Sunday, June 29, 2008

Did You Say Walking Distance?

photo of Minnawara Park (in the summer) by Clarion

I've been in Armadale for almost a week. It's a very picturesque and quiet area, and being into the whole "beauty of nature" thing, I am drinking everything in. But one thing I'm learning very fast is that the phrase "walking distance" is relative to Western Australians - probably something they develop because the state they happen to occupy is so vast.

I'm currently staying at a bed and breakfast that is walking distance from my hospital - which actually means it is about 1 km far from it, and about a 10 minute walk. It's also walking distance from the shopping center and the lovely park shown above - about 1.5 km far, and a 20 minute walk.

Over here, because it's a quiet suburb, buses stop at stations on schedule and only come every half hour at their most frequent. If you're late one minute for the train, you'll have to wait 15 minutes for the next one. There are also no buses that pass along the highway where I live after 730 at night. This poses a bit of a problem because I have shifts that end at 9pm and shifts that start at 830pm.

Walking is lovely during the day and the sun is out, but quite a different matter when it's dark out, cold, and it's raining. Everyone out here has a car, it seems, as I've gone walking home at 6 pm (and it's already dark here because of winter) and I'm the only one on the road on foot. The locals say it's a relatively safe neighborhood. But when you're a woman walking alone in the street and there are dark vacant fields thick with trees in intervals beside you, it's a bit forgivable to be a bit antsy when you're doing it.

I am definitely going to have to save up and get a little car ASAP. In the meantime, there is always the expensive but safer option of calling for a cab.

We're pretty spoiled in Manila with our public transport that goes everywhere, you can hail from anywhere any time of day, and will drop you off wherever you want. The trade off is horrible traffic and unspeakable pollution. There is no such thing as the traffic jam we see back home over here - but then again, I don't live inside the city, so I could be wrong.

But this new way of getting around is just one of many new things that I am getting used to.

I have yet to get my own internet connection - so forgive me for being such an irregular chronicler these days. There's so much to write about, and I have quite a bit of time to write about them - only I don't really have a means to get on line at the moment. Just wanted to let you guys know I am still alive and I haven't forgotten my blog in all the fuss of moving.

More soon! In the meantime, keep those good vibes and wishes coming - I start work tomorrow and need all I can get!
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Monday, June 23, 2008

Here Goes Nothing

my cousin Jazz and I at St. Kilda Beach

This is the last few hours of my reprieve in Melbourne, and reality is finally sinking in. By this time tomorrow, I will be completely be on my own.

It's been a good visit to my family in Melbourne; and being around them has staved off the onset of homesickness. It's a nice reminder that I will have people to call on if I do get into trouble.While it's a 4 hour flight away, at least there are people can fly to my rescue who don't have to get a visa. It's just a bit frustrating that with all the relatives I have in here, I end up in a city where I won't even know anyone.

Anyway, I've pysched myself to tough it out - at least until I can pay off all my credit card debt! But I'm optimistic it will be a good year.

Time to repack my stuff and prepare for my "one brave thing!"
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Friday, June 20, 2008

Into Winter in a Day

photo of foggy Melbourne in winter by deezmon

I'm here!

After many obstacles overcome and a seven hour flight, I am finally in the southern hemisphere. From the muggy, humid tropical heat of the resurgent summer in Manila, I am now shivering in the foggy, grey winter of Melbourne, Australia for a four day pit stop before I start my on-my-own saga in far away Perth.

Although I've been here a few times, it was never in winter. And while winter here is not as hardcore as what they have in other temperate countries, for a girl weaned under perennially summer weather of the Pinas, this kind of cold is a bit of a culture shock. To wake up at eight only to find the sun barely up is disconcerting, to say the least.

Of course the weather is not the only change I have to deal with.

I've been here only a couple of days, and already I have swung into one "nosebleed" moment to the next. It's tough speaking in straight English! And don't let people who say Australia is an easy destination because everyone here speaks English. English, when spoken with the broad Oz strine, sounds quite foreign. I've also been steering away from shops - because aside from having very little to spend until I start work, the prices when converted from dollar to pesos is quite enough to keep me away from any form of retail.

This short visit in Melbourne is more of a vacation rather than a real part of my adventure. But I can already feel just how very different everything is going to be for me in the next few months. Yet there is comfort in this unfamiliar because over here I am still surrounded by extended family - and in easy touch with home through email, Skype voice calls, and telecommunications.

Thank goodness for amazing technology that has shrunk the world - that allows one to travel from summer to winter in a day and back home in the space of a few seconds with a few clicks of a mouse.

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Mission Impossible

This is not even half of it...

It was hard enough packing up three years of my life away in the callroom last December, when all I had to do was throw things in my car and drive them to storage at home.

So how does a sworn pack rat like me figure out what to bring abroad for a year and stay under 20 kilograms?

My friends have suggested not to buy too much and just buy in Aussie when I get there. Unfortunately, quality clothes and shoes are expensive over there; bargain clothes there are not as good as what I can get here for a lot less. So everything I'd saved up for the past few years not buying new apparel unless absolutely necessary, I've completely blown on the still-growing pile of shoes and clothes in my room that I am in total denial about.

Thankfully, I do get additional shipping freebies up to Melbourne of about 20 kgs, so I really have 40 kgs all in all. I will have to pay for the shipping from Melbourne to Perth, so that part must wait until I have cash to spare. Thus, smart packing is in order - and I have to be able to carry with me all my must-haves for at least two months in my suitcase.

Sounds easy? For normal people, maybe. For a perennially pack-heavy traveler pack rat? It's mission impossible.

As ever, procrastination and denial go hand in hand, and I have yet to sort everything out. Finally putting stuff in a suitcase and a box will finally make everything real - and I am really not ready for that yet. But with less than a week to go, I really should get started on this.

I have been living in a cloud of unreality these past three weeks, and the days have zoomed by without my looking. Don't get me wrong, I am going through with this. But to be honest, I still ask myself why I even want to sometimes.

Okay... time to make a checklist and get my ass in gear. It's packing time! To the seasoned and the experienced - tips will be greatly appreciated. I need all the help I can get!

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Disasters and Miracles

This past week has been a whirlwind of activity - what I get for being a pessimist and putting off everything that needed to be done until the very last minute. Exactly one week to my fly day, and there's still so much to be done. And that doesn't even include packing! Given this extreme spike in my stress level, my innate scatterbrain tendencies have been working overtime.

Because of this, last Friday, for about an hour, I thought that all of my plans had suddenly, irrevocably gone up in smoke.

Meet my purple expanding folder - which contains ALL my personal, ORIGINAL copies of my credentials and other documents essential to my pending trip.

Not being a complete dunce, I have already photocopied these same documents in a set to be left with my family in Manila, but since I am still in the process of compiling it, my photocopies are in this same envelope, too.

So in short, my whole life is in that envelope.

My disastrous story begins on Friday morning, when I left the house without bringing my cellular phone with me. Leaving my phone is usually not that a big deal for me, but since I had a lot of errands to run and needed a phone to coordinate with people I would be meeting, I asked my brother to meet me at the mall with it.

I had just come from the POEA, where I had spent the past few days fixing my exit clearance and registering as a bona fide OFW, so I had my precious envelope in tow. As I waited for my brother, I lugged it from one shop to the next as I tried on clothes and did some last minute shopping.

I hadn't been to this particular mall for years. Around a few minutes before I was to meet my brother, I saw that the store I set as a venue for us was no longer where it used to be. Worried we wouldn't find each other because of this, I went to the nearest pay phone and tried calling him - repeatedly because he wouldn't answer - and getting in touch with the house. Since it was difficult to hunt for coins in my black hole of a bag with my arms full of purchases and my bulky purple envelope, I put the envelope on top of the phone... and forgot about it.

Yes, I completely, utterly, stupidly forgot the envelope on top of a public phone in a mall. Someone give the idiot a prize!

After I met up with and got my cellphone from my brother, I promptly left the mall to run my other errands all over the metro, blissfully unaware that the key to my entire life was gone. Hours and kilometers passed. I guess I was so used to lugging it around with me that I assumed it was still with me all that time.

It was only at my last stop - the photocopying shop in UP Diliman - that I realized that things had gone horribly wrong. I felt like my entire world had completely disintegrated. It took all my willpower to hold on to sanity to drive through the rush hour traffic to get back to the mall. I was trying not to think about the fact that I would have to reconstruct a file of documents put together only after months of tedious legwork in TWO WEEKS. I was looking for an escape hatch from taking the trip, but this wasn't the way I wanted to bail out! At every stoplight, I was furiously texting all the praying people I knew in my phonebook, begging them to pray for a miracle.

My brother had gotten to the mall ahead of me, so I asked him to check the phone I used in the slim hope that it was still there. It wasn't. I told him to try the security office to see if anyone had turned it over. No one had. I told him to check the last places I recalled going to. No one remembered seeing anything.

It was around the time my brother told me there was nothing in the security office that my control started to slip. I was hysterically bawling as I was driving and praying incoherently - I was just saying please over and over again. When I finally got to the mall, I parked in the first slot I found and shot into the mall to retrace my steps one last time, but not with much hope.

As I was walking around the Food Court, on my way to the other set of public telephones I used, someone called me on my cellular phone. Apparently, she saw my home number on one of my documents and wanted to inform me that my envelope with the mall security in the area where I was, and the person who answered at home had given her my cellular number. She figured I would want to know ASAP that it had been found, even if I wouldn't be able to pick it up at once.

It turns out that a costumer had found the envelope earlier that afternoon and had turned it over to the food court security. They had waited for someone all afternoon to claim it, and, just around the time I was having my fit of hysterics, the manager finally decided to go through the papers inside it to see if there was any contact information they could use to get in touch with me.

Coincidence? Maybe. Me, I firmly believe it was the power of praying friends and God taking pity on His stupid, scatterbrained daughter.

In this time of great uncertainty and major life changes, God continues to remind me that He's on top of everything. And despite my frequent flirtation with the edge of disaster, He brings forth miracle after miracle - and I cannot thank Him enough.

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

You're Putting WHAT in my Mouth?!

photo by megnicol

Acting on the wise advice of everyone who's gone an a long trip away from home, I've been spending the past few days (apart from fixing my papers and embracing my new role as an OFW) catching up on my dental work.

Much as I like my dentist as a person, I am one of those who considers a session in the "hot seat" akin to a stint in purgatory regardless of what form of pain she chooses to inflict on me at the time. The less I see of her the better. Now that I've experienced getting a tooth extracted, I have revised my opinion - a visit to the dentist is not a trip to purgatory but a trip straight to hell.

One of my molars has been undergoing intensive root canal treatments for a while - probably another legacy of too much sweets as a child. A few weeks ago, after an x-ray, my dentist gave me the devastating verdict that the tooth was beyond saving. If I didn't want to suddenly wake up with the mother of all toothaches when I'm stuck in a place where all health-related services are notoriously expensive unless you're covered by Medicare, the molar had to go ASAP.

After going through all the stages in the dying process - denial ("Are you sure nothing can be done?"), anger ("I've been getting a root canal for months, what do you mean I have to get my tooth taken out?"), bargaining ("Maybe we can try for a few more treatments and I can have it taken out when I get back?"), depression ("I can't believe I am actually going to have a permanent tooth taken out at 31. At this rate I'll have a mouthful of false teeth by the time I'm 60."), and finally acceptance ("Fine, let's get this sucker out once and for all.") - I finally had my tooth taken out a few hours ago. The trauma is so fresh that I have yet to feel sensation return to my lips and tongue even as I type.

With all due respect to my dentist and all the other dentists in the world -- I really don't know how they can do what they do. I can't even imagine how they grow up wanting to do what they eventually do! How does one grow up wanting to become a dentist? I'm not saying it's not good honest work and a much needed skilled profession. It's just that that someone who actually wants to do this because he enjoys it must have an unacknowledged sadistic streak lurking somewhere. They definitely have it in spades over surgeons - who at least cut and inflict pain on patients asleep and wear the mantle of the but-I'm-saving-his-life syndrome to justify it.

Dentists do their work on a fully awake patient who can feel every twist, scrape, wiggle, and tug as they do it. Despite the advent of anesthetics and modern instruments, the prodding and the pulling that modern dentists do still eerily calls to mind untrained barbers doing the same thing a century or two ago.

At the sight of my dentist laying out the things she was going to need to pull out my one measly tooth, it was all I could do not to squawk in panic at the array of vicious looking sticks, picks, and pliers - not to mention that evil-looking hypodermic needle. The only way I could think of to get through the experience without being scarred for life was to keep my eyes closed. That way I didn't have to give into the urge to screech, "You're going to put THAT in my mouth!" every time my dentist picked up another instrument from her tray and approached my open mouth with it.

The extraction procedure was, quite thankfully, a textbook one despite my fleeting urge to go into hysterics.

An empty stomach did not deter me from popping two different kinds of analgesic right after the procedure to counter the sucker punch of pain that's bound to come once the effect of the lidocaine has completely faded out. The anesthetic is beginning to wear off, so I'm going to go get an ice cream now. Not being able to eat solid foods is a good excuse as anything to get a sundae without guilt.

Frankly, I hope I never, never have to go through anything like that ever again. Or should the occasion ever arise, I'm going to insist on a general anesthetic so I can sleep through every tug and pull.

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Hitting Panic

photo by Krysten

I already have a flight date, almost all of my papers are in, and it seems as if all systems are really go. I've completed most of my shopping, and I have enough time to finish sorting out my stuff before I leave if I start doing it now.

Everything seems to be almost ready but me.

Can someone tell me where the brakes are?

I thought I'd had ample time to get my head around the fact that I am going to be leaving my entire life behind to start anew in a city I have never been to, where I do not know a single soul, away from everything I know and everyone I love. But D-day is approaching so much faster than I thought it would.

The urge to cling to the familiar is overpoweringly strong. The excitement of a new adventure is tempered by a good dose of fear, guilt, and sadness at the thought of leaving my support system behind. As the days to my departure wind down from one to the next, I have to stop myself from frantically looking for an escape hatch.

Talk about being careful what you wish for!

My friends are more excited for me than I am at this point. I guess it's easier for them to keep my life in perspective - that this is only going to be for a year (at least for now), that I need this change and the experience will be good for me, and, if the worst happens, I can always come home. Their encouragement is my lifeline and one of the biggest reasons I haven't exercised my right to change my mind.

Frankly, I still have no idea what I am doing - and I think that's a pretty good excuse to give in to panic every now and then, don't you? But despite my panic, I'm seeing this through with faith that the courage to jump is a real prelude to learning how to fly.

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