Arriving in Perth (Western Australia) for a week of diligence review and meetings, I was immediately struck by two thoughts.  One, the remoteness of it all.  Waiting in line for a cab at the airport, about 12 people back, one of the taxi’s wanted to only take a fare that was going to the “city.”  Thoroughly confused when the airport personnel called out and tried to solicit patrons for the city-bound cabbie and not a single person responded (and a few shouted out things like “bugger off and go then”), I kept my mouth shut for fear I was having another Australian-lingo moment and I’d get driven out to the bush because city somehow meant “remote desert wasteland with no water”.  (I’d been reading the last of Bryson’s “A Sunburned Country” on the flight in, which, ironically, was the chapter on Perth, his drive through the middle of the continent to get there, and then up the barren coast to explore the remote, mineral and primordial ooze-laden northwest territories.)  Turns out, in fact, I was the lone soul heading into the civilized part of Western Australia.  One can only speculate where the rest of them were headed…

Second, Perth is exactly as I imagined Australia should be!  Lush, verdant trees and bright green grass, the crisp cobalt waters of the river/ bay (I’m not quite sure which it is, since Perth (like Melbourne) is situated on an ocean bay with a river that creeps from the city inland) and 68 deliciously warm degrees at 10am in the morning on my walk over to the client’s offices.  Later that day, a brilliant sunset that turned the sky pinkish-orange-purple-blue across the horizon (and was a welcome distraction from the invigorating reading materials I was provided…)  

So far, Perth is nothing like the gray, chilly and dismal Melbourne has turned out to be (but there’s hope  for improvement for when the “real” spring or summer arrives).  More to come (if I ever get out of the conference room)…

(coda)

OK, so in 4 days in Perth I did get a brief glimpse of the outdoor world.  The whole time while visiting this client’s offices, I had this feeling I couldn’t shake that I was somehow trapped in the movie Office Space, less the cynicism and money-laundering but ripe with the multi-layers of clearance and bureaucracy.  The offices were subdivided by area of expertise (e.g., legal, travel, marketing) with signs overhead the cubicles designating who’s realm you were entering… All the desks were at open cubicles, to encourage collaboration (and of course, discourage web-surfing, I’m sure), and all the conference/meeting rooms were 360 degrees glass. 

Throughout my stay, various subgroups of employees would congregate for meetings in or around these glass conference rooms and then, seriously, I kid you not, clap enthusiastically at the conclusion of the meeting as if to say “good work team, go get ’em!” 

So, with that background in mind, we come to my brief exposure to the outdoor world.  Never mind that the all-glass conference room I happened to be stationed in for 4 days was right overlooking the river and a lovely grassy patch (on which employees played soccer every day at lunch). I was indoors all day, reading endlessly, all day.  On Wednesday, I was sent down to a remote glass fishbowl to read employment contracts and was fully immersed when a safety drill of some sort started playing overhead.  A day earlier, we’d been in meetings when what was apparently a safety training was going on and, although the employees seemed uncomfortable with missing the group feel-good, were permitted to continue our meetings, including through a quasi-evacuation drill afterwards.  So, on Wednesday, I figured it was just another drill and  just sat glued to the riveting compensation terms and continued about my business when the beeping and overhead announcement started. 

Big mistake.  About 10 minutes into the drill a woman frantically came into the room and yelled “You have to leave, this is not a drill, there is a fire!”  Debating whether to save the employment contracts, or myself, I grabbed up my laptop and work papers (but not the contracts) and left with the other employees.  Mind you, I am clear on the other side of the office building at this point so nowhere near anyone who actually knows who I am… moving with the rest of the sheep to the designated meeting area.  This woman, in her panic, somehow manages to keep a close eye on me and makes sure I follow along to the meeting place (despite two attempts on my part to divert from the flock). 

At first annoyed at having been interrupted from my diligent work, and then kicking myself when I realized that, had I left my laptop and papers in the office they might have burned in the inferno and I’d be off the hook for the evening, I settled into being happy to be outdoors in the sun, and watching the water lazily lap at the edges of the river bank.  I basked in the warmth–at least 78 degrees and a most welcome environment after the chilly and gray Melbourne.  Yet, all the while, I’m looking about for a hunched man in oversized glasses murmuring “have you seen my stapler?”  

Needless to say, no inferno ensued (I heard people muttering that it happens all the time from “some bloke” smoking a cigarette near or in the building), and 20 minutes later I was back in my fishbowl, safely on the inside looking out, immersed in employment contracts once again.

Let’s just say, I’d like to do Perth again when I have a little more free time…

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