Wednesday, 13 May 2009

The first couple of months down under

Four days after I arrived in Oz I started work, which wasn’t anywhere near as much of a culture shock as I was expecting. I also didn’t have too many problems staying awake which was my main concern having spent most of the previous 5 months not getting much sleep because when you’re travelling and not needing to use your brain much you don’t need as much sleep. I could still just about remember how to use Excel too - once you’re sad you never lose it!

Spent about a week and a half sleeping on Al’s kitchen floor albeit on a sofa bed, but after that moved into an apartment in the middle of the city for 2 weeks paid for by work as part of the secondment package. I had the choice of several apartments including one in a big block right next to work, but opted for one 15 minutes walk away as I didn’t fancy being able to see my desk from the window of the apartment. Its bad enough being able to see the building I work in from almost anywhere in the city given the monstrosity that is the E&Y building, so certainly didn’t want it to be the first thing I saw in the morning.

The apartment itself was ok. It was like living in a hotel room that didn’t get cleaned! It only had four working tv channels, two of which were porn channels, and not particularly good ones either … errr … not that I watched them obviously.

Despite not really getting properly lost in over 4 months travelling, I didn’t waste any time here. Walked to Woolloomooloo for drinks one night and it took 15 minutes. But it was light and someone else was in charge of directions. When I came back it was dark and I was on my own, and it took me quite a lot longer than that to find my way back When I found a big stretch of water between myself and the Opera House which was near where I was staying, I knew I’d gone wrong! The worst bit though was that by the time I did get back, Hungry Jacks (Burger King) had stopped serving just seconds before. Devastated…had to go to Macca’s. As one bloke in the same position said “Hungry Jacks has let us down…well f*** them.” Here here.

Anyway, started to look for somewhere to live that week. Looked in Bondi which along with Manly is where most Brits live, but that wasn’t the reason. It is by the beach which is different to London, it is a decent journey to work, and I know a few people around there. Was looking for a flat share as thought it would be a good way to meet new people.

As usual meeting randoms can be interesting! One ad I looked at said

“I’ve got to go away to work for 3 months so you’d be living with my girlfriend. Will post some photos later”

Was tempted to ask if that was photos of the flat or the girlfriend. Turned out it was the former. Another ad posted pictures of themselves rather than the flat, and you could see why as they were two not unattractive girls! Ended up looking at seven places in the end, and only one of those had any Aussies living there, and even then they were from out of town - people from Sydney really don’t live in Bondi.

One place I looked at, the girl was looking for someone who didn’t drink! And I noticed when I went to look round that she didn’t have a tv. Think that one wasn’t meant to be! Ended up living with an English girl - Nadia - in the nicest of the flats I looked at. Less than 5 minutes walk to the beach, sea views from the balcony, even a view of the harbour (just) from my bedroom window.

The day I moved in Nadia invited me to the beach to a one year old’s birthday party (said one year old belonged to one of her friends). Walking back along the beach carrying a plastic lorry for toddlers to ride on wasn’t exactly what I thought I’d be doing when I moved to Sydney! Did have to explain a couple of times though that I wouldn’t under any circumstances be doing any baby sitting!

Top tip though for when you move in with someone you don’t know - don’t refer to them as a “random” in front of them! Oops

Have also done a lot of watching sport, and some playing. Successfully proved that there is definitely an optimal amount of beer to drink when playing pool. Playing doubles with Al’s flatmate Brad, we wiped the floor with various hapless Aussies in some pub in town, playing progressively better as we had more to drink. This never lasts though as you pass the ‘optimal’ and things started to deteriorate. We still won, we just had to rely on dumb luck!

Managed to play football once too, or soccer as they like to incorrectly call it over here. I thought I’d kept reasonably fit on my travels but this said otherwise. An hour and half running around in the midday heat and I could barely move the rest of the day. Or the next day.

So it probably wasn’t the cleverest thing to do to go kayaking in the harbour the next day as sitting in the thing wasn’t the most comfortable. Add to that my inability to paddle consistently, and I ended up going round in circles half the time, and the toys came out the pram (or kayak) on more than one occasion. I even fell out of the kayak once (through incompetence though, not temper).

We paddled from Rose Bay to some nearby beaches, and then we were going to across to Shark Island, a small island in the harbour, but as we set off a regatta seemed to appear from nowhere, and we were surrounded by huge yachts flying by. They would have quite happily driven straight through us too. At one point it was “err, there seems to be a yacht coming straight for me”. Luckily it turned and missed me, but decided I‘d been lucky, so Shark Island was abandoned as too dangerous.

On the subject of sharks, there were quite a lot of shark attacks when I first arrived. They seemed to be happening everywhere including at surfing beaches like Bondi. But nevertheless agreed to go surfing…and what was the top news story while sitting eating breakfast before going … a shark attack that had happened that morning. Still went though and didn’t get eaten … but my surfing ability is still non-existent.

Also managed to play tennis once on the roof of someone’s apartment building in the middle of the city. Very surreal. We amazingly didn’t lose any balls over the side into the road seven storeys below!

Watched a decent amount of sport too. Disappointingly saw the Aussies beat the Kiwis at cricket in a one dayer and in a 20/20. Went to Super 14 rugby union - New South Wales Waratahs v Queensland Reds. Despite it being a local derby grudge match, it was fairly dull like most union games I seem to see. Went to rugby league too, seeing the Sydney Roosters, the team I have foolishly decided to support, lose heavily to the South Sydney Rabbitohs. Not sure what a rabbitoh actually is - I think its just a rabbit, but Australians have to add o to the end of everything. I thoroughly expect to be nicknamed Bezzo very soon.

Also made it over to Melbourne for the Formula One Grand Prix. Was a fun weekend. The cars were amazingly noisy and it is impressive how fast they go and equally how fast they can brake - you don‘t really appreciate this on the telly. We were two or three corners before the finish straight. While it was good, without a big screen it was difficult to know what was going on in terms of positions (there is commentary but you can’t hear it half the time). You know what is going on for the first few laps but as soon as pits stops start and people spin off etc it gets difficult.

Went to Aussie Rules at the MCG the day before the grand prix for Collingwood v Adelaide. The atmosphere was pretty good even though the 90,000 stadium was less than half full. Adelaide triumphed 90-86 so quite close and exciting. When I came to Oz in 2004 I adopted the West Coast Eagles as my AFL team, but was thinking of changing to someone closer to home as Perth is a good couple of time zones away, but having found out that the Sydney Swans hate the West Coast, decided I’d stick with them as it would be better banter! Subsequently found out that the whole of Australia hates the West Coast, so definitely sticking with them!

Since the last time I was in Melbourne a couple of years back, they've got themselves a new viewing tower - the Eureka Tower - so we went up it. (Its pretty much mandatory to go up a viewing tower if there is one). The big gimmick is standing in this pod thing that then slides out the side of the building and the floor suddenly goes transparent and you can see however many storeys down to the street. Lame. But not bad for $12!

Had a few drinks with Russ, another English guy we know, the Sunday night in Melbourne, and what was going to be a couple of quiet ones got a bit out of hand, and we were still in the pub after midnight despite needing to be up soon after 4 to get our flight back. Went straight to work from the airport and suffice to say it was not an easy day. The moral of the story is never go out drinking with people who don’t need to be in work the next day. This is a lesson we should have learnt a couple of weeks earlier, as we ended being bullied by Nadia into staying out until about 2.30am, and on a school night too. She had the day off after too.

Only seen one soccer/football match (delete as appropriate) here as its off season and that was a world cup qualifier at the Olympic Stadium between Australia (the socceroos) and Uzbekistan. Now I want the footballeroos to be at the world cup for the banter if nothing else, but was still struggling to want them to win just on general principle. They won 2-0 in the end and are as good as qualified. Although they will almost certainly beat England if they play them (which they will - World Cup draws like most football draws are fixed - you heard it here first!), they are rubbish. The standard was pretty much what I became accustomed to watching Forest in League One.

Watching English sport is a bit trickier. Six Nations involved going to bed, then getting up at 2am, watching the match and going back to bed. EPL - English Premier League - is on any time from midnight till about 6am. Intend to do the EPL all nighter at some point as I failed when here two years or so ago, but may have to wait for next season. Champions League is do-able as games kicked off about 6.45am before the clocks changed, but now its 4.45 so a bit tougher. Doesn’t exactly set you up for the day! Did that for England v Ukraine though and it wasn’t too bad.

Have also met up with some people I met travelling. Had a few beers with Jason in Melbourne who I’d met in Canada. Kate who I met in Rosario in Argentina and hung out with in Buenos Aires at Christmas is here too to work, and is living in Coogee just round the coast. And Antje from my Patagonia tour came over.

Apparently I didn’t mention Antje’s nationality in an earlier blog so have been asked to point out that she is German (although has a Dutch name). She has lived in Sydney before so was pretty much showing me around rather than the other way round, so went to places such as the Fish Market (had a massive mixed platter), Watson’s Bay and the Botanical Gardens. Was a nice weekend.

So that’s pretty much the first couple of months in Oz.