Sunday, March 18, 2012

This NEVER happens!

I might just be at a good point in my life.

As I was blogging about how friendly Australians are to one another Cara was posting an article about the woman who held up a nearby shop at knifepoint this weekend and Karen was writing about the drug search going on in her neighbourhood nearby.

No, it's not perfect here. 

But things are going fairly swimmingly for me.

An example:

The upstairs toilet stopped flushing last night.  Damon called the repairman and he stopped by today just as Ian went down for his afternoon nap.  (Note:  Ian actually TOOK an afternoon nap today!)

As I sat on the rim of the tub - still in lounging pants and a T-shirt that would have had a German repairman running for the hills in embarrassment (or rather a Turkish repairman taking discrete photos with his mobile and sending them to his friends!) - this guy smiled the entire time and asked me if I was from the same part of the USA as Terry Owens.  Terry Owens.  Damn.  Sounds like some sports figure I should know about. 

When he continued on by asking if I'd ever been to the Australia Zoo, I realise he'd said Terry Irwin with an Australian accent and decided to be flattered.  She's fairly cute, bubbly, AND owns the Australia Zoo.  Which is only 30 minutes away.  Maybe there is a future impersonating her when she needs a holiday!  (She's from Oregon; I checked.  Northern accent anyway!)

Meanwhile this guy is putzing around in my toilet. 

Which I had just cleaned the day before. 

As well as the floor around the toilet.

And the entire bathroom.  (I'm telling you ladies; Norwex is making it oh so simple for me!)

How often does THAT really happen?  That your bathroom is actually spotless enough for someone to be bending over the toilet bowl and reaching inside...and you still feel good about it?!  (Unless you are German that is!)

On the way out he started to clean the water that had dripped on the floor.

And put on his boots that he'd left outside.

Wow.  This guy's a keeper!

I'm leaving the door open for him when I go to pick the kids up at 3:00.  (So he can come back and fix the toilet; just in case that wasn't clear!)

I know not everything is perfect out there; there is crime and there are drugs and violence.

But I happen to be in a charmed place in my life right now.

And doubly blessed because I know enough to appreciate it!

On Burke and Wills

Another thing you need to know in order to understand Australians.

They value the underdog the way Americans admire success.

And they really value giving it your best go.

To the point that Australian Rules Football has two goalposts to either side of the actual goalposts.

Now I'm not entirely up on the score keeping here but somehow you also get points for missing the actual goal but getting it close enough to be within that second set of posts.

As in, well, you missed mate, but you did give it a good go!

I got more praise this past week for the extra effort I put into researching chicken diseases on behalf of one of our school's chickens than for anything I'd done before.

The chicken died.

But they appreciated my effort.

Nothing an Aussie likes better than a lost cause.

This also explains the exhibit that was running in the Brisbane Museum when we first arrived here 16 months ago.  Something about a Burke and Wills and the first expedition from the south to the north of Australia, a really super huge deal at the time.

As you read the story, you read that one of them ran out of patience and left the other at camp, going out on their own without adequate supplies, coming within miles of the northern coast, not actually seeing it due to the mangroves, turning around and almost dying of starvation and dehydration on the way back.

Meanwhile the guys back at camp gave up and left the day before, but buried a note and supplies under a tree.

The first guys missed the note and left.  The others came back and missed them again.

And all but one died of starvation.

These guys are national heroes.

Once you understand that, you're allowed to call yourself Australian.

Just This Weekend

Censorship is an ugly thing.  I sensed the incessant raves about Australia and Australians were becoming tiresome.  But what I say is true.  And by censoring my own observations I am failing to record my first impressions here, failing to let others know how truly good people can be to oneanother and failing to let AUSTRALIANS themselves know how lucky they are.

Mermaids in paradise on the Sunshine Coast
Really, these people (God love 'em) are truly naive.  They honestly can't fathom how good they have it here in comparison with the rest of the world.  Not just the medical and schooling and social services and climate, but the way they treat one another as well.  It's just the way it's done.  It's a bit like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  This truly is paradise.  Before the serpeant.

Matthew realising he has just been swimming with a goanna

There's an election coming up and I wouldn't be able to vote even if I were allowed to.  This truly is the best system I have ever seen.  Things work.  Well.  And if you want to whinge about it, absolutely fine, there is always room for improvement.  But it's still by and far the best system I have seen.
There is no right wing as Americans understand it.  Uncle Doug would call em commies and more commies.  But it'd take a really strong Republican to come here and see how well this system works - the medicare and social services - and say no to that peace of mind. 

But whatever it is, Australians are nicer to each other than any other people I have ever met.  They are what Americans would like to be, consider themselves to be, and possibly once were and could be again if they were able to slow down and stop taking themselves too seriously. 

Life is good. 

The Europeans consider this niceness childish naivete.  But they could learn something from it.

There were instances of courtesy and even friendliness in Germany.  But I remember almost every one.  The guy who did offer to help me get the twin stroller into the back of the car.  The lady who didn't cut in front of us in line at Subway.  And...oh darn, there have GOT to be more.

Mostly I remember the stares I got as I tried to negotiate the twin stroller through a crowded bier garten; everyone observing curiously but not one person out of hundreds actually getting up to help move their stuff out of the way.

I remember being the only woman on a business flight from Stuttgart to Paris - NEVER EVER EVER EVER FLY THROUGH CHARLES DE GAULLE  EVER - when I finally just carried 15 month old Andrew AND his stroller down three flights of stairs to get to the plane - with 3 1/2 year old Ryan carrying our bags behind me - while the plane load of men followed meekly behind.

Maybe someone would have helped me if I'd asked.  But they certainly weren't volunteering.

Intrepid explorers at the swimming hole

This comes as no shock to anyone who has ever lived in Europe.  Europeans might not even see anything wrong with it.  (The secret is not to make eye contact.  Without eye contact you can pretend that person next to you doesn't even exist!)  But Australians are absolutely floored.

Let me tell you about my weekend as an example.

On Friday I was in a store with Ian checking out something on the shelves when he dropped my keys.  (Honestly, he can't be trusted to hold onto ANYTHING!)  I've had a sore foot and he's getting heavy so I stalled bending over to pick them up.  I've spent almost a decade in Europe so I really didn't think much of it. 

Until a man came running down the aisle to pick them up for me. 

I felt so lazy I apologised.  "I guess I should be able to pick up my own keys."
"No worries, love, you've got the baby."

From a young man in his 30s.  How tres un-chic of him.

Aussies thinking the intrepid explorers are crazy

On Saturday morning Damon and I were shopping with Ian when an older lady came running across the mall to me.  This didn't shock me at all and I was ready to hand Ian over to this perfect stranger for a cuddle.  All the ladies here want cuddles.  Some just like to smell his head.  (Ah, the pressure to bathe the baby before we hit the shops!)

Instead she bent over to adjust my top.  I had been breastfeeding Ian (discretely, but IN PUBLIC!) just a short while before and my belly was still showing. 

"There you go, love.  I've been there myself."

And off she went.
The view.  Somewhere Sunshine Coast-ish.

Saturday afternoon I was again out shopping with Ian when it started to pour.  Making casual conversation, I asked him how it is we were going to manage an umbrella, the grocery cart and keeping him dry, when a man in his late 40s came over to us and offered to help us to our car. 

This are not just random occurrences.  This is what happens here.

And the only people in the world who are luckier than the Australians themselves are the people who've come here from other places and know how rare this is and how lucky we are to be here.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Boot Camp

Boot camp is hard.

As with most new things, the hardest thing was starting.

Meaning that I first had to get off the waiting list and into the class. 

I was proud of myself just for signing up.  Baby steps.

Then I got a call saying I could actually work out too.

Which was nice.

I'd been up with Ian - feverish and snotty - since about 2:30 AM so getting there by 7:30 wasn't going to pose any problem.  It was going to be a pleasure handing him to Damon and getting out of the house.  I was even leaving early to give my some time by myself to warm up.

Until I reread the directions and noticed it started at 7 AM and not 7:30.

And that I was already 10 minutes late instead of 20 minutes early.

$*#&  I jumped into the car.

Forgot my sun hat.

Would they let me join in without my sun hat?

Queensland has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world; they take this stuff seriously.  Now, anyway.

On the drive over I thought of how lame it was to join in late.  How embarrassing it would be.  How it felt to workout in Germany - the biking class for example where all the guys looked like Lance Armstrong and the women like Kate Moss.  In proper attire.  (Sun hat not necessary.)

Would the instructor even let me join in late, after the warm up, with the permission slip that I hadn't sent in (I was only on the waiting list and then the baby was sick and.....) still in my hand?

I proposed a drive-by to myself, full of shame, and dreading a 30 minute jog by myself to make up for my failure...and to punish myself for my inadequacy.

And then I saw a group of really nice people, just like me, warming up at the shores of the lake.

I took a deep breath, did a second drive by.

Pulled into the parking lot.  And got out of the car.

"No worries, Christine.  Glad you could join us."

And we did squats and push-ups and lunges and sit-ups hour of 20 second intervals with 8 reps each.

I can barely move today.

It was the best time I have had in ages.  Beats staying up with a sick baby anyday.  Or night.

"Now you'll be sore tomorrow."  the instructor told us,  "be sure to keep on moving over the rest of the weekend."

I've got laundry to hang and floors to clean and stairs to climb and kids to pick up.

Like I could rest if I wanted to.

Each aching muscle reminds me of my morning in the cool sunshine at the edge of the lake.

And how I didn't let my fears of inadequacy keep me from showing up for it.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Immigration IQ

One hears how hard it is to get a permanent visa for Australia.

Alma Park Zoo, February 2012

But I lead a charmed life, mostly, and Damon is a citizen through ancestry, so we got pretty much winked through most of the process.  (Wink wink as in "well you aren't SUPPOSED to apply for a permanent visa and then fly over there on a tourist's visa but.....wink, wink.")

The Germans would have been appalled.  Why we entered that country totally on the up-and-up, 3/4s of us citizens, married, German-speaking and white to boot.  And they still treated us like swine trying to cheat them out of their share of the slops. 

Imagine how they treat the foreigners.

But, arrogance and rudeness aside, the Germans made it pretty easy.  (Mind you, they don't have the free Medicare and pension plan Australia has to protect.)
After proving we had a genuine and lasting relationship - or did BEFORE the visa application process anyway! - and that we had no TB - it should have been fairly straightforward.

Except Berlin sent our confirmation to the wrong email last March.  April.  May.  and June.

And then I was knocked up and unable to do the chest x-ray.

"Selbst-schuld" - your fault- the Germans would have said.  And what the heck are you doing over here on a tourist visa anyway?  DON'T YOU PEOPLE FOLLOW RULES IN YOUR COUNTRY!

"Sorry about that." the Australians said.  "No worries.  We'll work something out."

And they did.  Still being German myself, I found it almost embarrassing that they didn't accuse us of going outside the box.    Being American, I thought I should at least be chided for being pregnant before I was a legal resident.

But, being Australian, they did look for ways to help us out, rather than ways to condemn us, tell us what we did wrong and how, since we did it wrong, they could not help us now. 

Of course, there are the thousands of dollars we paid for tourist visas for five people every three to six months.  Other migrants and I have compared and we figure the government wants you to cough up anywhere from $7,000 and up before they complete your application.  No matter how they get it.  Tourist visas.  Lawyers fees.  Mock custody battles.  Money in the bank.

Fair enough.

And, as self-proclaimed refuges from the German education system, we are the first to admit there are others out there who have come here with less and suffered far more.

What they don't tell you about - even us lucky ones - is the immigration IQ test you have to pass before they let you stay. 

If you can figure out the conundrum of immigration rules - and a way around them, preferably legal  (although it does sometimes seem that you get more help once you aren't legal anymore!) - then you deserve to stay.

To wit:  we paid our tourists' fees for over a year all the while asking for a free bridging visa.

We only got our bridging visas - free - once we became illegal. 

We became illegal because we were due to leave the country within three weeks of our visa expiring - a condition of filing for a permanent visa overseas as we did being that you have to be overseas when it goes through.  (Wink.  Wink.  No worries.  Just pop on over to New Zealand for a bit, mate!  Nah, don't bother with that tourist's visa anymore.)

We turned ourselves in voluntarily (really, that's what it says on our sheets!) when the immigration department called Damon and asked did he know that his four kids were in the country illegally.  Three weeks.  Pretty impressive.  We were quasi-legal in France for almost two years! (Mostly because the town hall didn't know what to do with us and so kept telling me to wait and come back later everytime I tried to register!  And this with Ryan in school, me in free nightclasses and Damon crossing the border into Switzerland to work everyday!)

Have I mentioned how much I adore the French?

Damon mentioned that they might want to go further down the list and tell him about his illegal wife too.

That's when we got our free bridging visas.  For the 8 days left.

Silly.  But legal.  (Could have saved thousands of dollars by becoming illegal a year ago!)

We were still laughing at the absurdity of the 8 day visa (on the inside only, let's not push our luck!) when the immigration official asked us about our visas for New Zealand. 

Smug Americans that we are, we told them we didn't need visas for New Zealand.

What we did need, however, are tickets to a return destination that we are legal to reside in.

Which we weren't.  Since the bridging visa runs out when you leave the country.  And the permanent visa wouldn't officially be granted until we landed in New Zealand.

Which we wouldn't be able to do without the permanent visa to Australia we were going there to get!


If so, you MAY just qualify for immigration to Australia!

A few phone calls between Berlin, Sydney and Auckland, five visa applications, ten headshots, loads of notarised documents and a rescheduled flight later and we were set.

"Did you know your applicants are here illegally?" Sydney apparently asked Berlin.  "Read between the lines," Berlin replied.    (By now you have to realise I am talking about the Australian embassy in Berlin since no self-respecting German would ever put the spirit of the law before the letter of the law in this out-of- the-box way.)

"But you don't need a visa to come to New Zealand."  Auckland tells me.  "No.  But we need you to approve us coming over there to pick up the visa that we need to have to come over there."

God bless 'em, the Kiwis took it as well as the Aussies.

So that - after an international triangle and much swearing at home - we are now officially set to depart for Christ Church on March 21, returning to Brisbane on March 24th as legal permanent Australian residents. 

I've heard worse, the silliest being the fake custody battle a friend of mine went through with her British ex-husband in order to get him to stay in the country and help raise their son.

All this without the help of American lawyers!

Stop Worrying About Andrew!

Before that little immigration nightmare last week (details to follow, New Zealand postponed until March 21st to March 24th!) I spent the week before blogging about Andrew and then writing a letter to the principal.
Ian shows Andrew how to roll.
It was a terrible blog.  I didn't bother posting it.  (You're welcome!)

Nice letter.  But three pages long.  Sorry about that, Kylie.

It took the hassle of immigration - I call it the IQ test the Aussies don't tell you about - to put it all in perspective.

Please let us stay!  (Alma Park Zoo, February, 2012)
Having a bright, talented child is really not a problem.  Having too many options for him isn't either. 

I'm just not a patient woman - but WHEN are you starting the gifted and talented program?  why not yesterday? - and the responsibility of being the carer for such a child is humbling.

How do I know I am doing everything I can for him?

And then, after a fantastic meeting with Kylie and an entire page of suggestions from his teacher (can you even imagine a German principal wasting her time on me, let alone making me a chai latte?!) Ryan's teacher told me she had worked with Andrew on Monday as well.

She asked the kids to come up with complex sentences and this is what he wrote.

"The beautiful, young flower enjoyed the rain whilst the others lay crumpled in the greenhouse, living their last days."

My son comes up with that image whilst I putter about self-indulgently on my blog.

This from reading "Horrible Histories" and "Diary of a Wimpy Kid!"

Enriching "Sponge Bob" literature.
I humbly apologise to Lawnton State School for my impatience and insecurity.

"He was given to you for a reason." said Ryan's teacher.

I just have to trust in that.