I was sixteen :D (for only for 3 months!).