Tag Archives: lifestyle

Freedom of Entry

“Do we have to pay?” asks my mother. We are trundling across McCallum Park, headed towards the Sunday farmers’ market.

“No, it’s free,” I answer absently, as I contemplate the perils of pushing a stroller past the stalls that have cropped up across the green. Freedom of entry, I realise somewhat wryly, is dictated by where my son’s stroller is able to go. However, the grassy expanse is dotted with other Baby Joggers and Steelkrafts. What is it about being a parent that makes you notice other babies and the brand of pram they are in? I decide the going will be fine.

We pass stalls selling fresh produce and colourful craftwork. No, I explain to my mother who is visiting from India, if it’s fresh and organic it probably costs more. Yes, Coles is probably cheaper. Even a dollar makes a huge difference, especially when you are mentally converting your gold coins into rupees.

We pass the community library. I have recently become a member, as has my six-month-old son.

“Can I go in there any time, if I want to read a book?” my mum asks.

“Yes, of course.” I reply. “You can borrow books on my card, if you like. Everyone is welcome. Entry is free.”

The words remind me of the military parade I had seen in Perth’s Forrest Place a few weeks earlier. I was impressed by the marching band in its the desert-hued uniforms and slouch hats with their characteristic upturned brims.

“It’s the Freedom of Entry parade,” explained one officer. Was the city not free to enter then? It was, I learned, an old English tradition, a granting of permission for the army to enter the city, and an assurance of their protection for the citizens. The battalions were standing at ease, being welcomed by the Mayor.

How were the first British regiments in Western Australia greeted by the Native Australians, I wonder. I do not say this out aloud, of course. No one speaks of these things. Centuries ago others arrived, also by ship and boat. They had freedom of entry but then they infringed on many native freedoms. Today, many choose to enter freely by boat. They are not free to stay.

Freedom of entry is very much in the Australian media and on Australian minds. A recent issue of The Monthly discusses Australia’s refugee policies, particularly concerning the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar who are being smuggled across the Andaman Sea eventually headed for Australian waters on fishing boats ill-fitted for the journey. Were we suitably concerned for their plight? The Abbott government’s determination to turn back boats suggests not.

Nevertheless, Australian is not entirely unsympathetic to those fleeing from conflict. At church this same Sunday morning, we listened as our minister applauded the government’s move to welcome twelve thousand Syrian refugees. Meanwhile, the editorial pages of The Age call for “a reality check.” What of the plight of those who have crossed the border only to languish in detention camps on Manus Island and Nauru, it asks.

Whether those who arrive at Australian borders should be viewed as refugees or as illegal immigrants is a question that has no simple answer. Do we tacitly support discriminatory regimes when we shelter the peoples they wish to eject from their country but do little to stop the discrimination or conflict? No nation wishes to make foreign troubles its own and every government is reluctant to send troops abroad to fight others’ battles. As Obama notes in one speech on the Syrian crisis, a nation cannot embroil itself in someone else’s civil war. Furthermore, it is very difficult for one nation to prevent another’s genocide or maltreatment of minority ethnic groups without threatening the latter’s sovereignty. As Bosnia, Rwanda, and Sri Lanka have shown us, the law is punitive rather than preventive.

We are crossing a parking lot now, passing others on their way to the shops – Middle Easterners, Caucasians, Africans. I reflect on what it is to live in multicultural Australia. This is a country that has freely given a home to others like myself. Despite the many criticisms for the present government, I am happy that I was free to enter as a student and later as a professional. Freely, I have chosen to stay.

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Licensed to Drive

Source: Wikimedia.org

Source: Wikimedia.org

A gum tree is a poor landmark. Especially if you are in parts unknown in a suburb of Western Australia (WA). Definitely so, if you are doing a driving test. “Needs more directions,” scrawled my lanky Aussie examiner on his form after I stopped in front of the wrong house in the “Leaving Something Behind” part of the test. Certain I’d failed, I proceeded to compound my crimes by hitting the kerb while turning into a car park. It’s the 31st of December – what a way to end the year.

“I know you passed,” said my husband, el geólogo, when I returned to the Cannington Driver and Vehicle Services centre. I’d lasted the full thirty-five minutes while all the other candidates had long since returned. Yes, dear reader, I am now married. I was so thrilled and relieved that I promptly turned into a waterspout. Not for being married, of course, but for having passed what is described as the most stringent driving exam in Australia. Umm, the crying jag could have something to do with raging pregnancy hormones. We won’t go into that. I have no wish to be a mommy blogger, although both “mommy” and “blogger” I soon hope to be.

So why do a driving test? As a temporary resident, I drove with my overseas licence. This is a slightly battered little paperback book, encased in a cover kindly provided by the Good Luck Driving School – Mumbai’s solution to driving lessons. The Driver Services official, a slim and horribly efficient looking young man of Asian descent paged through this – somewhat grimly, I thought. Upon reaching the page with an inky stamp from the Mumbai Road Transport Office and the squiggly signature of An Important Police Person in the Mumbai Police, he shook his head wryly.

The other lane: a road sign in Mumbai

The other lane: a road sign in Mumbai

“I have never seen a driver’s licence like this,” said he.

“It’s the only licence I have.” I replied, somewhat touchily. “It’s ten years old.” Surely, the very shabbiness of the licence proclaimed its genuineness?

Now, as a permanent resident, I need to and will drive with a WA driver’s licence. This beautiful blue laminated card, a key to many doors, will arrive in the mail in a few weeks. It will have a photo of me, quite likely looking teary-eyed, dishevelled, and perhaps with only one earring. I discovered the other clinging to my dress after we left the centre. It is after all one of the unwritten laws of the universe – thou shalt always look your worst in an official photograph.

So here I am, after a series of lessons with Perth’s excellent Defensive Driving School, one minor accident, a double puncture, and much driving practice later, a proud possessor of a new licence to drive. I feel strangely liberated – this is a real ego-booster. Yet, fond as I am of my blue Ford hatchback, my sturdy driving test companion, driving is still a necessary evil rather than a pleasure. I hand the car keys to my patient husband. I may have driven us to the test, but he’s driving us back home today.

If you need to know more about the WA road rules, try the only quizzes that help drivers prepare for the theory test at: http://www.transport.wa.gov.au/licensing/road-rules-theory-test-quiz.asp

Also, read about my first adventures in Australian driving at: https://perthinent.wordpress.com/2013/07/06/keys-to-drive-again/

A Latin(o) Australia

I have become a chocolate snob. A warm buttery waft of cocoa tempts me round the corner of the Northbridge Piazza. San Churro, the chocolateria promises all sort of good things in chocolate on its menu, but I’ve not ventured in as yet. You see, I’ve sampled the real thing – homemade Latin-American-style hot chocolate brewed from such brands as Rexim and Blooker.  I’ve sampled the flavours of Colombia, Venezuela and Nicaragua in Willie’s cacao blocks sold at Kakulas. These heady concoctions are but my first taste of latino Western Australia. Conclusion 1: Cocoa is truly is the nectar of the gods.

I came to Australia expecting to see England with a few kangaroos and koalas on the side. It amazes me to find so much of South America here instead. Further down James Street, strains of Spanish music spill out of Guzman y Gomez, a Mexican taqueria. The supermarkets sell El Paso taco-making kits and the local coffee shop has bean-filled burritos. Conclusion 2: they really like Mexican food here.

Then there are the dances – I can now tell a merengue from a salsa (no, these are not names for food) and a bachata from a champeta (some things are better left unexplored). A local bar offers salsa on Thursday nights, but if you’ve been reading my blog, you know that the less said about dancing the better. The rhythms are irresistible though, and some nights I draw the blinds and try the steps with YouTube lessons. Maybe someday….Conclusion 3: Dreamer.

I’m truly impressed and touched by the warmth of Latin hospitality and the friendship extended by people from various corners of the Spanish speaking world living in Western Australia – Colombia and Peru, Chile and Ecuador, Mexico and Argentina. Here are homes where I have learnt to cook arepas with Harina P.A.N. (corn meal) and eat changua, while listening tongue-tied to Spanish chatter. The clear tones of Argentina are easy to follow, but I struggle to decipher the fluid accents of Chile. Here are countries where to be “Indian” means something else. Yes…I’m Indian. No, from India – yes, we do look South American. Or perhaps it’s the South Americans who look Indian? No? My apologies.

There is a sense of family and fellowship that reminds me, achingly, of people back home. There is an openness that I think of as purely Australian. There is a love of soccer that only a South American can understand. Why don’t they play cricket? Just joking, of course.

The Day of the Little Candles: An Advent celebration or Latin living in Perth?

The Day of the Little Candles: An Advent celebration or Latin living in Perth?

A few days ago, I lit candles to celebrate the Advent season in the style of Colombia’s Dia de Las Velitas. As I watch the tealights flicker to the tune of “El Burrito de Belen,” I celebrate the cultural pluralism of nation to which I belong and the multiculturalism of the land I live in. I came here expecting to see a half-forgotten corner of England. Who would have thought I’d find a Latin Australia instead?