Friday, April 21, 2006

My Grass is Green

It always comes as a shock and a revelation whenever one finds something new about oneself. Or rather, when one realizes that one actually has some attitudes that one never expected. I never expected that I would be one of those Pinoys that was subconsciously assuming that 'the grass is greener on the other side'. When I touched down here, I was smitten by the same sort of fever I once observed in Ærynn, the sort of fever that constantly 'realizes' just how much better Oz is over the Philippines.

I also realized that, inspite of all this, I am still very much a Pinoy. I still catch myself saying 'sana ganyan din sa atin,' as if 'atin' was still the Philippines. Ærynn is already well on her way down the road of becoming a Melbourne citizen (identifying with Melbourne whenever it is held in comparison with Sydney, for example) and feeling that Victoria is her state. I think I am fortunate that I don't feel terribly homesick or experiencing the debilitating type of culture shock (I mean, I still have it, but not to a debilitating degree) because I came here with a 'home' waiting for me. But, as I said, I am still so much the Pinoy in that I always wish and, indeed, insist that some of the wonderful things I find here should also be found in the Philippines. It was only a bit later that I realized that Oz and the Philippines maybe different, but not really 'worlds apart' different.

Take the self discipline, for instance. In the Pinas, I got used to long, unorderly queues to the MRT/LRT with security checking everything and almost everything banned on the train. The train stations are basically sealed off. But here security is so lax. It's relatively easy to board a train and step off without a ticket. I've even seen people bring along dogs, bicycles and into the trains. I've been told that times when security is heightened is when there are terror threats or big events like the last Commonwealth Games. But, in the main, it seems, Aussies are perfectly willing to obey rules without having to be told all the time by someone else. And so, no one eternally having to check your pockets and look into your bags.

Apparently a self-regulating country is a much free-er country than one that needs too much 'maintenance' and 'regulation.'

Yet, inspite of all the self-discipline, I am beginning to find that one of the things that Pinoys and Aussies will share is that there will be some people who are thoughtless and rude. Public transport passengers whinge (complain) through MX (a free afternoon newspaper) about the rudeness of people along their train line—people jostling old people aside, or not allowing passengers to get down first before boarding, among other complaints. When I read about that, I actually said aloud 'Ah. . . parang Pinas din pala.' I'm sure that there are certain places in Manila and Quezon City, or even the Philippines that have their well-mannered communities (up until the late 90's, I would have said Baguio City every time). But although Manila has a much denser population than Melbourne I found more polite, helpful people here than back there. Perhaps the added stress of living so closely to too many people is detrimental to manners.

So, whenever I hear an Aussie complain about Melbourne 'losing the Melbourne spirit that we had during the Commonwealth Games' (the spirit so akin to the mythical bayanihan spirit we Pinoys supposedly have) I smile inwardly a little bit. With Pinoy attitudes and manners still fresh in my mind, I still think that Aussies are better off. But that isn't very fair. It is, after all, a matter of relativity. Maybe someday, when I get to know Aussies better, maybe I, too, shall think that things can still be better.

One other thing that I didn't know that I didn't think I would see in Melbourne is poverty and unemployment. I mean, this is the country of opportunity! This is the country that actually gave me my Tax File Number, my Medicare number, and help in finding work within my first month here. I mean, there are actually systems already in place to help people like me find not just work but the sort of work that is suited to me. For free. While the universities in the Pinas would do its level best to make you go through the motions of education (not caring whether you actually learn skills or not as long as you end up with 'a degree'), they cast you adrift as soon as you graduate. Then you find that all those years of tuition was wasted on acquiring outdated skills or knowledge, that you have to undergo more training to make you fit for the workplace. So I am pleasantly surprised that the Aussies actually put a premium on what you are actually able to do.

Yet there still is poverty. There still is unemployment. Right here. Right now. Homeless people stand out anywhere, and especially here.

Still, it seems that Aussies accept that poverty and unemployment are a large enough problems in Oz that they created those very systems that are helping me now just to stem the tide. Apparently, even if we have a highly educated and literate society it doesn't necessarily mean an end to poverty (as Pinoy politicians believe with so much faith). I have been told, in fact, in one of those free employment seeking seminars that the phrase 'it isn't what you know but who you know' is as true in Oz as it is in the Philippines. What d'ya know? May palakasan pa rin.

The difference is that those who are unemployed here are those who haven't gone to 'Uni' (that is, the University, or college), or have very few skills, or started out too poor to go to school and get those skills or are migrants. On the occassion that they are Uni graduates and still unemployed, it's because the job market is saturated and therefore has become competitive. Which is all very nice and logical anyway. Of course, these may very well turn out to be generalisations and I may be proven wrong at a later date.

In the Pinas, however, where people claim University education as a right, and therefore all should have it, every job is saturated with people who are, in theory, over-qualified. High school students here can find jobs whereas in the Pinas if you are a high-school graduate you might as well be a 'no read, no write' person (which, I sadly observe, may not be very far from the truth) and no job other than the really low-paying ones are open to you.

But the Philippines does not hold the monopoly on the 'dumbing down' of education. Just this morning I was watching the Sunrise program on Seven (which is their version of Unang Hirit, which is coincidentally shown on GMA 7) and there was a report on the 'dumbing down' of English courses to make it easier for students to pass. Sounds familiar, since in the Philippines, it is being done for decades. The younger generation (apparently worldwide) are less able to read and write than their predecessors. It is a slow descent into entropy. So far, the Aussies are trying to fight it, as opposed to the Pinoy way of justifying it. At any rate, the Prime Minister (John Howard) seems to be demanding the inclusion of more classics on the reading list to improve matters (imagine Tita Glo, may she leave office, trying to convince the already lazy Pinoy students to read more books—it might be what finally topples her from power).

I also altruistically believed that teachers in Oz may be better off than teachers in the Philippines. Then I remembered this old article I wrote about an article written for The Age some time ago, and I'm not in such a hurry to become a teacher here after all.

As my wife Ærynn puts it, one only truly realizes that the Philippines is a 'third-world country' only when one is living in a more developed country. Yeah, humans are humans everywhere, and the same flaws in Pinoys can als be found When in Oz...

Whingers are those who whinge or complain too much (seems to have come from 'whine' but is pronounced to rhyme with 'hinge'). Looks like I've done a bit of whinging myself.
in Aussies, but here I find a basic truth resonating again and again but which people everywhere do not want to admit: there is more freedom when there are limits. Pinoys do whatever they want, and are allowed to do whatever they want because of widespread and endemic corruption down to the grass-roots level, and so they have to contend with security guards everywhere and not so efficient systems. It is what they have foisted on themselves and it is what they deserve. Aussies, too, are prone to the same follies, but they have a set of strict rules which actually gives greater freedom.

It is a major controversy now that the police are pushing to have the law changed that will allow parents to be held responsible for the wrong-doings of their errant children. If this becomes a reality soon, maybe Australia will become a better place to raise kids after all.

But, these are the words of one who's only been here less than a month, and I'm only calling it as I now see it. I shall keep watching, and we shall see. In the meantime, my grass is green.
Someone once told me
The grass is much greener
On the other side
And I paid a visit
(Well, it's possible I missed it)
It seemed different,
Yet exactly the same

'Til further notice,
I'm in-between
From where I'm standing,
My grass is green

(Someone once told me
The grass is much greener
On the other side)
(theme song from As Told by Ginger)

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Fish and Chips and the Big Smoke

Gryphon has been curious about fish and chips and so far he's seen a lot of shops selling this meal around Melbourne. It's composed of the side of the fish marinated and having some batter either deep fried or grilled and potato chips (fat versions of French fries). We had some last night and it was nice with some salad. But we wondered out loud how this dish became an icon in Britain (it was probably just imported to Australia).

I've had a full week's work this week and Gryphon has been so nice taking me to and from the train station. He's learned to get to the CBD (Central Business District) or "the City" for short via train. Last Sunday (his birthday), we went to the city to watch a movie (Tristan and Isolde) and bought a shower caddy. Afterwards, we walked along Swanston Street (the main city street) and took in the sights and sounds. Gryphon wondered at the many people walking the streets and how people actually felt safe just casually strolling around at night. That day, the temperature had dropped from 30 degrees to 10 degrees and we were both shocked at the sudden autumn weather. So we were clutching tightly at our jackets.

Gryphon was excited about our walk and marveled at the old sights such as St Paul's Cathedral and the Flinders Street Train Station which looked like a real old-time train station.
Flinders Street Train Station
However, right in front of these icons is the post-modern Federation Square. When we got beyond the square, we discovered the Yarra River boulevard. The night was quiet, the lights were romantic and the river was placid. It was a time for us to just reflect on how blessed we were. We found ourselves praying aloud for all our loved ones while sitting on one of the benches. We miss the families we left behind but glad that we have each other and the opportunity to experience all these sights and sounds.

Gryphon traveled again to the city last Wednesday so we can get his Medicare card (to enable him to get into the public health care system of Australia). On Thursday, he came with me during the morning and we had brekkie (breakfast) together. That inspired me for the whole day.When in Oz...

When people refer to "The Big Smoke" they aren't referring to a barbecue (which is popular in Australia). It actually refers to "The City".
Then he came for me after my night class. As both of us were feeling adventurous, we walked along the Southbank (other river bank) of the Yarra. It was so romantic. But we couldn't find a place to eat. Finally, we got some sandwiches at the train station and watched the pigeons feeding on bread being scattered by an old woman.

We will have a new feature in this blog entitled "When in Oz" giving tips and things we've learned from living here. So here's the first one, in a box on the right.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Burgundy Street

Gryphon Hall014.jpg
Originally uploaded by Gryphon Hall
This is Burgundy Street, supposedly the heart of historic Heidelberg. I had to walk down this street to purchase a few things we needed around the house. This was the first time I went downtown on my own without my wife accompanying me.

It was ok, I guess.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

No Longer Giddy... But Feeling Bliss

It has been a week now since my husband has come to Australia. That first day, it all seemed surreal seeing him at the airport and actually getting to talk to him and hug him. Then when we tried to have an afternoon nap, it was strange having someone else in the bed... and snoring loudly to boot.

That evening, we were able to go the Bible Study and then our flatmate's birthday the next day. And we have been going around trying to get things and buy things needed now that we are in our flat and now that Gryphon is in Oz. We are essentially newlyweds and it is bliss. I no longer have to go to shops alone, etc. Last Monday, we went to the groceries and it was so natural just buying food and toiletries with him. When I wake up, I usually find that he is hugging me and it is joy to just stay in that embrace.

Gryphon is experiencing Australia for the first time and seeing everything with fresh eyes. He kept on asking where all the people were. Coming from a city of 11 million (Manila) to a city of 3 million (Melbourne) which is also bigger in terms of area, it was strange to him to see few people along the streets. He also noticed the maple trees that line our street and kept on comparing this place to Baguio and Cavite. He even noticed that the stars are different.

I'm also happy because other people are happy for us. One officemate gave us champagne, another gave us Haigh's chocolate (really good), still another a bouquet of red roses and white orchids and my former manager even gave me a new blouse. Yesterday, we had lunch with a young Filipino couple and their two little girls... they were so welcoming towards him.

We opened a new joint bank account and Gryphon was amazed that the bank people were actually happy to have our business and took the time to know what we needed the bank account for. It was such a contrast to our earlier experiences with banks in the Philippines where the staff behaved like they were doing us a favour when we opened our bank accounts and we were intruding on their time.

Last night, my good lady friends Jo and Marc went with us to a wonderful award-winning Indian restaurant named Cafe Saffron (link 1 & link 2), the food was in a word - orgasmic! The owner noticed that we were having a difficult time ordering so he took our menus away from us, told us that he will "take care" of us and actually ordered the food. The entree was a spice-encrusted meat dish coupled with some crisp bread. Then the feast came comprised of their signature dishes. I cannot tell you the names of any of them but they were delicious. Made me rethink my total concept of Indian food as being weird smelly. These were just bursting with flavour. The manager even gave us complementary desserts which we all loved. Then we all went to our new flat and brought out Gryphon's birthday cake and he blew the candles. A (our flatmate) came home and we all had a great time - Jo and Marc gave Gryphon mugs, chocolate and candles and they even paid for the dinner! They left our place at 3 in the morning.

Anyway, have a lot of pressures at work and in school right now and it's really stressful but Gryphon takes me to the train station in the morning and when I come home, he's there patiently waiting at train station and we walk the five minutes to our flat. It's enough.