Tag Archives: Tasmania

On My Own Dime, This Time

My wife and I recently returned from a glorious, six-week Pacific odyssey during which we visited the Cook Islands (see Relaxation, Island Style), Sydney, Tasmania (A Tasmanian Toilet Tale), Laos (The Beauty of Travel; The Ugliness of War), China, and Korea.  Unlike virtually every other destinations discussed in this blog, this trip was on my own dime.  Yes, dear reader, I hate to admit it, but I paid for this rather lengthy holiday myself!  Before leaving I joked with friends not to tell anyone as it could ruin my carefully cultivated reputation as a world-class schnorrer–Yiddish for freeloader.

March of the Monks in Luang Prabang

However, even though I like to poke fun at myself for our many no-cost overseas jaunts,  I still enjoy a non-working holiday to an exotic locale as much as the next guy.  On this trip we lazed on the pristine beaches of the Cook Islands, sampled the theater and restaurant scene of Sydney, motored through the mountains and forests of Tasmania, marveled at the historical beauty of Luang Prabang, cruised the Mekong on a small riverboat; spent a few days in the lovely canal city of Suzhou, China, and were wowed by the massive urban chaos of Shanghai and Seoul–all without working a single day to pay the freight.  It was a superb trip that only confirmed my decision to take early retirement.  As long as there are no financial constraints, why would you ever postpone the joys of retirement until you are too old and infirm to enjoy them?  I am sure you have heard the truism voiced by Sen. Paul Tsongas: “No man ever said on his deathbed, ‘I wish I had spent more time at the office.’”

The Lovely Canal City of Suzhou, China

However, as much as I loved our time in Asia there are many differences between a family holiday (even one as long as six weeks) and the short-term overseas postings called working vacations I have been espousing on this blog for the last two years and in my most recent travel book, On The Other Guy’s Dime.  Most family vacations have amusement, entertainment, and personal pleasure as their primary goals–you take a holiday to relax, eat well, see sights, both natural and man-made, and enjoy time away from your regular routine.  By contrast, a working vacation, while enjoyable, is meant for personal, professional, and cultural growth.  You take a working vacation not only to see sights but to become part of a different culture, make friends, learn new ways of doing things, expose your children to the world around them, and use your professional skills in new and different ways.  These are very different goals.

The Soaring, Neon-Lit Skyline of Shanghai

For example, during our stay in the Cook Islands I never made close friends with any local Polynesians.  In Laos, I did not have the opportunity to celebrate Buddhist life cycle events with neighbors or colleagues.  Not having a job in Shanghai meant I did not get a sense of what it must be like living in a booming metropolis of 20 million that is changing on an almost daily basis.  Staying in a tourist hotel in Seoul prevented us from having the chance to live, play, and shop in one of the fascinating neighborhoods scattered around the city.  Our trip to Asia was a wonderful way to see these countries but not to experience them.

So, go ahead and enjoy those family vacations as much as you want and as much as your wallet will allow.  However, please don’t use the excuse that you don’t need a working vacation because you and the wife just returned from a cruise to Alaska, a week in Florence, or ten days diving in the Caymans.  Holidays and working vacations are totally different beasts that have totally different purposes.  Being a tourist and living as part of an overseas community serve very different roles, and you really should experience both.

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A Tasmanian Toilet Tale

(Dear Readers.  Rather than take the six-week hiatus I had planned I have decided to share some experiences from my Pacific Rim odyssey.  While not related to the theme of this blog–working vacations–I hope you find them fun to read.  Enjoy.)
The Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, capital of the Australian state of Tasmania, is an architectural gem–a glass and granite structure hanging over the Derwent River just a few miles from downtown. It has been called a “must-see” by Lonely Planet and is a top-rated attraction on Trip Advisor.  Based on this lofty praise, we just had to give it a go.
The collection is, to say the least, uber-experimental, and the museum’s goal is to  challenge and upend your comfortable notion of exactly what constitutes art.  I was okay with the tattooed pigs and the cement mixer made of stained glass, but I have to say I started to lose it when I entered a room containing the jewel of the show, an installation called Cloaca (Latin for sewer or toilet) by the Belgian artist Wim Delvoye.
Cloaca is a giant Rube Goldberg contraption built to model the human digestive system. Museum staff shove junk food, such as burgers and fries, into the end of the machine that looks like a garbage disposal.  The food is chopped into small bits and is gravity fed into a washing machine-like component filled with stomach acid that spins and churns the pulp.  From there it travels through a set of curved PVC pipes containing digestive bacteria that break down the particles  even further. Finally, about one hour after “eating,” Cloaca exudes big piles of shit onto the floor through a round hole in its bottom–real, honest-to-god, lifelike brown turds that are for sale in the gift shop right next to rolls of toilet paper emblazoned  with the artist’s name on each sheet.
About now you may be scratching your head saying “Huh!”  But Delvoye has anticipated this and is ready for you. The show contains a 30-minute video entitled, appropriately enough, “Is This Shit Art?”   There is a serious analysis by Christie staff on why Cloaca’s shit is a smart artistic purchase and should increase in value–after all, unless the machine gets diarrhea there is only a limited amount of product.  The video also includes a group of New York/London art cognoscenti explaining to bewildered museum attendees, in lofty language, the visionary nature of Delvoye’s work.
Count me among the bewildered.