Sunday, July 20, 2008

It costs how much?!?!?!

Saturday we spent walking around the city, trying to avoid the Pope-crazed youth. I begin to understand why other religions view Catholics as some kind of cult. What we really wanted to do was to find a grocery store so we could stop eating out for every meal. We looked EVERYWHERE. The fact is that they are HIDDEN. It's true, the Aussies are trying to horde all of the food for themselves. We finally found one in a construction zone and another tucked in the corner of a shopping mall. For about $60 we were able to procure enough college-student fare (think rice-a-roni, PB&J, and granola) to subsist for the next week.

Then yesterday, Sunday, was REALLY rough -- it didn't help that it was the only overcast day since we've been in Sydney. First, we found out that we weren't eligible for cell phone plans because we don't have proof of a residential address. They were willing to trust us with a pre-pay phone, though. You begin to feel a bit marginalized when you're told you can't have a phone, and only maybe will they grant you a credit card. Still waiting to hear if we're approved on that one...

Next, we went cruising around some neighborhoods, walking our daily average of about 8 miles. Around lunch we found a large mall with a KMart and a Target and took a breather. We split lunch in the food court, which still ran to about $15. Then we decided to treat ourselves to a movie and see The Dark Knight. It cost $32!!! I think both Eric and I spent the entire movie freaking out over whether we were going to be able to afford to live in Sydney. We looked around at the mall at all of these people consuming and wondered how they do it. I guess this is just how much goods and services have to cost for people to make a living wage, which makes me feel a little better. It doesn't help that we're in the 21st most expensive city in the world...NYC is 16th.

Today has been a bit better. We were fairly panicked about finding a place to live. None of the real estate agents we'd talked to in the past couple of days were at all interested in helping us. One agent we asked for help actually gave us the wonderful advice, "You might try looking on the internet." No kidding. Given that only one of us is currently employed, we don't have in-country references, and we have two cats, we didn't really like our odds in a competition, which is what most rental situations come down to here. There's generally a 15-minute open house at which a number of people complete applications, and the agency chooses their favorite. Oh, and these quick open houses occur on Saturdays within a narrow time band of a few hours, so we'd only be able to hit a couple a week. We were looking at WEEKS to find a place to live. Fortunately (?) we found a place for which there was no competition. It's a bit of a pit, but hopefully IKEA can help us make it liveable for a year. At that point, we'll be more competitive and be able to find a better place. Oh, and we're payin $1,800/4 weeks to live in this place, which is the least nice place either of us has ever lived. I can't imagine what it's like to migrate if you DON'T have some funds.

Friday, July 18, 2008

We're alive!

First, two fun stories from the Vancouver airport:

1. My sweet, babydoll face ensures that I am always selected for the full search. I suspect they just know I won't fight them on it. The lady searching me asked if we had children, and when I told her we didn't, she proceeded to tell me about how Jesus might give me babies later. It was very strange.

2. Eric and I met a drunk Aussie in the bar. We had been chatting with him for about 20 minutes when he looked at Eric and said, "I'll bet you know what I'm thinking right now. You think I'm looking at your wife's tits." We assured him that we hadn't known he was thinking that, though we did now.

We got to downtown Sydney at about noon from the airport and were able to apply for Tax File Numbers and open bank accounts. Not too shabby on very, very little sleep. It took us 1.5 hours to open bank accounts -- banks in the US wouldn't stay in business if their employees spent as long with us as Asha did, but she was a wealth of information, banking related and otherwise.

It's very difficult to get a credit card here. We wouldn't have been able to get one at all except that I'll be working with a company for which I worked in the US. Your US credit rating does not apply outside of the US, so Australian banks generally require 6 months of good behavior with your bank account before allowing you to have a credit card. People really fear the credit bureau here. If you ruin your credit rating, you're history. You can't get a mobile phone, buy a house, etc. On the other hand, their tax agency, the equivalent of our IRS, has no teeth at all. Asha told us people pay their taxes when they like, often only every few years!

The Pope is in town for World Youth Day, so there are hordes of youngsters imbued with religious fervor running around everywhere. At least it lets us fit in -- everyone in Sydney is a tourist right now. The local are avoiding downtown if at all possible.

Last night after our errands, we went to the store. We're staying in China town, so we went to the Chinese grocery up the street. In the frozen foods section was a large fish -- no packaging, just a whole fish, frozen. We couldn't figure out what most of the foods were, and the preparation instructions were all in Chinese, so we bought candy and canned coffee. With our food needs taken care of, we set off for the liquor store. A 6-pack of Bud costs $25!!! Our drinking habits may change. I found a $9.99 bottle of wine.

Today we're off to get cell phones and explore some neighborhoods. We ate breakfast at a Turkish restaurant and found out that bacon = a slab of fried ham, and chips are a breakfast side dish. What will we learn next...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Eric's truck

There's no way to explain the things Eric loves. Actually, there is. In a word, "crap." (I'm not including myself or othere loved ones in the "things" category!) This is the only way to understand why he almost leapt into traffic to get a picture of this truck, and why he's still holding a grudge against me for not taking a picture of the Suburu Brat near his grandmother's house. I got him a book called, "Crap Cars," the Museum of Modern Art in Chicago once, and he was really disappointed to find out it wasn't a catalog. I guess I should just be grateful that we hope not to own an auto in Australia...


Eric and I took another ferry from his dad's house over to Victoria, British Colombia. We stayed in a nice little hotel in a residential area not far from downtown and walked and walked and walked. In Beacon Hill Park, Eric and I talked to some peacocks and tried to discern the rules of cricket. The latter may require additional explanation. I hear the sport involves snack breaks, so I'm keen to learn. We also spent lots of time in the Maritime Museum, the first hour and a half of which was pretty fun.

It was really nice just to have some time alone. We've really enjoyed visiting everyone, but being on our own in another country (and another member of the Commonwealth!) reminded me that Eric and I do get along pretty well on our own and made me more confident that we can pull off this whole Australia thing. I also spent some time adding little color-coded tabs to a neighborhood guide to Sydney. Nothing like a little anal behavior to soothe the soul.

Going both directions, we must've seemed really shift to the Customs officers. Eric and I just don't know how to respond to, "Where do you live?" Minneapolis didn't seem quite right since we gave up our apartment there over a month ago, and Sydney definitely didn't seem right since 50% of us haven't even been there. The best answer seemed to be "right here," but I think they might have checked our backpack more closely if we'd said that. It's a bit like how I feel every time someone asks where I'm from -- now I'm from nowhere in the past AND living nowhere in the present!

Johnson family

We spent a week visiting some of Eric's dad's side of the family. First we spent a couple of days over in Wenatchee with Grandma Bessie. I don't believe there's anywhere I'd rather be than on Grandma Bessie's porch. She has an amazing view over the valley, and her giant tree keeps the porch cool even when it's 95 degrees out. And of course, there's Grandma Bessie, who sits next to you and tells you amazing stories. I'm really lucky she's agreed to my Grandma Bessie, too. Eric and I spent some time driving around the valley, visiting the applets and cotlets factory (for those of you not from Washington, you have to try some!) and a local dam. There are some big fires in the area right now, so keep an eye out for Wenatchee on the news. Hopefully they'll get the fires put out, or you'll see an increase in your fruit prices soon!

Next we had dinner with Eric's Uncle Cal, his wife, Barbie, and their daughter, Kim, on the way to the ferry. Kim had painted herself in art class that day, but we're hoping it came off in time for her trip to Hawaii. Perhaps she could convince them it was some kind of native tatoo. In the picture above, you can see that there ARE cats bigger than mine...

Finally, we spent several days with Eric's dad, Mark, and his wife, Anne. Their house is only a ferry ride away from Seattle, but once you drive down the dirt road to their oasis in the jungle, you feel much farther away. Our cell phone companies agreed, but that only made the visit that much more relaxing. Some friends of Mark and Anne's had dogs competing in a local agility trial, so I was able to get some pet therapy, and then I got to compare Washington beaches to those I'm used to in Florida. Florida wins for swim-able water, but it's pretty dang cool to see Mount Ranier rising over the water. Mark and Anne also made us some culinary delights, like crabs and salmon cakes.

We're having such a good time seeing everyone that it's that much harder to move so far away. Now that we've seen everyone who we're going to see and the tour winds to an end, the move seems very near...

Boesiger family send-off

The day after the 4th of July, Eric's mom, Mary, and her husband, Darrell, hosted a nice family event at their house. They certainly know how to throw a BBQ, and we even had a chocolate farewell cake. Mary kept hoping for sun, but it stayed pretty cool. After New Mexico, Texas, and Florida, though, cool weather is perfectly welcome!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Fourth of July

We met up with Scott, Tracy, and Peter yesterday for the 4th of July. Although Peter is living in Seattle presently, all three are friends of ours from Minnesota. We had a picnic at the Golden Gardens park, went for a little hike at Discovery Park, and then went downtown to watch the fireworks. While our backs were turned, Scott and Tracy ordered Eric and I giant cans of Foster's. It was very generous of them to try to aid in our acculturation -- but I'm glad they don't drink that crap in Australia!

So long, Florida!

We said goodbye to the last of my family at the Pensacola airport, and even though I haven't lived at home since I was 18 years old, and Eric and I have been together for a little over 6 years, it felt like we were really on our own for the first time. I can't explain it except to say that while it was sad to be leaving my family, it also felt like Eric and I were suddenly being brought closer together than before. Once we leave Seattle, it will be just the two of us, figuring it all out. I'm probably just being dramatic since we'll obviously be in touch with family and friends, and Eric and I moved to Minneapolis together without knowing anyone, but I think the isolation of Australia makes everything seem a little more final. I won't be picking up the phone and giving my parents a call or sending Piglet a quick text.

The move seems a little more real each day. When you talk about something for so long, repeating the details to so many people, it begins to seem unreal, but now that the countdown to our flight is in days, it seems like a concrete event. Honestly, while I'm still a worrier by nature, I'm a little less anxious now that we're almost to the departure. Soon, we'll actually be able to take steps, like finding a place to live, instead of just worrying about all that needs to be done.