While I sometimes describe myself as old fashioned and talk often about the past, I actually live just at present in a throughly modern polycultural urban world. This sometimes gives me a fair bit of fun, especially in my self-appointed role of bridge between present and past.
This week I have been a bit manic. I work in a project environment, we are building a new team, so I tend to perform a bit.
With new work coming in I have been rushing around, pointing in grand gestures to the end of the office (the Executive Suite) and saying can't you see those huge words at the end of the universe, DON'T PANIC.
This always gets a laugh and eases tension, which was my objective. But it was only this afternoon that I thought to ask my immediate boss L., a rather nice Chinese women, if she had ever heard of the Hitckhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. She had not. I then checked with some other Chinese colleagues. They had not either.
I then tried to explain, struggling a little. I quote from the description of the film:
While purists will pout at this feature film version of Douglas Adams' classic sci-fi satire, fans and the uninitiated will laugh all the way to Ursa Minor. Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) is having a bad day. He's just discovered that his best friend, Ford Prefect (Mos Def) is an alien and Earth is about to be demolished to make way for an intergalactic highway. Thankfully, Arthur and Ford escape before the planet is destroyed. To stem Arthur's rising panic, Ford introduces him to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (narrated by Stephen Fry), which is full of useful facts and figures about life, the universe and everything. Douglas Adams was a certified genius and bringing his brilliantly bizarre universe to the silver screen was not going to be easy, populated as it is by Marvin, a manically depressed robot (voiced brilliantly by Alan Rickman); Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell), inventor of the Pan Galactic Gargleblaster and President of the Universe; and megalomaniac prophet Humma Kavula (a character created by Adams especially for the film, played with relish by John Malkovich).
How does one make sense of this?
Then, too, I was talking to our executive assistant. She is a nice Indian woman who has been in Australia for a little under two years.
She really struggled when she first arrived because she could not understand the social isolation of modern urban Sydney. After finally becoming the little mother of the block of flats they lived in, the person who provided the social glue now so lacking in many parts of Sydney, she and her husband have moved to a new development marked by a sense of community. She is as happy as larry.
M did something for me, and I said that she was worth her weight in little gum nuts. I had to explain. Now I have to find a copy of Bib and Bub for her so that she can read it to her new child.
I find that many new arrivals have an absolute fascination with this country's past and current strangenesses, a fascination not easily satisfied in a world dominated by current concerns.
Dz is a Bosnian who works closely with me. Back in January 07 I ran a story on the burqini. I showed this to Dz and she bought one. She thinks that it it the greatest thing since sliced bread because she can now going swimming with her kids for the first time since she was covered.
Dz and her husband have fallen in love with the Australian countryside. They take the kids out to Young to get cherries. I entertain Dz with stories about Australa and told her about the moleskins that my daughters had bought for me. Today I wore them to work for the first time, and she noticed at once.
C. who is Chinese works across the row from me. She was the front end of the Chinese dragon I mentioned in my post on Quong Tart back in February 07. She was also the source of my story on the ABC of Cultural Change.
In return for my stories (including stories on the Chinese past in Australia) and help, she agreed to answer all the questions I could think of on the current Chinese in Australia. She reminded me of this today. I will do so next week.
There is a large map of NSW in our office. Over the last twelve months I havs spent hours there suggesting travel spots, explaining points about life and history. And not just to overseas born staff.
I find that there is an enormous hunger to find out about Australia, current and past, one that is simply not being fulfilled.
Our current new arrivals are no different from those Europeans who came after 1788 nor, I suspect, the first Aborigines who arrived on the then vacant continent.
All new arrivals have to adjust to their new environment, to new light and colours and smells. All have to overcome the barrier of strangeness.
Links to home and the familiar help. But the process of assimilation, and I use that word advisedly and in the technical sense, depends upon finding things in the new that you can link to. Otherwise you remain, as I sometimes feel in Sydney, a stranger in a strange land.
I find the interest in Australia among our new migrants very reassuring. I just wish that I could do more to meet the apparent need.