Monday, February 11, 2008

sun and success

This officially ranks as the easiest job search I have ever undertaken. After 48 hours in Melbourne, I already have a respectable job at a very well-known and well-regarded international aide and development organization—exactly what I was looking for. World Vision is Australia’s largest humanitarian aide organization, employing about 500 people just in the Melbourne headquarters. They work globally, focusing in the Asia/Pacific region and parts of east and south Africa. The thing I really love about them is their focus on sustainability and community partnership.

Today was our first business day in Australia, and we put it to very good use: opening a bank account, registering with the taxation office (which is like getting a Social Security number), and visiting the Medicare office. My uncle John has been an expert on all things practical: he has been our financial advisor, translator, personal reference, proofreader, chauffer, chef, social coordinator, tour guide, etc., working non-stop since we arrived to get us set up. Some of this is perhaps motivated by his desire to get us ensconced somewhere other than his bedroom, which he has graciously lent us until we get our own place.

Having taken care of the job search, we’ve thrown ourselves into the much more exciting apartment search. We’ve been poring over maps of Melbourne and its many neighborhoods and surrounding suburbs to find the perfect place. Erika, whose love of maps is deep and abiding, has particularly enjoyed this. More news on the home front soon.

On the events side of things, yesterday we went to a festival in one of the hippest seaside suburbs, St. Kilda. 340,000 young people. Great music, fantastic food, incredible peoplewatching, lovely sandy beaches, gay men. We particularly liked a culturally-amalgamated band Direct Influence that was playing in the beer garden. Erika got a free straw hat and new sunglasses (fully covering with 100% UV protection, Lilli). Our sunscreen was in our luggage which was lost, but fortunately we remembered to pick some up before our toes got crispy. The sun is really intense here. It’s like winter sun with summer heat. The angle and brightness of the sharpest winter sky but the warmth and color of the summer sun. It can be a bit much—but we’re not complaining!

Oh, and yes, our bags arrived safe and whole. We’re good to go.

first impressions

Now that I’ve been in Melbourne for 48 hours, I feel I can authoritatively report on its nature and character.

The city is quite unique, but has something in its flavor that reminds me of southern California, Sicily, Nice, the garden district of New Orleans, the outskirts of London, a less gritty Thayer St, a dash of Bellingham WA, the most affluent parts of Costa Rica, a touch of India. I couldn’t really say what of each of these is here, but they come to mind.

It’s very lovely, clean, tropical, urban, beachy, young, sunny, open, colorful, hip, lots of graffiti. Smells good: dry grass, salt, eucalyptus, white tea, old wood, milk soap, juniper, glass, line-dried laundry, whiffs of sweet flowers and coffee and saccharine auto exhaust and curry and seaweed and biscotti. The quality of light is refreshing, crisp but not white, rich but not golden, more diffuse than such clear skies warrant, fantastic for photos. It reminds me a bit of the light on Prince Edward Island, but falling on much brighter colors.

Everything is unfamiliar, which is fun but disconcerting: trees, bushes, birds, cars, architecture, words, signs, clothes, haircuts, social signals, stereotypes. I’ve never ever seen most of them before. I’m accustomed to knowing the name and history and edible/medicinal properties every single plant and animal, accurately reading people in one glance, knowing how to get anywhere by the most scenic and efficient route, and knowing where to expect to see the sun. The sun’s on the wrong side of the sky. It keeps throwing me off. I think we’re driving east, and we’re going west. I can’t express how unsettling it is.

Because it’s such a fashionable, urban place, I keep being surprised by the fact that it’s right on the ocean, that it’s a beach city. Most places I’m familiar with are either cities that happen to be on the coast or beach towns that happen to have a lot of people living there. This is equally a beach town and a city. It gets cold at night and intensely sunny in the midafternoon, and there are urban wind tunnels. There are lots of sailboats and jetskis, and there are businessmen in slick suits and powermoms with strollers and yoga pants and pugs, chic cafes and hotdog stands, flipflops and Dolce, Jeeps and Smart Cars. There’s a great public transit system (Petra says it’s like Portland). People drive like maniacs, and there are plenty of sun-blissed beachers.

The populace in general seems quite relaxed, kind, forthright, affluent, clean, wholesome, and fun-loving. I’m not saying they necessarily ARE all of those things, they just seem so. But I think there is a real truth to their being so much more relaxed than I’m used to. The social services and health insurance and education and everything here is so so so much better than at home that people don’t have to worry as much about just coping as we do.

It’s especially notable in all the parents of young children (of which there seem to be a lot). The parents are like people at home who don’t have kids. I don’t quite know how to put it. At home, if there’s a young 30-something couple and they have a kid, they’re almost certainly going to seem more exhausted, more suspicious, more performative of responsibility, more miserly, less fashionable, less happy, less open, less social than their same-aged childless cohorts. The parents here seem relaxed, hip, social, comfortable. The kids seem to blossom as a result—they all seem calm, happy, mature, intelligent, healthy. All of them. I haven’t yet seen an exception, a single frazzled kid or parent. And with standard 12-month maternity leave, regular free childcare, excellent socialized health care, and free or practically free education all the way up through the end of college, why not relax?

More impressions soon.