Well, we enter week three of the Australia visit, and the students have been doing very well, and have been highly evaluated by their English teacher, Edwina. Their skills are not all of the highest level, but they appear to be working diligently in class, and are relatively easy to manage, in contrast to other classes where the teacher struggles to deal with constant phone use in class and can even be pushed to confiscating all phones at the beginning of class.
We have the common pattern of a week of work resulting in a related presentation, with the students making individual power point slides and presentations, sometimes on subjects which are less than simple. Immigration, ageing society, and other issues have been given as themes to follow and make comparisons between Australia and Japan, and the students have risen to the challenges.
As part of the regular series of complimentary non-academic events we had a brief surf and lifesaving workshop on Wednesday 17th August, which involved an active member of Surf and Life Saving Queensland giving us a talk on marine hazards, and the key point that the thing most likely to endanger your life while in the sea on this coast is a strong current pulling you to one side or out to sea. This is far more likely to kill you than sharks, which haven’t killed anyone on the Gold Coast for hundreds of years. Which was reassuring, to a degree.
We had the BBQ on Friday 19th August and all was fine, other than a huge amount of work for me in terms of checking out sites, buying everything and carrying it home in multiple trips without a bike or car. Everyone had a great time, enjoying helping with the cooking as much as just standing around having fun, and there seemed to be not a single blot on the day, until near the end, when we were cleaning up, a druggie mom and her kids came by and used the next hotplate, borrowed some of our stuff, and that ended up in some bizarre behavior, unpleasant comments, and eventually her shouting at some of our boys playing on a slide (like kids), and telling them to go back to their own country.
The oddest thing really was that the other park users shouted at them to get out, that they weren't welcome there. The druggies were the outsiders not us.
Their own kids apologized to us and made it clear that they were only behaving badly as they were stoned, and had been all day. The youngest of them, probably 11 or 12, made the internationally recognized hand gestures of people smoking a bong, and then he and his brother, 13 or 14, went off and had a smoke, after the parents there had chased them off for being too rough on the playground rides. With parents like that…
Some of the kids were confused, some a bit upset, but we ended up having a laugh about it, and learning a couple of lessons. I was the buffer between them and us, and therefore nothing really happened, as the woman soon shut up when I asked her what she meant by her earlier comments. As my sister said, growing up in Middlesbrough probably equipped me better for that sort of behavior than my kids from nice, quiet Japanese families. One of my girls lives on a farm.
Anyway, the experience was instructive that this isn't a perfect and lovely land full of sunshine and smiles, but that there are some serious social problems below the surface. It seems that drug use is a significant problem, exacerbated by the local culture of the Surfers’ area of the hippy, relaxed, no hassle approach of letting everyone do their own thing. And that is laudable, but when the welfare system makes it highly appealing not to work, and everyone lets you get away with anti-social behavior it becomes a pattern that is difficult to break. But here even the homeless have a place to cook for free in the parks, and sleeping out isn’t so bad when it never gets really cold.
North Stradbroke Island on Saturday 20th August was simply lovely, as it was when I visited last month. The kids had a blast, really enjoying the ferry ride over there, but sadly didn't see all the wildlife that I did previously. Amazing beaches and just a lovely place that seems almost unspoiled by humanity, but is only an hour or so from Brisbane. The place we had fish and chips for lunch at Amity Point gave us a huge bag of passion fruit, as they have a tree that gives too much for them to consume. Our driver and guide, Nathan, said he has the same situation at home, and most kids weren't interested, so I had 20 in my fridge, although I took some along to school today and managed to get students to eat about half a dozen at lunchtime. A surfeit of passion fruit is surely a sign of having one toe in paradise.
After a huge lunch one of the girls declared she was hungry, so after a lovely walk around Point Lookout, with amazing views across Frenchman’s Beach (which goes on for infinity), we retired to the gelato shop and filled our faces. Suitably stuffed, we set off for Deadman’s Beach, a broad and beautiful expanse of sand sheltered by cliffs and coves, and with magical sea that was absolutely crowded. One man was fishing about 150 meters from us, a family was about 100m the other direction, and a man with dog passed by, as did another man with a small boy. No wonder the Life Saving instructor had told us that when she did an exchange with the Life Savers of Kobe she couldn’t believe the numbers on the beach in Japan: 10,000 within one kilometer. In Australia, when people say the beach is busy they mean it isn’t possible to run around naked without someone possibly being able to see your confidential corners.
After that, we headed back to the bus, and the ever patient Nathan who always was there to make sure we were alright and I had an adult to talk to, and we set off for the ferry terminal via the Brown Lake. Not so interesting to most students, I was fascinated, as the lake was brown due to the oils from the surrounding tea trees, and was a light, almost green-brown, and the smell from the tea trees was amazing.
On the ferry going back the kids were disappointed that the ship was much smaller than the one we arrived on, and didn’t have the same café etc. Many stayed in the bus, but the few of us on the upper deck were lucky enough to be able to see a dolphin flashing and diving a few times across our course. The course set appeared to be going into rain, and this soon arrived, a short but interesting squall, that lashed down, blew hard, and rocked the ship and the bus around quite a bit, which I enjoyed but scared some of the students right up until the point that a rainbow appeared, and then a double rainbow, and then everyone was happy.
Nathan drove us home mainly in the dark, and we got back to the university by about 6:30pm, slightly later than scheduled, so that I had to walk over to the uni hospital and wait with one girl at the taxi rank as she missed her last bus. I was home by 7:30pm, and barely had the energy to eat.
On Sunday the kids went off to Movie World, and Brisbane, and elsewhere. I did laundry, walked on the beach for an hour, went to the really nice bakery off Main Beach, and then walked to Aldi! Yes, spending the Sabbath in a cheap German supermarket, the high life indeed. And I even bought some cycle gear! 10 quid for a great cycling jacket! Lovely 20 min walk there, via very posh streets and a super posh private school. A degree of irony there methinks.
Monday 22nd August was the first day that most students had not completed their homework assignments, and it was clear they had enjoyed themselves the previous days, but they made up for it in class, and completed and made their presentations.
On Tuesday 23rd August we had morning classes on aboriginal culture, to help prepare for the active event on Wednesday, and then afternoon tea with Griffith Uni students so that they have a chance to interact with those who are studying here as regularly matriculated students. They came from India, Italy, Namibia, Egypt, Macau, and Malaysia, and our students had a wonderful time of it, chatting, joking, and asking questions about the other students’ experiences in Australia.
News about the rest of the world has been limited. The anniversary of the end of the Pacific War (Japan’s surrender) didn’t raise too much news here, although the Chinese and Korean governments pronounced themselves deeply shocked (as they do every year on exactly the same day for the same reasons) that Japanese cabinetministers and other politicians actually visited the highly controversial Yasukuni Shrine to pray, make offerings and generally say thanks to the millions who have died in Japan’s wars. Mr Abe decided that he would send an offering with a friend, rather than raise tensions further. As he also did last year. His new Defense Minister decided that she would have to make a visit to the Shrine if she was in Japan, otherwise she would be betraying her principles (and many financial and political backers), so she displayed a canny tactical sense in flying herself off to South Sudan to visit the JSDF on PKO duty there. She was doing her duty, backing up the Japanese military (sorry, Self-Defense Forces), flying the flag, and avoiding creating trouble for her boss. Wise move.
Mr Abe appeared at the Olympics closing ceremony in Rio, initially as Super Mario, but then, disappointingly, as himself. The Tokyo Governor, Koike Yuriko, appeared as a Japanese stereotype-version of herself, clad in kimono with gold obi (waistband), and looked rather nice and dignified. Which is more than can be said for the games. They may have been wonderful, but I will never know, as I was in Australia, where the TV showed Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps, but apart from them only Aussies. If an Aussie won silver, we saw that medal being awarded but neither the bronze nor gold, and often we never even knew the name or nationality of those winners. And as for the IOC and its approach to drug cheats, Russians, Chinese and others, well, maybe they should take a leaf from the President of the Philippines and just threaten to walk away from international criticism. Preferably without an equivalent toll of corpses that he has left in his trail.