“I want some real information please!” Beyond the PR puff pieces about Australia

newspaper

Many migrants – Malaysians and from other countries alike – are shocked by what Adelaide is really like.  No, I’m not talking about its beauty which is considerable. I’m talking about the Adelaide economy, the attitudes of employers and work culture, how the locals are really like, what are the nuts and bolts of getting a home and finding a support network….

When I embarked on this journey way back in 2009 I found many PR puff pieces on the Internet and from migration agents about sandy beaches, life in the sun, and the “booming” economy. Being a naturally sceptical person I searched for more “real” information about what life is really like Down Under.

The Whirlpool forums was a great place to start if you’re looking for more “real” information, but a caveat: Just because some people are having a hard time in Australia, doesn’t mean that you will. There are some folks that slide into life in Australia like a hand in a silk glove, but knowing what it’s really like on the ground will help you come up with strategies that will enable you to succeed as a migrant. I know it helped me.

Still, there’s no beating real-life experience.

For one, despite researching things very thoroughly, I was still surprised caught off guard by how reality didn’t match my expectations, and how tough the migration journey was!

The denialists

I created this blog because I wanted to tell people what life was really like as a migrant. What I found fascinating, however, was that there was a strong culture of “don’t say anything bad about Australia” among Malaysian migrants and Australians.

I still remember being hushed in a restaurant by a Malaysian migrant who cast a nervous look at the Australians at the next table when I spoke about SA’s economic issues and the parochial attitudes of its employers. Another migrant would literally tell me to shut up when I bring up sensitive topics.

When I wrote my post about sham contracting, I faced strong opposition from some Malaysian migrants who accused me of discouraging new or potential migrants. I sometimes wonder if this attitude was the reason why many people find it difficult to find solid information about the realities of life as a migrant in South Australia?

Tough love in print

Fortunately, there are people who are willing to speak up despite the opposition and disapproval. I recently came across the writings of one Malcolm King whose insightful, no-holds-barred opinion pieces I thought were really spot on. I wasn’t surprised when King came under fire from State Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis after he wrote a blistering op ed piece about SA’s unmentionable problems. It’s easier to deny that there’s a problem than to do something about it, eh?

He called Adelaide Amish in the piece Adelaide: decline and fall. And I’m sure many migrants would feel the sting of Hold skilled migration until SA economy improves. He said something not many people would say in polite company let alone in the public sphere:

Why would a state government spin SA’s charms to people in England, India and China, when locals can’t get a job here? The answer is – money.

In a broad-based and diverse modern economy, migrants pump cash into the state for rental accommodation, schools, food and utilities. They may take six months to a year to get a job and, when they do, they become ‘cash generators’. Migrants are a boon when the economy is going well for a raft of social and economic reasons.

Ouchie.

Do read Malcolm King’s columns. You may hate what he has to say, but I think his opinion is valid and he does point out uncomfortable facts. For one, I share his concern about SA’s lack of economic diversity. For example, SA’s top industries are Healthcare and Social Assistance, Retail and Manufacturing. What it desperately needs is to build a knowledge-based economy or to create a dynamic entrepreneurial community.

Oh, Susan, why are you being such a downer? You may wonder. I’m just saying that you need to know exactly what you’re in for if you move to South Australia. (And I say SA, as I haven’t a clue about other states.)  It could make for a happier and smoother experience. (Hopefully.)

Others would say: why are you being so negative? Life is so much better here! No need to stress and work under bad bosses in jobs that demand 15-hour workdays. Hate to say this but you get them here too. Also, is a better lifestyle worth sacrificing a career that you’ve spent decades building? Some cannot fathom the idea and would be depressed by that. Some can and are more than wiling to do it. And some think that they can but end up realising that the couldn’t!

So nothing is more important than clarity when it comes to moving countries. You got to be sure what motivates you to make such a life-changing decision. And if you’re clear about what it is, remind yourself every single day.

To achieve clarity, you need information. Real information. Not just stories about the beaches and barbies in the backyard.

Weekend Joy

trusty rusty

My trusty but rusty bike has taken me around Adelaide.

This morning, I had a “lie in”. I read a book “Until Tuesday” (a memoir if a service dog and his army vet human friend), then at 9am decided to take a ride around my neighbourhood. I hopped on my trusty but rusty bicycle which I bought two years ago from Gumtree, and headed to one of my favourite cafes in the neighbourhood. So here am I sitting with a up of strong, long black coffee, a muffin and a pizza and typing this.

So, yes, I’m happy to report that my mood isn’t as dour as before, and things have looked significantly better. It’s amazing what rest can do for you. From July to October, I worked seven days a week, sometimes clocking in 100 over hours per fortnight. You may argue that office workers in Kuala Lumpur worked more than that, but I was doing a physically and emotionally-exhausting job, and my body and mind was crying out for relief.

One of the ways I got relief was to stop working Sundays. My money-minded self balked at the idea (in Australia, you earn nearly double per hour on Sunday) but I took the leap anyway. A month into my new schedule and I’m loving it. It’s wonderful to be in step with everyone else; to have an off day with the rest of the population. And most of all, being an extrovert, I was being healed and energised by the presence of people around me. I loved watching people indulge in retail therapy at Rundle Mall, I adored eating bimimbap on a ramshackle table in the middle of busy Central Market with vendors yelling, “One dollar! One dollar! Grab them before they’re gone!” or sipping coffee with my laptop on my table in a cafe in a gentrified part of town where the leaves are heavy on trees and people talk in hushed tones over java and pastries.

When I landed in Oz two years ago, I rolled up my sleeves and got to work surviving almost immediately. I don’t think I quite rested during the two years I tried to fulfill my 35-hour-a-week requirement and it took me a while, even after I got my PR, to get myself out of that mindset of “work or else”.

Now I’m working only 40 to 60 hours per fortnight. I spend my free time writing, volunteering, socialising and nature worshipping.

As my head cleared and my angst dissipated, I realised that I was a blessed creature. In Malaysia I had prestige because of my job at a blue-chip company, money and a yuppie lifestyle but I also battled traffic jams, an obsession with materialism and climbing the corporate ladder, and the realisation that I was not pursuing my dream to write fiction and publish my own books.

I’m now actively pursuing what I used to dream about. Since landing in Australia in August 2012, a short story of mine was published in the book KL Noir. I have also published a children’s book and two of my e-books on Amazon are earning money (which still totally amazes me). In the meantime, I have also finished two more novels! Artistically, 2011-to present has been the most artistically fulfilling time of my life. I’m now even thinking about taking painting lessons!

But I realised one thing. Although you’re pursuing your dreams, it doesn’t mean that life becomes all roses and pansies. You still stuggle with problems, and a lot of times they are problems that you have never encountered before. Living in a new place, doing things you have never done before can stress the hell out of you. Sometimes it even breaks you. But if you do it wisely and with the right mindset, taking a career break and moving to another country can be one of the best things you could ever do for yourself.

If I do return to Malaysia (and that question is still up in the air), I would remember my time in Adelaide as being one of the most vivid, entrancing, stressful, amazing, awe-inspiring and memorable experiences of my life. Why? Because I dared to give my dreams a chance, and I believed in myself and in God enough to leap off the cliff not just because of the chance of succeeding, but to experience the journey, even if it’s for a brief moment in time.

Making a living in Australia

moneyI get a lot of questions from readers about how to get a job in Australia. I wish there was a magic pill to that dilemma because I want it too. However, I do know what people did to make the money to make life in Australia possible. (Note that I didn’t say get a job). So want moolah to make your life in Australia possible? Here are some of the ways you can do it:

1. Get a job the traditional way

Send your CV to the resume cloud in Seek or Career One. Hope that it’ll hit. Somehow. I know people who have sent hundreds of resumes but did not get a single interview. It can be a tough slog as Australia is a very competitive market and there’s this whole “no local experience” thing that Australian employers are hung up about.

It’s a Catch-22 situation, but not hopeless. If you’re just off the boat, network immediately by volunteering at organisations that have “jobs” that you hope to land one day.

For example, I recently found a volunteering position with St John’s at Seek Volunteer. I’m seeking to get into media and marketing, and the role was perfect for it. By volunteering, you’d be able to network and get that precious referee. (In Australia, referees can make or break a job application.)

I know a lady who volunteered at a nursing home, and when she applied for a Lifestyle Coordinator position, she was accepted because of her long service in the company. So, while sending your resumes to the resume pool, keep yourself busy by volunteering. You can never know what may come your way.

2. Retrain 

This is what I did. For one, this was in line with what I wanted to do. In many ways, coming to Australia was a career break of sorts. I was toying with the idea of going into healthcare, so I thought that I could try my hand at being a personal carer (nursing assistant). The Cert III Aged Care training was short (two to six months), cost only $2k (though, thanks to Skills for All, I only paid $200) and would equip me with skills I would need to be a nurse. Also, being a carer was an excellent way to see if nursing is a viable career path for me. (After two years, I decided that it wasn’t, but that’s a story for another day).

What course should I take? If you want to go down the practical route (and there’s no shame in that), look up Skills for All’s report on South Australia’s growth industries. Health Care and Social Assistance, which I’m in, is fortunately one of these.  So if you choose to retrain, do your research carefully and see what’s the course that will land you the job.

Pros:

  • You may end up in a career you love!
  • Although you may not  adore you new career, if you choose your industry well, you will have the income that you need to survive in Australia.

Cons:

  • Time & Cost for retraining.
  • Breaking into a new industry with zilch experience can be challenging. Again, try to volunteer first to network.

3. Create your own job by starting a business

I did this too. When I first landed in Adelaide, one of the first things I did was to do some freelance writing and web consulting. I had clients in Malaysia and Australia. However, I decided to close it and just jump into my aged care thing. Since I was time crunched (I had to work 35 hours per week for a year to fulfil my visa requirements) and wasn’t exactly swimming in cash, I didn’t have the luxury to hunt for clients while I eat beans and rice. It was fun, however, to be my own boss. I had name cards and invoices and even an ABN number! Now that I have my PR and am free of the constraints of the 475 visa, I’m going to restart my writing business again. 🙂

What can you do? I have met migrants who sold Malaysian food online and some who repaired cars on the side. A friend told me about the story of a man who went door to door doing chores for homes!

Anyway, besides going freelance (or being a sole trader, as they call it here), I know some friends who bought cleaning franchises and worked as cleaners. You may go, “Euw, cleaner?” But let me tell you there’s absolutely no shame in doing this. Better – you may earn quite a decent amount of dough! Who cares what people think when you can use the money to pay the bills!

Anyway, if cleaning doesn’t rock your boat, there are other franchises (with varying price tags) to choose from.

Pros:

  • You don’t have to wait around for a job.
  • You can be your own boss.

Cons:

  • The capital can be high. A franchise can come with a $15k or more price tag.
  • Having to deal with business and tax laws.
  • Dealing with business matters such as finding clients and managing staff.

There you have it. It’s by no means a definite list, so if you have any other suggestions or ideas, be free to chime in at the comments section!

Photo by TALUDA.

Longing for home

Apologies for not having posted for almost two months. The truth was I was not in a good place and I didn’t want to discourage anyone with my sob story. In the last post I hinted that I was desperately unhappy. And in the post before that, I said that I was longing for what I left behind in Malaysia.

Well, October came and I crashed, big time. I couldn’t sleep.  I was hit by bouts of anxiety and depression and I found myself crying – sometimes to sleep. I was also achingly lonely. At first I blamed it on my work. Yeah, I’m misreable because I’m not doing the job of my heart. So questions whirled in my head: Should I study this or that Masters to get ahead in Australia? Should I restart my writing business?

Perhaps it was triggered with me working seven days a week, but I think these symptoms were building up long before. I believe it began on the day my parents left for Malaysia after spending a fortnight with me in Adelaide.

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Me & mum admiring the setting sun at Glenelg

I brought them to Hahndorf, Glenelg- the usual touristy things. Taking those long walks with them down the beach at Glenelg and around the hills in Hahndorf reminded me of our morning ritual of walking to the nearby flats near my home in Subang Jaya for breakfast. I knew I missed that, but I didn’t realise just how much until that fortnight.

When I saw their backs going into the airport gates on their last day in Adelaide, something just broke inside me. And when I drove home, tears slid down my cheeks. I felt bereft and alone. I wanted to join them so badly.

After months of the symptoms: Anxiety, depression, loneliness,deep aching longing for home … I finally understood what I was suffering from.

I was homesick.

Which surprised me, because I didn’t think I was the type to suffer from it. I spent a year in Perth as a student without once longing for home. I travelled the world, and always enjoyed myself when I was there. I am mostly amazed by how incredibly intense the symptoms are.

Being homesick is a common affliction for the migrant, according to this New York Times article. I read the blog of this French lady who suffered symptoms very much like mine and find myself reassured.

Honestly, if not for the fact that I’m now on a bridging visa (I could lose my PR if I return home, and yes you can apply for special permission to return but I probably wouldn’t bother), I would’ve booked a one way ticket home too. I even spoke to my former colleagues back home, hinting that I’m coming home. The symptoms were that intense.

Now that I’ve realised what I’m suffering from, my symptoms have lessened somewhat. I’ve reconnected with my friends and family back home through phone calls and Skype calls, which helps immensely. I admit that I had gone on months without calling them, so absorbed am I on the act of survival in Australia.

I’m also connecting with people in Adelaide instead of just burying myself in work. I realised how much I’ve isolated myself (again!) socially. I’m also trying to reconnect with my personal legend eventhough on some days I just don’t effing feel like it.

But you know what? I’m also leaving the door open to return to Malaysia.

I know some of you are horrified. This is not what you came here to read. This is a blog called Malaysia to Adelaide, not Malaysia to Adelaide to Malaysia, isn’t it?

But honestly, I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, especially on the thought that I will probably have my parents for another 10 years. More, if I’m very lucky.

The thought of it all fills me with a kind of anguish I can’t really put words to.

Here’s the haunting question I’m dealing with right now: Shouldn’t I be with them in their twilight years?

Cafe culture

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Ignorant as I am with the ways of the coffee world, its only in Adelaide that I discovered what a latte, long black, cappuccino was. Despite years of Kuala Lumpur yuppiedom, I took great pains to avoid coffee and would rather indulge in chocolates and other sweet concoctions.

But I succumbed to the bitter brew in Adelaide because how can you not with the pretty, elegant and homey cafes that dot this picturesque city?

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So here I am with my favourite incarnation of coffee – long black – typing my novel and soaking in the smell of cooking coffee and the sounds of the morning crowd as they indulge in this most benign of addictions. Discovered Whisk, on Goodwood road after a stroll from the library one day and had fallen in love with its charms since.

I am doing all this while trying to resist that siren call of the desserts facing me. They with the luxurious names that promised pleasure. I dont think I can resist for long, dear readers. After all Baked raspberry cheesecake sounds most intriguing…

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Largs Pier in early winter

Largs Pier

Am ambivalent seagull poses for my camera.

Blue. The sea is so blue here. The jetty, with its white beams and weather-beaten grey-brown wooden boards stretched out to the sea. I can’t believe I have not explored this bit of beach space in Adelaide in my near-two years here.

And it is honest-to-goodness winter. Oz is weird that way.

Susan Wanderlust in Largs Pier

Yes, that’s really me.

Ever the fan of watching the sea, I bought a cup of coffee (passable) and a pasty (bland) from a bored teenager at the kiosk next to the jetty. The kiosk had mustard yellow plastic seats and blue tables was an odd fit at the area, especially with the genteel and grand Largs Pier Hotel opposite. but the views were stellar, even through glass windows full of scratches and covered by a thin film of dust.

Took a walk down the beach later and was pounced on by a bouncy black poodle. My eyes may be near blind by the intense sun but we ended the day walking to Semaphore town with the setting sun on our backs. A perfect day.

Burning up in Adelaide

It’s going to be a blazing 46°C today in South Australia … (Photo by runrunrun @ sxc.hu)

It’s 8.35am, and it’s already 29°C outside. After a fitful night where I lay on hot bedsheets while the fan blew hot air in my face, I’m now in the kitchen, the coolest part of the house (and that’s debatable). My laptop is heating up, I’m sweating like crazy and although we’ve shut every door and rolled down every blind to keep out the glare and heat of the relentless sun, it is not helping much. By 11am it will be a horrible 39° and just an hour before I have to leave for work, it’ll be 43°C. I’m planning to wear a T-shirt to work so that I can take it off and wear my uniform when I get there. Because I’m pretty sure I’ll be soaked by the time I get there.

If you’re wondering why I have not turned on the air conditioning, that’s because it’s broken. What a way to live through summer, eh?

I find myself talking about the weather a lot since moving to South Australia. In Malaysia, we have boring weather. It’s either hot or rainy. And the seasons that we get? Hot & Rainy, Very hot & rainy or Not-so-hot and very rainy.

Now, in Australia, the weather changes as quickly as I change my socks. One moment you’d have to snuggle under your doona. A few hours later you’d have to chuck your doona and don singlet and shorts instead. Temperatures can drop by 10-20 degrees in a few hours.

I mostly love the weather in Australia. Mostly. But if there’s one season I hate with the heat of a thousand suns, it would be summer. This is my third summer in Australia (first summer was in Perth) and I’m no closer to liking it.

This is partly because I grew up in tropical Malaysia and I’ve had enough of the heat. And also because the hottest day of summer is twice as worst than the hottest day in Malaysia. At least in Malaysia we have the assurance of rain to cool the day. In summer, you’d see rain, what, once in a few weeks if you’re lucky? The heat never lets up, and it’s the sunlight on your skin is piercing; like laser beams that threaten to burn your skin off. The vegetation fares no better; the sun beats relentlessly on the ground, turning grass into dry tinder that crackle under your slippers.

That’s why in summer you wait in dread for

Bushfires and grassfires. They are common throughout Australia. Grassfires are fast moving, passing in 5-10 seconds and smouldering for minutes while other fires can sweep across vast areas and continue burning for many weeks. (Geoscience Australia)

Bushfires and grassfires. They are common throughout Australia. Grassfires are fast moving, passing in 5-10 seconds and smouldering for minutes while other fires can sweep across vast areas and continue burning for many weeks. (Geoscience Australia)

There are already bushfires in Perth and South Australia was also hit.

My colleague, who lives up in Adelaide Hills, is on alert. If her house is in danger, she would be alerted by SMS and she hopes to rush up there to rescue her cat.

This is the reality every summer, and there are signboards in red around the hills telling people to be careful during the danger months (about December to April). People who live in bushland and the hills are susceptible to this threat.

Meanwhile, all I can do is stew in my sweat and wait for the repairman to have a look at our centralised air conditioner. Will I get a reprieve tonight when it’s 27°C? Well, I’ll keep you updated! 😉

The 35-hour rule

clockOne of the annoying requirements of the 475 visa i that we have to work 35 hours a week for one year. The problem with that rule is that we have no idea how strictly the immigration department will enforce it, and even how they will do it.

For example, if you work 69 hours per fortnight, is that fortnight a write-off, or can it be considered close enough to 70 hours? If you work 20 hours a week, does it just simply take longer for you to fulfil that 35-hour requirement (like this blogger suggests), or, again, is your job a write-off?

I called the Immigration SA department to find out, but they told me to confirm with DIAC. Well, DIAC ain’t responding to my emails. I’ve been asking everyone about the 35-hour rule as well and the answers varies wildly. I decided that damnit, I will just get my 35 hours per week then.

The first few months at my new job, I worked about 60 to 67 hours a fortnight. It was a wee frustrating (to say the least) when I can’t meet that magic number of 70 per fortnight. So, I decided to get a second job to be on the safe side.

Thank God in my industry, jobs are aplenty (I’m in Aged Care) so I managed to get a job with an agency. (Though I consider myself incredibly fortunate because I got a second job with  so little experience!!) They would call me when they have any jobs to fill. A lot of times they will call me an hour or two before a job! At one time, I was a few steps to the beach, a book in one hand and a picnic basket in the other, when they called me for a 4-hour job about 30km away from where I was. I gazed longingly at the sea and walked back to my car to drive all the way to Onkaparinga.

Sometimes, I’d get a 67-hour fortnight week (as a casual staff, my hours are not fixed) and would bite my nails, praying that I’ll get that extra 3 hours from my second job to plug the gap. So far, it’s working. So far.

But this is what I have to do to fulfil my visa requirements. This was the choice I made when I decided to embark on this adventure. I’m not going to moan and bitch about it.

Yes, I cannot deny it’s hard. I can’t rest as much as I’d like to and my social life is … well, reserved to a few very good friends. I make sure that I take at least ONE day off doing what I WANT. (Usually hiking in parks around SA. I love the parks here!)

But unlike many struggling migrants, I am working and working hard. I earn enough to have a good lifestyle and I save a decent amount of money. Furthermore, I have no dependants. That alone is something people would slap me for bitching and moaning.

Many would like to be in my shoes. I know of one Registered Nurse who has sent out a thousand resumes but has not been able to get a job. So, complain – I would mentally slap myself when I get out of hand.

So, yes, that’s my life now – I work, work, work to fulfil that damn 35-hour rule. A fellow 475-er, who just achieved his one-year of 35-hour work, had the habit of counting the amount of payslips he’d need to achieve the one year of 35 hour work: 26 payslips altogether. So far I’ve amassed about 6. (I’m not counting that time with the company that  gave me a sham contract job.)

20 more to go. That’s about 40 weeks.

GOLLY.

A working lady in Adelaide

Hello guys! Sorry I have been silent for so long but I was up to my neck with work. Yes, work 🙂

I am happy to report that I got the job which I interviewed for. Being a personal care worker for an aged
care facility us miles awat from my former life in the media but I love it because of that.

The job has challenges though. My first two weeks was terrifying and i still, often, am left so exhausted I cant move.

But i am grateful that I have a proper job with payslips and a contract. Sometimes when I drive on the roads of Adelaide to run errands or to just simply explore I am amazed that I am here in Adelaide making money and living here.

The realisation that I have fulfilled a long held dream to live abroad is the kind of feeling that is beyond words. You realise that you do have it in you to pursue your dreams and you dont have to remain stuck out of fear.

Buying a used car in Adelaide

Photo by V_DeanWhen I first came to Adelaide, I thought I didn’t need a car to move around thanks to the efficient public transport and smallness of the city.

I also had fantasies of cycling around (which came true, but it has limitations). So, I never really budgeted for a car. But when I arrived, not only did I realise I need a car because the buses take forever to get anywhere, which isn’t good for you when you’re trying to get to work (especially out of the city) but you need a car to get certain jobs.

For example – want to be a cleaner? You need a car.

Want to work in Aged care? You better have wheels.

That situation frustrated the hell out of me. I need a job to get money to buy a car, but I need to have a car to get the job that will give me money! Talk about  Catch 22! Fortunately, I got a job two months after landing in Adelaide and it enabled me to get myself a little Barina for $2100k from a friend.

Where to shop for used cars

You can buy second-hand cars from Gumtree, Carsales and dealers.

A friend said that cars sold by private sellers are often inflated, so check Drive.com to determine the actual worth of the car.

Once you’ve picked a car, what next?

Seriously, buying a car in Australia is like buying a laptop. You know in Malaysia how we have to do all kinds of paperwork and then get our cars checked out by Puspakom? Well, things are simpler here.

What  happened with me was I met up with the seller (in this case my friend), and she handed me a form to fill. It’s to a transfer the car registration to you.

Then you give the money. Don’t be surprised if the seller demands cash instead of a bank transfer, especially if they are selling the car on Gumtree etc. This is because of fraud cases and since you’re a stranger they’d much rather have hard cash. A friend of mine had to give her seller $10k in cash for her car!

Once you have signed the form, you must keep the document. You can either mail it or bring it to Service SA . I chose to bring it there. There’s a payment – I can’t remember how much. I think about $20 to $50.

Getting car insurance

You can actually drive a car around without insurance, but I won’t advise it. Because if you knock into someone you’d have to fork out lots of money to repair their car or won’t get money to repair yours. If you end up hitting a Porsche, mati lah you ...

What you do is go online and check out the various car insurances out there: Allianz, RAA, SGICIan Berry or Bupa. There are more, so google for them. Then, go get the online quotes from each of them.

In the end I settled with RAA – third party insurance for $15 a month.

There are many other ways to get a car of course – you can even purchase yours online and have it waiting for you at the airport!

But if there’s anything more certain is this: You do need a car in Adelaide.

Photo by V_Dean