To this day, I love fried Spam and eggs. The crunchy and salty slice of processed mystery meat dipped in just cooked egg yolk is one of my favourite breakfasts. After all, it was the breakfast that I grew up eating on Sunday mornings when we’d all sit around the table and mum would hand out these small rectangles of fried salty goodness. I didn’t think it was that strange till I had a conversation with some of my friends who furrowed their little brows in disapproval, “ew, Spam is gross, it’s like dog food”. I quickly learned that my beloved Spam breakfasts were not as commonplace as they seemed, but rather they were an oddity. In a world of bacon and egg rolls with hash browns, my beloved family breakfasts of Spam and rice were distinctly different.
Amusing anecdotes about fieldwork were, from what I could tell, basic currency throughout university halls, on conference panels, and in graduate student lounges. Many of my teachers and advisors had often relayed similar, if self-deprecating, stories about their own spectacular mishaps or moments of levity while working with people in every context imaginable: research participants, colleagues, friends, and community leaders alike. So why then was this reaction to my story so sudden and so visceral?
A while ago I read something on Twitter that got me thinking. The tweet read something along the lines of: “What kind of sci-fi dystopia are we living in where robots taking all our jobs is considered a problem?” A slightly more positive spin on this is: “The problem isn't that robots are taking over our jobs, the problem is that we've created a world where that's somehow a bad thing.” These feel like somewhat glib responses to increasingly complex questions about inequality and automation; however, what they actually ask are fundamental questions about what we value and how we structure society. In essence: “Why should we work?”
While last year I was busy being quite the adventurous backpacker, this year my biggest achievement has been to walk beyond the well-worn path between my bedroom and kitchen. It might have been the intensity of the lockdown slowly rotting away my brain, but I couldn’t help but start to draw some parallels between my time locked up in my bedroom in Melbourne, and my practice of Vipassana in Thailand.