Monday, February 27, 2012

My Fridge is Vaguely Racist

It’s incredible the way you change your view of the world along with your income bracket. For instance: K-Mart is now awesome. Do you have any idea how cheap crap is there? We bought a 24 piece dishware set for $15.00. An 80-piece starter kitchen set for $69.00. 80 Pieces! And we only threw out 5 or 6 things straight from the box. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t go serving tea to the queen off this stuff and there’s an 8% chance we’re going to get lead poisoning from it, but a deal is a deal.

Erika and I finally got a place and it’s fantastic. In fact, we were offered 4 of the 5 places we applied for, with the 5th going to the landlord’s friend. Turns out it’s not as hard to get a place as we thought, all you have to do is be so anal retentive that you send a 3-part email with 27 attachments and enough details that anyone in the CC line can freely steal your identity. Boom! Apartment. And we’re pretty happy with what we got. Here’s the view from our deck:

The amazing thing is that this was only $160 more a month than some of the egregious crapholes we were looking at and is in a great area. So that has us pumped. Of course we didn’t have any stuff when we moved in, but that certainly didn’t stop us. In fact, we spent the first night on the floor:

Doesn’t Erika look all cozy with that big sleeping bag? Yeahhhh… I’m a bit larger than her:

In case you were wondering, those are in fact towels I’m lying on (and I’m wearing a Rambo shirt I got for free that’s shockingly comfortable). That’s pretty much all we had until we hit Ikea for a bed and other goods. By the way, going to Ikea to outfit your home is actually not the most depressing thing you can do as a 34 year old professional married to a doctor. In actual fact, the most depressing thing you can do is to find those same items for cheaper at K-Mart, buy them, and then return the other stuff back to Ikea. Little waft of shame there, not gonna lie. But hey, at least we got a bed! Unfortunately, given that we bought it at Ikea we would have to assemble it. With tools. That we didn’t own. That led to this:

Which was great fun. Nothing like a couple of nights on the floor in spiderland to help you sleep right. At least it was only one night; another trip to K-Mart and we set our bed straight:

By the way yes, those shelves in the corner are our only storage. I was going to remove a shelf and hang some clothes up but we haven’t bought hangers yet. I don’t want to buy hangers. WHO BUYS HANGERS?! As an added note, apparently the spiders on the floor create a 2-foot zone where mosquitos don’t fly. Once we got the bed up off the ground they were free to attack me, and I am now harvested for sustenance by my mosquito overlords 3-5 times a night while Erika has yet to be bitten. Granted I sleep virtually uncovered by anything it’s so warm and muggy at night which makes me a much bigger target. I only wear shorts so that the mosquitos don’t get me in any sensitive areas and I’ve started wrapping my hands in T-shirts at night so they don’t bite my fingers. Erika thinks this is tremendously funny but I’d way rather be bitten on the back than the fingers.

The last thing to do was buy the cheapest fridge I could find and this is what we ended up with:

Hang on, let me show you the brand name:

Doesn’t the name Changhong sound like someone making fun of a Chinese company? That’s the first thing that hopped to mind when I was buying it, and it doesn’t help that for the last 3 days I thought the company’s name was Chang Chong, which would really sound like racially insensitive mockery. Heck, I may have been under that impression until the moment I wrote this paragraph. This unfortunately means that for the last 3 days I have been telling people the brand name of my fridge was Chang Chong, which potentially makes me the guy throwing around racially insensitive jokes. Fortunately I have this photo to recalibrate my sense of what constitutes racial awkwardness:

Wow. You just can’t make this stuff up.

To close, we’re going to keep a running tally of peeps who’ve managed to visit us despite our being in Sydney, Australia. First up was Sylvia who was in town for an exam and grabbed dinner with us. Sylvia is visitor #1!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Moving to Australia Part III: We Have Arrived

View Part I here and Part II here.

Three days. Three days in Australia is all it took for me to get bitten on the neck by a spider. How stereotypical can you get? That’s like coming to Canada and within 72 hours you're having maple syrup fed to you by a beaver (wow, that really didn't come out the way I intended). By the way, where the bite is concerned I’m not joking around. This is what my neck looks like:

The thing latched on in the middle of the night and woke me up. I have no idea what it looked like, but here’s an artist’s rendition:

Yes, I’ll admit that I’m not 100% certain there’s spiders out there who have flames on their abdomen, but you can be damn sure that if there are you don’t want to be bitten by one.

Obviously other things have happened since getting here. For instance, we’ve tried to get a home. That’s pretty much the end of the list of things we’ve done: I got bitten on the neck by a spider, and we’ve tried to find a place to live. Do you have any idea what it’s like trying to find a place near the University right when school’s coming back into session? Not fun. All the trekking around the city does give you time to make some observations though. Here’s some for your perusal:

Weather: Sydney is hot and muggy. It is not dry. All of the locals claim that this summer is different than the rest, but in actual fact it’s sunny during the day, then there’s a monsoon at 6pm. And I’m not sure that this year is actually an anomoly. Everyone we’ve spoken to who isn’t originally from Sydney agrees that it rains here way more than the locals claim. So it’s damp and hot and pretty much perfect Paul sweating weather. That said it’s fantastic when the sun is out. Eat it, northern hemisphere.

Walking: We’ve walked over 50km around town in 5 days, including 17.5km in one day. That’s what happens when you’re suddenly poor, need to find a house, and have no knowledge of the area you’re in. I’ll also refer you to my point above about sweating and note that I don’t have access to laundry services. Fortunately I brought every item of dry-fit I own, however I’ll probably have to burn them before the week is out.

Lesbians: This is purely a commentary, so don't get your knickers in a twist people. I couldn’t care less how your brain is wired for humping. But apparently the Newtown region in Sydney has more lesbians per-capita than anywhere else in the world and wow can I believe it. Not the place to open a salon. Just sayin’.

My phone: This steaming hunk of kangaroo turd is my new phone:

Look, I’m not a diva or anything but I had an iPhone. Now I have to use this echoing soup can to talk to people? It makes me sound like T-Pain.

Fridges: Rental units don’t come with fridges! What the hell! People lug their fridge around to every place they live and just cross their fingers that it fits the new apartment, I have no idea why this is the case. I can’t even hazard a guess. I am bewildered.

Our Bags: It’s probably about time for me to harken back to my first post in this series and explain why my hands were shaking. Well, it’s not the spider bite. It’s not the yard sale, the car exportation, the flight, or all the walking. No, it’s a completely avoidable thing: Our bags. You see, Erika and I decided that we were going to get bags that fit our full allotment of space and weight for the flight. Fortunately, Samsonite sells this tidy little number:

Works great. In the photo. You want the reality of what travelling with this bag is? Well here you have it:

Every time I dive into the thing it’s an expletive soaked tirade. By the way, we’re currently staying in the catholic dorm on campus. I want fresh socks and inside of ten minutes I’ve taken the auditory virginity of half the girls in the hallway. I cannot stress how much I hate this bag. And if the pure use of it wasn’t bad enough, try carrying the thing. Look at the photo one more time… there is no shoulder strap. These things hold 25kg of luggage each and you have to drag the bloody bag around by the handles. The best part is that my back is so bad that I can’t carry just one. If I try to it off-balances me and wrenches my spine 6 inches to the right, so instead I’m stuck carrying 110 lbs. of clothes and anger every time we change locations. This was particularly delightful when we moved to our current home, given that the pedestrian entrance is 250 meters from the front door! I finally settled on looping my forearms through the handles and basically running until I couldn’t carry them any further, then stopping and trying not to cry. It was the best.

So this is a) why my hands were shaking, and b) why we need to find a place as soon as humanly possible. The prospect of carrying those boulders around again when we get kicked out of here genuinely crushes my soul. But hey, I’m a positive guy right?

Take care everyone.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Moving to Australia Part II: Importing the Car

View Part I here and Part III here.


I’m not an idiot. I just need to get that out of the way because I’m not 100% sure that by the time you finish reading this you won’t think otherwise. I maintain that everything I did in trying to export my car was mostly correct, except for the part where I had to cross the border 5 times in order to make it happen.

Let me explain. When one exports a car, there is really only a single hard rule that affects this story: Once paperwork is received by the US border officials you can’t leave the country with the vehicle until you’re actually exporting it. Unfortunately, the people who can do the paperwork to export aren’t available after 3:30pm. You now have all of the pertinent background info for this story to make sense.

If you remember from Part I there was a bit of chaos associated with us getting up to Canada in the first place. Despite our best efforts we weren’t able to make it to the border in time to export the car, having missed our window by a mere 4.5 hours. That meant that we had to ditch our car in a McDonald’s parking lot in Lynden, then take the truck with our worldly belongings across on its own (Crossing 1). After the escapades of that night, the next day we had a simple plan. We’d borrow a car from Erika’s folks so we could finish loading the storage locker, then we’d go south so I could grab our car and import it while Erika went to Bellingham to get her driving record (required to get her BC license again). It all seemed so easy.

Strangely enough, loading the storage locker was the smoothest part. Miraculously nobody had taken our shit (which happens to us a lot) and we were able to upgrade to a 7’x10’ locker that fit everything perfectly. So off we go to the US! We hit the border at around 2:30pm (Crossing 2) and grabbed the car down in Lynden. After parting ways I drove to the border in Blaine. I was mildly concerned because I had forgotten the sheet of paper that explained the exact directions of where to go but I did remember something about “staying to the left”, so I felt I was pretty good on that front.

So after all of the hassles and delays, it’s finally time for me to export our car. A short drive gets me to the border and I am staying to the left when I see a sign that says “Government Offices”. Hey, that’s me! I drive over to the left, find the visitor parking, and head into the offices. It is now 3:05pm. I go inside and see a small window with a Vehicle Export sign over it. Up until now things are going perfectly. I walk up to the window… and it’s plastered in Bruins paraphernalia. There’s news clips, player profiles, you name it. I am in my Canucks hat, and have the distinct feeling that my mojo is shifting. After some light conversation where I establish that yes, I hate the Bruins, he takes my paperwork and goes into the dark recesses of borderland. He stamps my vehicle title, then after a moment he asks a strange question: “Where’s your car?”

ME: Uh, right outside?

GUARD: No, I mean where exactly?

ME: I put it in the visitor parking off to the left.

GUARD: We don’t go out there for inspections. You have to bring it around out front.

ME: Ok, how do I get there?

GUARD: Just take this slip of paper then give it to the guy blocking the gate out. Pull up to the sign that says “Return to Canada” and drive through.

ME: Ok.

So here’s what I do: I go back to my car, take the slip of paper, and give it to the guy blocking the gate out. He lets me through and I pull up to the sign that says “Return to Canada” and drive through. All of a sudden I find myself in no-man’s-land – I’m stuck with Canada to the north, USA to the south, the border to my left, and a dilapidated shack to my right. I have literally no options at this point. I can drive north into Canada and break the exportation regulations. I can pop the car into reverse and back up the highway into the US (which I’m pretty sure is illegal in some way). Or I can give up, abandon my car, and go back inside. I finally settle on backing up my car, then moving it forward, then backing it up again, then moving forward, then backing up again, then saying “to hell with it” and driving onwards into Canada (Crossing 3). I really don’t know what the hell I’m doing at this point, maybe I already did everything I needed to?

The Canadian border dude hears my story and asks if I got my title stamped. “Ok, then just take this yellow slip and pull into Lane 1”. Sounds great, I guess I did do everything I needed to in the US! Only problem is, as I’m pulling into Lane 1 I realize that the US guy never gave me the title back. Damn it! So I race inside because it is now 3:15pm and time is ticking away.

It is empty. And I mean that this border crossing is a dead, barren wasteland of staff. It’s the Mojave. Nobody comes out of any offices or talks to anyone. There are no voices, no people at the counters, and nobody in front of or behind me in line. The only thing I have for company is a single clock on the far wall that is ticking inexorably forward: 3:17pm… 3:18pm… 3:19pm. I stand there entranced as my hopes and dreams dribble away one second at a time. My phone buzzes: it’s a text from Erika. The DMV won’t give her the paperwork, she’ll need to drive to Olympia for it or do it by mail. Fantastic. Finally, at 3:25pm someone comes out of what I can only assume is a drug mule extraction room, and asks me what I need. I immediately tell them that Iamanidiotidon’tknowwhati’mdoingiamexportingacarandiwentthewrongwayandistillneedusapermissionbutigotturnedaroundandnowineedtogobacktotheusandohpleasegoddon’ttakemebacktotheroomyoujustcameoutof. He says to just go back to the US and take my yellow slip with me. Well that was easy.

So I tear back to the US… thank god there’s no lineup (quick tip: most of the people who take the truck crossing would lose an IQ contest to a muffin. There’s always an empty lane to the right while the other lanes have 3-7 cars in them. I have no idea what those other cars are doing). I roar up to the border and explain my story: Iamanidiotidon’tknowwhati’mdoingiamexportingacarandiwentthewrongwayandistillneedusapermissionbutigotturnedaroundandnowineedtogobacktotheusandohpleasegoddon’ttakemetothebackroomywherebadthingshappentogoodpeople.

His response: “Just take this slip of paper then give it to the guy blocking the gate out. Pull up to the sign that says “Return to Canada” and drive through”.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

ME: “That’s what I did! I just did that! I did what you said and I ended up in Canada! Give me some more freaking details!”

GUARD: “Well, just drive around to that dilapidated shack and get out. Then walk in and finish your paperwork”.

Seriously? So giving up, abandoning my car, and going back inside was actually the right decision. Ok then… did not see that one coming.

At any rate, I drive through (Crossing 4), park at the shack, and head inside. It is now 3:35pm, and although they’re supposed to have shut down they cut me a break. Apparently the dilapidated shack is the "Kiosk" and there's some sort of photography equipment there. Great, maybe instead of writing "Kiosk" on the shack you could write, oh, I don't know, "Car imports, stop your freaking car here"? At any rate, it was back to the Canadian border and finishing the paperwork there (Crossing 5). Loads of fun.

So my advice: Bring the freaking instructions when you import your car.

Up next is Part III: Off to Australia and First Impressions!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Moving to Australia Part I: Getting North

View Part II here and Part III here.

My hands are shaking. It’s making typing a bit hard to be honest with you, what with the keys being so close together and all. It’s been a hectic 2 weeks trying to get our disorganized asses moved across the planet, and pretty much everything has been a gong show. But that’s not why my hands are shaking. I’ll get to that later. First, some highlights in chronological order:

Monday, Jan 30th: Paul’s fifth-to-last last day at work. Car export paperwork put through, car can no longer leave the US until paperwork finalized by US officials. Erika packs, Paul plays hockey.
Tuesday, Jan 31st: Paul’s fourth-to-last last day at work. Packing.
Wednesday, Feb 1st: Paul’s third-to-last last day at work. Erika packs, Paul gets a massage.
Thursday, Feb 2nd: Paul’s second-to-last last day at work. Erika packs, Paul plays hockey.
Friday, Feb 3rd: Paul’s last day at work. Slow clap as I leave the office, then drinking.
Saturday, Feb 4th: Moving sale. It’s incredible what crap people will buy. Highlights include: Old Asian man vacuuming our floor for us, selling the kitchen table I’ve had for 24 years, Erika selling my neck pillow right before we go on a 15.5 hour flight.
Sunday, Feb 5th: Paul goes to watch Superbowl in Vancouver while Erika packs (anyone else seeing a trend here? I don’t know how I’m still married. Trust me, it seemed reasonable at the time). Mad scramble to get everything loaded.

Monday, Feb 6th:
2:30am Go to bed for the night.
6:00am Try to get the remaining packing done, the U-Haul loaded, bring our cable box to Comcast, and visit the DMV for Erika’s driving record; all in time to leave for noon so we can export the car.
12:30pm Realize we’re not going to make it.
12:40pm Eat Lunch.
12:40pm Go to DMV. It’s closed. On a Monday.
1:00pm-4:30pm Pack the truck, get crap in to Comcast, have the apartment inspected, watch Erika get angry at the inspector for nitpicking, watch Erika give the inspector the “I will rip out your liver and feed it to the squirrels if you don’t give us our full deposit” look, watch the inspector give us our full deposit.
4:30pm-8:15pm Drive to Lynden, eat McDonald’s, leave the Subaru in their parking lot, take the truck across the border to the storage lot (strangely, crossing the border back home with all of our goods was the easiest part of the whole day. Thank you Aldergrove border!), and start unloading.
8:15pm Discover that we have to be done by 9pm.
8:16pm Discover that we have a storage space half the size of our truck.
8:17pm Experience a brain-shift that makes us say “We can do this!”
8:58pm Discover that we can’t do this.
8:59pm Start loading everything back into the truck.
9:15pm-10:00pm Load the truck, wake up the guy to a) let us out and b) loan us a lock for the back of the U-Haul so we can leave it in a sketchy dark parking lot behind a Wendy's. Get driven to Erika’s parent’s house for the night.

Stay tuned for Part II: Importing the car