Making sense of Mint

When I awoke this morning with nothing to do, I mused at the rarity of it. I always have something to occupy myself with over the weekends. After rummaging Facebook for a while, I concluded that I could either go to a street market, where I knew a few of my friends would be, or take a solo trip to the Royal Australian Mint—something I’d been putting off for a long time because it was just too far away.

The food market sounded fun, but considering I’d probably buy nothing and wander around aimless, I decided to do the wandering at the Mint instead.

After two buses and about 45 minutes, I entered the building that runs Australia’s coin system. A big pot of gold coins greeted me. Next to it, a staircase led to the upper level and the main exhibition. Stepping upwards, I couldn’t miss the thousands of coins studded into the stairs.

On the upper level, famous Australian bushrangers greeted me in large cutouts. From time to time, the Royal Australian Mint makes comparative coins marking important events and people. This year, they’ve made a unique set of coins to acknowledge and appreciate the contribution of bushrangers to Australian cultures and stories. It was an excellent way to remember history’s villains, most of whom died in captivity.

Moving on, I entered a corridor full of stunning displays. Hundreds of coins marked the timeline of Australia’s currency system, dating way back to the first foreign coins found in shipwrecks. Since some of the first outsiders to arrive in Australia were prisoners and war slaves, most of their currency became the initial seedling for Australia’s current monetary system. These coins gradually replaced the natives’ barter system.

Walking my way down the timeline, I learnt how, from using coins of unknown lands, the country progressed to establishing a proper way to assess the value of these random coins. From there, they moved on to adopting the shilling-and-penny system that Britain was using. As a country, Australia was under the British reign for a long time, and it only made sense to use the same coins. 

Then came the decimal period. From farthings and halfpennies, Australia went to cents and dollars. Displays showed how designers formulate the images and engravings that mark a coin. Looking at the detailing of each drawing, I was amazed to see how most of the coins in current use incorporate unique Australian fauna. There’s more to this country than kangaroos and possums. And sometimes, even though we handle and pass on these coins countless times every day, we don’t often pause to observe. 

Apart from these coins, the Mint also had displays of other collectible coins and medals that it’s made over the years. There were 1kg coins in both gold ($3000) and silver ($30) marking the Mint’s partnership in the 2016 Olympic games. There were gold, silver, and bronze medals offered to winners at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. Also on display were the medals presented at the 2019 INAS Global Games. And my favourite, three special coins celebrating the Great Barrier Reef.

Great Barrier Reef - collector coins - Royal Australian Mint

It took me about an hour and a half to look and read through all the displays. From the various metal combinations tested for a single coin and the different designs they considered, to the actual robot that helps with heavy lifting and transporting during the minting process, the Royal Australian Mint has so much awe to offer. I’m glad I skipped the markets for this.

Of daylight savings

A lot of my friends overseas whine at having to rewind their clocks twice a year. Living in a country where daylight savings wasn’t a thing, I tried my best to sympathise with them and nod along as they apologised for missing meetings, and ranted about how the change was disrupting their lives.

Now though, I live in a country that does have an official system of daylight savings. About three weeks ago, Canberra went from AEST to AEDT, which means we have now turned our clocks an hour late. 

I couldn’t care less about it. 

I understand that people working defined times in a day would be thrown off by the sudden shift. But it didn’t affect me in any way, except giving me an extra hour of sleep every morning.

Aside from that, I don’t understand why the rest of the world gets so upset when the clock turns. It’s a mild, temporary, adjustment that we get used to within a couple of weeks.

I don’t see purpose in physically delaying time. So why complain and make a big deal of it?

When I look through my bedroom window, at 6 pm, it’s bright, sunny, and warm. I’m amazed that I can spend another couple of hours wandering around the lake before it gets too dark to stay out without a flashlight. (It’s not hot yet, and I’m not looking forward to summer.)

My point is, we’re getting so much daylight in a day. When nature herself gives us more than we could ever ask for, we shouldn’t be worrying about petty things like human made clocks.

If we just stop trying to fit time into our constraints, perhaps we’d be happier and notice all the time that we do have in our hands.

It’s good to get lost

When I woke up this morning, I didn’t want to be around people. It just wasn’t a socialising day. Within minutes, I decided to get lost in the Australian National Botanical Gardens.

The first time I went there, I was a traveller. A high-energy trekker, equipped with a backpack full stuffed with a jacket, cap, water, and snacks. And I tried to cover the whole area in one day—because that’s what I do when visiting a new city. I crave to see everything, experience everything in one visit. As a result of that over ambition, I lost my way in the gardens, strayed from the main path every time I saw a flower or a streak of sunlight glinting through a puddle, and ended up missing a few parts of the garden.

This time, I knew better. I had a plan, a purpose. I chose a trail—the eucalyptus walk—and decided to stick to it. 

Except, I got lost again. It took me longer than it should’ve, but I went around in circles before finding my way back on to the trail. 

And you know what? It’s ok. It’s ok that I got distracted by plants, that I gravitated towards weird shaped-branches and odd-named bushes. It’s ok that I didn’t follow the trail exactly as it was mapped. Because at the end of the day, it’s not about seeing them all. It’s about appreciating what you did see. 

And I saw a lot. 

Bring on the light

“Alright, your reminder is set for 5 this afternoon.”

That’s a sentence I never thought I’d hear in my life. Five pm has always been evening for me. In India, it’s tea time. It’s that wonderful part of the day everyone waits for all day, shuffling in their seats, under the sweltering pressure of workload in an air-conditioned office. It’s the time to crack those knuckles, stretch those calves, and walk up to the canteen for some piping chai and samosas. And gossip. Or in my case, people watching.

Soon after that break, some would go straight home at 5:30 while some others would go back to their seats, to Facebook or YouTube before heading out.

Five o’clock was a magical time.

When I arrived in Canberra just before winter, it was almost the same. Except, as we stepped deeper into the icy dryness or the cold, five became something of a warning time—for me, in particular. It was still magical, but instead of it signalling the end of the work day, it felt more like the end of the day itself. Darkness would arrive not long after and I didn’t want to wander the still-unfamiliar streets. By seven, although not tired, I was drained of all mental energy. Lethargy wrapped itself round my shoulders, an extra layer over my blanket, comforting, cocooning me in its warm embrace. It wouldn’t leave until 10 the next morning. 

Productivity stooped. It didn’t help that I was working from home. Two hours of continuous work felt like an achievement.

Then came spring.

Today, I’ve done more things in a day than I thought was possible. And it’s still afternoon. It’s my first experience with the season, and even though I whined to a friend how hot it is during the day, I’m still pleased that I have enough time to do things I’ve always meant to do.

I’m enjoying the daylight and all up for making the most of it—although, on the first day of Daylight Savings, I caught the massive clock in the city (like Big Ben, but smaller and in Canberra) an hour behind my automatic smartphone’s time, and had a small panic attack.

All that aside, it’s warm and beautiful now. Super hot during the late-morning or early-afternoon hours, but as the day wanes, light shines through spaces between trees, refracting through the window panes, and ricocheting off my specs.

Love it.

How to spring in Australia

Just before summer last year, I pottered about the streets—fresh out of a shower with nothing more than a light-scented talcum powder mildly-layering my brown surface. Temperatures didn’t exceed 42 degrees Celsius, and the talc was more than enough to prevent me from turning into a body of walking stink.How to spring in Australia. Just before summer last year, I pottered about the streets—fresh out of a shower with nothing more than a light-scented talcum powder mildly-layering my brown surface. Temperatures didn’t exceed 42 degrees Celsius, and the talc was more than enough to prevent me from turning into a body of walking stink.

I was in Chennai, a south Indian city of over 6 million people. 

This time, I’m in Canberra. It’s springtime, and people smile at the sun, women gliding about in beautiful spring skirts, men waddling in khaki shorts trying to balance two beers in one hand, and more people in singlets of every colour and pattern. I’ve seen all kinds of ankles, knees, and arms. Temperature can reach up to 25 degrees now, and 42 degrees in summer.

I don’t have talcum powder anymore.

Instead, 

I have sunscreen. 

Moisturiser.

Petroleum jelly, because I’m still recovering from winter dryness.

I have lip balm.

Deodorant.

And I’m nursing chapped, cracked, and chipped skin. 

Welcome to Australia—the sun loves us so much that it ripped the ozone, earth’s face mask, away  so it can kiss us more fully, purely, with love as mother showers upon her 18-month baby, except more harshly.

18 degrees, an idealistic dream in Chennai, burns in Canberra. 

Normal. 

The sun has a way to hurt you, and you have a way to deal with it. What else are conglomerates for? They churn out cream after cream, all-purpose ones for efficiency and portability, and more specialised, individually focussed line of products for a more complete skin care. Variantly priced to suit your comfort.

And yet, it’s not just about lining rows and rows of supermarket shelves with liquids and creams people may or may not want. It’s not the unrestrained dance of the capitalist banshee, wasteful.

It’s necessary. 

Australia has one of the world’s highest skin cancer rates. Although tanning has been huge crazy (why, I’ll never understand), our unnatural behaviour has led to natural exposure to excessive UV rays, and that keeps this country a hot bed.

No one goes out without synthetic protection hugging their skins. The more clothes you shed to cope with the rising heat, the more you need to layer up on creams. 

I’m glad I got my transition glasses just in time—my eyelids would fry otherwise.

And that, my friends, is how you spring in Australia. Wonderful time for picnics and lounging on the grass with a book—just as long as you’ve got your layers on.