July 9, 2010

White Bums in Sydney- the End of the Western Civilization?

I am in the middle of Sydney, Australia. It is a cool, wintry day in August. The skyscrapers around and above me are filled with light , and a huge moon hangs over the city as the lazy puffs of vapor, coming out of the chimneys and exhaust outlets, rise into the crisp, southern skies.

I look around me and I see what I did not quite expect to see in Australia ( maybe because I had been watching too many re-runs of Crocodile Dundee)- I see many people jostling around, but they do not look like Paul Hogan; most of them have Asian faces, that is. They appear well dressed and happy, their clothes are crisp and stylish, the expressions on their smiling faces seem to show deep satisfaction with their lives. Around me, there are stores and restaurants selling mostly Chinese and Korean foods. They are all full, and there is no place to sit. There is only one word to describe downtown Sydney- prosperity, and it is Asian prosperity. I, in fact, feel that I am in Seoul or Hong Kong. Except that here I do not see nervous people or hustlers. They all look relaxed and rich, or at least, very comfortable.

A young Asian couple, hand in hand, a pretty girl and a bespectacled young man, stroll purposefully past me. They have that successful and confident-of-their-future look as they animatedly gaze at, and discuss various expensive items in display windows. I watch them go into a store. I walk in after them and check out the prices. A silk tie is Au$175?! That is about $140 US. For a tie? In many places in Asia you can by a similar tie for just a few bucks! Most customers, who are Asian, look enthusiastic, and I see no shock on their faces as they carry shopping bags full of the outrageously priced items out the doors of these ultra expensive, glitzy stores. I am a traveler on a $100 a day budget which includes my small hostel room, so I watch those shoppers with envy, and sigh at my own small expense account as I walk down to the rail station, since I think it would be too expensive for me to take a taxi.

All of a sudden, I hear a voice with a Crocodile Dundee accent - “G’d evenin’ mate, ( “mate” is pronounced as ‘mite’) woudj’u by aynee chance be ible t’spare two dollars? “ and I see my first Caucasian face in a long time. He looks like a typical Outback Aussie, with a weathered countenance and a shuck of gray hair. I‘d say he is in his early sixties. His clothes are old and worn, and the expression on his face is wistful- the same that I would see on the visages of poor Bangladeshis working in the Middle East. He looks at me sheepishly, while laughing Asian passer-bys give him a wide birth. “Jis’ two bloody dollars, please, mite” he looks at me again, while crouching as if expecting me to hit him.

The Australian $2 coin is one of the smallest, so, I guess, local beggars prefer to ask for those rather than for the one-dollar ones. If in the US, they ask you for a quarter; here, there are no quarters, only 20c coins. Everything is rather expensive, too, and the 20c and one dollar denominations are larger in size, plus their purchasing power is not that great. Thus, the beggars have discovered that the $2 coins were the easiest and the most sensible ones to try to get from the people they ask for money.

I give him $2, he thanks me and walks away feebly into the throngs of briskly walking East Asian pedestrians who, upon seeing him, shun away again and speed up as if they saw cholera. As I myself walk away, I hear more “Good evenin’ mite‘s” being uttered by the hobo towards the smooth flowing torrents of gallant and well -groomed Asian shoppers. “ Wou’j’yah spare two dollars, mite? I need t’ get t’ Canberra!” Eventually, his piteous figure disappears into the dynamic and wealthy-looking sea of the Asian pedestrians.

“It’s pathetic!“ ,I mumble to myself and decide to postpone my return to the hostel. I take another look around. At the corner, I see another “Paul Hogan“, sitting on the asphalt of the street corner, with cardboard signs around him asking for small sums of money. A relatively short distance away, there is yet another one- this one looks like one of those Scottish warriors from the movie “Braveheart“. He is looking up at the affluent Asian crowds above him with the wet eyes of a puppy asking to be petted. As he is ignored, he lowers his gaze in the shame and resignation of defeat. I throw him a coin and he gives me a look of unbelieving gratitude. “Thanks, mite!”

It does look like the precursor of things to come- the “Caucasian race” turning into sorry-looking beggars as vibrant Asians stride confidently towards the future of material comfort, professional success and happiness, leaving the pitiful Caucasians behind to beg on the streets of Sydney, Auckland, and many other “formerly” Western cities. Is this the end of the Western civilization as we know it?

It may sure look like it in Sydney, and if I were an Australian who does not travel, I would probably get that same impression. However, I am a traveler, plus I do read the news and do quite a bit of research on the Web. This is an illusion. The thing is, the Australian government does not want poor or uneducated, unskilled Asian people in the country. Or any other poor and unskilled people there for that matter. The only Asians ( or non-Asians) that are allowed to move or travel to Oz are the ones who are either wealthy or professional. Or tourists with money. No bums, Asian or otherwise, from other countries are allowed in, as a rule. Hence, the only beggars there can be the poor, bummed out locals, and these end up in the downtown areas because that is where the crowds are. Downtown locales are popular with tourists and recent immigrants, but not so much with the natives or those who have been in the country for a while, for these have long ago moved on to the wealthier, and more comfortable, suburbs.

But even in Blacktown, a largely immigrant suburban enclave on the outskirts of Sydney, bristling with vivacious and enthusiastic crowds of Indians, Filipinos, Sudanese, Fijians and Samoans, all briskly going about their business with self-assured expressions of purpose and gusto on their faces, I eventually come upon a pale face of a young Caucasian beggar who comes out at me from the shadows of the bushes near the station.
“Couj’yah spare two dollars, mite? I need t’get t’ Sydney”.

I guess they all stake out places where there are the biggest crowds no matter what their ethnic composition is. Those beggars are something else! And the impression they make on the visitor to Australia is both comical and tragic. But most of all, they do give you the wrong impression of the demise of the Western world which may be exploited by quite of few propagandists for dubious purposes. I do, therefore, wish the Australians would import a few beggars from Asia just to be fair.


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