Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Hostel Life

Living in the hostel has certainly been a nice change of pace from living in an “apartment” in London. There is an almost continuous buzz of activity here and at any hour one can go to the kitchen/dining area to socialize with the various residents in varying stages of intoxication, usually dependant on their nationality and the time of day.

My arrival in Melbourne was right at the beginning of the summer busy season, meaning that I arrived early enough to find a job opening in the housekeeping staff at the hostel, which has since gotten a lot busier as the summer progresses. Normally there the arrival of summer brings an improvement in the weather as well, but it’s only been in the last week or so that things have started to feel much like summer. My arrival also corresponded to the arrival of a number of other “long-term” residents at the hostel, many of whom also work on the hostel staff to pay for their lodgings. Most of the guests at the hostel are in Australia on the one-year working visa and work at various jobs in order to sustain themselves and their nocturnal habits. Since the hostel is populated by a mix of English, Germans, and French, alcohol features very prominently in life here, and due to the fact that most people are living on a tight budget, the beverage of choice for any event here is “goon”. “Goon”, also known as pinard or box wine, is a cheap wine that is by far the least expensive alcohol option available for some reason (at $8 for a 4-liter box, a $35 case of beer doesn’t even come close).

The goon box.

The goon is contained in a silver bag inside the box, which can be removed to make consumption and transportation/concealment even easier. This bag, when emptied can be inflated with a few deep breaths, and when taped together with 29 other bags, makes a pretty decent “goon raft”. When there is a big river right outside the hostel, the logical thing to do at a hostel-sponsored barbecue is to try to cross the river aboard the previously mentioned raft. End result: the goon raft race.

Setting out.

By this time I had ditched the paddle and was "butterflying" my way across ...

Chalk one up for the good old USA.

For the record, I did my country proud by winning the inaugural “Goon Raft Race” and as of yet have not noticed any unintended side effects of my brief dip in the Yarra (while not exactly drinkable, I would prefer the Yarra to the Charles, Mystic, Seine or the Thames any day).

Living here for the past two months has really made me realize how prominently alcohol consumption features in many peoples’ lives. While I hadn’t exactly been “dry” in London, I didn’t really explore the bar scene much over the four months that I was there, primarily due to the expense of such outings. Since my arrival in Australia my alcohol consumption has increased, partly because of a few outings with parkour guys who introduced me to some of the finer sides of the nightlife here (like pouring and drinking a Guinness properly- not as easy as it sounds), and partly due to the fact that by the time I get back from training in the evening there is usually some sort of drinking event going on while I make dinner, which usually results in me enjoying the antics of the alcohol-lubricated from a distance as I eat my “massive” dinner (I’ve gotten the reputation around the hostel for being a big eater- apparently there aren’t many runners that stay here).

Since the “Nomads” company that runs the hostel also operates the bar downstairs, there is a lot of effort on the part of the upper management staff to encourage the residents to go to the “U-Bar” to get their alcohol, essentially providing a cash cow for the company and a cheap bar scene for residents. An attempt has recently been made by one of the other residents (an Englishman of course) to rejuvenate some of the bar’s more lackluster events, the first of which was the very successful riverside barbecue that saw me cavorting around in the Yarra. The next event was the “Ladies Night” party that occurred a few days before Christmas. While my role as “server” was similar to ones that I’d done at certain events in Davidson for some of the eating houses, it wasn’t exactly what I expected to be doing at a hostel in Australia a few days before Christmas. The “work” itself was a lot of fun, and my fellow American “server” (apparently there’s something special about us Yanks) and I found the hour’s worth of dancing on tables and pouring champagne for the mass of adoring females to be quite enjoyable, even despite the fact that we were basically sober the entire time. I guess all those muscle-ups have been good for something…

Selflessly putting in my "service hours" to ensure that Ladies Night is a success...

 Besides floating down the Yarra and serving champagne, I’ve spent a lot of time enjoying just hanging out with the other residents. Despite the constant flow of people checking in and out of the hostel, the All-Nations hostel in Melbourne has developed a particularly pleasant “hostel atmosphere”. While I’m sure that management would like to take the credit with their bar and discount travel shop just below the hostel, and the low room prices (relatively), I think that the atmosphere should really be credited to the people that stay long-term in the hostel. Over the past 2 years of traveling I’ve stayed in a number of hostels around the world and each has their own unique atmosphere. Many times this is dictated by the floor plan of a hostel, since any sense of community requires a popular, comfortable, and useful communal area. In case of All Nations, it is the kitchen/dining area that basically forces people to interact with each other as the 200-300 residents share 12 stove tops (of which a max of 6 will work at any time), 2 sinks, and 2 long tables that seat about 20 people max. This setup, along with a number of unisex bathrooms/showers (seeing people get out of the shower or at their morning best is a great way to fast-track bonding/mating), and mostly co-ed rooms result in a pretty positive sense of community (yes there are always the jerks but they don’t seem to last long). Since the about 75% of the hostel is split pretty evenly between French, Germans, and English, many of them tend to stay within their respective national groups, and the remaining 25% usually join one (or more) of these groups or keep to themselves.

"Hanging out" in the Nomads U-Bar, one of the focal points for the social life at the hostel, and perhaps the reason for the close-ness of the residents.

Salute to English.

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