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Topographic over political

Topographic over political

I have reached a fork in the road. An immigration officer holds a stamp and examines both my face and passport, about to make a decision that will redirect my life. I have crossed the Estonian border without interrogation, but they seem to be rather fastidious on the Russian side of the gate. As I try to maintain a confident expression, I realize that the outcome of this situation is the least bit up to my discretion. Ironically, the choice is bestowed upon the man in navy-blue uniform, sitting inside the acrylic booth with a distrustful look on his face. He poses a series of questions in a language I don’t understand, and which – together with impatient stares coming from the people who wait in line, eager to get back on the bus – makes me increasingly apprehensive. But as dissimilar as we may be, I feel a sort of kinship towards him, understanding that apart from his official post and my wretched passport photo, we aren’t a whole lot different. Without a legitimate reason to refuse my entry, he stamps my documents and reluctantly signals for me to pass. I walk through the glass door, into the freezing temperature outside. I’m officially in Russia but the feeling of apprehension still lingers inside me. Suddenly, the concept of borders feels like an absurd, slightly revolting idea.

The significance of having arrived in a different country lies more in the sensations that emerge from the physical, psychological, and spiritual transitions than in the act of crossing an imaginary line, or getting a booklet stamped. For a moment, our senses are attuned and where we are becomes trivial. Gravity feels dubious and it’s the weight over prospects of novel experiences that keep our feet on the ground. Despite an almost mystic excitement for what lays ahead, we unconsciously cling to plastic aspects of the transition: the new legislation, currency conversion, time difference, visa expiry date. Nowadays, the word ‘border’ bears more negative connotations than positive ones. It is mostly seen as division, rather than union, with the colorful and democratized structure of modern-day cartography bearing clear evidence to this construct.

To stare at a topographic map over the regular political model seems both more interesting and reasonable. The lines that once blindly guided our eyes along the edges of a given country suddenly vanish, allowing for gradients and textures to create a much more sympathetic conception of the planet: enhancing altitudes instead of naming capitals; portraying vast plains as opposed to sectioning an environment into territories. The vicinity of a border represents a fusion of cultures and peoples, suggesting that transitions between regions aren’t so abrupt as the lines of a political map indicate. And such could be our view of each other: topographic over political; faded textures merging, rather than lines dividing.

But it seems like our never-ending need for definitions – a human characteristic that uses the rational to explain the intuitive – has also somehow contaminated the general concept of where a place becomes “another place”. This system of lines and colors on a map – of nationalities and anthems with people – is the way we found to organize ourselves and “our” land. A practical, comprehensible, and almost innate approach designed for harmonious coexistence but which turns into a hazard if it mutates into generalization. We have increasingly learned to acknowledge (even if unconsciously) an individual as belonging to a certain area, bringing forth assumptions on behavior and characteristics; giving him or her a title without their consent. “Russians drink vodka”, “Brazilians are great at football”,“a Japanese that doesn’t eat sushi?!”; “Germans are always on time”; “Italians are the Jedi of pizza”. Such widely accepted abstractions are caused by a “line-induced means of organization”, among other things. Albeit there are clear vestiges embedded in us by our homeland – in scopes like languages and traditions – when conversing with someone who bears an unfamiliar passport, it becomes clear that where we come from only dictates so much of who we are.

Our ability to define is treacherous, even if necessary. There is an urgency to question this political pattern of human interactions and move closer to topographic connections, in order to establish more meaningful – as well as fair – relationships. By breaking through the concrete aspect of the term ‘border’ we may indulge in its true significance; by placing a monochrome filter in a multi-colored map we can translate division into union. Everyone who has shared a drink, a smile, a stare, or a handshake with someone other than a fellow countryman has noticed that no type of border can delineate sheer, human integrity. A political view of the world makes us feel like to arrive in a different country means to step into a new world, when in fact it represents a different angle of our own, ever so vivid reality. After all, the world keeps spinning regardless our point of origin, and it will keep spinning at the same rate in our next destination.


Spirit Island

Spirit Island

by Liam Costar

 

A place with an abundance of photos taken up ones Instagram feed, a must see location on a face book advert, a post card in a Canadian convenience store. Spirit island, Jasper, one of Canada’s many gems.

We had to see what the fuss was about…

Tourist boats cruise daily down maligne lake, filled with a magnitude of people from all over the world, all ready to snag that Instagram famous shot. We were a group of four Australians and one Canadian, the tourist boat just wasn’t an option.

At first, yeah it was a big hype to see spirit island but it became more and more about the experience and the trip out there. Two canoes and one kayak, entering the water at dawn. Visibility was zero, nothing but thick fog and the sound of our awes cutting through the lake. The vibe this was producing was some what eerie but yet surreal at the same time.

After paddling for hours, we really started to notice how small we truly were. By this time the fog had gradually lifted and the mountains had been reviled, it was truly a sight you’d have to see with your own eyes.

A few hours off dusk, we have the camp set up, the fire crackling and warming up our limbs. The howl of wolves echoes through the valley, a split second  your mind starts to freak and think how close was that? But then you appreciate how special that is, you sure realise how far from home you really are now.

Spirit island is just around the bend from camp, one last paddle before dark starts to set in. Not a tourist boat in sight, not one bit of breeze to be felt on the skin just pure calmness, something that money can’t buy you. It was as if we were staring at one big mirror, that took in the whole of what the eye could see. Spirit island was truly a gem but to experience it and having it all to our selves was truly something unforgettable.

Words and photography by Liam Costar


How to become Hungarian

I weighed up my options:

1.Flee to Turkey

2.Risk it for the biscuits

3.Become a Hungarian


It’s summer in Budapest.

I’m drinking more beer than water and occasionally working at a Hostel in return for free accommodation. It’s 40 degrees with a constant hot breeze. Like sitting in an oven and opening the door, only to find out the oven you are in is actually inside a larger, slightly hotter, oven. It’s uncomfortable. There is this American backpacker with a ridiculous sized map sprawled over the common room table. I overhear him talking with some other Aussies about the usual hostel small talk bullshit;

Bullfrogs?… I would have called them chazzwazzas.

But I overhear them blasting on about the ‘Shenzhen Zone’. I had heard this expression a few times before but ignored it; I wasn’t going to China.Yet, I was intrigued. Where are these fellow travelers heading to in China?

I sparked up a conversation with them and quickly realised that I’d fucked up.

What I thought was just poor pronunciation, was actually just a completely different word. Everyone had been talking about the ‘Schengin zone’ not ‘Shenzhen’ the Chinese province. Turns out that the Schengen zone is the group of countries in Europe with no internal borders and free movement. And Australians are allowed to stay for 3 months at a time without a visa.

But, the thing is, at that point in my trip I had been in Europe for more than 3 months already and I’ve made plans to stay longer, much longer. Plus I’m meeting a mate at a festival next weekend and is bringing me a pack of Tim tams. This Schengen shit is a major buzz kill.  I panic, heart is pounding, anxiety rising and the other Australians are ridiculing me about the whole Shezngin Visa situation. I need to make a plan.

I rubbed my three haired chin.

How can I stay in Europe and leave without getting a massive fine and or blacklisted from Europe?

I weigh up my options:

A. Flee to Turkey   or    B. Risk it for the biscuits.

I had always wanted to go to Turkey, but if I do, then there would be no returning to the Schengen Zone for another 3 months.  The easiest option was to just ignore the past 15-minute conversations about the Schengen zone and continue to backpack around Europe. Just sweep the whole situation under the rug, ignore it, and chuck it in the glove box like a parking ticket. I tell one of my friends who is also working at the hostel with me. He presents an interesting solution:

“If you become a resident in a Schengen country, like Hungary, you can get an extended visa and stay for another 6 months.”

“So, how do I become a Hungarian resident?” I pondered aloud.

“Head to the Hungarian version of Centrelink and fill out all the forms. Just say you are a volunteer working here at the hostel. You’ll get it easy!”

Just like that hey! Like changing a light bulb, an easy task (Unless you’re a minority). I now have option C) Become a Hungarian resident.

I jump on a bus early in the morning while the fog is lingering over the Danube. I head over to the other side of the city and jump off at the Hungarian immigration offices.

“We’re not in Kansas anymore Toto,” I mutter.

The old Hungarians just look at me. They either didn’t understand what I said or they are just befuddled at the sight of a longhaired Australian riding a bus in the suburbs of Budapest to the immigration offices. The queue is already snaking its way out the door of the building. I prepare myself for a long wait. I shuffle along in the line and finally reach the teller. It’s far from a joy, trying to convey my situation to a Hungarian only speaking immigration officer with little to no patience. But with some help, I manage to get the forms I need to fill out. The visa is going to cost 5000 forints ($25 Australian). But it isn’t as simple as handing over the cash, I have to complete a small quest in order to submit my application. I have to fill out the forms, walk across the road, purchase $25 worth of postage stamps from a questionable post office, stick them on the back of the forms and then return the postage stamp papier-mâché forms back to the immigration office.

I complete the quest. I hand in my forms and wait for my ticket number to be called. I wait. And wait a little longer. My phone dies so I start counting the little dots on the ceiling. Flick through a couple of Hungarian versions of New Idea; Grant Denyer is in both of them. It is now 7pm and I am the 3rd last person waiting.  The Centrelink comparison is uncanny. I lose count how many times I have asked myself;

“What the fuck am I doing here? This is never going to work!”

But I persist and my number eventually flicks over on the analog display at the front of the room.

I follow the directions of the puzzled Hungarian lady through a corridor to another room with a string of desks and a photo booth on the back wall.  We all looked as confused as each other. I hand over my postage-stamp papier-mâché forms to the lady on the opposite side of the desk. After we share a number of broken English phrases to each other, what I assume is the manager, comes over to help. The only Hungarian I know is: ‘thank you’ and ‘one beer please’. I appear fluent when I ordering at a bar but I’m pretty useless in this situation. They tell me to get into the photo booth. Within a few minutes, they print out a piece of cardboard that looks like a drivers license with my mugshot on the front. They hand it to me with a bunch of other forms.

 

 

I get up out of my chair, thank both of them in Hungarian, walk out and jump on a bus back home with a cheesy grin.

Did I just become a Hungarian resident? Yes. Yes, I did.

 

Fast-forward a couple of months after traveling around Eastern Europe. I receive a message from my friend who is still working at the hostel in Budapest;

“Ryan, we just received a letter from the Hungarian immigration centre and it says that you were meant to bring back a bunch of forms. Your visa wasn’t actually approved; they just gave you a temporary one until you returned all the other forms.”

To be honest, I’m not completely surprised. It did seem way to easy and they did give me a bunch of forms, which I assumed I was meant to read. But they were all in Hungarian. I chucked the forms in my metaphorical glove box just like a parking ticket.  So now I am back to where I started, except now, I had overstayed my visa by 3 more months.

A few weeks had passed since that call and it is now the final leg of my European journey. I jump on a ferry from Estonia over to Finland because flights are dirt cheap to London from Helsinki. And if I do get arrested and chucked in a jail for a night for two I’d rather be locked up in Finland than Estonia. It is now the time to fly out of the Schengen zone. I'd also like to mention that at this time, it’s the peak of the European refugee crisis and border control is tight.

What is going to happen to me? A fine? Blacklist? Multiple cavity searches?

I pass through security sweating bullets. It looks like I’m muling an 8-ball by the fierce darting of my eyes, looking out for immigration officers and border security. I’m internalizing hypotheticals of what may come and psyching myself up for some serious shit-talking. I decide to run with the ‘oblivious tourist’ excuse. The immigration gates are staring at my soul. I’m scoping out each booth, trying to find the friendliest looking Finnish officer to plead my ‘oblivious tourist’ case too.

It’s my time to shine.

Passport please,” demanded the Finnish equivalent of Vin Diesel.

I’m trying to make eye contact, but not too much eye contact at the same time. Maybe I should make small talk. Act casual you fool! My hands are awkwardly rising from my sides. I feel like Ricky Bobby from Talladega nights trying to do an interview: mumbling, unsure what to do with my hands when I talk.

When did you get into the Schengen zone?” Fin Diesel asks.

What’s the Schengen Zone? I replied.

He doesn’t believe me…  Fuck

He tells me to follow him to the security office. I sit down in the cubical and revaluated my life. I try to maintain the ‘oblivious tourist’ look. “Act clueless you fool!” I mutter. The room is full. I sit there while the immigration officer is in the back room with my passport. I sit and wait and internalise hypotheticals again. Maybe I should give him the Hungarian resident card and not mention that it isn’t actually valid? What if…

The sparkle of Fin Diesel’s cranium catches the corner of my eye as he returns to the room. I jump up off my seat.

Don’t worry. We have a good relationship with Australia. Just make sure you stay out of the Schengen zone for 90 days before returning, Diesel says.

I didn’t notice until then, but a salty oasis had formed between my legs from the nervous sweat dripping from my body. He hands me my passport, we make eye contact and both look over at the shimmering reflection of the fluorescent light in the pool of gooche sweat accumulated on the seat. They call my name over the airport PA so I begin to walk to my gate; I give Fin Diesel an awkward thumbs-up, board my plane and get the fuck out of Europe.


A Place very far away from home

I didn't travel to the Lofoten islands for comfort.

I slept in a car for nine days just so I could choose to wake up to what ever view I wanted. Waking up with snow covered beaches surrounded by mountains that encompassed the whole of the coast line, hundreds of sea gulls amongst red cabins constructed right on the fjords and slithers of green aurora snake through the sky. These are some of the sights you will find yourself experiencing when you sleep out in the elements.

Sounds all good and well but you have to be prepared for the weather. Consistent sub zero degree weather, wind so strong that it’ll instantly feel like it’s cracking your lips, ice covered roads after the constant snow storms that’ll leave you shivering. But all this can change in thirty minutes, going from thinking you have a great chance to see the northern lights to have a sky full of black cloud moments away from consuming all the blue sky you can see.

I originally traveled to northern Norway (Lofoten) solo but upon my arrival on the ferry across the sea to the islands, I met a backpacker from Slovakia, who joined me on my trip for 3 days.

“He was in search of an alternate lifestyle, a new life.”

I drove him around to small harbours where he was in search of a job on a fishing vessel. His last day with me came around and he departed with a text message saying that they have a job for him so a new adventure had opened up for him.

I continued my trip in search for visual gems to photograph. I found myself stopping nearly every twenty minutes as the landscape was so rugged but yet beautiful as array of colour from the mountains, to the snow, to the blue ocean, all in a single frame. This trip was visually breathtaking.

The Lofoten islands, a place very far away from home.


The Gem of the Indian Ocean

The Gem of the Indian Ocean

by Daniel Chafer

 

From a young age, I’ve been fascinated with this teardrop-shaped island and its endless possibilities…

Sri Lanka was the ideal country to experience and document its unique cultural hidden beauty. The balmy waters of the Indian Ocean and offshore trade winds made the sea conditions flawless for barrels. With a combination of picturesque coastlines and forest scenery in a tropical climate filled with fascinating natural treasures, I found myself surrounded by people that believed happiness was the vital key in life. The sole driving reason behind this journey was to escape real life duties. To pursue the goal of searching for what lies beyond the fences and encouraged to go beyond the horizon! It’s difficult in our modern day living to find yourself, in a destination free from rules or restrictions. So we tend to grasp the guidelines and only live through our Social Media.

We aimed to beat the Christmas crowds and arrive in Sri Lanka at the end of March to catch the last of the South West swell season. After discussing with 4 good friends in different time zones around the world, they too were searching for something different. We came up with a date and all arrived with the anticipation of finding a car that was up for the Sri Lankan road trip. We found “Betsy” not far from Colombo airport. It was an old beat up Jeep that was used in the Civil War that lasted for 18 years between the Tamil Tigers and Sri Lankans. If you’re not used to driving on skinny roads with the potential for head on collisions, then stick to the Tuk Tuks. It was nice to not rely on IPhones or navigational systems to get around, as getting lost with maps lead us to some of our best experiences!

It was time to go searching for waves. That’s what we were here for!

The only plan at this point was to head south to Hikkaduwa. The drive was far from boring, as the windy roads took us through a maze of villages, only to arrive to a tropical paradise of palms along the coastal road. Throughout the next week we experienced such a cultural shock, beauty, kindness and the graciousness from the Sri Lankans. Dinner was always a highlight! Throughout the day most of the Banta in the surf was either about how fast it left your body, or how good the aromatic spice-rich food tasted without eating with a knife or fork! The cuisine typically consisted of Beautiful spices, Fresh seafood, coconut rice, and large bowls of vegetables. The roti’s dipped in their Mango Chutney were to die for!

Pumping waves and picturesque coastlines aren’t the only thingSri Lanka has to offer. Its mountainous interior has amphitheaters of lush green Tea fields that are usually crammed with locals filling bags or hampers of Sri Lanka’s finest tealeaves.  Exploring the hillside country never made you feel alone because you would always bump into someone that was always happy to guide you in the right direction.

One of the highlights of our trip was arriving at Coconuts Beach in Midigama one afternoon. We had driven down on to the sand to catch the sunset. While getting out of the car, loads of street dogs surrounded us. We all looked at each other in shock as to what was going on. One of the dogs had something in its mouth but couldn’t see clearly as it was covered in sand. All the locals started coming out of their village to witness a true moment. Baby turtles started hatching from a nest under the car and the dogs where trying to eat them while making their dash to the ocean. With so many people there we were able to form a wall and watch over a 100 turtles take their first step into the Gem of the Indian Ocean.

After covering more then 1000 miles, our journey was coming to an end.  It was time to give our lacerated reef cuts a break and head back to Australia. We were unhappy to leave but our memories of the island still get told around a good campfire today!

The best thing about Sri Lanka is it leaves you speechless. Then it turns you into a storyteller.

Words and Photography by Daniel Chafer

 


Traveling through India belongs to the individual

 

Traveling through India belongs to the individual

 by Aaron Chapman

 

I was snap happy in India but it took me the better part of a year to get the film developed and realise what the images represented – India’s ability to transform a person. It changed me. I know it seems cliché but India is and always will be a place associated with finding oneself.

My Holga 135 was perfect for travelling through India. In comparison to other film cameras, the Holga has little to no settings. Its functions encourage a point-and-shoot approach, which sometimes results in happy accidents. Cultural interactions are assimilated the same way an image is exposed onto film. We’re provoked to press the shutter, to compress the memory to the size of our palms and remember it forever through evidence. We place everything we learned while travelling against the grain of our own cultures – a cross-process.

 

No friends had been before. An Indian man I was working with prior to departure suggested refunding our tickets. “But if you must go, don’t drink. They slip things in your drinks and then who knows,” he’d said. He was from Rajasthan and his lacking patriotism was a concern.

My knowledge of India was based on Gregory David Robert’s Shantaram or Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited. Both portrayed a landscape where spiritual journeys take place in those willing to engage and accept that fate is wild. My other knowledge of India was disconcerting

My girlfriend and I were about to pack for a three-month trip around the sub-continent, with the decision unfortunately coinciding with the gang raping and subsequent death of a British tourist in Delhi and the hospitalisation of her boyfriend. Preconceptions were being shaped to that of mainstream media. India was a dark shadow we were chasing. “We’ll be careful,” we reassured our mothers before leaving. Bad things happen everywhere.

Sick in a Jeep

You pay somebody rupees for a shared Jeep up the mountain expecting shared means a few other people. I’m a red-faced Rubik’s cube contorting to thirteen other humans and one chicken. Knees meet my ears. Lower back spasms. The chicken is next to me in a hessian sack, its wild squawks silenced by the owner’s loafer. He slides a fifth of whisky from the inside pocket of his coat and waves it around as an offering. I move in my seat inching closer to comfort while Jess is pressed against the window trying to breathe. Something is coming on. I see it in her eyes.

We reach Darjeeling and find a place. They allow us to stay for one night only. The state of Ghorkaland, fighting for independence, stages regular strikes in which the hillside station of Darjeeling becomes ghostly. No one knows how long this strike will last. One night will do before the next Jeep ride. Jess has already collapsed onto the bed with malaria symptoms. I wander the streets in search of food. Every restaurant closed. A man sells me dinner in the form of apples and bananas wrapped in newspaper.

The ghosts of Darjeeling resurface. Town centre inundated with people waving rupees at drivers. We’re ushered to a Jeep and once again are placed in the back seat. “We leave soon,” the driver says despite the gridlock ahead of us.

Four hours later we’re on the potholed road again leaving Darjeeling. Nine hours later we arrive in Gangtok, Sikkim, another hillside station. The strikes never went ahead. Jess is face down on the mattress while I again set out in search of fruit. It’s late but I find a restaurant. Fruit salad’s on the menu. I pay, then head next door to a hole in the wall, but the waitress follows me to buy fruit for the fruit salad. She buys pumpkin then hands me a plastic bag of pumpkin and yoghurt.

It must be 2:30 am and I have three seconds to get to a toilet. It’s finally happened. I’m glad I have a Western toilet in our room. Someone did tell me that no matter what you do, you will get sick in India. It’s more or less an adjustment to the abundance of red chili powder.

Kilos are lost over the course of days. Jess overcomes her malaria scare and joins me by the toilet. Any chance of sightseeing or adventure is thwarted by the need to have a toilet within reach. Even walking out into the street for breakfast results in hunched over agony, unable to continue, about to burst. We take turns. We buy more toilet paper. We listen to hours of music through noise-cancelling headphones, a fumbling panic to put them on before the other goes about their business.

Sick on a bus

We flag the bus down. It nearly left without us. We throw our rucksacks beneath and climb aboard, taking our designated seats in the last row. Two middle-aged women turn in their seats to watch us. Half an hour later they’re still watching.

The sun setting somewhere over Jaipur tells everyone to leave their seats and enter their horizontal berths above. I do so gladly, excited by the prospect of sleep and glad to remove the women’s eyes. Unfortunately the back of the bus also means copping the brunt of any potholes, which is likely on a sixteen-hour journey from Pushkar to Rishikesh. I underestimate the extent and depth of them. This bus has no suspension. Each time a wheel enters the earth I’m sent flying. A thick plume of dust releases from the thin mattress when I land. Poor Jess and her small frame go with every corrugation. I’m there to catch her elbows in my ribs. Somehow we fall asleep.

The bus stops every few hours for toilet breaks. Women wait in line at holes in the ground or simply hike up their saris in the field. Men stand like incense in sand, pissing in the wind. I get up to stretch my legs. I don’t feel so good.

It’s somewhere near midnight and we’re back on the trampoline in and out of gravity. Our slow progression toward the yoga capital continues. I drift into sleep but can’t sustain it, waking to the feeling of waste moving through my intestines. I’m exhausted. I’ve never been so afraid to close my eyes.

I spend the wolf hours waking to clenched butt cheeks and suppressed childhood memories.

These are only two of the more embarrassing memories from India. Much like developing film, happiness takes time. Through India I saw different shades of frustration, anger and sadness, now filtered through a lens of laughter. It’s those unhappy moments that are remembered for what they become.

 

No one warned us these things would happen. I may have brought a spare change of underwear if they had, but would’ve ultimately let destiny run its course. Unfortunately destiny also meant the death of my grandfather and cancer diagnosis of Jess’s father. We were ordered not to come home despite our best efforts. But looking back, we were exactly where we needed to be. India was embracing us, teaching us a little more about ourselves which enabled us to better handle our tragedies. Perhaps our parents knew this was the case.

Travelling through India belongs to the individual – moments and memories forged between country and self. There were of course happier times, life changing even. But I wrote about the embarrassing ones to warn about some of the fine print and inspire people to travel India and live a little closer to the earth. I’m concerned with First World problems as I write this. My laptop has distressingly little charge and Jess’s Himalayan salt lamp is increasing our power bill, somewhat.

Life is far less complicated with a rucksack and minimal possessions. Life is far more thrilling chasing shadows through India. You’ll never know what lies between the borders unless you let the light in. It far outweighs the darkness.


KENYA: THE WAR ON PLASTIC WASTE

KENYA: THE WAR ON PLASTIC WASTE

by Eleanor Knight

 


What did you last take your shopping home in? For most of us, the regrettable answer is a plastic bag. However, for the community of Kenya, this subconscious act now comes with a hefty punishment.

Officially passed in February, the Kenyan Government declared that from the 28th August, people caught carrying plastic bags will face penalties of over $47,000 (AUD) in fines, and up to 4 years behind bars.

And it doesn’t stop there. Corporations caught producing and importing these single-use plastic carriers will also face the same strict fines and jail time.

 

A leap in action

Like many countries throughout the world, single-use plastic bags have become an epidemic in Kenya. Not only do these items contribute to a large percentage of blocked drains and roadside waste, they are also held responsible for numerous accounts of livestock deaths due to cattle choking on carriers. Marine life is also suffering the consequence, with huge numbers of bags ending up off the coast of Kenya every year.

In a recent report issued by The UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), it was revealed that more than 100 million plastic bags are handed out in Kenya every year.

Of course, there has been much outcry regarding the recent ban, including many small business owners voicing the decision will result in a loss of jobs and profits. However, despite the claims, supporters of the movement believe the change will heighten revenue for local Kenyan businesses, with the demand for reusable bags includes canvas carriers, totes and baskets expected to rise.

 

Closer to home

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The discussion surrounding plastic waste is big with many governments throughout the world. The UK has already instated charges for plastic bag users (about $0.09 AUD a carrier), and the nation of Costa Rica also intends to follow suit in an effort to ban all single-use plastic by 2021.

As for Australia (the world’s second highest producer of waste), supermarket giants including Coles and Woolworths have said they too, plan to phase out the use plastic bags in stores nationwide. This movement is due to be completed across Australia by June 2018.

Single-use plastic bags are one of the big contributors to the 8 million tonnes of plastic waste, dumped into the ocean every year. To find out more about Australia’s plastic waste epidemic, watch War On Waste: Ban The Bag.

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Riding in Vans With Girls

Riding in Vans With Girls

by Julian James

 

Music is the universal language. It’s a sunny morning in November 2015 and I’m twelve stories high in an apartment somewhere in what appears to be the Middle of Nowhere, Japan. I’m midway through a seven show Japanese tour as part of hardcore/punk/screamo group Blind Girls. After waking up earlier than everyone else and performing the customary shuffle of repeatedly saying sorry while trying not to put my foot in anyones crotch who’s asleep on the floor, I’ve made it out into the living room into the company of a couple strangers.

We can’t speak each other’s languages, so we converse by trading riff for riff on two acoustic guitars. We play all the cultural touchstones that mark learning to play guitar. Dammit by Blink-182. Enter Sandman by Metallica. Smashing Pumpkins. Sabbath. Zeppelin. Volta. Sunny Day Real Estate. Fcpremix by Fall of Troy gets a nod of approval. I guess Guitar Hero was big in Japan too. In the kitchen our host’s mum cooks her son’s nine new friends breakfast. Somewhere else Jack Black sheds a single tear because the spirit of ROCK N ROLL is still alive and it’s out here creating beautiful moments between strangers.

A month after I get the approval from uni to defer my exams and go ahead and live out a dream I’m in the Kichijoji precinct in Tokyo. More specifically I’m sitting on a couch in between Tokyo band San Visage’s members Kou and Yohei (‘Brilliant,’ I remember thinking: ‘a man with two greetings for a name.’) The couch we’re seated on is in the boot of a five seater van that we’ve fit eight people and all of our gear into. That van I’m talking about is in second gear with the handbrake on as we’re attempting to enter the highway. The whole van is vibrating and it sounds like Optimus Prime is in the engine recreating the scene from The 40 Year Old Virgin where Steve Carrell gets his chest waxed. We pull off at the next exit and someone who actually knows how to drive a car takes the wheel and it’s the start one of the best experiences of my life.

We play shows in studio rooms, in bars with AFL memorabilia hanging off the walls, in spaces underneath mechanics. We sleep on floors, in the van and in giant traditional Japanese farmhouses. People bring gifts to the shows. People scream words back at us. In Fukushima someone goes for a crowd surf to a riff I’ve written four months before in my bedroom. At our first show in Shinjuku the first person there is a mid-thirties man in a business suit who stands up the front to watch us play. Afterwards he takes photos with us, buys a record and has us sign it. The whole experience feels surreal.

After every show everyone heads to the closest 100 Yen bar to feast down on food and drink what roughly equates to $1 beers. I know I said that music is the universal language in the opening paragraph, but that was a lie. The real universal language is saying dirty words. My Japanese dick talk repertoire starts expanding at a phenomenal rate throughout the tour, and soon enough I’m throwing around phrases like ‘there’s a dirty dick on my futon’ like a seasoned vet. At any given point in time I am only three beers and two genitalia references away from thinking I am the funniest man alive and a groundbreaking cross-cultural pioneer.

Why do I play the music I do? Because it resonates with me. Because it’s visceral. Abrasive. Aggressive. Challenging. But at it’s heart it’s frail, flawed and full of hurt. Every night we play is a catharsis, an outpouring of expression in a period that prefers disingenuity as a reality. Hardcore is outsider music. Which is why it’s valued, which is why people keep it alive, and why small bands like us are over to go overseas and have these incredible experiences. I am eternally grateful to everyone who made that tour and the resulting tours possible. Maybe punk rock didn’t save my life, but it sure gave it meaning.


Written by Julian James

Photography by Ben Smith and Keisuke Baba

Check out Blind Girls and Sans Visage