Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Belshaw's World - when Latin is double Dutch

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday  10 March 2010. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010.

Both my girls are now back from their first South East Asian trip, and their father is very glad to have them home!

I was the same age that Clare is now, twenty, when brother David and I went on our first trip to Asia. At Christmas, Bing (short for binghi, the old TAS term for brother) gave me a CD full of scanned and restored slides taken by our father and David from that trip. Talk about nostalgia!

The world that David and I saw was very different. The Vietnam War was raging, Bangkok was full of US servicemen on R&R, Cambodia had yet to experience the tragedy of Pol Pot’s killing fields.

As part of the trip, we drove from Bangkok to Seam Reap in Cambodia to visit the temples at Angkor Wat.

We were advised not to go by one of the CIA people in Bangkok because of intelligence reports that the Khmer Serei were about to launch an attack on Seam Reap. We went anyway, in cars with UN plates and with UN flags flying and had a peaceful trip.

The UN connection came about because Dad was working for the UN while on sabbatical. This plus the Armidale connection helped make the whole Asian trip special.

The Armidale connection really was important in easing our way at a time when links between Australia and Asia were less developed than today.

In Singapore, we stayed for a week with an Indian university lecturer and his wife while we toured the city. In Taiping, we stayed for a week with Peng Ng and his family. Peng had been a tutor in economics at UNE. In Chang Mai, we spent a week with Ted Chapman from UNE’s Geography Department who was in charge of the rural development programs around the city. On the night after our arrival in Chang Mai, thirteen Armidale people sat down to dinner!

UNE still has strong Asian links. However, it is not clear to me that modern Armidale remembers just how intense that past overseas, and especially Asian, connection was. Armidale really was at the cutting edge of the changes that were taking place in the broader Australian community.

The 1950 launch of the Colombo Plan brought large numbers of overseas students to Australia. By the time I started at UNE, around one in ten of full time students came from overseas.

The White Australia policy was still strongly enforced at the time and was generally supported in the community, including the Armidale district. Further, the new overseas students came from cultural backgrounds that were very different. There was a degree of incomprehension on both sides.

As an Armidale person, I was and remain very proud of the way the local community handled this. You see, we treated the new arrivals as guests in our community, trying to make them welcome. Of course there were confusions and misunderstandings, but the end result was the creation of powerful links that continue to this day.

My girls did not need to draw on these links in their Asian trip. The routes and support structures for the modern Australian young are well established. Yet I also don’t think that they got quite the depth of exposure that David and I got all those years before.

Now that the girls are back and university has resumed, I face a new challenge.

Youngest is doing Latin this semester as part of her ancient history course. Latin!

I did three years Latin at school. Despite the assorted efforts of Messrs Mattingley, Rupp and Kitley, I failed every exam after the first one.

To make matters worse, I also did Elementary Latin as an extra at UNE because a friend, Brian Harrison, was doing it and it seemed that it might be fun. It was fun, but my results were no better!

Yesterday, Clare came to me for help on her first translation. I was unable to do so.

I do fear that my past is catching up with me. I see a personal crash revision course on Latin looming.

Don’t be surprised if Latin suddenly appears as an on-going topis in this column. I do like to share the pain!

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