Tag Archives: Australia

Aaaand Back to Melbourne For a Bit!

4 Dec

Last month James and I headed back to Melbourne for Cat’s wedding. It was a shorter trip (about 10 days) since our last visit was relatively recent. Don’t want people getting sick of us!

Pre-flight cocktails in the Polaris lounge:
IMG_20181113_205407The flight was scheduled to leave quite late – around 11pm – and it was probably midnight by the time they started dinner service. Who wants dinner at midnight???

I slept for most of the trip. James’ in-flight entertainment was busted but it worked out because they gave him $250 for the inconvenience and we just switched seats. =)

About to touch down in Sydney (check out the Opera House!) MVIMG_20181114_133645(Also for what it’s worth, connecting in Sydney is so annoying. You have to take a bus between terminals and it takes forever).

The wedding was the night after we arrived and luckily we weren’t too jet-lagged. =) The ceremony was beautiful and we had a great time catching up with family and some of Cat’s old friends.

My incredibly talented friend Kim made the wedding cake.
IMG_20181117_171243And in the background are my cousins Victor and Henry!

Here James and I are taking advantage of the ice cream cart.IMG_20181117_190613Cat had very kindly made sure there were plenty of dairy-free food options for James, including a delicious pizza at the end of the night.

It was a really fun way to kick off our trip to Melbourne!

We stayed at an AirBNB in the city and the location was pretty much perfect – right near Melbourne Central. We were near all our favourite restaurants and we ate ourselves stupid.

Also the current “thing” seems to be edible flowers (Nicola tells me they’re pansies, but I didn’t want to write “edible pansies” for obvious reasons). The pansies were very popular at brunch and we also encountered them in cocktails. Sometimes the brunch placement made sense – on top of a stack of pancakes or something. Sometimes the brunch placement was perplexing – “oh, here’s a flower on top of some scrambled eggs”.

But anyway, we went to some old favourites (*cough* Rose Garden *cough*) and also discovered some amazing new places. I know I say it every time, but Melbourne gets more and more cool every time we go back.

Miznon:
IMG_20181121_212325 The food was fantastic and their music playlist was even better.IMG_20181121_212206I am unique like a pita!

And James with the flagship dish, the flowering cabbage.
IMG_20181121_205050 He looks like he is wearing guyliner but those are just his beautiful eyes.

Din Tai Fung:

We ate soo many xiao long bao!
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Eau de Vie:

Last time we went we promised ourselves we’d do their cocktail and food degustation menu. Damo and Joel joined us and it was super fun catching up.

Our first drink of the night – mezcal and aloe.
MVIMG_20181123_194548 Mushroom soup with a surprise duck egg inside.IMG_20181123_195505Wine cocktails getting smoked:
IMG_20181123_203940 Our host making a sorbet palate cleanser: IMG_20181123_210342And the finished product!
IMG_20181123_210815Pillar of Salt:
IMG_20181124_111010 (1)(This sign doesn’t make sense to me. It’s not much of a statement – wouldn’t everyone rather live full than die hungry?)IMG_20181124_114424Melbourne brunches are so, so good. This meal was delicious (and the guy brought me an extra serve of turkish bread for free, yay!)

Mjolnir:
IMG_20181125_185757 Skol! IMG_20181125_192102Us and our wonderful friends! (Also check out our giant viking horn drinking vessels).
MVIMG_20181125_194911They lit a lot of things on fire that night. Here is a Baked Alaska: 00000IMG_00000_BURST20181125211320_COVERThe bill came in this gorgeous pop-up ship!
IMG_20181125_213109As usual we had a whirlwind schedule, meeting up with  for lunch and dinner pretty much every day we were back. I only took photos of 30% of what we ate but most of it was amazing. Every time James and I think maybe we’ve overhyped the food in our memories but every time it’s just as good as we remember.

Also, have some Melbourne street art:

We passed this every day and I kept thinking that I should take a photo – I finally did on our last evening in Melbourne.
IMG_20181125_091646 I saw this one while I was in a car and had to take a photo because it was so gorgeous: MVIMG_20181124_143152Ever since I bought my Gucci Aces, James has been saying “that’s Gucci” (apparently the children say it to mean something is good) so this graffiti pleased me despite its subject:
IMG_20181124_132456Everybody likes raccoons:
MVIMG_20181116_112953Oh my.IMG_20181125_152649Our last day in Melbourne wasn’t really a day at all because we had to leave at 8am. Though it turned out we could have hung around a little longer because our flight to Auckland was over an hour delayed, which unfortunately meant that we missed our planned connection.

They put us on an Air New Zealand flight five hours later and during that time we just killed time at the lounge. We had some cocktails (not nearly as good as the ones in the Polaris lounge) and a light lunch. Also baos!MVIMG_20181126_181858The flight was really nice – I think the seats are a bit wider than United’s and the service was better. Though Polaris is better in terms of couple seating – the only real option with the Air New Zealand herringbone layout is to go one behind the other or across the aisle from each other. Though they had a little ottoman you could perch on to chat to the other person or eat a meal together which was quite nice. (James: It was Gucci).

Oh hey!
IMG_20181127_074818
We were glad to get back to the cats and our normal routine, though it’s always a bit sad to leave. I think I’ll forever be a Melburnian at heart. Also, there were so many restaurants we wanted to try but weren’t able to get around to. Next time!
IMG_20181126_064844New Things About Melbourne:

  • Flowers on food
  • Cheese tea
  • Yeezy’s everywhere
  • Food delivery couriers also everywhere
  • Supermarkets now charging for shopping bags (though they’re sturdier than the old shopping bags)
  • Lines outside designer stores
  • Google office! (Though James said it’s really small and just sales/marketing)

Things About Melbourne That We Had Forgotten:

  • How you split the bill (everyone takes it in turns to line up and tell the cashier what they ate)
  • Sunday surcharges at restaurants
  • Were there always this many smokers?
  • Myer Christmas windows!!!

 

I Still Call Australia Home

10 Oct

We just got back from three weeks in Australia! We were efficiently visiting for two weddings – Julian’s and my cousin Jon’s. Like last time, we used pretty much all our free time to catch up with friends and family (and also gorge ourselves).

Plane Anthropology

On our flight to Melbourne, our section of the plane (the blue Economy Plus area) had hardly anyone in it – behold!

Screenshot_20170904-223549I had optimistically put myself in 21L and James in 22L but had been obsessively monitoring the situation in case of a flood of newcomers to our section – I figured rows 16 (the one we vacated), 17, 18 and 20 would be my canaries in the coal mine, and if I saw those starting to fill up I’d change our seats so James and I were in the same row.

It was pretty interesting to watch people figure out that there were empty rows for the taking, and start to spread out and stake their claim. The first people to catch on were a group of guys in rows 22 and 23 – they separated and took the DEFs in row 20 and 21. The other empty rows were taken maybe 10-20 minutes after we’d sat down, and well before the boarding doors closed. 24DEF was the last to go, and after that it was people just circling around looking for empty rows. I counted eight of us who had the very best situation – an ABC or JKL row to themselves (DEF was less optimal because you didn’t have a wall to lean your back against to stretch your legs out on the seats).

I also thought it was interesting how reluctant people were to move to a row where someone was already sitting. As far as I could tell, almost everyone who started with their own row stayed that way. Everyone technically only had the right to their own seat, but clearly the seat poachers realised how desirable it was to have a row to yourself and didn’t want to be the one to take that away from someone (also a lot of people had defensively moved to the middle seat of their row).

Which brings me to the 17JKL bloc. I was particularly fascinated with it because it was one of the few filled rows. 16JKL was also full but the guy there moved to 16ABC pretty quickly, and the 16s weren’t really that desirable because the seat arms don’t lift up (which was partially why we had moved our seat allocation). But anyway, early on in the boarding process (after the 22/23 guys had spread out but before other rows had been taken) I saw a lady from 17JKL look around and realise that the blue section was likely to have empty seats. She asked a flight attendant if she could move, and I guess the flight attendant told her that after boarding she could take any empty seat, because she stayed put but kept looking around.

Which was a huge mistake, because by the time she started walking around, all the rows had been claimed, and even people who had moved (and had just as little “right” to the row as her – except for the apparently crucial part of being there first) had started to feel territorial about their space. I heard her ask to sit with a single in 17 or 18 ABC, who straight up lied to her face and told her that someone else was sitting there! She got rejected from another row and was roaming around looking for someone who was too nice to say no (from my live email updates to Cat and Ivo: “the unwanted lady just moved seats again to someone else’s row. She was like “can I join you here?” NO! Nobody wants you!!”).

Obviously she had to do it because moving would be a significant upgrade for her, but just as obviously people didn’t want her in their row because it would be a significant downgrade for them. I think she ended up in 18DEF on her third attempt.

The flight took off 30+ minutes late, but watching people tetris around was the most engrossing 30+ minutes I’ve ever spent on a plane. Also I slept nearly the whole way, sat with my legs stretched for the rest, had nobody reclined in front of me, nobody pulling my seat to get up, no lines for the toilet, and had three tray tables/seat backs to organise my stuff – highly recommended!

(I had high hopes for our return flight which was looking similarly empty, but it filled up a couple of days beforehand. So we did the only reasonable thing and upgraded to business. =P)

Catching Up

The whole point of visiting Melbourne is to catch up with family and friends, and we always make the most of it! I love our friends in Seattle and SF, but there’s nothing quite like being around the people we grew up with. We met up with my school friends, James’ school friends, James’ computer science friends, and my cousins.

Being with my cousins reminded me of when we were kids and hung out every weekend (except half of them have kids of their own now!)
IMG_20170928_163922I wasn’t sure if it was just me, but Cat said that she also got teary-eyed looking at that picture. We were so close growing up, and it’s so much fun hanging out with them – we’re only fully assembled every couple of years or so, because of Klene living in Sydney and me in San Francisco.

Last time we visited Melbourne we didn’t see as much of my parents as I would have liked, so this time we had a weekly dinner with them and Cat/Mitch.

It’s funny, because I feel like at times, Cat and mum didn’t always get along that well – Cat used to get exasperated with her easily, and mum would come to me and be like “you tell Cat to do X, because Cat won’t listen to me”. But now Cat writes all these funny, sweet anecdotes about mum on facebook, where apparently “Mama Chen” has quite the following among Cat’s friends – even some of my friends have told me they love the Mama Chen facebook updates!
21768353_10156217380865656_6916487172671501806_n (1)All of James’ high school friends have kids now, and about half of my school friends have kids. Everyone is getting so old! Here we are with James’ uni friends after a brunch catch-up:
IMG_20170923_130956

Stuff I Had Totally Forgotten About:

Chicken Salt

The first time we went to get fish and chips (with flake! Not that cod bullshit they have here) and they asked if we wanted regular or chicken salt, James and I were like “OMG how could we have forgotten about chicken salt???”

How is it not a thing here? Possibly for the same reason the US doesn’t have Burger Rings, chicken Twisties and chicken flavoured chips (that aren’t a novelty flavour like chicken and waffles) – Nancy said “people in the US don’t like meat-flavoured chips” (!!!)

But anyway, we brought back three different kinds of chicken salt.

Magpies

I never saw them in Seattle or SF but they’re everywhere in Melbourne. I was walking down the street and heard a magpie sing and was hit with this intense wave of nostalgia. I used to hear that sound all the time, and hearing it again after all those years felt simultaneously foreign and familiar.

Melbourne Food

It is so good, especially the Asian food. James and I reckon the best Asian restaurants we’ve been to in the US would be middle of the pack in Melbourne.

James had his first proper Melbourne coffee and said he’d forgotten how good it is – and also how strong it is! We went out to brunch with Joel, Nancy, Damo, Joan and their kids, and afterwards James said he was really jittery from the coffee – whereas Joel and Nancy made themselves another cup when they got home.

Anyway, here is a random selection of food we ate and took photos of:

My pavlova freakshake at Naughty Boy cafe:
IMG_20170917_095758Sushi platter from Shyun:
IMG_20170923_181953The “Money to Burn” cocktail at Eau de Vie:

20170925_085924-ANIMATIONEau de Vie was really fun – the cocktails were delicious and beautifully presented. We love speakeasies and didn’t realise that they were now a thing in Melbourne. Mitch had a cocktail with some fairy floss and a paper plane:
IMG_20170913_204716 I think this one involved a drink being poured into a glass full of hickory smoke. 00004IMG_00004_BURST20170913212612_COVER
Next time we go back to Melbourne James wants to do Eau de Vie’s food/cocktail tasting menu because he was absolutely in love with the place.

(Also, James fell asleep on the train ride home. It turned out he had actually started to get tired after dinner and before we went on a 20 minute hunt for a speakeasy, and certainly well before we had 3-4 drinks each at said speakeasy – but he said he was having such a good time with Cat and Mitch that he “wanted to keep the party going”).

The “Meat Fruit” at Dinner by Heston:
IMG_20170926_181002 (1)

Vegemite gyoza at Shizuku Ramen & Craft Beer. You can take the girl out of Australia …
IMG_20170910_192420
Zombie VR

Ivo said she wanted to do this, and to be honest at the start I was dubious. I mainly went along with it because I thought it would be fun to hang out with everyone – I could take or leave the VR experience, really. It was at Zero Latency in Melbourne and it ended up being amazing.

They were running a bit late so we could see the people before us. They were wearing their gear – VR set, headphones, motion capture stuff, guns, some sort of computer backpack – yelling at each other, and sort of shuffling around tentatively in this massive warehouse space. I imagine we looked just as goofy when we were doing it.IMG_20170917_205923_1It was really immersive – not just 3D but completely responsive to our actions because of those little motion capture bobble things. I can’t believe there isn’t something like this in SF!

We did the zombie and the space one, of which I think the space one was better. There was some really cool stuff, like where you walked up this torus, and when you looked down you could see your friends still down below you and it felt completely real. And walking across high platforms, hiding behind boxes, dodging baddies … it was really, really cool.

The zombie one was just a straight up shooter experience, which is why it felt a little less interesting. It was still really immersive though, and thus pretty freaky having a zombie running right at you.

Mitch did really well and ended up coming with the third highest score ever. The guy working there was really impressed! They sent us all these cool stats afterwards, like how accurate our shots were, how many points we’d scored, how far we’d moved etc. I thought the funniest stat was that during the space boss battle, all of us moved a pretty consistent distance – from 8-17 meters … except James, who apparently just spent the whole time walking around and had travelled 112 meters! WTF James!

Souvenirs

Generally stuff is way cheaper in the US so we tend not to buy too much stuff when we visit Australia. James usually replenishes his supply of Bonds undies, and I pick up some clothes, but this time we decided to go all-in on Aussie snacks:
IMG_20171001_174837Things James missed the most: banana lollies, wizz fizz and musk sticks

Things I missed the most: chicken Twisties, Burger Rings, honeycomb chocolate, noodles

You can’t really tell in the photo but there’s a couple of boxes of Wei Lih noodles that the Pringles and chicken salt are sitting on. They’re sooo much better than any other instant noodle I’ve had and I can’t find them in the US. They were $23 for a pack of five on eBay – outrageous!

James and I taped two boxes together and checked them as luggage, and they survived the trip really well. And it was only a little bit embarrassing collecting them from the carousel and carrying them through the airport. Cat reckons I’d be able to tape four boxes next time – I think definitely three, but I’m not sure if four would exceed the allowed luggage dimensions.

I also bought some sneakers from Country Road (I’m having mild regrets on that one – they look cool but they’re made of fucking neoprene and make my feet sweaty) and this awesome croissant rain coat from Gorman that I will never, ever regret:

ggfj004104i1_print

image from Gorman

Every time we visit, we’re surprised at how much cooler Melbourne is than we remember, and how our friends are just as wonderful as we remember. And we sort of get stars in our eyes and think about moving back even though it doesn’t make any sense. Sometimes we just miss being around people who sound like us, you know?

But anyway, we’ll be back next year for Cat’s wedding!

A Visit Back to Melbourne

18 Jul

Since we were going to Indonesia for Chi Kai and Quincy’s wedding it was convenient to add a trip back home instead of making a separate one in December. And now I know that off-season is the way to go – as fun as it is to spend Christmas with our families, for nearly twice the price it does seem like shockingly poor travel value.

We caught up with family and friends every day which was awesome. Klene and Ray even came down from Sydney so we could have a full cousin reunion. I always forget how much fun I have hanging out with them.

Cousins united! =D
received_10154265961935086 (1)Another important part to being in Melbourne was eating all the food we’d been craving (flake! Dainty Sichuan eggplant! Nhu Lan banh mi for me! Melbourne coffee for James! Rose Garden chicken ribs!)

Oh! Rose Garden now has outdoor seating! They still do brisk business even outside of traditional eating hours, which is always a great sign. My expectations were super high – we didn’t get a chance to go last time we visited, so that’s four years I’d gone without and I’d been freaking vibrating with excitement.

And oh, they were perfect. The crunchy/shattery batter, the moist chicken, the salty/spicy/little bit sweet combo, that amazing chicken (duck?) juice broth that they drench the rice with, and even the stingy broccoli florets (aka the polite fiction that I’m eating a balanced meal). After every bite I’d swoon with mouth-happiness but then be a little bit sad because I lack regular access to Rose Garden chicken ribs. And then I’d take another bite. It was a meal full of conflicting emotions.IMG_20160514_112046 (1)

James had some Seven Seeds coffee and was intensely disappointed. He said the coffee was really shit compared to what he remembered, so at least he was spared my rollercoaster of emotions. He said he had excellent coffee elsewhere though, so maybe the barrista was bad or that location has gone downhill. Next time we visit we’ll probably make a pitstop just to confirm.

We walked around our old area checking out what had and hadn’t changed. The CBD is fantastic and James and I agree we didn’t appreciate it nearly enough while we were here. It’s so dense and full of restaurants and shops; more so than anywhere in SF.

And in other news my mum is a beekeeper now!
IMG_20160508_135830 (1)Mum and dad have been harvesting lots of fruit and veggies from the garden and mum has been harassing Cat to give her some of her chickens. Mum has a coop ready and everything, but Cat is understandably attached to her chickens.

I’m trying to think of what else there is to report on from our trip. Shopping was pretty good because of the exchange rate. Lululemon is even cheaper than it is in the US, and James stocked up on his favourite Bonds undies.

We missed out on a couple of things that would have been nice – Vic Market donuts and boreks, Beatrix in North Melbourne, seeing Pat, etc. I imagine once we’ve come back a few more times we’ll have a set routine of people to see, food to eat and things to buy. But after a week and a half in Melbourne it was time to move on to the next part of our holiday … Indonesia!

 

A Slight Detour On Our Way to Australia

15 Dec

Our flight from San Francisco to Sydney made the news! We were supposed to arrive in Sydney around 10:30am but actually touched down some time around 6:30pm.

About half an hour before we were due to land, the pilot made an announcement saying that there was only one runway open due to debris. He said that there was a backlog of planes trying to land and the earliest they could slot us in was 50 minutes from the originally scheduled landing but that the plane didn’t have enough fuel to keep circling. So he diverted us to Canberra to refuel. James and I figured it would be tight, but we would still have enough time to make our two hour connection.

Nope.

We all sat there for an hour, and then another hour before they told us what was going on. Occasionally we’d get these stressed-sounding updates that they were trying to figure everything out and they would let us know what was going on as soon as possible.
IMG_5047It turned out that the pilots and flight crew had exceeded the hours they were legally allowed to work so the airline would have to bring in additional crew. But they were all in Sydney so they would have to be flown into Canberra so their ETA was in 5 hours. And we weren’t allowed out of the (increasingly hot and stuffy) plane because we hadn’t been processed by customs. And the airport didn’t have enough staff on hand to process us so we’d just have to sit and wait until the government decided to allow us out.

The flight attendants cooled down the plane by cracking open the emergency doors.

At the back:
IMG_5040And at the exit row right where we were sitting:
IMG_5043James was sad that they didn’t allow him to open the door. I was so glad we’d forked out for the extra legroom seats (even though they ended up being a mixed blessing because they were right near the toilets so a lot of people stood there to wait or stretch their legs).

For us, the most stressful part was not being able to contact our family to let them know what was going on. The guy sitting next to us was very nice and let us use his roaming to call James’ dad, and several hours later we were also able to use one of the customs guys’ phones. Then after that, the main worry was how we were going to get to Melbourne now that we’d missed our original connection – we did have a wedding to get to the next day, after all! The flight attendants told us there was a team on the ground who would be re-booking connections for everyone, so that was a relief.

After a couple of hours of not knowing what was going on, people were starting to get irritable, not to mention hungry/thirsty and the toilets were gradually failing. The crew brought us some crackers and water (donated by Qantas) which was nice. For the next hour we would get updates about how they were trying to negotiate with the airport to allow everyone outside of the plane but that it was difficult because the Ukranian President and the Australian Prime Minister were in Canberra (and we were like “whaaat?! The Australian Prime Minister is always in Canberra!”).

Finally (after 3+ hours in the plane) we were allowed out! And it was glorious.

IMG_5049Under the watchful eyes of customs and the federal police we frolicked around in our pen.
IMG_5048Rations!
IMG_5067We sat in the sun to have our lunch and then headed back in to use the rapidly deteriorating toilets. One of the toilets near us had a clogged sink and the other was no longer flushing.

Obviously it was a massive inconvenience but once we knew what was happening (and that our connections were taken care of) it became much more bearable. The crew were trying as hard as they could, and you could tell that everyone was making the best of a bad situation. It was kind of funny because a lot of the crew were also taking photos of us and the open emergency doors, so it was just as much a novelty for them as it was for us!

I talked to one of the flight attendants who said that two hours after we left San Francisco the airport had cancelled all flights because of the storm, so they had been talking among themselves and were like “aren’t we lucky to be on this flight!”

After our bathroom break we headed back out for one last moment in the sun.
IMG_5061As it turned out James should have done a bit less basking because he ended up getting sunburned!

When we went back in they had emptied the toilets and everything was back to normal, just in time for the new crew to arrive. It was a bit sad when our original crew was swapped out. They were applauded off the plane because they were awesome even though they must have been exhausted.

When we finally landed in Sydney, people with connections were directed to a new line where we got tickets for our next flight. We were pretty much rubber-stamped through customs (not sure if that’s normal or if they gave us a break out of pity) and waited to board. We ended up getting another exit row seat on the flight to Melbourne which was nice!

James’ parents picked us up from the airport – and as it turned out we needn’t have worried because they knew about the delay. Once we had an internet connection we read some reassuring updates about the cats from our house-sitter, and felt much better – especially the next day, when United emailed and offered us $500 each to apologise for the inconvenience.

All in all it was a really long day, but no harm done as we arrived 10 hours late, but well in time to see Ivanna get married! =)

From Melbourne to Seattle: A Year On

18 Jun

It’s been a bit over a year since James and I moved to Seattle and I’m happy to say that we still love it! I was looking through some of our old photos (to try and illustrate the concept of us loving Seattle) and came across this one from our first week here.

This was in corporate housing; Mouse had found a hole in the bottom lining of the armchair and would crawl inside. We tried to block it off with pillows but he’d always find a way to squeeze himself in.

I wasn’t sure if he was recovering from the flight over or if he just liked being in there. Mouse has always liked being surrounded by fabric. I know that sounds like a super weird thing to say, but I don’t know how else to phrase it.

He got in there on his own by the way. I had the blanket on the chair (for I too like being surrounded by fabric) and that’s how I found him.

The worst is if I make the bed in the morning and forget that he’s wrapped up in the sheets. I flick the doona to straighten it and Mouse comes tumbling out looking betrayed.

But anyway, after a year of living here I think I have a better perspective of what I like and dislike about living in Seattle (and the US).

Positives of Life in the US

One of my favourite things here is online shopping; it is so much more advanced here than in Australia. And shopping in general, really. Everything is cheaper, online shipping is faster and there is so much more choice. I’m trying not to buy too much though – everything we buy is something we eventually have to ship home!

It’s also cool that we get things faster here. TV shows, trends, technology, plus random stuff like rogue taxis (Uber, Lyft, etc) and food trucks. Though it’s less pronounced than pre-internet days. I remember James said that when he was a kid, his parents visited the US and his uncle was like “you should buy this toy for your kids. It’ll be huge in Australia soon.” But his dad thought the concept of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was stupid so didn’t buy anything. =(

There’s also a lot more weird flavours of things. I’ve seen fluffed marshmallow, cake and whipped cream flavoured vodkas. I’ve actually tasted the fluffed marshmallow vodka – it smelled like marshmallow and tasted like super sweet vanilla.

I saw this beer at a local booze shop:

Some friends have tried it before and said it was absolutely disgusting. So I bought the Voodoo Doughnut, peanut butter, chocolate and banana ale instead. It smelled like super sweet doughnut and according to the guys we served it to, tasted like a doughnutty beer. It wasn’t good enough that anyone would drink it again though.

I like that they make an attempt, even if a lot of the time the flavour combos are super weird.

I wanted to try some but I didn’t really want to commit to a whole block of chocolate cheese.

The other thing that’s different here that I love are the winters. Seattle’s winter is comparatively mild but it’s still more interesting than Melbourne (I still remember James talking about running one frosty morning in his Vibrams. He was waiting for some friends to catch up and the ground was so cold he had to rest his feet on a pile of leaves).

Here is a friend’s nature strip one morning. The grass was all crunchy from the frost and you can see the footprints we left.

And of course winters mean snowboarding. Only 6 months to go!

We just bought some snowboard bags to protect our boards when we go travelling. =) Speaking of travelling, that’s another big plus about living in the US – in Australia we’re so isolated from everything, but (almost) everything is much closer here. We’ve already visited Yosemite and New York and there are so many places that I still want to see. Plus we’re much closer to Canada and South America and Europe!

Negatives of Life in the US

Obviously it sucks being so far away from family and friends. Some of our expat friends are moving back to Melbourne, friends are getting married, having kids, and we’re missing out on all of that. I email people regularly (and in fact when Cat was travelling around the US I actually talked to her less than when she was back in Melbourne) but it’s not quite the same as being able to see them whenever.

There are fewer public holidays and you get less personal leave here. When Amazon was trying to recruit James the HR guy told him that after the first year he’d get 3 weeks of annual leave. And James was like “yeah … in Australia everyone gets 4 weeks.”

Also we still don’t really understand how the health care system works. Every time we fill a prescription or go to a healthcare provider it’s a mystery whether we get billed. And even with insurance it’s pretty expensive compared to back home (though the quality of care so far has been great). Our Canadian friends feel similarly – even the ones who have been here for several years.

Work

James enjoys his job at Amazon – it doesn’t hurt that he gets to go work with his friends every day!

He got a great performance review (the peer-review comments from his colleagues were so overwhelmingly positive that his boss told him he had won the popularity contest!). I was so proud of him, and I’m sure it was a confidence booster; James has always been the smart guy at his previous jobs and he was a bit intimidated moving to a company where everyone was the smart guy.

He regrets that he didn’t get to the US earlier. If he had done his comp sci degree in the US he could have interned at one of the tech companies and started out on this career path earlier and he thinks he’d be a level or two above where he is now.

James said that IT here is so much different than in Australia (except parts of Sydney, which have a bunch of US IT companies). In Australia there are IT departments within existing industries but they’re not really the main focus – more support staff – and programmers are viewed as largely interchangeable. But in the US there are actual tech companies where the software developers are essential and they go to a lot of effort to hire excellent developers and pay them accordingly. In addition to the higher pay, the work is more interesting and more fulfilling.

It makes me so happy that James likes his job. =) We’ve been talking about staying in the US for the rest of his career, though we don’t want to buy a condo because we don’t want to be tied to Amazon specifically. We love Australia (never again will I take for granted that our country free health care for all its citizens) but the IT industry here is much better and we’ve carved out a nice little life for ourselves. 

We definitely plan on returning to Australia eventually but for now we’re looking forward to the next few years in Seattle.