Hitchhiking Is Also An Option

For the past five days I’ve been sharing a dorm room in Wailuku, Maui, with a gorgeous Slavakian whose take on English is as charming as it could be alarming.

Last night she told me that she was planning to visit Lahaina, an old whaling town about an hour away from the hostel.

“How will you get there?”

“Hijacking”

Considering My Answer To Your First Question Was An Emphatic ‘No’…

Rubbing sunscreen across my chest I walked through the security gate into the alley that my glamorous Waikiki hostel fronted.

“Wha’chu putting on there, girl?”

I stopped and looked up into the eyes of the homeless man.

“Wha’chu got there? Suntan lotion?”

I wished I’d been applying it on my shoulder or… any body part less sketchy-alleyway-provocative, really. My hair, for example.

He rambled closer, “Can I smell you?”

“No!”

“Can I at least smell your wrists?”

 

 

 

Sure, Italy…

“Nipples”, the little girl whispered loudly.

Her mum giggled.

“Nipples”, she said it louder.

Her mum and dad laughed.

Even louder, “Nipples!”

Both parents shushed her, smiling. A few English-speaking tourists on the airport shuttle to Waikiki raised eyebrows.

“NIPPLE-!”

“NAPLES!”, her dad interrupted.

“Naples, honey. We just got back from Naples.”

 

When Seat-Neighbours Go Missing On Aeroplanes

Warning – May contain trigger element

Flight QF3, Sydney to Honolulu, was filled with memorable characters, most of whom I’d prefer to forget. MinnMom is the exception.

My plot for the nine hour ride was aisle-seat 53D. Trapped in the middle seat between her sullen mid-30s daughter and I, was a happy-go-lucky, hapless and over-accommodating mother from Minnesota.

MinnMom needed help with stowing her luggage, operating her iPad, deciphering the steward’s Australian accent. MinnDaughter need to scowl every time I assisted her ever-grateful mum. MinnyD snapped with biting remarks at every opportunity.

MinnyD had her mum living in total fear. At 11:30pm, MinnMom asked if anyone could let her out to walk around the cabin before she slept. I obliged. Her daughter maintained a silent scowl at the blank headrest in front of her.

MinnMom left.

She didn’t come back.

I waited up for two hours.

Horribly, I watched American Hustle to fill the time.

Scowljowl snored, unconcerned by her mother’s unusually long absence.

Was there a bar cabin?

An entrepreneurial high-flying hair salon?

Where was MinnMom?

I hadn’t helped anyone with basic queries for hours and I was beginning to fear that my existence was unnecessary.

I slept, I woke. I slept again, this time in a contorted yoga plane position that demanded my head on the tray table and my legs in the aisle at bone-defying angles. I woke once more and I worried.

In a 1991 episode of Degrassi High, Claude Tanner killed himself in a bathroom stall and a fear of that happening in real life has remained forever present with me. Six years old may have been too young to witness that scene. Although Tanner had committed that act with a gun and we were on an aeroplane having passed two gates of security, somewhere between dreams, nightmares, Australia, Hawaii and exhaustion, I held grave fears for MinnMom as we flew through the night.

Finally allaying my fears, MinnMom plonked herself into her seat SIX HOURS after going for an aero-stroll.

“You both looked so comfortable I didn’t want to disturb you… So I just kept walking.”

 

 

International Tax Time: Shudder, Shudder, Swahili

Foregone Interest: The amount of interest that would have been payable at the date of accrual… As well as any interest in the future.

Six and a half hours deep into in the most harrowing form of modern-day government torture and my mind is burnt. My body aches. My eyes can’t process information beyond the glare. I’ve made silent pleas of devout and exclusive worship to every God listed on Wikipedia – if only the right one could end it all. I’m broken and I’m broke. That’s right; I’m filing a US tax return.

The W-2 is the United States’ version of Australia’s Group Certificate. They differ slightly in that the equivalent of not having a W-2 from your employer is like throwing a live grenade down your pants then trying to run away from it with your pants still firmly belted on, whereas missing a Group Certificate only necessitates a phone call, maybe a cup of tea and a two-day wait for the postie.

I don’t have a W-2.

The United States’ tax return form, the ‘1040’, is cruel and unforgiving. (Note the near-relation to 1080, aka ‘sodium monofluroacetate’ – also cruel and unforgiving…)

I digress.

“(On Form 1040) From Form 2555 you should reduce the amount on Form 1116 by allocable earnings on Form 2555 with adjustment on Line 12 or the former in line with reductions on foreign income exclusion using the Q&A to select the correct form or line, curl up katika kona ya giza kulia…”

Tax-payers are left to assume that business Swahili was introduced to enhance the 1040’s simplicity because, well, most simply put: kujifunza Kiswahili ni comparably rahisi.

That’s not the form’s only flaw; the Kafkaesque deviant who built the 1040 anticipated your descent into insanity and filled it with pranks.

As an alien without a W-2, you’re forced into answering a series of nonsensical questions. For example:

“Did you live with family in the US? Yes or no?”

No

“Which family members did you live with?”

The options include Mother, Father, Siblings, Aunties, Uncles, Cousins and Grandparents. There isn’t a ‘none’ option even though your answer to the previous question generated the current question. You must select a relative to proceed to the next page.

Approximately five hours’ worth of paradoxes follow.

Then, an oasis! a small explanatory field pops up, freeing you from the suffocating pre-formatted multiple choice regime.

“Finally!”, you throw your hands in the air in joy, the pure relief of being able to explain how you arrived at having made $-9000 last year. With fingers flying across the keyboard, you spend the next ten minutes frantically outlining how you reached specific figures and explaining international discrepancies. You look at the computer screen, ready to scroll through your well-written justifications.

Field: “Exceeded eight character limit”

EIGHT CHARACTER LIMIT.

You type in the field again.

“Fuuuuuuuu

Field: “Exceeded eight character limit”

“Your mom”

I ran the final check on my return. ‘Red lights’ indicate trouble spots that might alert the IRS to your existence. With only nine red lights flashing on my computer screen, and some quick internet research on the treatment of tax criminals in the US prison system, the 1040 was ready for e-filing.

I’m looking forward to receiving $445 in returned taxes, or meeting Martha Stewart.

Naked And Generally Offensive In Vietnam

The shower stall at the hostel in Hanoi was abnormally long. It was almost as though each stall had been remodelled from a lap pool with the door lock and the shower head at opposite ends of the lane. Featuring a second design quirk, the builders had neglected to include more than a towel hook as storage space inside each cubicle. Naturally, this was a fantastic bonus if you wanted to continuously swirl your long wet hair around like a shampoo model at a heavy metal concert, but on the downside it also meant that if clothes were to stay dry, they had to be shoved up on the vanity against the sinks and mirrors in the shared part of the bathroom.

What could be better than a floor plan that encourages streaking from sinks to showers in a co-ed bathroom? Nothing I can think of, that’s for sure.

A few little things had been stolen during my travels through Vietnam. A little hand swiftly grabbed my camera case as soon as I rested it on a ledge in Ho Chi Minh City. Three carabiners had found themselves unclasped from my backpack. My pockets were constantly losing things. These were the warnings; I should never have entrusted a door with a towel.

A mouldy old towel was hanging from the only hook in the shower stall. Gross. I slung my waffle travel towel over the door and got to a rub dub/just relaxin’ in the shower/thinkin’ everythin’ was alright only to turn and face the door from a dazzling Bobby Darin dance manoeuvre TO SEE MY TOWEL RAPIDLY SNAKING OVER THE TOP OF THE DOOR AND DISAPPEARING INTO CERTAIN OBLIVION! Towels don’t fall like that, towels are sneakily stolen like that! It was a 50 yard dash to the door! By the time I’d sprinted to the halfway mark my towel had already been smuggled halfway to Thailand.

“Hello? …Xin chao?”

Silence.

I wandered back to the shower head and turned off the water. No more Bobby D tonight.

I looked at the stranger’s mouldy towel.

The towel looked at me.

The alternative was a nude confidence strut through a mixed-gender bathroom and putting a wet body into dry clothing.

I took the scabby towel, shuddering, and hoping the diseases it was about to give me could be treated with modern medicine.

 

I was in Hanoi for Tet, which is basically a celebration of the entire city shutting down. Everything is closed. Everything  except propaganda stalls.

After a frustrating hour of wandering the city, I realised just how limited my options were.

In the only shop that I could find that didn’t resemble Communist HQ, I asked a girl if she sold towels. The language barrier emerged.

“I’m sorry”, she said in a pretty Vietnamese accent, “but I do not know what is…”, then the accent morphed into a hideous Australian nasal twang to pronounce the word I had just taught her, “tawll“. Good grief, is that how I sound? “Tawll?” She saw my distress and tried to clarify, once more butchering her otherwise pretty intonations, “Tawll?”. Stop saying that! “Tawll”, she continued, “No tawll”. Alright, alright, “Thanks, thank you.”

 

I bought a Vietnamese flag.

It was the only decent sized piece of material I could find. It wasn’t ideal but the satin towel market has been left largely unexplored by the manufacturing community so I felt there could even be some business potential, and where better to start a new capitalist enterprise than communist Vietnam?

I showered that night. I showered with all the happiness and confidence of a Queen with a flag tawll secured under a bottle of shampoo that was 100 per cent most definitely inside the cubicle.

I stepped out of the shower/ I put my feet on the floor/ I wrapped the towel around me/ And I opened the door.

An American backpacker brushing his teeth stopped and looked at me in disgust.

I stood still, somewhat proudly, wrapped in red satin with a giant yellow star emblazoned over my chest.

“DUDE”, he spat, “That is so offensive.”

Australians Don’t Even Understand Australians (Abbreviating is Out Of Control)

Davo: ‘Fresno’, that’s the short version of ‘San Fran’, right?

Me: Haha, what? No, ‘San Fran’ is the shortened version.

Davo: Wait… (adjusts his sunnies) What are you saying?

This convo took place yesty arvo with the rellies over flat whites… There weren’t any tinnies in stubbies – it was more brolly weather.