Tuesday, September 30, 2008

First day on the job

Today was my first day on the job Down Under. It was a typical first-day:

Obtaining your desk and chair, and setting the chair to the correct height and angle. (This takes half a day, at least),

Finding out that IT did not create a username and password, even though we sent through all the information and forms through to HR last week,

Getting to know Tom, Dick and Harry (Almost every second guy is called "John" for some reason),

Finding out where the toilet is,

Getting your picture taken and plastered onto a corporate ID Card that you need to access the toilets. (Just kidding - but there are many doors that you can't get through if you don't have this ID Card.)

Etc, etc...

I logged on with someone else's name and started going through their Intranet Induction course. My direct boss is moving to another department at the end of the week, and he basically ignored me, as he is busy organising his new future within the company. His boss had to help me get around, which was actually nice - what a great guy. Most of the blokes are really friendly, and the general atmosphere is very relaxed. Thank goodness, no ties or jackets - just your typical engineering setup.

I was provided with a temporary car - they ordered a new one for me.

The guy next to me is called Henry. The friendliest fella you've ever seen. He took me under his wing, and showed me the cafeteria during lunch. We spoke about hunting, car racing (which is his personal hobby), and a lot of other stuff. Great guy. I also spoke to Jon (one of the many John's around here), and he invited me to play squash sometime. I am already stressing about this - I am extremely unfit and I know he will bounce me all around the squash court.

I have a whole list of safety gear that I have to get hold off. I have to go the supplier, choose my gear according to a loooong list, including helmet, goggles, boots, ear plugs, and whatever. I didn't see condoms on this list - weird hey. In Africa they supply condoms to all the workers, and that's the ultimate safety requirement to adhere to! Once I have picked my stuff at the supplier, they just phone the company for an order and everything is done.

We're in line for a general pay increase soon - 8.75%, and another 5% in April next year. The engineers apparently felt that they had to strike three times this year due to the salaries that are not in line with the mining sector's excessive salaries. Looks like a good time to join the company.

In general, a good experience, and nothing like my first day at NamWater (many, many moons ago). On that day I was sworn at hundreds of times, witnessed two big fights between employees, and heard an awful lot of shouting. My first boss told me he was glad to have another engineer on board - someone to trample on the balls of the technicians. He said it just like that - I still remember it to this day.

Around here all is calm and no worries mate. People open doors for each other, and give a friendly "after you, mate". Unbelievable.

See ya later.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Our first Ozzie barbie

Our first lunch with Aussie friends

Well, yesterday we had our first meal with Aussies in their home. During last week my wife met a friendly lady at a park in Landsdale, and she invited us to their church. We went there this Sunday morning, and after the service another couple invited us for lunch.

They were just good, down to earth Aussies with a garden that needs some real garden-boy attention. Great people. The guy has an earring, and in the left ear he has one of those earrings that creates a big hole in his ear-lobe. You can see right through his left earlobe. But apart from that being strange to this desert-rat, they were just so great and we enjoyed the visit.

Our smallest daughter Anica played along with the other kids - she talks in Afrikaans and they go on in auslish, and they play like they are talking the same language. They had a fight about a little toy at one stage - just like good old normal children.

We made quite a lot of new friends. Another lady insisted that we bring the children over for a visit - she also has three children about the same age as ours, and they have a trampoline and lots of nice play-thingies.

I met another nice guy and when we discussed the awful taxis in South Africa, he mentioned that he was a taxi driver (in Perth). In South Africa we would have frowned at a job like that, but here it's just another normal good honest job. I met panel-beaters, security installers - all great people.

Sunday evening we visited another church. There is one guy I really like, called Gavin. He comes form Alice Springs. Good old plaasjapie in the Aussie style. Got a nice hat made from rabbit leather. He met Steve Irwin once, and proudly tells the story. He's been all over Western Australia, and has interesting stories about sandstone and killer-frogs.

We talked about the Anglo-Boer war, and when I mentioned a more recent war called the bush-war, he looked at me in awe. He has never heard about it. Can you believe it? I explained about Swapo, ANC, the commies and national service - he was looking at me like I was crazy. Namibia is a totally unknown place here, and even South Africa's war is not really something that people know about. They know about the Anglo-Boer war, and that's it.

Well, so much for those who say that the Aussies keep to themselves and won't reach out to you - maybe we were just in the right place at the right time, but hey, that's the way things happen with us.

We made a decision before we came over to Australia. We decided to try and get out of our comfort zones, reach out and make friends with Australians. We don't mind having South African friends, but we don't want to sit in an isolated cocoon and click with the "boys from home" all the time.

One lady told us how rude it is to her when South Africans get together, and just switch over to Afrikaans in the middle of a discussion. She feels totally left out when this happens. I know how this feels - the blacks in SA do the same thing. Ironic, isn't it?

Well, we've been in Perth for more than a week now. It feels like a lot longer. All of us tried out the buses, and we're much more comfortable with that now.

We will be moving into our house next Friday. We checked out the park in the area, and it is unbelievable. It feels like we moved into one of the top suburbs in Windhoek - only better than that. And this is just a normal, middle-class average Aussie neighbourhood. The park is massive, has two barbies, and rugby poles combined with footy poles on the field. A quiet place - except for the birds.

The birds here are all on steroids. I haven't seen anything like it. We saw cockatiels in the zoo. That thing will give you permanent back problems if you let it sit on your shoulder. Looks more like an eagle or something - BIG birds.

You get a lot of black crows here - also massive, and then you get the famous magpies, who look similar but are black and white. A cat will feed on this thing for three days - if he lives to tell the story.

The only negative thing I see here is the graffiti. The youth is a bit messy and some of the things they write are really disgusting. But this is mostly under some hidden place out of direct public view.

Well, I feel at home here. I can't remember that I lived somewhere else. You get into the system easily, and once you're over the initial shock, you feel at home. The people are really extremely friendly. Going into a bank or a post office is a breeze compared to the Namibian ehh, ahh and ohhh experience. I applied at MBF for private health insurance - was out of there in 10 minutes.

I don't miss my country very much. Sometimes I see my brother's son's picture on our digital picture frame, and I miss the little guy - but that's it. Come and have a look for yourself - you'll like it here.

Perth is great

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The first week in Perth

Period: 18 - 24 September 2008 (We landed on 18 September)

Thursday night is called "Thursday late-night shopping” night. Then the shops stay open till 21h00. On weekdays they normally close at 17h00, or 17h30 at the latest. My friend Dewald took me to Harvey Norman to get a starter pack for my cell phone. (Or, as they say here: “ a stehduhpehk for my mowboil”) for $25. When I tried to activate it later, I dialled a number that told me it could only be done during working hours. So much for late night shopping.

When I went to sleep that first night, I had a bit of a panic attack. I looked at my wife and the kids, who were already sleeping, and I just wondered what the hell was I doing here in this strange place. I thought about the Chinese people at Kentucky with whom I struggled to communicate, and the cost of things here - multiplied by nearly seven, a hamburger eats away at your credit card in a nasty way. I wondered whether I made the right decision coming here.

But this was all just the shock of the first day taking it’s toll. I never, ever, felt like that again since I landed here.

The most people I’ve seen in the city during the first few days were of Asian background. You won’t believe how many of them are walking around here, I nearly thought I was still in Singapore. There are also some black people here and there - you literally see each and every culture and nationality here.

At the bank, the manager (who is also of Asian origin) asked me from what country in Europe I came from. I had to explain that I was an African - born and bred. Most people here have heard the word "Namibia", but have no idea where it is. It could just as well be Bolivia or Kazahkstan for all they know.

I must admit that I was not impressed with Telstra - extremely expensive, and my prepaid card did not even have 3G - it was a 2G card. I converted to Three (3) Mobile later on, and this is a much better choice in my humble opinion.

In my hotel room, I wanted to activate my internet connection. The cost was as follows:
One hour - $14.99
One day (200MB) $22.96
One week (1G) $89
One month (5G) $299

That converts to nearly R2000 for one month’s internet connection! I don’t think so mate...

I first made use of the daily tariff (nearly R140) just to get online and get connected to all the fans out there. Dewald also allowed me to use his internet connection at their home, but I couldn’t sit and blog there too much while we were actually visiting with them.

If you want some good advice, try getting your hands on Optus Mobile prepaid wireless. You pay $199 for the modem (internet key), and you immediately have 2GB of data available. If you have someone on this side who can organise this for you beforehand, that would give you a nice connection until you have a permanent place to stay where you can get ADSL or whatever you want. You need to provide your passport when you buy this package, the same goes for prepaid phones and starter packs with Three Mobile. (A contract is not easy to get hold of if you don't have proof of residence and bills and stuff to show that you are credit worthy.)

This modem looks like a memory stick that you stick into your laptop and whalla - you have the world at your fingertips. There are a lot of things you can do via the internet, like activating your mobile phone, etc, so it’s worth getting online as soon as possible.

Thank God for my friend Dewald. It really helps having someone on this side. He even borrowed me $150 at one time when I was struggling to get hold of cash. I realised later that I could withdraw even up to $1000 from my debit card, and I also paid over some money from my credit card into my Commonwealth Bank account - what a struggle to get that done...

You can open an account with Commonwealth Bank while you’re still overseas - they supply you with a BSB number and an account number, and you just need to activate the account once you are in Australia. I received my ATM card the day after we landed - no worries mate.

We also rented a car from Bayswater car rental (No Birds) - around here they call girls “shielas” or “birds”, and these guys say they don’t advertise on TV using good-looking “birds” - hence the name “No birds”. It costs $210 for a week, and you have to pay a deposit of $250 in addition to that - insurance excess fees. If you do not damage the car, the deposit is refunded. Don’t even start converting to Rands, mate, you’ll kill yerself.

Dewald borrowed us his NavMan - a GPS that talks to you while you drive. It tells you where to turn off, and so on. The voice talks in this real Ozzie drawl, saying stuff like: “wheathean the next 200 meaduhs, tuhn left”, or “at the rounduhbouht, take the theahd eggszeat”. (This means: “ take a right at the circle”)

On Saturday morning I went to a men’s breakfast that some church organised. I met Peter Pollock, the great South African Cricket player - in Australia. Can you believe it? I used the NavMan to find Dewald’s house, and from there we went to the breakfast at a golf club. I met a lot of Aussies there. One older guy, Phil, took me under his wing and introduced me to everybody. He introduced guys like “Khobuhs, Mharheahs, and Leehon”. Kobus, Marius and Leon. Souf Effrikuns.

There were probably more of “us” than there were of “them” - Lot of Boertjies from the states were attending Peter Pollock’s great speech. One of the guys asked me whether I was this Biltongboer guy from the Forum. I wondered whether I should lie about this, because I didn’t know whether I had insulted him at some stage. Chances are good that I have. Luckily he turned out to be the guy called Bloubul. Small world. I am constantly on the lookout for angry forum members - you just never know with these violent South Africans...

I met Peter Pollock, we talked and he even prayed for me. What a way to start in Australia - meeting one of the greatest SA sportsmen, and being blessed by him too.

We went to the beach at Mullaloo that evening. The sun was setting in the west, just as it does in Namibia - the sun sets over the sea. I looked at the sea and thought about iAfrika far away to the west. So far removed from everything here, in every sense of the word.

The beaches are beautiful, and everything has been developed to be family-friendly. We also went to Hillaries, its something similar to the Cape Town Waterfront, just a bit smaller.

We Skyped with the family - both grandmothers are online, even though they are both older than electricity. Amazing, this technology, isn’t it?

On Sunday we visited King's Park and climbed onto the DNA tower. We also managed to find our way home without the NavMan - victory at last!

The City had me in a bit of a shock - I’m from a small town, not too familiar with freeways, highways and motorways. To me, this is a large city - others from Gauteng say it’s a small place. It took a while for me to adjust, but once you’re out of the city, it’s just so great. There are lots of trees everywhere, and parks in every neighbourhood.

There are traffic signs on the freeway that have a kangaroo on them - nearly like the kudu signs we have in Namibia. I haven’t killed one yet. Also some signs that say “wildlife crossing”. Can you believe it?

To be continued...

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Part 1 - landing in Perth

I’ll start this story with the trip to Perth.

The date was 17 September 2008. We stayed over at my brother-in-law’s place in Cape town, and early that morning started packing his bakkie (ute, as they are called down under). We booked in with Singapore airlines, and had our final greeting session with the family. All our baggage was glad-wrapped in the good old South African tradition – you don’t want Sipho opening your zips and sending off your shampoo bottles to his mother in Zimbabwe...

Singapore airlines is great. You have your own TV screen in front of you, and enough movies to keep you busy for the whole trip. We flew 11 hours to Singapore, then stayed over for 4 hours, and finally embarked on the last stretch of a long, looooong trip from Windhoek to Perth.

We took off at 12h00, and landed at 05h50 Singapore time. This was, however, around 24h00 SA time. I couldn’t sleep on the flight, and watched two movies about American football. I recently read John Grisham’s “Playing for pizza”, which is also about American football, and now I know what the game is about. Great sport, I just wouldn’t want to play it myself. It seems that the quarterback is the Main Man in this sport, and he is the guy who has to be protected by the big forwards, nearly like a fly-half in rugby. Only difference is that if your team doesn’t protect you well enough, you will get spear-tackled and murdered easily without anyone getting a yellow card…

Anyway, we landed at Singapore airport 11 hours later. When you disembark, you walk directly onto a little hallway – looks like a hotel when you walk out of the plane’s door. No stairways down to the tarmac like we’re used to.

The airport itself is amazing – like one large shopping mall. There are free internet Terminals, you can access them for 15 minutes at a time. We found a little playground area, and the children broke down the place.

There is a thing called a Skytrain that takes you to Terminal 3. You land at Terminal 1, and you take off at Terminal 3 – don’t forget that trick. You wont make it if you realise this 15 minutes before take-off.

The Singapore Airline hostesses are great-looking in every sense of the word. They wear sexy pajamas and have the nicest, slimmest bodies you can imagine. You feel guilty when they smile at you – feels as if you’re in some naughty place. (Not that I would know, of course!)

Landing at Perth was something that escaped my memory slightly. I can’t remember really feeling all whoopy-whoo or dancing on the ceilings. We were so tired after more than 20 hours of flight, that I couldn’t really take everything in. we had to stand in long queues, and our baggae took a while for us to locate. With three kids, it takes quite an orchestration to get 6 large bags together, and finally enter the line for customs. This last point of entry before you finally enter Australia, is made just a little difficult – just for old time’s sake. The rows are long, and these guys thoroughly check everything. This is the first country I’ve entered, where they scan your baggage and hand luggage when you enter the country.

When the lady finally said “Welcome to Australia”, after crossing all the t’s and dotting all the i’s, that was music to my ears.

When we finally exited customs with all our baggage, my friend Dewald was there with my new boss Dennis, ready to take us to our temporary home at Mounts Bay Waters. It was great to see a familiar face. We took some pictures, and then took off to the city.

We landed on a Thursday. Thursday nights are late-night shopping nights, and Dewald grabbed me and my dead body into the streets of Perth to do some shopping. We walked around a place called “London court”, and there was just so many things to see and consume.

We bought hamburgers at Hungry Jacks, and I nearly fainted when I made the currency exchange calculations for the cost of 4 hamburgers, cool drinks, and a small portion of chips. My credit card couldn’t be used here, and I had to borrow money from Dewald. We also went to Woolworths and bought some groceries. Here, I had no problem with the credit card, and the $40 was swiped through. Many shops here let you swipe you own card – they don’t grab your card and disappear into the back room while you’re stressing about your card.

When I went to sleep on the avo of 18 September, I wondered what the hell I was doing in this place, thousands of kilometres away from the land of my birth. I was tired, bewildered and thoroughly in shock. The next day this all faded away quickly, and I‘ve never had that sinking feeling since then.

The first blog entry

I have created this blog to tell my story. I have writtten a lot of stuff in my native tongue (Afrikaans), but as I have so many fans and admirers from all over the world, I was requested to start writing in English.

This is my story. I am not discussing the history leading to my move to Perth. I am just telling you about my experience since I left the shores of Africa and entered the land of opportunity.

This is my story, the way I live it, the way I experience it. I am sharing my experience with you. If you like it, please come here and visit often. If you don't like it, well, get a move on then, mate!
I hope all this work will be worth the effort.

See ya later!