Monday, December 22, 2008

A Family Christmas...Down Under

I'm sorry that I haven't written anymore of my thrilling adventures (yawn) in the Land of Oz since...December 8th?! I've been, uh busy. Yeah, that's it...Busy! Getting prepared for the family's arrival on the 19th. You know the drill, converting a bachelor pad into a loving home, complete with doilies on the arms of the couch and sufficient rolls of toilet paper for a small, South American country.

They made it here just fine and after a quick shower and big seafood meal along the shores of the marina, the kids were off to Sydney with lots of my funny coloured money and my mobile phone (cell phone to us Yanks), not to be seen for 2 days. They did return for a day and spent last night in the big city again. They're supposed to return this morning (ha!) to join in the annual office tournament between the surveyors and the mappers. Each year the day before Christmas Eve, a different so-called sport is offered up so the surveyors can whip the collective butts of the mappers. The typical office vs. field workers, and you know who's in shape! This year it's lawn bowling.

We toured the office and when they saw my large, athletic kids immediately thought 'ringers!' One coworker did say divots in the lawn were frowned upon with me taking that to mean, divots in opponents were tolerated. It should be a fun time as Aussies are great to party with, just hard to keep up with. For example, we were invited to breakfast Sunday morning by Jan the lady at the front counter in charge of corporate travel and her husband who also works there. Another couple joined us, both from South Africa and both work at the company. Breakfast started at 9:00 and finally ended around 2:30 after some champagne and beer! Picture included.

As I can do for any of you who plan to visit, we thought surfing lessons for the kids would be a great idea. They really did like it and are planning on two more lessons before they leave, earning them some kind of certification, 5th class. Pictures are included as well. It is exhausting, even for my young and athletic kids so I'm glad that Holly and I simply laid in the sun and took pictures once in a while. Tough duty on the week before Christmas. If you visit, you too can learn to surf from a beautiful young instructor (Nick has already figured out her schedule), and I can provide you with a mobile phone and comfortable bed. No worries! I'll check into motorcycle rentals for the wilder ones I know, too.

Since the family is here, I hired (rented) a car. It's an Aussie Ford and has provided lots of opportunities for the family to laugh (and pray) while I'm learning to drive opposite of the rest of the civilized world (except England and Japan). It does take a lot of getting used to, especially driving on what we Yanks call, "The WRONG side of the road!" Another thing is the passenger side of the car seems to be too far over onto the side of the road...and often! (this is true for the Aussies and others who learn to drive on the RIGHT side of the road). For some reason, I just can't seem to keep the car near the centerline. But the gas, I'm sorry...petrol works and the brakes don't. Just another Island car to me.

Nick at least admitted that I was getting better, still crappy. Such encouragement from my children.

I will have more adventures soon. Have a great Christmas and New Year's! I'll try to have more interesting things more often as I continue my harrowing adventure into the land down under.

A near future expectation is watching the start of the Sydney-Hobart Yacht race from a waterfront, cliff side condo scored by the kids! An uncle of the the friends they've been visiting in Sydney has a big party every year to celebrate the event that is held on Boxing Day (the day January White Sales start to us, you know, the day after Christmas). More pictures of that for sure!

Hello from Holly - We've had such a great time seeing Craig and exploring his new environment. He made the 'flat' very inviting, including a decorated Christmas tree and lights in the window. His office workmates are a friendly bunch, and the office itself is very new and stylish. He also has very pleasant neighbors and we have shared drinks and stories with them. Haven't seen too much of the kids since they have Carly's host sis and friends in Sydney to play with, giving Craig & I plenty of catch up time. Last evening we drove down the coast to a nice little beach town for a delicious seafood meal. I ate 'bugs', which may seem unappetizing to you, but it turned out to be a creature that is somewhere between a prawn and a lobster, and was delicious. So, I highly recommend the accommodations here at Chez Berry, and have found the concierge to be most helpful. I suggest you book your stay soon.

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Short History

The first month I was here, the company paid for an extended stay hotel room while I looked for a place to rent, or as they say let. And from most of the places I looked at, toilet was appropriate all right. In the end, I was able to find the flat that was the least expensive ($175/week) and the cleanest of anything I'd seen before. It is so different renting here than at home, I began to write a letter to the HR woman explaining that maybe a little help, especially for foreigners, might be beneficial. The HR woman is extremely nice, don't get me wrong. It's just that maybe a little more assistance in getting to understand the native ways would help. I hope this isn't too boring:


To open an account you will most likely need all documentation to indicate who you are; passport, driver’s license or other picture ID. In addition, if you are not a citizen, you will need to give them a copy of your employment contract and the front page of your visa or other information showing you are legally employed in Australia.

Transfer of money out of country is difficult. Most that I’ve contacted require a $27 fee per transfer while others simply refuse to do so.

You must open a bank account prior to the first pay period ending weekly on Wednesday. Pay is automatically deposited into the account you’ve set up with a one week delay.

Apartment Hunting
Most real estate agencies are opened during the week with some of them open half days on Saturday. Most are closed on Sunday.

It is best to begin your search immediately! The best on line resources are:

These sites also have notices to share apartments and houses.

Or you can stop by many of the several offices located around the CBD. Usually on Friday, they’ll have a separate list of available rentals but typically, these are listed on line as well.

For each application to let an apartment, you must provide myriad of documents:
ID can include; driver’s license, Medicare Card, Birth Certificate/Proof of Age Card, Passport, Current Credit or Debit Card with picture. 2 required.
Rental Receipts if currently renting; Rental Ledger from landlord or agent
Copy of the front page of current Residential Tenancy Agreement (TCA)
Proof on Income; 3 pay slips, Centre Link Statement, Bank Statement and Employment Contract. 2 required.
Confirmation of current address: Phone/Mobile, Electricity, Gas or Credit Card Statement with address. 2 required.
Homeowner: Council rates, Water rates or if selling, Selling Agent’s Details.

This is one of the systems that will rate you, another relies on a point system where you must score at least 100 in order to be considered.

This evaluation process can take up to a week although some claim 24 – 48 hours. Since an application with all the above supporting documentation must be handed in for each rental you’re considering, I would recommend you prepare several packets ahead of time that you can attach to each application form. You can not be pre-approved by a major real estate firm.

There is not a standard application form. Each Real Estate company has their own so the common information can’t be filled out ahead of time unless you obtain an application first (some can be obtained on line) and fill it out in advance leaving blank only the address and weekly rental rate or any other information specific to the property.

In order to view a prospective rental property, you must contact the agent to see if there is a scheduled ‘open for inspection’ time arranged. If not, the agent may offer a time to meet you at the unit you’re interested in viewing. Typically, they’ll want to make the trip for several potential renters, not just one.

Once accepted, you must pay a bond that is equivalent to 4 weeks rent plus 2 weeks in advance. The real estate agent typically accepts payments and no personal cheques.

I arrived mid-October and it seems that quite a few, inexpensive places became available near the beginning of November as students left the University of Wollongong for the summer. These were mostly located in North Wollongong, Wollongong West, Gwynneville, Keiraville and Fairy Meadows but certainly surrounding these areas as well.
This is a far as I got in my version of venting. As I mentioned earlier, even renting a damned DVD is an exercise in documentation. Are these troubled times similar to post war Germany or post 9/11 Amerika? Anyway, I've been out of the market doing these tasks so maybe these processes (upon processes) have been in place for a long time and as my Dad would say, "You sure have to go through a lot of crap to do anything anymore!" Now, I know the feeling. It's like the government just can't seem to regulate enough. Even the City of Seattle as a reward for having the highest percentage of people volunteering to recycle, they decided it was best to penalize those who don't and those who recycle improperly. What a system!
Keep the faith, a change is coming.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

I have a TV!

It's been a grueling 2+ weeks without a TV but I broke down and bought a 26" (yes, even in Oz they translate TV size into inches most of the time)! A flat screed, HD Toshiba supposedly on sale but it has a great picture of course and in spite of Oz being about 5 years behind the US in HDTV, there are 'experimental' HD channels along with some programs who've actually made the jump into the 21st century. As always after spending 100's of $(AU) on a TV, I turn it on and wonder why I wasted money on an idiot box. It's fine, at least I get to watch what is the contemporary excuse for news.

As I may have mentioned earlier, the 'laundrette' (they're also called laundromats) in this country just require a payment at the end of your laundry because they don't waste time with coin-operated machines. On Monday, the second time I used the local laundrette, I finished up and rushed out without paying. I didn't realize it until about 9:00 later that night while folding socks and about died of embarassment. The two sisters that own it are very nice and I'd hate for them to think "those damned Yanks! Can't trust them!" I did drop the money by on the way to work the next day and fortunately the other sister laughed at the quandry with my laundry.

After paying this morning, I walked past one of the usual bushes however, I noticed it had blossoms on it. Plumeria blossoms! I wonder if they'll let me pick some to make a lei for my family when they arrive in 2 weeks and 2 days...not that I'm counting.

I'm getting ready for their arrival by buying beds and associated bedding among other homey, xmasy things. I even bought some doilies to put on the slightly used couch to cover the wear and tear on the arms. I also saw a large frying pan and mattress cover that I'd been looking for (to protect the occupant, not the mattress). Since I'd missed my train, I had time for an innocent beer or 2 at Dicey Riley's, "Wollongong's Irish Pub." I got me pint and begin to settle into my table when I attempted to put the shopping bag into my backpack. Naturally, I tried this before sip or 2 of VB (Victoria Bitter) and dumped it all on the floor. The guy at the next table began to rib me in the friendly Aussie way until the saw the frying pan and mattress cover fall out. What made them turn away was the doilies I'm sure. I guess they think I'm what they call...a 'pucker.' Maybe I shouldn't have said I was waiting for the train to Fairy Meadow.

Now, I don't know the origin of 'pucker,' but the local arboretum is a 'known' hangout for gays. I've been 'warned' but I don't care obviously, living on Gay Island for 2 decades. I just don't care. However, last Sunday when I took a walk through the arboretum, I noticed the name...Puckey Estates! Who came first? Anyway, it dawned on me that there might be a connection.

Please comment. Don't hold back. Also, you can get notification when I add something new if you're really my friend. No pressure there. Gotta go and finish my marinated top sirloin over sauteed rice. Yeah, life's tough here in the land down under. Tomorrow, I'm going to check out the local butcher shop and seafood shop! They're supposed to be the best! No more extra dead meat for me! Write, too my fmaily and friends!