Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

Archive for January 6th, 2008

Feeling ‘local’ 18

Posted on January 06, 2008 by jimparedes

I heard something interesting on Australian TV a few nights ago about the attitudes migrants in Australia had about their host country, which was prominently featured in the news. The Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs commissioned a survey a few months ago to find out how migrants felt about being in Australia. The people behind the survey interviewed migrants who have been living in Australia for three years or more.

They specifically asked two questions and the answers the respondents gave were quite amazing, and yes, surprising. In many ways, they said it all for me. The first question was, ‘What do you like about Australia?’ The answer that got a high thirty percent rating was ‘the people’. Migrants, it seems find Australians quite easy- going, friendly and funny in their own way. The weather got another high response. Other positive answers were “the beach’ (17 percent), nature (17 percent), lifestyle (15 percent). Clean air and surroundings got about five percent.

Even more revealing were the answers to the question, ‘What don’t you like about Australia?’ A very surprisingly tiny four percent put ‘discrimination’ as a negative. I say it is surprising, considering that the subject of discrimination is the most commonly asked query I get about living in Australia when I am in Manila. I always answer that I have not experienced discrimination here so far. The low figure of four percent belies the perception that Aussies are generally racists. I have experienced alienation, yes, but not discrimination.  Besides, I subscribe to the answer of a friend who has lived in the both the US and Australia for a long time. On the question about whether there is discrimination in Aus, his answer is, ‘Anywhere on the world, there is discrimination, if you allow it.’

Ten percent answered ‘missing the family back home’ as a drawback to living in Aus, which is quite understandable. Unhappiness with employment got something like seven percent. But the biggest, total surprise of all was this:  a whopping 30 percent answered ‘nothing’ to the question of what they did not like about Aus life. Believe it or not!

I could not believe that such a sizeable number of migrants from different parts of the world were seeing Aus almost the same way I was seeing it. Sure, there are things I complain about, but the obviously palpable pleasantness of life is something that is so evident to many who live here.

I actually felt good listening to the results of the survey. I knew I was not being blindly positive about this country and that I had made a good choice on which country to migrate to.

I celebrated Christmas and New Year here in Aus, and it was a very different experience. In the Philippines, the yuletide season is all about hordes of relatives, fireworks, noisy revelers everywhere and the longest Christmas season on the world. In contrast, last Christmas Eve, I just had my immediate family with me, and I was amazed to find myself not missing everyone in Manila. It was a quiet, intimate, wonderful and meaningful Christmas with just my wife, three kids and grandchild as we ate, drank and opened our present amid laughter and gaiety.

In Australia, while there is also the build-up to Christmas day, there is not the frenzy and anticipation that we have back home. It is sedate by Philippine standards. The next day which is the 26th, is strangely called ‘Boxing Day’ in Aus and in all Commonwealth countries. Boxing Day is the time when a second round of shopping occurs since prices drop rock bottom right after Christmas.

The next big one is New Year’s Eve where Sydney puts up perhaps the biggest, most spectacular fireworks show in the entire planet. In the Philippines, revelers buy fireworks and explode them. Over here, the explosion of fireworks to greet the coming year is state-sponsored to the tune of four million dollars this year. It is a government monopoly.  Hundreds of thousands of people crowd every inch of space in the city that has a view of the Sydney Harbor Bridge and Sydney Opera House to be near the center of the fiery display. There is TV coverage, and tourists from all over Australia and the world come to watch.

Celebrating Christmas outside one’s home country is quite a unique experience. I was not lost in the revelry but I very intensely watched everything, including myself, and my own reactions. I have discovered that one’s absorption of different cultures and practices usually entails two steps: the first is the constant comparison between one’s home culture and the way it is done in the foreign country. While that can be fun and even fascinating, there is also a deeper joy in finding oneself in the next level of appreciation, which is the cessation of comparison and to the total immersion to the foreign customs and ways. For a few moments, one catches oneself NOT looking at other people as foreigners but as plain people, just like the way one looks at people in one’s home country.  One crosses the ‘them versus us’ line and just enjoys oneself, period.

Gone are the seeming differences that have always put a gap like accents, races, skin colors, religion body sizes, etc. Every one is just like everyone else. We are a throng of humanity simply celebrating what it’s like to be alive amidst such beauty and celebratory happenstance. It’s great to hang one’s protective coat and layers, and one’s defenses and simply allow oneself to be overwhelmed by everything unfolding.

Almost every week that passes, my comfort zone gets bigger as I allow more of the Aussie lifestyle into my home, habits and skin. I figure, all this can only make me a richer person and a better inhabitant of this part of the planet that is shared by a lot of races and people of different creeds.

While at certain points it is important to heed the call of nationalism, there is also virtue in seeing the world as borderless. And one does not even need to give up one for the other. In a way it is like a widening of identity. It’s akin to how one psychiatrist described the concept of compassion and enlightenment in the terms of his trade. He said that one must have an identity first and foremost before one can ‘lose’ it. ####

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