How I Was Denied Boarding at Bangkok International Airport in 2007

My journey around the world didn’t begin with a round-the-world ticket. It didn’t even begin with a ‘I-will-quit-my-job-and-travel-around-the-world’ thought. Such thoughts were too ambitious for a 23-year old Malaysian girl possessed with fervent wanderlust. I had some cash to my name but not enough. No worthy assets that I could sell to fund my travels. No rich parents to loan me some. No credit cards for emergency usage. No travel insurance. Nada. The only things I have, of real value were time, health and some spunk.

So mine begin with a simpler thought: I will take one step, and then another.

I never knew where I’d go and where the road will lead me to. I only planned to keep pushing boundaries and see how far that would take me.

And as the story goes, my miraculous round-the-world journey somewhat kick started with denied boarding.

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cairo airport

It wasn’t unusual that after a one-way train ticket to Bangkok and many other one-way tickets later across South East Asia within a span of 6 months, that I had toyed with the idea of Europe. While sitting cross-legged on a hostel bunk bed, in Hanoi, I confided in Heather, an English backpacker that I had just met a few days ago. I confessed to her, that Europe had been calling out to me a long time now. But how could I go when my bank account was almost. I had heard only of so many tales about travelling Europe, from drinking zesty white wine under the summer sun to eating pickled herring to cure a hangover, from hitch-hiking across sleepy nameless Lithuanian towns to dancing barefooted under the stars. My heart ached for the exoticism that the West provides.

Heather mulled over my confession for a while and then, offered to lend me £200 so that I could chase my dreams.

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airport 2

My monstrous backpack’s straps were starting to dig into my skin. My shoulders felt numb with all the weight of what’s left of my worldly possessions on them. I was lining up at the Egypt Airlines’ check-in counter at Suvarnabhumi Airport, clutching a one-way ticket to Amsterdam.

In May 2007, Bangkok’s new International Airport was still fairly new. Public transportation to the airport had yet to be organised. It was a feat on its own to get to the airport. After changing countless of busses from the backpacker ghetto of Bangkok plus crazy traffic, I was amazed that somehow by sheer luck, I’d managed to arrive at the airport on time.

When it was my turn, I slid over my passport, a printed itinerary and waited for the Thai lady behind the counter to pepper me with the usual questions.

But she didn’t.

Silence.

Only blaring airport announcements and her fingers clacking across the keyboard in the background.

I tiptoed to peer at my opened passport, lying open under her flaming red nails.

“You have visa for The Net-erlans?” she finally said. Her eyebrows were knotted in a deep furrow.

No, I explained. As a Malaysian, I could enter and travel any of the Schengen Countries without a visa for 90 days and that included The Netherlands.

“Well, for one-way ticket, you need visa. Or you cannot go. You must have return ticket. Back to your country,” she said firmly. Airline’s policy, she added, as if not wanting to take responsibility for my crestfallen face.

I tried to argue my way in. I told her that MY FRIENDS got to go to Europe or anywhere in the world on a one-way ticket, why not me? I bit my lips to stop myself from tearing.

It then dawned me that those of my friends who’d travelled on one-way tickets were the Americans, the Australians, the Dutch and the English. How could I have afforded to miss that?

Please, I pleaded. I just didn’t know that I need a return ticket, I said. The lady’s face slowly softened. The seedy tour agency on Khao San Road where I’d bought my ticket from didn’t warn me. 

“I can help you postpone flight, ka,” the lady said kindly. “But you must come back with two-way ticket.”

That night, I trudged back to Soi Rambutri and emailed my Dutch friends that I wouldn’t be arriving in Amsterdam the next morning. In my 200 Baht shoe-box of a room, I tried to cover my worries with the scratchy sheets provided.

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It took me a while to find the seedy travel agency where I’d bought my one-way ticket. Behind the cluttered desk, the dark skinned man with sparse mustache, who’d sold me the ticket, scowled when I regaled to him about what had happened.

“I told you. One-way ticket big problem but you no listen,” he said. I shrugged my shoulders and lifted my hands sheepishly, as if to say, Whaddya I know.

“Listen,” he beckoned with his finger. “I know you want cheap. I can give you. No problem. But, risky.”

Hope surge within. I leaned in closer and smelt his post-cigarette breath while my mind whirred furiously, thinking about the various legal (or illegal) possibilities that he’d offer.

He said that he’d get me another ticket from Amsterdam all the way to Kuala Lumpur but on another airlines. The trick was to get the ticket one day before so that he could cancel the ticket right after I fly. All I really needed to do was to pay 40 USD for the cancellation fee, and well, pray hard.

Should I? Or shouldn’t I? Was this how far I’d go to travel? Would I want to find out how far I could go with this ‘technically-valid’ ticket? What would happen if the authorities find out? Would the Dutch authorities send me to labour camp?

The questions swam in my head. Yet, yet–what if it works?  What did I stand to lose exactly anyway? 40 USD? A day? My bruised ego?

A clear safety net didn’t appear when I eventually paid the man 40 USD but I decided to leap anyway. I was young. And naïve. What could possibly happen?

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When I entered the blasting cold Suvarnabhumi International Airport the second time, it was déjàvu. Except this time round, after scrunitising my perfectly legit (until the next 72 hours) ticket, the lady at the check-in counter smiled, gave me my boarding pass and waved me off to the departure gates.

23 hours later, I had my first Dutch beer at The Gollem and was taught to say: “Alsof er een engeltje over je tong piest”.

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Schipol Airport

I started out without a journey in mind. Yet by taking one step after another, it somehow led to an epic journey of 6+ years and one hell of an adventure.

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P.S-During the transit at Cairo International Airport, an Officer asked for my return ticket. After checking it, he returned my passport and my golden ticket and told me to enjoy my travels.

P.P.S-If all fails, you may try this technique too: Fake Onward Flight Tickets by The Dromomaniac

P.P.P.S- All content provided on this post is for informational and entertainment purposes only. The owner of this blog post does not encourage or perpetuate illegal activities. :D

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Why did I go to Albania? (Tirana in photos)

“Why do you want to go to Albania for?”

An Italian friend sneered after I told him of my backpacking plans across the Balkan Peninsula, where the plan was to start from Albania and finish in Turkey (in 2009). Travelling time: however long it takes.

“You want to see Albanians? Just go to Italy…so many of them. Dangerous people. Thieves, some of them.”

The plan came to fruition when Tim, an English friend, proposed of a slow journey across the isolated fringes of Eastern Europe, when he knew that I was about to finish one of my ship contracts. I didn’t know anything about the country till then but I jumped on the invitation right away. The less I know, the better. Far-flung countries with strange names compel me most. How am I supposed to know how dangerous the place is if I haven’t experienced it myself? Besides, British Airways had a special deal going for less than £100 one-way from London to the capital city of Albania, Tirana. It sounded just like the perfect place to explore and to kick off the trip.

“If you don’t hear from me on Facebook, then call 911,” I told my skeptical Italian friend.

The verdict? Check out the pictures of Tirana below.

Despite the country’s hard and complex history, the locals had demonstrated incredible hospitality and warmth. Still a little on the wild side and the city not yet choked with Chinese tourists and car fumes, the country is safe enough for anyone to travel independently but with enough edge to thrill you.

Accommodation and food are relatively cheap and but if you are a cheap ass backpacker like me, you can buy fresh food from the market and make sandwiches. Alternatively, you can spend the money saved on sipping cocktails at one of the hip bars.

Just be wary of the menu. Goats’ brains have a way of sneaking up to your platter.

And remember, shaking your head sideways means ‘Yes’ and nodding your head up and down means ‘No’.

*Lonely Planet had listed Albania as one of the top 10 countries to visit for 2011. All the more why you should visit!

flags

motorcycles

chess

chickens

librari

honey

shaking hands

twin towers

raki

sandwich

roundabout

red

pyramid

opera

olives

election

students

horsey

castle

bus

boy

It was fun while it lasted (Reflections of an ex-crew part 2)

On of the main lounges of Costa Victoria

On of the main lounges of Costa Victoria

Costa Victoria is an old ship but one that has recently been refurbished with new balconies, terraces and windows. Elegantly furnished with a classical nautical style without the modern kitsch, the ship is refined and stately. Even if it’s only a mid-sized ship, it does have 964 cabins, 5 restaurants, 10 bars and at least 14 decks (storeys) to get lost in. For crew members, the Victoria supposed to be one of the better ships to work on after Costa Atlantica and Costa Mediterranea.

Ale showed me around eagerly as I’d never been on the Costa Victoria before. The main halls were decked with fairy lights, Christmas trees and other festive decorations.

Deck the halls with boughs of holly...

Deck the halls with boughs of holly…

Crew members gaped at us as we walked past. I saw deckhands and engineers in overalls, fixing something at the spiral staircase. Housekeeping trainees vacuuming the carpet. A girl in a navy blue blazer manning the reception desk. A bartender polishing wine glasses. Romanians, Italians, Indonesians, Philippinos and Chinese.

They watched and tried to figure us out. But only with Ale in his Officer’s uniform and myself without, they must have a hard time seeing the full picture. To them, I’m no one, without a uniform. They saw only a guest, an Asian girl. They didn’t have to figure me out. They wouldn’t have to speculate if I were to become one of their trainers, supervisors or colleagues. Or if I were to be someone they’d perhaps somehow share a part of their lives with for a brief period of time. A friend? Nope – I offer them little interest.

One of the many restaurants

One of the many restaurants

At the spa

At the spa

After a thorough tour around the passenger area, we went to one of the open bars at the deck. A Chinese bartender greeted us sweetly and took our orders. I knew exactly what I wanted: a Cappuccino.

Back in Costa Classica, Ale and I used to trade stories and shoot the shit at the open deck bar, over caffeine. The ocean would slosh below us, the ship would sway from side to side and the conversations would flow. I do miss those times though. These kind of shipboard friendships are rare and when you do find peers that you could share your lives with, these bonds run deep.

The open deck

The open deck

Later that day, Ale surprised me by showing me Gervasio & Isa’s room. Turned out that this musician couple was also onboard and they too had played a part in making my last contract on the Classica amazing. As I didn’t know of their presence on the Victoria, I squealed with delight when I first saw Gervasio’s head poked out of the room. We were great mates then and I hadn’t seen him for ages!

“How come you aren’t working today?” Gervasio asked when he sat down to catch up.

“Urm, because it’s a weekend?”

Gervasio & Ale- my two buddies of the Costa Classica

Gervasio & Ale- my two buddies of the Costa Classica

Isa-Gervasio's girlfriend and an amazing flamenco dancer/singer

Isa-Gervasio’s girlfriend and an amazing flamenco dancer/singer

It then dawned him that he had just lost track of the days of the week. That wasn’t unusual. I was usually guilty of that when I was working on board. When you work on the ship, you exist on a different time and on a different universe altogether. The sun may rise and set but time just melts away. Time is defined by the cruise ship’s schedule. Short cruises allow one to feel the rush and anticipation while long cruises seem to drag on. Days slip away without names. I was sure it just meant a Singapore day for the ship’s crew instead of a Saturday. And the next day would be called a Sea Day instead of a Sunday.

As Gerva and Ale continued to fill me up with ship’s gossip, I felt the familiar pang of as if Big Brother was watching over us somewhere. Gerva mentioned that the rules had tightened on board and the management was making the musicians work harder than usual. There were a lot of disgruntled opinions and general unhappiness amongst them.

I listened and nodded. I still felt a certain unease while listening to them rant. Like I couldn’t relax completely. The thing was, it felt like as long as I wasn’t a paying passenger, I shouldn’t be taking up space in the splendid lounge.

I’d never feel completely at ease when I lived on the ship. Even if it was during my rest time and I had complete right to chill over a glass of wine at the passenger area, I’d still feel guilty as if pleasures shouldn’t be enjoyed publicly when you’re a crew. The only time when I completely unwind is when I was back in my room.

6 years of that. Wow– time sure did swoosh by. 

Having said that, it was never just tears and fears. More often than not, my salty memories are also of laughter and joy. I did have a good life while I was a seafarer. I had been to places where I’d never imagine myself buying a ticket to (like the Arctic or Madagascar); I was offered everything I needed on board including someone to clean my room everyday; I worked less and my job was easier compared to the other crew members (some had to work in galleys or the crew areas for 13 hours straight); I’d met people from all walks of life and the stories they’d shared with me were priceless!

The people, it was the people that I met that had made it all worthwhile.

Hanging out during gala nights on the Costa Classica (2011)

Hanging out during gala nights on the Costa Classica (2011)

Flanked with students and friends in my farewell party on the Costa Classica (2011)

Flanked with students and friends in my farewell party on the Costa Classica (2011)

That job somehow defined me as a person and a wanderer. It was a perfect gig to feed my wanderlust. I had embraced the seafaring life, had lived like a sailor and now, I’m tougher. It taught me how to appreciate freedom, the open water and the endless horizon. It taught me how impermanent everything was and how utterly beautiful life could be, even if it was served in bite-sizes. Most of all, it showed me that life wasn’t about what you do, but with whom you do it with, mattered most.

PS-There are SO many tales that I’d love to share with you about those 6 years spent on board and across so many different oceans and continents. Please hang in there as I slowly work my way around to telling them all.

 

On board the Costa Victoria as an ex-crew member

Courtesy of The Atlantic

Courtesy of The Atlantic

Remember the large Italian ship that capsized off the shores of Italy about a year and a half ago?

Well, I used to work for them. For the company and on board the ill-fated Costa Concordia. To prove my claim, here’s a photo, taken in 2009, with a bunch of other trainers.

Where our Train The Trainer Course was held...

Where our Train The Trainer Course was held…

So I was an ex-crew member. After working as a Campus Trainer (that’s what the position called now though it was called the Crew Lecturer before) for about 5 years, there were stories I’d had witness that could rival that of Captain Phillips’ but I’ll save those another day.

I left Costa three years ago. Ever since then, I had wandered around Indonesia and Malaysia with no specific plans for about a year. Then, I found myself juggling cafe jobs in Melbourne after I managed to secure the it’s-easier-to-get-into-Harvard-then-to-get-this Australian Work & Holiday Visa for Malaysians and with that money saved up, I went on a 4-month sojourn around Turkey, France, Germany and Holland.

Soon after all of that, I traded my freedom for a paycheck and am now pulling 12-hr shifts at an advertising agency in Singapore. Gone were my wanderlust days as I struggled to adapt to a (yawn!) cubicle job.

So when Alessandro, an Italian IT Officer, who also happened to be a good friend of mine, invited me onboard the Costa Victoria for a day, I immediately said yes! I’d missed the ship life even if I’d detested it, sometimes.

Costa Victoria was supposed to dock in Singapore every 4 days or so. I seized last Saturday to the catch the vessel at the spanking new Marina Bay Cruise Terminal.

GETTING THROUGH AND IN

Along the gangway of the ship

Along the gangway of the ship

When the public bus pulled into the arrival area, I caught the sight of the mid-sized Costa Victoria looming at the horizon. The yellow funnels with a big navy-blue ‘C’ painted on them, stood out majestically amidst the blue skies. Steam spiralled lazily out of them.

Getting on board as visitor is relatively easy in most countries. I remember hassle-free procedures in Savona, Ho Chi Minh and Dover. Not for Singapore, however. In Singapore, you’ll need to get a pass from the Pass Office, then through Immigration Clearance (like an airport) and then only after all of that, you’ll get to head towards the gangway of the ship where the you’ll be checked by the ship’s security dept.

At the Pass Office, the lady behind the thick glass window who took my passport shrugged and said: “Sorry, you’re not on the visitor’s list.” What do you mean I’m not on the visitor’s list? Are you certain?

She shrugged again and told me to contact whomever who invited me.

Annoyed, I called Alessandro and before he could even finish saying Ciao, I harked into the phone, “Hey, why I’m not of the guest list?”

“Of course, you are!”

“Yeah, but the Pass Office lady said I’m not. You’ll have to call the Chief Security Officer and I don’t know –”

I fumed but there was nothing else I could do. Patience wasn’t my strongest virtue. I kicked the bench like a petulant child and waited for Ale to come and get me at the Arrivals.

I haven’t seen Ale for three years now. I’d met him on my last contract on the Costa Classica and while his English was at a decent level, he came for my English classes anyway. As months passed, we became great friends and became each other’s support through out our contracts.

As I reminisced about the past, Ale came skipping through the gates with glee. Dressed in his regular crisp white uniform, he leapt to give me a hug.

“PICCOLA YING! Can’t believe you’re actually here!” He shook my shoulders happily and my teeth almost rattled. I’d forgotten how Sicilians can be really expressive.

Eventually, Ale managed to get clear me for the visit after a few more phone calls and a couple of hand shakes later.

A great buddy-Alessandro

A great buddy-Alessandro

* * *

Long lines of passengers and crew members filled the Immigrations Hall. The excitement was palpable. The air was dense with the spirit of the voyage. Everyone who was waiting in line for their passports to be inspected knew that they were all departing from point A to get to point B. Leaving a familiar place to go to the unfamiliar was expected and I yearned for that badly.  The road to nowhere had eluded me ever since I started a ‘normal’ job.

From glass panelled walls of the Hall, I saw the cabin balconies, the muster station deck and the life boats that were held just above them. A thought struck me. I’m going on board but only for a day. At the end of the visit, I would leave, and the ship would continue to its next destination– without me. The usual this-will-be-home for-the-next-8-months trepidation that used to haunt me was absent. Sure, I used to get real stoked to work on the ship but my relationship with my seafaring life was a love-hate relationship. I’d looked forward to the exotic locales but along with that life came claustrophobia, politics and all that drama which I didn’t look forward to. This time, knowing that I’ll be just be enjoying the friendship that I’ve made without having to succumb to the latter restrictions of a crew member’s life felt liberating.

To embarking passengers, they saw only an opulent moving hotel with thrills and spills awaiting them. As a crew member, I only saw a jail that hold all things shinny and sparkly to keep you distracted while in actual fact, you’re a prisoner.

Mischief on board

Mischief on board

How did the visit go? Read more in Part Two.

 

Postcards: Springtime in Busan, South Korea

Canola flowers in bloom

Spring dawned rather late in South Korea this year, but after a few days in Busan, the grey skies turned to blue and sunshine broke through the clouds. The crisp cool air became warmer and moister. What was perhaps the most apparent sign that spring has arrived were the blooming of canola flowers.

Canola Flowers

Along the banks of Nak Dong river in Busan, canola or rapeseed flowers were flourishing in mid April. Stalks of yellow waved under the strong wind, while locals were making preparations for the upcoming Canola Flower Festival in the southern port city of Korea.

Canola or Rapeseed Flowers

Dozens of school children were giggling and playing amongst the tall stalks while teachers were trying to get them in groups for group portraits.

School Portraits

It turned out that these blossoms weren’t just enjoyed by the young. Even the old stopped by to admire the flowers. Several old ladies, completely clad in cycling gear, turned up with a biking entourage.

Old ladies on a swing

Aliff and his Screw The Box crew took their DJI Phantom for a ride. It was the coolest photographic gadget that I’ve ever seen.

DJI Phantom

A sunny day usually gets me in good spirits. I usually don’t like taking photos of myself but that day was an exception. Swinging like a little girl just somehow felt like a moment to capture.

Me on the swing

Do you reckon friendly scarecrows would do the trick?

Friendly Scarecrows

Colourful whirligigs that spun joyfully under the wind

Colourful Whirligigs

The Tiny Wanderer was a guest of AirAsiaX  and Busan Tourism Organization but the opinions and the prattle are of her own.

How to be a hospitality superstar in Melbourne

Working in cafes can be an option

Working in cafes can be an option

One of the most frequently asked questions on my blog is: How did I find jobs in Australia? Was it easy for me to find one? Did it pay well?

There are a thousand ways to land a job in Down Under but I can only share with you whatever I know from job hunting in Melbourne. My knowledge can be limited and the lessons that I’ve gathered from my experiences may not apply to everyone but let me tell you that it was an easy and painless process: I got a job in 4 days.

Now, when you come to Australia on a Working Holiday Visa, you have to rid yourself the usual Malaysian expectation (or illusion) that you might land yourself a permanent job in the industry that you desire. You are, after all, on a WORK and HOLIDAY visa. With the visa, you’re merely given a chance to stay up to a year in Australia, whether to work or to travel. Your main objective should be travelling, and working only serves as a way to sustain and support your objective. Hence, jobs that you would end up undertaking may be casual, part time and impermanent. Jobs like that are plenty, especially in the hospitality industry.

You might think: why would you want to be a waitress or a supermarket cashier when you have a Masters Degree in Biochemical Engineering? Unfortunately, there are hardly any casual positions in the Biochemical Engineering industry, and chances are, your money might run out before you find one. Casual jobs are not careers and neither are they yardsticks to define who you are or who you were. Your aim is to save money, easily and quickly, so that you can explore the vastness of the outback, enjoy the vibrant and beautiful Australian cities, feel the wind in your hair and the sun on your face.

gumtree

My first job was a waitress in a medium sized restaurant. I found it on GumTree Australia which is a great website to find everything and anything you want. I was staying at a suburb called Thornbury, and wasn’t willing to travel into the city via trams; the only option was to find jobs within walking or cycling distance.

The roster was constantly changing but I made sure that I was scheduled for at least 25 hours a week. That left me with plenty of time for other jobs so through a friend (don’t underestimate the power of distant connections), I found another job in a busy cafe in Collingwood. I worked there for at least 12-14 hours over the weekend.

Both jobs paid me a minimum wage of 15 AUD an hour, which wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t a handsome pay but I worked with relative ease in both places. It was definitely better than slogging in an Asian restaurant with bosses who breathe down your necks, scream at you when you make a mistake and underpay you despite your efforts and hard work. Some employers still pay their staff 10 AUD an hour. The only problem with the first job was the working hours: my shifts started from 7pm till past midnight. By the time I got home, my boyfriend would be asleep and I would eat microwaved food alone.

A month later, I eventually found an even better job on Gumtree, also as waitress but at a newly opened pizzeria that prided itself as a place that serves food with a passion. I was paid 21 AUD an hour (before taxes), had better working hours, encouraging bosses and colleagues, and merely a 5 minutes walk from home. The bosses offered me free food, free beer and even sponsored me a barista class so that I could upgrade my skills.

HOW?

Like every other job, you need a resume. In fact, even in the hospitality business, the market is very competitive, especially in a city like Melbourne. To find a good job, you must view yourself as a hospitality professional. If you’ve never worked in hospitality before, highlight skills from your previous jobs or stints which managers may find desirable.

Excellent interpersonal skills is one, fluency in English is another. If you can serve a client in a professional setting, surely you can do the same in a restaurant or a cafe. Having a bubbly personality helps. Confidence is favoured. Tenacity, humility, hardwork and resilience are all equally important. If you can still smile under pressure, you’ll ace the interview.

Prepare a one paged resume, and email them to potential employers. The more application you send, the better. You can also print a few copies of them and hand them out to the cafes near where you live. Sometimes, handing out your resumes in person works better than mass emailing because managers could respond immediately to you. They could size you up there and then and determine if you’re a good fit for their team.

But before you do all that, make sure you have a functional Australian mobile number so that they can contact you.

TRIAL

To prove that you can do what you’ve put on your resume, managers usually put you through a trial. An unpaid trial should only last for an hour. A trial that stretches on for hours should be paid, whether in full amount or at least 75% of a typical daily wage.

Managers can be busy but that shouldn’t put you off from asking questions when you’re on your trial. Asking questions is a good way to show interest but don’t bamboozle them with a litany. Instead, ask a few, do what you can, look around and see if you could figure out some tasks on your own, and use your own initiative to do things that you weren’t asked to do (especially if you know how to do them).

Having a smile plastered on your face at all times always helps. In France, you might be seen as an idiot but in Australia, friendliness and a great personality are prized.

Some managers may not discuss your wage, your employment possibility or your schedule right away but you have the right to know. Find a quieter time to discuss with them instead of walking home puzzled and wondering if you’ve been hired.

IT’S NOT ALWAYS ABOUT THE MONEY

money

If you’re new to a city and haven’t got any offers lined up, don’t be fussy. Pick up the first job that comes along your way, learn what you can, and continue to look for better paying jobs.

However, a good job isn’t just about the money. A good job means you get to work with positive people and get a decent amount of working hours so that you could save a lot in a short time. A good job should also provide enough amount of challenges to keep you on your toes and help you grow but without exhausting you.

If you can keep a (or a few) good job going for a few months, you’d be guaranteed a very healthy bank account. Living costs in Australia can be astronomically expensive so having a good cushion helps. In fact, the smarter way to start your Working Holiday visa is to find a job before embarking on a cross country expedition.

SAVE, SAVE, SAVE!

Eating out can be expensive. So can partying, drinking and moving around. If you really want to save as much as you can, learn to cook. Buying groceries, cooking and sharing food can really help stretch the dollar. Consume less alcohol if possible. Drink at home with friends, instead of at a bar. Invest in a second hand bicycle. Cycling keeps you healthy and your money intact.

AND IF WAITRESSING ISN’T YOUR THING…..

You can easily find other casual jobs in retail, admin or agriculture. If you are up for living in the outback, you can find easily find jobs at The Job Shop  picking or harvesting fruits, tending to the land and animals, working in outback motels or pubs, etc.

If you prefer a temp job in offices, you can contact temping offices or recruitment agencies directly. You can find a good deal of looking for work here.

All in all, working and travelling in Australia on a Working Holiday visa will help you realise your potential and open you up to other opportunities and possibilities that you’ve never dreamed of. Mister A once said that: when you discover that you actually do enjoy working as a pizza maker, a barista and as a waiter for 70 hours a week, despite being a Master Degree holder in Engineering, then the world will surely open up to you. With great certainty, you’ll know that there’s nothing in the world that you cannot do.

Good luck!

The Holy-Moly I’m Scared Shitless Plan

For those who’ve been following my Facebook page, you might have seen pictures of me bundled in 4 layers of warm clothes, kicking up snow with childish delight, tweeting about dusk in medieval cities and then you pause your whirring thoughts for a second and thought: Wait a minute, snow? Does it snow in Melbourne? Hang on, it’s actually summer in the Southern Hemisphere right now. Something’s NOT right.

This ain't Melbourne.

This ain’t Melbourne.

Well, it is because I’ve left Melbourne. Moved out.

Visited a friend in Sydney, stashed 2 kgs of our belongings (Mister A’s and mine’s) there and went on a roadtrip called a ‘A Long Way Home’ where we’d made plans to stop in Sydney-> Singapore-> Kuala Lumpur (my home)->Istanbul (and a smattering of other Turkish villages) ->London and eventually France (Mister A’s home) and Germany (Mister A’s kinda other hometown).

—- How the trip came about:

Up till December 2012, I had a healthy sum of weekly income wired into my bank account. Yes, I was juggling two waitressing jobs but they were surprisingly weren’t that crappy and paid handsomely. I had a decent sized room that I shared with Mister A and in it, a desk, a double bed, a bookshelf, a generous closet space and a huge window that allows in plenty of sun. We’d shared the house with other cool people and even nicknamed our house: The Pirates House.

The backyard where BBQs  are held.

The backyard where BBQs are held.

I held a local library card, a local bank account and have a list of nearby favourite cafes for my caffeine needs.

Won't be seeing much of this in Europe.

Won’t be seeing much of this in Europe.

I had daily habits, weekly rituals, and a few pieces of property (like my awesome red bicycle) until Mister A said that he’d like to go home for Christmas and asked if I wanted to come along. He’d asked casually, like as if he was asking me for a cinema night out.

I gulped. I knew what that meant.

“So we…er, going to meet your family?” I asked.

Yes, duh. Who else will I be celebrating Christmas with? You’ll meet everyone, even those from the German side.”

“And, you told them that I’ll be coming along?”

I told I them I’m bringing home an extra luggage. One that’s extremely compact but a tad bit heavy.

Right. At that point, we’ve only started to date 6 months ago and I suppose, at some point, I was bound to meet his family but the possibility to go to France and meet the whole lot had never occured to me. I’ve never even appeared on their skype chats before. All I know was that he’d briefly explained to them that he’d met a girl in Melbourne.

In some ways, it was like a dream come true and in many ways, I felt Iike I was about to be a debutante who was about to get introduced to the society in a coming out ball. There will be some stress in understanding French culture, the do’s and don’ts, and generally trying to get into his family’s good books. But how can my ‘fantastique’ personality shine when we can’t even communicate in the same language? It won’t be my first time in France but it’ll be my first in travelling there as someone’s girlfriend.

Sensing my hesitation, Mister A assured me that me smiling like an idiot all the time will do the trick.

We can also stop at some places along the way, and go on a roadtrip around France to meet my friends and ex-colleagues in different places like Grenoble and Antibes,” he offered, thinking that visiting other places that I’ve never been to in France will take the big elephant off my brains and would tempt the wanderlustress in me. “AND, come February, we’ll organize our route in such a way that we’ll get to Cologne in time for the kick ass Karnival!

Carnival in Cologne is supposed to be crazy!

Carnival in Cologne is supposed to be crazy!

“And then?”

We can even visit your Auntie in Heidelberg and what about that friend of yours from Frankfurt?

“Kathrin? Kathrin’s from Offenbach.”

Whatever. Come on, it’ll be fun! You’re a vagabond yourself. Since when do you ever say no to the prospect of travel?”

“I know…but I’ve been perpetually travelling for the past 6 years! I can’t throw away money like that for another adventure…”

Why not? You don’t want to meet my family and see my baby photos? Besides, everyone will find out that you’re not just some passport marrying Asian with 5 children in tow, who can’t wait to get her entire clan into France!”

What? You don't want to meet my cute niece?

What? You don’t want to meet my cute niece?

“Oh, right. Is this what this is all about? You do know that you need to give at least 10 goats for my dowry!”

10 GOATS? Putain merde..More like 5!

I kicked him and we laughed.

The impossibility of it all started to evaporate but still, where would we find the money? What will we do after that? Come back to Melbourne? What was the plan? What was THE PLAN? Having travelled randomly and spontaneously over the past few years, it seemed hypocritical that I’d have questioned this loving suggestion, pepeppered with perks. Meeting a boy’s family is a good sign of a long term relationship. Going to a romantic and exotic destination to meet them? Even better. Haven’t I dreamt about this, devouring books like Petite Anglaise, Lunch in Paris, and Love with a Chance of Drowning (waiting impatiently for its release actually), fantasizing that someday, I’d meet someone from abroad who’d whisk me away to wherever they’re from? I wouldn’t have minded meeting an Inuk and settling down in an igloo in somewhere in Greenland. Except my younger self was too impatient for this kind of romantic adventures and decided to actively despatch myself out of my hometown instead of waiting for my seal hunting, husky breeding Prince Charming. I’ve never made it to Greenland but visiting Svelbard came close enough.

For not wanting to sound too ‘easy’ (even though my heart’s kinda sold) I’d asked how would we finance this trip. After all, it’s all about the money.

We have savings. We just have to cut down our weekly expensive brunches from now on. At the end of our employment, we can make a budget. As we travel, we’ll track our expenses and make sure that we don’t go over our budget.”

“Like 20 Euros a day per person? But you know, some people use more than that to travel Cambodia.”

We’re not other people. Hello? Did you forget that you’ve travelled to more than 40 countries? We’ll cook, we’ll stay at my friends’ or relatives’ places and we’ll try to bus around since it’s cheaper than the train.”

“After that, what?”

After that, we come back to Australia till your visa finishes. Not Melbourne, since I’ve already spent 9 months here.

“When are we coming back?”

Je ne sais pas. February? March?”

“Really?”

REALLY!! Jeez…And if you’re broke, I’ll back you up.”

“Thanks. You ARE a rich French man after all…” I teased. “Oh well, I suppose we can try Queensland when we come back…” my voice had trailed off, and then I proceeded to dream about working at Whitsunday Islands.

Just like that, the trip was then decided. The only difficult thing, was quitting my job and accepting the fact that, I won’t have the stability that I’ve long craved for. I’ve suffered from travel burnt out and needed somewhere to put down roots for a while…to have that elusive permanent address where friends can actually send letters to.

I was still fearful. Scared shitless with what ifs. What if our relationship doesn’t work out? What if I overestimated my savings? What if I’m not as resilient as before? What if my heart gets broken? Where and what will I return to?

7 years ago, when I first started travelling, I had the exact same questions, minus the romantic addition to a slew of doubts.

I did turn out fine, didn’t I?

Have I starved? Have I been kidnapped by druglords or raped in the gutters of Albania? Have I been robbed, threatened or suffered from prolonged stomach maladies? Looking back, my journeys had never been entirely smooth sailing but I’d never fell into the cracks of evil or danger.

I’ve survived and I will now. Especially with someone I love now to share my doubts, poverty, uncertainties and boredom.

We'll be fine. We'll be fine.

We’ll be fine. We’ll be fine.

The interlude between the hiatus

Yes, it has been a while. I must apologize for the inevitable hiatus as I’m still on an intense* roadtrip around France and Germany (with stops in Turkey and London), spanning for four months, from December 2012 to March 2013.

However, instead of proferring excuses and begging earnestly for forgiveness, I will soon bring to you, a rich collection of tales from the road and notes of observation and reflections which I humbly hope, will entertain and amuse you.

Meanwhile, how have you spent your Chinese New Year (to my Malaysian Chinese readers)?

I’ve spent the weekend of Chinese New Year with my Aunt Julie and her family at her place in Heidelberg, Germany. It was a quiet affair without the traditional fanfare, angpaus (red packets filled with money, traditionally given out during Chinese New Year) and yeesang but it was still an affair that I take to heart as it’s been a while since I’d spent quality time with her, my uncle and my cousins. Being continents apart has made it difficult for us to stay in touch physically so I’m tremendously grateful for this opportunity to reconnect with her family. My half Malaysian Chinese half German cousins are growing up so quickly! Hendrik and Jannes were merely toddlers when I last saw them and now, the oldest, is well on his way to becoming a shy teenager. How time flies!

My Aunt Julie is a bit of a traveller herself when she was younger. After finishing her tertiary studies in Australia, she’d spent a fair bit of time, roaming Oceania, bits of Europe and parts of Asia. I remember huddling under the sheets, pouring over the piles of blue-coloured aerograms that she’d sent to my mother from different parts of the world. I’d marvel at my aunt’s stories of her expatriate life, vivid details of different places, and wishing hard that someday, I’d be able to travel like she did. That wish came true– like crashing waves in the storm; forceful and strong. Those missives sowed seeds of curiosity and wanderlust in my soul, which then grew slowly but surely, nourished by further reading of travel memoirs, books on travel philosophies and most importantly,by an amazing book titled VagabondingI never thought I’d someday possess the capacity to travel to so many corners of the earth, in many different ways and in lengthy periods of time–on my own. Unknown to my younger self, I’d thought that travelling was reserved for the rich, the privileged and the confident. Thankfully tenacity and folly of youth helped me to let go of the safe shores of home and allowed myself to bumble across the earth. Sometimes, I’d accumulate bruises and scars along the way but I’d always return as a better, humbler and more honest version of me.

For that, danke schön, auntie dearest.

Happy Chinese New Year y’all!

 

aunt julie

 

*intense being speaking neither languages but forced to understand them as fast as possible.

Weekly Travel Theme: Liquid


When I think of liquid, the first thing that comes to mind is water, be it oceans of it or just a trickle, be it from an artificial or a natural source and most of all, I think about a hundred ways how we, the living organisms of this planet, use it.

I’m terribly familiar with liquid. Being a Cancerian (a water sign) and a Water Pig (Chinese Zodiac) and having spent close to five years, working on cruise ships and surrounded by bodies of water, it’s no surprise that I’m always fascinated by it. I even share Bruce Lee’s ‘Be water, my friend‘ wisdom, which as a vagabond, I can relate fully to. The skill of adaptation, of changing one’s form to fit the external surroundings is useful when I drift intercontinentally.

In its most natural form, here’s a close up of a generous dose of liquid, gurgling and tumbling forth from a waterfall in Isafjord, Iceland, looks like.

Or, in its icy form, melting steadily under the summer sun in Ny-Ålesund, Spitzbergen.

We use it to nourish our bodies, like my friend, Ovidiu, who scooped up a handful of fresh mountain water to rehydrate at Bâlea Lake, a glacial lake situated in the valleys of Făgăraş Mountains, central Romania.

The locals of Nosy Be, Madagascar trade and sell their wares to cruise ship passengers on lapping liquid.

We swim in it and emerge rejuvenated, from the clear waters surrounding the Togian Archipelago, near Central Sulawesi.

Some choose to build their homes on them, like the Bajao villagers on Banggi Island, Borneo.

Children in Ploesti, Romania, play around it.

Tourists pay a lot of money to flock to places like Villefranche-sur-Mer to lie close to it.

Thais squirt, splash and pour liquid at and on each other at every Songkran, a Thai New Year celebration.

Liquid nurtures plants and lends flower petals a dewy bloom.

It also eases a snail’s transition across an otherwise dry pavement.

In some steamy liquids, warm and rich in minerals like silica and sulphur, taking a dip in the Blue Lagoon in Reykjavík, is known for healing people suffering from skin diseases such as psoriasis.

Inspired by Ailsa’s Weekly Travel Theme:Liquid. To see her other entries or to make one yourself, please visit her site!

Melbourne Graffitified

Mister A and I have collected a rich, haphazard treasure trove of street art while walking randomly in Collingwood and Fitzroy (inner city suburbs of Melbourne), mainly along Smith St, Kerr St, Argyle St, Gore St, Rose St, Fitzroy St, Nicholson St and its surroundings. We have disappeared behind the dark alleys and local neighbourhoods and found, among the dumpsters and white picket fences, is some of the world’s best street art.

 

There are thoughtful, creative, insightful stencils, murals, mixed media installations and cute postage stamp paste-ups covering every surface available, not just on walls, but also on signage, windowpanes, walls, petrol kiosks, shop front, alley ways, doors, pavements, wooden beams and mail boxes.

Much to our chagrin, there are also graffiti on the urban murals (a preferable term) which I personally think is disrespectful and creatively challenged of the culprits who obviously harbour no artistic intentions but only ideas of destruction, pollution and vandalism.

Thumbs up to those who had lovingly, painstakingly defaced the surfaces of Melbourne with their paints and spray cans. Their creative free spirited expression has contributed to the making of Melbourne, the thriving artistic city it is now. Sully on, I say!

(Disclaimer: I might be fined for encouraging these artful dodgers since ironically, the city’s anti-graffiti laws are some of the strictest in the world. It turns out that street art in Melbourne is illegal and the city’s celebrated works are at risk of being destroyed.)

Other impressive artworks can be found at these laneways:

  • Hosier Lane
  • AC/DC Lane and Duckboard Place
  • Rutledge Place
  • Union Lane

To find out more, check out: http://www.melbournegraffiti.com/

If in doubt, paddle out!

I hate waves.

Arenzano Beach, Genoa-2008

A storm is brewing in the horizon. Ash grey clouds hover close together, the winds pick up and the salty air turns sultry. The mild waves that were lapping the shore previously are now picking up in speed and size. The tide pulls back further, faster than ever and returns to slam the shore, gathering up giant swells on its journey and smashing it to smithereens  when it breaks. I am paddling back furiously and curse Giorgio, my friend for getting me out in the middle of the sea in the first place. I’ve no idea where Giorgio is but panic halts my wandering thoughts. The only single focussed thought that I have is to survive.

I feel the pull of a breaking wave, the undercurrent of the ocean sucking at my feet into the giant underbelly of a swell, my efforts dwindling against the sheer force of the sea, and within seconds, a thundering roar deafen my ears and I plunge into a gurgling, abysmal darkness. My skin feels like it’s about to split open, strange sensations take over and with my sense of direction and fighting spirit lost, I let nature take control.

Boings Beach, Ocean Grove, Victoria-2012

I hate waves. I like watching them from a distance but I hate being caught in one. Don’t misunderstand-I’m not aqua phobic. I’m a tropical beach aficionado, a relatively strong swimmer, have lived and traveled on boats that rock and ships that almost sank, and have snorkelled for hours at mangrove swamps and jelly-fish infested straits, but I much prefer the gentle lapping ripples of Anse Royale bay at Seychelles than the raging shores of Basheba, East Barbados.

I know being small is no excuse. I’ve seen kids of my size gleefully leaping into the jaws of the waves but I much rather prefer to admire the reflecting glint of the ocean from a safe spot on the beach than to pull on a bravado.

So when my housemate, Alessandro mentioned that we (the housemates) all should embark on a surfing trip on a blustery, potentially rainy Tuesday, I baulked instantly at the idea. While I’d been eager to get some fresh sea breeze and stretch my aching waitressing legs for a bit, I wasn’t sure if I’d like to surf or even learn how to. How utterly boring it’d be for me especially the weather forecast didn’t look promising and I’d probably have to wrap myself in a windbreaker while attempting to read flapping pages of a book.

However, Mister A was adamant to go. He wanted to show off his amateurish surfing skills that he had picked up in Bali. And because I didn’t intend to wallow in self-pity nor stay coped up in my tiny room, journaling about why I hate waves and vice versa, I followed.

Alessandro had sketched a map that we were meant to follow. With Mister A navigating and Alessandro behind the wheel, I curled up behind and feasted on pain au chocolate for breakfast.

As the journey continued to take us towards Ocean Grove, a seaside town on the Bellarine Peninsular, and further away from Melbourne, the overcast skies gave way to warm sunshine. The Divine must have parted the clouds and commanded, ‘let there be light’. Is it just Melbourne with horrible, pissy weather?

Alessandro and Mister A walked into a surf shop in town to take out some wet suits and boards. It was 15 AUD for a wetsuit and 20 AUD for a board. They then paid an additional 5 AUD for a soft rack which held the boards across the roof of the car.

At first, we drove to the closest beach at Ocean Grove but it was peppered with kids and surfers, doing Surfing 101. Finding it a little overcrowded, we drove further along the coastline. We stopped for a few times before arriving at a good spot.

An Italian and a French, on a hunt for a good surf spot in Australia. They scoffed at this and that beach, determined that they’d eventually find a sandy stretch with gigantic undulation. See the irony of it all?

We eventually settled down at Boings Beach. Boings had infinite soft plush sand and clear water.  A handful of other surfers scattered at the fringes of the shore and in the ocean but there was enough room for everybody. The vast space was generous and I sighed in relief. Being out here, with sand dunes at my back and the enormous spread of water in front reminded again me that I was in Australia-the southern edge of the world.

The boys fueled up, paddled out and did the slice and duck, eskimo roll, push-ups, the shoot and scoot, and rode on waves while I took photographs of random nonsense and jotted notes.

I cheered at the boys, pointed my lens at them occasionally, and then returned to shooting nonsense.

At some point, I danced, ran, leapt, skipped and jiggled. I chased sea gulls, threw my hands up in the air, and surrendered myself to the shy sun.

Why didn’t we do this more often?

A summer reverie

I raise my face to the skies,

and feel the rays on my face,

Soaking up the warmth,

My heart bursts open,

Letting the sweat slide.

A hand moist from holding a pint of fresh cider,

The other holding another,

Surrounded by hipsters,

Partaking in mainstream culture,

I dream.

The heat thaws my mouth

Words spill forth,

Swirling emotions within conversations,

How much will we miss

When we leave?

Cafe hunting on my day off

I wake, reach out for the glass bottle that sits on the desk next to the bed and gulp down the crisp tap water hungrily. An alarming thought comes to mind and I grope around for my watch but then remember that it’s my day off. Who cares about the time when you don’t have to work. Then, I roll on my side to kiss the unmoving Mister A, admire his messy three days’ beard and still huddling underneath the duvet, try to forecast the weather for the day by staring at the heavy drapes. Judging from the harsh contrast of the dancing shadow of my little basil plant against the drab brown, I decide that it could be very well be sunny and windy.

I draw the drapes a little, unwind the window to a fraction of a crack and stick my hand out to confirm my guess. The harsh glare blinds my sight for a second but as my eyes adapt, I notice there isn’t a cloud in sight. Just a never ending cobalt blue behind the rows and rows of tiled roofs. Yet I make a mental note to bring my pashimina scarf and my thin jacket-just in case. Even with the imminent summer, Melbourne’s weather fluctuate like a woman’s moods. You can experience the all seasons of the year in a day.

Almost summer

Tuesday. It’s a day off for both Mister A and myself and usually, on this day, we dedicate our time in pursuit of cafe adventures. Being brunch lovers and hospitality staff (Mister A is a barista and a pizzaiolo), we love indulging in coffees and simple breakfasts in cafe courtyards.

Our previous sojourns have taken us to eat things like this:

Avocado and feta on organic sourdough at Proud Mary, Collingwood

And this:

Poached eggs drenched in Hollandaise sauce with atlantic salmon and spinach at Aquarium Bakery, Northcote

Not wanting to venture out too far, we decide to stick to Thornbury, our neighbourhood. Bordering on Northcote, we never struggle for options. Being an inner city North-Eastern suburb, Thornbury has a gritty personality and a colourful character to match. It isn’t trendy and hipsterish like its neighbours Collingwood and Fitzroy but you can find eclectic mix of quaint cafes and intimate live music venues tucked away between empty shops and forgotten facades. Some shop fronts are deceptively tiny, uninspiring and insipid but when you step inside, you’d delightfully discover how wrong you’ve been.

We sometimes wander around, hoping to stumble onto a cute gem but being the ‘secchiona’ (nerd), I generally check Urbanspoon  or Broadsheet  for reviews and cafe directories. Urbanspoon is solely about reviews while broadsheet provides cafe porn. I usually pick a place with good reviews and look aesthetically pleasing. I am torn between Little Henri and Brother Alec but in the end, Brother Alec with better reviews won.

By the time we get around to leaving the house, it’s already midday. The sun is deliciously hot but chill still lurks in the shade. I strap on my pink helmet and set off on my rusty Ferrari-an ancient Repco red push bike which I managed to salvage from its owner for 30 AUD.

 

Zipping along the streets with my very own Ferrari. Beat that.

 

We cycle up to High Street, a very long strip of street that stretches from Westgarth to Preston, where all the action happens. The street is home to an impressive array of vintage and retro fashion retailers, alternative culture, multicultural food and specialist coffee houses. We cycle past the convival and unpretentious old school Kitty Sommerset cocktail bar which is shut during the day, but come dusk, you can lounge on the leather sofas that are wedged between dusty filled bookshelves and rustic gold table lamps and then, past Finnigan’s Bike Shop where I usually have my bike serviced. It was the owner of Finnigan’s who first told me that my tiny racer is made for 6 year old boys in the 70′s, after asking if I pulled my bike out from a washing machine.

Apparently the most expensive bike is also the cheapest bike-in the long run

 

We park our bikes near Psarakos Market, wait for the lights to turn green and cross the street. It is difficult to spot Brother Alec as it looks more like a launderette than a cafe, with black painted walls. However, once inside, the crowded atmosphere is cosy and intimate. Chairs and tables are mainly wooden. The walls are of a boring white and its interior sparsely decorated but smells of steaming java permeating the place makes up for it.

Is this it? Photo by Juganautsdoodiethoughts.com.au

 

An upbeat guy in a psychedellic t-shirt take our coffee orders while we pour over the menu. I settle for a Huevos Rancheros, a homemade black bean chili and scrambled eggs wrapped in a pita bread and topped with melted cheese, salsa and sour scream, while Mister A picks the BLAT-Bacon, Lettuce, Avocado and Toast.

My latte comes in a glass and a red saucer while Mister A’s in a brown saucer. I’m starting to see colours amidst the mundane. Perched on our table is a fire red black pepper grinder and a baby blue pot for sugar. For me, such details speak louder than opulent decor.

My roll is fresh, wholesome and full of flavour. The huge dollop of sour scream on my pita roll is moist, almost heaven sent. The spices of the black beans and salsa and the hint of citrus dance perfectly on my tongue. The chilli didn’t quite take off but then again, it’s Melbourne, not Kuala Lumpur.

My breakfast Photo by juganautsfoodiethoughts.com.au/

Mister A nods with approval as well as he chomps down his roll. The Caffe Latte is of perfect temperature, silky and creamy, and it glides easily down.

The cafe is very relaxing and light-hearted. We find ourselves ordering a pot of chai latte to wash our food down. This time we have a red cup, a brown cup and a forest green teapot. The tea is a tad diluted but the cute little crockery set helps me overlook that flaw.

Tea cups and pot out of an Enid Blyton book

By the time we finish our food, we hear a distant rumble. Within a few minutes, rain pelts down hard. The infinite blue sky is now a patchwork of grey. I curse myself for bringing my thin jacket instead of my waterproof bomber jacket.

We’re now stuck in a cafe, looking out at what we call a typical Melbourne landscape. Despite the grey horizon, people in their hoodies, jackets, umbrellas and raincoats are still scurrying around to get things done.

The rain has now subsided to a mere drizzle but the mean wind continue to howl. What shall we do? We order another round of coffees, sit back and wait.

Other interesting cafes nearby (Northcote and Thornbury) :

Penny Farthing Espresso  (Free Wifi)

Palomino  (Free Wifi)

Gypsy Hideout

Rucker’s Hill Cafe 

Jason Polan Inspired #1 : Things I saw in Melbourne

Two girls at Rucker’s Hill Cafe, High St

Mister A playing the ukelele

A cuppa at Rucker’s Hill Cafe

 

229 High Street

 

Jason Polan is an American artist who sketches things he sees for The Opionionator, NY Times. Inspired by his simple yet delightful sketches, I’ve decided to do the same of the things I see in Melbourne.

Of Beginnings

Don’t let the blue skies fool you. You’d still be freezing your ass off on a clear sunny morning.

I squint when the lights come on and the captain’s voice booming over the loudspeaker, announcing that we’re about to touchdown at Melbourne Tullamarine International Airport. Already? My heart beats a little faster. The AirAsia flight was long, uneventful and uncomfortable, even for a pint-sized girl like me, but boredom had given way to fatigue and I’d slept the entire journey.

The harsh and crisp Antipodean light floods my vision as the lady sitting next to the window, pulls up the shutter. It’s been a while since I’ve stared into such blinding brightness, as Malaysia, despite its tropical weather and constant sun, has a lukewarm, and debris infused sunlight instead.

The plane touches down and slowly grinds to a halt. I get my belongings and stumble into the terminal corridor, my face pale and skin badly dehydrated. When I finally get to Immigration Control counter,a middle-aged Chinese looking Immigration Officer (I swear he was born in Malaysia) takes my passport and flicks through it. I mutter a ‘G’day’ but expect no response. His lined face, expressionless initially, starts to frown. The frowning drags on. Travellers at the other counters have had their passports stamped and waved away while I’m still standing and waiting for the process to be over. I begin to feel the weight of my daypack as the straps dig into my skin.

“Is there something wrong?” I squeak. A million thoughts rush through my brain, panic swelling in my chest.

Mr. Immigration Officer looks up from my passport and shrug. “No worries. Just stand aside and an Officer will attend to you.”

You request for me not to worry but you can’t stamp my passport? Nuh uh, Officer! I will not stand aside! I’ve stood and have given up 12 hours (not counting weeks of sleepless nights) of my life to secure this freaking visa. It was through my very blood, sweat and bucketsful of tears that I eventually find myself in front of the counter so even dear Sir, even if you were to detain me, cuff my wrists or point a gun to my head, I’m not going anywhere, thank you very much.

However, while I play mental pseudo-bravado and churn up thoughts of rebellion, in reality, I shuffle aside and fume away. Five light years later (five long minutes), a gruff looking ginger haired Officer approach me, take my passport and squint at it.

“You’re on a Working Holiday visa, yes?”

“Last I checked Sir, the answer is affirmative.”

“Stop being a smart ass or else I won’t let you in.
What’s your nationality?”

“Malaysian.”

“Country of residence?”

“Malaysia. Duh!” Not always, I add mentally. But still. When I’m not traipsing the high seas and across the continents, looting from cargo ships and little kids, I’m generally your average Malaysian Chinese girl next door; where else would I reside?

“Right.” He seem to circle something on my arrival card. I tiptoe to see what was being circled and to my relief (my chargin at my own stupidity and carelessness), all these hoo haa resulted from the fact that I’ve left the country of residence question blank. They must have thought that I must be travelling with a forged passport or am not who I claim to be.

After a few more random questions, he seem satisfied with the outcome of the interrogation. He stamps my passport and send me on my way.

Over the loudspeakers, announcements loop to inform, to warn and to remind, but I only hear freedom.

The next thing I know, my teeth starts to chatter from the frigidness of a typical Melbourne morning while stepping up the steps of the Skybus, on our way to city and my new home. Mister A follows close, with my backpack on his shoulders. His towering figure does not bend under the weight of my entire shoe collection and a wardrobe that’s ready for every season.

While we both watch the boring landscape of a highway roll by within the window frames of the bus, Mister A snuggles me tighter, using his lanky arms to shelter me from the unfamiliar cold. After being two months apart, basking under his attention and adoration, I’m warmed up both physically and emotionally. With my head resting on his shoulders, my hair spilling over his black fleece jacket, he affectionately plants butterfly kisses on my crown.

“Oh, my little Malaysian girl is back.”

A gliding grace

A black swan glides upon the lakes of the Royal Botanic Gardens of Melbourne

 

As spring draws close and sunny days become more frequent, Mister A and I took a stroll along the Royal Botanic Gardens of Melbourne. Under the rare sun and on the fresh dewy grass, we napped and dreamt of a golden summer.

Of Endings…

All my bags are packed…

A sturdy but slightly dusty 45L red and gray backpack, and an orange waterproof daypack are sitting on the floor, staring back at me. One weighs about 15kg and the other, about 5.

I’m ready. Here I am, standing and scanning at my almost empty and more spacious than usual small room. Most of the furniture are gone-I’ve either sold them or given them away. The other clothes, shoes and a barrage of knick-knacks have been packed away into two small suitcases while some books into a box. I’m no hoarder, as my nomadic lifestyle has never allowed me the luxury to, yet packing took longer than I’ve expected. In between my brief escapades, I’ve only lived in La Maison of Awesomeness (a name my housemates and I have given to our 3-bedroom apartment), for a total of 5 months, but somehow things found its way into my room. All those ‘stuff’-I’ve no more use for them anymore.

Already, I feel taller and incredibly light. Empowered by the prospect of adventures and the thrill of the unknown, to be reunited again with Mister A and other friends that I’ve made in Melbourne. Empowered by the delirium of returning to a joyfully alive city that always purveys of a million things to do, see and experience.

“Well, hello, it has been a while,” I gleefully say to my passport as I slap it against my palm. I know, it only has been two months, but still. I lug my backpack out of the door, into the corridor and I see my housemate Bee, standing waiting for me expectantly.

And my heart sinks.

At Bee’s weary face. Her mouth pinched and grim, her face reluctant to express any emotion, fearing that it would betray her true feelings. What’s happening? Why am I moved by Bee’s distress at my departure? Why is my heart flinching, overwhelmed with an unfamiliar feeling that I will actually miss what I’m leaving behind-my wonderful housemates, some old friends that I’ve reconnected with and some new friends that I’ve made along the way, and my estranged family? I’ve been living out of a suitcase for the past 6 years. Along the way, goodbyes have been bid, tears have been shed (enough for a fountain), friends and lovers come and go, yet when the time has finally come for me to leave again, I can’t bring myself to. I can’t say goodbye to La Maison of Awesomness and its inhabitants.

Bee later drops me off at KL Sentral Station. She said nothing much throughout the journey. Due to the building traffic, she doesn’t stay long. A hug, and a promise to stay in touch like how we used to.

“Bye man,” she says. “I think I’ll miss you.”

“I know I will. And don’t you cry.” I tease.

She shrugs and leaves, her eyes smarting.

People that I will leave behind

At grubby LCCT Airport, where Air Asia flights take off, an ex-university classmate Junie has come to give me a proper farewell. I’m touched, that despite us not seeing each other after all these years, my presence still matters.

Another 1.5 hours before departure. I embrace the familiar airport scene: flashing departure and arrival information, teary goodbyes, backpacks and suitcases being lugged or dragged, overpriced fast food and coffee, a worn and scrappy concourse. I’ve always been blasé towards these common rituals after being in and out of airports so often yet this once; I’m riddled with first impressions.

I sit on a bench and wonder about the people I’ve left behind.

This is how leaving feels like. Complex, utterly disturbing yet gloriously exciting.

My heart flinches, oh yes.

Lake Ohrid, Macedonia

Lake Ohrid, Macedonia

  This photo was taken while I was journeying across the Balkans in 2009 with Tim, a good English friend of mine. We’d taken a day trip out to the lake coast of the St. Naum Monastery, where we marvelled at … Continue reading

Australian Work and Holiday Visa (for Malaysians): A Panic Free Guide

UPDATE AS OF 16 MAY 2013: Please check the Australian High Commission’s website for the latest updates. You have to make an appointment with VFS Global on 22nd July 2013 and lodge your application on 29 July 2013. And please read their FAQs to check your eligibility.

To my Malaysian readers who are interested in the Australian Work and Holiday (Subclass 462), here are some tips and insights in how you can go about with your application. If you could follow these steps diligently, then there’s no need for the ensuing anxiety and paranoia which may be understandingly palpable but unnecessary.

Righto, here goes:

First of all, think about how much you’d like to be given an opportunity to work and travel in Australia for a year.

If you are going along the lines of:

“Yeah, I wouldn’t mind doing it since I’m bored at work and going to the land of kangaroos does sound like an awful lot of fun…” then I’d recommend you to just wait for the next cheap flight deals from AirAsia and buy yourself a ticket. What you want is a vacation, and that means, you’re not going to give up anything for that visa. So, save yourself the effort and you can stop reading here.

Now, if you’re more along the lines of:

“I’ve gotta bloody do that amazing road trip from Cairns to Broome, swim with the whale sharks in Ningaloo Reef, do bushwalking and sleep under the stars in Uluru, check out the latest graffiti in inner city suburbs of Melbourne…but darn, how will I have time and money to do everything? I define the meaning of my life by doing all these before I die…” then, ask yourself this question:

Are you prepared to part with your money, your dignity, your free time and your beauty sleep for the visa?

If your answer is, HELL YEAH!!! then by all means, start by reading these two websites thoroughly:

Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur

VFS for Australia in Malaysia

Meanwhile, here’s a short run down of eligibility requirements:

Visa eligibility requirements

After you’ve done that, your next step is to prepare your documents.

PRE-LODGMENT (Try to do this two months before 1 JULY each year)

You need:

1) A Birth Certificate

2) A Government Letter of Good Conduct

3) A certified* copy of your University Degree/Evidence of having successfully completed a 2-year undergraduate study

4) Proof of English

5) Bank Statements to show proof of funds

6) A completed application 1208 form (which you can download from the website) + 2 passport photos

7) Visa Fee: RM 930 (cash/credit card)

Birth Certificate

Provide a certified* copy and don’t waste your money translating it.

A Government Letter of Good Conduct (Terribly important) or a certified* copy

Don’t panic even if you’ve no idea what this is all about. The process is fairly straight forward. Go to the Malaysian Consular Website , register yourself as a first-time guest, fill out the application form online, print them and prepare the photos and photocopies of your passport. You can choose to either lodge your application via post or in person in Putrajaya. The processing time is about 1-2 months so if you’d like to get a good night’s sleep, get this done as soon as you can.

A certified* copy of your University Degree/Evidence of having successfully completed a 2-year undergraduate study

Photocopy your degree and have it certified*. If you don’t have a degree, get your university to write you an official letter stating that you’ve finished at least 2 years of your undergraduate study.

Proof of English

If you’ve previously finished a university degree in English speaking countries, a copy of your degree or transcripts should suffice. If you’ve done your degree in Malaysia or elsewhere, then get an official document from your university to state that you’ve duly completed your degree solely in English. If not, you’d have to show transcripts of your TOEFL or IELTS examination.

Bank Statement 

Have at least RM15-16K in a bank account under your name. If you don’t have such money, get your parents, relatives or friends to transfer that amount of money into your account. Once your balance reflects the target balance, have it printed out on official bank templates and get it signed by a bank manager. If not, you can also have the copies certified* officially.

Application Form 1208

Read the form thoroughly and complete the form as honest as you can. You’re not required to have a health insurance though it’s encouraged. Neither are you required to have a contact in Australia or anything. Just be honest and accurate.

Visa Fees

Check the websites above to have the most updated information. I paid RM930

*Certification

Unless you want to provide originals, my suggestion is to get your ALL of your documents photocopied and certified by the Commissioner for Oaths/Notary Publics. To find your nearest Comm for Oaths, check out this directory. A certified page usually costs about RM4-5.

Should you have further doubts or questions, please email the Australian High Commission. They will provide you the information fairly quick.

LODGING OF DOCUMENTS

The lodging process usually takes place on the 1st working day of July, each year, at the Australian High Commission in KL along Jalan Yap Kwan Seng. The High Commission officially opens at 8.30am but the queue for this particular visa will start 8 hours before. In July 2012, the queue started from 10.00pm or so. In July 2013, you might want to get there about this time or earlier.

Yes, you’ll need to sacrifice a bit of sleep but hey, it’ll be worth it. Bring enough liquids and some snacks with you. Bring a mat, a foldable chair, a book, an iPad, a laptop, friends and family to keep you company. Time passes faster when you’re having fun.

At about 7.30 am, an officer will come by and start passing out the numbers. Once you get your number and your appointment time, turn up punctually for the actual application process itself.

There is no interview for the application process. You basically have to submit your forms, pay the fee, and wait patiently to receive the bio-metrics and medical examination document. The whole process will take about another 2 hours.

What time should you be there to queue up for the visa? Find out more here.

POST LODGEMENT

Go to VFS/AVAC the earliest soonest possible at Wisma MCA to submit your biometrics. You will receive a receipt after your submission.

Do your chest x-ray examinations at either one of these panel clinics. It’s an e-health visa thing so the clinic admin will submit the examination results on your behalf. Chest x-rays will cost you about RM100-RM110.

Once you’ve done the routine and gone through all the hassle, pat yourself on the back, sit and wait.

I got my visa within 4 working days. Some people got it within 2 weeks. Be patient and it’ll eventually come through.

Good luck and happy travels.

PS-Don’t worry about looking for jobs and accommodation prior to securing the visa. There are plenty of jobs and places to stay once you get here. If you’d like to follow me on how I go about job-hunting in Australia then bookmark/subscribe to this blog to find out.

How far would you go to secure a Work Holiday visa?

On the 2nd of July at 1.05 am, I am playing cards on the dirty pavement outside the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur with two other fellow CouchSurfers Marcus and Stefano while waiting and sitting in line.

There are about 38 other Malaysians ahead of us, starting with the first girl sitting on a foldable chair, closest to the iron wrung entrance of the High Commission. While we may look like refugees to a passerby, huddling in front of an institution that may promise sanctuary and asylum, we are actually more like a bandwagon of bedraggled aspiring travellers, camping out so that we can secure ourselves a spot of opportunity: our only chance to apply for the Australian Work and Holiday visa for the year 2012.

I’ve previously applied for the UK’s Working Holiday visa and am familiar with the process for such an application. Usually the application requires a submission of a litany of paperwork of personal data, appeal letters and one’s genuine wish to travel the country, an interview follows to confirm the applicant’s information and intentions, and that was it. A day later, you usually get your passport and a shimmering stamp of a visa.

Unfortunately, the Australian’s Work and Holiday visa for Malaysians (Sublcass 462) differs from this process. While both visas share about the same eligibility requirements, the Australian visa is limited to only 100 per year and only accepted on the first working day of July, each year.

The official Australian High Commission’s website had solemnly recommended that applicants should prepare their visa applications early to avoid disappointment. In the past, all 100 places have been allocated on the first day, but for those who do their research know that these slots are usually filled up much earlier before the opening hours of the Australian High Commission. It has been known that the visa is purely a first come first serve basis.

Sometime in February, I’ve checked and rechecked the website’s for documents needed for the visa. Ironically, to qualify, you needn’t really display your keen travelling intentions but rather, you need to have a legal document of good conduct from the Malaysian government, proof of sufficient command of the English language, a university degree, a birth certificate and a bank account brimming full of funds. Apparently, you need to get all the documents right else you won’t stand a damned chance.

While the application process is not that complicated, the compilation of documents do induce some kind of hassle and stress. Not to mention the paranoia fueled by rumors and anxious discussion that takes place on a Facebook page dedicated solely for this process. The website moderators must have founded the website with good intentions but instead of learning more about the visa, I found myself riddled with panic.I started to doubt if I’d enough funds or should I have my birth certificate translated. All unfounded worries which I’ll come to realize later.

“Shithead!” Marcus yells at me triumphantly and trumps down his last card on the growing pile of poker cards. After admitting defeat, I gulp down some juice from the bottle I brought with me and look around. There are people swiping their fingers furiously on their iPads and smartphones, some munching into their McDonalds burger, and some chatting with fellow queuers.

While all this is going on around me, I sneak a glance at my watch and groan. It’s only 2.30am – another 6 hours till the Australian High Commission opens. I yawn while Stefano excuses himself to wander down the streets of KL and look for a sportsbar that shows Italy playing against Spain in the finals of the Euro League 2012. He isn’t here to queue up for a spot; he’s mainly here to accompany me for the camp-out-that-may-change-my-life, like all good friends should.

A few hours ago, I was planning to have a short nap prior to camping out. Marcus and I have planned to to arrive at 2.00 am, leaving us plenty of time to get a spot. Previous successful visa applicants had warned us on the Facebook page to arrive at some sort of ungodly hour, just to be safe. Apparently last year, people had started lining up at 4.30am, and all spots were taken up by 7.30am. Just to succeed the Joneses’, Marcus and I agreed on 2.00 am, even though I thought it sounded ridiculous.  Who would go as far as this to satiate their wanderlust?

Not just me and Marcus, I guess. At 11pm, my nap was thwarted by a phone call.

“Hey, are you sleeping? Well, don’t because we need to get our asses to the High Comm right away. My friend told me that there are already more than 20 people there waiting in line!”

What the ….?

Cursing under my breath, I climbed out of bed, gathered my documents and gave it a one last check. It all boils down to this particular day and I can’t afford to mess up, I thought. Scanning through the paperwork, I realized a discrepancy. Panic shot up my nerves. Why I didn’t notice this before? On the checklist, I was meant to complete the 1028 form, but the form that I filled out was a 1208. This couldn’t be happening!

I scrambled out of the room, knocked on Stefano’s door and asked him to look up on the internet if I’d got the papers wrong. Fortunately, his iPhone was working and after losing 10 minutes of a heartbeat, I concluded that the checklist was wrong and I did download the right form.

We arrived at the High Commission, finding ourselves in an affable yet tense atmosphere. Subtle tones of anxiety and competition permeate subtly in groups. Who are these people and why are they here, I’d thought. Have Malaysians finally picked up the art of travelling? Have they all gained an eagerness to explore the world instead of photographing their 2-week vacations from a tour bus?

It’s not like I’m a travel snob; I don’t go out of my way to avoid other Malaysians in foreign countries but at the same time, from my previous experiences, Malaysians tend to stay in little communities when abroad, be it as international students or as travellers, not willing to venture out of their cultural comfort zone. Instead of truly blending in with locals and enjoying the country, Working Holidaymakers tend to slave away in dinghy Asian restaurants or office cubicles, and then going out with fellow Malaysians and do things that they’d do with their friends in Malaysia. Then, what is the point of living and working abroad? As for me, my intense desire for the visa stemmed from the fact that I’ve been a vagabond for the past 6 years in my life– the only way to sustain another bout of travelling is by working and living abroad.

We are no longer playing cards by 3.30am. A few of Marcus’ friends have found him and are now sitting with us, chatting. One of them feels a tad bit sleepy so she asks around for coffee orders and drive to the nearest McDonalds to get some snacks and caffeine.

I can’t help but feel a little guilty about my previous judgments. Sitting down and eavesdrooping on other people’s conversations made me realize that there has been an increase of wayfarers, wanderlusters and travellers among the young Malaysian community. A chatty Malaysian Chinese girl, sitting two spaces ahead is telling two other Malaysian Indian boys about her last year’s experience. She was one of the unsuccessful applicants last year because she’d arrived at 7.00am and got number 108. She was on the waiting list but as all the other 100 applicants ahead of her had no issues with their applications, her application was then cancelled and would not be considered.

She says that she has promised to come back much earlier this year so that she can work and save up money to go on a road trip around Australia.

Looking around, I also see grandparents, parents and friends alike, staying up and being there for their siblings, children, etc. Perhaps they all see the visa like a luxurious kind of freedom, one that esaped their grasp (since it’s only for 18-30 year olds),but are still willing to support and accompany their younger friends and relatives who qualify.

At 4.00 am, the line has grown serpent like, spilling into the pavement of another building next to the High Commission. A rough count tells me that there are already more than 130 people waiting in line; the last few ones at the back wear looks of both hope and despair. Perhaps they are feeling like what the chatty girl was feeling last year, crossing their fingers till they bleed so that somehow, by some miracle, the first 30 people in line would just dissapear from the crowd.

As streaks of gold and silver starts to illuminate the horizon behind the Petronas Twin Towers, those who were napping on their sleeping bags and blankets start to stir. Those who had their shoulders slumped into a foetus position start to erect their posture once again. Despite my cramped limbs, my dehydrated lips and fuzzy mind, I too try to rouse myself into a state of alertness. Traffic on the main street slowly roars into a cresendo.

It feels a little like judgment day, a do or die situation. My life hangs precariously on the minute where the Immigration Officers start handing out the numbers to applicants. I let out an exhausted whoop when I am given a number 38 sticker, pressed onto my application form. Marcus cheers and dances. He is given a number 39.

When they finally call us into the High Commission to submit the paperwork at 9.00 am, there are still a few hopeful applicants turning up, not knowing that all spots have been taken since 3.45am. Their faces fall when the Immigration Officer tells them to come back next year to try their luck.

By noon, the ordeal is finally over. The process still takes another week or two for the visa to be finalised but my part is finally done. I think sourly about how most Europeans and Americans can get away with this kind of exhausting ordeal as they’re allowed to submit their visa applications online and have it granted within 3 hours.

Life isn’t fair, is it?

Yet, despite the brief negative thoughts, I make my way home with my heart brimming full of gratitude. I know well that my efforts have been worthwhile and I’ve been truly blessed to be given the chance for the application. The sleep sacrificed is nothing compared to the joy that I will experience as soon as I land in Melbourne again in August.

Come, sit and have some tea

Writing in Hanoi, 2006

Hello!

This is my first post and if I may so admit, I’m terrified to the bone.

It has been a while since I’ve put myself out there, trying to speak to the virtual masses, capturing vignettes of life and letting them tumble out of my mind and into words that will make beautiful sense.

What scares me most is not of lack of content, but lack of discipline and faith in my own craft to nurture this space.

Will this blog continue to see the light of the day, month after month, year after year? Will I continue to keep this delicate thought sanctuary of mine rich with words and evocative with memories? Or will I allow my resistance  to get the better of me, let it desiccate my creative juices and desire till this blog shrivels into oblivion?

I used to keep two other blogs but they are now six feet under, neglected and forgotten. I fear, with great intensity, that the same fate will befall this one too.

Yet, I’m starting to write again because I’m losing patience with not writing, with empty babble, with perfection and with own self-sabotaging techniques like busying myself with meaningless activities as an alternative to writing. (I’m prone to cycling to the markets and stocking up on groceries, get myself a cup of cappuccino after that, then come home to whip up an elaborate meal for Mister A, my boyfriend and then cleaning up and preparing to go to work after that. The end result is usually, a fridge full of groceries, a burping man and a deflated and guilty writer who hasn’t written.)

But..

I’m writing again because I love writing and always have. My earliest answer to the question of what I’d like to do when I grow up was to be an author.

I’m writing out of my love to narrate and story-tell, out of my love for travelling and my impulse to connect with people via words.

This personal blog that rattles on mainly about travelling has been insisting upon itself for a long time now. I’ve heard its heartbeat while I started to quench my wanderlust by blissfully meandering across continents. I’ve felt the stirrings of the heart, to reach out and share a spectacular existential experience but lack of focus and consistent stability were obstacles that were difficult to overcome. Yet when I’d finally settled somewhere for a good few months, it seemed precocious to write a travel blog when the landscapes weren’t changing. Five, nearly six years later of living out of a suitcase, its time has come.

I’m now writing it with the mindset of what I’ve learned over the past few years as a of traveller, a teacher and a perpetually aspiring writer.

These posts are intended for me to bounce off ideas, indulge in the fleeting moments, expound the art and philosophy of vagabonding, revel in dreamy aspirations, and for me to labour over the craft of writing.

I write it out of love for the mystery of life, for the people who always ask of my whereabouts, and for those who yearn to travel but couldn’t or don’t know where to start. I write it for the people who told me that I’d be crazy not to write. I write it so that the trails and journeys that I’ve taken can remain forever fresh and vivid.

It is my greatest hope that I write tunefully, that my stories will sing and swing.

And perhaps, somebody out there is listening.

Perhaps I’m not the only crazy one here who love to write but for whatever reason, couldn’t and for a long period of time. If you have, how did you overcome the resistance?