Week One in AU – ‘Taking a Kilo per Second’

Last Friday at 7:00am, my feet met with Australian ground and the following seven days they have been running in a figurative sense. There was an initial shock from the first day being abroad, which was followed by a few quakes of fear. Although the short amount of time I have already been here in Australia has shortened my learning curve and advanced my “adulting” skills. 

Because I simply had enough miles to-do-so I flew first class for my whole journey to Australia.Slight Charm First Class Legs It took three flights to get down under, totalling up to twenty-four hours of sky high pampering. I was completely uninterested in flying economy for this trip – the length of the flying time and the possibility of cramped seating was as far from appealing as was the actual travel length to Australia. And I could avoid it at the cost of a mere $23 USD (only having to pay for the tax of a first class trip). Done deal. I have been on several international flights (to and from Europe) and those eight hour trips in economy was my line that I would not be crossing. AND that is me; I am a really random, impractical individual. For instance I fought to pack six pairs of shoes that I HAD to have (one pair being a casual heel and a heeled bootie for the fall season). I was torn about not being able to pack thirty pairs of underwear and was apathetic about the shirts for my wardrobe overseas. I have my idiosyncrasies as unpractical as they are. Flying first class became one of them. I liked the idea of being waited on and taken care of in the best way (short of flying private) before “slumming” it. I saw the opportunity to indulge myself in as much free food, alcohol, perks, and leg room before I ended up wherever in Australia. Everything was golden, I was golden…that was until the taxi dropped me off at my AirBnB booking.

There was a lot of anxiety for a few individuals from my at-home-stateside support group about where I was going to initially be staying in Australia alone and exactly how permanent would it be. Other than receiving my Grandma’s post, there were benefits of having a set temporary AU address upon arrival such as helping acquire a bank account and tax file number. However, it sadly turned out that the universe scheduled me up next in its queue to have a poor AirBnB experience. I arrived at the Perth Airport on a level eleven and quickly came crash landing to a zero; like “Why am I here? Should I just turn around and go back – dig a basement under my parent’s house and pretend I was still abroad a year…I can learn to hunt and live off lizards and birds. Easy. And Australia’s wifi is notoriously bad, so limited blogging and video chatting would be excusable. I could get away with it.” That was my rational thinking at the time. Slight Charm Carlisle ShowerIt was extra disappointing since I had talked to the host, Sarah, ahead of time and she seemed pleasant. I was looking forward to meeting her and imaging us instantly being BFFs – hair braiding and matching necklaces, the whole nine yards. My first impression of the AirBnB was that a woman or girl did not live there. There was no pride or care for the house. It was not a home. The cleanliness of the shower room, bathroom, kitchen, and public living space was disgusting. I am pretty sure I was catfished. I never met this supposed Sarah; her partner Shaun was her diplomat while she was on vacation in China for three weeks (the exact amount of time I booked the AirBnB for). A big factor when picking Sarah’s place was based on survival – seeing her picture and knowing if things went south I could take her in a fight. I don’t have anything against males, but as a solo female traveller I don’t feel comfortable with four strange, male tenants as roommates…I would not win that fight, even with the knife a friend back home gave me as a going away gift. Then two of the male tenants ended up being hot heads, constantly arguing and shouting at each other at any time of the day (one time eventually escalating to physical threats). Slight Charm Carlisle AirBnBOne tenant wasn’t even living in a room. A fifth room was devised from the living room out of a laundry line, chip bag clamps, and blankets. I didn’t get a house key until day three – and the front door was a key lock to get in and OUT…I didn’t have a lock on my personal room, so I ended up sleeping lightly and with my room’s desk placed in front of the door to block it from opening at night while I was asleep (I risked dying in a fire for sleep). And I know it could have been worse. It was just an even more shocking obstacle to walk into coming from first class. If I was back in my teen years I’d probably gone with the flow, but now I feel too old for all of it and my matured gut said to leave, but I didn’t have anywhere to leave to. It was a stressful twenty-four hours sorting through my thoughts, emotions, contacts, and options to create my ‘Plan B’ as far away from this house in Carlisle. Day one in Australia I cried a lot while going in and out of sleep from stress, exhaustion, and jet lag. I only gave my self that day to freak out. Day two I had to be productive and take action. My swim-rather-than-drown mentality took hold.

From day two on I left the house regularly and began contracting a minor case of culture shock plus full on sunburn from trekking (my soon to be natural habitat of) Perth. Firstly the flow of traffic and other small norms are the opposite in Australia due to it’s past as a British colony. Not only are the roads left sided, everything follows suit. Some examples – placement of escalators and the standing passengers sticking to the left and get passed on the right; walking tendencies on sidewalks and stairs; ect. I accidentally got in the way, ran into, or elbowed many people the first few days out in public. Presently it is day ten and I still have to be mindful and double check streets before crossing. Then common civic words or phrases are different. Instead of a store having “Open Hours of Operation” its sign will read “Trading Hours.” It’s like the template and format of Australia is the same to the USA, but Australia busted out a thesaurus to avoid plagiarism. There also isn’t ice coffee here; at least in an American’s perspective. On two occasions I went to the Coffee Club (an Australian synonym to Starbucks) and attempted to order ice coffee. Slight Charm AU Iced CoffeeThe first time I didn’t make an adjustments and it came out in a soda fountain glass complete with two straws, whip cream, and sprinkled chocolate shavings. It continues to differ with taste, it is served with ice cream in it. The second time upon ordering I requested the ice coffee to simply be coffee over ice with no ice cream. It still came out looking like a milkshake. I give up. Iced coffee doesn’t exist in Perth. Phone numbers are different as well – there is an extra digit, a zero at the beginning. I am pretty confident I filled out many online applications incorrectly before learning to include the zero as a part of your actual phone number (unless you are providing your international code with your number). Lastly I quickly figured out conversions. It should have been easy. It’s already basic knowledge to most. If it isn’t let me clear it up for you. A kilometer (usually seen abbreviated as KM) and a mile are essentially the same distance while a meter is really one thousandth of each. I will not get kilometer and meter mixed up again. Then thirty degrees Celsius is essentially the inverse of thirty degrees Fahrenheit. It is hot. It is currently summer in Australia and the sun is no joke. There is a hole in the ozone over here. I feel it and my skin already shows it. In the few days I have been here I have already gotten dehydration headaches, sweat stained shirts, and sunburned forehead and shoulders. 

Next a feeling of being found out as a non-native has haunted me a bit. I people watch and try to read people’s minds as they pass me by to see if they know I am not Australian. Being so self aware I know I am easy to pick out especially when I am outside. I think I out myself due to the profuse amount of sweat that comes out of my pores. An Australian looks at me with their dry brow and knows I am a visitor when I am in their elements. Like I knew humans are made mostly out of water; well now I get it, now I believe it, and now I KNOW, know it. Ninety percent of myself has ended up soaked in my clothes every time I have been outside longer than thirty minutes. I am not sure when I will acclimate to the weather, but I am over appearing to be a contestant of a wet tee shirt competition every day. I am capable of fooling a few as long as I am inside. One night at a cafe the server thought I was European, definitely (quote, “God, no”) not American. I asked why and it was because I appeared refined. The definition for refined to this server was dining alone, reading a book, being knowledgable of what the spaghetti noodle is, knowingly use a spoon to help consume spaghetti, and drinking tea for dessert. That is refinement. Upon finding out that not only was I American, but Texan this server asked if I knew what the Alamo was and if I could sing him the “clapping song.” Turned out he had recently watched Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. Before I left I sang two verses of “Deep in the Heart of Texas” for him. Then I have caught myself in conversation with others where I don’t even know what nationality I am portraying. I have noticed I accidentally parrot other people’s accents and dialogue around me. It’s a bad habit because some people take it as mocking…

Fremantle, a coastal town in Perth’s region, has been my biggest adventure thus far. The town had a wonderful Australia Day festival complete with a twenty-minute firework show at dusk, which finale ended with the ever great and infamous Australian band AC/DC’s song “Thunderstruck.” I feel in love with the town though. It is decorated in English colonial fashioned architecture and wonderful recreational beaches. Bonus is that Little Creatures, an Australian brewery, has a gastro pub and brewing facility located at the town’s pier.

From what I can tell there aren’t any native mammals or reptilians in the city area other than the zoo. The only unusual wildlife spotting I have had was on my second day when I walked around outside for the first time. I kept hearing a peculiar sound. I couldn’t place where I was hearing it from and what it sounded like…was it a cat in heat? Was it a baby dying? I quickly decided it was indeed horrible sounding. The walk to the rail takes fifteen minutes, it took me an extra ten because I would stop and look around whenever I heard the sound. Eventually I identified its origins as a black bird’s call and unfortunately they are common and found everywhere…even in my dreams. 

I have felt a few proud parent moments for myself this first week. Using a train, subway, or bus has not been a part of my daily, usual way of living. In the cities I have lived in I never had to travel or regularly use public transportation at all. Ever. Never. If I have ridden types of public transit it has been as a tourist and usually with a guide. Yet for the past week I have only traveled by rail and bus and might I add very effectively. I have not been late to one scheduled event/meeting.Slight Charm AU Phone Upgrade..I have however been hours early. Also learned the need to check time tables for the after dark shifts to avoid waiting thirty minutes at night and to verify you are headed the right direction on the line before you put your face in a book for the ride. There is a downside being that my wonder for it all is lost; I use to have enthusiasm and excitment toward these means of transport like Ariel or Arthur Weasley. More pats on the back to me for getting a well functioning phone. My iPhone 4S will be missed – it had a good three year long run. Then pats for getting an Australian bank account set up. As well as filing for my tax file number. I checked off large accomplishments from my task list too including finding a job and new housing. Slight Charm Glendalough I spent hours that did add up to days looking for a new place to live. I needed a job, but I couldn’t focus on that with the stress of the AirBnB living accommodations. The one I finally found is nice all around in terms of rent, roommates, and demeanour (fully furnished, comfortable mattress, and air conditioning). I am beyond ecstatic to be living somewhere else and with friendly fellow travellers (the perfect start to my friend pool). Next came my employment. I have an extensive history working for Quiksilver. At the store level the community is a family and a family takes care of one another. In a few days of contacting a Quiksilver store I was contacted for an interview.Slight Charm 2012 DC Crew It took thirty minutes for the manager to offer me a job. I am so grateful to already have had such a great experience from working at Quiksilver in Texas and now to get a job in the APAC region I am still finding it to be unbelievable. I am feeling a lot of gratitude and anxiety about making sure to meet expectations and give back to the store. Also humorously the Quiksilver store is located in a suburb named exactly like the same as the area I use to work in California before leaving for Australia. Coincidence or fate?

Either way I am beyond thankful for having the opportunity to be in Australia and for my amazing support system back in the States. I could not have made the trip if I didn’t have so much greatness around and rallying behind me. Also the experience would not have been remotely as smooth as it had been if I wasn’t provided such wise and tested advice. There are really so many people that have helped me get me here and I go through the list and think of everyone back in the States every day.

Alright. SO yeah; overall a successfully first week. There wasn’t much time for jet lag, meaning I kinda pushed my body to the brink and I got really sick by day four. I am getting better now – still have an occasional pretty bad phlegm cough. I am about to spend a few days indoors to get well in time for my first shift and week two of taking on life in Australia.

Count Down to Tomorrowland

In the early hour of this upcoming Wednesday, January 20th, I will begin my year long Australian journey.

For those of you who do not know, I do not get excited about a trip until traveling actually commences. In the days leading up I am filled with stress and anxiety. This is mostly due to the personal and work related ‘to-do’ lists I make. And this abroad trip lasting a year or maybe a bit more had what seemed like a continuous list. There was a lot of preparation to be done and a lot of procrastination that I accomplished.

A few friends have asked me to share a ‘How-To’ for my move to Australia and I promise that is to come. I have to publish it after I arrive, so that I share actual successes and faults of my approach. I already have suspicions that it will not be all rainbows and butterflies. 

I will divulge that packing for this trip has already worn my mental stability down. It was suppose to be a task that distracted me from larger picture stresses that come from preparing and living abroad alone, but it ended up being extremely emotionally straining. I hadn’t shed a tear yet when saying my ‘good-byes’ to friends, family, and the cities I called ‘home.’ And maybe that was because there had already been a bit of physical separation when I left Texas to live in California first. Maybe it was that I treated these last visitations as one of celebration and reunion to avoid dispiriting moments. More likely it was me trying to allude myself into thinking it will all be here when I come back. And it would be, in a familiar and novel deja vu vibe sort of way. But all the little, unrealized transformations from a year of daily life are unstoppable. All the days missed are going to add up to change for everyone, everything, and myself. In the future days missed will be birthdays, laughs, a few weddings, possibly an engagement or two, happy hours, concerts, hugs, banter, and timely communication that I will not be a part of. It is scary to leave with the possibility of going forward only knowing histories. Now packing and conducting a task that I had thought was suppose to be easy to focus on became exhausting. I hid all the above saddening thoughts and packing embodied them like an emotional surrogate…so I wept while I whittled down my wardrobe.

After the tears dried I created a list of simple stuff I was also going to leave behind. Now instead of trying to ignore the fact that I am leaving every one and thing I know ten thousand miles behind, I think about these trivial things I will not have to divert my thoughts from those real meaningful losses that are about to occur.

Frivolous Losses that I Mourn to Stay in Shallow Emotions:

  1. Lonestar – It is the national beer of Texas and so it is nostalgic for all Texans. And don’t you dare provide me with an Australian alternative, there is none and I don’t feel like I need to explain why. 
  2. United State’s Holidays – Fourth of July, Texas Independence, and Thanksgiving will all be heavily Facebook stalking days for me. Or maybe hopefully I will have made good enough friends that I can force into celebrating these holidays with me.
  3. Suffrage – I am not sure I will be able to get my absentee ballot for 2016 elections, which means I will miss the Presidential race. The pro is at least I can claim to have had no part in what is to come, the con is that there could be a chance that I might be the deciding vote in a possible real life Kevin Costner-Swing Vote movie plot.
  4. My phone number – I have had this since middle school and it has become part of my identity. I don’t like the idea of memorizing a new one or that every one I have ever given it to will not be able to use it ever again to reach me. Then there is the fact that I am still expecting a few people to contact me with it; a few men said they would call. And of course they will ironically after I forfeit it over to some else that will reap all my benefits of being a great pick-up artist. I am really upset that there is a chance that someone else might get the nudes that were promised to me. And as my friend said, “Bathroom stalls around America will now have to be updated.”
  5. Netflix* – When I got a new computer I kept my old one specifically to view and watch Netflix. It is impractical to take two computers when traveling. I know. And I am not going to. But I don’t have real access to “my” Netflix account to be logged in on my new computer because it actually isn’t mine. A previous lover had created auser for me on his Netflix account and after we parted ways he didn’t delete it, which I interpreted as a sign that he knew he was wrong and as a consolation I at least got to keep all my viewing history and ratings. Also I am on a strict budget right now with the whole moving to another country and couldn’t afford to pay for Netflix. I am about to be so enraged by all the spoilers on social media.
  6. Driving – It is bittersweet since I am happy to not be dealing with or paying for car insurance anymore and I am sure the roads are safer now, but I will miss the freedom I felt with my Holly, my 2009 Honda Accord painted in navy blue. I have had her since my senior year in high school. A lot of fun times in that little tin can. And she always took care of me and got me where I needed to go even when I wrecked her a bit and she had to make it back to Texas from LA in El Nino weather. 
  7. “Normal” Toilet Flushes – Apparently this might be disorienting if I stare directly at the bowl’s water whirl. It spins in different directions. I might faint from the confusion. That is what a friend warned me about at least. 

So ignorance and avoidance is keeping me modestly blissful in my last few days in the U.S. I hope to maintain this state of mind as I count down the hours left before I step on the plane that will fly me away from it all. Soon I will be across the Pacific in a Tomorrowland.

*Thankfully two wonderful friends have now added me to their Netflix account, so I will still be able to Netflix and Chill the new House of Cards season down under.

Avoiding My Plausible Death in Death Valley

Its name is not ironic or a metaphor, it is literal. Slight Charm DV Entrance StoryDeath Valley is where even cacti find most of the area unlivable and this is where I wanted to visit – the Race Track has been on my list of places to see in California and recently I have had a craving for sand dunes and night time stars, neither of which are plentiful or rather present at all in Los Angeles. And surprisingly I could not convince anyone to join me. I asked a few friends who gave a solid, straight “no” or failed to even acknowledge my invitation. Then I asked co-workers that “like” to go camping (in parenthesis because until I see it I cannot believe it and I have good social interaction reasoning to do so), but when I mentioned the location they asked me about the risk of hobos…I think if I could disregard anything as a danger in Death Valley it would be the homeless. Before and now after traveling to Death Valley, I solemnly promise no homeless persons take permanent or temporary residence in the area or if by chance they do/did coyotes destroy all evidence of their possible attempts. So if that is what you are worried about, the homeless – please disregard it, move on and forward, and visit the park. However, if you are worried about flash flooding, dehydration, heat exhaustion and then freezing to death all due to being stranded in the middle of a deathly valley that has no cell service, minimal signs of life (including visitors – who visits Death Valley, the warning is in the name), Slight Charm DV Roadway Storyand warnings signs about turning off air conditioning in your car because of engines dying out…filling up on $6.00 a gallon gasoline because of tanks running out…staying on paved roads because of the possibility of tires blowing out…I mean there are so many reasons not to go (other than the nonexistent hobo population). But there are so many reasons to not to do a lot of things…the debate didn’t weigh on my mind too long. I packed the car before I worked my closing shift at the restaurant to hit the road early next morning and drive the four hours to THE Death Valley.

Well I woke up an hour and a half late and decided to just top off my gas tank and to pick up supplies such as food and extra water in Shoshone on my way into the park. Yet when I arrived in Shoshone it looked like I was its only inhabitant. With only a gas station/store, diner, and motel I walked to each one and all were closed. The gas pumps were not even turned on. An embarrassed feeling began to rise within me. My head filled with my friends’ laughter at me for another not well thought out plan execution. I really could have sworn that Shoshone was not a ghost town, but now I was not so confident and with no cell service I was unable to prove or find another town near by. I promise that I did look at a map of Death Valley and Shoshone, one of which I did not save to my phone or print out). I swear I planned. I will admit I am not the best planner, but I do put things in motion and then work through the inevitable missteps, which are all a part of journey and story. Eventually a towny emerged from a motel room once more cars arrived and the international tourists began to wonder around and take selfies with iconic western objects such as wooden spoke wheels, the water tower, and cacti. Slight Charm DV Selfie Stick StoryShoshone had been a great check/rest point and entrance to the park it just happened that not today because as the towny informed me that the town had apparently lost electricity due to flooding the night before and the only civil object in functional use was a pay phone (a species that I believed to have gone extinct across our nation). I had checked the weather report yesterday before I went to work and there had not been any rain mentioned in the region’s forecast. I did not check the weather before leaving this morning. I was already mentally committed this morning and rain wasn’t going to change my destination. Then when I physical made it all the way to Shoshone, I was practically already there and I wasn’t going to turn around to go home.

As I proceed north to find another entrance into the park I remembered that I still had no food for this camping trip.Slight Charm DV Earl Campbell Cooking Story It isn’t far fetched that I forgot or failed to make food a priority because due to the ‘Ear Campbell Hot Link’ incident I was never put in charge of food for camping trips with my friends. An easy, cooperative way to handle meals with a group camping is to split them up and have individuals in charge of one or a set of meals.Slight Charm DV Eatable Hot Links Story A notorious friend is celiac and meals need to be gluten free (by the way Hot Links are) and my then roommate and I got drunk before grocery shopping the night before a camping trip and could not find brats (a request from the group for the meal we were going to cover), but we did find Hot Links after an aisle by aisle drunken search. Everyone refused to eat the Hot Links and so I was never again in charge of food I merely provided cash. So for my solo camping trip, it is really not unlikely I would fail to plan meals. I did luckily grab two rice crispy treats before heading out. I did regret eating  one already, I consumed it before getting to Shoshone. Basically I was traveling through the valley in a comparable style that of the 49er’s. One member of their party died and there is only one member in my party, my odds were not looking great. I should have rationed the rice crispy better.

The farther north I drove the more evident of flooding. The progression was: caked red dirt, mud pits, and then actual flowing water on the road. In the spirit of my hypothetical, spiritual 49er ancestors I ignored the warnings signs and proceeded. The rangers at the visitor center (located thirty miles into the park) provided me with a map highlighted with all the open roads.Slight Charm DV Mine Shaft Story Sadly both the Badwater and Scotty’s Castle roads had been recently shut down upon further notice since they had to completely reconstruct them. The Race Track was now off my agenda. Due to the road closures I had a lot of excess time that I chose to apply to a few unpaved and high clearance roads. Because of the rain those unpaved roads seemed more like high clearance and the high clearance evolved into four wheel drive roads. There were quite a few times on my way to see Skidoo that I could have been stranded until the next Death Valley visitor that wanted to see this ghost townsite. Slight Charm DV POL Valley StoryAlso a lot of the mines that were marked for viewing were not properly secured and allowed visitors to actually enter or accidentally fall into them…The chances of my or anyone’s disappearance continued to rise. And rangers seemed only to reside at the visitor center – all other stations were unoccupied. Then cell service was mainly limited to the peaks, which made proof of life photos difficult to send to my friends.Slight Charm DV Daylight Pass Story I mean if I or anyone in this day and age was ever to go missing the police should always have some sort of timeline and map of the last twenty-four hours due to selfies. However, nothing in this park was well marked and if it happens to be it is not helpful or informative, so the missing person case would be a bit more difficult. A lot of structures or sights in the park are labeled differently than stated on the map. It’s like mislabeling was purposeful to make visitors wander aimlessly to really parallel their park experience to that of Hell and therefor further support of its name, Death Valley.

After sunset I entered Stovepipe Wells’ bar to eat my first meal of the day and to drink a few local brews, Death Valley Pal Ale (brewed by Indian Wells Brewing Co). I kept my head down and made zero contact with any other of the bar patrons. There was something different about this outing; probably the isolation from civilization and the vast increased ease to murder me and dump my body without anyone knowing or ever finding out about it. I wasn’t just out n’ about in a city – I was unaccompanied in the middle of no where. I usually am social and eager to meet new people and exchange stories, but this was not the place.Slight Charm DV Dante Story It is very rare that my inner alarm rings for threatening situations and it could not be muted here. I had already had been asked if I was alone and travel solo often by an individual as we stood on a cliff six thousand feet above the valley. How many times has Dante’s View become a murder scene? I would assume more than likely a few times a year. I did exchange words and befriend the bartender, Craig. He’s a world traveler and when some Europeans began to snap for him like he is some waiting mutt I informed them for him that the establishment was self service, so to approach the bar and order. I closed out after drafting the first part of this piece and even brilliantly employed the bathroom to brush my teeth and wash my face (practicing my street smarts). Outside the night sky was cloudy making the world pitch black. Using a flashlight I walked back to my campsite and stopped when I could have sworn I saw the reflective light from staring eyes and a shadow of a coyote running around me. I opted to sleep in the back seat of my car for the night rather than my campsite.

It was my first individual camping trip and I am proud to have acted so responsible. Overall, I impressed my self with the amount of thought and effort I put into securing my safety and life (overlooking the whole lack of food and nourishment). Woman might not have defeated, but woman conquered wild. I really honed in my friends’ paranoia and distrust to overly judge people and scenarios to ensure my survival. I really am giving myself some well deserved kudos. I even had one rice crispy left that I got to enjoy on the way home. It tasted like victory. I survived Death Valley. I am a surviving member of the 49ers. I will make sure that is stated in my eulogy.
Slight Charm DV POL Point