Wednesday, July 11, 2012

When the Tardis Landed in Cairns

I stepped out of the airport and felt like I was stepping out of the Tardis. After whirling through space and time continuum, I slammed into a parallel, yet alternative universe. Once it had skidded into its characteristic screeching, grinding, and wheezing halt, I pushed open the police box door and stared about me in shock. Cairns, Australia was definitely a destination worthy of the Doctor.

In case you aren't familiar with the Doctor and the Tardis, his time machine, they are a part of a quirky sci-fi BBC TV show that shows you how strange we can get in Papua New Guinea.
Okay, so maybe I had been watching too much Dr. Who recently. But the flight sure seemed to occur like that!

My subconscious tried to make sense of the chaos—since I was no longer in PNG, I must be in the US...right? But, that didn’t make sense zipped along on the other side of the road and the currency in my purse rivalled a rainbow. About a minute and a half later, I found myself sighing with relief. No, this wasn’t the US; actually, it was a place that did reasonable things, like drive on the correct side of the road and colour-code their bills!

Some call it reverse culture shock, and some call it re-entry stress. I honestly didn’t think it would affect me much—this was just a week-long holiday with my aunt before she departed for the US. After all, I’d only been in PNG for a year—how much could my thinking and perspective have changed?

Go ahead and laugh. You know what’s coming: I was in for an adventure.

See the striping. Feel the striping. Love the striping.
From the airport, I stepped into the frigid (i.e., air-conditioned) clean car that still had all its mirrors and seat belts (which actually worked) and windscreens (which weren’t spiderwebbed with packaging tape repairs) and didn’t cough out dust and dirt. My first thought? There were no footpaths alongside the road. In fact there were no dogs, people, or buai (betel nut) stands either. Amazed thought number 2: not only were there no potholes in sight (much less the craters of PNG), but (get this) there was striping on the road.

Striping! Who would have thought?

Just imagine, it all lights up at night like a Christmas tree!
And so we travelled along and I goggled at all the cars. Clean cars, to be precise (and not all 4WD trucks or PMV vans). Actually, not only clean, but cars that stopped at working stoplights (stoplight, what’s that?) and obeyed signs (signs? There are street signs?). I felt paranoid about needing to log off my internet connection (both free and fast!!) and secretly rebellious about being able to see all your facebook and blog pictures. I walked into ground-level houses (no stilts) and saw nary a building without a metal or shingled roof. The shower had water pressure, and I could drink straight from the faucet. I didn’t have to bleach vegetables, break matches while lighting the stove, or carry toilet paper in my purse. My aunt and I caught the bus downtown, and I gawked at the floodlit city when the clock said night.

(Let me state that again in case you missed it, two women rode public transportation by ourselves in the city... and then we did the same thing at night to get back! Scandalous!)

I could read all the signs, and didn’t have to duck through doorways. I wasn’t stared at, called at, clustered around, or shied from... in fact, I was the one who felt slightly intimidated to be surrounded by so many more “whiteskins” than I had seen in one spot for a long time.

And I thought I wouldn’t be affected...hehehe. My poor aunt probably thought I was either drugged or seriously demented as I attempted to casually stroll alongside her, all the while, craning my neck, gasping in astonishment, and generally gaping at the world passing by.

Stores...real clothing stores on a clean, wide sidewalk!
In some ways, the entry into Cairns was like jumping into a swimming pool—the shock of cold water leaving you gasping for breath, the feeling of weightlessness and lack of control, before you find your stroke, attempt to adapt to this new environment. I had been warned about some parts (I’ll tell you more about The Grocery Store Experience) and stumbled into others (I didn’t expect to cry over aesthetics). Some were exhilarating (ready to hear about all the foods I got to eat?!) and some seemed natural (such a glorious, comfortable bed!). I recognized and accepted new things about myself (I walk slower than I used to) and struggled with others (I had no idea wearing jeans and seeing my knees again would be so uncomfortable). It was stressful and relaxing, aggravating and refreshing. It reminded me that my roots are in this Western world, my branches stretch and grow from PNG, but ultimately my citizenship is in heaven.

In many ways, I was amazed at how seven days could result in such a conundrum of emotions and responses...

But, I suppose that is to be expected. After all, that’s what happens when you travel to Cairns in the Tardis. :)