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"To our Dear Australian friends:
"We are sorry that Rhonda Lost"
by Joseph Patrick Meissner


This title leads to the following questions: Who is "Rhonda"? What did she lose? Why should we care? Well, all of that will be explained later.

We just returned from a marvelous mission to Australia and participation in the LAWASIA Annual Legal conference where we were privileged to make a presentation on the "Cross Border Protection of Intellectual Property Rights," or "China versus the U.S." Besides that, we also visited the two wonderful cities of Sydney and Melbourne. One-fourth of Australia's entire population of 25 million live in these two world class metropolises.

We love traveling, but not just to see the tourist sites. You could simply sit on your plush living room couch at home and eye Rick Steves travels, if your only goal was see the sights. No, we like to meet real people and dialogue with them. In Australia we met many people and made many new friends. This article is dedicated to twelve of the wonderful people we chanced upon.

Our first new friend was at the airport in Sydney. For several reasons, I have to use a wheel chair at the airport. The young woman and her chair had greeted me at the plane exit door and wheeled me up the ramp in the direction of the baggage claim conveyers. I had been pulling a small carry-on bag (filled with heavy books and the computer) and Gia Hoa also was pulling her carry-on. Plumping into the chair, I had piled my carry-on on top of my lap. "Stack yours on top of me," I offered to aid Gia Hoa, my partner.

"No, mate," butted in the woman who was ready to push my wheel chair. "You first check with me. I am the one that has to push you up and down these corridors, and I'll decide what is to be done." That was a little brusque I thought for our opening welcome to Australia. But it became clear throughout our stay that plain straight speaking is an important Australian trait.

She finally relented and allowed me to place both carry-ons on my lap. "Are you from Australia?" I retaliated because I noticed her facial features seemed a bit un-Caucasian.

"I have been here nineteen years," she explained. "I originally came from the Philippines." So for the next twenty minutes while she pushed me about and we collected the luggage and made out way thru the crowded customs line, we discussed why she came to Australia. "This is a great place to live for anyone," she said, "There are lots of welcoming people and much freedom to do as you please. I do go back home to the Philippines but always return here."

Our second new friend we met was the cab driver who took us from the airport along the crowded highways into Sydney and our Hilton hotel. "Can I ask you a question?" I began. I had noticed his dark complexion and un-Australian swarthy features. "Where are you from?" I asked. "I am from Kashmir. Do you know where that is?" he challenged me.

"Yes, I know," I exclaimed like some school boy boasting he knew the correct answer. "Between India and Pakistan. Both claim it." "That's right," my taxi teacher says. "A Hindu prince gave this eighty-percent Muslim area to Hindu India rather than to Muslim Pakistan, at partition in 1947."

So now I know his objective views and I can feel the emotion in his voice. I change the subject. "Do you ever get back to Kashmir?'" "Oh yes, I went three years ago. I should go back more often."

Yes, I am thinking, we all have First Motherlands who deserve our attention. He adds more conversation, perhaps as an apology for remaining in Australia. "My family is here now. I have my children who all graduate from college and are now working here."

Our third and fourth new friends were just ahead. At the hotel we check in and soon are free to wander across the busy street into an arcade and shopping mall entrance. There is some kind of community affair taking place with different tables and exhibits lined up against one wall.

We look about and eventually sit down opposite the exhibits in an open food café after ordering some food. Our two waiters turn out to be students, one from Thailand and the other, China. They are both here in Australia to earn degrees. They both want to return to their homelands. Gia Hoa who is the Director of the Friendship Foundation of American-Vietnamese constantly urges the Asian students who come to our fine educational institutions in Cleveland that they should and must return to help the people in their First Motherlands.

Later we explore the large department stores adjoining the mall. A young woman, with lightly apple-brown skin and a short figure, sees me, "Can I help you?" It is a very British English, precisely clipped like from India. "No, I am just looking," I respond. Then very politely, I inquire, "By the way, can I ask you a question?"

"Sure," she replies. "Where are you from originally?"

"Oh, I am from India, Rajestan really." "How do you like Australia?"

"It is okay. But it is tremendously different from my home in India where I practice the Jain religion." I recall that is a very strict creed which forbids its followers from eating all sorts of items and demands that its worshippers respect even the flies.

"We visited the main Jain temple when we were in India," I relate. "If I remember, you must be so careful that you do not even step on the ants on the ground." "That is right," she agrees. "But here is it very different. My husband tries to tell me it is all right to eat an egg in Australia. That is wrong. You do not lose your beliefs just because you travel to another land."

She is another new acquaintance who is also a stranger like us. So far, the score I compute, is five new people and still no Australians.

Four days later, we have finished the LAWASIA conference and now we want to explore this Sydney urban landscape. We know there are Vietnamese people living somewhere near here. We have asked several people and they tell us about an area which is forty-five minutes by train from Sydney. This is the suburb of Cabramatta which has long been the heart of the Vietnamese community, with many refugees settling here more than thirty years ago. We vote to go to Cabramatta. So next morning we walk to the train station, buy our tickets, and set off.

After a scenic ride, we leave our comfortable train seats and walk down a main street. This is an Asian area of stores, shopping malls, and small comfy restaurants. There is a nice center area with benches and a large gate for welcoming all who enter. Even though still early in the morning, people are already walking about, buying foods and clothes, and conversing with their friends. Everywhere here we encounter Vietnamese restaurant owners, Cambodian clothing merchants, and Chinese DVD stores. Where again are the Australians? I ponder.

Later after roaming about, I stop at one corner beverage place with its brightly colored walls and glistening white tile sidewalks. In front on the left side near the beverage counter there is an older man sitting and playing beautiful music on a traditional Vietnamese instrument. In front of him rests on the ground an open instrument case containing a few coins, presumably from past appreciative listeners. I drop in two Australian dollars. This would be a nice place just to relax and hear the music..

There is a young man standing behind the counter of the beverage place. "We are from America," I open my conversation, "It's our first time here. Where are you from?"

"We come from Viet Nam, from Sai Gon," he informs me in standard English. "I came here as a teenager with my family."

"Does your family own this?"

"Yes, this is our store for selling beverages. We offer the best fruit smoothies and, of course, all sorts of coffees."

"How long have you been open?"

"We here four years."

"Is the place," I am noisy, "successful?"

"Yes, we do all right." He smiles. Never give away too much information, I am thinking. But if he says the place is doing poorly, why are you still here four years later? Either you are stupid, or you are lying. And if the place is doing tremendous business, why I could be a tax agent, looking for tax cheats. So he has selected a safe answer of "all right."

"I want a coffee sua nom." (Hot Vietnamese special coffee with thick condensed cream to sweeten it.)

I am thirsty and also beginning to tire in the early afternoon. We have already visited the local second-floor offices of the Vietnamese-Australian community and met the leaders of the local community. The shelves of the office entrance are stacked with pamphlets and flyers warning about the dangers of gambling addiction. The office director tells us, "We have a nearby gambling casino. The casino actually pays the bills for us and supports our anti-gambling messages." It is good thing, I muse, that Vietnamese and Asians in Cleveland are not attracted to gambling and thus we have no need for such antigambling propaganda.

While I am reviewing our meeting with the local Vietnamese leaders, I am aware that I can really use a coffee, especially a Vietnamese coffee that will awaken my brain cells without stinging my stomach. "I will just sit out there," I motion to a wooden slat bench nearby. "I want to listen to the music."

"Okay," Ken advises me. I have already given him my law card and introduced myself as "Joe," and he has told me his name is "Ken." "But," Ken warns, "the gentleman does not always really play. Sometimes he reaches down beside his chair and flicks on his tape recorder." Meanwhile Ken is busy preparing my drink and then carefully he hands me the steaming cup.

"That is all right," I explain, "I enjoy the Vietnamese music both live and recorded." So I grasp my hot coffee cup, plod carefully to the benches in order not to spill it, and sit down.

What a nice moment I am enjoying with warm sun and blue skies adorned by some puffy cotton clouds. I will enjoy the music and sip my coffee. Is it the cup beside me, or my senior citizen clumsiness? Suddenly the cup tips ovcr and all my rich tan-colored coffee flows through the bench crevices like a small waterfall to the concrete pavement below.

I cannot believe I have done that. Now I wish I was a cat and could save some of the coffee with a few laps of my tongue. But alas too soon the coffee has dispersed everywhere and my empty Styrofoam cup lies crippled on its side on the walk.

How stupid of me. So I get up and stumble dejectedly over to the wall of the mall building. I lean against it and wonder how I could be so clumsy. Looking down, I wonder if I should order another. Suddenly there is a woman standing in front of me holding out something. I look up. She is smiling and handing me a new cup of coffee. "I saw what happened. Your coffee was spilled," she explains. "So I bought you another."

How can I thank her? Would we in America be so kind? Maybe. Maybe not.. "Where are you from?" I inquire as I notice her slightly Asian features.

"I am from Mali," she declares. So Ken is another stranger and also this Mali lady is not a true Australian. They are number six and seven. There must be, I swear, some real Australians on this continent.

A day later and we have flown in Tiger Airlines to Melbourne. We are walking down one of the many busy modern streets in Melbourne proper, filled with stores, restaurants, and cultural sites. I spot a small souvenir shop and book store. I decide to have some fun. Maybe we are not meeting Australians because of their language peculiarities. So I walk inside and stop by the main counter where a young lady looks up as I approach. "Can I help you, sir?" She greets me. Her faces looks Australian, or really properly English.

"Yes, yes," I begin. "I have been here in Australia for five days and I need some help."

"What can we do to make your stay more enjoyable?" she smiles.

"Well, here is the problem. I try to talk with the real natives and I find I need to learn the Australian language." I say this with a straight face to see her response.

"Yes, sir," she confidently acknowledges. "If you just look down beside your left hand, there is some help for foreigners." (Did she emphasize that last word "foreigners," or was it only my guilty imagination?) Sure enough there is the book, "Australian Slang Dictionary,"

I am trapped and must buy it, surrendering $5.95 in Australian money. But I now have my handy guide, so maybe the real Australians will accept me. Here I find such terms and their explanations as: Cuppa: A cup of tea, often accompanied by "bickies," or biscuits. "Let's go and I'll make you a cuppa."

"Blood's worth bottling": an excellent person, "his blood is worth bottling"

Ear basher: Someone who talks too much;

Naughty: "make love," "We did a naughty last night."

Ratbag: . "a rascal or rogue. Also someone of eccentric or nonconforming ideas or behavior…

These are only a few of the hundreds of colorful special terms that make up the Australian language which is a delight for newcomers to this continent. Also the salesperson is our Number Eight new friend and, hurrah, she is an authentic Australian.

Another day we journey to the Vietnamese area of Melbourne which touches the northeast corner of the main downtown. A helpful taxi driver from Pakistan drops us at a beginning point. (Hmm, I notice, this is the third taxi cab driver we have had who is an alien. I forgot to tell you in Sydney I had a taxi cab driver of Chinese origin who took me across the great bridge. "I had to leave Beijing in 1989 and give up my pharmacy career. But it has all worked out," as he boasted about all the scholarships his daughter has earned and the high-powered Australian school she attends. Another non-local I cannot forget.)

Our Indian cabby had told us all about how he sends money home every week to his family in Delhi." As he stops to let us off, we thank him and begin our walk. Naturally we shall stop at a local restaurant for an excellent morning breakfast of hearty pho and a cup of deep rich Vietnamese coffee. The restaurant owner was a very nice lady who shared her background experiences with my Vietnamese partner, Gia Hoa. They laughed together and demanded I record this chance encounter with some digital photos. (All on this street wear Asian faces and I still have not met an Australian.)

Now fully awake, alert, and overflowing with energy, we leave the Vietnamese restaurant and continue our discovery. We come to a short side street and turn down it. Ahead is a building displaying a sign "The Women's Help Center for Vietnamese peoples." Inside a woman (non-Australian, of course) is working hard to assist an elderly couple with a problem. After she completes her task, we talk to her about the local Vietnamese community. She fills us in with a short history of the community since it began when Sai Gon fell in 1975.

"What services does this Center provide?" we inquire. "Housing, food, medical are some services," she hands us a whole selection of pamphlets.

She continues her enumeration of services, "legal-" I stop her there. "Do you have an attorney on staff?"

"Oh yes," she is delighted to inform us. "He is inside that inner office with a client right now."

We wait. A few minutes later the door opens and a Vietnamese woman comes out and leaves. Behind her is short male in his neat brown suit with a tie carrying a legal emblem. He smiles at us. The front desk woman introduces us.

"These people are here from the United States. They are visiting our Vietnamese-Australian communities." "How long have you been practicing?" I begin the interrogation.

"About fifteen years," he declares. "I came from Viet Nam when I was young, I earned my law degree here." (Shall I count another foreigner, Number Nine?)

"Where did you begin your career?"

"I worked in an office, serving the aboriginal peoples. I spent several years there, assisting people with various legal problems." I think to myself, he has come all the way from Viet Nam because of the war and its aftermath. Then he winds up using his legal talents to aid aboriginal peoples whose living style resembles some of the Montegnard peoples of Viet Nam's highland.

"What kind of cases?"

"The usual, many domestic family disputes, misdemeanors such as drinking in public, public disturbances…"

"How long did you do that?"

"That was for several years. Now I am in a partnership and volunteer my time here at the Center." We spend some more time trading stories of our experiences but finally we have to leave.

Our next Melbourne stop is the huge national art museum not far from where the Vietnamese area begins with its local memorial recalling the beginning of the Vietnamese people in the famous legend of the eggs and the princess fairy of the oceans joining the mountain dragon god.

We leave the huge national art museum and walk along the grassy sidewalks. How to get back downtown and find transportation? We wave at so many speeding taxies that do not even notice our wild arm flailings. We need a cab or somebody to help us. Isn't there some kind of free rail service? Didn't we read in the guidebooks about that wonderful Melbourne tourist aid?

We spot a local couple also walking along. "Can you help us?" we beg. They both look like genuine Australians with their average Caucasian heights, white skin, and large normal noses.

"What's matter, mates?" the man asks. "We are sort of lost. We need to get back in the city, but no taxi will stop."

"That's alright. Just follow. We are headed for the stop for the free rail." "Thank you. Where are you from?"

"Oh we're not from the city. We're from the Outback," says the woman, "just here to shop a little."

"How do you like it here?" the man inquires.

"Oh, it is great," I say. "There are a lot of different people here."

"You got that right," she agrees, "We have so many newcomers."

"Yeah," he adds, "we have lots of neighboring countries and they all have many more people than us. Australia needs more settlers."

They lead us right to the stop in the middle of the street and soon we are holding onto the overhead straps on the modern rail car of "free service", heading back to downtown and our hotel. (I add two real people from here as numbers Ten and Eleven to my scorecard.) We spend more time, walking the avenues, looking into the stores, and enjoying the views from the city's tallest building.

One more night, a wakeup, and we head for home. The next morning the nice woman of Indian background who has been at the desk of our hotel calls us a cab. (Our hotel is owned by a wealthy entrepreneur of Jewish background who emerged from the hell of the Holocaust in World War II, went to Israel where he started various successful businesses, and now calls Australia his home. (There was a white covered book in our hotel room drawer which I accidentally swept up into our suitcase. Only when I got back to the United States did I realize this was the biography of this individual, filled with his wisdom accumulated in some eighty years of life.)

The cab arrives. Our driver is a large heavyset man, with a thick long moustache and squared head. Very talkative, he turns out to be from Turkey. He came about fifteen years ago.

"I still carry two citizenships," he proudly informs us. "I am an Australian citizen and also I have a dual citizenship for Turkey."

"Does that allow you to vote in Turkish elections," I ask incredulously.

"Oh, yes," he exclaims.

"Did you vote in the recent election?" (Be careful, Joe, the bell sounds in my head. You are treading on dangerous ground. This was the Erdogan-called election in which the Turkish government has become even more tyrannical.)

"Yes," he reports, "but not for that Erdogan guy. He is very bad news."

"What party are you?"

"It is the party that originated way back with Mustafa Kemal."

"Are there other Turkish people here in Australia?" I am curious.

"Oh yes. We have about 175,000 of us. We have all the same groups they have in Turkey with the various political parties."

"What do you think about Turkey?" That is a nice general question I have framed.

"Well, it is always the same. We had Ciller as our government head. Why? Because you Americans wanted that. Then we had Erbakan. Why? Because you Americans wanted that. Then we had Ecevit. Why? Because you Americans wanted that. Then we had Gul. Why? Because you Americans wanted. [You will notice there is a pattern here.] We started with Erdogan.in 2003. Why? Again it is because you Americans wanted that."

An interesting unbiased view, I am thinking. All of Turkey turns out to be an American invention. We get to the airport.

"I will pull up as close as I can whatever the police say," he is very helpful to cut down on our airport labors. He then jumps from the taxi and helps us get our luggage onto two lonely baggage carts. I give him what I think is a good tip. He laughs and waves us farewell. We say good-by to Friend Number Twelve in this strange continent and look for our International flight counter and the long trip home.

Before closing, I promised I would return to the story of Rhonda. Certainly you have heard of Rhonda, Rhonda Jean Rousey. She is an American mixed martial artist, judoka, and actress. She holds various boxing championships. The local Melbourne newspapers carried huge photos of this blond haired good looking woman sitting comfortably in her fashionable bright red dress in a chair. She looks like any Victoria Secret model.

Beside her dress-up photo in the newspaper, there is an insert of Rhonda in her work clothes. She is wearing tight wrestling shorts with a brief halter, and a facial expression that would frighten a heavy weight boxer. In 2015, Rousey became the first woman featured on the cover of Australian Men's Fitness, appearing on their November edition

This is Rhonda. She is a female boxer in the World Fighting Ring. She is scheduled to meet her opponent this coming Saturday night. Rhonda is the favorite in this main attraction fight before 70,000 fans in Melbourne's huge stadium. I would have liked to attend, but we must get home. We wished Rhonda well in this match, but unfortunately nobody informed her opponent that Rhonda was the favorite and somehow in the second round her opponent bloodied the champion's face, kicked her silly in the neck, and was about to rearrange Rhonda's beautiful looks when the referee stopped the bout. Rhonda promised a return match.

So my tally was out of the twelve new friends we made, nine were aliens and only three Australians. But then I have been thinking about that. You know, I think I got it all wrong. There were not three Australians. There were twelve Australians and this country is all the richer and more wonderful for all this diversity.


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