Still here

First of all, I know it’s later than late but Happy New Year to all!

As you could probably deduce from the title, although I haven’t been posting, I’m still here in the fringes being busy. So what have I been up to?

Sometime last year, I have purchased a Nikon d40x camera which I used while on holiday and promptly forgot about. Recently, I found renewed interest in it and have been reading up on the basics of photography and learning more about the camera. I still got a long way to go before I get satisfactory results on non-Auto mode but everybody’s got to start somewhere.

Another motivation for me to learn about the camera is our upcoming trip to Tasmania. I’ve seen photos of and heard of the great vistas in Tasmania so I’m pretty excited to try my hand at some practice landscape photography while there. In the meantime, I have also been busy planning and booking flights, accommodations, car-hire and of course, the Cadbury chocolate factory tour.

We didn’t go anywhere or do anything special during the Christmas holidays so we’re both looking forward to this opportunity to get away from work. Hubby and I have been crazy busy at work as well and are both in dire need of some rest and relaxation.

Apart from that, we’ve finally found the time to get some furniture (Ikea for now) for our living room. Let me tell you, going to the shop, assembling the thing and setting it up in the room is really hard work. My current project is to get some artwork and photos onto our walls, which are presently conspicuously bare.

So yeah, I’ve been pursuing other interests other than this blog. Not to worry though, I’d try to update more frequently than once every quarter. No promises though.

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Published in: on January 14, 2008 at 8:29 pm  Comments (1)  

Cost of living in Australia?

I found that the most common question asked by people I know who are thinking of migrating to Australia is how much does it cost to live in Australia. Well, I don’t have official statistics or anything so the only way I can answer this is to draw from my personal experience living in Melbourne.

Back when we didn’t pack home-cooked lunch to the work, we spend around $250 per week on groceries with the cost of eating out for lunch included. A lunch meal will generally cost about $10. It’ll probably cheaper at McDonald’s or Hungry Jack’s (aka Burger King) with their $6 burger meals that include chips (French fries) and drink. At selected Hungry Jack’s branches, you even get to refill your drink again and again. In the end, it will always be a lot cheaper to cook your own food than to eat out.

To save even more, instead of shopping at Safeway (called Woolworths outside Victoria, I don’t know why) or Coles, shop at Aldi instead. Sure, the selection of products is a bit limited at Aldi but those you can get there, you’ll get there a lot cheaper than the major supermarket chains. We would first buy our groceries at Aldi then go to the nearby Safeway to buy the rest of the things on our grocery list that we didn’t get at Aldi.

This $250 does not include transportation costs, clothing and utilities. We take the train so that’s $158 for a monthly full-fare Zone 1+2 ticket each. That ticket allows us to take any public transportation within Greater Melbourne. If you live closer to the city (within the Zone 1 boundary), you get to pay less. We only use the car on weekends and it costs us about $30 per week to have it filled with petrol (gasoline).

As for our utilities, our latest water quarterly bill was about $90. During winter time, our gas bill can reach up to $100 per month. Gas (gaas) is usually necessary not only for cooking but for heating homes, you see. Electricity bills tend to rise during winter too due to our need to turn on electric heaters and less daylight. Our winter electricity bill can reach up to $200 in a quarter. However, we are still aiming to lower our electricity, water and gas usage so hopefully, we’ll need to pay less in the future. We are doing this not only to save money but of course to help out the environment. Yeah, I just had to throw that in there.

If you are renting an apartment, you probably won’t need to worry about the water bill as the owner of the property usually pays for the water. So that’s one advantage of renting. Speaking of renting, a two bedroom apartment we rented in St Kilda East (an inner Melbourne suburb, about 15 minutes away from the city by train) cost about $1,200 per month (they will quote the rent in dollars per week though). Apartments will cost more if furnished.

If you are just starting out and you need furniture, go see Fantastic Furniture. They have the cheapest furniture packages that I know of. It’s not exactly the classiest furniture around but they definitely aren’t shoddy either. For $2000, you get a double-sized bed and matress, a dining table plus chairs, living room tables, bedsides (drawers), and a 51cm TV! You’ll probably need to assemble some of the furniture yourself though but I’m sure you’ll be able to handle it. That’s partly how they can sell it for cheaper. I bought my first furniture suite from them and I found the furniture to be sturdy and durable. And they don’t look too shabby either.

For the clothes and other spendings, you will get a better idea of how much things cost here by looking at the various department store chains’ catalogues online. Here are a few of the more popular chains of shops:
Myer
Target
Big W
Kmart

Now, you have to do the math (or as they say here, maths) and figure out how much money you need to bring with you when you fly to Australia. Be sure to bring enough money with you to last you six months here without a job just to be sure. Note that the cost I quoted above was for two persons living together. Utility bills might be cheaper if you are by yourself living in a one bedroom apartment, for example. It could be more expensive if you are a family of four, of course.

I hope this helps anybody wanting to know how much things cost here.

Published in: on November 21, 2007 at 12:01 am  Comments (5)  

Finding a place to live

A reader whose family has recently received their resident visa has sent us an email with some queries on how to find a place to live here. This reminded me of the time when we were still in the process of moving here from Canberra and how we went about finding an apartment in an unfamiliar place where we don’t know anybody and we only have the weekends to drive from Canberra to Melbourne to view the listed properties. The move was difficult but not impossible and hubby spent a few weekends driving and sleeping in hotels.

Anyway for those who are just starting their search, hope these tips ease the difficulty of getting your own place.

  1. If it’s at all possible, get a street map of your target destination (Victorian map). This would not only help you in choosing where to narrow your search for a place to live, it would also be handy for the times when you need to find work, schools, parks, etc.
  2. A new migrant would probably not be in a rush to own a car and would generally be reliant on the public transport – this would include trains, trams and buses. The easiest and probably the fastest mode of transport (if it turns up!) are the trains. Study the network map for Melbourne and surrounding areas to see which areas have the service. Take note that there are two zones and fare levels within the network. Yellow denotes zone 1 while blue means zone 2.
  3. Although most train station names are also suburb names, not all train stations/stops are suburbs. For example, Balaclava station (Sandringham line) is in the suburb of Balaclava. However, there is no Aircraft suburb even if there’s an Aircraft station (Werribee line). To determine if the name is a suburb, try to find the name in this list of Melbourne suburbs.
  4. Once you have a suburb name or a postcode taken from the list of suburbs, you could now search for available rental properties at Domain or Realestate.com.au. Enter the suburb name and wait for the site to return a list. Both sites feature a way to view the available properties on a map (Plot properties on map link for Domain.com.au, View on Map tab in Realestate.com.au). Although the map is quite limited in what it shows, it is still a useful way for you to see how near the property is to public transport and parks. Click on the little houses/markers to see a short description and a thumbnail photo of the property.

    As an example, I typed in St Kilda East as a search criteria in Domain.com.au, switched to map view and clicked on a property in Blenheim Street. This ad is for apartment unit number 3 at property number 24 with 2 bedrooms, 1 bath and 1 parking spot. Located near the bottom of the map is the Balaclava train station while the solid lines on Carlisle and Chapel Streets indicate that tram lines run through these streets. This means that the property is very near public transport. Remember that being close to public transport could be a minus (noisy, a higher volume of people passing through and possibly traffic in peak hours) as well as a plus (easy to get to, numerous options to get away, cheaper transportation cost as you may not have to own a car until much later). Rent is listed as $280 weekly which would probably be paid monthly ($280/week x 52 weeks/year divided by 12 months/year = $1,213.33 monthly).

  5. To learn more about the location of the property, go to Street-Directory.com.au and enter 24 Blenheim Street, Balaclava VIC as the address. The map displayed would be quite detailed and you would be able to see train lines and stations as well as tram and bus routes. You would also be able to see that it there are a couple of schools, parks, parking spaces and a town hall nearby. Ticking on the For Rent layer on the left hand side menu of the page would also show all the rental properties being advertised in the area.
  6. If you’re curious, you could also learn more about the demographics of an area buying looking at the suburb’s profile. Local newspapers could also shed some light on the lifestyle of the people living in the area as well as the burning issues of the residents there. Typing “St Kilda newspapers” in Google, I found the area’s local newspaper – The Port Phillip Leader.
  7. Create a shortlist of properties you would be interested in and contact the agents to inspect the properties. Photos in the ads do help but there is no real substitute to actually being there and imagining yourself walking the streets everyday, envisioning your furniture in the space and seeing how you like the place.
  8. And finally, for those who are unfamiliar with the rental application process in Australia as well as their rights and responsibilities as tenants, have a browse at the renting section of the Consumer Affairs Victoria. One particular document to be found there is the especially useful guide for newly arrived migrants and refugees.
Published in: on November 19, 2007 at 7:52 am  Comments (1)  

7 interesting things

We got tagged by Linda to divulge seven interesting things about ourselves. This meme was a bit difficult for me to answer mainly because I couldn’t think of anything interesting to share! Anyway here goes, enjoy!

1. Unsure of what degree to take up in university, I did the easiest and laziest thing to do: copied from my friends. We all took the entrance exam at the university at the same time and I was the only one who got accepted!

2. If I hadn’t taken up a course in computers, I think I would have been a starving writer.

3. I was once challenged to a fight by this girl in high school because she overheard me teasing my male friend about her. I don’t know why I did it but my reaction was to smile, which made her even angrier, she stomped off and the fight never happened.

4. My mom loves to cook, I used to tease her about building a library full of cookbooks. She’s an excellent cook, by the way.

5. I cook mainly because it’s economical and practical rather than having a real love for it.

6. I used to have these nightmares everyday where I would wake up screaming when I was about five. I remember our pet kitten would sometimes climb up to my bed and lick my face to wake me up.

7. I hate having hayfever. I used to scoff at people complaining of their terrible hayfever until I got it too. I think it’s a terrible waste of my day to have to suffer blocked sinuses, headache, a runny nose, watery eyes and having to sleep it off to at least ease the symptoms. Nasal sprays and Claramax doesn’t do a thing to alleviate nor prevent it. I am suffering from it at the moment and am wishing for spring to be over soon.

And now I tag Ivy of Phenomenonemone, Alma of Spilling my own thunder, Fatima of From the sidewalk and Jennie of The sassy Melbournite.

Published in: on October 17, 2007 at 7:16 am  Comments (3)  

Recycle that PC

Where do electronic goods go to die? Well, my first guess would be in the rubbish tip either brought there by their previous owners or collected and deposited there by the council during scheduled rubbish days. It’s sad that these gadgets which were once so much a part of our lives and could even have held pride of place among our possessions are now deemed worthless and are now landfill.

Another option would be to recycle them and some companies accept old computer equipment to be recycled. The problem however is that it’s not as easy as kerbside recycling. You really have to make a concious effort to haul your equipment to your car, drive all the way to the recycling facility and you sometimes even have to pay a small fee for them to recycle the thing. For most of us, it’s enough to discourage us from recycling these equipment.

In our case, we have a desktop computer that had gone toast since a year a go and a monitor that would do real damage to your eyes if you still attempt to use it. We were planning to have it recycled but never got around to it. Which is why it’s still in our study, languishing on the floor and taking up space. The solution to the problem of what we should do with it came when we were at the public library last weekend. I noticed a large poster on the notice board about Apple sponsoring a free recycling program in our area. Click on this link for locations where this program will be held as well as the date/time. For Wyndham residents, here are the details for the recycling program near our area:

When: July 28 (Saturday) 10am – 4pm, July 29 (Sunday) 10am-2pm
Where: Wyndham City Council Depot 241-253 Old Geelong Road, Hoppers Crossing (next door to Mitre10)
What to bring: Any old computers, laptops, monitors or computer related peripherals
What NOT to bring: Copiers, TVs, overhead projectors, batteries not integral to computer systems, cracked or broken CRT monitors, UPS units, contaminated equipment of any kind, or any other universal or hazardous waste prohibited by local, state or federal government.

Published in: on July 27, 2007 at 12:25 pm  Comments (2)  

8 random things about me

I was reading Alma’s blog last night and found out that we’ve been tagged. The meme involves spilling the beans about eight facts about yourself and here are the rules:

  • Each player must post these rules first.
  • Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
  • People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
  • At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
  • Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

So here’s mine:

  1. I love to sleep. If you ask me what my hobby is, top spot would go to sleeping. Hubby calls it wasted time but to me it’s perfect for relaxation and recharging. I believe the world would be a better place if everyone gets enough sleep every night.
  2. I like Indian food but it does not agree with me. I’d be happily having Indian food for lunch and be miserable for hours after with an upset stomach and reflux. I finally decided I’d rather skip the delicious curries along with the misery and just try other cuisines.
  3. I once entered and won an essay writing contest in high school. The prize was a copy of Roget’s thesaurus, which I absolutely loved.
  4. My family didn’t own a television for several years when I was growing up. Instead, I amused myself by reading old literature textbooks left behind by a previous tenant.
  5. Teachers once entered me into a science and maths contest. The contest was only open to senior students who weren’t in the honour roll so all the smart ones weren’t able to join. I thought it very odd to discriminate against anyone on the honours list but I wasn’t about to tell the teachers how silly and stupid that rule was. I showed up without any arguments and got first place in the science category and second on the maths.
  6. I don’t like hot tea. My maternal grandfather and my parents have been encouraging me to drink it since I was young but they haven’t succeeded so far.
  7. I always thought I’d be with someone older than me but hubby is 1.5 years younger than me. He assures me nobody could tell anyway.
  8. My dad is a heavy smoker and I’ve been a passive smoker for half my life. I’ve tried smoking, liked it and thought that there’s a very real chance of me getting hooked so I stopped after a few puffs. I can’t stand the smell of smoke now.

And now, I tag YOU! If you do decide to respond to this meme, please leave a comment so I know to read your responses.

Published in: on July 13, 2007 at 12:01 pm  Comments (3)  

Excuse me while I de-clutter my life

I know, I know! I’ve been missing from this blog for over a month that you’d be forgiven in thinking that I’ve disappeared off the face of the planet. What’s my excuse? The weather of course! It’s the middle of winter here in Australia and like most everyone else, I’m sort of hibernating. It’s so cold outside on most days that all I want to do is stay at home and keep warm.

However, that does not mean that I’ve been idle. Staying at home gave me the opportunity to have a good look at our home. Since moving in about 2 years ago, we haven’t really done up the place, we basically just moved our old stuff in and forgot all about it. We still had our old mis-matched furniture, the living room was a drab place and every room is really very messy and cluttered.

The first step was to sell off some of our old furniture on Ebay. I’ve managed to sell a rug, recliner, a set of tables, floor lamps, an old TV and even the lava lamp from hubby’s bachelor years! I won’t get rich with the money I got for them but at least I’ve made some space, got some lunch money with the stuff being carted away by happy buyers at no cost to me and I was also able to help the environment in the process (less landfill). Not a bad deal overall, if you ask me.

Next, I had to go through our old clothes. We’ve been keeping tired, frayed clothing in the hopes of re-purposing them but I realised we’ve been keeping a lot of them and not going through them fast enough. We also had some clothes that were still in good shape but just won’t fit anymore (and probably won’t ever again). Most of them went to the charity bin with some pieces put away for use as rugs or work clothes. With less clothes in forgotten boxes and closet corners, I was also able to reclaim some closet space. I’m still not done re-organising the closet and yet it’s already starting to look neater and things are now way easier to find. This exercise also made me realise how much weight I’ve put on! And I thought I was fat then! What should I call myself now?!? Maybe I should watch what I eat this winter as I usually get bigger during the winter and never really lose most of it when warmer weather comes around.

Now, a clean-up won’t be really complete if it does not involve some papers. Bills, magazines, newspapers and even promotional materials are strewn about in almost every corner of our house. To tame the paper monster, I bought several binders from Officeworks and tried categorising them and organising the bills. Owner manuals and instruction booklets were kept together in a box for easier access and to avoid the ever-frustrating search for them whenever the need for them arises. Old magazines, newspapers and promotional materials went straight to the recyclable bin. The study certainly looked a lot less cluttered when I was done and I was able to free up some space in the bookshelves as well.

Purging our house of such unnecessary things has been quite therapeutic. It’s good to have a set place for things and looking at (or even admiring) the neat shelves after I’ve gone through them. Maybe I’m a touch obsessive compulsive, no? Nonetheless, I still have quite a long way to go since I haven’t even gotten to the kitchen pantry and cupboards, linen closet, bedrooms and the garage (where all our junk currently lives). As you have probably guessed by now, I have my hands full till summer comes around again.

Published in: on July 12, 2007 at 12:33 am  Leave a Comment  

Around the Yard

Two weekends ago, we got ourselves some free shrub plants, care of the local city council. For a week, the six plants were sharing one small pot while we figured out what to do with them. Three of them we already gave away to our friends. We decided that we’d plant one near our driveway so that it wouldn’t look so barren. We wanted to plant the remaining two shrubs in big pots and place them in our front yard just outside our front window.

Last Sunday, we went to Bunnings Warehouse and picked out the pots and potting mix we’ll use. Since we got back home a bit late, we ended up not being able to plant the shrubs in the pots. However, there was still enough time before sunset, so I dug up a hole near our driveway and planted the shrub.

My only fear is that I don’t have a green thumb to speak of. We tried to move two plants in our backyard a few months ago and both plants are now dead. I just hope that the plant survives to grow into a healthy shrub.

On a slightly different story, our backyard fence has had holes in two places since February when the construction people of the new apartment behind us accidentally punched through our fence with their earthmovers. Since then, we’ve been trying to get them to fix the damage they caused.

And finally, after much nagging on our part, they finally fixed one of the holes on the fence. That’s the good news. The bad news is that there is still one hole that was left unpatched. According to the construction manager I spoke to over the phone, he was only told about one hole. Since I want to stay civilized about the whole thing, I thanked him for fixing one of the holes and asked him to fix the other. He said that it would be fixed sometime this week.

We’ll just have to wait and see.

Published in: on June 6, 2007 at 11:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

Shower head exchange

Even though the rain is finally falling here in Melbourne, it won’t be enough to reverse the current drought. Everyone is being encouraged to save water and City West Water is offering its customers to swap old, inefficient shower heads for new ones. Old shower heads could use up to 20 litres of water per minute compared to just 9 litres per minute for the new ones. Not only are the new shower heads water efficient, it looks mighty better than the old ones too. The best news about this shower head swap is that it won’t cost you anything, the water company is offering to swap your old shower heads for free (well, with a maximum of 2 shower heads per household).

To participate, just bring your old shower heads, a completed application form and your latest water bill to an exchange center on the specified day. For Wyndham City residents like us, the exchange started last Monday (14th of May) and would run till Friday week (25th of May) at the local libraries.

Prior to this, the water company has offered to exchange shower heads last December. I signed up for that event but was away on holidays on the day of exchange. Lucky they’re giving us another chance to turn in our old, ugly shower heads in exchange for a new, shiny one. The only thing we’re apprehensive about is that we would have to take out our old shower heads to get the new ones and we don’t have a clue as to how difficult that would be. Sure, the water company had some instructions and illustrations online (and even a link to a video) but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about instructional videos, it’s that it’s not as easy as they make it out to be!

Anyway, we’re planning to make the exchange this weekend. So fingers crossed that everything turns out to be as simple as it looks!

Published in: on May 18, 2007 at 8:00 am  Comments (4)  

Ikea hacker

Being in the IT business, I’ve associated the term hacker to mean someone who thinks up of a clever way to work out a solution to a certain computer programming problem and executes it successfully. The word has somehow evolved and could now be applied to a number of things in the real world and not just confined to the world of computers.

I’ve recently discovered a blog called the Ikea hacker which focuses on using Ikea products to create customised furniture and decorations around the home. It’s fun to see how Ikea fans take bits and pieces of Ikea stuff and transform them into something personal, pretty and functional. If you’re an Ikea fan, it’s definitely worth checking out. Who knows, it might even give you inspiration to create your own hack!

Published in: on March 21, 2007 at 1:05 pm  Leave a Comment