Categories
Essay

The Good, the Bad, and the Benign: Back across Bass Strait

Photography and Narrative by Meredith Stephens

“What! A text message at this hour,” exclaimed Alex, reluctantly looking at his phone.

Then his expression turned to concern.

“Gregory, our boat neighbour in George Town, says the boat hatch is open.”

George Town, Tasmania, was a two-hour flight and a one-hour bus ride away from Adelaide. Who could have entered the boat from the hatch? They would have to be both slim and lithe. What could they have taken? Could they have taken the chartplotter – used to navigate, the Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) – used to aid search and rescue or the Automatic Identification System (AIS) – used to track other vessels? We couldn’t sail without them.

“I can’t really bring our flight to Hobart forward because all the seats are gone during the Easter break. We’ll just have to hope for the best.”

Meanwhile, Alex decided to text Gregory back and ask him to take a look through the hatch to determine what might have been stolen. Gregory kindly obliged, and sent Alex a photo of the interior of the boat. The equipment appeared to be in place.

Alex checked the location of the boat on the AIS. It should have been updated daily, but it had been inactive for a few days. That did not bode well.

We spent the next day packing our bags as carefully as possible to avoid excess charges. On Friday Alex, Verity, Katie and I caught the plane from Adelaide to Hobart, and then picked up our rental car. We drove north through the centre of the island to the lush agricultural lands of the Tamar River, passing through towns lined with Georgian buildings constructed with convict labour.

Sculpture at Evandale

We were particularly looking forward to partaking of the best vanilla slices in the world, located in the township of Ross, and I confess that this distracted us from our concern for the safety of the boat equipment.

We sat outside the bakery savouring the vanilla slices as slowly as possible. Who knew whether we would ever be able to come back to Ross?

Then we continued our drive northward to George Town, Australia’s third-oldest settlement, meandering through other towns lined with Georgian buildings. As night fell, we arrived at George Town to our boat home. My fellow crew members were able to climb on the boat from the wharf unaided but I wasn’t tall enough to do this. Alex positioned an upside-down bucket on the wharf so that I could clamber on board. With trepidation we opened the door, now unlocked, and ventured inside. The equipment was still there but it had been unplugged. The lid of the clear plastic box under the monitor was open.

“They’ve taken the spare keys. The gold coins have gone too!” Alex observed.

Alex had prepared a collection of one and two dollar coins in a plastic bag in the clear box to be used for laundromats on shore. So this is what the thieves had been after!

Next Alex checked his wine collection in one of the bilges, “the boat cellar”. This was untouched. The thieves must have entered through the hatch and left through the door. Other than the keys, the only goods that had been stolen were the gold coins for the laundromat – or so we thought. Perhaps they were planning to return, next time through the door.

The theft of gold coins reminded me of advice I had received at the beginning of my teaching career in the 1980s in the city of Whyalla in South Australia. I had been assigned teacher housing by the education department. I was advised by a colleague that when I was away from home, I should leave gold coins in obvious places for youngsters who might break in.

Alex was relieved that they had not taken any navigational or safety equipment, and I was relieved that they had not taken my boat slippers. We were well into autumn and it was cold underfoot.

Despite the break-in we were very fond of George Town, not least due to the camaraderie of our boat neighbours.

On the day of departure, as always, Alex got up before the rest of us to commence the day’s sailing. We were due to head north across Bass Strait towards the mainland. The harbour was generously lit up by the lights in the supermarket carpark on the other side, facilitating the safe exit to the Tamar River.

One of our favourite boat meals was freshly caught fish. Only when looking for a rod one evening did we discover yet another item had been stolen — a heavy-duty tuna fishing rod. This time, rather than using the rod we trolled with a hand reel, and had no trouble catching smaller fish.

Meanwhile someone in George Town was enjoying spending our gold coins and fishing with Alex’s special rod. At least we had our technology to guide our decisions as we crossed Bass Strait, where identifying marine traffic and the right weather conditions was critical. We followed the course Alex had plotted, stopping at the offshore island of Badger Island overnight, East Kangaroo Island and Whitemark for a few hours the following day, then anchoring at Settlement Point for our second night. Based on the Predict Wind forecast, we decided to tuck in for shelter at Outer Sister Island for two nights to wait out a front bringing strong winds. The shore looked tantalisingly close. I asked Alex if we could take the dinghy ashore but, pointing to the shore break, he told me that if we did we would likely capsize. We stayed indoors for the day, reading, writing and longingly looking at the forbidden shore. My preferred pastime is writing, but every now and then I had to force myself to stop and fix my eyes on the horizon as the boat danced over the anchor, to recover from bouts of seasickness.

The forecast was for calmer conditions the following morning. We were ready for the long stint to the mainland, during which there would be no more coves in which to shelter. Alex got up first and departed Outer Sister Island at 6.38 am. We persevered sailing through both day and night. During the day we were rewarded by dolphin sightings as they played alongside and in front of us for about ten minutes a time, before suddenly veering away. During the night Alex and I roused ourselves at midnight to take our turn on the three hour shift until 3 am. Well, to be fair, Alex did the night watch while I forced myself to keep my eyes open.

We arrived at Eden, New South Wales, at 4.20 pm, and secured the boat on a public mooring. Too tired to venture ashore that evening, we relaxed on the boat, ready to explore Eden the following morning.

We had crossed Bass Strait availing ourselves of the technological support of the chartplotter and the AIS. Although the equipment did not spare us the trials of the night watch, it did help us avoid commercial trawlers and container ships in the shipping lanes. If it weren’t for our boat neighbour Gregory back in George Town, the thieves may have returned to steal the crucial equipment which made our crossing of Bass Strait safer. No less importantly, the notorious Bass Strait had been kind to us.

Meredith Stephens is an applied linguist from South Australia. Her work has appeared in Transnational Literature, The Muse, The Font – A Literary Journal for Language Teachers, The Journal of Literature in Language Teaching, The Writers’ and Readers’ Magazine, Reading in a Foreign Language, and in chapters in anthologies published by Demeter Press, Canada.

PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Slices from Life

Messages through Space and Time

Meredith Stephens explores letter writing as an art that can stretch beyond a person’s lifetime and across borders of all kinds

I walked out to the end of the driveway of my Adelaide house, unlocked the letter box, and among the flyers and political brochures, I found a New Year’s card from a Japanese student called Mutsumi. It had been two years since the beginning of the pandemic, and I have been teaching on Zoom ever since. I have never met Mutsumi in person but have taught her for the two years online. When I taught in person in Japan, students would sometimes send a New Year’s card to my local Japanese address, but I had never received one at my Australian address.

New Year is just as important in Japan as Christmas is in my home country of Australia. In the pre-digital age we would send Christmas cards to friends and family destined to arrive on December 24th at the latest. They never arrived on Christmas Day because it was a public holiday. In contrast, in Japan, New Year’s cards are delivered on New Year’s Day and never any earlier. They may arrive later though, as receivers scramble to reply to those from whom they had not anticipated receiving a card. Although I had often received cards as late as the end of the first week in January, I had never received one in February. During the pandemic, international deliveries were experiencing considerable delays and some were even returned to the sender. I was grateful the New Year’s card had traversed the seven thousand kilometres to reach me at the southern coast of the southern Australian continent.

I looked at Mutsumi’s card and realized that the presentation of calligraphy was just as important as the message. Written Japanese is not just a means of relaying a message but also an art form. Primary school children must purchase a calligraphy set and are issued a calligraphy textbook to be used in their weekly calligraphy lesson. Fifteen years ago, when my daughter was in primary school, her homework was to create a piece of calligraphy which read Yama nobori, or ‘Climbing a Mountain’. The image below shows her doing her homework on the kitchen table, carefully pressing the calligraphy brush into the ink before she writes the characters on the rice paper.

English handwriting was also elegant in the writing of our forebears, although it wasn’t written with a brush. Here is a postcard written by my great great grandfather to my grandmother when she was about five, around 1907 when they cost only one penny to send. It reads, “Dear Emilie, Hope you had a good sleep last week and that you are feeling fit for school again next week. Love to all, From Grandfather.”

Although the writing is ornate the content is quotidian. The affection for his granddaughter is revealed not just in the message but also in the handwriting style.

A handwritten postcard, whether it is written in Japanese in 2022 or in English in 1907, may be considered an aesthetic work. Handwriting conveys both the literal meaning of the words and the feelings for the recipient. As Kathleen Parker reminds us[1], the pleasure of receiving a letter is that both the sender and the receiver have touched the same piece of paper. The postcard above has been touched by both my great great grandfather and me, at an interval of 115 years. I am sure that when he was writing to his granddaughter asking after her health in 1907, he never imagined that his great great granddaughter would be touching and reading it in 2022.

I rarely have a chance to put pen to paper these days, other than when writing a shopping list. My fingers fly across the keyboards almost as quickly as I can think, in a qwerty fingertip language. That’s why I appreciate those who take the time to select and purchase a postcard, and choose a fine pen or brush to produce an elegant written message that I may fondly linger over for years to come.

[1] Kathleen Parker, 2010, as cited in Baron, S. (2015). Words onscreen: The fate of reading in a digital world. Oxford University Press.

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Meredith Stephens is an applied linguist in Japan. Her work has appeared in Transnational Literature, The Blue Nib, The Font – A Literary Journal for Language Teachers, The Journal of Literature in Language Teaching, The Writers’ and Readers’ MagazineReading in a Foreign Languageand in chapters in anthologies published by Demeter Press, Canada.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Slices from Life

Forsaking Distant Hemispheres for the Immediate Locale

Meredith Stephens introduces us to the varied fauna found in South Australia with vivid photographs clicked by her

We seize every opportunity to travel around our home state of South Australia, searching for unexplored towns and dramatic seascapes. These do not disappoint, but the highlights of our trips tend to be unanticipated, such as the flora and fauna that surprise us with their fleeting appearances en route.

We did not necessarily have to leave the house to be surprised by native fauna. Rosellas descended into the garden and perch on the roof to show off their crimson heads, yellow bellies and the blue plumes on their tails. Their visit is especially treasured as it is rare.

Our canine companions’ presence is anything but fleeting. They listen carefully to our instructions, judging our intentions through the direction of our gaze, and the intonation of our voice. If we want them to accompany us in the car, we call them to the garage, open the car door, and urge them to jump in. If we want them to stay in the house when we leave, we tell them so, and they sit with their eyes fixed on us as we go through the door. This eagerness to please is what makes them such easygoing travelling companions.

When we sail to Kangaroo Island, we are frequently accompanied by pods of dolphins. They are curious about the sound of the engine, and swim towards the bow. They swim back and forth in front of the boat, diving in and out of the water and keeping pace with the vessel in a performance for the sailors. They accompany us for about five minutes before disappearing. We hardly have time to feel bereft, because before long another pod approaches and provides the same performance.

Once on Kangaroo Island, we drive to the township of American River, named after American sealers who visited in 1802.  No sooner do we park at the wharf, than we spot seals on the rocks. We had thought that we would need to visit Seal Bay and pay an entrance fee to see seals, but here they are lazily resting in the bay in American River.

Once back on the mainland we decide to drive to the distant Eyre Peninsula in order to view the majestic seaside cliffs at Elliston. We enjoy strolling along the top of the cliffs and witness the ocean relentlessly pounding into the shoreline. We are just about satiated, but nevertheless decide to visit nearby Venus Bay. Here we are greeted by pelicans sunning themselves on the beach.

Driving back on the long dusty roads crisscrossing the peninsula we spot sleepy lizards slowly making their way across the roads. Every time we spot one we have to break and gently swerve to avoid them.

Then, as we approach the shore, a Rosenburg’s Monitor rustles in the grass. After detecting our presence, she makes a hasty retreat.

Finally, closer to home, in the undulating hills south of Adelaide, our attention is taken by a Clydesdale horse in a paddock. We stop the car so I can greet him. He walks towards me hoping to be rewarded by a carrot or an apple, but I am empty-handed. His forelock sweeps across one eye and is about the same length as my hair.

We have not had to visit a zoo or an aquarium. The tourist brochures have been helpful but none could have prepared us for the fleeting appearances of rosellas, dolphins, seals, pelicans, sleepy lizards, Rosenberg’s Monitors and a Clydesdale. As Alain de Botton reminds us in The Art of Travel. “Try, before taking off for distant hemispheres to notice what we have already seen.” Due to the pandemic, taking off for distant hemispheres is no longer straightforward. I am forced to pay attention to what I have already seen.

Meredith Stephens is an applied linguist in Japan. Her work has appeared in Transnational Literature, The Blue Nib, The Font – A Literary Journal for Language Teachers, The Journal of Literature in Language Teaching, The Writers’ and Readers’ MagazineReading in a Foreign Languageand in chapters in anthologies published by Demeter Press, Canada.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Travel

Planes, Trains & Automobiles

I should like to rise and go
Where the golden apples grow;—
Where below another sky
Parrot islands anchored lie...

-- Travel, RL Stevenson (1850-1894)

December is often a time when we look forward to a vacation and travel. Through the pandemic ravaged years, moving out of the house itself had become a challenge. Now as the world opens up slowly (hopefully the Omicron variant of the virus will be more benign), travel stretches its limbs to awaken to a new day with new trends and rules. Borderless invites you to savour of writing that takes you around the world with backpackers, travellers, hikers, sailors and pirates — fantastical, imaginary or real planned ones in a post-pandemic world. Enjoy!

Poetry

In the Honduran Dusk

Lorraine Caputo takes us on a visit to a small Garífuna village on Honduras’ Caribbean coast. Click here to read.

The Voyages of Caracatus Gibbon

Rhys Hughes time travels back to the first century voyaging vicariously with his imagination and a Welsh king who resisted Roman invasion. Click here to read.

Pirate Blacktarn gets Lost

Have you ever got lost while traveling like Pirate Blacktarn? Who can help the pirate find his way… Narrated by Jay Nicholls, click here to read.

Classics

Travel & Holidays: Humour from Rabindranath

Do you enjoy babysitting nieces, nephews on trips and have you ever traveled with ‘hundreds of pieces of luggage, a few coolies, five women and only one man’? Tagore did. Somdatta Mandal translates hilarious writings from young Tagore on travel. Click here to read.

The Witch

Travel through Bengal with Shorodhoni, a woman dubbed a ‘Daini’ or witch, in her quest to find a home in Aruna Chakravarti’s translation of Tarasankar Bandhopadhyay’s poignant story. Click here to read.

Gliding down the Silk Road

“Stories that tell us about human lives and human emotions highlight one simple thing: Humans are the same everywhere.” That is what Ratnottama Sengupta concludes as she vicariously travels through the famed route from the past. Click here to read.

Around the World

Antarctica

Click here to read Keith Lyon’s travels in Antarctica and savour the photographs he clicked.

Adventures of a Backpacking Granny

Sybil Pretious takes you on her adventures that start at sixty years of age with photographs and narration.

St Petersburg, Russia

Click here to read.

Mount Kiliminjaro

Click here to read.

Lake Baikal in Siberia

Click here to read.

Baoying, Rural China

Click here to read.

Volcanic Lake Toba. Photo Courtesy: Sybil Pretious

Philippines, Volcanoes & More

Click here to read.

Indonesia

Click here to read

Myanmar

Click here to read John Herlihy’s exhilaration with Myanmar in a pre-pandemic world in four-parts.

Australia

Click here to read Meredith Stephens’ sailing experiences between Adelaide and Kangaroo island.

Pandemic Diaries

Click here to read how Sunil Sharma moved continents, pausing in Maldives to find a new home in Canada.

Categories
Musings

Distant Worlds Converging on Screens during the Global Pandemic

By Meredith Stephens

Adelaide is half an hour ahead of Japan, and today while in lockdown in Adelaide I keep an eye on the clock so I can join a meeting over 7000 kilometres away in Japan. Ten years ago this would have been a scene in a science fiction novel (at least for me), but now I just have to click a link and I can participate in meeting in a distant place and in a different language. Until now my worlds of Australia and Japan have been hermetically sealed. It has been impossible to be simultaneously present in both, but this crisis has brought them together for the first time. I can sit in front of the screen and attend a meeting in Japan, with the comforting presence of my ageing Labrador snoozing at my feet in Adelaide.

Until now my worlds have been separated by distance, language, culture, friends, acquaintances, food, pets, seasons, flora and fauna. Despite these innumerable differences we share one important commonality — the time zone. Adelaide shares its longitude with Japan and is only thirty minutes ahead in the Australian winter, and ninety minutes ahead in the Australian summer. Few have shared my two worlds other than family, a few friends, and a few students. When I go to check in at the airport in Adelaide the ground staff have never heard of the Japanese city where I live. I am the sole person regularly making this particular commute. I rarely tire of having parallel lives in locations which don’t intersect. My work is in Japan, and when I am there, I commute to the workplace, visit the shops and go to the doctor by bicycle. In spring I can enjoy plum blossoms, cherry blossoms, azaleas, irises and hydrangeas. What’s more, nothing rivals the stark beauty and symbolism of Japanese gardens.

I have Japanese friends, so I can enjoy daily conversations in their beautiful language. I can exchange emails in a language which is flexible enough that it can be written both horizontally or vertically. I also have English-speaking friends, mainly Americans and Canadians. It’s very exciting to make North American friends from such distant places as Arkansas, South Carolina, Philadelphia, New York and Spokane in the US, and Quebec, Ontario and Vancouver in Canada. I could never hope to meet such friends in Adelaide, which is in the southern hemisphere and faces the Southern Ocean. So my world has expanded not just because I am in Japan but also because of my ex-patriate friends.

In Adelaide my world is characterized by immediate and extended family, my doggie, and native birds with distinctive birdsong that you will not hear anywhere else. It is always a great pleasure to arrive in Adelaide back from Japan and be woken early in the morning to a family of cackling kookaburras, magpies, and lorikeets.

In the older suburbs, the spaces between houses are wide enough that you can forget that you have neighbours and imagine you are living in the country. Japan has taught me to be alert to seasonal change, and has enhanced my enjoyment of the Australian spring, when I can enjoy golden wattle, bottle brushes, eucalyptus flowers, jacaranda and roses.

It’s gratifying to participate in two different cultures and landscapes as I commute between Japan and Australia. However, each side is pulling my allegiance in a different direction. My colleagues in Japan think that I take off to Australia too often, and my family in Australia tell me it is time to come home. Each side seems to be unaware of how important the other side is to me. I feel guilty that I cannot please both parties, but I can give up neither. I hope the decision will be taken out of my hands. There is a word in Japanese to indicate the struggle between two children when they fight for a toy and neither will let go- toriai – and I feel like that toy which is being pulled in two directions.

It has taken a global pandemic for these two worlds to converge. Protecting people’s health has led to Australia’s international and state borders being closed. International flights have been cancelled. My lifestyle of commuting to Japan has come to an abrupt halt. Social distancing has been imposed. Shops, other than supermarkets and pharmacies, are closed. Most medical appointments are now by telehealth. Meanwhile my employer has entreated me to return to Japan and I feel guilty for refusing, but I am frightened of both the trip and being marooned in a country where I have no family.

A hurried solution to this has been online participation in meetings. This has been facilitated because of sharing a common time zone. If I were in America or Europe I might find myself participating in meetings during the night. My hitherto mutually irreconcilable worlds are finally converging. I have been able to click on a link and hear the familiar voices of Japanese-speaking colleagues from the comfort of my Adelaide sofa, with my faithful doggie at my feet. Never has participation in a meeting been so pleasurable. I can listen to my sweet Labrador’s regular deep breathing, progressing to gentle snoring as she rests, oblivious to this international communication. When I rest my eyes on the computer screen during the meeting I see the familiar Japanese writing, and watch the movement of the mouse as the moderator indicates the progression of the agenda. Meanwhile the intense Australian sunshine forces its way through the slats in the blinds. For the first time I might be able to hear kookaburras competing for my attention during a meeting which is being held in Japan. The hermetic seal between these two worlds over 7000 kilometres apart has been punctured, and I feel a sense of relief that the familiar voices of Japanese colleagues can reach me not only in the southern hemisphere, but also on the southern coast of this Antipodean continent.

Meredith Stephens is an applied linguist in Japan. Her work has appeared in Transnational Literature, The Blue Nib, The Font – A Literary Journal for Language Teachers, The Journal of Literature in Language Teaching, The Writers’ and Readers’ MagazineReading in a Foreign Language, and in chapters in anthologies entitled What’s Cooking Mom? Narratives about Food and Family, The Migrant Maternal: “Birthing” New Lives Abroad, and Twenty-First Century Friendship, all published by Demeter Press, Canada.