Friday, September 9, 2016

A long overdue update

I apologize to all those who keep up with us through this blog. I have been woefully neglectful of this little project of ours and I wish I could say we have a good excuse like fabulous globe trotting or a ridiculously packed social life to keep us away from our writing.

Nope. We've pretty much been living a regular life here in Australia. We've been really focused on paying the rent and keeping ourselves fed. Australia has proven to be an interesting challenge for us and not quite the fun-in-the-sun time we had dreamed of.

So here is what we've been up to for the past few months:

1. I graduated from the University of Melbourne. Yay! I'm done with my masters and can now call myself an alum of the University of Melbourne. I didn't attend my graduation ceremony because I was working, so the whole thing was a little anticlimactic. It's an appropriate way to end my lackluster experience with the University. I'll get into the whole story of my experience as an international graduate student in another post.

2. I got a full time teaching job. Yay! I did a few weeks of subbing at various schools around the city and I am not a fan of subbing in Melbourne! (I'll get into the whole story of why subbing here has not been a great experience in another blog post) Thankfully, I got hired to teach English full time at a college in one of the western suburbs, which means I have an hour and a half commute to and from work each day. The school is really great, the students are WAY more respectful that most of the other students I have worked with here so far, and the other teachers at the school are friendly and helpful so I am happy to make the trek. The contract is only until December, since that is when the school year ends here, so I'll have to go back into the trenches of subbing in the new year, but that's a problem for Future Amber.

3. The Mister got a part time teaching job. Yay! Once we were both finally registered to teach, the subbing jobs poured in and one of them has led to a part time gig for Tyler. His job is at one of the magnet schools in the eastern suburbs, so his commute is dramatically shorter than mine. It comes as no surprise to anyone that has met him that he is getting along with his new colleagues and students swimmingly. They love him and he loves the school. So much so, in fact, that he is going to be doing his counseling placement (sort of like student teaching for guidance counselors) at the school on the days that he is not working. Yay!

4. Our friend Austin came to visit back in June. Yay! It was sooo wonderful to have Austin in town for 10 days before he headed home to the States for his summer break. We love our friends here in Australia, but there's nothing quite like having family-you-choose in town. We were in major withdrawals because we had gone from seeing Austin almost every day in Kuwait to moving thousands of miles away from him. I love that we have the kind of friendship that just picks right back up where it left off, no matter how long it has been since we last saw him. We hadn't started our fancy new teaching jobs by the time he'd come to visit, so money was really tight and thankfully Austin was happy to come all the way to Australia for a staycation with us. I'll post more about our adventures with him another time.

5. We kept working all our other jobs. ...Yay? Other than Austin's visit and our getting hired for new teaching jobs, we just focused on keeping our heads above water. I continue to work a waitressing job and occasionally do the cater-waitering job. The Mister worked his small side jobs as much as possible while on his break from school, and now that classes have started back up for him, his teaching job has been clutch for helping us keep the lights on.

We are now turning our focus to finding new jobs overseas. It's surreal to think that we are well into our second year in Australia and will be packing up and leaving in 10-ish months. We enjoy living in Australia fine, and if we didn't have any other options or just really didn't like America we would probably stay here, but we find that our quality of life here is pretty much the same as it was when we were living in Nashville: making ends meet, travelling only after months of scraping together some money, and going out for dinner as a special treat. Tyler made the point the other day that if we are going to just be living paycheck-to-paycheck, we should go do that in America and at least be close to family. We can be poor in America, no reason to be poor in Australia, especially if it means that we can't really explore this awesome country.

If I had never known our awesome jetset international life, I would be satisfied with doing what we're doing now, but I miss the traveling, the salary, and the security that international teaching gives us. Plus, there's a whole lot more world out there to see and I am ready to go explore.

Vicariously yours,

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Funny language barriers

I expected the obvious English language differences when I moved to Australia. There are literally hundreds of results to a "How to Speak Australian" search on YouTube, so I had expected there to be quite a few slang terms that I was unfamiliar with.

These two break down a lot of the Aussie English vs. EVERY OTHER English differences pretty well, but I still haven't heard a lot of those words used. I'm sure there are parts of the country where the shortened version of "derelict" is probably used as the first video cites...though I feel like if you're going to be that sophisticated you should show it off and use the whole word!

TLDR: Essentially, to speak Australian, you want to cut a word in half and either add an -o or an -ie/-ey at the end of it.

Anyway, those kinds of language differences have been fun to learn. I'm certainly not adopting them in my every day vernacular, but I feel really accomplished when an Australian friend uses one of those slang words and it doesn't cause me to miss a beat in the conversation.

There are  a few language differences, however, that I find really intriguing and unexpected. For example, Australians use a lot of the same idioms that we do in America, but they are ever so slightly different.

When Americans don't want to jinx something, they'll say, "knock on wood." Australians, however, will say, "touch wood." It holds the same meaning, just phrased slightly differently.

Some of the differences stem from British-ism and I've heard them in my travels, but they still trip me up. I call them "cultural homophonyms." Words that sound the same and are spelled the same in both countries, but do not mean the same thing.

1. Jelly. In America, jelly is what goes with peanut butter. It's a sweet fruit preserve that is generally made from the fruit juice and thus won't have chunks of the fruit mucking up the spread-it-on-the-bread process. In Australia and other British speaking countries, jelly is the stuff hospital patients get after surgery when they can't have solid foods yet:

Jello. Why is hospital jello always green!?
I still get confused when people talk about eating jelly with a spoon.

2. Biscuits. What Australians and Brits call a biscuit is what Americans would call a disappointing cookie. In Australia, a biscuit is generally not sweet, is something you'll dip in your hot tea, and is often called a "digestive biscuit" because it's chock full of fiber and will things out. Here, cookies are cookies and are something you have with dessert, but they're still disappointing because for some reason Australian bakeries are incapable of making a soft cookie! ...but I digress. "Biscuit" is a widely known British-ism, and being from the South I frequently have to correct people when they say, "a biscuit in America is what we call a scone." Nope. Scones are disappointing cousins of the biscuit. Scones are typically bland, dry, not-buttery-at-all chunks of dough that only serve as a vessel with which to eat jam. They don't sop. They don't flake. They're typically served cold or at room temperature. Ick.

I do love seeing Australians' reactions to my love for biscuits and gravy. And then further blow their minds by telling them it is a breakfast food! Cultural differences are fun.

3. Australians put milk in their coffee, NEVER cream. If we're honest, it's frequently milk that Americans put in their coffee, too, but we just call it cream or creamer because we want to sound fancy and not admit that we forgot to pick up half-and-half at the store. Here, however, cream is not a liquid. It's like whipped cream, but just before it becomes light and fluffy. Anyone who has ever whipped cream by hand knows the stage I'm talking about. I have had to politely laugh when customers have made fun of me for asking if they take their coffee with cream and sugar. For an Australian, cream is what you put on your scones because you're disappointed with how bland it tastes and you don't yet realize that what you actually want is a biscuit.

4. Tomato sauce! Working in a restaurant, this one has tripped me up so much! Tomato sauce is ketchup, not what you put on pasta or in recipes. It's what you dip your fries in. The other day at work it took me like 3 minutes to finally figure out that the chef was envisioning me asking for a plate of pasta with ketchup on top and why would anyone want to eat that?! Instead of asking for pasta with tomato sauce I should have asked for pasta with bolognese. I feel like that is just a lot of effort and makes me sound way more snobby than I actually am. Plus, in my mind, bolognese is a specific kind of tomato sauce and I didn't care what kind of sauce he put on the pasta as long as it was hot and tomato-based!

5. I don't know if it is a British-ism, but here instead of calling it lay-away, stores call it lay-by which I just find to be a waste of a perfectly good rhyming opportunity.

6. I think this one is exclusively Australian, but the place in the wall where you plug in your vacuum cleaner is called a "power point." Not to be confused (though I frequently get it confused) with PowerPoint, the presentation software from Microsoft.

I knew there would be some small differences in the English spoken here, but I have been surprised by just how different our languages can be. I love that in this age of globalization where the world can feel so small, we still find unique cultural differences that remind us that the world is a big, diverse, and fascinating place. And that you still have to go out and experience some things for yourself to fully understand just how connected -and disconnected- we all are.

Vicariously yours,

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Another nature encounter of the Australian kind

I've started a new job at a restaurant that gives me the chance to walk through a park on my way to the train station after my shifts at night. As a result there are lots of Australian possums out and about, I guess scrounging for...whatever possums scrounge for at night.

See that thing that looks like a giant squirrel? That's a possum!

I know this is so silly, but I think they are so cute!

They're the size of a small cat and, from a distance, kind of look like one, too.
Usually the possums are just doing their thing up in the trees, but the other night I got to sneak up on one and because they don't have rabies like our opossums at home, I didn't fear for my safety! So I took a video.

Just thought I would share.

Vicariously yours,

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Perceptions are changing

Living in the Middle East meant that, in general, people were really excited by the fact that we were Americans. Saudis and Kuwaitis associated America with the shopping and often abaya-free days they enjoyed on vacations. Disney, Hollywood, and all designer stores were what came to mind when they thought of our country. Outside of the locals, we often came into contact with the nannies, drivers, or migrant workers employed by the families we taught or the schools where we worked. They associated America with opportunity, civil rights, and religious freedom they didn't find in their current situation, as well as public education.

What I'm getting at is that we rarely ran into someone who had a disparaging comment about our home country while we were living in the Sandbox. It happened, but not frequently, and usually the negative impression was based on YouTube videos about the Illuminati or some other conspiracy theory and it was easy for us to correct them.

That has changed here.

As a result of the catering job I've gotten, I take a lot of Ubers home when my shifts end after the public transit has made its last run out to my neck of the woods. That means I've got about 20 minutes of conversation with a local or an immigrant to Australia and they usually have an opinion about the good ol' US of A. For the first time since we've moved overseas, most of those opinions have been negative and, with the way things are going back home, it is hard to refute them.

Here's what I'm hearing most often:

1. "What's going on with Donald Trump?"  

The world is afraid of the lunacy that this election cycle has stirred up. Like people are legitimately scared of Donald Trump and the media is giving the world the impression that all Americans are bigoted, homophobic, racist narcissists like he is and they have lost the desire to visit our country. While I genuinely hope that I show them an example of an open-minded American, most of the people I come into contact with (especially the non-caucasian ones) are genuinely afraid of America and no longer view it as a country worth their time or money.

I fear it's a foreboding indication of the nosedive our economy would take among other horrible things that would happen to our country if Trump were elected.

2. "Your police are really bad guys over there."  

Granted, this was uttered to me by a group of extremely intoxicated young men as we all waited for a tram in the wee hours of the morning on New Years Day. I was heading home after a long shift at work, and they had been struggling to find their car (mercifully without success) for at least 3 hours when they'd given up and decided to head home.

Just the same, considering all the news about police brutality and the #blacklivesmatter movement that had been in the news for so many months, it was hard for me to come up with evidence to the contrary. I realize that not all of America's police are "bad guys," but the fact that these young men who were Australian citizens but of Pakistani decent declared that they thought our cops would "take one look at our skin" and arrest them was a chilling reality of how the conversation about corruption of power in my home country has changed around the world.

3. "America isn't as multi-cultural as Australia." 

This one really took me aback because I am a proud product of the melting pot of America and our multi-culturalism has always been a point of pride for me. I loved surprising students in the Middle East with the truth bombs that there is no official language in the US and that anyone can openly practice any religion they want in the States (a fact that would immediately and shamefully change should Trump come into power).

I was told that my country is not as diverse as Australia by an Afghani Uber driver that had only been living in Australia for 5 years and had never been to the States, so I was happy to correct him, but he had made his decision to come to Australia based on his impression that America was unwelcoming to other cultures and that he would not find "friendly people who would like him" there. I didn't ask him how he had reached this conclusion, I was too saddened by the fact that my home, "the land of opportunity" seemed like a daunting, exclusionary, unfriendly country to someone who had previously lived UNDER THE TALIBAN. I quickly corrected him and told him all about how our major cities and even some of our smaller cities were very diverse, including large pockets of Muslim immigrants and refugees.

4. "What's the deal with Americans and guns?"

The most frequently cited source of information regarding gun control reform that Australians quote is the Jim Jefferies bit from his Netlfix special (warning: lots of choice words in this one)

It's fun for me to follow this comment up with the fact that I have never held nor fired a gun in my entire life. That fact also surprises a lot of Americans (including my non-gun-fanatic, boy scout, military brat of a husband who loves firing guns), but it's a point of pride for me and I don't plan to change it any time soon. (actual quote after Tyler read this sentence: "You really don't want to fire a gun? I feel like you should try it at least once. It's pretty fun." #America)

Yes, it's true that a lot of Americans get real fired up (pun TOTALLY intended) about guns and there is no easy solution to the gun problem in our country. I generally remind Australians that things aren't as easy as a sweeping ban on guns like what followed the Port Arthur massacre because America's population is dramatically larger than Australia's (over 380 million in America versus just over 26 million here) and, despite what my Afghani Uber driver friend thinks, an exponentially more diverse population of very opinionated citizens that are not easily pleased or willing to part with what they feel they have every right to own. I end things by saying I am happy to no longer live in a place where I have to consider how I will throw myself between a bullet and my students like I did when I was teaching at home, but all the guns in the world can't prevent me from being crazy homesick on a regular basis.

Vicariously yours,

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Sydney: Meh

Months ago, while our friend Marisol was visiting for her Christmas vacation, we took a short trip over to Sydney. I haven't written about this trip because all three of us were less than impressed with what is probably Australia's most iconic city. We had big expectations for Sydney. When you google "Australia," photos of the Sydney harbor bridge and opera house are unavoidable. If you ask most Americans to name a city in Australia, Sydney's usually the first and only one that comes to fact if you ask most Americans what the capital of Australia is they are shocked to learn it's NOT Sydney.

Anyway, despite all the warnings from our Melburnian friends that Sydney would be less cool than our latest home, we boarded the thrifty regional flight expecting Travel Channel worthy fun times.


To be clear, I'm 100% sure there are tons of tourists every day that have the opposite impression of Sydney, but those tourists are likely travelling on a cruise ship excursion, visiting friends with cars and a local knowledge of where to go, or have limitless money to pay for ubers or tour companies to cart them around. They also probably don't spend a whole lot of time in the city itself, choosing instead to catch some sun at one of the surrounding beaches.

We found Sydney to be infuriating, confusing, and WAY over hyped. Here's why:

The public transit was incomprehensible and a huge waste of time. Before we left I found the official app for Opal, Sydney's public transit system. The Melbourne equivalent of this app is clutch for our survival here so I figured the Opal app would be similarly useful to our enjoyment of Sydney.


I should have known it was strange when we landed, I opened the Opal app, plugged in the airport as our starting point and the address of our airbnb as the destination and there were ZERO POSSIBLE ROUTES. What?! Like there isn't even a route to get us sort of close to the address? I knew for a fact there was a public transit route since I chose the apartment because of its doorstep proximity to a public ferry port...why was that port not showing up on this search?

It took forever to find a route that got us sort of close to the apartment and over an hour and a half to actually make the journey that we came to find out should have only taken 45 minutes. The bus stops in the city are confusingly marked, and when we asked a bus driver for information on his route, he barked that we just needed to check the timetable on the bus stop...but there was no timetable on the stop, that's why we were asking!! After we got out of the city center, the bus stops were marked with a yellow sign that did not have the name of the stop, the routes that stopped there, or the timetable for any of those routes. You just had to intuit that the yellow sign was a bus stop and hope the route you wanted would stop there.

That's me on my phone trying to navigate us to...ANYWHERE! I had to constantly switch between my phone's web browser and my google maps app to triangulate our location and try to guess when to get off the bus. 
 It took us about 2 days to fully understand public transit in Melbourne, but even with super basic knowledge and the PTV app we were able to navigate ourselves without issue on our very first day here. We were in Sydney for 3 days and never got the hang of the public transit. It got to the point that it stressed me out so much that I didn't want to leave the apartment because it meant at least an hour of trying to make sense of the bus/ferry/train schedules and routes.

I'm not sure what we will do for our next trip to Sydney. We both have driven on the wrong side of the road, but neither of us have experience driving in a big city and do NOT want to be the trope of American tourists that find themselves facing on-coming traffic in the middle of rush hour. Now that I've got a better handle on the layout of the city and what is actually worth seeing, we would probably stay somewhere suburban or close to one of the beaches rather than in the city itself. Maybe we'll just convince future out-of-town guests that Sydney is best visited through Google searches...

Anyway, the ferry ride to our apartment ended up being my favorite part of our trip. I love being on the water and our ferry route took us straight through the harbor with close up views of the bridge and the opera house. The nice part about not being able to access some of the cooler parts of the city was that we got a lot of quality time with Marisol and enjoyed some nice meals together before she had to leave us to return to the sandbox. I'm glad it was Marisol that joined us for our first out-of-Melbourne excursion in Australia.

Vicariously yours,

Editor's note: After reading this post Tyler said, "I think you should be nicer to Sydney. There were some things we saw that were really cool."

"Like what?" I said.

"....the ferry ride was really neat."

"Yeah, I said that."

"....well...yeah that's about it."

Sorry, Sydney. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

White Night

It's been a stressful summer for the Mister and me thanks to all work coming to a screeching halt for a few weeks and us having to decide between groceries and paying the power bill at one point. We count ourselves among the lucky that the financial tough times were short lived and we are both back to working more hours and have picked up a couple more odd jobs to supplement, too. Our days of living paycheck to paycheck are hopefully numbered because our FBI checks, the final pieces of our registering-to-teach-in-Australia puzzles, are FINALLY arriving in the mail so hopefully we'll be back in a classroom soon.

Anyway, a few weeks back after a very long day of working two jobs, I dragged myself out to the streets of Melbourne at midnight to see what all the hype about something called White Night was all about. It sounded like a thinly veiled Trump rally, but in fact it has been an annual all-night celebration of art in Melbourne for a few years. Main streets in the core downtown area were closed and became one massive, pedestrian-friendly, music and art drenched public party from 7pm till 7am.

As previously mentioned, I had worked two jobs that day, so I had been standing for at least 13 hours and I was TIRED, but almost as soon as I stepped off the tram, my energy was fed by the excitement on the street. I wasn't sure what to expect but I had gotten the impression that there would be lots of public art displays and maybe some late night museum strolling. I was partially right. White Night did not involve any indoor displays and almost no displays that were predominately the color white, instead it meant there were tons of street performers of all types, light displays projected on iconic buildings, and public "sculptures" stuck to buildings or roving the crowds.

The street performers ranged from really awesome musicians to...this.

The crowd quickly swelled around him, perplexed by what he was going to do with the flame and the balloon...

Deep throat it, apparently. The whole display was oddly interesting and yet off putting at the same time. I moved on. Other street performers were really great. Most of them were musicians and it was the closest to Nashville I have felt in a long time. The streets were alive with music, you just had to stroll down the road and listen to the genres, songs, and instrumental styles change. I always tell people that my favorite thing about Nashville is that the streets sing, and on White Night the streets of Melbourne sang.

The other really cool thing about White Night was the light displays. My feet could only handle seeing one or two of them, and from what I could tell the ones I saw weren't even the best ones, but I was so grateful for the chance to sit and be mesmerized by the undulating colors and sounds.

This is the State Library of Victoria, a major hang out spot outside Melbourne Central Station, but on White Night is was transformed into a public dance party. Before I arrived there had been some internationally known DJ, but by the time I got there the music was just a recording, but the dance party was in full force.

There was another light display like this one, but better from what I've been told, about half a mile down the street at the Melbourne Museum. I couldn't manage that walk. There were other smaller light displays that were hidden away on other buildings and it was really fun to find them as I strolled along Swanston Street.

The public sculptures were also pretty cool. There was this giant inflatable golden monkey attached to Melbourne Town Hall

I don't know the significance of the monkey or if there was any symbolism going on there. I got the impression that monkeys are a theme for this particular artist and she has created primate-themed exhibits for White Night for a couple years.

There were also these roving sculptures that worked their way through the city all night, and one of them was this very small school of "jellyfish."

All of the exhibits were profiled on the White Night website, and I really wanted to see these jellyfish but I was not willing to wander the city for hours in hopes of running into them. Thankfully they crossed my path as I was making my way to the train station to head home for the night.

They were a little anticlimactic, but I could only imagine that the artists that were giving the jellyfish "life" were feeling pretty low on energy after roaming the crowded streets for 6 hours at that point. They probably were a little more convincing when the night started at 7pm.

Even though other people complained that this year's White Night was really disappointing, I was thoroughly entertained with my first experience. I definitely want to make a night of it next year, planning to take the night off from work, get dressed up, and grab a trendy dinner downtown before joining the party. All the art displays were free, the crowd was very well behaved, and I really wished I'd had the energy to hunt down all the cool sights before the party ended at 7am.

If y'all are feeling up for a late summer night in Melbourne, come visit us next mid-February!

Vicariously yours,

Sunday, February 7, 2016

I love random surprises

I had a job interview yesterday. Fingers crossed it was successful because we need the cash! I was feeling hopeful and happy to head home after the interview, walking between the platforms at Flinders Street Station when I saw this as I got to the bottom of the stairs to the underground passageway:

At first I thought they were in the middle of installing new turnstiles, but then I saw all kinds of people standing around with their phones and digital cameras out. A group of three people that walked down the stairs opposite the passageway at the same time as me exclaimed to each other, "Oh! The dominoes! Do you want to stay and watch?"

I had never heard of the dominoes before, so I asked the guy standing next to me what it was all about. He said that these concrete dominoes had been set up all throughout the city and now they were being knocked down "like a domino effect."

"Oh cool! ...what for?"

"...Unity and bringing the city together? ...something fun to do, I guess."

Turns out he wasn't far off. The Arts Centre created this event after being inspired by the same thing done in London preceding the 2012 Olympics to sort of unite the city in preparation for hosting the world. The London dominoes went through all five of the city's main boroughs to watch, I guess. I have no idea if it really inspired a spirit of unity, but the event had a domino effect (see what I did there) and started a trend. According to the video on the Arts Centre website, the dominoes have fallen in cities all around Europe, too. I literally had never heard of this event nor Melbourne's version until I stumbled upon it on my way home, but I'm sure glad I did!

It was fun to do, just like the guy next to me said.

I caught the dominoes near the end of their route that started a little ways across town at the Melbourne Town Hall, and it appeared there were people that had been running the route along side the falling dominoes the whole way. I didn't pick up quite that much exuberance for the dominoes, but I did catch this little snippet of video:

Not really sure why the guy needed to have his shirt off, but it was a warm day and if he had been running along side the dominoes the whole time then he had run at least a kilometer by the time he got to the he got hot? It was a little anticlimactic that so many were placed ever so slightly off and didn't hit the next one in the line, but it's not like there could have been a dry run to make sure it would go off completely without a hitch and it didn't detract from the excitement around the event.

Anyway, it was a really cool thing to just randomly run into on my way home from work. As one of the little girls that was getting on the train at the same time as me said, "That's something you don't see every day!"

I love living here.

Vicariously yours,

Friday, January 22, 2016

It's that time of year again.

Tyler's tolerance for being away from the US lasts 6-7 months. Every year. Consistently. We return from our winter vacation, have a couple of weeks, maybe a month, and then Grumpy McGrumperson moves in for the rest of the winter. Any number of things can trigger his homesickness, but it consistently arrives around the end of January/beginning of February.

That usually is when I'll kick into gear with some distractions. Favorite recipes find their way onto our menu. I'll involve him in the trip planning for our spring break vacation. We start booking our airbnbs and plane tickets for our Summer Reunion Tour. Usually it just means I'm gonna have a grumpy Gus on my hands until my patriotic homebody of a husband touches down in Nashville. Gus is starting to peek through my husband's usual gentle disposition, but this time we aren't going home for the summer. We likely won't see Nashville again until some time in 2017, possibly 2018. Sooo I'm not really sure how this is going to go.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that Tyler and I find comfort in food, and one thing that has kept me going in the past is finding solace in the fact that we are only a few weeks away from our favorite flavors from home. Our most frequently played game around this time of the year is "Know what I miss?"

Tyler: Know what I miss?

Me: What?

Tyler: Good barbecue


Me: Know what I miss?

Tyler: What?

Me: Biscuits.

Tyler: Ugghhhhh yaasssss

Tyler: Know what I miss?

Me: What?

Tyler: Southern style sausage

Me: ::wipes mouth::

Tyler: Know what I miss?

Me: What?

Tyler: Sausage biscuits.

Me: Yeah, I could have guessed that.

Previously our most missed foods have been the haram flavors of bacon, barbecue, country ham, and beer and that was because they were not allowed in Kuwait or Saudi Arabia. We could, strangely enough, find Southern foods like grits, Sweet Baby Ray's barbecue sauce, and Jello products any time we wanted at the local Lulu Superstore.

Thanks to the fact that we no longer live in a theocracy, we can find pork products in the grocery stores and some REALLY great beer quite easily. There are lots of small things, though, that just can't be found in Australia that I never realized I would miss so much. These are the items that we haven't previously had to go without and have been absent from our usual rounds of "You know what I miss?"

Pillsbury products: I never realized how dependent I was on whop biscuits, crescent rolls, cinnamon rolls (omgimisscinnamonrollsfromacan), and frozen pie crusts until the holidays rolled around and NONE OF MY RECIPES were possible anymore! I mean, I could make monkey bread using handmade biscuit dough, but ain't nobody got time for that!! You don't realize how much of the recipes on Pinterest are Pillsbury-based until you just can't find the refrigerated dough anywhere.

Potato-based lazy-person foods: Monkey bread is Tyler's family's traditional Christmas morning breakfast. Hashbrown casserole is my family's. Guess what? Frozen hashbrowns cannot be found here. I know, I know. I can shred potatoes by hand, but please see my previous Sweet Brown reference for what I think about that work around. Tater tots are also not a thing here, which would really help with our Sonic withdrawals that are going to hit very soon.

Tex Mex: Mexican is super trendy in Melbourne right now, so we have several options for burritos and tacos, but they all have an Australian twist. Turns out Australians haven't evolved far from their British ancestors as far as cuisine is concerned because the general Australian population doesn't appear to like flavorful food, and their Mexican food is no exception. No free salsa and chips at the Mexican restaurants. When you do get the salsa, it comes with no jalapeno. No spice at all in the enchiladas. It's rare to find black beans or green chilis in the grocery store! Thankfully Ro-Tel can be found that the USA foods store, but if we want flavorful salsa to mix it with for some queso dip, we're out of luck!

Hershey's chocolate products: Y'all. I am a Hershey's snob! I know it is generally snubbed internationally as being too waxy, and I'll admit that is the case if the chocolate has been sitting on the shelf for a while, but dang chocolate chip cookies without Hershey's chips and ice cream without Hershey's syrup is just SO disappointing! Cadbury does not cut it, sorry England.

There are other things such as American style bacon, good peanut butter (Australians prefer CHUNKY! What!?), cheddar cheese, and ice cream brands like Edy's and Blue Bell that we have found acceptable substitutions for that will get us through until we go home again. But if we're in this level of homesickness with only 6 months under our belt, I have no idea how we are going to survive the remaining 18 before Tyler graduates and we can go home again!

Vicariously yours,

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The money struggles continue

I don't mean to make it sound like we are totally destitute, but cashflow has consumed our thoughts lately and I've never had such a hard time generating income before.

Granted, it's been a hot minute since I have waited tables, but I do have 10 years of restaurant experience in a country that doesn't pay a living wage, so I know what it means to provide excellent customer service and hustle for my money. You'd think that would make me more attractive to all the managers at all the restaurants I've applied to since the end of September (my last count was 12). Nope.

I'm very thankful for the job with the catering company that I've found, and our new friends here have been so incredibly helpful with keeping an ear out for any open positions that Tyler and I could step into. Because of our connections, Tyler has found two part time jobs. If it hadn't been for those connections, he wouldn't have any income, despite applying to at least 10 different jobs.

What's really confusing is how expensive it is to find a job here! I know the old saying "You've got to spend money to make money," and I get that, but why does it cost so much money to get a simple part time job here?!

Here's the breakdown of how much we have spent to get any form of income in this country (and this total is all before we worked a single shift). All costs are in Australian dollars unless otherwise noted.

To get a job in a restaurant--

If I want to work at a restaurant that serves alcohol, I have to get an RSA (responsible service of alcohol) certification. Essentially it's a course teaching me how to recognize when someone has been over-served and how to diffuse a situation if a drunk patron gets upset when cut off. This is not unusual, I've had to take similar courses in the States, but the fee has always been paid by the restaurant hiring me. I couldn't even apply for a job at a restaurant until I'd gotten my RSA, so the cost was on me. I also got a RSF (responsible food handling...I know the initials don't match the name of the certificate) certification.

Cost for certificates: $80 

Once I got hired I had to buy 98% of my uniform and tools like a wine key (they call them "waiter's friend" here) because the catering company only provides the apron. That means I had to buy two button-down shirts, shoes, a black tie, and black pants. I already had the black pants, but everything else was NOT cheap! I looked at several stores for a black shirt, and ended up finding some in my size at Target for $30 a piece.

Cost for uniform: $150

Total cost for catering job: $230

*It's interesting to note that if I'd wanted to apply for jobs at a coffee shop, I would have to take a barista course to learn how to make coffee and do those fancy latte art designs you see on hipster instagram accounts. They take coffee very seriously in this city, and the barista course would have cost me another $45.

To get a job at not-a-restaurant--

Thanks to a friend, Tyler has found a job working for an outdoor program with the YMCA which is awesome because he'll be able to work with kids and add something to his resume. Again, super grateful for the opportunity, but this job also comes with a cost. Because he's responsible for the safety of kids, he has to get first aid, CPR, and lifeguard certified. Not unreasonable, and the YMCA has already covered the CPR and lifeguarding certificates, but the first aid course is coming out of our pocket.

Cost for first aid course: $160

Cost for YMCA job: $160

*Huge thanks to our friend Jason who went out of his way to ask if Ty could get the first aid course covered, too. It was worth the effort.

That makes a total of almost $400 for part time jobs that are helping us pay the rent, but The Goal is to get back into teaching which means we have to get certified in Victoria.

To get a job teaching (even substitute teaching)--

In theory that's not a hard task, but one requirement of the application is to show a police report from all of the countries we have lived in for the past 10 years. I've already addressed how complicated that task is for us, and the whole process has been REALLY expensive.

For the background checks we have to send in our fingerprints, which requires an appointment with a specific division of the police department here.

Cost for fingerprint reports: $45 per report, one report per background check request (of which there were 2) = $180

Cost for background check from Kuwait: $108 per request, of which there were 2 = $216

Convenience fee from the post office for getting the money orders required by Kuwait: $8 per money order = $16

Cost of a background check from the FBI: US$18 per request = US$36 (~AUD52)

Cost of mailing everything to the FBI with delivery tracking: $32 per envelope, of which there were 2 = $64

That is $528 before we've even applied to register with the Victoria Institute of Teaching. We're still waiting for the FBI check to come in and our background check from Kuwait expires in February. There is an application fee, of course.

Cost of VIT registration application: $146 per application, of which there are 2 = $292

That brings us to the grand total of $820 spent on a teaching job and we can't even approach a school for an interview until after our application has been approved. That is equivalent to almost 3 full paid days of substitute teaching.

That means, before we have even worked a single hour, we have spent $1210.

For $1210, we could buy three and a half round trip flights from Melbourne to Sydney. We could book a stay at a resort in Bali. That is more than half the cost of one person to take this awesome Outback pub crawl we found where you fly to all the pubs on a chartered plane.


The interesting thing about living in a country with a living wage (minimum wage nationwide is $17.29 an hour) means that we get paid a lot per hour but our employers are stingy with the paid hours. When I was waiting tables in high school making $2.13 an hour, I would work a 10 to 12 hour shift with no break (because I didn't want one) and could make as much as $300 in a shift at my diner job. That rounds out to roughly $25 an hour and there was no opposition from my manager. Here I am lucky to squeak out 7 paid hours at $16.30 after taxes have been taken out. If both of us were able to work our maximum 20 hours per week when school is in session we would be able to make ends meet easily. But because our employers are shelling out so much per hour, it's tough to convince them to let us work 20 hours a week.

I wish I had known all of this before we moved here when we were saving up our dinars in Kuwait.

Vicariously yours,

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Melbourne on a shoestring budget

Turns out January in Australia = major down time for the catering industry...or maybe just the catering company I'm currently working for. I've only had three shifts all month, and that sure ain't gonna pay the bills. Thankfully, Tyler's work has picked up and he has been putting in the kind of hours I was working in November and December, so we're making ends meet. Barely.

I'm not complaining about not having to spend 7-8 hours on my feet every day, but I have been BORED sitting at home by myself all day. I'm trying to do my part for our bottom line by not spending oodles of money while Tyler is out of the house working. In an effort to avoid total insanity, I decided to go see what kinds of free activities this expensive city has to offer.

If you google "Melbourne on a budget" or "Free things in Melbourne," there is no shortage of results. What frustrated me with all those lists is that there was one or two truly free things and then the rest involved money somehow.

Tyler and I need literally free activities. Like, our entertainment budget is-- no exaggeration-- ZERO. So "Stroll the laneways and stop in at a cute cafe for lunch" just wasn't cutting it. One list of "free" things to do literally suggested doing a pub crawl. For those that have never been to Australia, alcohol is REALLY EXPENSIVE here! Happy hour at home means 1/2 price beer and well liquor, at minimum. Happy hour here means you get an appetizer for 1/3 off with your full price (read: $8-9 if it's cheap) drink. So a "free" pub crawl would rack up a $100 bill if two people go to 4 or 5 bars.


So I culled through several lists of suggestions, picked out the actually free activities, and am working my way through the list. My first adventure was the National Gallery of Victoria.

I didn't have high expectations for my visit since I was only going to be able to see the permanent exhibits because those are free. Outside of the Smithsonian museums, my experience with free collections has been lackluster. Usually enough to be interesting, but the really cool stuff is behind the ticket booth.

This is the first thing you see when you walk in the door. The instagrammers were having a heyday.
NOT the case with the National Gallery of Victoria! Granted, they don't have a show-stopping piece of art, but I spent about three hours looking through only half of the free collection, and only left because the museum was closing and I was getting hungry.

This gallery room was my FAVORITE! Y'all know how much a love a gallery wall. I could have spent hours in this room. 

I don't claim to be an art history nerd, but I really like going to museums and looking at art and learning about the cultures and time periods that create them. I will claim to be super nerdy because I make a game out of looking at the artwork first and trying to guess the year it was painted or in which country it was made. I've gotten really good!

The Gallery has free wifi which most of my fellow patrons were using it to post hipster shots of themselves pensively looking at a statue, but I put google to use again and learned SO MUCH about those hoity-toity art terms that I always see on the plaques and just have to pretend I know what it means.

Like this little guy. The plaque says it is a posset pot made in England...but what is a posset pot!? Thanks, google

And this one. What is a fica gesture? Turns out it's an obscene gesture in many cultures, which means this is basically a goblet flipping us the bird. So punk. So German.  
The permanent collection was divided into European and Asian collections, and I was only able to make it through the European collection. It just kept going and going! I thought for sure after I'd worked my way through the religious art, the sculptures, paintings, and decorative art galleries that I would be circling back to the exit. NO! There was a whole other collection of post modern furniture and modern art. I definitely got my money's worth that afternoon!

This is a cradle! ...I realize it's not a post mod cradle. I didn't take any photos of that collection...

The light on the righthand side of the photo above is coming from the doors to the garden behind the gallery. It's a really cool green space with various sculptures and installations. It was a really nice, quiet oasis in the middle of the busy city.

One of the installations had misters creating a sort of fog on one side of the garden, and the etherial contrast between the mist and the vibrant plants in the garden was like something out of a Neil Gaiman novel. 
This guy is called "The Noble Ape"

I wrapped up my visit to the National Gallery because I was getting hungry and the permanent exhibits were closing for the day. So I strolled across the street to the botanic gardens to enjoy some people-watching and nom on the little snack I brought to make sure I didn't splurge on a cafe treat.

I enjoyed a nice long tram ride home and ended my day with a FaceTime session with the Mister, where we made fun of how comically long his hair and beard have gotten.

Vicariously yours,