From Waitangi to Waikiki

Janusz Buda

Imagine the plight of a poor overseas visitor stranded in a downtown Tokyo hotel. With only a few days to go before his room reservation runs out, he has to find somewhere to live. He doesn't know one area of Tokyo from another, he has no idea what a reasonable rent might be, and he doesn't know where to start looking.

I can sympathize with such a visitor. The same thing happened to me no less than five times during the past year. Arriving tired and confused in a strange town, suffering from jet-lag, what l wanted more than anything else was to relax, catch up on lost sleep, and savour to the full my first encounter with a new country. Instead, I had to drag myself to the nearest bookshop, buy a map and a newspaper, and begin the wearisome task of familiarizing myself with geographical locations and house rents. Endless telephone calls to real estate agents, endless journeys on buses and trains, endless walks down unknown streets searching for unknown addresses. All the while conscious of time running out as the deadline for moving out of the hotel drew ever closer.

Having found a place to stay, it was at last time to settle in. Electricity, gas, and water supplies had to be arranged, forms to be filled in, deposits to be paid. Telephone and bank accounts had to be opened, local shopping, medical, and library facilities had to be explored.

A month or two later life would be getting back to normal. The first bills would be coming in, post would be arriving from home, new-found friends would be dropping in for tea.

And then, just as life was becoming easy and enjoyable, it would be time to move on yet again, closing up accounts, disconnecting telephones, paying last-minutes bills, saying goodbye to friends, and once again making the by now familiar taxi ride to the airport to board yet another plane, fly to yet another strange city in another strange country, and start all over again.

Adding up the facts and figures for the twelve months from August 1989 to August i990, I visited four universities in four different countries, lived in three houses and two apartments, stayed in no less than twelve hotels, and probably aged about five years.

When I put together my study plans in the autumn of 1988, my primary aim was to collect as much material as I could for my Area Studies lessons at Otsuma. Over the years I had become uncomfortably aware that lectures on the life and culture of Great Britain, and to a lesser extent the West in general, did not really serve to give students a satisfactory background to their study of English language and literature.

It was for this reason that I decided to try and visit four different English-speaking countries: Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States.

I came back home with enough material for several Area Studies courses. I have still not got around to opening all of the cardboard boxes stacked behind the door of my study, and it will be months or perhaps years before I can hope to digest the mass of statistical data and information they contain. Reports on the language problems of immigrants, government statistics on new entrants, analyses of income, employment, and education, and a dozen other studies related to multiculturalism and assimilation. Not to mention information on numerous other social and cultural aspects of the four countries I visited.

I also returned with several hundred photographs, over twenty hours of video tape, and enough memories, pleasant and unpleasant, to last a lifetime.

Within moments of arriving in Sydney and checking into what the Japanese travel agent had jokingly called a 'first-class' hotel, sitting in my room and still reeling from the discovery that the windows wouldn't close and that there was no hot water coming out of the taps, the telephone suddenly rang and startled me out of my gloom. I picked up the phone and a familiar voice said, "Hi there, Mr Buda. Welcome to Australia!" It was one of my former seminar students. She had been calling the hotel at fifteen minute intervals, determined to be the first to welcome me to Sydney. After graduating from Otsuma and working as a secretary for a German pharmaceutical company, she had moved to Bangkok to work as a flight attendant for Thai International. Several years later she found herself in Australia, working for Qantas.

The sudden change from despair to delight proved to be a foretaste of my experiences over the next twelve months. Countless problems and difculties there certainly were, but they were more than balanced by endless surprises and discoveries, and my study leave as a whole exceeded all my expectations. It was indeed a year to remember.

Source: Ōtsuma English Association Newsletter No. 39 January 1991