Saturday, December 12, 2015

You guys, I'm like an anthropologist now!

There is an immigration phenomenon in Australia called the "work holiday visa," and it has changed the initial conversation we have with people when we first meet them.

Initial Conversation Before Australia:

"Hi! Where are you from?"
"Oh cool! What part?"
"Nashville, Tennessee."
"Country music!"
"Are you a country music singer?"
"Oh. Where else have you lived?"

Initial Conversation In Australia:

"Where is that accent from?"
"I'm from the States."
"Ooh, I was going to guess Canada, glad I didn't get it wrong!"
"Haha. No worries, Canadians are the more polite North Americans, so I'll take it as a compliment."
"[awkward laugh]"


I've been working with a catering company since November, which means I have been coming into contact with a lot of Australians, either as co-workers or as customers, and in my entirely unscientific observations I've found that 85% of the time the Australians assume I've come to their country on a work holiday visa.

Lemme explain what the work holiday visa thing is. Australia offers a no-strings-attached visa to young adults (18-30 years old) who want to come to Australia and bum around and work odd jobs for a year. You don't have to have already been hired, you don't need a sponsor, you can just move to Australia and have a roving gap year. It's not offered to every country, but the list is pretty impressive, and I'd say 90% of my co-workers at this catering company are on a work holiday visa so the thing definitely gets used.

It is my professional entirely amateur opinion that the work holiday visa has had an impact on Australian culture and presuppositions about people like me who have come to their country.

Impact #1. They assume anyone who looks to be under thirty (thank youuu!) is on a work holiday visa, so they feel no curiosity about anyone who is not Australian and also serving them food.

This doesn't just apply to the customers, I've found the same thing with my Australian and non-Australian co-workers, too. The fun part about this assumption is seeing how long it takes for people to realize that I'M A REALLY INTERESTING PERSON! my humble opinion.

If the Initial Conversation goes beyond just finding out my home country, they'll follow up with asking what brings me to Australia. That's usually phrased as:

"So you're on a work holiday?"
"No I'm getting my masters."
"Masters! Wow! In what?"
"Education. I'm a teacher."
"Oh! Why aren't you teaching here?"
"Well, my husband and I are trying to get registered to teach here, but it is a complicated process."
"Why is that?"
"We have to get background checks from all the countries we've lived in and that can take a while."
"Oh yeah I've heard the FBI check takes forever."
"It does, and one country we lived in doesn't even DO background checks for non-residents."
" many countries have you lived in?"

And BAM! I've snagged them! mwahaha

Sometimes it's the fact that I have a husband that snags them.

"Wait, you're married?!"
"For how long?"
"Seven years."
"SEVEN YEARS?! You don't look old enough to have been married seven years!"
"Thank you! [hair flip]"
"How old are you?"

And then they usually go on and on about how youthful I look and ask me about my skincare regimen---ok, that's not true, it's usually followed with

"Why are you working at a catering company?!"

Fair enough.

The post-initial conversations have many paths, but the point is that because of the work holiday visa, I think Australia is usually people's first international home, so no one asks where else I've lived. I realize that because of our profession as international teachers, the Initial Conversations in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have naturally gravitated toward inquiry into our previous experience. I just think it's interesting that no one is curious here.

Impact #2. Because the easiest jobs for work holiday visa holders to get hired for involve serving food or just working in a service industry in some capacity, it appears that the vast majority of Australians have never had to work in such positions and have NO IDEA HOW TO TREAT THE WAITSTAFF!

With 10 years of experience in 5 different restaurants of varying level of "fanciness" (it's a Michelin category, look it up), I've had a lot of the food and bev industry in my day, and I can always spot the customer that has worked in a service industry. They take note of the waitstaff, say thank you, move their water glass so the waiter doesn't have to go-go-gadget his arm to pour a refill, alert their tablemates to the presence of the waitstaff (especially if she is holding a scalding hot and very heavy plate in her hand and is about to drop it on their designer clutch that is ON THE TABLE DURING MAIN COURSE SERVICE FOR SOME INEXPLICABLE REASON), and use phrases such as, "Can you help me with..." or "Whenever you get the chance..." or "Please."

At the American restaurants, I'd say that there was at least one customer at every table I waited on that had either been a server at one time or had been schooled by a friend who was a server on how to make the waitress not feel sub-human.

In Australia I'm lucky if there is one per shift.

To be clear, the Australians aren't making feel me sub-human, but they definitely don't empathize with the waitstaff as often as I experienced in the States. I blame the work holiday visa. My thoroughly researched and evidenced hacked theory is that because the work holiday folks always take the low-paying service industry jobs, Australians are more likely to go into a career as a first job or something less in-service-to-the-public. Because they've never been a server, they don't know about things like the fact that we get assigned sections of the restaurant or banquet hall to tend to, so you can't just claim me as "your girl," flattering as that is. They also don't know about things like paying attention when food is being served at the table and maybe pressing pause on the conversation that requires you to lean over two table settings and makes it impossible to put a plate down. The most surprising has been how some people react when their conversation gets interrupted repeatedly because a huge line of catering servers is waiting to get past them down the aisle between tables. We really do try to take the path of least resistance, but sometimes it's unavoidable. I've literally had customers see me standing with arms full of plates and they just nod and smile.

I'm not saying behavior like this would never happen in America, I'm 100% sure it does. I'm just recording my anthropological observations for discussion and as a way to pass along a little bit of my experience with the natives of this strange new land.

Tee hee

Vicariously yours,

Sunday, December 6, 2015

If we knew then what we know now

In many regards I am not spontaneous at all. Family and friends probably guffawed at that statement, considering that I'm writing this post from my apartment in AUSTRALIA, a country to which I moved having no friends, no job, no place to live, and no leads on any of those things before we boarded the flight to Melbourne (except for the friends part, but that lead didn't materialize until a couple weeks before we moved). For many people, this move to Australia seemed spontaneous and crazy--and I often include my husband in that group of many people. Truth be told, I am a serial planner. I calculate, plan for the best, plan for the worst, research...and then I stop planning. I see if the idea continues to fester even after I've left google and months, sometimes years later I start planning again but this time with the knowledge that this plan is the one I want to follow.

Even moving overseas was not spontaneous. I decided I wanted to live internationally when I was in the seventh grade. I'd known I wanted to be a teacher ever since I was in Mrs. Sawyer's second grade class, and then when Ms. Hawkins, my seventh-grade social studies teacher, mentioned something about international teaching on one of her many random tangents we were so good at getting her on, I had a new spin on my life plan. Thankfully I fell in love in high school with a boy who had a similarly international plan and he has obliged my flights of fancy ever since. So this whole let's-go-live-in-Australia plan has been in the works for almost 20 years, you see.

But all my planning did not prepare me for what has actually transpired. In many, MANY regards living in Australia has been so easy. In just as many, however, it has been very difficult. There are so many parts of my plan that have fallen apart and soo many ways that I'm kicking myself thinking, "You should have known this would happen!"

So, for posterity and as a warning to anyone considering this same harebrained scheme, I'm recording all the things we would do differently had we known then we what know now*.

1. Save up a LOT of money before you move here. Like $60,000-70,000 at LEAST. That is the cost of a comfortable year for two non-backpacker adults in Melbourne that could even allow for some travel if you play your cards right. I say that because it has been really difficult for Tyler and I to find work. Like, really difficult. To be fair, we didn't start the job search in earnest until late September/October because we were settling in and working on our classes. According to my obsessive calculations, we would have enough savings on hand to last us the first semester so I felt no rush. And then we arrived and found things to be a LOT more expensive than I'd planned for. Oops.

Combined Tyler and I have applied to probably 35 different jobs. I've applied to countless restaurants, I even applied to demonstrate vacuum cleaners in department stores! We have both gone into this job search with the attitude that no job is beneath us, so we will do just about anything to make money. BUT NO ONE WANTS US!

I don't know if it is the student visa and the required limitations on work hours that comes along with it that makes us unattractive candidates. I don't know if it is the fact that we have college degrees and are overqualified. Maybe we're too old and they are confused as to why we aren't working a grown-up job. I may never know because NO ONE ANSWERS EMAILS OR RETURNS PHONE CALLS IN THIS COUNTRY! I've followed up with employers and have gotten nothing but silence. Not even the courtesy of "have received your email but am not interested." Not a text message, messenger pigeon. NOTHING!

So save your pennies, kiddies, because you're going to be unemployed in Australia for a LOT longer than you have planned.

2. Get a police check before you leave Kuwait. Ok, so this is obviously very specific to our situation, but I am kicking myself for not taking care of this before we left Kuwait. We didn't need police checks for our visa, but I had the idea to get one for each of us just in case we would end up needing it, but in all the rush of packing and finishing the school year, I just didn't do that errand.


In order to get registered as teachers in Victoria, Tyler and I need to submit background checks from all the countries in which we have lived for the past 10 years. For normal people this wouldn't be a hard task, but we had to go and live in three countries governed by very bureaucratic, famously-slow-moving officials, and one country won't even issue a background check UNLESS I FLY TO RIYADH AND ASK FOR ONE NICELY! So while I'm trying to find "sufficient proof" that I have done "everything in my power" to obtain a background check from Saudi Arabia, we are waiting on Kuwait and the FBI to send us the background checks that will tell us what we already know: we aren't child abusers with felonious tendencies. It is going to take the FBI 16 to 18 weeks (that's four months for those that don't want to do the math) to get back to us and Kuwait will return our paperwork "insh'allah."

My hopes are not high.

3. Investigate the universities a little more. In my case I'm a little disappointed with my grad school experience. Sure, my school is number five in the world for education (it was number two when I started looking into schools), and it is the university I have aimed at getting my masters from ever since I was an undergrad, but the experience is not what I had in mind. My university caters to Australians that are working full time, so the class schedule is very open and a lot of the work is expected to be done independently. Our articles are sometimes discussed during class sessions, but most of my experience has been on my own. I feel like I'm essentially getting a very expensive online degree that requires a dash of face-to-face time. I'm frustrated because I chose to quit teaching for a year so that I could study full time and avoid getting an online degree. Nothing against online degrees, I just can't learn that way. I'm a master procrastinator and I retain information that I have discussed rather than read so I need the class time to get the most of out my very expensive time here.

Tyler's school, on the other hand, appears to be all about the jobless international student...probably more because international students pay full tuition unlike subsidized Australian students and less so because of a desire to share knowledge with the world. The frustrating thing about Tyler's experience has been the fact that his school is almost TOO accommodating for learners of all situations, making their classes "flexible," meaning they can been attended on campus or online. The issue with that is the US government will not issue a loan for an international school if any part of courses is offered online. Nevermind the fact that because of the terms of our student visa Tyler couldn't choose the online option because we have to attend classes on campus in order to stay in the country, the US government has said no-go. Thankfully Tyler has been insistent and has gotten the university to produce proof that he is attending on campus and is therefore eligible for the loan, but it was really stressful there for a while.

4. Don't depend on loans for your tuition. Tyler and I started looking at universities in Australia and New Zealand back when we were in Saudi Arabia. That was five years ago. When we were making a LOT more money than we were making in the US and eventually made in Kuwait.


I am a two-time graduate of Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University**! Why didn't I save more money!?

Alas, hindsight is too late.

Despite all this stress that Tyler and I find ourselves in right now, I am grateful for this place all our planning--or lack thereof--has gotten us. With every new country Ty and I move to our marriage has gotten stronger, our friendship more significant, and Australia has been no exception. Because we can't afford to go out for drinks or fancy meals, we are having more dinner "dates" with ourselves at home and having real conversations. I have always thought it was cheesy and untrue when people say stuff like "I love you more today than I did back then," but I'm beginning to understand why people say that. I don't necessarily love Tyler more now than I did when we first met or even first married, but my love has changed and gotten so much stronger and deeper because of the years and miles we've put behind us. I can't wait until we are pouring ourselves two glasses of wine while sitting on our fabulous beach house porch and laughing at all the lessons we learned together all those years ago in Australia. the meantime, if anyone has a winning lottery ticket they don't know what to do with, help a sister out.

Vicariously yours,

*Keep in mind our situation: We are too old for a working holiday visa and we didn't have jobs that brought us to Oz. Had either of those conditions been in place, this would have been a wildly different blog post.

**Not actually an accredited university 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Our trip to the Camberwell Market

Spring has sprung in Melbourne and the weather has been really...interesting. It vacillates between amazingly beautiful sunshine and blue skies, and apocalyptic rainstorms. But there have been enough wonderful sunny days lately that I'm beginning to think Melbourne's reputation as a perpetually grey, rainy city is a nasty rumor.

One such wonderful weather day was last weekend and since the Mister and I have been spending a LOT of time just sitting around our apartment since the school semester ended, we decided to get out and see something. A friend of ours had booked a stall at a Sunday market so we thought we'd pop over and say hello.

The Camberwell Sunday Market is an institution among Melbournian flea market enthusiasts. It is sponsored by the local Rotary Club and is held in the parking lot of a shopping center close to the city. It is easily searchable on Google maps, but after Ty and I got off the tram, we were maybe 10 feet from the red locator on the map but all we saw was a busy street. Till Tyler spotted an unassuming sign spray painted at the opening of an alley. "Market."

"Think it might be that way?" Tyler said.

I must confess that the Mister and I are not big flea market/garage sale/consignment sale/clothing swap patrons. None of the clothes will ever fit us (especially me, who hasn't seen a single digit on her clothing tags since seventh grade), and since we pack up and move every two to three years, unless the interesting tchotchke is so unique that it can't be resisted, I just don't get a rise out of finding a one-of-a-kind fridge magnet or hair barrette.

I completely understand the appeal, and if I had a permanent residence I would Pinterest the crap out of this souvenir spoon collection and find a way to work the dismembered doll leg in there, too. 
Having immunity to used goods came in handy on Sunday because Ty and I need to be pinching our pennies until we can find more steady work, so this outing was a temptation-free interaction with the outside world. And boy did the outside world ever show up!!

I was very impressed with the hubs and how he handled the whole situation. He normally doesn't like to be around big crowds, but he was indulging me because I love markets like this and just looking at all the cool stuff, especially when it is people's collections. I like to see the kinds of things people hoard collect and this market was not short of eclectic collectables.

We did find a couple of stalls that had these ADORABLE kangaroo and koala bear bookends that they were trying to pass off as vintage treasures. I immediately found at least 4 boutiques selling the same mass-produced-last-week-but-made-to-look-old marsupials online through a quick google search, so I'll keep that knowledge in my back pocket as a post-first-big-payday gift to myself. Although one stall was selling them for $75 like many of the websites I found, but another stall had them for $25, so here's hoping that second guy is there the next time I hit up the market. I think that's what flea market shoppers call "the joy of the hunt," but frankly this is why I usually stick to stores: I know what I can find and where I can find it when I want to find it.

But I digress. I'm making it sound like we had a miserable time at the Camberwell Market, but that's not true at all. I love people watching and window shopping and, on days like last Sunday, being outside so it was a delightful morning outing.

There were even buskers, like this trombone quartet called "The Mel-bones."
At the end of the morning, we saw our friend who had rented a stall from afar, but she was super busy with shoppers, so we just said hi in spirit. We left the market with a $1 book purchased by Tyler and headed to the Target at the nearby shopping center for a glamorous purchase of shampoo and cat litter. It doesn't get more thrilling than this, folks. I'm sad to disappoint those of you who imagine our lives to be exotic and exciting in the Land Down Under. Sometimes the expat-turned-grad-student life finds you as a thirty-something discovering joy in a Sunday spent at the flea market with the man you love.

I wouldn't have it any other way.

Vicariously yours,

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The race that stops a nation

Last week I got to experience a uniquely Melbourne event: The Melbourne Cup.

The grand entrance to the Flemington Racecourse, where the Melbourne Cup is held. 

I'd never heard of the Cup before we decided to move to Melbourne and all I really knew about it when we got here was that it was a horse race. We have those at home, and while I am not in the target socioeconomic demographic for the sport, I understood all the pomp and circumstance that goes along with horse sports. It's a sport with a rich history and even more rich patrons and frankly I didn't understand the appeal. Here, the Cup is a huge deal, so much so that half the country gets a day off from work to watch it, and folks come from all over to attend the events.

Tyler and I haven't miraculously struck it rich in this gold town, so I didn't attend the Melbourne Cup as a patron. No, no. I was serving the food to the rich patrons. I got a job working with a catering company that hosts one of the marquees at the racecourse, but it got me a front row seat (well, really it was more up-the-hill-and-in-a-tent seat) to the action and I didn't even have to worry about my outfit!

Actually, I was a little worried about my outfit because the catering company had very specific requirements for our uniform, the most stressful of them being the required "donut bun" my hair had to be in before arriving to the job site.

Donut bun!? I didn't even know that was a thing! I googled it and found all kinds of YouTube tutorials and let me tell you this is not a hair style for curly girls, especially the way this company wanted it: smooth, sleek, no bumps or fly-aways. They do not speak my hair's language. So a few days before the Cup Carnival began I had a practice round. 

nailed it. 
Eventually I got the hang of it and with the help of approximately 17 bobby pins, the hair portion of my uniform was a success. The other funny part about the uniform was that the company wanted all the girls to have the same "signature" look, so make up artists did our make up every morning before going on the floor. 

Tyler says this photo makes it look like I got a DUI in my minivan on my way to soccer practice. He loves me.

Yikes. I personally thought I looked like a tired Vegas lounge singer with the heavy eye liner, orange-y bronzer, and bright red lips...but what does it matter, I got paid.

Anyway, while the Melbourne Cup is just one single race, the whole event lasted a week and incorporated four days full of racing: Derby Day (pronounced "Darby Day" like some kind of pirate...sadly no pirates were involved in the festivities), Cup Day (the Big Day), Oaks Day, and Stakes Day. Each day had its own theme, signature flower, and color scheme for the race-goers to observe. Tired Vegas was my theme for all four days. 

Oh how I wish I could have taken photos of all the hats and the fancy outfits and the less-than-fancy outfits, but I was running around like crazy the minute the doors opened until the last guest was escorted out. Each day of the Carnival brought very different groups with unique dynamics. Derby Day's crowd was young, fun-loving, and not shy about the bottomless drinks and open bar. They were well behaved and the friendliest of all the groups, but while the rest of the Carnival involved groups coming in and making polite conversation while snapping posed photos, Derby Day's group beelined it to the bar. They were really fun! 

Cup Day was the oldest crowd and as such they were more focused on propriety. The weather on Cup Day was AMAZING, so the crowd was amicable, just not overly friendly. It was really cool to get to be at the racecourse for the Cup because this year the winner was a horse that was completely unexpected to win (100 to 1 odds) being jockeyed by the first ever female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup. Her strapper (which I learned is the word for the guy that looks after the racehorses and is a term primarily used in Australia) was her brother, Stevie, who has Downs Syndrome, so the media wasn't short on inspirational stories that week. 

The amazing view of downtown Melbourne from the tent. The racecourse is in the foreground. 

The other two days, Oaks and Stakes, were relatively uneventful with the exception of the massive downpour and apparent tornado that supposedly "struck" Melbourne on Oaks Day, though I was none the wiser because I was in the middle of entree service when it was happening. The crowds were grumpy on Oaks Day (likely because of all the rain) and just rowdy on Stakes Day, which is funny because it is supposed to be the family-centered day at the races. There were no kids in our tent, but lots of childish behavior! 

By the end of the day it was a little less classy and a little more horse's-ass-y. Ba-dum-cha! See what I did there?
I enjoyed being back in the food & bev scene, having taken about 10 years off since I started teaching. Being an American in Australia is a major ego boost because, funnily enough, Australians love our accents just as much as we love theirs, so I had a lot of guests strike up a conversation with me just to hear me talk. I was really happy with the number of people that said, "Oh I love Nashville!" when I told them where I am from. Thank you, Mayor Dean, for putting our city on the map for international travellers! I no longer have to say, "Umm...have you heard of Miley Cyrus?" when people ask if any famous people share the same hometown. 

Hopefully all these shifts will result in the catering company booking me on for more events because, frankly, Tyler and I could use the cash and we have four long months before grad school starts back up and boredom is quickly setting in.

Vicariously yours,

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

AFL Grand Final 2015: A Very Australian Afternoon

I apologize because I am way behind with informing my tens of readers about this very Australian event that the Mister and I "attended" several weeks ago.

On October 3, Australians were tuned to their sets for this year's AFL Grand Final. Australian football (footy) is NOT like American football, not even a little bit, but like American football, Australians have a team and they are fiercely loyal to that team throughout the season. Unlike American football fans, though, footy fans don't necessarily choose their teams according to their geographical location or the location of their hometown. As soon as we landed we were asked "How long have you been here? Which footy team do you support?" by almost every Australian we met. Since I had no clue Australian football even existed before July 19, and Tyler had only just started his research before we moved, we had no idea which team we went for (though we quickly learned not to say we root for anyone because here "root" is colloquial for a VERY different activity). Essentially you choose your team at random. Some people support the underdogs, some stick to familial ties, other just like the team or a key player and that's how they choose.

Anyway, Grand Final time comes around and I still have no idea how the game is played but we figured since the big game was happening in Melbourne we couldn't miss this opportunity to hang with the locals. Here's what I know about footy after watching the game:

1. It is played on a cricket oval. The game was held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG or "The G"), which is one of lots of stadiums in the Richmond area of the city. Cricket grounds are ovals, and I guessed since there was a plethora of cricket grounds in this British colony, the locals made use of what they had when they invented this game. Here's the confusing part: There is no standard size for cricket grounds, so some are larger than others which means each game of AFL looks different.

2. It is essentially an elaborate game of keep-away. That's the best I can get from the many minutes I watched. It honestly looks like a game that was invented on a playground by some kids with nothing but a rugby ball and a LOT of energy to burn. The players never. stop. running. And there is so much JUMPING! The players are Amazonian, their legs have to be so long to keep up with the competition!

And that's it! That's all I could surmise. Ok, I gleaned something about different points being awarded for the ball being kicked through one of the FOUR uprights as opposed to rolling through...and that none of the coaches are on the field, instead having guys in pink shirts run around on the field with the players yelling instructions sent to them through earpieces, but that's it! If you want the details and a bit of AFL history and have 30 minutes to spare, here is a handy video from the AFL.

What I really enjoyed about the day was the company we kept and getting to see the old familiar sight of sports fans in a bar cheering on their team. We were at a bar only a few blocks from the MCG, so the excitement of the game was palpable and it was really cool to be so close to the action. Even though the rules were impossible for me to decipher, sports fans are the same everywhere and easy to read. We stood around in this massive-for-being-in-the-city beer garden, yelling at the screen from time to time and just enjoying meeting new friends.

Just like many NFL fans, Australians like to drink with their sports, and the Grand Final was no exception. Everyone was very well behaved, and I especially enjoyed the group standing behind us that had their own version of a game of Wizard Staff going on where they collectively built a tower of their beer cups as the afternoon progressed.

Tyler and I aren't big drinkers, but we joined our friends for an obligatory post-binge meal of Mexican goodness at a restaurant around the corner from the bar before catching the train home with a bunch of sweaty, tired AFL fans.

Even though it was just over a month ago, so much has changed since the Grand Final in Australia. Summer is creeping up on us here and Ty and I have already finished our first semester of grad school! It's crazy how different things are, yet somethings are very much the same.

Vicariously yours,

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


I'm such a neglectful cat owner! I haven't blogged about Kitty's grand adventure to Australia! Well, as far as I know the actual journey was uneventful, even though I was so stressed about her flying by herself I imagined all kinds of mishaps that thankfully didn't happen.

Let me start from the beginning.

Yes, we are those crazy cat people that shipped our cat from the Middle East to Australia. We own it. Judge us all you like. We couldn't leave our sweet girl behind! There is already a surplus of cats that need a home in Kuwait and if we couldn't find friends to take her we knew an overcrowded shelter would likely have to put her down eventually and that is just silly.

Yes, is was extremely expensive, but she's my baby! She's worth it.

Yes, the process is very long and drawn out, but as everyone that heard the tale of Jonny Depp's pampered puppies can attest, Australia doesn't mess around when it comes to animal immigration so we were aware of what we were getting ourselves into.

Here's the breakdown of the cat immigration process for Australia:

Step 1: Get your cat vaccinated. Australia is one of a few countries that has never had a case of rabies, so they are VERY strict about your cat having immunity before arriving in the country. Seven months before she was even allowed to travel, Kitty had to be vaccinated, we had to wait 30 days to test for immunity, and once her blood tests came back positive (or negative? Whatever result we needed to get the green light), THEN we could apply for a pet import permit.

Step 2: Pay an ungodly amount of money for the import permit. Alright, so the permit itself was only a few hundred dollars Australian, but that's still a lot of money! This step was really stressful for me because the government website is very clear that if any part of the permit was incorrect or left blank, the cat would be euthanized on arrival! I physically gasped when I read that and was very paranoid about getting every detail correct.

Step 3: Pay another ungodly amount of money for your cat's flight to Australia for 6 months after the immunization tests have come back. I was a doofus and didn't get this process started early enough (partly because it took forever for us to get accepted to grad school so I wasn't sure if we were going to be shipping her to Australia or the US) so she got booked on a flight in September and didn't travel with us to Oz. Since we couldn't check her as excess luggage and she would be flying alone, we had to book her as cargo which was REALLY STINKIN' EXPENSIVE! Like thousands of dollars expensive.

I repeat: she. is. worth. it.

Step 4: Pay yet even more money to book your cat a 10 day stay in quarantine after she arrives. Again, it cost over a thousand dollars for this required stay, but I'm told that it is down from 60 days as early as last year, so I'll take it!

Step 5: Wait. We got the import permit and flights and everything booked way back in March, and we didn't leave Kuwait until June so we had plenty of time to prepare ourselves mentally for leaving her for the summer.

Step 6: Locate a cat nanny for the summer (Philo, our cleaning lady, was amazing and checked on her every day. Even when she was hospitalized with a sickness for a couple days she sent someone to make sure our Kitty was ok), then sucker a couple of friends into watching your cat after the summer is over (Thanks Jo and Megan!!).

The snapchat sent to us by our neighbor Jo right after we left for the summer. Kitty was hiding in the closet.
Step 7: Bawl your eyes out when you have to leave your cat for the summer and you won't see her for FOUR MONTHS. I think the emotions of packing up our lives and leaving our friends and amazing neighbor in Kuwait also had some influence on the waterworks, too.

Step 8: Obsessively track your cat's travel progress. She had to go for two more visits to the vet to check for parasites and something else, then she was loaded under a plane for her first leg to Dubai.

A picture sent to us from Emma who was so wonderful to take her to both the vet visits. I'm so glad she understood how desperate I was to see that sweet face. 
In Dubai she had an 8 hour layover where I am told she was checked in to a pet hotel where she had a private room to roam around in, including a litter box, and was able to have some food before the LONG 15 hour flight to Melbourne. When she arrived she was taken directly to the quarantine facility, and I was told I would get an arrival email once she'd been checked by a vet at the facility. Well she landed at 5:30 in the morning and by 9am I still hadn't heard anything from the facility so I went into panic mode: my cat had been lost, she had been forgotten in Dubai, she was dead and they weren't telling me, she was loaded onto the wrong flight and was somewhere in Africa....all the worst case scenarios popped into my head so I tracked down the number for the loading bay at the airport and was that crazy cat lady calling to make sure my girl had arrived.

"You're the lady with the cat? Oh yeah, she's here. She is making sure everyone knows she is here," the lady said. Tee hee. Kitty doesn't like to be in a carrier...and I imagine at that point she had to pee, so she was probably just asking to be let out to find the nearest litter box!

Step 9: Wait some more. There are no visits allowed at the quarantine facility, so I just had to wait for 10 days until we could spring her from kitty jail.

Step 10: Prison break. Ok, the entire pick up process was SO not difficult. I was afraid we would have a snaffu because the day of her pick up was a government holiday, but the facility was still open and we had a one hour window to arrive and pick her up. 

Step 11: Apologize several times on the train ride home for your vocal cat disrupting everyone's commute. Every time the train doors opened, Kitty would start another chorus of her pitiful little mews and people would look around bewildered.

Most people didn't mind her being so vocal and everyone knows about the quarantine process for this country so when we said we'd just picked her up they were very sympathetic.

Step 12: Give your cat time to get over it and stop punishing your for leaving her alone for four months.

She hid under the headboard of our bed for a couple of days before resuming her usual activities of sleeping in my laundry, scratching the couch, and waking us up in the morning by purring on our chests until we get up and feed her.

Everything is back to normal now, and I think Kitty likes her new home. Everyone here is really surprised when we tell them that she came over with us from the Middle East, but once they get their first snuggle they understand why we just couldn't leave this sweet girl behind.

Vicariously yours,

Monday, November 9, 2015

Kangaroo meat: Doesn't taste like chicken!

Even though it's available in the grocery stores, Tyler and I hadn't had kangaroo meat until the other day when our friend invited us over for a truly Australian dinner.

Any meal with our friend and her family is delightful and they all patiently endure our endless questions about Australian culture and comparisons of Australian English to American, so we were really excited when she proposed a kangaroo steak dinner. Kangaroo meat is very lean and doesn't need more than a little salt and pepper and a little grilling to be delicious.

Kangaroos are the metaphorical deer of Australia in that they are all over the place and are often a nuisance to farmers so 'roo hunting is licensed and encouraged to cull the herd. I half expected the meat to taste like venison, but it didn't! It is best cooked medium rare and was not a game-y as I thought it would be, in fact I think it would be a great substitute for beef.

In a couple week we're going with this same friend to a wildlife sanctuary to see some LIVE kangaroos! I'm so excited to get the obligatory kangaroo selfie that everyone who visits Australia has to have.

Vicariously yours,

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Little Things I love about Melbourne so far

There is always a crowd of sun-soakers on the lawn of the State Library of Victoria
We have only been in Melbourne for about two months, and we're only just starting to see a change of seasons and the festivals, cultural events, and all around cool things you hear so much about in Australia are starting to fire up. It's not been an easy move thanks to bank bureaucracy, immediately jumping into grad school without a breaking-in period, and now the very real struggle to find any form of employment. There are things Tyler and I could complain about, but I am struck every day by little things I really love that reassure me we are in the right place for this place in our lives. Here are a few examples.

1. The city smells like a campfire at night. My theory is because wood burning fireplaces are still allowed in this city, unlike most cities in the States. Now that the weather is warming up, I can see that this is a condition that only applies to Melbourne in the winter, but it made the cold nights feel nice and cozy when we are out and about.

2. There are people busking on the streets. I know this is not unusual and in many cities it's considered a nuisance, but we have been devoid of public entertainment for 5 years and the buskers remind me of the singing streets of Nashville.  Maybe one day I'll grumble about the guitarist taking up half the sidewalk, but for now I'm so happy to hear a music student banging on some paint buckets or free style beatboxing while simultaneously playing his flute as I walk to class.

3. The water tastes AMAZING! It isn't just safe to drink, it tastes great and I prefer to drink it over bottled water or anything else. No lie, I had a dream the other night of me turning down other water so I could fill up my bottle from the tap.

I'm a sick pup.

4. People actually wear helmets! Biking is a big thing here, and not just for exercise. It appears lots of people bike to work or class or where ever and I have yet to see someone not wearing a helmet. Now, I don't know if that is because there is a strict helmet law here and it is heavily enforced, or if it is simply because people value their brains and like to keep them inside their skulls, but either way I'm loving the public consciousness of safety. It is very refreshing after five years in the Middle East where seat belts were optional and small children hanging out the sunroofs of speeding SUVs were an every day sight.

5. There are no subway singers. Ok, so there's not technically a subway here, but there are no performers on the trains or trams or any form of public transportation here. Again, I don't know if there is a law against it and it is strictly enforced, or if the people of Melbourne hate being forced into a morning commute with randos with a tambourine so they don't tolerate it. My commute on public transit is almost silent, and you hear no complaints from me.

Alright, New Yorkers, don't get your panties in a bunch. I know that for some of the subway performers, that is the only money they will make and that you don't have to give them anything, but I have serious guilt when I'm on the same subway car as one of those performers (or even worse when it's a GROUP!) and I end up either militantly avoiding eye contact the whole ride or guiltily giving them an appropriately large handful of whatever coins are in my purse. I HATE IT!

I also understand how this contradicts item number 2 of "things I love about Melbourne," but the difference is that I can listen to buskers on the street without feeling guilty about it because the sidewalk is wide or I can hear them from all the way across the street. Plus the buskers here are actually pretty good.

On the right: The stairs to the men's public bathroom. On the left: The escalator to the train platforms. Do not mistake the stairs on the right for a substitute for the escalator on the left.
6. There are free, [relatively] clean public toilets all around the city. The Mister and I live about 20 minutes outside the city and about 30 minutes away from our respective campuses, so when we are gone we're generally gone for the day. On days that I am running errands, or when we're on the trek home after pub trivia, a potty break is usually needed and there are few things that get Tyler more fired up than having to pay to pee. We are so happy to be in a city that has plentiful public toilets that don't require you to pay a cover charge.

Of course, as a result of not having to pay, those public toilets are often pretty gross, but they still don't rank as grossest we have ever seen (and some of those WERE pay toilets!). Frankly, you can't be too picky when you need to go on the go.

So far there are few things that the Mister and I find an issue with in this city. Y'all should all come down for a visit and add to our list of things to love.

Vicariously yours,

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Melbourne hates jelly beans

When we first got here it was the middle of the Australian winter. My New England sister and her husband would laugh at how cold the coldest day is here because there is certainly no snow and I don't think we saw the temperatures go much lower than the upper 30s, but for desert dwellers like us, it was chilly. Apparently the public transit users of Melbourne need some reminders on how to stay safe in the cold cold winter because they had an ad campaign in the train stations here reminding people to be wary of wet surfaces and to not let their scarves get caught in the train doors.

For me, the funny part about the campaign is its morbidity. The tagline of the ads is "Dumb ways to die" and apparently the campaign has been around for a few years. The ads feature jelly bean-looking "people" who are meeting creative demises, and each one ends with a train-related death in some way. There's even a series of YouTube videos.

Judging by the fact that there is also a website where you can purchase the jelly beans in the various forms of decease, I think the campaign was relatively popular.

I find the whole thing to be really funny, and you have to admit that the song is catchy. There are lots of parody videos on YouTube as well. Just search "Dumb Ways to Die" for an endless time suck.

These are the videos that I watch over and over as I wait for the train to come at Melbourne Central station after classes. Since class doesn't usually let out till 8:30 or 9:00, the train services have slowed to once ever 30 minutes or so and I'm often standing at the station for a while, so I've gotten to know the jelly beans pretty well.

I'm a little over it with the jelly beans, and if the campaign has been on since 2012 as YouTube would have me believe, I can only imagine everyone else in Melbourne is kind of over them, too.

There are also the official, not-filmed-while-standing-on-the-platform versions of the videos on YouTube. Just thought I'd show y'all what I see all the time in the interest of vicariousity.

Vicariously yours,

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Hosier Lane

The graffiti in this town is prolific, and some of it is pretty cool.

Some of it is literally "Prolific."
I would have to say 90% of the graffiti I see is obviously the work of bored teens who either have something sharp and want to scar a plastic surface with whatever word comes to mind first...

"Botox" carved into a train wall.
...or have just purchased a mega Sharpie and learned a new typography to doodle...

...Or simply some kids that have gotten their hands on a can of spray paint.

This makes me think of the alternative version of the Barney song that we all thought was so funny in 3rd grade.

But there is one part of town that is pretty cool.

Hosier Lane.

It is a couple of alleys in one of the busiest parts of downtown where street artists can paint freely, and the result is awesome.

Sure there are lots of examples of street tagging or words that don't mean anything to anyone except for someone who is "in the know" with street lingo (I'm so hip), but the rest of the alley is really cool art.

I think the coolest part about Hosier Lane is that you could visit the street once a month and see something different every time. This is obviously a place that Melbournians seem to be proud of. While we were there the other day a couple was getting their wedding photos taken amongst the tourists and aerosol paint.

Vicariously yours,