Tuesday, November 6, 2007

And What Have You Done the Last Four Years?

Just the other day I realized that the Beijing Olympics would be taking place in less than a year – nine months to be precise. I am trying to find a way to be there for the opening ceremonies since the Chinese showcase at the end of the Athens Olympics in 2004 was off-the-hook amazing and I figured their actual opening ceremony would take that great performance and multiply it by, say, a thousand. Needless to say I am really looking forward to the next Olympic games! Welcome to China!

During the last Olympics I was living in Melbourne, having just arrived for my secondment. Secondment, for those who do not know, is just a fancy term for work swap. Basically, my old company would get two Aussies to help out during our busy season and would send two Yanks (ha ha I said Yank) over to Oz to help out during their busy season. I didn’t understand why Australia would get busy mid-year while the US got busy at year-end but it was probably for the best; my office couldn’t spare anyone, not a soul, not even the interns who didn’t know how to do anything except make copies and punch holes in paper, during the months of January to April. It was just that busy, even more so now. I am being utterly sincere when I say accounting firms will hire anyone with a pulse these days.

Anyway, we watched the Olympics from our apartment in Melbourne whenever we could. It was like a cruel joke actually, because a lot of events took place while we were sleeping, and the only things they would repeat during prime time were events in which Aussies excelled. This would include swimming (remember Ian Thorpe, the Thorpedo?), diving, cycling, rowing, field hockey, some track & field, and my personal favorite: shooting. Yes, I said shooting, as in skeet shooting, as in throwing a clay object in the air and measuring the skill of the person shooting down said object. Yeah, I didn’t understand why that was an Olympic sport either but it was kind of entertaining. I was waiting for the contestants to yell “Pull!” to release the clay disk but instead heard all manner of words in their native tongue. At least I think they were saying pull. When we weren’t watching skeet shooters shoot down clay, we watched the US and Aussie teams duke it out in the pool. I think the medal count may have been in Oz’s favor for that event but it was hilarious how they treated the medal count for the Olympics as a whole. I think the US, China, and Russia were the top three in terms of quantity, but the Aussies went two steps further: first they organized it by number of gold and silver medals won (because bronze obviously doesn’t count), then they organized it by number of medals per capita. The funny thing about basing the medal count on the country’s population obviously meant that Australia was on top, and the US was way down there. I thought the way they were presenting the information was amusing and a wave of American patriotism hit me: we have the most medals damn it, not Oz, so stop acting like you have beaten us you Aussies. Of course, I kept that thought to myself since I did not want the Aussies turning on me during my first month there.

What most people don’t realize about Melbourne is that there are many different cultures living there, chief among them Greeks, Italians, and Chinese. Did you know that Melbourne has the largest Greek population outside of Greece? It’s a fact. I’ve had some terrific Greek food in Melbourne and was disappointed with the kebabs here in America after I got back. That stuff they have down there is authentic and oh so good. The Italian and Chinese food were great too, but not so great that you wrote back home to rave about it. The only ethnic food I wouldn’t recommend trying is Mexican, because they really screw it up in Melbourne. They think salsa comes out of a can (eek!) and do not understand the concept of beans. Also, there aren’t very many Mexican places in town – I only know of two: Taco Bill’s and Three Amigos, both of which sucked. When I asked for nachos, they gave me nacho chips drenched in canned salsa and cold sour cream. I think I ate four chips and gave up. To make matters worse, they do not have hot sauce. Bring a bottle of Tapatio if you really like it on your food. Otherwise you are out of luck.

The other thing that crossed my mind while thinking about the Olympics was my age. During the Athens Olympics I was 25 and already starting to feel, well, old. A lot of the Aussies working for my old company were 21 or 22 for goodness sake; to them, I was a senior citizen at 25. I’ve actually heard someone exclaim, “Blimey, by the time the next Olympics come round I’ll be 25! That’s so old!” to which I replied with the Look of Death. The nerve of these young Aussies and their big mouths. I’d be 29 during the next Olympics, which made me nervous because that was really close to 30. I wondered what I’d be doing by then but didn’t give it too much thought, aside from the hope that I’d be higher up in the corporate ladder and making more money. It’s really hard for me to say what I’d be doing a year from now, let alone FOUR years from now, since my plans are constantly changing. I really hate getting that question during an interview: where do you think you’ll be five years from now? I don’t know how they want me to respond to this question so I am always vague with my answer. Wouldn’t you as an interview think it’d be creepy to have someone say something specific given all the variables in life? I personally wouldn’t be impressed with a reply like “I want to be Vice President of Sales in five years” or worse, “Head of Internal Audit.” I’d rather they be honest and give me a general direction on where they think life will lead them.

So I guess I’m not doing that badly when I measure myself against those expectations in 2004: I have gotten promoted and do make more money. The jury’s still out on maturity, sound decision-making, and cooking skills. If anything, I’ve probably regressed rather than progressed during the past four years. Maybe when the Olympics do roll around in Beijing next year I will think about these things and look back on my life. Perhaps then I will not be as hard on myself.

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