Are you planning to move to Canberra? As the nickname "bush capital" implies, Canberra is a bit different from your typical city, but also different from a typical country town.
Surprise 1: Why are there so many people?
On first look, Canberra seems to be empty. There are more trees and cockatoos than people. There are barely pedestrians outside of rush hours. However, when you visit a modest-looking shopping centre such as Belconnen Westfield. Gee! The mall is packed...Canberra is designed to be a city hidden behind trees, and don't be fooled by the facade.
Surprise 2: Why is it so hard to find parking?
Most of ACT is bushland. You would imagine there are heaps of open space for parking, and will be surprised that finding free parking is becoming increasingly difficult. The reason is that ACT is slowly developing its existing open-air car parks into apartment complex. Finding a free car park becomes a game of musical chair. If you are not an early bird, chances are you need to pay and find yourself in a busy parking structure.
Surprise 3: Why does a small city have traffic jam?
Over the past few years, Canberra has become a lot more congested. Canberra was originally designed for 30,000 people. Who would move to a cold country town in the bushland? Now, Canberra has about 400,000 people and counting. However, there are only two streets in the city that connect the northern and the southern part: Commonwealth Avenue and Kings Avenue. To make it worse, Kings Avenue is not a thoroughfare as it ends abruptly at the Campbell defence complex. That's why you will be stuck in traffic on most days during rush hours on Commonwealth and Northbourne Avenue.
Sometimes it takes a while to get used to Canberra. But I assure you, once you get used to it, you will love the close-knit community and small-town feel.
At the age of 10, he found out he has mild Asperger's syndrome, but he wanted to have a good social life.
He decided he would work 10 times as hard as others on his social skills.
His method was trial and error. He decided to practice conversation any time. Once, he initiated a conversation with a girl reading calculus on the bus, "this is not a light read." The conversation started, and she ended up showing him around town.
Since he was a child, he started practicing fencing. He mustered the courage to approach others to crash at their places for free during tournaments.
Throughout tournaments, he found that his passion for fencing is because of his passion for travelling and connecting with people.
So he quit his mechanical engineering degree at University of New Brunswick, started his backpacking tour around Europe and United States.
He watched a movie called Yes Man. He decided that saying yes will bring him the gift of serendipity of life. Saying yes is more risky, but it is much more fun. In Hawaii, some stranger told him that Australia is fun.
So he said yes to Australia, and came to Australia this February on a working-holiday visa.
He said yes to quitting. He gave the middle finger to a manager that he didn't like. And the owner gave him his business card with a smile, and told him he had intended to do that for a long time.
He said yes to love. He improved his dating skills by saying yes to all of his Tinder matches. Now he is happily in a relationship with a smart, beautiful, and artistic entrepreneur/singer. When he goes back to Canada next year, she will join him.
Even when the day after the tournament is over, he can barely stand up because of the pain.
Even when he hasn't been paid for 6 weeks and has only $11 left because someone makes a mistake in bank account details.
Even when someone gives him feedback that he is "being condescending".
His cheerful spirit, ability to connect with people, and willingness to experiment and learn somehow reminded me of Benjamin Franklin, the only man on the US dollar bills who is not a president.
Disclaimer: I do not receive any compensation from Salsabor for writing this article. This is purely my personal experience.
When I was a kid, I always got laughed at for missing easy passes during soccer and basketball games. Never did I see myself as nimble or flexible. During dance parties, I was usually a wallflower on the side.
One day Jackson told me about Salsabor, my childhood fear of getting laughed at kicked in. But Jackson told me, "People in the Latin dance community in Canberra are positive and supportive. Even though you are a beginner, experienced dancers will still dance with you."
So I signed up for beginner salsa and never turned back. Instructors at Salsabor are passionate. Amy Walker would always give me nice tips on improving the moves, "make sure your hands are holding up." JP told me, "basics are important." Other instructors, such as Hamed, James, Jenny, Jasmine..., impressed me with their moves. Their stories prove that it is absolutely possible to learn salsa at any age, regardless of background.
And the learning experience was fun. During lessons JP would substitute the music lyrics with his own improvisation while using Spanglish for steps "uno dos tres, cinco seis site". In ACT, there are a few Latin dance events such as the Thursday night social at Corazon, and monthly Salsa on Saturday (SOS) events.
According to the Paul Zak in his TED talk, dancing increases oxytocin levels. Plus it is much more fun to dance than to just sit and drink.
One thing is certain, I will keep learning salsa in 2016.
Lachlan was fuelled by passion. When he started talking about 90 Day House, his eyes lit up.
"When the lawyer doesn't get back to me, I feel the agony," Lachlan stared into the distance, "I definitely need legal advice." Lachlan knows what he wants, and he wants it to happen ASAP. Friends around him, including me, get inspired by his confidence.
His confidence comes from the fact that he built a house for his mom and himself in the backyard from the ground up. He calls is the 90 Day House, but it actually took him 40 days while working full time. He knows that if he can learn to build one himself, and others can too. The best way to know what we can do is to do it.
Instead of attending uni, Lachlan created his own education program, which reminds me of Richard Branson. By traveling around the world, learning different ideas from people, helping and receiving help, he constantly grows. Like a sponge, he learnt using Gantt chart and risk analysis to properly manage the project. These are things taught in a graduate level project management course. And he turned 21 this year. On his wall, he has a list of 28 human emotional biases. One of them is curiosity, and I asked him what it means. "For example, a friend of mine says you suck…" I tilted my head and arched my eyebrow immediately before I consciously realised it. I wanted to know more.
With a growing fan base, Lachlan is keen on innovating some of the communication process, partially inspired by 4 Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss, and by a hilarious article about a guy automating all of his workflow.
"I want to build a city with 3D printing. With technology matures, the building industry will be disrupted. And our buildings suck," Lachlan said. By teaching young people how to build a house themselves, Lachlan wants to solve the housing crisis, empower young people to pursue their passion, and eventually transform our cities.
Lachlan will run a crowd funding campaign for the project, and he has a few concerns: 1. He has been focusing on he product and hasn't been focusing on talking to people. 2. He wants the instruction videos and manuals to be so understandable that building houses becomes as easy as building IKEA furnitures.
Historically, people with vision suffer from the chronic reality check. Alexander the Great stopped in India before his troops conquered the world, Steve Jobs stepped down from Apple CEO before he could personally take iPad to the market , and Lachlan needed to scale down his house from two-story to one-story in order to be more feasible. "Eventually the house will be two-story with a full bathroom."
In the garden, there is an unfinished chess game. "I love chess," Lachlan said. I look forward to seeing his next move, and how the entire future of 90 Day House unfolds.
Every morning, he woke up in the scorching sun, harvesting wheat in the field outside of Moree. He is used to repetitive labour like that, because he grew up in a Kibbutz called HaSolelim (הסוללים). Later, he served in the Navy for three years, since compulsory military service is part of rite of passage for most Israelis. The video above shows his unit. What a unique experience is that!
After 40 days of intense labour, Ido got a natural orange tan, drove down the country road, and was on his way to Victoria to milk the cows before finishing up his working-holiday visa requirements.
Despite the hard yakka and long hours of driving, Ido has the enthusiasm of a social activist. His arms and legs were literally waving around while talking. Currently, Ido is channeling his passion into exploring different culture. After Australia, he is heading to Japan next year.
As always, I was very evangelical to share my passion for living in Canberra. He felt a little regretted that he was not able to budget more time visiting the place. That was expected, since Canberra-bashing is a national sport. Most people got the good-intentioned advice that "there is nothing to do in Canberra".
Ido is still trying to decide between going to university in Israel versus Germany. He started learning Python, but still trying to figure out an IT related major is right for him. "In Heifa, we have Technion. Students have to study so hard there, and many smoke weed to relax."
When I was 23, I was in a crossroad about the meaning of life. In a way, I see part of myself in him.
Colin arrived one day after a series of terrorist attacks in Paris.
After all, he is from District 20 of Paris, close to the Bataclan theatre, where the explosion happened. Even though he was away from the scene, some of his friends live around the area. The anxiety of keeping up with what happened over there flashed across his face now and then.
I was surprised that Colin is impressed by the Australian democracy, considering that Paris is one of the birth places for liberty. Colin is proud of the freedom and equality that the French society provides, but he was positively surprised at the Australian democracy while visiting the Old Parliament House. He especially liked the interactive exhibition experience where he was asked to vote on social issues.
Colin works at a suburban school where many of his students come from around the world. Like inner city schools in Chicago or Sydney, it is not always easy to motivate public school students to study. Based on his experience, Paris is a lot more integrated and diverse than many in the States. "They used to say US is a melting pot, but I visited the country. No. It is so segregated. I was at a night club, and saw white people sat with white people at one table, Asians sitting with other Asians, Latinos sitting with other Latinos. That is terrible. It is not a melting pot, but rather a patchwork."
Freedom of expression is what Colin pursues at his core. It is what motivated him to take a leave from teaching, and travelling around the world for almost a year. It is what motivated him to write plays with creative metaphors. It is what motivated him to stay at some nudists' home in the outback Northern Territory while sawing metal naked. It is what motivated him to sleep under the stars in the heartland. Where will the spirit of freedom take him next?
"I must look like someone running away from the shrink. I carried a one-kilogram teddy bear, and charms that bear the names of my family, which signifies good fortune in Taiwanese culture. To an outsider, I might look like an independent girl, but I am not. I miss my family. I miss my ex."
4 years ago, Chu-Han was at an intersection of her life. She was one semester away from graduation. Despite majoring in economics, economics was never her passion. She wanted to travel the world to search for the purpose of her life. She decided to come to Australia on a working-holiday visa to improve her English.
Her real passion lies in the mountains. Challenges thrill her. Nature energises her. Located in the Pacific volcano belt, Taiwan is a paradise for mountain lovers with majestic peaks and lethal valleys. Through her numerous adventures, she met a boy through mountain climbing and fell in love. He promised to visit her in Australia.
But they broke up before her departure. "I really loved him, but the feeling wasn't reciprocated." Tears streamed down her cheeks.
She decided to try the Bibbulmun Track in Western Australia, as recommended by someone back home. The track was 1000 kilometres long, and she decided to finish it from end to end.
One thing separated her from a typical hiker: She brought with her a hand-made Teddy Bear, with her ex's name sown on the bear's left arm. Every step she walked, she could feel the weight of the bear, but she persisted. The bear made her stand out among the hikers. They would ask her why she brought the bear, and she would tell them the story. Her hiking boots fell off from the bottom, and she tried attaching the bottom using rubber bands while reluctantly heading towards the freeway. But she decided to come back.
The promise held 4 years later. Started in September this year, Chu-Han resolved to finish it. Her feet started to hurt in the middle of the journey. "My feet hurt so bad that I could barely walk. This couple saw me and offered a ride. Before I walked towards the car, I hurt so bad that I started crying out loud." Despite the pain, she visited the stops that she missed from last time. This time she left the Teddy bear at the Bibbulmun office where hikers proudly receive their "end-to-end certificates". It was time to move on.
Fortunately, the doctor said she didn't have bone fracture, but strongly recommended her to rest for the muscles and tissues to heal. She flew to Canberra to recover to prepare for the next leg of hiking.
For Chu-Han, she enjoys the deep connection she makes with others in the bush. "In cities, people are too busy to listen. When we are in the bush, people listen, and they hear me. If I say something they don't understand, they try to guess. Hiking is the best way to improve English. When I was working in a massage shop, all my colleagues speak Mandarin, and I could barely practice English. Clients came for a massage in order to relax, not trying to correct some Taiwanese girl's shitty English."
Chu-Han finished the water in her glass. As the first Couchsurfer at 1913 Collective, she was open and willing to share. I appreciate her courage to share her journey of healing and discovery. She reminds me of Sheryl Stray, who hiked the 2000-kilometer Pacific Crest Trail in the midst of marriage crisis, value crisis, and the death of her mother.
Despite the fact that she grows up in the cosmopolitan Taipei, Chu-Han has the energy of a bush girl. A song by Aviv Gefan (אביב גפן) starts to play in my head, "כי עם הזמן הכל חולף..." (With time going by, everything will pass.) I believe her two attempts of finishing the Bibbulmun track in the past 4 years has made her stronger, wiser, and she is ready to open a new chapter of her life.
When Jesus travelled around the biblical land, he couch-surfed at discples' homes.
After 50 cent got shot, he couch-surfed at his friends' homes to stay under a low profile for a few months to avoid assassins.
When Amanda Palmer toured in her early years, she couch-surfed at fans' homes.
Mao started off to conquer China by couch-surfing around rural areas to build his community.
Her brother and a few other relatives passed away in the same year from cancer, Maly feels that her life is short. She decides to travel and spends all her money.
Born in Laos, Maly went to an international school. Even as a kid, she was much more fluent in French than Laosian. At the age of 14, she and her mother got abandoned by her father and they moved to France.
Maly is of Chinese descent, and one of her dreams was to visit China, her ancestral homeland, as part of her mother's wish. However, she had a bad experience at the custom in Shenzhen. Despite her distinct Chinese look, she spoke no Chinese and held a French passport. That did not stop the custom staff from assuming she is "Chinese" and got pissed at her when she could not understand their questions.
Since she is not tech savvy, she asked someone to create an AirBnb account for her. Somehow her hometown is erroneously displayed as "Gilespie, Illinois."
She feels Canberra is a bit too spreadout for her health condition, as she has diabetes and asthma, but she looks forward to explore the Red Hill at the backyard. "Walking increases my appetite," she says.
She lived in the misdst of Singapore, as urban as one can imagine, and she never expected she would live on a farm in rural Victoria.
She never imagined she would get married, until the day she met Colin in a library and fell in love.
Her life is a documentary, full of dream, soul searching, creativity, and authenticity.
I look forward to the day when she is ready to tell the world what her documentary is about.