Expats. Have there ever been times you’ve desperately wanted to ask some fairly personal questions of your fellow expats, but have been too polite to? I know I have.

So I thoroughly enjoyed reading Emma’s run down of some fairly personal questions about her expat journey. She kindly tagged me to answer the same questions, so here we go.

NB photos taken from a trip to Featherdale Wildlife Park for some local flavour* 

[Kookaburra]

1. Where were you born, where did you grow up and where do you currently live?

I was born in the UK, and lived there for the first thirty one years of my life. In May this year, I moved to Sydney, Australia and plan to be here for at least the next 16 months.

2. What made you leave your home country?

I wrote a post about it! It’s actually quite interesting (for me anyway…) to read that back now I’m actually here.

 

[Especially for Erin, who didn’t believe penguins live in Australia]

3. What type of reactions do you get when you meet new people and tell them where you are from?

Most people are pleasantly interested, but nobody is particularly surprised. There are a lot of Brits around here, and apart from the usual questions about why did you come, do you know anyone here, people usually move on fairly swiftly. That’s ok with me.

4. What was the easiest/hardest part in adjusting to your new country?

The easiest part has been how similar it is to the UK in many ways. The hardest part has been how different it is to the UK in many ways! Things usually work in a similar way, but perhaps it’s called something different or works a slightly different way, so you find you need to learn most things from scratch anyway even though they’re generally fairly similar. If that makes any kind of sense.

5. Images, words or sounds that sum up the expat experience you’ve had so far.

The bird calls. The light (clear, crisp, bright). Gum-tree-green and the smell of eucalyptus.

[Rock wallaby]

6. Your favourite food or drink item in your new country

Anything gluten free in the food department (recent discoveries include gluten free doughnuts, YES) and of course my favourite drink here that nobody has heard of in the UK, lemon lime and bitters.

7. What’s the one thing you said “yes” to in your new city that you wouldn’t say “yes” to, back home?

So far there hasn’t been anything I’ve done here that I wouldn’t do back home. We’ve been lucky to assign more time to ‘tourist’ type activities here than we would back in the UK, which I think everyone should do as much as they can. Tourist stuff is popular for a reason and I feel like people always think ‘oh we’ll go another day, it’s only down the road’ and then end up never going. Hands up if you’ve done that where you grew up.

[Dingo pups!]

8. Are there any cultural norms/phrases in your new country which you cannot stand?

Starting sentences with ‘look’! In the UK that’s quite an aggressive way to start a sentence, so it always gives me a little start because I feel like I’m about to be told off. But here it’s just a normal way to start a sentence and people don’t mean anything negative by it at all.

9. What do you enjoy most doing in your new country?

Enjoying the beautiful scenery, the new and interesting flora and fauna, and learning about the history of the country. I also like eating lots of good food but that’s the same wherever I go!

[A really pretty and absolutely huge bird that I don’t remember the name of. Sorry, bird]

10. Do you think you will ever move home for good?

Quite possibly. I’ve only lived in Sydney for a couple of months so I think it’s a little early to judge, but I’m keeping an open mind for as long as possible. At the moment I can easily envisage us staying in Australia indefinitely, and I can just as easily envisage us going back to the UK in a couple of years. I have no idea how things will pan out – and as things stand, my visa situation is very up in the air so our hand may be forced anyway.

For more existential blathering, I write monthly updates on my expat journey, which you can follow along with here.

Thanks again Emma for the tag and sorry it took quite so long for me to fill in my answers!

Fellow expats, would you answer these questions so I can be extremely un-Britishly nosy?

-Rachel

*I actually don’t want to talk about the day we had there because I was horrified by the way a lot of people thought was acceptable to behave around animals. So I’m posting a couple of photos here instead and have vowed not to return to your average wildlife park again. I will instead donate what I would have spent on admission fees to the conservation charities I already support. Sorry to end on a rant but it really upset me.

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We’re now 3 whole months into this expat journey and I’ve had a few people ask whether I feel settled in yet. The truth is, I never really felt like I had to settle in. We just arrived and carried on as usual – things have been incredibly easy so far. Either I’ve got a big shock to come, or the UK to Australia move is a pretty easy one. We’ll see, shall we?!

The Good

Settling into our flat ¦¦ We now have pretty much all the furniture, electronics and other sundry nonsense that you need when furnishing a new place. It’s beginning to feel like home which is very welcome for this nester here.

This is one of my very favourite possessions, the painting that belonged to my Granny. I am so, so glad it survived the journey over from the UK and it makes me so happy every time I look at it.

Our first visitor ¦¦ Hand in hand with furnishing our flat comes the ability to host visitors! And I’m so excited to welcome our first visitor, my cousin Emma. She has come here to study so she’ll be in Sydney for the next few months – even better! We had her to stay briefly before she moved into her accommodation in the city and it’s been so good to see her. We had a welcome dinner together with my sister, and Emma made the most delicious pavlova (how appropriate) whilst heavily jet lagged. What a pro.

Meeting moar blogging buddies ¦¦ I’ve loved meeting some more internet friends; I had a drink with Sam who lives just down the road from me and who was so friendly and helpful with all thing expat related. She moved here from the UK herself almost 10 years ago so everything I’m going through, she’s been there, done that and well and truly got the t-shirt. It was a very comforting chat! Last weekend I met Courtney, Travis and the adorable Leighton (she’s cuter in person than in pictures would you believe?!) who kindly gave up their one free Sunday in months to have lunch with us and welcome us to Brisbane. Once again I’m so grateful for how nice people are on the internet!

A new project at work ¦¦ Things are FINALLY picking up for me at work! I’m so excited about it! I may not be for long as this one is going to be a lot of hard work, but at this point in time I’m just so happy to have something to sink my teeth into again that I really don’t care. I’ll be staying in Melbourne 4 or 5 nights a week for about 6 weeks, with a week in Adelaide thrown in for good measure. I’m excited to explore Melbourne in the very small amount of free time I’ll have, so any recommendations please let me know.

We also had a great team meeting, which happen quarterly, and this time it was hosted by the Sydney office. We had a pretty nice view for the day.

That was definitely a pinch-me moment. I live here!

Celebrating S’s birthday ¦¦ This month was S’s turn to celebrate his birthday in Australia. This one isn’t his first, unlike mine, but we did celebrate in true Aussie style with a barbecue in the park. Our local park has free barbecues (as do many parks in Australia) so we made full use. It was a beautiful day and we sat out and enjoyed the sun with some family and new friends for a surprisingly long time.

Then I took S to a cat cafe because #cats. A fun time was had by all, especially this guy who took my coat hostage. Yes, that’s my famous Tarjay coat. Loved by all, feline and human!

Look at that face. He wasn’t giving up without a fight.

The Bad

Missing my best friend’s wedding ¦¦ Enough said. I’m still sad about it. Thanks for all your kind messages, they really helped. And just to update any interested parties, my bestie sent me a sweet photo showing the opal bracelet I gave her that she wore at the wedding. I bought it from the same shop here in Sydney that S and I got my engagement ring from (also opal), so I’m pleased we were connected in that way at least.

My sister is coming to visit… but I’m going to Melbourne ¦¦ After months of sitting around working from home, of course the minute my sister visits from the UK I’m going to be spending all my time in Melbourne. Still, we’re not going to let this stop us and I think she might be keen on a Melbourne trip herself so watch this space!

I’m finding the time zone challenge really hard! ¦¦ When you just have one person to call in a different time zone, it’s not so bad. But when everyone is in a different time zone, scheduling catch ups becomes very tricky! With a 9 hour time difference I can only really call the UK on Saturday or Sunday evenings, so that’s two people a week. When I’m not otherwise travelling, out, or not paying attention. So basically I just need to get my act together and start properly planning in calls, I think. Sounds a bit clinical but otherwise it just won’t happen.

The Ugly

In case you’re new to these updates, I’ve decided to share The Ugly side of things via email. That way, I can share a bit more honestly on things like work and personal matters that I don’t want searchable on t’internet. Seeing as you’re all my friends, I’d just feel a bit happier doing it this way.

So if you want to know The Ugly, just put your email address in the box and I’ll add you to the list. You’ll get mail from me 2-3 days after you see this post, just to give everyone a chance to sign up who wants to.

Anyone miss The Ugly last month? No..? Well I didn’t send one. So you’ll get a bumper edition this month. Aren’t you lucky?!

Rachel

Linking up with Kristen and Gretch for What’s New With You 

We always knew our trip to Yogyakarta (aka Jogjakarta or just Jogja) would be something different. That’s exactly why we went. While we were there, we made notes about some things we wished we had known before we arrived – and here it is for you. Reading it back, it comes off a little ranty and I’m sorry about that. It wasn’t supposed to be – read this from the perspective of two people experiencing a place very different to their own. Liveblogging culture shock, if you will.

1. When entering the country, bring proof you are leaving again.

2. Check your entry requirements carefully and don’t get siphoned off into the wrong visa lane. An attendant took us to the wrong arrival queue and tried to make us pay for a visa on arrival, which we didn’t need with British passports. Sub-lesson: don’t automatically trust people just because they’re wearing a uniform.

3. The airport is small, and very busy. Expect a hectic baggage reclaim experience, and have your baggage ticket ready for inspection (this is to make sure you’re taking bags which are rightfully yours). On departure, all gates leave from one big room which does have a few places to buy snacks and drinks at, although not enough places to sit.

4. Don’t fall for the art exhibition scam. This is where a local on the street will try to strike up conversation with you, asking where you’re from. No matter where you say, they will miraculously have a relative who lives there too. After attempting small talk, and possibly passing on some genuine tourist information, they will tell you about an art exhibition happening nearby. Would you like to go? At this point we smelled a rat and left, but were informed by a tour guide later that at said exhibition you’ll be essentially prevented from leaving until you’ve bought some ‘art’ (usually very basic batik) at vastly inflated prices.

5. The traffic is quite bad. There’s not much that can be done about this, but factor it into your plans. For example, the airport is very near the town centre but make sure you allow plenty of time to get there all the same.

6. Becaks are neither cheap nor fun. They are uncomfortable, slow, and your driver may try and pull the art exhibition scam on you. Don’t be fooled into taking one. Get a taxi instead. And if you absolutely must get one, agree the price clearly upfront.

7. Taxis are cheap and efficient. Book one using your hotel or an official stand, often found in malls, or hail one on the street. Always use the meter.

8. Uber exists, but only for motorbike taxis. If you are in a hurry and brave, that’s probably the quickest way to get around. We didn’t feel it was worth risking it. The local equivalent to Uber is Grab, which is widely used. However be aware your use of the app will be a much better experience if you can speak Bahasa Indonesia.

9. Don’t plan on buying swimwear here. The strict Muslim culture means you may find a burkini… but you won’t find anything else. The locals don’t really swim here, and they certainly don’t approve of showing so much flesh.

10. You can’t drink the tap water and I wouldn’t brush my teeth with it, either.

11. The pavements are rubbish: that is the only consistent thing about them. I wouldn’t recommend walking unless you have to, given the heat, and given that…

12. If you are white you will very likely be accosted by multiple (well meaning) people who will want a photo with you, to talk about how white you are, to touch your skin, to talk some more about how white you are, and maybe to practice their English. This was embarrassing and slightly overwhelming when it happened with a group of about twenty tiny Indonesian ladies in headscarves, but downright scary when a man grabbed my arm as he cycled past me. Hence, I would not recommend walking along pavements.

13. Catching the sunrise at Borobudur is definitely worth it (vs Angkor Wat, which I was not 100% convinced about, and vs the sunset in Oia which I was 0% convinced about).

Have you been to Jogja? What would you tell someone who had never been to the city before?

-Rachel

Images taken from the alleyways behind Taman Sari.

The welcome oasis we stayed in.

Linking up with with Erin, Clare and Katy for Faraway Files

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Today, my best friend is getting married. And I’m not there.

This is the girl who I met on the first day of university and have been living life alongside ever since.

We have been through all your standard university trials – studies, boys, diets, housemates…

This is one of the very first photos we took together. We really had those myspace angles down.

And beyond, into real grown up life stuff; house purchase and renovations, proper jobs and career choices, sickness, bereavement, hurts, joys, choices, regrets. You name it. I’d do anything for this girl. She stood right by me as I got married almost 7 years ago now.

And yet, I won’t be there for hers.

The decision not to take the trip back to attend was a really, really tough one. Ultimately it was just unaffordable for me – tickets to the UK from Australia aren’t cheap, and I’d have had to take a decent chunk of unpaid leave as I’m so new in my job. I also didn’t think I’d be allowed to take so much time off so soon after starting my new job; thanks for sponsoring me to come out here Employer, now I’m just going to nick off back home for 2-3 weeks, that’s fine yeah?

Still, after all those very rational reasons, it is my best friend’s wedding. There’s just no getting away from that.

At my 21st birthday party. The theme was R (I’ll give you 3 guesses why). I was Royalty, Jen was a Rudegirl – this is her actual personality which made it all the funnier

It’s three months since I moved away from the UK and this is the first major event I am missing out on. I know there will be more in the future. I know other friends will get married, I know friends will have babies. I am hoping that there will be no deaths, but experience tells me that is a futile wish.

As well as the big things, there will be the slightly smaller things. Birthday celebrations, life milestones like new jobs or new houses, family events, the church fete… It’s easy to get misty eyed about all the things I’m missing out on whilst forgetting the privileged position I am in. I am very aware that I have absolutely no right to whinge about missing out on things because I chose this life for myself. I am the one who chose to move away. Right?

We do have an emergency fund set aside with enough money in it for two last minute air fares, should the worst happen. But over the past few days and weeks I have been plagued with the guilt that perhaps I should have used that money to fly to the wedding. Despite my seemingly rational decision, I couldn’t help myself.

Unfortunately, sometimes you can’t rationalise your way out of emotions. I know it wasn’t possible for me to go, but I am still devastated to be missing out.

Fellow expats, what do you do to mark occasions back home that you’re missing out on? How do you decide what to go back for?

-Rachel

Happy wedding day beautiful girl; a lifetime of happiness to you both x x x x

The dancer tilted her head, slowly, almost imperceptibly, and started to slide one foot along the tiled floor towards the bank of eager photographers. They bristled, cameras raising eagerly. The dancer’s eye twitched, ever so slightly. A gong sounded mournfully.

How admirable, I thought to myself, as the dancer slowly descended a set of steps towards the awaiting tourists. She has a completely straight face. I wonder how she does that?

We had come to the Kraton, a palace in the centre of Yogyakarta, to get a hit of Indonesian culture. That was the whole point of our trip to Yogyakarta, after all.

And what better way to get some decent culture than to see some traditional Javanese dancing accompanied by a gamelan, an Indonesian orchestra made of all sorts of metal instruments? Javanese dance, as it turns out, is formed of incredibly slow, deliberate movements performed by extremely glamorous dancers. The end result is elegant and captivating but my goodness it takes a long time. This performance was slated to go on for approximately two hours; after five minutes spent vainly trying to find respite from the intense heat under the pavilion like building, I had given up hope of ever feeling cool ever again.

I snuck around the side to get an action glimpse of the gamelan. Having played one myself when I studied music at school, I was intrigued to see the setup. The orchestra is formed of a variety of big hanging gongs, smaller kettle-type gongs, and xylophone things. I’m sure they all have proper names but I shan’t insult anyone by attempting them. There were also four singers sat at the front of the orchestra.

From memory, the musicians semi-improvise: they have a framework of notes that progress throughout the piece, but are free to play whatever they like around that. The higher, xylophone type instruments play fast and change notes often, the lower big gongs play infrequently and usually only for one note. This makes a compelling, driven melody over which you have up to four singers singing a traditional song that tells a particular story. The dancers illustrate the story.

The dancers and the orchestra were really what we came for. I was keen to experience some traditional Javanese culture, and this was laid on for free – well, aside from the entrance fee to the Kraton which was about $1.50. Yes, you read that correctly.

Taking a short walk around the rest of the grounds, we didn’t uncover too much of interest. There were some pretty buildings but they were all fenced off.

The free gamelan and dance is only on on a Sunday, so if your trip falls over this day I would highly recommend a visit. Don’t bother too much about the rest of the palace – we were underwhelmed. However, for the entrance fee, it’s worth taking a quick sweep around if historical buildings are your thing.

After seeing a large group of boys all dressed in matching beige shorts and Hawaiian shirts, we decided it was time to call it a day. Is group matching dressing a thing in Indonesia? I have no idea.

Further cultural adventures were to be found in Taman Sari, an ancient complex dating from the mid 18th century. This was built by the sultan as a rest and relaxation spot. Most of it has been lost to time but the concubine bathing pools remain. They’re absolutely beautiful.

The site is small but in the heat, we were glad of that. You can see the pools where the sultan, his concubines and children bathed. The changing and rest rooms remain. There is no information whatsoever about the site as you’re walking around, so I’d have a read up on what on earth is going on before you visit.

It was pretty busy, but I still managed to get some good pictures. People were good at ducking out of your shot or taking turns at posing in prime spots (like this one):

Just look at the colour of the water. Beautiful. I can’t tell you how hot and sweaty it was that day, but looking at the pictures makes me feel instantly calmed and refreshed – what a treat this must have been for bathers.

But just to bring things back to reality, here is the sultan’s changing and resting quarters. The tower is where he would look out over all his bathing beauties and make his choice. Nice.

It was quite a nice tower before I knew that.

Are you into traditional dance and/or music? Would you visit bathing pools that had a dubious former use, even though they’re stunning to look at?

Top Tips: Kraton

> This is a confusing site! There are two entrances. The one with the gamelan and dancing (where my pictures are from, marked Kraton Ngayogyakarta Hadiningrat on Google maps) is accessed via a south-westerly entrance. There is also an entrance to the north, just off the big grassy square (marked The Palace of Yogyakarta Keraton Yogyakarta on Google maps). They’re separate entrances to separate things, so an entrance fee is payable at both. We ended up going to the wrong one first, the Palace of Yogyakarta, and essentially wasting money – but as it was so little I wasn’t too fussed. We just wanted to get to the gamelan.

> If you want to take pictures or videos you will have to buy a permit to do so. It’s under 10c extra so I would recommend going for it even if you’re not sure. I wouldn’t want to be caught out…

> A guide offered his services to us at the first entrance, but as we realised we’d come to the wrong place we declined his offer. The guides are free, however I expect they’d like a tip at the end.

> The only loos on site are basic squat loos with no frills. Someone may try and get you to pay. I’d recommend not availing yourself of these facilities if at all possible.

> The area around the palace is full of tourists, and wherever there are tourists, there are scammers. Be on high alert – the variety and inventiveness is quite impressive.

Top Tips: Taman Sari

> The area Taman Sari is based in isn’t hugely walkable. It looks like it’s just around the corner from the Kraton, but it’s not. And there aren’t really any pavements. Take a taxi and make sure the taxi waits for you to return – it won’t cost too much as you’ll get around the site quite quickly.

> The way out takes you a super long way and, as ever in Indonesia, past lots of stalls etc (exit via the gift shop) trying to entice you into a purchase

> I already mentioned it, but research the site before you go. Not always the easiest to do, but we missed parts of the site because I didn’t know they existed. There are no signs or anything so be sure to explore fully!

> You may well get accosted by a group of schoolchildren doing a survey/practicing their English speaking. We participated and nothing bad happened (ie it’s not a scam) so if you’re asked and you can spare the time, go ahead.

-Rachel

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