Wednesday, July 01, 2009


By the time we woke up on our last morning on the train, it was clear that we had left the desert and were approaching the coast. The land was considerably more lush, turning to farmland, and we saw some kangaroos. (One was standing in the middle of a field of sheep, looking as though it were trying to blend in.) As the sun came up, we saw a group of hot-air balloons lifting off over the hills outside of town.

Already Perth seemed different from the rest of dusty Western Australia. It soon became clear that Perth is just different, period. We learned on the train that the city is closer to Singapore than it is to Sydney. Perth was founded and to an extent still is populated by people who have made their fortunes in the goldfields. Consequently, Perth, like Kalgoorlie, has a little bit of a wild-west feel to it. Or, as a tattooed, chain-smoking cab driver told me, “We’re a little oker here.” (An “oker” is essentially an Australian redneck. Oh, and the driver was a woman.)

Both Pipi and I noticed independently that there were a large number of walking wounded in our neighborhood, which was close to a shopping district and otherwise seemed respectable. People just seem to hurt themselves in Perth. I got a hint as to how this might be happening our first evening in town. Walking to dinner at about 7pm, we saw a man getting out of a cab who was already falling-down drunk. I know he was falling-down drunk because the first thing he did after getting out of the cab was to fall down. Then he began yelling at the driver, who shouted back, but finally just drove away.

I also, for the first time in my life, saw someone who was literally spitting mad. He was walking down the street with a woman, and something she said must have set him off, because he stormed off across an intersection against the light, alternately swearing at her, shouting blasphemous things at the sky, and expectorating into the street. The light had not yet turned and the woman was still waiting to cross the street legally when I got to the intersection myself. I could hear the mad man, who was halfway down the next block, still yelling and spitting. She looked at me, smiled apologetically, and said, “He’s a little angry today.” I guess I’d be upset, too, if I kept hurting myself all the time.

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