My first week here down, and while I have quite a ways to go, including actually finding a more permanent place to live, I’ve started to get a decent feel for some of the idiosyncrasies of moving to Australia. As a whole, it’s really not that much different from a big city in the US, just with some unique flavors of culture, particularly how many things are flat out reversed. I’m really not sure who’s being difficult, Australia or the US, probably both, but frankly, it’s gone beyond being “just the way we do things”. Up, down, left, right, let’s agree on something other than a language, shall we?
Finding a House: Thankfully, there are a handful of comprehensive resources, especially on the internet, for finding a place to live in Australia. Craigslist is at most given a passing nod for listings, but really, given the site design circa 1992, I can’t say I blame them. Realestate.com.au and Domain.com.au are about all you need for finding a place to live. Actually paying for one is another matter. While they insist on going by a weekly rate for all rentals, I’m starting to think it’s a mind game to keep them from realizing just how much they’re paying per month, much in the same way gas stations use nine tenths of a cent in their prices, as if they’re giving you some kind of insider deal by not rounding up. But whatever your price bracket, which will be automatically inflated once you start looking, it seems easy enough to find a decent place, free of rats and suspiciously located stains.
Getting Around: Having a car in Sydney isn’t really that necessary if you’re within the inner suburbs of the city. However while the Sydney mass transit system is impressively efficient, clean, on time, and omnipresent, walking the remaining distances does get to be a hassle, especially if you have to transport something, which is probably why the cab companies feel that $9 is perfectly reasonable for going eight blocks. While bicycling is a good intermediary option, drivers here are a special brand of ruthless during business hours, so riding on the streets takes some mental preparation.
Eating: Getting reasonably priced food within the city takes some shopping around, and preferrably some insider information. For instance, one of my best options for cheap and plentiful food near work is an outstanding Asian food court only a few blocks away, however to get to it you have to wind through a series of underground hallways, through a train station, and up a random ramp on the street that for all you could tell leads to a janitorial supply warehouse. On the plus side, if you don’t mind flexing your dollar a bit, food is plentiful here, and usually quite good. Given the influx of Asian and middle eastern immigrants, mixed with the English obsession for meat in pastry form, you can get a little bit of everything pretty easily. For instance stepping outside my door in my temporary apartment, I have a Spanish restaurant across the street and immediately to my right a Vietnamese and a Chinese restaurant.
Grocery shopping is not terribly daunting either when you’re ready to stay in and cook for an evening. I find that the grocery store is one of the more telling ways to sample local culture; grocery shopping is something we really don’t think much about, however any deviations in the patterns of food availability in the aisles leaves us disoriented. You can be a hardened traveller, happy to sample all the variety a culture has to offer, but when you go down to the grocery store and there’s not a Pop Tart to be found, you have a moment of panic. Suddenly you really appreciate the true significance of being in another country when there’s a bigger selection of stir fry sauces than canned soup, and familiar name brands are very few and far between. The meat case is extremely expansive here, and given the amount of sheep raised here, there’s naturally a lot of lamb and mutton. And the bacon… oh, the bacon. It has to be seen to be belielved. However, the cheese and cereal selections are a bit of a letdown. Apart from a passing selection of Brie or Camambert, it’s a wall of white mild cheddar. In the cereal aisle, they seem a bit stuck on either flakes or the bricks-of-shredded-wheat thing. This selection of ultra-heathly cereal options appears right next to unhealthiest selection of “breakfast bars” I’ve ever seen. All told though, there’s a pretty healthy selection of most everything.
Meeting People: This is frankly not that hard here. If you have a job, you immediately have invitations to go do things. Everyone’s failry outgoing and enjoys getting together. People in general are pretty nice and forthcoming with information or just general chatter. And for the most part, unlike back in the US, people like to get out and do stuff. This is probably due in part to the horrible TV and internet availability. Which brings me to…
Entertainment: Being physically active is your best bet for entertainment here, and with good reason. There are tons of choices for things to do, including the clearly popular pasttime of boating, fishing, surfing, organized sports clubs like football (soccer) and rugby, bicycling, climbing, the list goes on. Alternatively, indoor entertainment is rather lacking. Channel options are slim for TV, with some standard network programming and the ever thrilling cricket coverage. Movies are released rather late to theaters here, and they don’t show many as it is. And finally, 512kb connections are not unusual for “high speed” internet packages. 1.5Mb is often the best you can hope for. On top of this, all internet providers cap your data downloads per month, with the peak around 20GB per month. Why they do this I have no idea, unless their telco backbones are so fragile that they have to enforce maximum throughputs for the entire country.
So, there’s a one-week resident impression. Obviously this is only just the tip of the iceberg, but I at least now have some idea of what the iceburg looks like.