Modern Slavery

Dearest Reader,

I’m at the luxurious point in my life where I have paid off my student loan, and I am finally able to keep the hard-earned dollars to myself.

It is so nice to see your first real savings grow, owing nothing to nobody!

But as I listen and learn from the people around me, what strikes me is how many are so ready and willing to jump right back into overwhelming figures of debt to buy a home. 

Especially if you live in an urban area like I do, a small apartment can easily cost $500,000 and above, in fact I recently saw a garage in Sydney being advertised for $40,000. This saddened me as I realised I could not even afford a garage, let a lone the house it belongs to.

As a matter of fact, I’d be surprised if you found a house in Sydney below $1 million. If you do, it was probably the movie location for the Saw franchise, or the previous owner died in there and was eaten by her cats (which, incidentally, could also be the plot for the next Saw movie).

But think about it – how many of us are currently millionaires, or half-millionaires or will be millionaires by the time we die?

Indeed, all around me people are signing their lives away and committing to several decades of paying off mortgages. Most importantly, if they ever miss a day of work, they’ll be in serious trouble, and at the end of it all, they will have paid for three houses because of all the interest they will have paid to the bank.

Yet, this is completely normal. Everyone does it. And what’s worse, they pressure you to do it, too, because the market is going up, and if you don’t join it you’ll rent forever!!

The underlying message is “Enter the property market at all cost!!”

As I was contemplating this, I came across the Dave Ramsey Show and I admittedly only started watching because both Dave and all his guests tend to have these really stereotypical southern US accents which amuse me (as a linguist). I especially like it when Dave gets a call from someone in Kentucky, I could spend the whole day listening to that conversation and being fascinated.

In any case, he was making interesting points about buying a home, the two simple messages being “Stop pretending to be rich” and “If you can’t afford the house, don’t buy it.”

And I wondered why these messages aren’t the norm.

Why do we prefer being miserably indebted forever and a slave to the lender, rather than leading a simpler life and being free?

Imagine what it would be like to buy property that is within your financial means, and never paying rent or a mortgage again?

Imagine the freedom and independence you’d have! You could work part-time and retire whenever you like!

So, dearest reader, if you are like me and don’t want to sign up for a life of debt despite all the pressure, you don’t have to.

You have other options.

You can live in a garage and start a band while you’re there.

You can move to rural Kentucky where homes are cheap and socialise with some chickens.

You can lease your crappy house to horror movie producers and get some extra cash.

If you really want a $500,000 inner-city home, you need to get a job that pays such dimensions.

Whatever you do, live within your means, and find a way of living that you can afford without asking anyone for money.

Because remember, even if you buy expensive property, and you spend a lifetime anxiously paying off debt, you’ll eventually die and not live in that house, but in some hole in the ground that you don’t need to worry paying for.

And your children, who will inherit your home, will also die, and in fact we will all die when the sun explodes, and none of this will have mattered, and you made yourself all miserable for nothing.

 

Prepare for your own stupidity

Dearest Reader,

If you are anything like me, you hate inconvenience, hassle and mishaps.

In order to avoid these things, I am the kind of anally-retentive person that will plan the day out down to the tiniest detail, and hope it will run smoothly. Life shan’t catch me off-guard and unprepared I say!

But of course, sometimes you are your own worst enemy, and despite all the planning, what you haven’t considered is that you are human and therefore not perfect. Sometimes it is simply your own stupidity biting you in the ass.

It wouldn’t be me if I didn’t tell you that you can also neurotically plan for this. You heard me. I plan my mistakes, and plan how to instantly solve them way ahead of making them.

1.Forgetting things

I am one of those people cursed to take the bus for the rest of their lives because despite being the holder of a licence proving my ability to drive a car, I don’t have the money to buy one, nor do I ever envision having this kind of money.

Instead, I have my rechargeable public transport card (aka ‘Opal card’) and keep it in a little sleeve loosely in my bag to tap on and off as I go about my day.

I cannot capture in words the anxiety and fury when, upon entering the bus, I realise that I left my Opal card at home or in a different bag. Now what?

Well, thanks to my own idiocy-forecast, I now keep a second card in my wallet. If I forget my Opal card, I can use the one in my wallet. If I forget my wallet, I can use my Opal card to get home and get my wallet. If I forget both, I can use my phone to solve all of these problems by taking an Uber. Foolproof.

2.Making a mess

You count the days you’ll be away on holiday.

You pack that number of underpants.

And then you add one more just in case.

While I can proudly say that the last time I peed my pants was in 3rd grade (which is already too old, I know), it was such an upsetting experience that 20 years later I still pack extra underpants.

In fact, I pack an extra item of almost everything just in case of spills, other people’s sticky babies, or just a pigeon shitting on you.

I’m sure this particular fear is so irrational that it is probably diagnosable.

 

3. Math-fail cash

As you know, I try to be frugal and not to spend money frivolously, so I make monthly budgets and it’s been working beautifully.

However, one must always remember one’s weaknesses, and if I have one, it is numbers. Whether it’s birthdays, post codes, phone numbers or money, there is something about digits that doesn’t really resonate with me.

So, I try to be careful, and I use excel and calculators to help me manage my finances.

But of course, excel and your calculator can’t help you if you enter wrong numbers or forget to add some important expenses. It will spit out a budget that is based on wrong information, inevitably leading to a very sad end of the month.

But of course, I am prepared to fail at maths as I have so many times, and I have a tiny savings account dedicated to just that – should I be mistaken and realise I’m a few dollars short, I have an emergency math-fail fund.

Sure, sure. Judge me. But you know you’ve done it too.

4. If all else fails, throw money at the problem

There aren’t many things in this sad world that can’t be fixed with money.

If I find myself without my Opal card, without clean underpants and with no money in my account, I may have to consider taking drastic measures. The last resort.

My credit card.

With one swipe, all is solved.

Because sometimes, dearest reader, you just need to throw money at the problem and get on with life.

 

My Brazilian Dream

Dearest Reader,

Thanks to the work I do, I meet new people from all across the globe every day. Needless to say, this is an incredible privilege, and the exchange of knowledge and culture is absolutely beautiful.

Of course, in such an environment, it is important not to generalise and create stereotypes, positive or negative. While people may represent their country, above all they represent themselves. Indeed, many preconceptions I’ve had were shaken; it turns out not all Italians are great chefs, not all Colombians dance salsa, and not all Japanese are shy.

But there’s one group of people that have continuously been making such a great impression on me, they are slowly becoming my favourite people.

And I am going to shamelessly generalise them.

Brazilians. 

Over the course of my English-teaching career, my many Brazilian students and friends have given me the following impression:

1. Anyone can be from Brazil

Whatever I thought of as ‘looking Brazilian’ isn’t true.

I’ve had people walk into my classroom who looked more like what I’d associate with Swedish models – tall, white, blond and blue-eyed – and at the same time I’ve met gorgeous ladies looking like a Caribbean dream with chocolate skin, all of them from Brazil.

Most importantly, they don’t appear to be fazed by this mix; their response is always: “We’re all from Brazil,” which is such a heart-warming response.

Not surprisingly, whenever I’m mistaken for a Brazilian, I want to hug the whole world!

2. Brazilians love their BBQs

Sydney is full of beautiful beaches, and you know the party is about to start when the Brazilian flag is raised across the BBQ area.

With just really simple things – a bit of meat and a cold beer- the whole place somehow transforms into the coolest club you’ve ever been to. There are friendly people, great music, delicious flavours and, of course, football – heavenly!

And the best thing of all is that whether you’re Brazilian or not, you’re invited to join the party.

3. Brazilians are humble

Despite the 5 stars on their chest, and the positive international reputation of all things coming from Brazil, there is a universal sense of humility; I can’t recall an instance where I thought these people were arrogant.

I am not naive to the issues that exist in Brazil, and it is refreshing to see people who look at their country as a whole, with all its successes and failures, rather than being consumed by shallow pride.

4. Thanks to their great sense of humour, they won’t destroy your Brazilian dream

I have never been to Brazil, but I can’t wait to go.

I have dreams about what it will be like, I imagine going to Rio and seeing people play football on the beach while others play the famous drums and instruments you hear in the stadium.

This is followed by a spontaneously emerging beach party with Samba and Caipirinhas that goes well into the night, and where you finally meet the ultimate embodiment of male perfection who will call you Gostosa and make hot Brazilian love to you all night.

When I tell my Brazilian friends about this admittedly irrational idea, they just wink at each other with amusement and let me live in my fantasy land: “Yes, you’re absolutely right. This is exactly how it is in Brazil, every day!”

There is of course a chance that my impressions are wrong.

Perhaps it’s all just a big scam, perhaps I believe this because I have only met people from a certain social class, and I have not been exposed to the realities and consequences of poverty, crime and despair. Once I’m there, I might be disappointed.

But I sincerely hope I’m right, and until I go and am proven wrong, Brazil shall continue to occupy a special place in my heart.

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20 Days without the Internet

Dearest Reader,

Thanks to mind-blowing levels of incompetence that poisons the service provision industry, I was left without internet access in my apartment for 20 consecutive days.

In this day and age, it is almost unthinkable to spend this amount of time offline, and for good reason. I use Netflix and Spotify, I work and study from home, and all my iPhone messaging services require web access.

I’d like to share with you, dearest reader, how this accidental social experiment unfolded. It was surprisingly similar to the five stages of grief and loss.

Day 1-2: DENIAL

Oh what’s this now? Must be an outage. Not to worry, these things happen. The internet will come back soon. Just use your mobile data for now (bad mistake).

This is what academic literature would describe as “A defence mechanism that buffers the immediate shock of the loss.”

Companies wouldn’t leave me without the internet for days, I thought. This isn’t really happening.

Day 3-6: ANGER 

After realising that this is indeed happening, I spent the following days calling internet providers, being the out-of-her-mind bitch every customer service representative dreads, turning modems on and off, shaking my fist at the injustice and ranting about my situation to every single person I met.

In bed I couldn’t sleep because of the anxiety this situation was causing me.

The bright side was that I tried to distract myself by giving my house a very good clean.

I involved a toothbrush and cleaned areas I didn’t even know existed. It all smells like lemon now.

Day 5-10: BARGAINING

At this point I realised this was going to take longer than anticipated, and anger wasn’t going to help.

In a desperate attempt to regain control, I became an expert on network configuration, I tried to hack into my neighbour’s wifi, sat in cafes for as long as possible stealing wifi without ordering anything, considered rewiring phone cables myself and moving to South Korea where the internet is known to be super amazing and accessible everywhere.

Alas, I have no hacking skills, I spent more than I should have on coffees I didn’t want, and you can’t book a flight ticket to South Korea without the internet!

So, I filled a hard drive with movies I stole from work and pretended to have Netflix. I also found my old iPod nano and pretended it was Spotify, clearly some sort of 2006 playlist.

Cooking. I cooked everything. I baked cinnamon rolls. I entertained the thought of killing a crustacean and making a fancy French meal. But of course, lobster recipes can only be found on the.. you know.. oh God…

Day 11-15: DEPRESSION 

Faking it only works so long before the truth dawns on you. I was excluded from the rest of the world, I was disconnected, and the shackles of my offline existence slowly began to rub and burn on my skin.

So, with varying beverages in my hand, I sat in a chair, stared out of the window and contemplated life, the world, God, the universe.

While some might say this would be a spiritual experience, it was truly depressing.

If you think about these things too much, you start feeling overwhelmed by your lack of understanding of the meaning of life, and upset for all that is wrong with our existence.

Eventually, your heart simply starts bleeding for the world and all you can do is surrender to this agonising Weltschmerz.

This pain was intensified as I ran out of mobile data.

Day 16-19: ACCEPTANCE

Darwin already hinted towards this a long time ago: Adapt or Die.

As dying is the less favourable option at my tender age, I decided to simply accept this situation and work around it. I developed an efficient schedule which allowed me to fulfil all my online needs in the office in the morning, and accept the fact that at home, I’ll need to do something worldly rather than virtual.

I imagined walks in the park, maybe spending more time on the beach, going out more and socialising, maybe even doing an Eat, Pray, Love kind of thing when…

Day 20: IT IS BACK!!

Tears of joy streaming down my face, I abandoned all previously mentioned plans and wanted to google my every thought.

The state of my mind was only comparable to a dog who just realised his owner is coming home; I couldn’t concentrate, howled, jumped around, threw myself on the floor and couldn’t contain my excitement.

In this state of ecstatic idiocy, the first thing I googled was the word ‘internet’.

Missing Spotify Lists

Dearest Reader,

If you are anything like me, you’ll probably love music to enhance the experience of doing literally anything in this life – whether it is cooking, showering, walking, studying, working or spying on your enemies – all can be made more fun by adding some nice tunes.

While we traditionally all had an extensive collection of CDs or at the very least a hard drive full of illegally downloaded mp3 files, music streaming apps such as Spotify or Tidal have become the new thing.

Although I believe it is unnecessary to have access to all of the music in this world, I must admit that I personally enjoy Spotify in particular because of the mood-themed playlists. You can simply identify your current mood or assess the atmosphere of whatever activity you are about to engage in, and select music to complement this.

For instance, I found playlists on ‘lazy Sunday’, ‘housework’, ‘favourite coffee shop music’, ‘last one awake’ and ‘payday euphoria’. There are playlists for the seasoned PMSer, the broken-hearted, the workout fanatics and of course lovemaking soul jams (though here I recommend investing in the ad-free version as this could interrupt said lovemaking.)

But I feel that some playlists are missing, and I’d like to make this an open letter to the Spotify playlist making team, if there is such a thing.

Dearest Spotify Playlist Making Team,

Could you kindly add the following moods to your playlist selection?:

  • I forgot my lunch at home
  • A social commitment I dreaded was just cancelled!
  • Psyching yourself up for the weekly call to your mother
  • I just found $10 in my coat pocket!
  • I can’t believe I said that out loud

Thank you from your keen listener and moody person,

Zozan

 

 

 

How to deal with crying adults

Dearest Reader,

I have chosen not to work with children or adolescents mainly because I am unable to deal with outbursts of sudden and/or extreme emotions which are common in these age groups.

For instance, I am not sure how to approach a toddler who is currently throwing a tantrum; I believe that discussing this calmly has little effect, and violence is no longer a legal option.

Similarly, I find it difficult to relate to the average teen’s difficult emotional state which varies on a spectrum from clinically depressed to unable to concentrate due to intense sexual arousal. I too was a teenager, and I certainly don’t want to relive this disturbing experience over and over.

So I chose to work with adults, to avoid this kind of situation. This is not to say that adults don’t need a good cry on occasion, I too enjoy a good cry once in a blue moon, but I like to do this in the privacy of my own home, with the kind of ambience required and with all the necessary tissues such a leisure time activity may require.

However, it has become painfully obvious that adults, from time to time, feel the need to cry in front of other adults in social situations that are not necessarily the best time to do so. Like in the middle of the day, in a public space, thus demanding that someone react to this behaviour.

Now, what to do? Do I need to act empathetic and give hugs, or is this a time to show tough love?

What is one to say? Should I be giving my opinion in the form of advice? Should I say something to describe the situation, such as “I understand that this is upsetting you.” Or can it be a simple “There, there.”?

How many tissues are appropriate? One doesn’t want to limit the crying by not offering enough, yet one does equally not want to encourage prolonging this interaction by providing tissues plentifully.

Well, here is my advice.

  • A hug is not always the best reaction. It can make things worse. The provision of a tissue shows both acknowledgement of the situation and caring understanding while maintaining a healthy distance from all the bodily fluids that have just come into full flow
  • If you say nothing at all, it will become awkward and embarrassing for the crying person. It is good to say things like “it must be awful” or “I understand”, even if the situation neither awful nor understandable in reality.
  • A good strategy is to start with one tissue, while keeping the rest of the pack within visible reach, as to not cut the crying person short, and handing fresh ones out as a tissue visibly becomes insufficient.

With these nuggets of wisdom, you are all set for the next emotional breakdown!

Do strippers need a resume?

Dearest Reader,

Depending on where you live, various forms of adult entertainment are either practised illegally or they are regulated by the government and therefore easier to find in the streets of your town.

Having grown up in Germany, the presence of strip clubs and brothels are nothing special for me, but this is not so commonplace here in Sydney.

That is not to say that there aren’t any. They are there. I know it, you know it, the government knows it. But we pretend they don’t exist and that we’re above this, which we certainly aren’t, especially not anyone who works for the government. But I digress.

On a recent visit to Brisbane, I noticed a great number of brightly advertised strip clubs in the CBD area, I didn’t even have to go to the seedy side of town and customers walked in and out quite freely (though always visibly carrying the ingrained Catholic school shame, which is delicious.)

In Germany, such establishments often have windows, so you can see the ladies inside. But this Brisbane version was a much more discreet affair, with no windows and several curtains before the entry to the main show hall.

Therefore, despite my nosiness, I saw nothing from the outside. Not even a nipple.

But what I did see instead was a giant job advert on the outside. I can’t remember the exact wording, but it included the following information:

  • They were looking for ‘sexy ladies’
  • You should be able to ‘dance’
  • You could ‘start immediately/tonight’
  • You could earn ‘$$$$’

And it got me thinking. 

Can I just walk in and, like, start?

Do I need to give someone a private show at the back to show my dance moves?

Do I need a resume? What should it say?

Do I need to bring my own clothes and tiger underpants, or is this classified as some sort of work uniform which is provided?

Can I choose the music or do I need to work with whatever you got there?

Can I get free drinks in addition to my $$$$?

Are the $$$$ paid into a bank account or is it all going to be stuffed into my previously mentioned tiger underpants?

 

Does my stage name need to be something obvious, like ‘Turkish Delight’, or could it be something more amusing for me, like ‘Maria’, to freak out all the Catholics in the room?

Do I need to make conversation with customers or just dance around the room?

Can I ask customers to give me a lap dance and smack their bottoms?

I have so many questions.

If there are any professional strippers reading this, I’d love to know how this application process works.

I’d really like to know.

Please.