It has been a long 18 months since we left Germany. A lot of things have happened since we left, our Australian adventure has progressed so much that we now call Australia home. I am now on my way back to Germany for a quick trip that mixes pleasure, catching up with family and friends and business as I am going to an exhibition that I promised myself that I will visit next time.
I am sitting in an Etihad A340-600 at close to 40.000ft and we are fast approaching Abu Dhabi, this will be my first through the Arabian peninsula and this has been my longest flight, we have been flying for 13 1/2 hours and we have about one more hour to go. We have been flying into the night and thus this has been one of my longest nights too, albeit a sleepless one. I have very mixed feelings about going back, sure I am excited but how will I feel? Will it be as I remember it? The mind does very funny things and we shape our memories not always as what it really was but for we wanted it to be. It is not only subjective, it is influenced by many factors and it surely is different for anyone going through a similar experience.
People asked me if I am going home and I reply, one of my homes and I have at least four now. This will not change because my belongings are in Melbourne now, sure it is home but home for me is defined very different to how other people define it. I am a traveller and as any good traveller I have no fixed plans and I do not believe that I intent to ever arrive. What that really means I am not sure but I suspect that Melbourne may not be the last station, although friends recommend and people suggest that I eventually will have to as I will get older, mellow down and I also will have to think of my pension and such. Well there is 25+ years to go, that is more years, a lot more years than what I have behind me since I started working so I believe I will be all right.
Today is a wonderful day, we were greeted by blue skies, sun and the chirping sound of birds. I did not hear any cars or trucks rushing to go wherever it is they need to go. It is a quite day, absent of work… …you guessed it right, it is Cup’s Day in our wonderful Garden State! After all it is the race that stops the nation. It is amazing in a few different ways, one and foremost it is a day off, a day where people pause and… …bet on horses. There are many betting stations and people queue outside the door to bet. It is amazing because thousands of people go to the Races and thousands more follow it on TV. It is a day of celebrations and a day where many people dress elegantly – not necessarily a word that comes to mind in the leisurely dressed Aussieland.
While I am not one to really understand what the fuss of horse racing is all about, I certainly do appreciate the day off that I get to spend with family and friends.
As with most major events in Melbourne there is Parade in the city and this being Australia people venture outside to take advantage of the weather and the free entertainment. There is also a $6.2 million prize for that one thoroughbred that will win the race at 3pm today. Like Tennis in January, Formula 1 in March this is another event that puts our city in the center of the international sporting events. On the Flemington grounds where the race takes place there is also the Myer’s Fashion on the field.
But today is the pinnacle of the 153rd Melbourne Cup Carnival a week or so worth of activities and dress ups that will wrap up on Saturday with Stakes Day and there are many things to do around the city, which is where I am going now… …so long.
It has been about a year since we moved to Melbourne and I am approaching my 12 month anniversary at my current position. All the clichés apply, time flies, where did the time go and the lot but in all honesty the past 12 months have been amazing, we have made new friends and a new home, Beth is doing what she always wanted to do, which was to work with children and I have gone back into the food business.
Driving around the city that we now call home things start to look familiar. I was driving earlier today and as we passed the exhibition center I saw the ANL building in the Southwarf, a building that I have now visited many times as my friend George (george-vrakas.com) works as we have lunch often. The same building and the area of Southwarf and Docklands were completely new to me, I remember looking at it 12 months ago and it was just one of many. The same goes for so many parts of the city, I have started making connections and little by little things not only make sense now but they are familiar. Driving through South and Port Melbourne , I remember getting lost, now I know the streets, some of the restaurants and cafes, we have friends there and we go to the beach and the playgrounds with Ben.
This has also helped put my mind at ease, for the psychologists under you, system 1 is now more at ease because of the familiarity with the surroundings and the establishment of routines. You see it is system 1 that makes that has problems making sense of the new and in our case it has been working overtime and it has been exhausting at times.
It is November… no wait it is May… but it is cold… so it cannot be May… …but it is.
That does sound confusing, well we are as confused as it sounds, in a funny sort of way. There is no harm here but it is interesting that our brains are hard wired in a certain way after repeating the same routine over and over for say about 40 odd years. At work I keep talking about the summer, for me that is June, July and August when all the flower bloom, the vegetables grow and our industry starts its cycle but that is over there so after a brief moment I realize that for us here now it is winter.
Winter in Melbourne is interesting, it does get cold if you are conditioned to the climate here, we do get near freezing temperatures at exceptionally cold days but around the 5C mark is as cold as it gets, during the day peak temperatures do get to low double digits, so it is cold enough to warrant light winter clothing. I have seen people walk around on a nice, clear 18C day with coats and gloves that has to do with the conditioning I believe.
Here in Victoria we also have alpine country, a four hour drive north east of Melbourne there is a whole snow and ski resort, we have not been there yet but the season officially starts next week on our Queen’s Birthday and we are planning to take Ben to see snow again.
The days are also much shorter, so it does get dark by the time I arrive back home in the afternoon and if you live in suburbia, like we do, there is very little activity to be had as opposed to the summer when there was enough light and we used to go to the beach or bicycle riding.
What surprises me though is that houses here in Melbourne for the most part are not really geared up to this weather as they lack proper insulation and efficient heating. Housing is a subject though that I will write about separately.
It is not easy to live in a place that is different to the place that you used to live before. I covered the cultural shock aspect of our immigration experience in my last post but there is more.
We catch ourselves living our lives as if we were in Germany, I can not remember now but we must have had the same sort of issues when we moved to Germany. People try in vain to replicate a life style that is no longer suited to their new environment. I have seen it happen many times over in Germany but also in other places where immigrants were trying to just keep on going with their lifestyles and expectations as ever before. They judged everything, it is human nature, with a set of criteria in their minds that is simply not in the right place, literally.
It is our responsibility to change and adjust to our new home, anything else is an illusion and ultimately time lost with only a sad outcome. No one will change in Australia because we arrived and it would be sort of pointless as we came here because we like the place for what it is, that includes the way of life. I am not saying that immigrants have not changed this place, every wave of immigrants has brought changes but they are done on a collective level and they are gradual.
It is the small things though, the subtle differences that we have to accept and ultimately adjust to for our sanity and well being. A great example is that people here meet outdoors a lot more than they do in northern Europe. In fact when we were here to visit a few years ago and people kept meeting with us in places other than their homes we thought it was strange and a bit distant. We thought in some cases that we were not really welcomed and that the people wanted to keep their distance. Of course by now we have realized that this is not necessary the case, people here meet in parks, at the beach or wherever else and maybe once in a while at each others homes but that seems to be the exception rather than the rule. This is after all an outdoor country, the weather is good most of the year and people love being outdoors, they go for picnics and generally are outside whenever possible. Back in Germany because of the cold, the less than favorable weather conditions and maybe because the parks are just not the same, we rarely met with people somewhere other than in our homes or somewhere indoors. We did not go for picnics, I only remember one time in 14 years and it was just Beth and me. So we caught ourselves judging and commenting with our German eyes on our new reality and we were wrong. We were sort of disappointed and ultimately not enjoying ourselves. Of course that changed some time ago. We have now equipped ourselves, we have bought our esky and we go go for a barbie in the arvo to meet with friends or just meet strangers because people here are open and very easy to talk to, especially around the barbie in the park. There are other examples but I do not want to bore you, you probably get the idea, suffice to say that we still catch ourselves looking at the world with the wrong set of eyes and we are working towards adjusting ourselves, it is getting better by the day.
Ok, it seems that my blog has generated some discussions among our own friends, for good reason that is. We have had mood swings, bewilderment, enthusiasm, borderline depression, an overwhelming feeling of everything being different, we have criticised and we have been criticised and much more. There is a name for this… …it is called cultural shock!
Let me put it in perspective, most people I know, would not move to the other side of the town they live in. Whether that is because it is not a place they know or it is far away from friends and family, it does not really matter. It is foreign to them so they stick to what they know and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Well, we are about 16.000km away from where home used to be and nothing much is here that we can hold on – for better or worse – to insert some routine, some sanity into our daily lives. Our values, our priorities, the things we know and what we consider common sense, the rules and regulations, they are all very different, they are foreign. Certainly, the fact that we have moved 4 times within two states in Australia did not contribute to any routine being established. We again moved this past weekend and we hope that this will be the last time for the next couple years.
So back to cultural shock, it is a normal condition and everyone that emigrates goes through at least some of the stages of cultural shock. Even if one goes back to the country that he grew up after living in a different one will go through the shock, albeit a reverse cultural shock. It is extremely important to get a routine in place and to be open to the new environment, to smile and keep positive and communicate with the new surrounding as much as possible. It is one thing to say it and another to actually do it, it is a very difficult task but it is not insurmountable.
I remember the first one I went through back in 1990 in the St. Louis, a place that I know call home (one of many, more on this on another post) but one that I hated with all that I had for a couple months in the fall of 1990. It has long turned into an eternal love affair. There has been a few since and it always has turned all right. I was not keen to move to Germany and now I miss it, I call it… you guessed it right… home! I have always been a bit sentimental and as much as I look forward to exciting times I look back at fun times, I do though forget the pain along the way and that is fine by me.
So to our shock now. Culture shock is defined as a psychological disorientation that most people experience when living in a culture markedly different from one’s own. Culture shock occurs when our “…cultural clues, the signs and symbols which guide social interaction, are stripped away. …A difficult part of this process for adults is the experience of feeling like children again, of not knowing instinctively the ‘right’ thing to do.” (Piet-Pelon & Hornby, 1992, p.2). In general there are four phases to a cultural shock: Honeymoon, Adjustment, Negotiation and Mastery. Everyone experiences it in different ways and so it is for us. We are between the negotiation and the adjustment phase, had it not been for the four moves within Australia we would probably be ahead of that. We are building a routine, we have started friendships, Ben has started with Kinder and so it goes. We will be reaching the mastery phase in the next few months and while that does not necessarily mean that we will totally assimilate it means that we will feel at home and as we have many homes by now this will be another one that we will come to love.
Our new home is the city of Melbourne. A city of more than 4 million people in the Southeast coast of Australia. It is as far as geography is concerned very far away from anywhere. The closest “big” city is Canberra although most Australians ignore that city, Adelaide and Sydney are about a day’s drive away and cities like Bangkok (8000km), Tokyo (10000km), Los Angeles (12000km), New York and Frankfurt (16000km) and the list goes on. So the isolation in terms of distance is without a doubt, a fact. In many other ways though Melbourne is so central in the big scheme of things and beyond that, as it is typical for Oz, there are so many events and festivals that keep one entertained and relaxed.
Let’s start with my favourite Australian sport, The Footy, it is one of the most exciting sports out there and while I do not claim to know all the rules or understand it completely I have my favourite team and I have been in quite a few games both here in Melbourne and in Adelaide to see Port Adelaide games. It is not the most powerful team but it is most certainly my team. The game itself, for those who have never seen it, is spectacular. It is fast paced and while it seems to be very hard it is still in a very Australian way easy going with everyone trading punches during the game and then taking it easy once the horn sounds. Other notable sports events cricket season, the Australian Open, the Grand Prix, the Races and so many more.
The other amazing thing that never ceases to amaze me is that loads of people are active anytime of the day and anywhere you look. I see people running to work, I had never seen that before. When I drive along Beach Rd in the mornings rushing to a meeting I see people in the water and the same goes for most afternoons. Obviously the mild weather and the proximity to water is a key driver for this behaviour but every weekend there seems to be some kind of athletic event or competition. Most people at work are active and regularly exercise at all times, I among few others are the exception rather than the rule. There are outdoor groups of people who get together to exercise in parks, the beach, anywhere where they can really.
There are so many festivals around from cultural ones like book or movie festivals to something a lot more interesting like a BBQ festival in St. Kilda. Multicultural events like the Greek Antipodes festival that took place in the city this last weekend draws thousands and then there are those regional ones like Jazz Festivals and River Festivals where artists from around the globe come and visit.
One thing that we really have taken advantage of is concerts and plays/theater in Melbourne. I have seen more concerts here in the past few months than the last few years back in Germany. I even got a chance to see Jimmy Buffett one of my favourite one, that was a very special night!
The list is really endless, there is something new and exciting to do every single day. It is an amazing place, we live so close to this metropolis and these opportunities to enjoy so many things… …it is an unbelievable place!
This does not change the fact that it is so far away from most places but it does make for an extraordinary place in its own right and one we are proud to call home!
Our views have been shaped by the experiences that have brought us to this point in our life. In principal this is not very different to the other immigrants to Australia, what makes it unique in its own way are the nuances of these experiences and that is our view.
I cannot talk about these views without putting them in context and speaking a bit about our last station, Germany. I have lived in four different countries and Germany is by far the one place that comes close to perfection more than any other and it is the place where I have lived the longest. The efficiencies, the frugality, the thoroughness and a global conscience that is the collective German way of life has developed over the past 6 decades is unprecedented. A good friend of mine from Russia described it as a very boring place because everything works and it is near automatic, isn’t it ironic as it sounds a no worries kind of place yet it so far from it on daily basis as Germans are overall very formal, distant and constantly unsatisfied and then Germany has that terrible weather.
Australia is a great place in many ways, life is for some reason just easy-going and the mild weather makes for an excellent outdoor lifestyle. In our view though it is far from perfect and that maybe the curse of just knowing to many homes. Things are made unnecessary complicated in more ways than we could have imagined when we arrived. Simple things like setting up and proving your 100 points of id as they do in Oz so you can get basic services takes time, patience and above all it costs nerves. The surprise is that one would have thought that there would be someone who can or should tell you what you will have to do and how to do it, the onus is on the newcomer. In a country that welcomes so many thousands of immigrants you would have thought there would be more to it. That is not the case and while it is not rocket science per se, it is made more difficult by the incompetence, the lack of systems and of processes for new arrivals in the country. Beyond that even matters that one would believe is common sense are relative complicated, such as trying to get decent broadband, a matter that is trivial anywhere in urban Europe, US or Japan, has cost us at least a couple thousand dollars and countless hours on the phone with providers, as well a broken lease and countless hours on the matter of leasing properties, our rights and obligations. It is amazing that in 2013 this is an issue, I would understand it if I was in Alice Springs or some other place in the outback or the countryside.
I am not going to compare here every little aspect but suffice to say that having moved between four countries over the past twenty years, I have never had as many issues, not even when I moved back to Greece in 1996 from the US and had to deal with the incompetent civil servants. Unexpected because Australia is a modern society and it is one of the most urbanized nations on the planet, the envy of many and the place where many people dream to be able to get a chance at calling it home.
I am not, in any way, saying that this is an awful place, quite the contrary, despite our tribulations and the various costs both monetary and otherwise we are looking forward to the next 12 months with renewed confidence that things will be better, they will improve and we will finally be able to get more out of the Aussie lifestyle. It is not a post of despair nor is it one of disappointment. It is merely our experiences and while there certainly have been difficult times we have had luck with family and friends that have supported us all along.
In a few weeks it will be 12 months since our arrival in this beautiful country.
So many things have happened, so many changes and more is to come in the next few weeks. Anyone, that sees my FB page would thing it was easy and in many ways it was but it is still hard in different ways as well. Any new beginning is hard, the heartache for your friends and your home – our old home – is ever-present, we miss our old ways and we miss being in place that is familiar and where things make sense.
We are now in a new home, it bears a German name –Altona North– Altona is a borough in the city of Hamburg in the north of Germany. Altona North is a suburb to the west of Melbourne. It is about 15 min drive to Federation Square and the Southbank, it is a 10 minute drive to Altona and Williamstown beach and more importantly it is within 10-15 minutes drive from either Beth’s and my workplace.
Nevertheless, after almost 12 months it is still a place where we often struggle to make sense of things. The biggest issue and the one we are currently facing again is our dwellings. We just signed the 4th lease in about 7 months and besides the 1st one where we disputed the lease on account of false claims about the property it has always been involuntary. The new property, we are picking the keys up on the 22nd, will hopefully be the last place we will have to move for at least a couple of years. They are telling us it is a good time to buy but it is not yet time for us. We will want to try it out for another couple of years and make sure that this is home.
In the past 12 months a lot of the misconceptions have been cleared, loads of new views and opinions have been formed, this Lucky Country certainly does not lack surprises… ….more on that in subsequent posts…
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 2,400 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 4 years to get that many views.
I love traveling in Asia. I missed out in my younger years but in the past 10 years I have been to many countries, one could spend a lifetime and not see it all. I love the people, the bustling cities, the colors, the food. I am in awe of the energy that is in the air, it is in stark contrast with Germany where things are just settled in many ways just routine.
In the past couple years I have spend time in Singapore, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. This time we spend a weekend in Kuala Lumpur and this time around the Formula 1 weekend was on and we were right in the center of town. There were a lot of promotional activities going on and we saw our share of Ferraris, Lamborghinis and other exotic and very expensive cars. I could not help but think how the western world has influenced the globe in so many ways and not all of them are necessarily good. It does not matter where you are in the world if one wants to buy luxury items, whether a car or a watch it is going to be mostly a European brand and to a lesser extend an American brand. It is interesting that a local Chinese in Malaysia when he can afford it he buys an Italian exotic car (not a Fiat), a Swiss watch, they go to a French restaurant and when they travel they go to Europe. I read that most fancy boutiques and shops in Paris, London, etc. employ Chinese speaking staff in order to cater to these clients. The masses, modern urbanites of the different mega cities all over the developing world, then try to emulate by buying up as much as they can. This has led to an erosion the local cultures and societies that changes the character and the mentality forever. It is ironic that we fly so many miles to “exotic” and far away places but end up with people who very much like us have become victims of aggressive modern marketing and peer pressure.
Every time I am in Asia, I wonder how it might have been even 40 or 50 years ago when Asia was truly different and unique in every respect. I would like, even for the briefest of moment, to able to experience the sights, the smells, the air and the colors of these by-gone places.
I realize that this post may sound judgmental but it is by no means judgmental, I have no right to judge anyone but myself. It is just an observation, probably a subjective one but that is how I see it. When I visit places in Asia, I tend to stray away from the beaten path and I try to get to places where I am the only one that looks like me and where I use an honest smile and many gestures to get by. These places still exist out there and I relish experiencing them every single time.
People usually ask what is the one thing that you would like to take with you if you are ever stranded on an island, well my answer is my friends and -most- of my family. These past few weeks would not have been possible without them.
On March 8th and 9th the moving company packed our household and put it in a container. What was left was, well… …another household! We took a decision to not take everything with us for various reasons, so we were left with a lot of stuff that we had to either sell or give away and of course all the trash. I know it sounds trivial bit taking care of all that took almost two weeks. During that time we were sleeping at friends, my uncle loaned me his car and others were helping in any way they could. The neighbors chipped in and they let me use their scanners, printers, garden furniture, etc. It is overwhelming really to think of it all and without their support I am afraid we still would be trying to finish up.
In a couple of days we will be in Australia where another bunch of people will help us set a base in our new adopted country. This is not the first nor will it be the last time that we have been in this situation. Some people ask me why I am such a giving person and considerate, I just am. Most of them do not realize that they are very much like that themselves. You always get what you give, people are usually afraid to give or open. I have found that by giving, by opening up, being honest and responsible towards others you gain so much, you have fun along the way and above all you learn things about yourself and others that would otherwise not be possible.
R.W. Emerson said it best: The only way to have a friend is to be one!
So I would like to thank all you who have been here and there for us and the ones that couldn’t, I will always be there for you. Without you our lives would be very poor, you are and always will be in our hearts!
Here is one to friends, relatives and people who love you!
PS: We are now in Kuala Lumpur on our way to Adelaide. I love this city and I like Malaysia. I have a few things that I want to write about on my next post, which should be in a day or two… …meanwhile here is a photo for you.