Tag Archives: Melbourne

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!

 

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.

The Pampered Housewife’s Ultimate Guide For Aussies Relocating to Seattle

18 Nov

I added a page to the top of the blog for any Aussies who are looking to relocate to Seattle since that’s how a lot of people are finding me.

It’s a huge move (in hindsight I underestimated what a hassle it was going to be!) and I know that I was grateful for any information I could find. Obviously the guide is pretty rough since we’ve only been here 6 months but hopefully it gives people an idea of what they can expect in Seattle.

I am too tired from writing the guide to make this a longer blog post. Read the guide! It’s way too crowded up there now, but again I am too tired to figure out how to fix it. Maybe later (probably not).

 

More Cultural Shock

5 Aug

Here’s some other stuff that seems to be different from Melbourne.

“Thanks!”
“Mm Hmm”
Here people will go “mm hmm” (or “uh huh” – I can’t tell) in response to “thanks”. James initially found it off-putting, but I pointed out that the common response in Australia (“no worries”) is kind of weird too. Maybe when we say it to Americans they’re like “huh?? Why do they think I’m worried?

The Mail
I haven’t done it, but I’ve heard that you can put an outgoing letter in your mailbox, and when the postie delivers your mail they take your letter and mail it for you. Also back in Melbourne if I got something that didn’t fit in my postbox, if I was lucky they’d ring the intercom and get me to come down for it and if I was unlucky they’d either leave it where anyone could steal it or they’d leave a missed parcel note so I could go to the post office and pick it up.

I don’t know if it was just the shittiness of my building back home, but over here it’s so much better! There are little mailboxes for each apartment, and there are also large, lockable mailboxes that aren’t assigned to anyone. If we get a parcel that doesn’t fit in our mailbox we get a numbered key for one of the large mailboxes. We use the key to open the large mailbox, take our parcel, and leave the key in the lock. How cool is that? I’m always so excited when I find a key waiting for me.

Oh also super large items are delivered to the front desk. They email us when we get a package and I go down and pick it up. Sometimes there are a lot of deliveries but luckily they have some carts and also a fancy hotel trolley thing.

Cinema Differences
They don’t have assigned seating when you buy movie tickets. We went to see The Amazing Spiderman with some of James’ work friends and had to sit apart because the cinema was pretty packed (10 minutes before the previews even started). The Americans agreed that our system was better. Also their popcorn and drinks are enormous. And they clap at the end of the movie. Y U CLAP? They can’t hear you! It wasn’t even that good. So weird.

Their Paper
Americans have different sized paper! They don’t have A4, they have “letter” which is slightly smaller than A4 and “legal” which is slightly larger than “letter”. Not a huge deal, but something I had never really considered.

Booze
We get carded a lot more frequently here than we did back home. In Australia I remember getting my ID checked maybe a few times at 18/19 (actually maybe once at like 22/23 when I went to Crown) but nothing after that. It’s a little disconcerting to be carded at 29! Most places are happy with our Australian driver’s licenses but some places (*cough*Whole Foods*cough*) will only accept our passports or US IDs. That was one of the main reasons we got Washington State IDs so fast – so we could buy booze without taking our passports to Whole Foods. Predictably they haven’t asked us for ID since.

The Customer Service Really is Better
In restaurants it’s a little more attentive than I’m used to but not in an annoying hovery way like I had feared. It’s not that waiters are bad in Australia; it’s more that the service here is consistently good and helpful. I don’t think it’s necessarily because of the tips, because the customer service in general seems to be better.

The first day we got to Seattle we went to the pet store to buy supplies for the cats. We got a huge scratching post, 2 litter boxes, some cat food, litter and toys and it was going to take us a couple of trips to get it home. And the guy at the pet store was like “here, you can borrow our trolley and bring it back” (though I think he might have called it a dolly). That never ever happened back in Australia.

There was also a nice guy at the bottleshop who gave James a sample of some beers from behind the bar, then made James a 6 pack representative of local beers and explained why he’d picked each one. I’m starting to expect that level of service now. The other day when the furniture guy offered to let me take home the store’s wood samples to test against my furniture I was grateful and pleased but not surprised. They’re ruined me for regular customer service!

Towel Service
Gyms provide the towels! At our gym we pick up fresh towels at the counter then drop them off in a basket when we’re done. Awesome.

Bacon
The default bacon here is terrible. It’s really skinny and half fat and incredibly unsatisfying. Apparently what I need to ask for is Canadian or back bacon.

Milk
What I’ve heard from the other Aussies is that the milk here is also really bad. They said the skim milk is like white water and it’s really difficult to find regular milk. Maybe what we call milk is called cream? Because when we go out James is always asked if he wants cream in his coffee, which he thought was repulsive until he realised it was just milk.

Bikes
It’s very common to ride bikes on the footpath (or in US-speak, “sidewalk”) here. Also there are a lot of helmetless riders, and bikes without lights, which you don’t see very often back home. At least the foothpaths are wide enough to accommodate everyone.

Buses
Melbourne had a lot more variety in public transport but Seattle seems mainly reliant on buses. They have some pretty cool features, including a bike rack in front of the bus and a platform that can be lowered for people in wheelchairs to get on the bus (and then some seats that can be flipped up to make room for them).

The Orca public transport card works really well. You just hold it up to the sensor and it will register even if you have a bunch of other stuff in your wallet – it’s much easier to use than the Myki card back home.

The buses are older and less swish than the ones back home, but they’re clean and generally seem to run on time. The late buses are awful though, because they’re always packed full of extra people, make more stops than usual (because there are more chances that someone will want to get off at each stop), and everyone’s grumpy because they had to wait ages for the bus and now they’re all up in some stranger’s armpit.

Differences Between Melbourne and Seattle That Nobody Warned Us About

11 Jun

Maybe these are actually differences between Australia and the US but here is a list of things that threw us a bit when we first moved here.

Tipping

Everyone knows that you have to tip at restaurants (it’s actually quite easy here in Seattle – you tip pre-tax, so all you have to do is look at the sales tax amount (9.5%), double it and then round up a little. I’m a little more worried about tipping movers, hairdressers, takeaway (they call it takeout), taxi drivers, etc. Tipping is non-existent in Australia, except at restaurants and room service so I basically have a cheat sheet printed up of how much to tip what people.

Actually I just finished tipping the movers who brought our air mail shipment. We’d already researched that $25 was an appropriate amount, so when they were just about to leave I was like “oh wait”, then ran to grab the money that James had left (I totally faked that by the way – I’d been worrying about when to work in the tip the whole time). One guy was like “thank you!” and the other said “God bless you” but they didn’t seem surprised by it – just pleased. So it wasn’t nearly as awkward as I had feared it would be.

Sales Tax

You know how in Australia (and everywhere else as far as I know!) the tax is included in the price? Here they add it at checkout so everything is 10% more expensive than it looks. The worst is liquor, because I think supermarkets don’t add the 20% or so liquor tax, plus various other taxes, the end result being that James’ scotch is the same price here as it is in Australia. Oh well, at least beer is cheaper. Vodka and bourbon seem to be cheaper (and bigger) too.

(There is a handle at the back for easy carrying!)

Traffic

There are a lot more one way streets here. Even a lot of main roads are one way, which is weird to us because in Melbourne one way streets tend to be very narrow and the roads here are really wide. Oh, and you can turn right (the easy turn – so our left) on red if there is no oncoming traffic.  Also in Australia when we pay for parking we put the receipt on the passenger side dash but here in Seattle the ticket is stuck on the passenger side window.

As a pedestrian cars will almost always give way to you. A couple of times I’ve been just starting to cross (the aforementioned very wide road) and a car turning has still given way to me, even though like … 5 cars could have gone without impacting me. Never happens in Melbourne. It’s kind of nice to have that ambiguity removed, and now when a car gives way I just scurry across and give my little thank you wave. Do they have thank you waves here? Hopefully!

Oh, and the pedestrian crossings make bird noises here!

Inside the House

Two big things here – the first one being that ceiling lights seem far less common here. In our corporate housing they have lights in the bathroom and laundry and a set of track lights in the ceiling above the dining table but that’s it. We asked Bo about it and he agreed that it was weird and said that for his place he and Christine had made a point of installing ceiling lights.

The confusing part is that they do have switches at the door (it’s the opposite of Australia – here the down position means it’s off!!) but the switches are attached to outlets in the room where you’re supposed to attach a lamp so you can turn it on and off at the door. You know, I always did wonder why American design blogs were so obsessed with lighting and it’s because they need lamps to see everything! So yeah, there are a lot more lamps here than in Australia.

Thermostats are a lot more popular here than in Australia. I’m still not entirely sure what they are, but they seem to regulate the temperature of the house? Air conditioning is very uncommon – I guess it doesn’t get hot enough in the summer to need it.

Oh and the big one for James is that a lot of the toilets here (at least the ones at the airport and the ones in our corporate housing) have very high water levels. I don’t know if it’s high water or shallow bowls, but at any rate James is terrified of the toilets because his junk touches the water so he has to hold himself when he poops.

They Don’t Like to Say Toilet (?)

It’s not “toilet paper” here – it’s “bath tissues”. Rooms with just a toilet (which we call “powder rooms” or sometimes “toilet”) they call “half baths”. I was a little confused when they first said it and was like “so just a toilet?” and from the way the agent reacted you would have thought I’d said “so just a hole to poop in?” Maybe she was unusually squeamish so this is just a tentative theory (hence that question mark next to the title).

Dogs Everywhere

I think this might be a Seattle thing rather than a US thing, but there are dogs everywhere here! Their owners are much better at cleaning up after them – and they are all so well-behaved. I haven’t seen a misbehaving dog yet. The other day I saw a dachshund in Safeway wearing a bandana. =)

Apartments vs Condos

In the US they differentiate between “apartments” and “condos”. A condo is what we think of as apartments/units in Australia and an apartment is a building where all the individual dwellings are owned/managed by one company. They have maintenance staff, full time leasing agents, etc. Apartments tend to have poorer quality construction and fixtures, and some of the high end ones will advertise themselves as being of “condo quality”.

Coffee

Filtered coffee is a lot more popular here. Seattle has a reputation for great coffee but James has been decidedly unimpressed so far. (His assessment to a friend of a friend who is moving to Seattle – “they think they have good coffee but they are mistaken”. Ouch. You’ve only been to like … 5 coffee places so far James! He’s been to some of the highest rated coffee places in Seattle (Cafe Vivace, Stumptown, Seattle Coffee Works) and not liked any of them.

Apparently Americanos are the equivalent of long blacks in Australia (he was getting some weird looks when he ordered a long black) but James said that they water it down more here than they do in Melbourne. He had an Americano from Cafe Vivace that he said was super weak so he switched to double espressos. But that didn’t help, and the first double espresso he had at Seattle Coffee Works he actually made a face. He said Stumptown was a bit better but still not great, and now his theory is that there is just a different style of coffee here (or maybe different beans). The closest coffee he’s had to Melbourne style here has been at Uptown Espresso in Belltown.

Supermarkets

There are a lot more supermarket choices here. In Australia it’s pretty much either Coles or Woolworths but here we’ve already been to Whole Foods (expensive and organic), Trader Joe’s (sells their own store brand), Safeway and QFC (regular supermarkets, though you need the club card so you can take advantage of the sales). Fruit and veg range from cheaper to waaaay more expensive for out of season organic produce, meat is cheaper, and regular groceries are a fair bit cheaper. There are also heaps more ice cream flavours here. James is delighted by the non-dairy ice cream options available at Whole Foods.

But yeah, that’s what I’ve got so far. Overall Seattle seems like a stretched out version of Melbourne. Everything is slightly less dense so it takes longer to walk, but they even have a tram here, which they call a street car. Seattle is much greener and hillier, and has way nicer views. There’s also more visible poverty and begging than there is in Melbourne, though maybe I was just accustomed to it back home.

Capitol Hill seems very much like Fitzroy, Queen Anne is kind of East Melbourneish, Belltown is maybe like the bar/club end of Chapel St (but closer in), the CBDs are quite similar, and South Lake Union is like a less windy, less built-up (though give it time) Docklands.