Critter Shock – Reflections on Australia for a Korean Friend

Nice to hear from you Kang. Quite a sur­prise. What’s pay­ing for your bibim­bap nowa­days? Sen­ti­men­tal for old times? That’s not allowed until you have killed all your ene­mies, stolen the king­dom, and retreated with twenty con­cu­bi­nes into lux­u­ri­ous degen­er­a­tion.

Me? I’m in crit­ter shock, try­ing to work out where a place called Aus­tralia went. Yeah, I know, you want to say that it never existed except in my imag­i­na­tion… What­ever. Stuff around here in Aus­tralia is strange. In the twelve years that I was away some­thing has hap­pened to my head, or to the natives, or both. Mem­bers of the species under 30, male or female, are now mostly cov­ered from head to toe (and appar­ently on more pri­vate parts too) with amaz­ingly ugly tat­toos. To har­mo­nize with this, uh, brand­ing, every ori­fice in their body is punc­tured with sil­ver studs, punched through the skin, and no doubt receiv­ing coded mes­sages from another planet. Today I saw one of these beings with a bar-code tat­tooed on her arm. I sup­pose that makes it eas­ier at the cos­mic check­out where they are bought as pets. Mean­while the elders of the orig­i­nal tribe, fed on a pure diet of sugar and pain killers, drift about like enor­mous bal­loons, and make grunt­ing sounds that sound for all the world like swamp frogs. I speak here of my eth­nic fore­bears, the Anglos.

The streets are now also pop­u­lated with huge num­bers of celes­tial cit­i­zens pre­tend­ing to be Chi­nese stu­dents, while the gov­ern­ment, appar­ently in fear that they will wake up one morn­ing to find Beijing’s blood red ban­ner fly­ing on the Prime Minister’s lim­ou­sine, has now admit­ted an equal num­ber of Indi­ans (almost invis­i­ble here twelve years ago) to work in the 7/11 shops when they are not cod­ing math to keep the coun­try run­ning, Orig­i­nal Aus­tralians of course all gave up maths in junior high school, when they had learned enough to fill out a lotto ticket. I guess the devi­ous hid­den mas­ter plan is that the Chi­nese and the Indi­ans can fight each other to the death while the Anglo Aussies get on with drink­ing beer.

Transitions – out of China, into Oz

Here is a note to mark the end of twelve years in East Asia (China 1998–2000, South Korea 2000–2007, China 2007–2010). Well, I was indeed thrown out of China on the cue of turn­ing 65, regard­less of being awarded a PhD a few months before. My employ­ers in a joint Chi­nese-Aus­tralian ven­ture were inef­fec­tive (inert?) on this mat­ter in chang­ing the mind of China’s all-pow­er­ful and murky Pub­lic Secu­rity Burea. My stu­dents, at least, were indig­nant.  These links to a farewell note from one class, and from one stu­dent, can put this more elo­quently than I can. Here is a link to my farewell speech to the Mid­dle King­dom, which actu­ally never got made thanks to clever oblit­er­a­tion by a KTV party. In vain I made three short, shaky videos to prove that I wasn’t entirely decrepit: one in my class­room, Teach­ing is Fun; on a speech to grad­u­at­ing stu­dents, The Jour­ney of a Pas­sion­ate Skep­tic; one of me run­ning, Born 1945 and Still Run­ning Strong. Naive of course – no bureau­crat is inter­ested in actual real­ity.  Con­tinue read­ing

Australia Calling Home

Aus­tralia Call­ing Home

I remem­ber burn­ing beaches and the rush of salty waves,
I remem­ber long cool drinks in the shade of old tin shacks.
There were dusty tracks through bush­land to hid­den moun­tain pools,
And brain­less boys who lived to tell of leaps from walls of rock.

We grew to slicked down teens on the hunt for bimbo blondes,
And our rusty hurtling cars were the ter­ror of the streets.
We were care­less of the hard bright sun, of booze and friendly smiles,
Then fell for love, the fix was in, Aus­tralia was our home.

Thor, China
    spring 2008
(Port Mac­quarie beach, NSW; image cour­tesy of
.. for other exam­ples of Thor’s poetry, see Time Pass­ing

Australian Blue

Aus­tralian Blue

Cen­tre coun­try scene:

A thou­sand miles of desert,
Ten thou­sand miles of shim­mer­ing heat.
In and out the Dead Heart,
Only one great vast­ness;
Up and down the Dia­man­tina,
Sand tor­rents stopped and stilled.

Hills dance like rain­bow ser­pents,
Mirages race like shad­owed giants,
Try­ing to vie with the sun in their reach.
A wild eye is needed
To view this wilder­ness decked with blue
In all its unfor­giv­ing beauty.

Thor (cheer­fully rip­ping off Mao Zedong, “Snow”)
April 2008
Con­tinue read­ing

Inquiry into the Status of Australian Expatriates

The orig­i­nal 2004 post­ing of this mate­rial is still on my old web­site, here. Other arti­cles deal­ing with cross-cul­tures: “Cul­tural Oper­at­ing Sys­tems – Thoughts on Design­ing Cul­tures“, 2010; Eth­nic­ity and Racism – Stir­ring the Pot, 2005; “Korean, Amer­i­can and Other Strange Habits – You Do It Your Way – two books reviewed“, 2003; “When Is It Rude To Be Rude? – Polite­ness Across Cul­tures and Sub­cul­tures“, 2001; Indi­vid­u­al­ism or the Group“,2001; “The Price of Free­dom – an Escape from Viet­nam“, 1984

Many read­ers of this site are expa­tri­ates of some kind. For var­i­ous rea­sons they have cho­sen to live beyond their native bor­ders. Some are absent from home for a fairly short time before head­ing back with a quota of after-din­ner tales. For oth­ers, home is where their bed is, and the point of child­hood depar­ture is a dis­tant mem­ory.

I hap­pen to have started life as an Aus­tralian. The iden­tity tag, ‘Aus­tralian’, still has some res­o­nance for me, although not quite in the way your aver­age Bruce in a Syd­ney leagues club would under­stand it. Now it has dawned on the Aus­tralian Par­lia­ment that out of twenty mil­lion cit­i­zens, around 800,000 of us are folk like me — liv­ing away from ‘home’. This has led the Hon­ourable Mem­bers to won­der a lit­tle how (or whether) they should account for the inter­ests of these scat­tered brethren. To that end, the Legal and Con­sti­tu­tional Com­mit­tee of the Aus­tralian Sen­ate has been accept­ing sub­mis­sions on “The Sta­tus of Aus­tralian Expa­tri­ates”. My sub­mis­sion below may inter­est some folk. Since it has now been tabled in the Aus­tralian Par­lia­ment, it can be viewed on the web­site of that par­lia­ment at , while links to a full list of sub­mis­sions to the inquiry can be seen at . Note that all of these sub­mis­sions are cov­ered by par­lia­men­tary priv­i­lege (i.e. their author’s have full legal pro­tec­tion for what­ever they may have sub­mit­ted).

The Sec­re­tariat
Sen­ate Legal and Con­sti­tu­tional Com­mit­tee
Room S1.61, Par­lia­ment House
Can­berra ACT 2600
Tele­phone: (02) 6277 3560
Fax: (02) 6277 5794

Sen­ate Inquiry on the  Sta­tus of Aus­tralian Expa­tri­ates, 2004
sub­mis­sion author : Thor May, South Korea

This short sub­mis­sion has sev­eral ele­ments:

a) It puts for­ward a view of what it is to be ‘an Aus­tralian’, and hence what it may mean to be an expa­tri­ate Aus­tralian. The view expressed might be some­what at vari­ance with the nor­mal assump­tions of nation­al­ity, and hence the premises which a Legal and Con­sti­tu­tional Com­mit­tee could bring to bear on the sta­tus of Aus­tralian expa­tri­ates.

b) It out­li­nes my own cir­cum­stance (at var­i­ous points in the paper), as a par­tic­u­lar instance of an expa­tri­ate Aus­tralian. This includes some sug­ges­tion of why I became an expa­tri­ate, and why I con­tinue to be one.

c) It indi­cates why an indi­vid­ual such as myself can make a greater con­tri­bu­tion to gen­eral Aus­tralian pros­per­ity and secu­rity by con­tribut­ing as an expa­tri­ate rather than as an Aus­tralian domes­tic res­i­dent.

d) It item­izes sev­eral hand­i­caps in the Aus­tralian civil con­text encoun­tered by expa­tri­ates such as myself.

1. The Con­cepts of Nation­al­ity and Cul­ture

Con­tinue read­ing

A Stranger in His Own Country – Adrift at 49


Dreams are tufts of cloud in the blue-black yon­der. One sec­ond you almost have them, the next you have tum­bled a thou­sand metres through space into another wooly con­coc­tion. Is the truth so insub­stan­tial? She was small and grubby and freck­led. If all lit­tle girls are meant to be cute, she was the one god for­got. She stood in my way with fierce deter­mi­na­tion, pulled me down, and said in a tiny voice “I love you.” Then she kissed me lightly on the lips.

We seemed to be in the hall­way of some kind of apart­ment build­ing. There was a sense that her mother had drifted in with another lack­adaisi­cal one-night-stand, and that for no par­tic­u­lar rea­son I was the only per­son around who looked like a rea­son­able human being. No I don’t know what it all means. Only that a very few dreams have a long after­taste.
Con­tinue read­ing

Seventeen in 1962

This longish poem, Sev­en­teen in 1962, is a pretty accu­rate descrip­tion of my first job in Nun­dah, Bris­bane, in 1962. I was a stranger in the city. My fam­ily came from around Syd­ney, and had just retreated, nearly bank­rupt, from a failed migra­tion to north Queens­land where south­ern­ers were unwel­come. The bit­ter­ness of tone per­sisted for much of my first ten years in unskilled jobs after leav­ing high school,  partly per­haps from dis­ap­point­ment after hav­ing topped the school aca­d­e­m­i­cally, then col­lid­ing with the incom­pre­hen­sion of work­ing class par­ents and the indif­fer­ence of gen­eral Aus­tralian cul­ture. The peo­ple I knew or met seemed to resent intel­lec­tual curios­ity. They wanted to be respected veg­eta­bles in a very small gar­den plot. As a com­plete out­sider with­out money or any social skills at all, it was a friend­less time.

                    Sev­en­teen in 1962

The wait was over, the grow­ing done,
Just the fill­ing out to come;
Time of promise, time to fear,
Gan­gling sev­en­teen.

First job, be-clerked, min­nowed and shoaled
With the eight o’clock tide, be-tied.
And the man­ager, Minikin, said marry your­self
To the com­pany, boy-man to be made;
Tuck in your shirt and swear
Here will be done as your elders have done,
Let all debtors be blessed, amen
And wipe the smirk off your face.

Con­tinue read­ing