Last Friday at 7:00am, my feet met with Australian ground and the following seven days they have been running in a figurative sense. There was an initial shock from the first day being abroad, which was followed by a few quakes of fear. Although the short amount of time I have already been here in Australia has shortened my learning curve and advanced my “adulting” skills.
Because I simply had enough miles to-do-so I flew first class for my whole journey to Australia. It took three flights to get down under, totalling up to twenty-four hours of sky high pampering. I was completely uninterested in flying economy for this trip – the length of the flying time and the possibility of cramped seating was as far from appealing as was the actual travel length to Australia. And I could avoid it at the cost of a mere $23 USD (only having to pay for the tax of a first class trip). Done deal. I have been on several international flights (to and from Europe) and those eight hour trips in economy was my line that I would not be crossing. AND that is me; I am a really random, impractical individual. For instance I fought to pack six pairs of shoes that I HAD to have (one pair being a casual heel and a heeled bootie for the fall season). I was torn about not being able to pack thirty pairs of underwear and was apathetic about the shirts for my wardrobe overseas. I have my idiosyncrasies as unpractical as they are. Flying first class became one of them. I liked the idea of being waited on and taken care of in the best way (short of flying private) before “slumming” it. I saw the opportunity to indulge myself in as much free food, alcohol, perks, and leg room before I ended up wherever in Australia. Everything was golden, I was golden…that was until the taxi dropped me off at my AirBnB booking.
There was a lot of anxiety for a few individuals from my at-home-stateside support group about where I was going to initially be staying in Australia alone and exactly how permanent would it be. Other than receiving my Grandma’s post, there were benefits of having a set temporary AU address upon arrival such as helping acquire a bank account and tax file number. However, it sadly turned out that the universe scheduled me up next in its queue to have a poor AirBnB experience. I arrived at the Perth Airport on a level eleven and quickly came crash landing to a zero; like “Why am I here? Should I just turn around and go back – dig a basement under my parent’s house and pretend I was still abroad a year…I can learn to hunt and live off lizards and birds. Easy. And Australia’s wifi is notoriously bad, so limited blogging and video chatting would be excusable. I could get away with it.” That was my rational thinking at the time. It was extra disappointing since I had talked to the host, Sarah, ahead of time and she seemed pleasant. I was looking forward to meeting her and imaging us instantly being BFFs – hair braiding and matching necklaces, the whole nine yards. My first impression of the AirBnB was that a woman or girl did not live there. There was no pride or care for the house. It was not a home. The cleanliness of the shower room, bathroom, kitchen, and public living space was disgusting. I am pretty sure I was catfished. I never met this supposed Sarah; her partner Shaun was her diplomat while she was on vacation in China for three weeks (the exact amount of time I booked the AirBnB for). A big factor when picking Sarah’s place was based on survival – seeing her picture and knowing if things went south I could take her in a fight. I don’t have anything against males, but as a solo female traveller I don’t feel comfortable with four strange, male tenants as roommates…I would not win that fight, even with the knife a friend back home gave me as a going away gift. Then two of the male tenants ended up being hot heads, constantly arguing and shouting at each other at any time of the day (one time eventually escalating to physical threats). One tenant wasn’t even living in a room. A fifth room was devised from the living room out of a laundry line, chip bag clamps, and blankets. I didn’t get a house key until day three – and the front door was a key lock to get in and OUT…I didn’t have a lock on my personal room, so I ended up sleeping lightly and with my room’s desk placed in front of the door to block it from opening at night while I was asleep (I risked dying in a fire for sleep). And I know it could have been worse. It was just an even more shocking obstacle to walk into coming from first class. If I was back in my teen years I’d probably gone with the flow, but now I feel too old for all of it and my matured gut said to leave, but I didn’t have anywhere to leave to. It was a stressful twenty-four hours sorting through my thoughts, emotions, contacts, and options to create my ‘Plan B’ as far away from this house in Carlisle. Day one in Australia I cried a lot while going in and out of sleep from stress, exhaustion, and jet lag. I only gave my self that day to freak out. Day two I had to be productive and take action. My swim-rather-than-drown mentality took hold.
From day two on I left the house regularly and began contracting a minor case of culture shock plus full on sunburn from trekking (my soon to be natural habitat of) Perth. Firstly the flow of traffic and other small norms are the opposite in Australia due to it’s past as a British colony. Not only are the roads left sided, everything follows suit. Some examples – placement of escalators and the standing passengers sticking to the left and get passed on the right; walking tendencies on sidewalks and stairs; ect. I accidentally got in the way, ran into, or elbowed many people the first few days out in public. Presently it is day ten and I still have to be mindful and double check streets before crossing. Then common civic words or phrases are different. Instead of a store having “Open Hours of Operation” its sign will read “Trading Hours.” It’s like the template and format of Australia is the same to the USA, but Australia busted out a thesaurus to avoid plagiarism. There also isn’t ice coffee here; at least in an American’s perspective. On two occasions I went to the Coffee Club (an Australian synonym to Starbucks) and attempted to order ice coffee. The first time I didn’t make an adjustments and it came out in a soda fountain glass complete with two straws, whip cream, and sprinkled chocolate shavings. It continues to differ with taste, it is served with ice cream in it. The second time upon ordering I requested the ice coffee to simply be coffee over ice with no ice cream. It still came out looking like a milkshake. I give up. Iced coffee doesn’t exist in Perth. Phone numbers are different as well – there is an extra digit, a zero at the beginning. I am pretty confident I filled out many online applications incorrectly before learning to include the zero as a part of your actual phone number (unless you are providing your international code with your number). Lastly I quickly figured out conversions. It should have been easy. It’s already basic knowledge to most. If it isn’t let me clear it up for you. A kilometer (usually seen abbreviated as KM) and a mile are essentially the same distance while a meter is really one thousandth of each. I will not get kilometer and meter mixed up again. Then thirty degrees Celsius is essentially the inverse of thirty degrees Fahrenheit. It is hot. It is currently summer in Australia and the sun is no joke. There is a hole in the ozone over here. I feel it and my skin already shows it. In the few days I have been here I have already gotten dehydration headaches, sweat stained shirts, and sunburned forehead and shoulders.
Next a feeling of being found out as a non-native has haunted me a bit. I people watch and try to read people’s minds as they pass me by to see if they know I am not Australian. Being so self aware I know I am easy to pick out especially when I am outside. I think I out myself due to the profuse amount of sweat that comes out of my pores. An Australian looks at me with their dry brow and knows I am a visitor when I am in their elements. Like I knew humans are made mostly out of water; well now I get it, now I believe it, and now I KNOW, know it. Ninety percent of myself has ended up soaked in my clothes every time I have been outside longer than thirty minutes. I am not sure when I will acclimate to the weather, but I am over appearing to be a contestant of a wet tee shirt competition every day. I am capable of fooling a few as long as I am inside. One night at a cafe the server thought I was European, definitely (quote, “God, no”) not American. I asked why and it was because I appeared refined. The definition for refined to this server was dining alone, reading a book, being knowledgable of what the spaghetti noodle is, knowingly use a spoon to help consume spaghetti, and drinking tea for dessert. That is refinement. Upon finding out that not only was I American, but Texan this server asked if I knew what the Alamo was and if I could sing him the “clapping song.” Turned out he had recently watched Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. Before I left I sang two verses of “Deep in the Heart of Texas” for him. Then I have caught myself in conversation with others where I don’t even know what nationality I am portraying. I have noticed I accidentally parrot other people’s accents and dialogue around me. It’s a bad habit because some people take it as mocking…
Fremantle, a coastal town in Perth’s region, has been my biggest adventure thus far. The town had a wonderful Australia Day festival complete with a twenty-minute firework show at dusk, which finale ended with the ever great and infamous Australian band AC/DC’s song “Thunderstruck.” I feel in love with the town though. It is decorated in English colonial fashioned architecture and wonderful recreational beaches. Bonus is that Little Creatures, an Australian brewery, has a gastro pub and brewing facility located at the town’s pier.
From what I can tell there aren’t any native mammals or reptilians in the city area other than the zoo. The only unusual wildlife spotting I have had was on my second day when I walked around outside for the first time. I kept hearing a peculiar sound. I couldn’t place where I was hearing it from and what it sounded like…was it a cat in heat? Was it a baby dying? I quickly decided it was indeed horrible sounding. The walk to the rail takes fifteen minutes, it took me an extra ten because I would stop and look around whenever I heard the sound. Eventually I identified its origins as a black bird’s call and unfortunately they are common and found everywhere…even in my dreams.
I have felt a few proud parent moments for myself this first week. Using a train, subway, or bus has not been a part of my daily, usual way of living. In the cities I have lived in I never had to travel or regularly use public transportation at all. Ever. Never. If I have ridden types of public transit it has been as a tourist and usually with a guide. Yet for the past week I have only traveled by rail and bus and might I add very effectively. I have not been late to one scheduled event/meeting...I have however been hours early. Also learned the need to check time tables for the after dark shifts to avoid waiting thirty minutes at night and to verify you are headed the right direction on the line before you put your face in a book for the ride. There is a downside being that my wonder for it all is lost; I use to have enthusiasm and excitment toward these means of transport like Ariel or Arthur Weasley. More pats on the back to me for getting a well functioning phone. My iPhone 4S will be missed – it had a good three year long run. Then pats for getting an Australian bank account set up. As well as filing for my tax file number. I checked off large accomplishments from my task list too including finding a job and new housing. I spent hours that did add up to days looking for a new place to live. I needed a job, but I couldn’t focus on that with the stress of the AirBnB living accommodations. The one I finally found is nice all around in terms of rent, roommates, and demeanour (fully furnished, comfortable mattress, and air conditioning). I am beyond ecstatic to be living somewhere else and with friendly fellow travellers (the perfect start to my friend pool). Next came my employment. I have an extensive history working for Quiksilver. At the store level the community is a family and a family takes care of one another. In a few days of contacting a Quiksilver store I was contacted for an interview. It took thirty minutes for the manager to offer me a job. I am so grateful to already have had such a great experience from working at Quiksilver in Texas and now to get a job in the APAC region I am still finding it to be unbelievable. I am feeling a lot of gratitude and anxiety about making sure to meet expectations and give back to the store. Also humorously the Quiksilver store is located in a suburb named exactly like the same as the area I use to work in California before leaving for Australia. Coincidence or fate?
Either way I am beyond thankful for having the opportunity to be in Australia and for my amazing support system back in the States. I could not have made the trip if I didn’t have so much greatness around and rallying behind me. Also the experience would not have been remotely as smooth as it had been if I wasn’t provided such wise and tested advice. There are really so many people that have helped me get me here and I go through the list and think of everyone back in the States every day.
Alright. SO yeah; overall a successfully first week. There wasn’t much time for jet lag, meaning I kinda pushed my body to the brink and I got really sick by day four. I am getting better now – still have an occasional pretty bad phlegm cough. I am about to spend a few days indoors to get well in time for my first shift and week two of taking on life in Australia.