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.

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

That could best describe a new migrant’s first few months in Adelaide (or anywhere else, for that matter).

It’s the best of times because you’ve finally made the leap. After months of wondering “What if?” or “Should I?” you’re finally in the land of your dreams. You’re taking in the four-season weather, the efficient public transport, the amazing public libraries, the lovely big Aussie homes, the beautiful birds chirping in the trees and even the gorgeous parks surrounding the city …. everything is new and wonderful and full of opportunities.

And then it’s the worst of times when you find out that reality does not match your rose-tinted vision of Australia.

I consider myself a well-travelled person. Over the course of 12 years I’ve been to more than a dozen cities around the world because of work: Dublin, Hokkaido, Edinburgh, New York, Tokyo, Osaka, London, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Taipei, San Diego … I thought I didn’t have a rose-tinted view of Australia. But still, I’m surprised at the disappointment I felt when certain things didn’t meet my expectations.

My friend Yin (who rescued me from Boss Lady) said that every migrant would go through a terrible experience of some sorts that will shake them. And every migrant I’ve spoken to seems to have proven her point right.

Yesterday, I had dinner with N and his lovely wife and baby, and he described to me how his first few months in Adelaide was filled with fear, sadness and confusion.

One day, after going to the city to personally pass his resume to yet another recruiting agency, he sat down on a bench at Victoria Square to have lunch. It was a cheap takeaway, and as he was eating his lunch, it suddenly rained heavily. (That’s Australia for you, there’s no warning when it rains.) He hastily packed away his lunch, but overcome, he actually stood there, looking at the weeping skies and wondered out loud, “What in the world am I doing here?”

N is doing fine now, by the way – he has a stable job and has applied for his PR.

I, too, had this epiphany. Only a few days after landing in Adelaide, while I was in my cushy studio apartment at Boss Lady’s abode. I had begun to suspect that my arrangements with Boss Lady is not going to be great, and I wondered what I was getting into. As a migrant who came to Australia alone without her family, the vulnerability I felt at that moment was overwhelming. And I wondered why I left my cushy life in Malaysia, where I had my own apartment, could eat out at Alexis any time I wanted (though, seriously, the food is so overpriced), could ring up or meet my friends for dim sum and had a very supportive church.

I had this “worst of times” once more when my many attempts to connect with the local church was fruitless leaving me wondering if they really do mean it when they say that they’re there to help me, and then another when I received a crazy/rude text from a guy whom I contacted because he had a room to rent. (FYI, “Have you had sex before?” isn’t an appropriate question to ask any lady, especially when you don’t even know her!)

I thought my life was already falling into some measure of order when I found a sweet little room in Kensington last week. I loved the place to bits, and I liked the lady who lived there and I thought we hit off wonderfully. And then she called me yesterday to tell me that the whole arrangement is off because she doesn’t know if we’ll be a good fit. (Actually she said, “I think I’m a bit of a racist. I prefer to live with Australians.”) I was supposed to move there in three days!

At this point, I would say that almost all my encounters with the local, Aussie-born bipedal population has been negative. In fact, I’m seriously wondering if half the population of Adelaide is on something.

But, anyway. The point of this long, rambling post is that as a new migrant, you will have moments like these where you’ll wonder why you gave it all up to be here. Resist the temptation that you are somehow being singled out by the universe for some unfair experience. You’re not that unique or special. Seriously.

Sure, you’ve heard of stories of how some migrants get a cushy job the moment they land, but they too had their share of horror stories.

The crucial point is how you react to moments like these. If you’re gonna dwell on how unfair Australia is treating you, you’re going to have a tough time. If you laugh it off and chalk it up to yet another colourful moment in you life, you’ll have a better time at it.

As a writer, moments like these are food for my writers’ soul. As Neil Gaiman said in his wonderful inspirational address to the graduating students of an American college: “When things get tough this is what you should do: Make good art. Husband runs off with the politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and eaten by a boa constrictor? Make good art.”

You know, I’ve only been here for 20 days. My, that’s a short time, really. But I’ve gone through so much already. But despite all my ‘drama’ moments, I don’t regret the move at all. Because between all these negative experiences are wonderfully positive ones – witnessing my first hail storm, having dinner with two lovely families who just made me feel welcomed, browsing through the public library, walking down North Terrace, just amazed that I’m living in this state.

Anyway, just translate that negative experience into something positive. And for God’s sakes, when a new migrant calls you to ask you questions about life in Oz, please don’t pour out all your sob stories at once and scare the bejesus out of that poor soul. I frankly dislike that immensely. I know some people are trying to “help” by giving the person a reality check, but you know, you’re not helping.

We all know that life here is tough, but for the person about to make the leap, they need encouragement, not a horror story. Because despite the “worst of times” there are also “Best of times”. So balance out your tale of woe with tales of good things, okay?

Photo by jfreak.