Gone are the days

Close up photo of a dandelion shedding

Another year fades
perennial pandemic
sheds human timelines

Downer

photo of the sky, a tree, and neibour's fence as seen from behind a glass window at dusk

Curtained existence
disassembled, sun deprived,
locked down in winter.

Going on holiday

I booked my tickets two weeks in advance and my accommodation just a handful of days before the big day. 

No one in Australia does that. For instance, my friend booked a week’s stay in a cabin far, far away—five months in advance. That’s normal.

And here I was booking flight tickets to Tasmania, about to spend ten days in a city I knew nothing about. In hindsight, I’m proud of myself for choosing Launceston—it’s a delightful place to visit. But even until the last moment, the day of my journey, as I sat in the back seat of the cab, looking out at Canberra’s iconic welcome to Autumn, I wasn’t excited. Even as I went through security check, I was more alarmed that we no longer have to take out our electronics for screening than I was excited about my upcoming trip.

photo of the ocean as seen throug the flight windor

Sitting in the plane, watching the ground become bigger and bigger as we soared into the sky, I felt nothing. My glasses fogged from me breathing through my face mask, but I had the best seat in the house—the window. Still, my insides felt like a balloon that failed to balloon.

It didn’t feel like I was going away on holiday.

I landed and walked into the biosecurity area of the Launceston arrivals zone. And I texted my trusty friend and brother: Launceston Airport is a massive tent.

We queued up in what looked like a huge white canopy with three podiums with officers checking everyone’s border permit and asking each person individually if they’ve travelled to any hotspots or have any symptoms. It’s incredible how much we humans function on trust systems. Once I’d shaken my head no to all his standard questions, my officer—a stubby man wearing a polo t-shirt and pants—gadded me a card that had some contact information in case I developed any symptoms. I thanked him and walked out—and into the actual airport. It was smaller than the Canberra airport—just two conveyor belts for baggage. Brilliant and easy to find. A good five minutes later, my yellow backpack waded its way to me, and I hoisted it up on my shoulder and turned to face the exit.

Those glass doors didn’t open automatically.

No worries. I’m used to motion sensors not sensing me. I went closer only to realise that the double door had a big circular sticker on either side of the partition with text that read, “Touch to open door”. Amused and highly sceptical, I touched and viola! I was out in the chilly breeze and the sunny outskirts of Launceston.

Following the sign, I turned left, looking for a bus. The airport shuttle was supposed to be waiting for passengers who wanted to go into the city. Instead, there was a van—an approximately 15-seater vehicle with a chubby bald and smiling man waiting outside. On the van, clearly visible, was a sticker that read, The Airport Shuttle. I had to ask. “Is this the airport shuttle?”

He didn’t sneer. He wasn’t sarcastic when he replied, “It is! Where do you need to go?”

“The city, please.” As if that was a destination by itself.

“Do you have a specific place in the city?”

“Ah, yes. The Backpackers Hostel.”

“Sure thing. I can drop you off right at the door. How long are you in town for?”

I told him, and he suggested I go to the visitors’ centre and get myself a walking map. He helpfully added that it’s inside the post office, which I knew was built in the early 19th century and was still functioning handsomely.

photo of the old clock tower, Launceston
Post office, Launceston

I thanked him, paid him, and took my seat. And at long last, I removed my mask and did a full mouth rotation to make sure my facial muscles were still operating. 20 minutes later, I stood outside the hundred-year-old building—just another old building, I realised as I later wandered around town—that was the hostel I’d be staying at.

And then it hit me. 

I had ten glorious days to do anything but the things that defined my life.

photo of the suburbs of Launceston as seen from across the Tamar river
Welcome to Launceston

To be continued…

First world problems

One of the initial and biggest culture shock for someone visiting a western country from the third world is walking into a toilet cubicle and seeing a roll of toilet paper. 

On the first morning of my first trip to the United States, in 2017, I texted my brother from the bathroom.

“First world question: is it safe to flush toilet paper?”

I had my reasons, too. For in many parts of the world, places that are still undeveloped after more than fifty years of developing, the toilet system can’t even handle a healthy person’s plump and fibrous roll of waste. It takes more than a few flushes to make sure everything is indeed flushed off and not as disgusting for the next person.

That’s why I was terrified of flushing a wad of toilet paper and messing up the four-star hotel’s drainage system. And so, a wave of relief swept over me as the response came in the affirmative.

Later that morning, my colleague pulled me aside to discuss, in hushed voices and rolling eyes, the great toilet paper incident and how bizarre it is to have so much bog roll but not knowing how to use it. We couldn’t figure out how first worlders could feel comfortable with a backside that potentially harboured dried waste.

Growing up in Asia, my colleague and I were both used to washing ourselves with water. As toddlers, we were potty trained, which not only helps strengthen thigh and waist muscles for later in life but also makes it so much easier to wash ourselves after we finish our business. Even to this day, countless Indian homes have potty-style bathrooms that are highly effective in preventing the spread of germs introduced by western commodes.

However, even when Asian countries adopted the modern and more convenient commode system, they still retained the washing habit by installing hand showers in the bathroom. Hand showers that required some additional plumbing, but made a lot of sense nevertheless. Resembling a sprinkler garden hose, it’s fitted into the wall next to the toilet, making it easy for the loo-goer to squish, splash, and then return it to its stand and walk away clean.

I’ve visited the US a couple times afterwards, and since migrating to Australia last year, I’ve become far more accustomed to the idea of using toilet paper multiple times every day. 

Source: Giphy

All that said, when coronavirus came into the picture, just as the bushfires were settling down, we went from one unprecedented incident to another one. From donating supplies to people evacuating fire zones, we’ve gone to physically assaulting each other for a roll of toilet paper. This paper crisis and the disastrous fight for bog roll has taken over the internet with memes, devastating videos, graphic images of empty supermarket shelves, and suggestions to use yellow pages instead of toilet paper. 

Amongst this incredible, insane situation, a few odd people have been brave enough to suggest the time-tested Asian washing method, only to be sneered at. It’s not unheard of, of course. Many Australians have travelled widely, and the country itself homes millions of migrants in every state. The hand shower idea isn’t as novel as the coronavirus. It’s even the more environmentally-sustainable option compared to toilet paper. Sure, recycled toilet paper is marketed as better than regular ones, but hey, nothing beats water.

Dear first world, welcome to the third world.