Perth – the good, the bad and the ugly…

OK, so we’ve only been in Perth about 4 weeks so I suppose I can’t really talk yet – I guess the title of this post should really have been “- the good, the bad and the ugly…SO FAR!”

Perth city - sunset view

tortoise-crossing-sign

we had to laugh at the many “tortoise crossing” signs we’ve seen…a sign of the pace of life in Perth?

Well, so far, we are just LOVING Perth!

It seems to have all the things that we love and crave and have been missing for so long, since leaving  Auckland, NZ – and just haven’t found in all the other cities that we have lived in so far in Australia.

The wide, open spaces and soaring sky; the lack of crowds; the empty roads and easy traffic; the genial attitudes of the residents; the slower, more relaxed pace of life; the abundance of big, beautiful, ‘natural’ parks, reserves and beaches around the city; the stunning water views & green, tree-lined streets and the ease with which you can get around the city – and out of it too, to the surrounding countryside.

Arriving here, it felt as a if a huge weight had lifted off my shoulders – like coming out of a dark, smokey, noisy bar to stretch and breathe deeply in the cool, fresh air.

Swan River + city view

But the nice thing is that you’ve still got a metropolitan city on your doorstep, complete with theatres & galleries, shopping malls and gourmet cafes. Oh sure, it’s not Sydney or Melbourne -  it lacks that edgy sophistication and grungy style – so you haven’t got your exclusive boutiques and iconic concert halls, and the choice of restaurants, cafes and bars is much more limited…

…in fact, we’ve met a lot of  local Perth residents who are very humble about their beautiful home and almost apologetic for their “backwards & boring” (their words!) city. Hah – well, I guess we must be really “backwards & boring” ourselves because so far, we like it just fine and feel that the entertainment options are more than enough to satisfy us.

Our first view of downtown Perth, seen from the car on the way in from the airport...

Our first view of downtown Perth, seen from the car on the way in from the airport…

We have been told repeatedly by a lot of people that the food scene is terrible in Perth – that eating out is very expensive, with high prices for mediocre food. Well, we haven’t been out & about enough so far to be able to comment properly – yes, it certainly isn’t cheap to eat out in general (is it anywhere? Other than Taiwan, that is!! ;-) ) although we have managed, the few times we’ve been out, to have nice meals without breaking the bank. But then, we tend to go to cheap & cheerful places, not cordon bleu! ;-)

AtomicCafe-breakfast-collage

our first breakfast in Perth, the morning after we arrived…

It certainly doesn’t seem as bad as Brisbane, which is where we had our worst experiences of bland, poorly-cooked, expensive meals. I suppose if you’re a really fussy food-critic, then Perth might be a disappointment.

wine+pizzaI don’t really have such a sophisticated palate so I’m probably not the best judge.  I’m not fussed if it’s not an award-winning restaurant or a bar making world-famous cocktails…and I’m not really into “10-course dégustation menus” or a bit of froth with a fancy name, served on a gigantic white plate the size of a shield. ;-)

I just like simple, fresh, tasty food in a pretty place with nice atmosphere and friendly people…a spicy Thai, an authentic Japanese, a cosy Italian, a rowdy Chinese, a good steakhouse and a couple of gourmet cafes in pretty settings…and I’m happy.

(In fact, it’s ironic but it’s taken me less time to find a good local Italian that does delicious pizza here, than it did last year, when we lived next to Leichhardt, Sydney’s famous “Little Italy”. Sometimes, I wonder if living in a big, inaccessible city is a bit like having 122 satellite channels on TV but not being able to find anything worth watching…)

Of course, a lot of Perth’s benefits comes from the simple fact that there’s a lot less people here. Perth has a population of 1.8 million, compared to Sydney’s 4.6 million. That’s a big difference which is translated directly into a less manic, claustrophobic lifestyle. Whether it’s doing the weekend morning walk with your dog or doing the weekend foodshop at the supermarket, finding a parking space or waiting in line to be served, less people just makes things so much easier…

(Images courtesy of Simon Wright)

(Images courtesy of Simon Wright)

Being less crowded also means that people in general are a lot warmer and friendlier and “kinder”. When we first moved out from the UK to Auckland, all those years ago, the biggest thing that struck us was the “kindness” of the Kiwi locals – how generous they were with their time and how they would go out of their way to help us (like the time we asked a man in a store how to get somewhere and he came out of the store and walked halfway down the block to show us). It was one of the nicest things about moving to NZ and what made us fall in love with the place so quickly.

8 years of living in a place like that makes you spoilt and when we moved to Australia and the bigger cities we lived in, like Brisbane & Sydney, we were really taken aback at the aggressive, pushy, apathetic attitudes of the locals. People haven’t got time for you, service staff treat you like a number and random acts of kindness were few and far between. Of course a lot of this is simply the by-product of “big city living” – and as I said in my last post, it is probably far worse in other big cities around the world. There is a well-known joke that if you have a heart attack in New York and collapse in the street, people will simply step over you and hurry on. I know friends who have moved to Sydney from London and rave about how warm & friendly the people are…so I guess it is all relative.

Welcome-Perth-signBut since arriving in Perth, it has been refreshing to be met with that “human feeling” again – we’ve noticed a lot more cars letting you cut in to change lanes when you signal or leaving a gap, so you can join their road from a side street; yes, strangers have gone out of their way to help & direct us, and service staff have really taken the time to “listen” and treat us as individuals – and give honest advice, even if it means that they lose a sale. (Like the rental agent who – while showing us a house – advised us to wait a few weeks rather than rushing to rent her property, because the market would cool down once the school term started and we would have more choices.)

Yesterday I ran into the supermarket to grab a bottle of water and as I joined the checkout queue, the man in front of me waved me ahead of him, saying that he had a full basket of groceries. It was just a little thing and I wouldn’t have minded waiting but I was pleasantly surprised and it spoke volumes about people’s attitudes of generosity and consideration for others.

Still – from the other side of the coin – I can see how some might find the lack of people and the “quiet life” here disturbing. Driving into downtown Perth one Sunday, I found myself the only car on the streets…it was like driving into a ghost town.

empty-downtown

And I know that shops have only started opening on Sundays within the last 6 months – and still close early on weekends…something which could seriously annoy a lot of people used to the longer opening hours in bigger cities. (I actually find all hours in the “West” too short compared to Asia, where shops usually open till 10pm and you’re used to being able to go out after dinner for a browse…! ;-) )

Perth has lots of other negatives too. It’s ironic that while some complaints come from its “sleepy, small-town” status, other complaints come from the fact that – in recent years, due to the growth of the Western Australia mining industry – Perth has become a “boom town.”  Because of the labour shortage out on the mines, WA is probably the only place in the world where young, unskilled labourers are able to earn 6-figure salaries. On top of this, the massive exodus of people to the mines meant that few people were left in the cities to do the work – and with little competition, you could charge what you liked. Especially tradespeople…which meant that young men barely out of their apprenticeships were swaggering around, driving their $80,000 utes…

(image from thepunch.com.au )

(image from thepunch.com.au )

Then there’s the ‘FIFO’ (Fly In, Fly Out) culture – where it’s actually cheaper for companies to fly out groups of workers to the isolated mining outposts in far north WA for weeks at a time. The workers, mostly young men, then return periodically to Perth to rejoin their families or – in a lot of cases – for a bit of R&R and ‘hard partying’. Let’s just say that testosterone, cabin fever, alcohol, drugs, girls, fast cars and a lot of cash are not a good mix. On any given night of the week, there are parts of Perth to avoid if you don’t want to fall prey to FIFO’s out to have a “good time”.

Perth’s status as a “boom town” also means that there is a LOT of opportunistic crime around. Everything from the good ol’  handbag thieves in supermarkets to elaborate rental scams…as we found out ourselves the hard way! :P

(image from news.domain.com.au )

queue of prospective tenants waiting to view a house!           (image from news.domain.com.au )

We arrived in peak rental season, just before schools and university terms started, and it was like being sucked into the eye of a storm. Lured either by career opportunities from the mining boom or the promise of a better lifestyle, huge numbers of people are pouring into Perth, from both across Australia and overseas. That’s a LOT of people needing homes and not enough housing to go around. Tenants get desperate, landlords get greedy and rental agents get completely frazzled, their mobiles ringing nonstop with enquiries about viewing times and applications…

To have any chance of success, you had to comb the online rental sites obsessively, several times a day, for new listings, and hound agents for viewing times. These were usually announced at short notice (“Just to let you know there will be a viewing at 33 Pleasant St from 12 – 12:15pm tomorrow”) and come hell or high water, you had to make it to the viewing because you only got one chance. By the next day after a viewing, several applications for that house would have already gone in and it was usually rented by the following evening. It was that fast. If you didn’t have your finger on the pulse – if you didn’t catch new listings as they appeared, go to viewings as soon as they were announced and put in applications as soon as you left the viewing, you didn’t have a chance.

HY-househuntingTrying to find a home to rent in this highly-competitive market – especially with a Great Dane and cat in tow – was like trying to make it through a season of TV’s Survivor.  Landlords are already generally anti-pets and in the current market, they can be as fussy as they like. And to make matters worse, there is the dreaded Option Fee – something we’d never encountered before arriving in the Perth rental market. Basically, with every application you put in, you have to include 1 week’s rent as well. If the owner rejects you, then you’ll get the option fee back but if the owner accepts and you change your mind (decide to go for another house), you’ll forfeit that money.

OK, I can see where they’re coming from – it protects the owners from being messed around: if someone backs out of your house to choose another house (meaning that you’ll have to put your house back on the market and search for another tenant) at least you’ll pocket the option fee as compensation. But it’s also horribly unfair to the tenants – especially in the current market where owners have queues of people to pick & choose from.

For example, as pet owners, we know the odds are stacked against us and so it makes sense to put out as many applications as possible, in the hopes that ONE of them might be accepted. But with this Option Fee business, you can’t send out multiple applications willy-nilly, as insurance – each one is tying up a fair amount of money and most of all, for every one that accepts you which you don’t take, that’s money down the drain… Of course, you could just take a gamble and send out one application at a time – but most people want to hedge their bets, especially if they want to find a home as soon as possible.

online rental adsAnyway, so three weeks into this market without finding anything suitable and we were starting to get desperate. I started scouring the private online classifieds and soon came across an ad for a house which sounded perfect. It had all the mod cons, was in a great location and seemed a fantastic bargain at the price they were asking. When I emailed to ask, they were even happy to accept pets! It all sounded too good to be true…which should have warned us. The owner emailed us back to explain that she was a university academic who had suddenly been called away overseas on a research project and so couldn’t show us the house herself but gave us the address and invited us to go have a look and peek in through the windows. Idiots that we were, we never questioned it…we went and looked and loved it and were even planning where to put our furniture in the empty rooms… ! :roll:

I did finally start to get suspicious though when the owner started asking for references and rental deposits but still refused to give a contact number. I Googled the house address and found it listed in another ad, with a different name and number (and different price!). This time I called and spoke to the real owners of the house – and discovered that we were very nearly the victims of a typical rental scam. Someone who knew the house was standing empty was just going around advertising it as their own. We were not the first and certainly won’t be the last new residents in Perth to fall prey to such scams. The real owners had reported it to the police but there isn’t much they can do to track down these internet criminals…I guess it was just a good lesson learnt for us and thankfully, no money lost!

(Anyway, the good news is that after nearly 4 weeks of hard slog, we finally did find a place to rent which ticked all our boxes – AND accepted pets! Miracles do happen! ;-) )

So…yes, Perth does have  a dark side and we’ve brushed up against it already.

As for the ugly? Well, I have to say that so far, the city seems green, clean and blessedly free of graffiti. But…I know that we’re currently staying in one of the “nicer” areas and we haven’t really seen all of Perth yet. Like all cities, it will have its uglier neighbourhoods (what got to me about Sydney, though, was how dirty, seedy and graffitied it was, even in our upmarket, expensive neighbourhood! ) – I’m going to make a point of visiting some of the less desirable areas just to get some photos and prove to you that Perth can be ugly! ;-)

1st-Perth-views5

LakeMonger-drive

just love Perth's wide streets and pavements!

just love Perth’s wide streets and pavements!

1st-Perth-views4

All this beautiful cleanliness does come at a price. Western Australia has a reputation as a “nanny state”, with heavy-handed punishments for everyday things . We were quite staggered when we saw a sign by a disabled parking space warning that inappropriate use without a disabled parking permit would result in a fine of $1,000!! There are also $500 fines for not wearing seatbelts and strict anti-graffiti laws that probably account for the clean state of the streets and buildings. So far, I’m seeing the benefits more than the negatives but I’m sure, given time, I will probably find it frustrating living somewhere with such strict attitudes.

That goes for everything really. To use the analogy in my last post, I know that I’m still in the “honeymoon phase” with Perth – when everything is new and wonderful and exciting. Like going out on those first dates with a new man, when everything he says is funny and every expression he makes adorable. But whether with partners or cities, things change with time and familiarity – what you used to think was “quaint” starts to get irritating and what you thought was cosy starts to get confining. That’s life, I guess.

HY+Honey-walk-SwanRiver-foreshore

But in the meantime, I’m enjoying the romance. ;-) And there are happy marriages that last decades. So who knows? Maybe this could be the start of a beautiful relationship…

MathildaBay-sunset

Do you…get up early much?

I’m Chinese, my husband is English – and I often get asked about the challenges of a “cross-cultural marriage”.

Well, to be honest with you, most of the challenging things in our marriage come not from the differences in our cultural background but from simply being two very different people! ;-)

And one of the biggest difference is how we sleep. Or should I say when we sleep. Yes, I think a lot of time & broken hearts could be saved if only people changed their pick-up lines to “Do you…get up early much?” – because there is nothing as tough as being married to a chirpy morning lark when you’re a languid night owl…or vice versa!

.

My husband is one of those sickening “morning people” who can bounce out of bed at 6am, full of the joys of spring, bright-eyed & bushy-tailed, cheerful and smiley – and has checked his email, done some yoga, paid the bills, caught up on the situation in Afghanistan and gone on a power walk …all while I’m still thrashing around in a tangle of blankets, eyes glued together, groaning and feeling like something that’s been dug up from underground.

When I do finally manage to prise myself out of bed (usually after several bolstering “mini-naps” – hey, that’s what the Snooze button is for) I have to move s-l-o-w-l-y; I don’t do smiling before 9am and don’t even think about having a conversation with me until I have had a cup of tea and am feel slightly more human.

There is nothing more irritating, I can tell you, when you’re feeling like death warmed up, than to have someone say to you, “Isn’t it a beautiful day?”, while flinging back the curtains so as to blind you just as you stagger out of the bedroom…

And the problems don’t just end in the mornings…come evening, when we’re settling down in front of the TV after dinner, I really start buzzing as the clock creeps towards 10pm: keen to analyse the state of Tom & Katie’s marriage , discuss the future of the Euro, tell some jokes, plan our next holiday, save the panda from extinction…while my husband is…SNORING.

A typical evening conversation in front of the TV in our household goes like this:

Me: “Oh my God – did you see that? Do you think they’ll believe him now? That scene in the last episode…maybe that was related to this…you know, it’s like this thing I heard earlier on the radio today, about people meeting their old bosses…although oh my God, that DJ is really awful – we must find another radio channel to listen to…oh, by the way, the plumber called and they’ll have to get a new part before they can fix the pipe…Oh no! I can’t believe they killed him off! I thought he was one of the best characters! Don’t you think they should have kept him? “

Husband: (zzzzz)

Me: “Don’t you think?”

Husband: (zzzzz)

Me: “HEY – are you sleeping?”

Husband: “Wha -? Uh-uh, no – no, I’m just resting my eyes.”

Me: “You didn’t hear anything I said!”

Husband: “I did. I did. I was listening – um – you were saying about this character – um – being killed…”

Me: “Yeah! It’s crazy! I mean, he’s so important to the plot! Don’t you think that was stupid?”

Husband: (zzzzz)

Me (leaning over to look): “You ARE sleeping!” :evil:

Husband: “Huh? Wha – what?”

- you know what really winds me up? That he won’t admit that he’s tired & sleepy. I wouldn’t mind it so much if he just said, “Hey – look, I’m really tired – I’m going to bed” – instead of pretending to be awake and engrossed in TV – when really I’m just talking to myself while he snores quietly beside me… :roll: Meanwhile, it drives him mad that he can’t get more than a grunt out of me in the mornings but am chattering non-stop in bed just as he’s trying to fall asleep…

You know, a study published in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy actually reported that “when couples were mismatched, that is an evening person matched to a morning person, the couples had significantly less marital adjustment, more marital conflict, spent less time in serious conversation and spent less time in shared activities.”

But don’t worry – it’s not all doom & gloom – apparently, if we can find a way to work around our natural differences, it makes for a stronger marriage. Or in the words of the study: “Compared to matched couples, mismatched couples with high marital adjustment reported more flexibility and adaptability in their marital problem solving.”

Well yay. We might never have a lucid conversation together but we’ll be able to work as a couple to solve world famine and global warming.

I suppose it’s not just partners – it could be really frustrating as well if your flatmate or family members or even work colleagues are mismatched (oh my God, the boss who always wants those 8am meetings…) – or even your pets! Thank goodness, my dog is definitely NOT a “morning dog” and rather than her getting me out of bed in the early hours of the morning, it’s usually me trying to prod her out of bed by noon! ;-)

And if you’re still wondering which one you are, here’s a little quiz! ;-)

Morning or night person quiz

Answer the questions below to see if you tend more toward morning or night.

  1. When the alarm goes off, you:
    1. Roll over, moan and then hit the snooze button.
    2. Walk over to shut if off. You’ve been in the kitchen for 15 minutes already making breakfast and reading the morning paper.
  2. Your morning ritual consists of:
    1. Dress, eat some toast and get out the door in 15 minutes.
    2. A morning workout, a breakfast of freshly squeezed juice, fresh fruit and crepes and watering the plants.
  3. You are asked to attend 8:00 am meeting at work or school tomorrow. You:
    1. Wonder if the alarm can be set that early and purchase lots of coffee.
    2. Ask if you should come 30 minutes beforehand to prepare.
  4. One of your favorite films starts at 11:00 pm on a work or school night, you:
    1. Watch the movie and wonder how late can you show up tomorrow without anyone noticing.
    2. Set the video recorder before going to bed and look forward to watching it tomorrow.
  5. You call a friend at 9 pm and they are not home. You:
    1. Leave a message to call you anytime tonight, you’ll be up.
    2. Don’t leave a message—what if they call back at 9:30!!!

(Results: If you answered mostly A, you are a night person. If you answered mostly B, you are a morning person)

So – what are you?? :D

A banana by any other name…

So this is it. After years of blogging as my dog, I’m finally striking out on my own.

If you think that statement sounds weird, you’ll probably think it even weirder that I find it easier talking to people as a huge, slobbery Great Dane than as myself…but hey, when you’re impersonating someone whose main concerns in life are ‘should I eat my own poo?’ and ‘do I bark at the postman today?’ – nothing seems that serious. ;-) The thought of having to display some human intelligence now by coming up with witty observations and glowing pearls of wisdom is seriously daunting.

What’s more – if you were hoping to get juicy gossip about my glamorous job or sexy friends, you’re outta luck. See, I’m a writer – which pretty much means that I spend all day – alone – in my pyjamas, having an unhealthy relationship with my computer, and the most exciting event in my work day is when the neighbours go out to hang their washing.

On the other hand, there is something that I can give you juicy details about – and that’s what it’s like straddling the cultural multi-highway.

I’m Taiwanese by birth, Chinese by ethnicity, British by marriage, pseudo-American by accent and currently Australian by residence. I grew up in the Middle East, was educated in the British system, eat with the typically voracious Chinese appetite, have a weakness for American snacks and a love affair with New Zealand. As someone who has lived in 7 countries and embraced several cultures (not to mention cuisines), I can certainly tell you what it’s like having an identity crisis – er, a rich mixed cultural heritage.

And despite not having lived in Asia most of my life and English being my first language, there is still a part of me that is very much ‘Chinese’ (years of soya sauce consumption does have side-effects). It’s the part that always makes me take a gift with 2 hands, struggle to accept a compliment and feel like I should have haggled for a better price…and it’s the part that somehow still defines me, no matter how Westernised my lifestyle is.

This does not mean that I “see the world in wide-screen due to my slitty eyes” – as some smart-aleck once asked me :roll: – but it does mean that perhaps I see the Western world I live in with slightly different insights…

A Chinese view of the world…?

So, I guess this blog will be a place for me to share (among other things) those insights and observations. They might not be witty – or wise – but they might be interesting enough to those who wonder what happens when East meets West and…

Of course – as they say in those Hollywood movie voice-overs – every great journey begins with a single step. I guess a blog begins with a name – something that would reflect what the blog was all about. When I first started researching the phenomenon of growing up Asian in a Western world, I came across the term ‘banana’ – supposedly to describe someone who is “yellow on the outside, white on the inside”.

It refers in particular to all those 2nd generation Chinese and other Asian immigrants (often known as ABC’s “American-Born Chinese” or CBC’s “Canadian-Born Chinese”, etc, etc ) whose parents had moved to the US, UK, Australia, Canada and more…and who had grown up looking completely Asian but living in a completely Western world.

Well, that’s not me exactly but I loved the term and thought it was a fun, light-hearted way to sum up exactly what I feel like sometimes…I was even thinking of a blog name incorporating the word “banana”…until I realised, with more reading, that the term was often used in a derogatory sense – a racist insult, even! Yes, apparently for many, a ‘banana’ is someone who has “sold out” to the West and forgotten their Asian roots, such as being unable to speak Chinese…

The funny thing is, it’s often the “fully Chinese” who use this name as an insult…most ‘bananas’ themselves don’t actually see it as an offensive term. They see it as the perfect description for someone who has had the chance to enjoy both cultures – to have Asian values as part of your upbringing, while at the same time inheriting the ‘white’ culture that you grew up in – and combining Eastern & Western traditions in varying degrees. As one ‘banana’ put it: “By choosing to accept the term, we empower it!” Be a banana and be proud of it! :P

So yeah – I’m comfortable being a ‘banana’ and see it as a positive term, not a negative one. I see myself as someone who has the best of both worlds. And I do my best to celebrate the Asian parts of me, as well as the Western customs I’ve adopted.

As for my blog name? Well, OK, I chickened out on using something that might have negative connotations – instead, I decided to go for something that would sum up the idea of East meets West…and thanks to all the helpful suggestions from the readers of my dog’s blog, I’ve come up with the perfect name (I think!): Chinos & Chopsticks.

The ‘chopsticks’ part is easy, of course, as few other words instantly conjure up the image & essence of Asia…but the “Western” word took some finding as I didn’t want anything too ‘American’ or British’ or any other bias…well, ‘chinos’ seems like a nicely ubiquitous Western concept.

And it’s got a personal touch too: chinos are about the only thing my husband will wear, despite years of desperate pleading on my part to try other forms of legwear. I’ve finally managed to get him to try colours other than beige (MAJOR achievement) and we’re now working towards accepting other fabrics but it is a slow process…(what is it with men and their lifelong commitment to an item of clothing which they will wear until it falls off their backs?? And then they want to go out and buy another one “exactly like it”?? :roll: )

And speaking of my husband – do you know what they call him? A Western person who has embraced Asian culture? An ‘egg‘ : white on the outside, yellow on the inside! ;-)