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Jul 09, 2002: Why no Blougage?

WARNING: narcissism ahead

Mary Jean and I just returned from three and a half weeks in Australia and New Zealand. Combination business trip (teaching at the Nielsen Norman Group's UX Conference) and belated "official" honeymoon. Ergo no blougage of late. A few observations:

  • Teaching in Sydney. As we've done in the past, Margaret Hanley and I taught two days of seminars: IA I (the general survey) and IA II (advanced IA topics). Great group of students, and despite extreme jet lag, the classes seemed to go quite well. IA enlightenment aside, the most important thing that happened was the creation of at least two new mailing lists for information architects: one for Sydney (thanks to Eric Scheid), and one for Wellington, NZ (thanks to Alison Marshal; contact her to join the list). In a new field where no one can know everything, and where it's hard to find one's colleagues, these small local IA networks are absolutely the most important thing we can build.
  • Apologies. To you Aussies and Kiwis, I'm very sorry, but I'm going to do everything I can to flood your borders with tourists (and here are some travel tips for Australia and En Zed). I'm sorry, but it's just not fair for you to keep your lovely countries to yourselves. Especially when US$1.00 = AU$1.76 = NZ$2.03; it's like this whole part of the world is 50% off! Seriously, the combination of the terrain's incredible physical beauty and the warmth and hospitality of its people can't be matched. Speaking of which...
  • Are we Americans really so unhappy? Getting off the plane in LAX, it struck me just how glum things were throughout the airport. And compared with Air New Zealand, the Northwest flight back to Detroit was even glummer, replete with grouchy attendants grouchily serving grouchy meals to grouchier passengers. Even walking through my hometown of Ann Arbor today, there were few smiles to be seen. Does life really suck so bad here in the US? Of course not. But Down Under they do something that seems rare here in the US: they make a point to greet or at least acknowledge each other, friends and strangers alike. It's a small act that goes a long way in making a new place hospitable. I know that the US population is huge, heterogeneous and fractured, and it intimidates me as much as anyone else. But I hate to think that we need an event like 9/11 to remind us to be civil. Or maybe we never learn how to greet strangers in the first place? Seriously, is there some part of Down Under parenting or primary school curricula that we're missing here in the US?
Sorry for the rant; I'll blame jet lag. And dammit, it's absolutely wonderful to be back.

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Comment: christina (Jul 10, 2002)

Since returning from Greece, I've had a hard time adjusting. Everyone here seems so rushed and anxious. Life there seemed much more straightforward. It wasn't that they had such a better life, but that there was such a better attitude. Okay, it is a lovely place, and life does seem to consist of working as little as possible, sitting in cafes, swimming and talking with friends and family. As my yoda, Manolo (who was a gorgeous 30-something Greek man, not a tiny green wizened muppet) said "Here, you don't need so much"

And to the question "how are you?" He would say "fine. I am always fine." then shrug as if to say "how could I not be fine? How greedy would I have to be?" My life was simple for a while. Work on book, cook in tiny kitchen, walk to beach, swim, chat with friends who were easy to make in the cafes, and go home to read. I come back here and the rhythm is unchanged, but the people have. Everyone seems soaked in desire, hungry, anxious, hurried... disappointed.

I've gone to a place where the now is more important than the tomorrow and "you don't need so much" to a place where everyone is insanely striving to be best, to make more money, to buy a bigger car, to be a successful entrepreneur (yes, you guessed it, Palo Alto in the heart of silicon valley)

I try to keep that joy in everydayness with me. Philippe and I eat at the table, not in front of the TV, we take walks when it cools off in the evening, we go to the market on Sunday and eat seasonally. But when you interview at companies and you realize no one believes in even the 40 hour week, much less a break in the middle of the day for a long lunch, where men in dockers hold business meetings where the old men should be playing backgammon, where names of "google" is said like "our sainted mother" well..

Let's say I'm working on it. Telling myself I don't need so much.

Comment: Lou (Jul 10, 2002)

Mary Jean and I have our own "Mediterranean plan" for slowing down and enjoying summer. Every week, we're going to make a batch of pesto and a batch of roasted red peppers. We'll buy a great loaf of bread, maybe a hunk of mozzarella. Then, two or three nights a week, we'll open a bottle of red and sit in the backyard and enjoy dinner caprese. Slow and easy, not to mention light and tasty. No TV, no news reports. Viva backyard cocooning!

Comment: Donna Maurer (Jul 11, 2002)

Good to hear you had a good time. We are lovely, aren't we ;)

The conference was great - thanks for all of the inspiration.

Make that 3 new IA groups - Canberra as well, who have had their first meeting, and set up a yahoo group (ACT-IA). The write-up is here:

Comment: Jeff (Jul 12, 2002)

Lou, if I had to leave America, Oz and NZ would be places I could see myself. Australia has the attitude of America a few years back. The terrain is familiar and with only about 17 million people on the continent, there's lots of room to grow.

Growing up on the beaches of L.A., one of my dreams was to sit on the sand on the other side of the Pacific. Got to do that in Queensland a few years back.

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