Left, Right, & Down Under (I)

This article is part of an ongoing series of articles detailing the author’s experiences away from the Philippines as he lives and pursues his studies in Australia.

My last article, which was the supposed primer for this particular series, was published on February 27, 2017. As I glance over at my phone at the time of writing, it’s already early April. Of course it is easy, obvious even, to justify my absence due to being otherwise occupied. I was, in another continent after all. I’m understandably up to my elbows in schoolwork, swimming in the sights and sounds of a new city, getting lost in the streets and subways, complaining about food prices and picking up a variety of new expletives along the way. Yes, for 40-odd days now, I have been thrashing and flailing my way in the land down under.

As if true to the brand, the past weeks have been filled with more lefts and rights than a busy Katipunan intersection on the eve of a long weekend. Here are a few of them.

Three weeks ago, I took a right turn on George street while riding my bicycle absentmindedly running straight into the oncoming traffic. Apparently, with Australia still using the left-hand drive, you’re supposed to cross to the far side of the road when you’re turning right. On the bright side, I got to learn a slew of previously unheard of expletives and obscene gestures from the friendly Australian drivers.

A week before that, I left the apartment early in the morning. The weather was a perfect 25 degrees, the sun was still out, and I thought to myself it was a good day for a stroll around the city. Well, in the span of an hour, the weather turned from cool and sunny, to pouring rain, to frigid winds, then to sweltering heat. That was the day I learned that you never leave the house without sunscreen, a strong umbrella, a jacket, and maybe even a tornado shelter. Because, who knows how the weather turns in Sydney?

Another week before that I learned that everyone calls everyone by their first name here, regardless of age, hierarchy, or uniform. There are no “Pos” or “Opos”, no “Titas” or “Kuyas”. Your friendly product peddler doesn’t even call you a “mamsir”. Here there is less prejudice based on how young you are or what your position is. People call you by some variation of your first name- you’re everyone’s “mate”.

Although I must admit, far above all the sights to see, things to do, and prices to haggle, the biggest head turn happened just a few days ago. While a friend of mine was taking me around a certain tourist hotspot in Sydney, I realized I had drank a little too much Bundaberg and needed to use the restroom. Relief was met with curiosity as I surveyed the restroom I was in and noticed a little yellow box on the wall. “Sharps Disposal” it said in bold black letters with a picture of a syringe. Quickly grabbing my friend and pushing him in the cramped room, I pointed towards the yellow box inquisitively; kind of like a kid asking a parent to check under his bed. Well it turns out, as part of Australia’s drug policy, needle and syringe programs such as these safe-disposal boxes can be found at many public spaces. Australia has a very different way of dealing with drugs compared to how the Philippines “deals” with it. It’s a policy of three components: Supply reduction, demand reduction, and harm reduction. The yellow boxes are part of the harm reduction thrust, accepting that demand prevention and supply prevention will never be completely effective. Whether we like it or not people will always be willing to put themselves in risky situations. So, it might be wise to have ways to minimize the damage they cause to themselves and others. There are even safety injecting sites and even drug test centers to test for the purity or toxicity of the drugs you would be taking. It was something utterly unimaginable for someone who comes from a country with a very “unique” view on drugs.

Suffice to say, it is in fact a different world down here; from street rules, to weather, to culture. In some ways, it is so different from home, that it seems one of us is going the opposite direction.

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