Steve Scanner

That Was The Year That Was

Dontcha hate it when those who have clearly done nothing with the past year get on a soapbox to state that it was the best year of their life? Then they proceed to elucidate just why it was such a fantastic year. Usually, this reasoning includes any one of a multitude of mundane trivialities; a new car/stereo/DVD player/any goddamn consumable they have been sold (that isn’t actually required) by highly effectual corporate advertising; an 18-30 package holiday to Ibiza, where said person spent their entire vacation drunk and shagging mentally unstable strangers; a promotion from tea-boy to gofer; a new girl/boy friend, usually acquired just prior to the year’s end; Arsenal/Manchester United (insert favourite football/baseball/basketball/rugby team) winning its respective title.

I may sound a cynical old bugger here, but who CARES about such shallow, self-indulgent issues bar those directly involved? Rarely does the person who has genuinely had the best year of their life feel the need, or is granted the opportunity, to proclaim their good-fortune.

With that in mind, I tell you this: last year was the best of my life. It was certainly the most life-changing I have ever experienced. At the risk of being self-indulgent, I’m gonna tell you a little about it - my travels, my mistakes, my joys and, ultimately, my fears.

Be warned - my year involved none of those issues above. I walked out of a job; I bailed out of the UK to move to the other side of the world and then travelled to the tropics of Borneo for four months - when I had no inclination of doing so - where I fell devastatingly ill and had to leave after two weeks; I have no idea where the New York Knicks stand in the NBA; I certainly have not shagged any strangers, mentally unstable or otherwise. If that fails to appeal, you better close this page and read something more in line with your thinking - ‘TV Guide’ perhaps.

So yeah, I walked out of my job last year. It was a moderately good job too - Retail Management. It hadn’t jaded me, at least, no more than the average guy gets jaded with his occupation. Nor did I have a huge falling out with the MD and, in the words of Jello Biafra (even if he didn’t write the words), tell him to, "Take this job and shove it, I ain’t working here no more." I walked due to my overwhelming desire to live in New Zealand. I’d visited the country for at least a month during each of the previous three years. Each successive visit found me adoring the place more and more. I attempted to land a job on each visit also, but due to Immigration red-tape, that proved to be a fruitless and thankless task. The bureaucratic double-edged sword states to get a Work Permit I need a job, but to get a job I need a Work Permit. It’s vicious circle, one that’s incredibly hard to break using the methods I employed and reminiscent of a schizoid dog that spends hours running in circles trying to smell its own butthole.

My sole lifeline was to enter NZ as a visitor and hope things work out for me from the inside - fucking subversion man! ZOUNDS would be proud! So, in March 2004, I said "Goodbye" to the cosy cocoon of home life. I walked away from life-long friends, from family and my recently disabled Mum - I walked away from it all anticipating the opportunity to re-start my life on the other side of the planet.

Currently, my Visitor’s Visa expires in June. In March, I shall be officially authorised to apply for a Work Permit - WITHOUT the offer of a job. Of course, that’s only temporary until my Application for Residency is accepted or denied. Too often, it’s been a pressurised situation, not least when my initial Work Permit application was declined and I faced apparent deportation.

The year though, as you could expect, has been a personal revelation. Not having ANY income has limited my adventures of course - I haven’t travelled as much as I would have desired, nor I have been able to ‘treat myself’ to booze and records as I would have in the UK. I have been out to Wanganui for the first time and I made it to the Raetihi Film Festival also. Ultimately, I feel I have now assimilated into the society here - I feel I am a part of the small community of Taumarunui. It’s a beautiful area of a beautiful country and right now I feel totally at home here, more so than I ever did in the UK.

I’m not slating life in the UK - it offers a lot that NZ cannot. But for me, this is where I now belong - I think it always will be that way too. I like the pace of life here, the cleanliness, the civility, the "She’ll-be-right" attitude to any adversity and the emphasis that is placed on the finer things in life as opposed to materialism - it’s a total joy to live here. Without wanting to sound pretentious, if I haven’t already, I feel I am now a New Zealander. Shit - I’ve never written that before… It’s quite a realisation even to me, but even in reflection, it’s 100% accurate.

You may now wonder why I decided to leave such a personal paradise for the tropics of Borneo, particularly during a period when by income totals zero. I’ll supply a few of the reasons - I’ll also leave a few buried. Guess if you dare!

First, I have an insatiable wanderlust. I hate the inertia of immobility. Even a simple trip to a neighbouring town pacifies me for a period. The prospect of witnessing a new place on a totally fresh (for me) continent could not be turned down. Much as I love NZ, the chance of experiencing such a dramatic culture shock was too much to refuse. Admittedly, I had no inclination to go to Sarawak on the island of Borneo - in fact I had no propensity to go to Asia in general. That area of the planet held no interest for me. My theory was if I was to spend NZ$2,000 travelling, let’s look at Australia. But that’s where the second point comes in…

…My four months included free accommodation. What I pay in rent here would be saved, and that taken off the NZ$2,000 would make for an economical trip.

The guy I lodge with here in NZ, Bill, used to teach in Sarawak and has many friends there. He got offered the chance to produce a stage play for one of Sarawak’s major schools. I went along as ‘right-hand-man’, assisting where I could. My reward was free accommodation! On October 31st we flew out. It was an awesome flight covering the length of Australia. I had never flown over, or been in Australian air space before, so my excitement was palpable. We flew in over Sydney, went directly over Alice Springs and the surreal Salt Lakes before exiting over Wyndham at the north of Western Australia. From there it was over Java to Kuala Lumpar, a change planes and onto Kuching, Sarawak.

Some of Bill’s friends met us and, at 11.30pm after 12-hours of travelling, took us out for beers and food! Woo-Hoo - this is MY kinda place! The following day my troubles began.

We left our air-conditioned hotel at 8.30am for me to get my first glimpse of life in Borneo. As we exited the doors, the heat and humidity literally picked me up and slammed me against a wall. It was unrelenting, even at that early hour of the day. Bill had warned me of the heat, but even so, I was unprepared for its intensity. Still, acclimatisation takes awhile - I was aware of that.

Come my third day I had stomach cramps. Again, my prognosis was the ‘settling in period’. I had also been forewarned of this digestive unease and was prepared to suffer for a few days until it passed. Except it didn’t.

By the second week I was housebound with severe diarrhoea, nausea, stomach cramps, headaches, sleep disruption and lethargy. I’d enforced all the recommended precautions - avoid tap water, shun salad in case it’s been washed in tap water, don’t have ice, take plenty of salt etc. By the end of week two, I awoke with a fierce pain concentrated in my lower intestine. Bill suspected my appendix had ruptured, so it was off to the doctors!

His diagnosis was that I had had a reaction to the country as a whole - the heat, humidity, richness of food - they all conspired to cause something akin to an allergic reaction. The doctor had seen it in Westerners several times before. Had I stayed for the next three and a half months, the symptoms would have continued with only occasional remission. Long-term, this could cause liver and colon complications. And you know what? Fuck that! I am NOT risking my already whisky-beaten liver just to get value on flight fares.

So, back to NZ, from where I can report that after a few unavailing irritations, I am back to full fitness - even though I have lost over a stone in weight.

So what did I think of Sarawak? Well, given the above, I failed to see much. Our first week, when I was mobile, was spent at the school auditioning. I did get to the waterfront - twice in fact - which runs a small length of the Sungai Sarawak River. It was pleasant and vaguely picturesque, especially at night. During the day however, industrial works across the river and the amount of floating litter tarnished the areas impressive sheen. In fact, I was surprised at how dirty the place was in general. But then, bearing in mind the population of a million or so, it’s probably no worse than London. I couldn’t get to grips with the number of dogs running loose around the place either - and the amount of faecal detritus they left behind. Becoming so ill during my stay probably soiled my opinion of the country. It was a pleasant place, but not one to which I would ever consider returning.

In terms of positives, I have to say the people of Kuching are an incredibly welcoming, open and amicable race. There were few places we went where we were not treated with reverence, which often lead to acute embarrassment.

So I’m back in NZ, $2,000+ out of pocket, with the prospect of 2005 being an even more momentous year. Remember in a paragraph above I mentioned a ‘fear’? Well, 2005 will see me either granted or denied NZ Residency. Given all I have written, you will appreciate how important it is for me to stay here permanently. I AM scared of the prospect of being denied the right to live and work here as a NZ citizen - it scares the life out of me in fact. I have sleepless nights over how I shall react when/if the letter arrives stating my application has been rejected and I have to leave this country that has become home.

Of course, I may be granted Residency - that’s what I am praying for at least. I shall feel infinitely more relaxed and comfortable with life when/if that occurs.

So that’s my 2004 - I hope you can comprehend just why it was a significant year for me. New Zealand proved to be the source of incredible highs, while Borneo proved to be the source of incredible lows and minor regrets. Those lows, however, will be minuscule if NZ Immigration deny my Residency.

Over and out Scanner hounds - may 2005 be all you want it to be.