"Wealth will increasingly be defined by our ability to go offline whenever we want." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Travel
July 7, 2010

Thoughts From Great Heights

Former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating was renowned for his acerbic put-downs and insults. One that sticks in the mind was his comment that the best way to the city of Darwin was from 40,000 feet, en route to Paris, while sipping Champagne. Funny as that put down was, it was also disappointing. For one […]

Former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating was renowned for his acerbic put-downs and insults. One that sticks in the mind was his comment that the best way to the city of Darwin was from 40,000 feet, en route to Paris, while sipping Champagne.

Funny as that put down was, it was also disappointing. For one who was, perhaps, Australia’s most visionary and Asian-oriented of leaders, to not foresee how Darwin could have become a truly Asian gateway city (with some planning and commitment) is almost indefensible.

However, there’s also an unpalatable element of ingratitude in that statement. It’s all too easy to cast cultural aspersions from the lofty comfort of a luxury airline seat.

That fact was not lost on me as I sat down to write this reflection, in seat 1A, en route from Sydney to Adelaide. Having enjoyed a snack in the Qantas Platinum Lounge at the Sydney Domestic Airport, then being shown, by name, to my seat (Frequent Flier privileges), I’m now cruising comfortably, enjoying a drink and awaiting my poached salmon meal.

Who am I to criticise anyone?

Every time I come back to Australia I find it hard to really unwind and relax. Of course, it’s great to see family and wonderful to enjoy the fresh air and open space. But, the popular culture and politics form a more than distracting backdrop.

In the recent Monocle Quality of Life survey, Sydney was described as a city that “…ebbs and flows like the Tasman Sea.” An apt metaphor for a city that oscillates between the breathtakingly beautiful and engaging and the gratingly bad and off-putting.

Some may say that kind of oscillation, between good and bad, is true of every city, which, of course, is a facile oversimplification. Far more revealing is what those oscillations reveal about ourselves and the cultures that live with them. As Australia faces an election to fought, more on less, on the same issues that dominated politics here thirty years ago, as more an more Australians obviously and visibly lose the battle against obesity, as crime and violence continue to increase, it feels on the one hand that the oscillation is really more of a slow downward spiral.

Then again, reading the nearly excellent Creative magazine and the spectacularly sharp Habitus and Audio technology magazines reminds me why Australian design and business ideas are so influential around the world.

There’s a kind of romance in travelling, in being a global nomad. You get to fall in love with, or be seduced by new places, or at least, to explore their charms. Of course, as feelings harden it can become hard to feel that first rush of passion.

Being in London this time last year I had a great time, felt very “at home,” yet was troubled by a lot of things (from crime, to infrastructure, to the over-sexualised popular culture). By contrast, Paris, a city I have never lived in, just won me over. Living in Hong Kong makes me constantly think I’ve spent too many years in Asia, yet I can’t wait to go back to Tokyo!

In a way, the object of my animus is not simply Australian culture, but the present state of my peripatetic lifestyle. I feel no great desire to “settle” in any one place. Yet, I look upon another international move (an inevitability from Hong Kong) with a mix of dread and longing.

Four years in Hong Kong have taught me that what some people prize about that city doesn’t matter much to me and that some things (like cramp living space) will be an eternal frustration. Despite that, this has been a productive year, I’ve finally managed to build a small network of friends and acquaintances and the small patterns of day to day life in Hong Kong are convenient, comfortable and familiar.

Is that enough?

Toni 12 years ago

On Saturday, for the first time ever, we turned left when boarding an aeroplane. The reason, of course, was that they were using the centre door, rather than the front.

My observation is that one can dismiss people and places if they can be stereotyped, but when one actually knows them as individuals then they start to have value. I have noticed this with remote employers, who will try to resist becoming familiar with their staff in other countries in case it causes difficulties when the time comes to fire them.

As for having a home, there’s a quote I faintly remember about the whole point of travel being to enable you to feel a foreigner when you finally returned to your own country. In your case that’s probably been made more difficult by having to first decide which country that would be. I suspect that building successful business networks will not be enough, and may make your next move even more difficult and frustrating, since you’ll be tearing up roots you worked so hard to create. Maybe the next move could be one with a longer term residence in mind, particularly your daughter grows up. We moved house a number of times when I was a child, and it made me want residential stability as I grew older, even to thew point of hating redecorating and change in my teens, and still to a degree now.

    Fernando Gros 12 years ago

    Toni – not having a “home” is certainly an issue for me. In a way it is funny, since I lived in the same house, growing up, for nearly twenty years. I had some deep roots before I started “wandering.” Given the choice, I would like the next move to be, if not permanent, than certainly longer term. I’ve been in Hong Kong for four years now and although it has, for the most part, been a good experience, I never planned to be here that long.

Susie 12 years ago

Hi Fernando,

Just dropped by from the Among Worlds blog. Your blog’s great! Really love the images, plus I’m an Aussie, and find lots to echo with in your latest post.

Take care, keep up the great blogging,

    Fernando Gros 12 years ago

    Susie, thanks for your comments and for stopping by to read.

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