Sunday, May 28, 2006

A Foggy Day in Melbourne Town

One of the things that one doesn't get very often in the Philippines anymore is real fog.
View from our balcony on a normal day. . .View from our balcony on a normal day. . .
I used to experience fog in the Philippines when I was a young boy, during the early mornings in Baguio or in Cavite. It has been a long time since I actually had the pleasure of real fog.

But one of the glorious things I am experiencing now is real, almost tangible fog. Winter is setting in and it is getting cold, but fog does not usually form. However, over the last two weeks, there have been at least one day that there has been fog, and I find it wonderful.

Oh, I am aware that fog is dangerous and hazardous. Ærynn tells me that fog only seems wonderful if one isn't driving around in one's own car but instead riding a train to the city.
. . . the same view during a foggy day.. . . the same view during a foggy day.
I also know that it may not be very healthy to have too much fog. But it is still the most wonderful fog I ever experienced, not dissipating when one comes too close and with one's breath actually adding to it. Here, too, one's breath actually "smokes" even when one is merely talking. Still, I find the fog really nice.

There are times when I try to awaken the "creepiness" when I walk through the fog, because this is very much like the sort of atmospheric quality of the game and movie called "Silent Hill" but one thing that is absent in Silent Hill but present in Heidelberg are the noises and the colors. One cannot feel creepy. I feel, rather, that this is just one aspect of Lothlörien: dangerous but wonderful at the same time.

Silent Hill
I took all these pictures with my camera in my mobile phone when Ærynn and I were on our way to the train station to go to work. As she had mentioned in the previous entry, I now have a job. For the first week while we underwent what is known as "induction" I also got to ride the train in the morning and walk from the station to the street where the main office was. Incidentally, it was just a block away from where Ærynn worked, but we've only had lunch together once—we were that busy. A bit about the differences between what Pinoys and Aussies mean about induction. To the Pinoy, induction is a ceremony where some new manager or big-shot is welcomed to work. To the Aussie, it is at the very least a three-day orientation program (ours lasted about a week) that is meant to have us up and ready to work: we are introduced to everybody and their functions (no long and arduous trial-and-error methods of finding things out through assimilation), we are shown what our duties are, and we are given a trial run where we are allowed to make mistakes. How about that.

The bowling lane just on the
other side of our street
After the induction, I was given the option of working from home. There are, of course, several advantages, primary of which is that I don't have to wear my suit very often. It's not that I don't like wearing the suit because I am glad for the excuse to dress up. It's just that I only have one suit and I can't afford to have something happen to that suit. Suits here are expensive (costing around $200 to $500) and having the suits dry-cleaned (a must) is also expensive ($11, while a good meal already costs $6).

That's another reason why I am in no hurry to go to the city for work, much as I want to. We've so far been living off Ærynn's salaray and even if we aren't destitute, having another mouth to feed has reduced us to living hand-to-mouth. Of course, this is not as bad as living hand-to-mouth as it is back in the Philippines, but being able to cut corners until I start having a much more regular salary is a good idea. And one way to cut corners is to prepare lunches from home without having to spend on public transportation or on a restaurant. In fact, I even make lunches for Ærynn to take in the morning.

The Heidelberg train station across
the street enshrouded in mist
And so I work from home and, technically, we are allowed to keep our own hours. Practically, those of us who work from home need to keep basically the same hours as our office-bound brethren. For one thing, our team leader and Lead Instructional Designer, ð–, should always find a way to contact us and vice-versa. So we were instructed to install Skype into our computers so that we can always call each other if we need to. It was just like going to the office after all, except that I can be dressed in my flannel pyjamas and gusset slippers (which I was dressed in when we were having our weekly meeting via phone conference).

There are few things that I miss from the Philippines and which Australia does not have. One of the most important is true unlimited DSL Broadband. I believe a lot of people take it for granted that Pinoys pay a pittance for DSL service that allows unlimited downloads. In Australia, we are limited to a monthly allowance. The cheapest is around 300MB per month. If all you do is check your email, then 300 megabytes a month isn't all that bad.
The Hurstbridge to Flinders Street train
coming out of the mist
But if you chat and use VoIP, you are in big trouble. For the unfortunates, their ISP would start charging them for every extra megabyte they download above their monthly allowance. The fortunates (like us) merely have their download speeds limited, from 512Kbps to only 28Kbps and no extra charges. Of course, it means snail pace internet access slower than even the dial-up in the Philippines.

So, even when we now have Skype (for free calls over the internet to our family back in the Philippines) and even a web cam (given to us by GM from Fairview Park), we can't use it. We've used up all of our data allowance and the only time we can use it freely would be today, the first billing day of the month where everything is reset. At least Ærynn had enough foresight to get the package that allowed us to download 2 Gigabytes a month, but even that wasn't enough. We're thinking of upgrading our account to 7 GB a month, but at the cost of an extra $11 to the monthly bill. We will pace ourselves instead.
When in Oz...

Ærynn was asked how it felt like to be a "dink"—of course, she had no clue what that means. DINK, it appears, stands for "Double-income, no kids" and she was asked that because I already had a job too. Finding that out, Ærynn had to truthfully answer that she didn't feel like a dink yet, since my first paycheck comes a month later.
All in all, God has been faithful and active in our lives in such a powerful way. It sounds clichéd, I know. . . like the sort of things that false prophets (televangelists) get people to say on their TV shows to get even more people to give them more money. But God really has. I cannot say I didn't expect God helping and blessing us—it was as expected as when people who love us give us help. But it is as wonderful and tangible as the fog that was wafting around Heidelberg that morning. People were taking that fog for granted in the same way that a lot of people take God's blessings for granted, which isn't always a bad thing. What is a bad thing is when we stop being thankful for those blessings and, instead, feel that we are entitled to them. I know that I am not entitled to what God has given us now, but I am glad and thankful that He blessed us anyway.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Monday Reds

T his is what I wrote last night when I couldn't get online:

Gryphon applied for his first job in Australia last Wednesday. The role was for an Instructional Designer (designer of learning materials, usually for distance education). They interviewed him last Friday and that same afternoon they offered him a six-week job! They even told him that his American accent helped because the clients they design learning materials for are American companies. Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles! It can only be God's hand and the help of AMES. We made the right decision for Gryphon to enroll in the Skilled Professional Migrants' Program at AMES which has only been running for the past two years. They polished his resume and cover letter and helped him prepare for the interview.

Off he went Friday morning wearing a suit, the first time I ever saw him in one. At around five he called me up with the news and I was struck dumb. He actually got the position he was gunning for - a job that would combine his techie and teaching skills! Of course, he'll have to go back to school soon to acquire qualifications recognised by Oz. But tonight, he is excited and nervous and scared and constipated but oh so grateful!

Monday night:
Gryphon is currently snoring away all tired from his first day at work. He couldn't sleep last night and kept waking up in fits and starts. He even got up at 5:00am eventhough we normally get out of bed at 6:30am. I can understand the anxiety. I think most of us feel that way when confronted by huge change or opportunity. I know I felt that way as well... you feel that you might not have the right stuff. From our chats tonight, I can sense the tension he is feeling. Everyone else in the office is more experienced in this field, it's going to be a full-on job and they have a rigorous quality assurance process. But it is a challenge I know he wants to have and one he's willing to take. One that he has actually been spoiling for even when he was in the Philipines.When in Oz...

A common way of saying goodbye is "See you later!", normally abbreviated to "See yah." This doesn't mean that the person will see you later. In fact, I've had a customer service representative tell me this over the phone.


Tomorrow, he said that he'll bring fruit for lunch since everyone else brought one... the office acculturation is starting! He looked nice wearing a suit today (the same suit) and will definitely need more office clothes. They want him to go to the office in the city for his first two weeks. Then work from home but attend meetings in the city every Friday.

When it's Monday and you feel sad, you say you have the Monday blues. But today, Gryphon had an intense day - excitement, joy and fear all rolled into one - so I'll call it the Monday reds.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The First Floor

We finally have a computer! When we first transferred flats in March, I didn't think it would be such a big deal not having our own PC and we could hold off buying one but it was just difficult. Gryphon is a techie and he can't live without one. We got a monthly instalment deal and we're excited because it's got a TV tuner and we get to watch television in the comfort of our room. And it also gives us the chance to connect to family and friends via YM and Skype. Gryphon turns it on first thing in the morning to see what the temperature is and since yesterday, it has been a top of 13 degrees, signaling well and truly that it is winter. One blessing we received in connection with this is that our churchmates, the Sisons, donated their old white computer table that was destined for the scrap heap. So things worked out well.

Now that Gryphon is here, our weekends and holidays have been full. We spent Good Friday at the St Albans Uniting Church with the Filipino congregation (another hook-up courtesy of the Sisons). It was so much like being back home, just wonderful to meditate on Jesus's seven last words. Then we were able to meet up with Kuya Bener, Ate Candy and their family, former churchmates at the Kamuning First UMC. We were able to watch the video of their son's wedding while eating turon (fried banana in spring roll wrapper) and freshly cracked almonds.

St. Alban's
Uniting Church of Australia
We went driving afterwards and looked at lakes near their home and we reached the posh suburb of Williamstown. It was just wonderful fellowshiping with them and filling in the gaps of the years in between.

One Sunday we ate yumcha at a suburb called Sunshine with another couple. It was an adventure as we were served chicken feet and lots of dimsim with prawn (which Gryphon is unfortunately addicted to) but we managed because the food was great and it was good value as well. Then we looked at model homes in the new suburb of Point Cook. These were huge fully furnished homes that gave us ideas of how we would like our dream homes to look like. We definitely want a huge kitchen but not huge everything else as cleaning will be a nightmare.

Inside a display home
at Point Cook
It was great following after the other couple in their sports car because I kept up with their speed and found myself flying through the highway. Mind you, I had always been scared to go on the highway before this point. So that was a real learning experience in terms of driving.

Last Saturday, we hosted our Bible study group for the first time. There were about 10 people who came. We served them munchies, hot arroz caldo and chocolate chip cookies (my friend Luci's recipe). The discussion around the book of Ruth was inspired and our table spread was a hit! We bought some silverware (spoons, forks, teaspoons) and some placemats the day before. Then that day, we went to Preston market and bought the ingredients. Our friends loved the flat and the view because it's like Baguio.

Gryphon is currently taking classes for professional migrants to help them find work in Australia and to understand the culture. He's learning so many things and he comes home excited and full of hope. One thing he is learning to adjust to is the cold. We have bought an electric heater in our room and he puts on layers of clothing but I guess nothing really prepares you for the stinging cold wind.
When in Oz...

The first floor of a building is called the ground floor. The second floor is called the first floor. So right now we live in the first floor of a two-storey flat (maybe we live in the second storey). Go figure!

Other than that, we have been visiting one of my aunts a lot, scouting for a PC, going to the Immigration Museum to look at their Greek exhibit, buying things for the flat... and learning to live as husband and wife. There are times when I wake up and marvel that Gryphon is here, that we are finally together. Even now that we have only lived one and a half months together, I cannot imagine life without him. We are slowly climbing up and struggling and adjusting but always thankful that we have each other.