Sunday, August 31, 2008


the vivid colors of the indian ocean

It's not always easy being essentially alone in a city full of strangers. Being away from your usual support group makes it necessary for you to find ways to cope with the stresses that shake your world and the sporadic loneliness that comes with knowing that you are very much on your own. Some people get their fix from some retail therapy, others from comfort food. Some escape reality by watching a movie or indulging in a good book for a few hours.

Since I've been here, I've done a little bit of all of the above. But when things go really, really wrong and my mood can't get any lower, what else can a forsworn beach addict like me do but seek the water?

I've always loved the water. There is something about it that has always drawn me. Just being near the water is, for me, a major pick me up. There are some pseudo-scientific theories that say that this may have something to do with negative ions generated by the water splashing on the ground - who knows how true that is? Bottom-line is that I simply love the sound of the waves crashing on the shore, the brisk breeze coming over the water, the horizon that stretches out to forever and hints of possibility.

swan river foreshore in burswood park

One major upside of being in Perth is that it is so easy for me to tap into this unconventional, life-giving idiosyncrasy even if I don't actually live in a suburb anywhere close to the water.

I can hop on a train and be on the Swan River foreshore in a matter of minutes. In a little over an hour by public transport, I can be on any point of the magnificent Sunset Coast, a pristine, raw-sugar sand beach that stretches for miles and miles in either direction as far as the eye can see.

the sunset coast towards south to freo as seen from scarborough beach

When I am by the water, for that space of time, life's complications fall away. Loneliness gives way to a peaceful kind of solitude. It's hard to stay stirred up in the face of something so much larger than myself, ever-constant and ever-changing at the same time. After watching the rhythm of life played out on the water for endless hours, my beauty-loving soul is recharged - and the life in this city of strangers is just that more bearable.

Fate couldn't have chosen a better place for me to be while I am adjusting to life away from home than this beautiful Australian coastal city on the water.

(all photos are taken by me using a Lumix point-and-shoot camera.)
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Friday, August 29, 2008

Back from the Tag Grave

Due to my status as an adjusting ex-pat, my blog life hasn't been quite as active as it's been. I am touched and gratified that people (Manggy in particular!) continue to visit and comment despite my being so delinquent. As a way of saying thanks, I'm playing a bit of tag with some of you - using something I've blatantly tagged myself from Abaniko's site.

The tag: Post 5 links to 5 of your previously written posts. The posts have to relate to the 5 key words given. Tag 5 other friends to do this meme. Try to tag at least 2 new acquaintances (if not, your current blog buddies will do) so that you get to know each of them a little bit better.






I tag Panaderos, Ris, Em Dy, Woobie, and Ness for this one.

Okay, now back to regular ex-pat-Pinay-doctor-adjusting-to-life-abroad programming! :)

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Spring Promises

The mornings and nights are bloody cold, but numb toes are a small price to pay for the fine, sunny days and clear cloudless blue skies. Mild mid-day temperatures and a brisk fresh breeze accompanies winter as she gracefully exits stage left and gives the center stage to spring. The Western Australian landscape - which keeps its green through the cold winter - celebrates the coming of a new season by putting on a show of colors.

And I, addict of all things beautiful, am enjoying having a front row seat to the spectacle. It's hard to feel morose when the weather is warming up and the outdoors beckon.

Weekend wanderlust trumps need the to study any day, and, in true Perthite fashion, I decided to spend the day outside in the sun. In a city like Perth, you can never run out of parks to picnic in - but I couldn't resist the lure of King's Park just coming alive in the spring.

It was definitely worth the return visit. The wildflowers are just coming into bloom and the park is awash with color. King's Park is such a sprawl of space that begs you to just pick a spot for the day and dream.

With my bag of sushi take-away, I picked a shady area under one of the tuart trees and settled in. And wondered what the hell all the other picnicking locals were thinking when they picked a spot to picnic directly under the sun. I found out all too soon the answer to that particular question - despite the deceptively sunny weather, the wind in the park blew pretty damn cold.

It's hard to believe that a dyed-in-the-wool city girl like myself I would actually enjoy just sitting around on the grass with a book in hand and be content just watching the world go by. But I loved every minute of it. Who needs the mall when you could have all this beauty and atmosphere at your disposal for free?

Yes, I am definitely falling in love with spring - and Perth with it.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

On Flying Solo

Breakwaters at Cottesloe Beach

I hit my 2 month mark abroad this week, and it's beginning to sink in that this is not a mere vacation ending in a few more weeks but my "real life." As I settle into the routine, sometimes I wonder if by coming here in a bid for change and real independence, I got more "on my own" time than I've actually bargained for.

So far, I've been quite happy to explore my new territory alone, inspired by the beautiful locale and being somewhere completely foreign. I've always been used to doing things on my own and am capable of being quite happy with my own company. Still, I think that I may have reached the limits of my solitude. I am now yearning for the company of the motley crew that populated my life back home more, and it's also sinking in that they are, in geographic terms, completely out of reach - at least for the time being.

Don't get me wrong, it's been a great experience so far. Some people will say it's too early to tell, but I can say with conviction that the decision to come has been a good one. It's shoved me out of my comfort zone and has forced me to come out of my shell by necessity. It's teaching me a lot - about being self-sufficient, not taking myself too seriously, being open to and making the most of new experiences, reaching out and letting new people into my life.

Yes, I have already begun meeting people here and sowing seeds of friendships that will hopefully grow with time. To be honest, I am still quite amazed at how kind people can be to someone struggling to get her bearings in this unfamiliar place full of strangers. I've been pretty lucky in the people I've met here so far.

But I guess I just miss being around people with whom I have a shared history. Being able to hang around with people who know the inside joke without my having to say a word. Even if we all had our busy lives at home, I always know with conviction I could drag any of them out for coffee and a heart-to-heart if I sounded desperate enough.

Part of realizing that this is now where I live rather than somewhere I am just visiting is also realizing that I don't really have anyone here like that. At all.

And sometimes I'm afraid that in my bid for a drastic change in my life and some real independence, I've just traded one kind of loneliness for another.
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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Keep Left!

photo by Roger C.

Learning how to drive on the left side of the road with a right-hand drive car pretty much encapsulates the experience of adjusting to life abroad. It's all about having to concentrate hard on doing things that you used to do without thinking.

Being of a more cautious temperament, I opted for proper driving lessons before braving Aussie rules traffic, optimistically thinking I'd only need a couple of sessions since I've been driving back home for a few years. After my first experience on the driving on other side of the road, I am convinced that switching from right to left is much easier said than done.

The hour started out with my narrowly avoiding a disaster. The driving instructor picked me up at the hospital, which is located along a major highway. A mere five minutes into the lesson, I was blithely attempting to cross the highway to get to the other side of the road - and I would have succeeded if my instructor hadn't floored the brake pedal on his side of the car. That was just the beginning.

I quickly discovered that driving in Australia is a far cry from the chaotic, every-man-for-himself driving I was used to in Manila. The cars here go so much faster - 50 kph in built up areas, 60 in main roads, 70 on the highways, 110 on the freeway. And these speed limits are not mere suggestions - you are obliged to follow them to the letter. Speeding has never been one of my myriad bad habits, but driving fairly leisurely is - something that is also not allowed here.

I also fell victim to another peculiarity of vehicles here - the indicator light switch and the windshield wiper switch have been swapped around. Every time the instructor told me to start signaling for a turn, I'd flip the switch and see my wipers start up instead of my indicators flash. Short of time, I'd hit my indicator switch and turn into the next street - all the while with wipers going until I'd have enough time to switch them off.

And don't even get me started on the confusing rules governing roundabouts and intersections without traffic lights. I still haven't figured out when it's acceptable to go straight into your turn or when you should make a full stop and give way, even after I've read their road rules handbook cover to cover several times. There are so many nuances that it just gets too darn confusing.

I would love to take a full course of lessons before I finally get my own car, but each hour is so unbelievably expensive that I can only afford so many. My work situation is also making it more and more necessary for me to drive around as soon as possible. With shifts that start at 10 pm and others that end at 11 pm, even getting a cab could become quite difficult. Walking at that time of night alone would be, of course, completely out of the question.

I guess the only real choice would be to confront the driving issue with the same aplomb that I've approached everything else in this adventure so far. There's no other way to learn but by doing. And just hoping against hope that I won't end up crashing in one big splat.
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Saturday, August 09, 2008

The More Things Change...

In the few weeks I have been here, one question that's often asked of me is, "What made you come here?"

I find that it's easier to tell them about the dismal working conditions, the laughable salary, and the feeling that I am getting nowhere fast on my career track and let them draw their own conclusions about me (i.e. "what kind of mercenary so-and-so is she?"). It would be more complicated to explain to them about my compulsive need to turn my life upside down in an effort to get unstuck and maybe get my life going. Which, to be honest, it has done.

Still, one thing I am quickly beginning to realize is that one brave thing does not necessarily lead to another. And the overused cliche, "The more things change, the more they stay the same," is obviously a cliche for a reason.

My friends have all sung to me about the benefits of living abroad - even temporarily. It's supposed to be my fresh start, my chance to get out of my shell, to learn to be confident in my own skin, maybe to even reinvent myself into the person I've always wanted people to see me as but was too entrenched in my own pattern to do so.

The truth is, reinventing myself may be a good idea in theory, but apparently I am simply incapable of doing so. I would love to be able to channel the vibe of my friend, Y, who is sassy and mysterious and uber-confident, or, E, who is sweet, adorable, and exudes a "let's-take-care-of-her" air. Instead I can only be me, equal parts ditzy and capable, gung ho, no-nonsense, snarky and easy to get a rise from, chicken and self-conscious, and very what-you-see-is-what-you-get.

Still, maybe it's only early days yet. Then again, that's part of what worries me. Just a few weeks into my big move, I'm already sliding (kicking and screaming on the inside, believe me) into the same role and persona I have tried in vain to shed every time I have moved from one stage of my life (and one group of friends) to the next. And all I can think is, "WTF am I doing wrong?"

Obviously, they can take the girl out of the Philippines, but they can't take the Philippines out of the girl.

So, does anyone want to give me tips on how to claw myself out of this potential rut before I'm actually stuck in it again?

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Saturday, August 02, 2008

Comfort Food

my miracle rice!

Thanks to one of my co-residents, I've finally found the one thing that has cured me of my aversion to cooking rice for one... a microwaveable rice cooker. Just measure the grains, add water, pop into the microwave for 12-14 minutes, and voila! Real. honest-to-goodness fluffy rice! Almost as good as what we have back home.

And just in the nick of time, too. Being here has apparently altered my definition of comfort food. Thus encouraged by my new culinary discovery and prodded by a sudden onset case of the blues, I finally overcame my reluctance to cook for one - resulting in my first real home-cooked Pinoy dinner since I got here. And what dish is closer to home than the all-time favorite adobo?

Adobo is a great Pinoy comfort food because you can get the ingredients for it from practically anywhere. (I couldn't find pork cut the way we have it back home, but I did get some pork rashers that worked as a substitute.) Add vinegar, soy sauce, and garlic, and everything is all set!

Unfortunately, I had decided on cooking adobo without considering the logistics of not having a car and getting everything I needed from the grocery. In typical impulsive me-fashion, I just put everything I needed into my shopping cart (in big bottles) on top of my regular grocery shopping. This resulted in my eco-friendly reusable shopping bag containing a cumulative weight of about 6 kilos at least - not taking into account the rest of my groceries. I had to lug this heavy bag plus a lot of other semi-heavy bags from the grocery to the bus station, then, once I got off the bus, from the bus stop to the house.

By the time I reached the house, my back and arms were killing me and I could no longer feel my feet - because I also happened to be wearing heeled boots coming from work. I was so exhausted by just bringing the ingredients home that I wanted to scrap the entire project, but after all the trouble I'd been through, I was absolutely committed to going through with it - and it was a good thing that I did.

As I ate my pork adobo and rice last night, I realized that the effort was well-worth it. It's simply amazing what simple adobo and rice can do to raise one's spirits - just that was enough to make an absolutely dreary day end on an up note. Definitely the taste of home away from home.

No, this definitely does not mean I plan to cook hot rice meals for myself regularly - frankly, I don't have the energy to do that on a regular basis. But I'm glad that my new miracle rice cooker gives me that option in a hassle-free way. And I have enough adobo now to last me for at least a couple of weeks - so my comfort food is all ready for any return bout of the blues.

my adobo on the simmer
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