Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Australian tragedy in the news

At work, I bring in the newspaper every morning and lend it out to people who want to read. People come down and have water cooler chats with me about current events. Highly unusually, there have been three tragic Australian major news stories in as many weeks:

26 Nov, the death of Phillip Hughes: a young cricket player died from injuries sustained during play. In a freak accident, Hughes was struck with a ball in the neck, splitting the cerebral artery, never regained consciousness and died in the hospital two days later. Public outpouring of grief was staggering. It was all over the news and on everyone's mind and tongue. In a country where talking about feelings isn't the norm, people were quick to share their grief. Everyone was sad about it, immediately hanging and shaking their heads for days after his death. Australians I know felt his death very personally and spoke of him like a friend. There was also a strong sense of "this isn't supposed to happen", that cricket should be safe and shattering that concept made Hughes' death hit home even more. There has been debate about cricket safety, discussions on potential changes. and tributes.

11 Dec, the disappearance and death of Sam Trott: a two and a half year old boy wandered out the back door of his house, setting off a massive search that resulted in finding his body drowned in a nearby lake. After he went missing, the search took over a day and dominated the front page of the news. During that time, co-workers passing by my desk would say in passing how much they hoped someone would find the little boy. Again, there was a feeling of tragedy in the fact that young children are supposed to be safe their homes. This isn't supposed to happen.

16 Dec, the Sydney siege: an Islamic fanatic held 15 people hostage in a Sydney cafĂ©, ultimately resulting in the death of two hostages and the gunman. This happening is scary and captured world-wide media attention, from so many angles: the gunman's motivations, timelines of the event, the grief for the victims, Uber's insensitive dynamic pricing during crisis, Australian gun control, and the #iwillridewithyou anti-Islamaphobia social media campaign to prevent backlash against Muslims. All of this is huge news. However, the Sydney siege is not openly on the lips of anyone I know. It is not a casual topic.

After the death of Sam Trott, I asked a co-worker who often comes down for the paper to explain to me a bit more about the cultural reaction to Sam and Phillip's deaths, how people feel them so acutely. We discussed feeling stronger empathy when bad things strike in what is supposed to be a safe environment. Today, I saw her and she told me she had been thinking of my cultural question, this time in regards to the Sydney siege. She told to me that she noticed there wasn't the same open expression about the siege because--from her view--there are some things you don't say. The thought that simply going for a coffee (so incredibly commonplace) could no longer be safe is a concept that cannot be given voice. It is certainly on everyone's mind. But the implications are too much, too serious, to say.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Tea time

"What are we going to have for tea?" This can mean any sort of meal or snack in Australia, and I love it. My housemate asks me this sometimes as we begin to think about dinner, and I find it charming. As an avid tea drinker, I do sometimes like to take it literally. My choice? Earl grey or mint tea with a caramel Tim Tam, a quintessential Australia chocolate biscuit. It's all about the simple pleasures... :-)
 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Logistics, sorted.

Two weeks into living in Australia and, to my relief, major logistics have already been sorted:

  • Housing: Living in Fremantle with a wonderful travel buddy of mine from Central America. He has generously taken my in at his sweet new place and has been an invaluable friend and resource helping get my life set up. 
  • Connectivity: I have an Australian phone number! Just fixing this single element helped connect me to my stateside support system and feel so much more at ease. All my love to everyone back home. 
  • Transport: I've got myself a SmartRider card for easy transit on TransPerth busses and trains. Also, my housemate has loaned me his old beat-up push-bike, which I've gotten all fixed up. I'm excited to try out the lifestyle of being a bike rider, bumming around town. Now all I need is a basket!
  • Financial: I've got an Australian bank account. I opened a Classic Banking account with NAB that has no fees/minimums and--SURPRISE!--links to a savings account with 3.5% interest. I did a double take when I heard this news, as I like most Americans have not earned meaningful interest on a basic bank account in years. My local friends tell me rates are actually shockingly low currently, but feels pretty great to me.
  • Work: I've been looped into a temp office admin agency, and just accepted my first temp assignment today that will keep me working full time for the next six weeks. Feels nice to start building my new bank account.
  • Social: Meeting lots of friendly people so far, mostly through my housemate. People have been friendly and welcoming to me, and I look forward to making more connections here.
  • Recreation: There's a proper squash club near my house, how sweet is that?! Got myself shoes and a racquet, and am psyched to pick back up an old passion of mine. I'm also curious to join a casual cricket rec league or something... that would be sweet.
Not bad for week two, hey? :-)

I'm ready to scuff up a new pair of court shoes!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Initial shocks

I've experienced more culture shock here in Australia than expected.

Little bits of language surprise me constantly. Every shop you walk into give the same greeting: "howyagoin'?" with a smile. When putting together our Ikea shopping list, Nick laughed when I added 'clothespins'... here they are 'clothespegs'. More people have commented on my accent than I’ve ever experienced. It’s very weird feeling different, even in a country where you speak the language and don’t stand out visually.

I don't understand the subtleties--or perhaps the basics--of the Australian point of view. For instance, in a casual road trip conversation, I asked about Australian free speech. From a few sources now, I have heard that there are uncodified free speech liberties, but hateful/dangerous speech can be limited. When I asked where the line gets drawn, I get a fuzzy answer that "bad" speech may happen but common sense doesn't allow it to catch on so everything sorts out naturally. As an American, I find this baffling. How could it work? I am intrigued and need to learn more.


One of the most salient feelings I've had is sticker shock. Australia is expensive, particularly going out. Yes, food prices include tax and tip, but still, holy crap: $10+ for a pint of beer, $30+ for lunch? Yikes. Thank god the exchange rate has come down a bit in favor of the greenback… but even with that recent advantage, I feel cautious in what I can afford to do. A job will certainly help me feel more comfortable in this regard. To help, I eat mostly at home, taking advantage of cheap in-season strawberries and reasonably priced Australian meat and produce. 


Also plaguing me is homesickness. In the past, my time traveling has usually been at a natural pause in my life: moving or school break. I've always already said goodbye to a homebase for good or known everyone was to reconvene soon. Never have I spent a significant amount of time simply "away" from home. I know what my life would be like if I were still in Seattle, and I know it is going on there without me. I miss my family and friends. This all of course is natural, but still challenging. I am settling in and know it will get better, but there is a Seattle-sized hole in my heart currently...

Vintage Seattle flavor on the walls of a Freo pub, be still my heart! New vigor and strength indeed.

The benefit of blogging

It feels refreshing to write again! It is easy to lose track of all the new stuff I am processing, especially when surrounded by natives who find local culture the epitome of normal. Composing it all explicitly reminds me how much I am learning. Reiteration is an effective learning technique, but this also has the added benefit of connecting me more with friends back home. Thankful to have begun again.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Melbourne Cup: a day at the races

Springtime (that wacky southern hemisphere!) means outdoor sports season. I was invited by my new friend Nat to join her for a ladies day out to celebrate the Melbourne Cup, essentially Australia's Kentucky Derby. We attended at Ascot Racecourse in Perth to partake in local races and observe the broadcasted national spectacle.


But everyone knows the races are really just an excuse to get all dressed up and day drink in the sunshine. The men looked dapper in formal wear and the feminine summer styles were on show: delicate lace, floral patterns, and sweetheart bodices with deep V plunges. And of course, fascinators: fluttery feathery hair pieces! I was delighted when Nat loaned me one to wear for the occasion. :-)


All dolled up for a day at the races!

We arrived just in time for the Melbourne Cup race #7, the premier race of the day. With bated breath we bellied up to the rail and watched the race on the track bigscreen. There was a large sheltered area housing all the official and independent booking agents, each offering different odds. You pick your horses, then go shopping for a bookie to place your bet! I bet on the favorite and the hometown jockey going for a record. Nat and Mel placed last minute bets on horse number five, Protectionist, based on a random tip that a man in the train station shouted at us while we poured over the betting sheets in the newspaper. It turned out to be a winner!



Lucky ladies!
First round of drinks were on the winners. For a captive audience, drinks were reasonable: $25AUD per bottle of house SSB, Semillon Sauvignon Blanc. (Pro tip: pack a picnic to go with your wine.) We weren't the only ones drinking however. As the afternoon progressed, I saw an all-out fist fight break out one table away. When we took the crowded bus home at the end of the day, one man verbally reprimanded a second man for not giving up his seat to a woman. When man #2 continued to sit, man #1 smacked him in the face! I'm not used to arguments getting physical so quickly. My Australian lady friends rolled their eyes. Oh, the fighting, what an annoyance. A distasteful reality. To me, it was startlingly bizarre.

Overall, it was a lovely Tuesday in the sun with wonderful company, and an enjoyable cultural experience indeed!

On a somber note, there were some unfortunate fatalities: two horsed died. We found out the news after leaving. One--Admire Rakti--was the favorite in the main race but suffered heart failure immediately after. An uncommon, but not unheard of, accident. A second horse in another race got spooked by a flag-waving fan, shattered its leg, and was euthanized shortly thereafter. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Landing in Australia and moving to Freo

Finally, after nearly 24 hours in the air and two days in Singapore, I landed in Perth, Western Australia. Nick, one of my best travel buddies from Central America, warmly welcomed me at the airport. On the drive home, he told me--surprise--we're moving house tomorrow! Well, let's jump on in then. It had been a year since I last saw him, so we enjoyed a quiet night in catching up before the big day following.

I awoke early my first full day in Australia. I heard the sound of the birds outside and could not sleep from curiosity. Kookaburra say what? I am not usually a morning person, so when jet lag gives me the gift of being awake at unreasonable hours I take advantage: I watched the sunrise cast light on Perth CBD ("central business district") across the Swan River. After a quiet morning wifi-ing at a cafe--where I took my first step toward employment by applying for my Australian Tax File Number--we got to work and moved house from Victoria Park to the new digs in Fremantle. "Freo" is a seaside village, historically a port town and now a southern pleasant southern suburb of Perth known for easy going cafe culture. Some of the buildings display delicate and colorful wrought iron facades that remind me of New Orleans.

Fremantle town hall plaza, with free wifi!

Pretty buildings....

The town overlooks the Indian Ocean, with a few beaches I'm sure to frequent this summer. The strong ocean breeze, nicknamed the "Freo doctor", is a constant presence that howls past my house daily. Downtown's Cappuccino Strip is littered with pubs, cafes, and shops. Nightlife looks lively. I feel lucky to have landed here. Particularly in this household. I'm staying in my friend's beautiful townhouse that has a view and a healthy stream of houseguests. The new furniture has been built, we've developing house rhythms, and are preparing for Thanksgiving and a housewarming party. It holds promise to be a pleasing place to live.


Sunset from our new "Terrace del Sol", looking down to the Indian Ocean.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Singapore stopover

Me and the Merlion!



En route to Australia, I flew through four countries in 22 hours, landing in Singapore for a three-day stopover. I arrived just after midnight, took the convenient hotel shuttle from the airport (leaving the airport every 15 minutes, approx $7USD) to my hostel doorstep on the fringe of Little India. I crept into the female dorm in the dark, scaled up to my top bunk, and crashed.

The next day, I poked my head out to explore nearby Little India. There are many ethnic groups represented in Singapore, and many have enclaves in various neighborhoods. When I got hungry, I followed locals to the grungy but cheap and tasty Tekka Center food court and found myself a plate of veg curry for $3SGD.

One of the highlights of visiting S'pore was catching up with a old high school friend I hadn't seen since graduation. She and her husband have been living there for four years. She and I took a sunset walk along the water, chatting about ex-pat life, dipping into hotels when we needed a blast of AC, and introducing me to the iconic Singapore Merlion. I squealed when I saw it from afar! The skyscrapers and luxurious hotels and shops--the Louis Vuitton store along the water, sparkling in the sun--in the prime marina district were night and day from the gritty Little India neighborhood of my hostel.

Marina Bay Sands Hotel, across from Merlion Park.

For dinner, she took me to her favourite hawker markets, Lau Pa Sat. Recently remodeled, it is one of many food stall markets that provide a way for street food to exist but be regulated. This corralled system appears to work, offering the benefits of cheap and tasty food with stronger supervision than can be achieved with chaotic independent street food. (But it does lose some of the personality...) We dined on a few local foods she said I must try: laksa (a curry noodle soup, like a spicier ramen) and fried white carrot cake (not actually carrot, instead it is turnip cake scrambled in with fried egg topped with onion and chili). Both were tasty, but more significant about the evening was enjoying my friend's company.

Fried white carrot cake and laksa dinner.

I zipped home on the seamless subway (loved it), hunkering down and sleeping at odd hours for the next day. I confess I didn't get to know Singapore as well as I should have. My general impressions were that it feels of but also not of SE Asia. Prices were on par with the US, contrary to other cheaper places in SE Asia I have traveled. I was surprised when walking around Little India and Kampong Glam (the Arab quarter, nearby) how quiet the streets were. Not nearly as much life out on the streets as Thailand, Vietnam, or Cambodia. It didn't feel as vibrant. Things were very orderly, almost sterile.

During my stay, I fell mostly victim to jet lag, travel adjustment, the easy-flowing AC in my hostel, and an early bout of homesickness. Also, a budding addiction to my new luxury item for this trip: a Kindle paperwhite! I am in love with it, and am so happy I finally took the plunge into e-books.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The one-way ticket butterflies: Australia here I come

It is time for my next adventure! One year ago, I returned from Central America, thrilled with traveling and hungry for more. So I secured a Working Holiday visa to travel and work in Australia for a year before I (a) turned 31 and ineligible, and (b) my traveling can-do spirit was tempered. It has been a ticking time bomb in my pocket ever since.

After a year in Seattle, I'm finally taking the plunge and bought a ticket to Perth, Western Australia. There's nothing like the nerves right before pushing the "purchase" button for an international flight. I learned from my past mistake: when going on adventures, never book round-trip. Anything can happen, don't overly plan if you don't have to.

I am nervous. I'm never consciously bitten off a trip this big. How long will I stay in Australia? What will it be like to work in a foreign country? I've gotten comfortable in Seattle; will I get homesick? Will I get into the Outback? Will I scald myself on a meat pie before developing proper technique? Who are my future friends that I don't know yet? How different *is* Australian culture and vernacular? What's out there for me to learn? Does my travel insurance cover drop bear attacks? If I have a terrible horrible no good very bad day, where do I run away to? (See image below... yuk yuk.)

So many questions, yet I take solace: seems like a sign that I'm moving from one WA (Washington State) to another (Western Australia) and upon my arrival one of my favorite people is taking me on as a houseguest to soften my landing. Plus, the weather report for Perth looks drop dead damn gorgeous. [Deep breath.] Here goes nothing!


Alexander from "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day".
Via Google images.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Onward: road tripping the American West

The car is packed and off we go, headed south to begin our August American west road trip. Can't wait to do some exploring in my own backyard, especially the red rock national parks that have been calling to me for years... Oregon, California, Nevada, and Utah here we come!