Trick or Treat

It’s Halloween and one thing Raquel and I didn’t expect to see is a couple of kids knocking at the door yelling “trick or treat!” It’s probably our first ever experience of trick or treating kids. The two of them were very cute in their black witch customes. I wanted to take a picture of them but we don’t want to seem too weird so we skipped that idea.

Fortunately, we have lots of chocolate in the cupboard to give them. I wouldn’t want to find out if they’ll take the “trick” part of the threat seriously.

Anyway, since it’s Halloween, I drew something real quick for the occassion: a drawing of a Nuno sa Punso. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it is a small Philippine mythological spirit that lives in ant hills (punso) with magical powers. They typically keep to themselves unless disturbed. When angered, the offending person will likely be cursed by the Nuno in which the only cure is to visit your friendly neighborhood albularyo (witch doctor/shaman). For more info, go to the Wikipedia Nuno entry.

Click on the thumbnail to see bigger picture. In the meantime, Happy Halloween!

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Published in: on October 31, 2005 at 11:44 pm  Comments (5)  

Bargain shopping

The newly opened Direct Factory Outlet (DFO) complex near Essendon airport has caused quite a stir a fortnight ago and not because of the bargains that are supposed to be found there. Confusion on which exit to take from the freeway has caused traffic jams and parking problems, with reports of about 21,000 shoppers flocking to the site on opening day. Gj and I wanted to check out the new complex and went there last Saturday, or rather, almost got there. Since we weren’t familiar with the roads in the area and the exits weren’t signposted until you are almost there, we missed the exit altogether and never got there. The closest thing we got to it is looking up at its flapping banners from the top of the hill it was perched on as we zip through the freeway. We went home tired and felt that perhaps they could have found a better location for the complex, well away from the freeway and a Citylink exit (we don’t want to pay the toll if we take the wrong exit and end up in a Citylink road).

The incident made me think about the lengths people would go through just to grab a bargain, and why not? If you’re buying in bulk or had to purchase a lot of items, the savings quickly adds up. So where else could you find a bargain in Melbourne? If you’re after clothing, bags, shoes, bedding and homeware, there are a lot of other factory outlets around the city. You could go to the Brand smart complex in Nunawading (although parking may be difficult to find), Bridge Road in Richmond, Sydney Road in Brunswick or Smith Street in Collingwood. For other factory outlet locations, grab a copy of Pamms guide to Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane. This guide is actually a directory of bargain outlets around the city listed by suburb with each store’s contact information and payment options.

As for our shopping misadventure last weekend, we went home empty-handed from our Essendon trip and went to the DFO Cheltenham the next day instead.

Published in: on October 28, 2005 at 3:45 pm  Comments (3)  

Learning Chinese Through a Podcast

I’ve always wanted to learn to speak and understand Chinese whether it be Fukien (because it’s the Chinese dialect in use in the Philippines) or Mandarin (because it’s like the lingua franca of the Chinese world). One reason for my motivation to learn the language is so that I could impress my wife’s Chinese parents. Another reason is that I’m just really interested with the Chinese culture.

So, ever since I met Raquel, I’ve been trying to pick up either Fukien or Mandarin. I found out though that there weren’t a lot of teaching books about Fukien. Or at least, there weren’t a lot as compared to learning Mandarin books. I figured, since a lot more Chinese will be fluent in Mandarin than Fukien, I might as well just study Mandarin.

Studying from books then didn’t really help me get the hang of the language. It was only when I had to work in Taiwan for six months that I started really getting it. I’ve learned a few useful phrases and I’m a little acquainted with the sentence construction but I just keep forgetting the words and the intonation of the words.

After leaving Taiwan, I sort of put my Mandarin studies on hold. That was, until I encountered ChinesePod.com. It’s a free daily podcast direct from Shanghai, China hosted by Ken Carrol and Jenny Zhu. Each podcast is about just over 11 minutes long.

They start with repeating a string of Chinese sentences thrice without translating the words. It is then followed by a detailed explanation of the words used in the sentence as well as variant uses of the words. It ends with them repeating the same string of sentences played at the start. Only, by then, you’ll be able to follow their meaning. It’s a great way to learn Chinese! Another reason why I like their way of teaching is because they teach Chinese as it is actually spoken in China.

So, if you totally wanted to learn how to speak Chinese and don’t know where to start, I think subscribing to Ken and Jenny’s education podcast is the way to go. And if you do enjoy their podcast, be sure to vote for their podcast at Podcast Alley so that it will get the exposure it certainly deserves. That and so that Ken and Jenny would continue to produce this wonderful podcast.

I would also like to point out that if you are a fan of Joss Whedon’s Firefly series / Serenity movie and you want to learn Chinese, I think you’d love this podcast. On a related note, if you wanted to know the Chinese used in the Firefly shows, you can either subscribe to The Signal podcast which has a non-serious “How to Speak Chinese” feature in it or go to the Firefly-Serenity Chinese Pinyinary website.

Published in: on October 27, 2005 at 12:26 pm  Comments (15)  

New Shout Box

Our previous shout box powered by MyShoutbox.com had been playing up for sometime now. Users would sometimes double-post and sometimes recent posts would disappear for no good reason.

I’ve been wanting to replace the shout box system with another one for some time now but never really had any motivation to do so. That was, until today.

My aunt emailed me today, asking me why I deleted her recent posts. She asked me if I took offence to her posts. Well, I didn’t take offence. There was nothing to be offended about her posts, by the way. It was just some comment on me looking like a Filipino actor I don’t even know about and her wanting to make a guest blog post here.

Anyway, the posts disappeared mysteriously along with the other recent posts by other people and even myself. I didn’t intentionally deleted these posts. The posts just disappeared. Just to make sure this incident doesn’t hurt anybody’s feelings, I posted a couple of comments on the shout box mentioning the problem with the current system.

But still I got this email from my aunt who obviously didn’t believe me when I said it was a system fault of some sort. I’m a bit disappointed that she insinuated that I deleted her posts intentionally along with other unrelated posts just so I could remove hers. I couldn’t believe she thought I was being deceptive.

Anyway, I had enough of that. To be sure this debacle doesn’t happen again, I promptly changed to a different shout box service provided by ShoutMix.com tonight. I don’t like their smiley images as much as MyShoutbox.com’s though, but their admin features seem to be better. I hope I don’t have any more shout box related problems in the foreseeable future.

Published in: on October 26, 2005 at 10:49 pm  Comments Off on New Shout Box  

Furnishing a New Home

Mel, a would-be migrant, left the following question on my recent post, Errands:

About home furniture and appliances, Fantastic Furniture was recommended to me. Any other recommendations for new migrants on where to purchase the necessities in furnishing a home that would be budget friendly? Preferably in Werribee or nearby areas.

I already gave my short answer to this question on the comments area of the same post but let me elaborate on that now.

When I arrived in Australia, I was lucky enough to be housed by the company that hired me in an apartment that was already fully furnished. However, when I eventually moved to my own place, I had to furnish my apartment myself.

It’s a good thing I didn’t have to buy absolutely everything. Even with an unfurnished apartment, it would most likely come with a stove and oven. Sometimes, a clothes dryer or dishwasher or both are also included with the rental property.

So, in the end you’ll only probably only need the following: a bed, lounge furniture, dining furniture, microwave, refrigerator, TV and stereo. Okay, so you probably don’t need a stereo or a lounge (aka sofa), but I think the rest on my list are necessary.

For the furniture, I agree with your friend’s recommendation. From my experience, Fantastic Furniture seems to offer the cheapest decent furniture you can buy out here. You can also maybe get cheap furniture at places like The Warehouse. Alternatively, of course, you can go with used furniture. I’m just not comfortable with the idea of sitting on somebody else’s old lounge.

As for white goods and home electronics, you will probably want to go to The Good Guys where the prices seem to be cheap to begin with. But if you pay with cash, you get to pay less. You can also try Big W or Kmart. I bought my Sanyo TV from Big W at a real bargain.

For other bargain shopping needs, you can take a look at the Bargain Shoppers: Guide to Sydney & Melbourne website for a list of shops.

Apart from buying at brick-and-mortar shops, you can also buy furniture and appliances from eBay, too. Before moving to Melbourne from Canberra, Raquel and I sold most of our old furniture through eBay. The winners of the bidding had to pick up the items from the house though as it would’ve been expensive to have to deliver the items to them.

You can also buy the Trading Post newspaper (which is similar to the Buy & Sell Free Ads Paper we have in the Philippines) at your local newsagency.

I’d still prefer to buy brand new furniture and appliances though as those usually have guarantees from the shop that sold them. But, if you are looking to save, buying used stuff may be the way to go.

Published in: on October 25, 2005 at 5:23 pm  Comments (4)  

Japanese Fast Food

Although we usually bring our own food to work nowadays, there are times when we just want to eat out during our lunch break. It just so happens that most of the time, we want to eat something with rice (as Filipinos do). And on those occasions, we usually have a bite at our favourite Japanese fast food places.

The first one is Tokio on The Causeway near Bourke Street. They seem to serve authentic tasting Japanese food. But, since I’m not Japanese, don’t take my word for it. I guess I just meant that it doesn’t taste too Western and it’s probably because the food was cooked by actual Japanese (I can tell by the language they were using).

I personally liked their teriyaki-don while Raquel liked the fish bento. And back when we were still eating pork and beef, we also liked their katsudon and sukiyaki-don. The dishes only cost less than eight dollars each.

As much as we love it there, we couldn’t always eat there as that would get tiring after a while. Not to mention the fact that it seemed like they’ll be closing down real soon.

The second Japanese fast food place we love to go to is Shuji Sushi. They have one shop right near our office at Flinders Lane corner Queen Street. There is another one at the Galleria’s food court along Elizabeth Street. And recently, they’ve also opened a new branch right across the Melbourne City Library along Flinders Lane.

They sell both cook-to-order dishes like katsudon and ready-cooked dishes at less than seven dollars a plate (sorry but I can’t remember the exact cost). You can have either one dish or half of two dishes and it would still cost the same. Our favourite was always the Teriyaki Chicken along with the mixed vegetables.

The things we like most about Shuji Sushi was that apart from having delicious teriyaki chicken, the serving size was always pretty generous. It’s certainly more value for our money.

Recently, we also tried another Japanese fast food restaurant but it’s a bit farther this time. It’s called the Ume Sushi House. It’s along Little Bourke Street near Hardware Lane.

We just thought to give it a go one day and I ended up liking their Oyako-don. Raquel tried the Curry-don. Although she didn’t like it as much as the oyako-don I ordered, it was still pretty good. And, like in Shuji Sushi, they have big servings there, too.

So, if you happen to be in Melbourne and you have no idea where’s a nice place to it or maybe you just want to have a quick eat at a Japanese place, you may want to try any of the three fast food joints I mentioned. Can’t wait to go eat there again soon.

Published in: on October 22, 2005 at 11:17 am  Leave a Comment  

Sniffles season

While going around in circles at the Hedgend Maze last Saturday, I suddenly felt a sharp pain in my right ear. The pain quickly subsided but what was replaced by a slight pressure that has lingered for several days. I told Gj about it and he said (and not jokingly, I may add) that perhaps an insect has gotten into my ear. We’ve seen several spiders resting in their webs in various places within the maze after all, and there was even one actually dangling across one of the paths we had to take. I didn’t take him seriously and just attributed the pressure in my ear to being in a high area. But the pressure persisted and with it came a clogging of the nose and a headache. Maybe whatever took residence there has multiplied and is now making my head its colony? Sounds like the stuff of horror movies, doesn’t it?

I thought that perhaps I’m having another bout of sinusitis and gave my GP a call. I went to her office yesterday and she asked if I’ve had hay fever before? Hmmm… I really don’t know. Although I’ve had the sniffles in the past without having a cold, it only happens when I’m exposed to cigarette smoke for more than a few minutes. Is it hay fever if there’s no hay nor pollen involved? Anyway, I didn’t want to go into too much explanation so I told her that I don’t know but didn’t think so. She then checked my blood pressure and peered into my ear and mouth as well. She quickly diagnosed the problem as hay fever, adding that since I didn’t have a cold, it can’t really be an infection. She also mentioned that Asians are more likely to get hay fever and is especially common during spring and summer season. She gave me a script for a nasal spray and quickly ushered me out. I swear, these doctors make a killing for just a few minutes of their time!

Anyway, I purchased the small bottle of nasal spray (so tiny, in fact, that the contents were measured in micrograms!) from a nearby pharmacy and nearly had a heart attack when the cashier asked for $28.95. Whoa, this spray better be effective and go a long way. The pharmacist told me I have to spray each nostril once a day for about 1-2 weeks for my symptoms to clear and the doctor also said that I may need to take it everytime I get the sniffles all through spring and summer. Wanting to start to unclog my stuffy nose straight away, I used the spray while I was in the office’s loo. I’m glad to say that although the pressure in my ear is still there (might still be a few days more before it disappears), my nose is certainly feeling a lot better after only a few minutes. Thank goodness it’s now highly unlikely that I may playing host to a colony of bugs of the crawly kind after all.

Published in: on October 21, 2005 at 12:10 am  Comments (2)  

Getting a Car?

On October 11, a reader named Mel posted a query about cars for new migrants on a recent post of mine: Errands. Actually, I already responded to the comment, but I just want to elaborate on it further here.

Mel wrote:

May I ask your opinion on purchasing a car upon arrival in Melbourne. I think it’s practical to get a 2nd hand but my husband prefers brand new. However, since we have no credit history or credit card for that matter, how can we go about in applying for a car loan?

In our case, we didn’t buy our own car until my third year in Australia. We found that we could get around just fine by taking the public buses. And that was in Canberra. Here in Melbourne, the public transportation is even better. By that, I mean there are more choices: there’s the bus, the tram and the train. I’ve discussed about the topic of getting around Melbourne in greater detail in an old post if you wanted to know more.

For the sake of discussion though, I’ll just assume you really need a car when you get here. I agree that getting a second hand car is more practical as it would indeed be cheaper than a brand new one. However, like your husband, I preferred a brand new car, so, that’s what we got. But, mind you, we’ve been here for a good three years when we bought our car, so, we’ve already settled down a bit and we had spare cash in our savings to get a car.

In the case of a new migrant, there might be more important uses for the savings. Unless you and your husband have jobs right off when you arrive in Australia, you’re going to need your savings to get you through the first few tough months of job hunting. And then, there are also other necessities like furniture and appliances for your apartment to worry about.

We went with a brand new car because we were pretty sure we won’t be replacing the car for the next five years or so. We knew (and hope) that a new car would last at least that long before we start getting major problems with it. Of course, a brand new car does not guarantee that we won’t have problems with it. But, in my mind, we would less likely have major problems with a brand new car in the short term than if we got a used car.

However, if you’re strapped for cash, then you have no option but to go with a second hand car. But don’t worry though. Second hand cars sold here tend to be reliable. You can have the car inspected by automotive insurance people before you purchase a car so that you know you’re not getting a lemon. Anyway, it’s in their best interest that the car you’ll be insuring with them isn’t going to break down too often after all.

You also asked about car loans. As you may already know, I don’t work for banks and loaning institutions, so I could only guess as to whether you’re actually going to get a car loan or not given your situation.

I do believe though that as long as both you and your husband have stable permanent jobs, you won’t have too much of a problem getting a car loan especially if you aren’t asking for a big amount.

I also suspect that the banks are really just checking for bad credit history. Since you don’t have a credit history yet, you wouldn’t be flagged as having a bad one, right? However, I suggest you get a savings bank account and, if possible, a credit card when you get here so that when the loaning institution makes a check on your finances, it would see that you exist in the system.

In our case though, we didn’t go with a car loan. We tried but got denied a car loan only because I was a contractor back then. Apparently, it was more important for the banks that both Raquel and I were permanently employed than having a good credit history.

Fortunately, we had enough saved cash to buy our car outright. We were also able to afford the car partly because we didn’t go for those expensive SUVs. I frankly do not understand the need for those types of vehicles in the city. If I lived in the bush, sure. But in the city, it’s just not efficient. Our Toyota Corolla is smaller and cheaper than an SUV, but, at least, it doesn’t consume as much petrol and easier to park. And even though it was small, five people could still comfortably ride in it.

Well, I was glad the bank turned down our loan application because we actually saved on not having to pay for the interest on the loan. As you know, a car depreciates over time. By getting a loan, you’ll end up paying more for something that actually loses value over time. By saving money for an outright car purchase, you’ll end up paying much less overall for a car.

In the end, I urge you to consider everything before you go buy a car. Do you really need it for the time being? Would having a car make your life significantly easier? Whatever the case, I hope I was able to provide you with helpful information.

Published in: on October 20, 2005 at 2:15 pm  Comments (2)  

How much are you worth?

Would-be migrants usually ask us how difficult it is to find work here and how much a certain position pays. Since each situation is unique, there are no clear-cut answers to these questions. There are a lot of factors to consider such as the type and size of organisation you’d be joining, your level of expertise in your chosen field, qualifications, local experience (or lack of), where you are (state/territory) and your negotiation skills. Negotiation is a bit tricky though when you don’t have the faintest idea of how much you’re worth. Quote a low pay and you may get the job but constantly worry about how to make ends meet. On the other hand, asking for too much may also mean that you may never get your foot in the door. Either way, it shows the employer your total lack of resourcefulness and research. Definitely not a good way to start.

Fortunately, there are sites where you could get this sort of information for free. Salary surveys for different jobs in various sectors are available from Hays, MyCareer and Wages.com.au (currently down but may be operational again soon) . Amounts shown are based on the annual rate and are inclusive of superannuation, tax and other benefits.

Another way to go about this is going to job search sites and looking at advertisements that may include salary information. Private organisations seldom give salary information in their advertisements outright but some do. Government positions are usually advertised in the organisation’s web site as well as government gazettes like this one from the Australian Capital Territory government and usually give wage and benefits information alongside job descriptions and selection criteria.

Published in: on October 19, 2005 at 6:10 pm  Comments (2)  

The Healesville Sanctuary and The Hedgend Maze

The Healesville Sanctuary entrance.Raquel and I wanted to forget about our house-hunting worries for one weekend at least. So, yesterday, we went to the Healesville Sanctuary in the Yarra Valley (east of Melbourne). The Zoos Victoria website discribes it as:

Healesville Sanctuary, Australia’s premier wildlife park, is nestled in the foothills of the Yarra Valley, just one hour from Melbourne. Koalas, dingoes, kangaroos and the unique platypus are just a few of the 200 species of Australian wildlife flourishing in a beautiful bushland environment of towering gum trees and lush tree ferns. Renowned as the best place in the world to see Australian animals in their natural habitats, visitor highlights include the many Animal Close-ups and Meet the Keeper presentations scheduled throughout the day.

The Healesville Sanctuary is one of three zoos that form the Zoos Victoria group. Lucky for us, when last we went to the Werribee Zoo, we bought the Zoos Victoria Passport instead of a one-day ticket. The passport allows us to go to Zoos Victoria’s three zoos (the Werribee Open Range Zoo, the Melbourne Zoo and the Healesville Sanctuary) for the price you’d normally pay to go to two zoos. So, when we used the passports at the sanctuary, we’ve now hit break-even so to speak.

The sanctuary was supposed to be only an hour away from Melbourne. Raquel and I have learned from our last drive to Ballarat that we should never believe the advertised travel time for a tourist destination. I can’t remember now the exact time it took us to get to the sanctuary but it definitely wasn’t one hour.

It was a wonderful place. We walked around in circles along the foot path for half-a-day and we never felt tired. I loved the scheduled Meet the Keeper presentations where the zoo keepers explain the different type of animals they have in the sanctuary. In the Birds of Prey presentation, they even have a trained falcon do aerial acrobatics at the start of the presentation to demonstrate how they catch their prey. Amazing to see.

The Hedgend Maze viewed from the observation tower.After a busy and fun stay at the sanctuary, we went to the Hedgend Maze which happened to be nearby. It’s essentially a big maze made out of tall hedges. Trying to solve the maze without the benefit of a map was more difficult than I first thought.

It took us just a little over an hour to get out of the maze. We probably would’ve gone through it quicker if I had realised that the map drawn on the brouchure handed to us at the counter was the actual map of the maze. The only reason why I didn’t believe it was the actual map was because the drawn map had the name “HEDGEND MAZE” incorporated on the actual map. As it turned out, the actual maze did have the name on it if you look at it from above. Anyway, I’m still proud to be able to go through the maze without the benefit of the map.

Solving the maze wasn’t the only fun thing to do there, though. Inside the maze were clues to help you solve a puzzle given to you at the counter. So it felt more like being a part of the Amazing Race reality TV show. It was a lot of fun. In the end though, we felt that we might not finish the maze before they had to close so we abandoned the clue-hunting and just proceeded to find the exit.

Other than the exit at the end of the maze, we were told at the counter that there were two emergency exits midway through the maze. I always wondered how are we going to get there if we really were in an emergency. Finding these emergency exits weren’t easy.

The entrance fee was $12 each and it includes going through the maze (of course). I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the fee also covered the cost of playing at their mini-golf course and frisbee golf area. It was the first time I’ve played both games. It was not to streneous but it was still tiring.

When we got back home, all we wanted to do was to sit around and rest. We were walking around the whole day at the sanctuary and the maze, after all. And we also did some swinging at the mini-golf course plus some frisbee throwing. It was tiring but it was all fun. Maybe we’ll go there again some day.

Photoblog Links:
Healesville Sanctuary
Hedgend Maze

Published in: on October 16, 2005 at 11:38 am  Comments (3)