It’s not often I feel moved to post on a Sunday afternoon, weekends are generally my time away from the computer, but this past week has been so patchy I basically feel I owe you one before a new week begins. Friday I’d arranged to see an old PhD colleague and friend for lunch as he’s on school holidays at the moment (W’s become a high school teacher, and my god it just sounds like the most stressful job imaginable), and we changed our meeting place because I was veering quite close to his suburb on my passport reclamation mission. Even just rocking into the Chinese Consulate gave me a shot of adrenaline. The scene was one of organised chaos, and most of the people pressing toward the head of the queues were Chinese. I was instantly transported; immediately, I was the Other. It’s a feeling some people really dislike but I flat-out love – out of my comfort zone, away from the familiar, deep in the unknown, it’s one of my favourite feelings, and it’s a big reason why I love travelling so much. I love being rendered agog. Look there, and there, and there, sights and sounds, flavours and scents, people and places I’ve never seen before…I don’t think there’s anything like travel for a pure energy surge.
I can’t wait.
I was out of the consulate quickly as payment and collection queues were brief. I had some time before I was due to meet W at Better Read Than Dead, a great bookstore on King St in Newtown, so I went back down Missenden Rd to Parramatta Rd, crossing the street to the Deus Ex Machina cafe. Llewie spied the cafe when he dropped off the passports early in the week, so I thought stopping in for a coffee was the least I could do. I actually intended to blog while I was there, but administration management ate my homework. Anyway, what a cool space. A converted warehouse with soaring ceilings, the cafe smells just wonderful, a mix of coffee, warm bread and pastries and hearty home-cooking, and the atmosphere is warm, a kind of non-threatening funk. I was sorry W and I had organised to meet elsewhere, and next time I’m over that way, I’m definitely eating here. All the food delivered to the communal tables made my stomach groan, and it was all really reasonably priced. If I lived or worked anywhere near the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, I’d be scooting down to the Deus cafe every day if for no other reason than their coffee is excellent, but the truth is the place has much to recommend it, including the fine machines for sale next door.
It was a pleasant walk back up to Better Read Than Dead, and I found W browsing philosophy and politics titles just inside the door. He’s much more familiar with Newtown, and quickly decided we’d head to the cafe at the Berkelouw Bookstore, which ended up being upstairs in another artfully converted warehouse. We settled in there with good Caesar salads and cold drinks and proceeded to talk for four hours straight. I must say, it’s one of the things I really miss about postgraduate days: great, challenging conversations just as a matter of course. Now I work alone, and I miss the ease with which I used to be able to strike up a conversation that tested my intellectual chops at every turn. Exchanging ideas, debating different theories, really thrashing out the meaning of the things you have read and thought and wondered about. One thing that academia really has going for it is that these pursuits are considered valuable and important. Outside a university environment, I’ve personally just found it harder to find a similar outlet for certain interests of mine. I’m no longer surrounded on a daily basis by those who share them, and so I find those conversations harder and harder to begin and maintain. Everyone keeps talking about Master Chef instead, a TV show that became something of a phenomenon in Australia over the course of its first season, and while I love cooking, I’d rather sink my teeth into a difficult debate than a serve of reality TV. It’s just the way I am. Luckily Llewie loves a good verbal stoush, and we have great conversations, as we do with all our good friends, but I guess there’s still a difference between that and really being able to put all that theory into practice. W and I and everyone like us spent long, difficult years studying the ideas of others while pursuing our own, and to me it’s very much like a dormant bilingualism – the second language starts to die if it’s not used. So it was great to see W and tune my mind into that other frequency. I think I stumbled a number of times as bilingual people do when trying out their second tongue after a long spell using only the first, but there was a lot of satisfaction and pleasure in discovering over the course of the afternoon that my second language hasn’t abandoned me altogether, it just needs to be put to more frequent use.