Most of the time when I find out that I have a “required reading” for something or other, I roll my eyes and put it off until the very last minute. But when I found out what our required reading was for my Australia semester, I was pretty psyched. Every person on our trip is reading “In a Sunburned Country” by Bill Bryson. He’s a pretty well-known author, and I absolutely love his writing style. When I read this book, I seriously laugh out loud on almost every page. And that is an accomplishment on his part because I don’t really like reading as a rule. So… I thought I would share a bit of one of the first chapters with you all. Hopefully you’ll enjoy it as much as I did. This first part about the trip was especially funny to me… because I was a little shocked when I saw on my plane ticket for next week that I arrive two days after I leave. Here goes:
Each time you fly from North America to Australia, and without anyone asking how you feel about it, a day is taken away from you when you cross the international date line. I left LA on January 3 and arrived in Sydney fourteen hours later on January 5. For me there was no January 4. None at all. Where it went exactly I couldn’t tell you. All I know is that for one twenty-four-hour period in the history of earth, it appears I had no being.
I find that a little uncanny, to say the last. I mean to say, if you were browsing through your ticket folder and you saw a notice that said “Passengers are advised that on some crossings twenty-four-hour loss of existence may occur” (which is, of couse, how they would phrase it, as if it happened from time to time”, you would probably get up and make inquiries, grab a sleeve, and say, “Excuse me.” There is, it must be said, a certain metaphysical comfort in knowing that you can cease to have material form and it doesn’t hurt at all, and to be fair, they do give you the day baack on the return journey when you cross the date line in the opposite direction and thereby manage somehow to arrive in LA before you left Sydney, which in its way, of course, is an even neater trick.
Now, I vaguely understand the principles involved here. I can see that there has to be a notional line where one day ends and the next begins, and that when you cross that line temporal oddities will necessarily follow. But that still doesn’t get away from the fact that on any tri between America and Australia you will experience something that would be, in any other circumstance, the starkest impossibility. However hard you train or concentrate or watch your diet, no matter how many steps you take on the StairMaster, you are never going to get so fit that you can cease to occupy space for 24 hours or be able to arrive in one room before you left the last one.
So there is a certain sense of achievement just in arriving in Australia – a pleasure and satisfaction to be able to step from the airport into dazzling antipodean sunshine and realize that all your many atoms, so recently missing and unaccounted for, have been reassembled in an approximately normal manner (less than half a pound or so of brain cells that were los while watching a Bruce Willis movie). In the circumstances, it is a pleasure to find yourself anywhere; that it is Australia is a positive bonus.
Let me say right here that I love Australia – adore it immeasurably – and am smitten anew each time I see it. One of the effects of paying so little attention to Australia is that it is always such a pleasant surprise to find it there. Every cultural instinct and previous experience tells you that when you travel this far you should find, at the very least, people on camels. There should be unrecognizable lettering on the signs, and swarthy men in robes drinking coffee from thimble-sized cups and puffing on hookahs, and rattletrap buses and potholes in the road and a real possibility of disease on everything you touch – but no, it’s not like that at all. This is comfortable and clean and familiar. Apart from a tendency among men of a certain age to wear knee-high socks with shorts, these people are just like you and me. This is wonderful. This is exhilarating. This is why I love to come to Australia.
It’s seriously the best book. I like how it is told from an outsider’s perspective. This is a guy who just travels and writes about his experiences abroad. If only my blog entries could be that interesting! But it definitely makes me more excited to go and experience the country for myself. Hope you had a great 4th of July!