Monday, August 4, 2008

Finally a moment for an update...

In the past week, Eric and I have been working very hard to settle into our new home and neighborhood. So hard, in fact, that I think it will be a relief to go back to work.
It’s required some ingenuity to furnish a house without a car. The fact that IKEA delivers has been very helpful, but we took advantage of that service back in Minneapolis. I’m thinking more of the cab we took with $850 of random crap from K-Mart, like a vacuum cleaner, microwave, pots & pans, etc. As we were checking out that day, a group of college kids at the next register kept an amazed inventory: “Wow, now they’re buying a microwave! Oh no, now it’s a mop! Holy crap, a frying pan!” I wanted to smack the little twerps. People in Australia just don’t seem to buy very many things at once, making our American excess quite a show. In fact, most stores, even grocery stores, don’t have the little conveyer belts leading up to the register. It is funny that most shopping seems to happen at K-Mart and Target, with Target being the upscale option. Perhaps it’s their international operations that keep K-Mart afloat; I keep expecting them to go out of business in the US.

Anyway, the worst was at the end of the tally when my credit card was rejected. Every other day, USAA shuts off our credit cards due to our obnoxiously large charges from the other side of the world, never mind that the address they have for us is in Australia. I call and confirm that I am indeed spending my life’s savings on $90 sheets that feel like burlap and $25 towels that shed fur all over you when you’re wet, and we move on with our lives. The first couple of times it was really humiliating, but I’ve actually gotten used to it. To USAA’s credit, we have put $6,500 on our cards this week…moving to Australia is really expensive! One of our books said it costs about $10,000 to furnish a home, and we’ve only come in a bit under that by taking the cheapest option in every case. The bed we bought at IKEA in the US was too expensive here, so we took a step down.

The cab driver we nabbed outside K-Mart was even less impressed with our haul. He tried to tell us it wouldn’t all fit, but we just wouldn’t take no for an answer. What the hell else were we supposed to do with three shopping carts worth of stuff when we were five miles from home? It was a bit like the cab driver who brought us from our temporary hotel to our new place with all of our luggage; he also tried to deny us passage.

Our favorite purchases have been from Crazy Charlie (the actual name of his business, not our nickname for him, although he seems very serious and not crazy at all), who delivers appliances himself at night after he closes his business. So far, he’s sold us our fridge, washer, dryer, and television. I’m not sure where he’s from, perhaps somewhere in the Middle East, but he’s been really helpful, showing us how to hook stuff up and whatnot. It’s still weird to me that $1,800 rent doesn’t include a fridge, but I guess it barely includes a bathroom.

Plenty of trips have happened under our own steam. The dishes I wanted were across town, so Eric and I carried them to the train, transferred trains, and then carried them home from the station. Eric was very patient, and I kept telling him that I really LOVED these dishes. Dishes are quite heavy, by the way. We’ve also made many trips to our local K-Mart, liquor store, and grocery market, about 1.5 miles away, and we’ve developed quite a system for hauling crap home. Eric carries his big Army backpack, I drag one of those little old lady trolleys with wheels, and we carry the remainder in two huge, plastic IKEA bags. All of the stores sell their own reusable cloth bags for $.99, which are designed to fit into my old lady trolley. They’re very environmentally aware here.

We just walk, and walk, and walk, all over the city, rain or shine. My whole perception of what is a long way to walk is slowly warping. I can’t imagine what it will be like if we move back to the US and have a car again. Hopefully, I’ll keep walking anyway, but I’ll definitely ditch the trolley.
We’re learning more about our neighborhood as well. We got library cards, which gives us free internet access and educational DVDs (so far, we’ve learned about Australia’s role in the Boer war and the platypus, although our Quickflix account, the Australian version of Netflix, has just been activated), and I joined a really nice gym up the street. We’ve also explored Sydney Park, which is huge and just a few blocks away. On the other side of the park is the largest indoor climbing gym in Australia, which we’ll have to check out once our gear arrives. We also went to the yard sale at the Erskineville Public School and ate hot dogs (mine was a chicken dog -- ??), just trying to be part of the neighborhood. The unit next door just leased, so hopefully we’ll get to meet our new neighbors soon. We hear he’s a Custom’s Agent, so we may harass him to figure out how to get our stuff out of hock when the boat arrives in early September. We did have a visitor the other evening – a local politician. However, once he learned we weren’t citizens and couldn’t vote, he asked for his pamphlet back. It was exciting just to have someone knock on the door, though.

We haven’t really made any friends yet, but the people we keep running into are all from Eric’s home town. We met an exchange student at K-Mart who was from Renton, and the girl making coffee up the street was from Kent. Given that the American girl I work with is from Seattle, I’m beginning to think that all Americans here originate in Washington.
Speaking of coffee, there is no such thing here: if you just order “coffee,” no one will know what the heck you want. I drink a flat white, which is coffee with steamed milk, no foam, and Eric drinks a tall black, which is just a black coffee. A short black is espresso. Someone always has to fix your coffee for you; there is no such thing as self serve.

Another interesting thing about our neighborhood is that it is full of transvestites. It’s a very gay friendly neighborhood, which I really like, but I still can’t help looking twice when an exceptionally tall woman walks by. A nice man in a dress checked out my groceries the other day, and it made me wonder where transvestites work in the US. Oh, and I hate it when their legs are better than mine.

We also have really large cats in our neighborhood, like 2-3 times the size of my cats, which is impressive. I think they descended directly from the saber tooth tiger.
We saw some other native animals at the Taronga Zoo, across Sydney Bay by ferry, like the wallaby, fairy penguin, kangaroo, echidna, platypus, and, of course, the koala. That was our big day off when we just couldn’t work on the house any more. Did you know that the koala sleeps 20 hours a day because it is working so hard to digest the eucalyptus?

The house itself is coming along. It’s a weird little place. Downstairs, we have a living room and dining room, and then a lean-to type structure with a kitchen and a bathroom. The bathroom is at the end of the lean-to, so you feel like a bit of a giant when taking a shower. The sink drains directly into the back yard through a hole in the wall. We have a small front porch and garden and a larger garden out back. The back garden has a large grill currently inhabited by about 6,000 cockroaches, and we’re plotting their death by propane. There’s also some kind of little shack out back, but we’re not sure what the hell to do with it. Upstairs are two bedrooms, one of which we’re using as an office, and a little balcony. One strange thing is that none of the rooms in the house are square. They look kind of square until you try to put square rugs or furniture in. You can tell the house is quite old because the electricity was clearly an afterthought, with wires running along walls instead of inside them. We also lack heat and air. It’s been really chilly lately, but I imagine we’ll remember huddling on the couch fondly this summer…Our new address, by the way, is:

50 Macdonald Street
Erskineville NSW 2043

Other than settling into the house and neighborhood, we’re just wrapping up the administrative tasks. We’re still not able to get driver’s licenses, but we’ve done everything else. The most interesting services to obtain have been health care and banking. Like all Australian residents, we have access to Medicare, the public health care system. However, because we earn over a certain income (something like $50K, not terribly high here given the cost of living), we also have to have private health insurance or pay a special tax at the end of the year. The private health insurance is split into hospital coverage and extras coverage. The hospital coverage pays whatever Medicare doesn’t if you have to stay overnight in the hospital. There are public and private hospitals, and to make matters more confusing, you can request to be classified as a private patient at a public hospital. We’re going with not getting sick. To pay the lowest premium possible, or $115/month for the two of us, Eric and I signed up for the highest hospital deductible: $50/night for up to 8 nights, nothing thereafter. The insurance representatives seemed really alarmed at the $200 risk we’re taking, but I don’t think they understand what we’re used to fearing in terms of medical costs. We keep asking if this and that are covered, and they keep thinking we’re crazy. Of course it’s covered – they’re not barbarians! The extras coverage takes care of things like ambulance rides, dental care, and doctor’s visits. Again we have the minimum coverage, hoping against hope that we won’t need any of the bizarre, hippie therapies that are covered under other packages. I think I can make it a couple of years without Reiki therapy. One strange thing is that contraceptives aren’t covered by Medicare or the private health insurance. Paying for babies to be born must be cheaper than prevention.
We had some confusion with our bank for a couple of days. We have two accounts, one of which earns interest, and the other of which is designed for daily transactions. We assumed these were equivalent to savings and checking accounts and kept choosing “checking” on the little keypad when using our EFTPOS (like debit) cards. We kept getting declined. Given our credit card woes, this was getting exhausting. Well, it turns out that we have TWO savings accounts with slightly different names, and almost no one has a checking account. A checking account here is strictly to be used for writing checks.

Oh, what will we learn next…

1 comment:

Toni said...

Wow, sounds like you're staying busy!!! Thanks for all the juicy details! My grandma (Darrel's mom) read a couple entries while she was here visiting and enjoyed reading them. Keep safe (and healthy)!