It’s not as bad as it sounds. I mean, I didn’t single handedly get my dear friend kicked onto the streets, it was more of a joint effort; a combination of misunderstanding, a fierce game of B.S. and my ridiculous laugh that led to the demise of G’s lease.
Guillaume (aka G) and I go all the way back to my first week in Melbourne. We met during my online friend hunting spree (at the gym, of course), instantly hit it off, bonded at a bar over $5 pints and our North American-ness. He is a die hard Quebecan and an all things Canadian enthusiast (hockey and poutine top the list). He told me his name was Guillaume and I instantly nicknamed him G.
Just like me, G had a hell of a time when he first arrived in Melbourne. As I scrubbed away behind a dishwasher at a Lebanese restaurant, G woke up at 4 AM each morning to sweep floors at the local supermarket. We both fell from corporate glory into the world to mindless minimum wage jobs, but lucky for me G was a few months ahead of me. By the time I was struggling through the world of job listing websites and arduous applications, G had already found a job working back in his career. And double lucky for me, G’s career happens to be as a recruiter.
“Just stay persistent and you’ll eventually find something,” resounded in my mind as I was furiously pounding away at the keyboard every afternoon sending off resumes. Thanks to G’s advice and constant encouragement, I eventually found my way back to marketing glory.
Anyway, G’s job history is not what I’m here to talk about. There is a better, more entertaining issue at hand; the eviction.
G, Hannah, Francesco and I liked to hang out at G’s apartment and play cards some afternoons. We would have some snacks, drink some wine and have a rip rollin’ time shelling out accusations of B.S! during our favorite card game, bullshit.
G had a modern apartment close to the city, which he shared with a middle aged Chinese man. This particular roommate happened to be an extremely introverted neat freak. Like, YOU CANT LEAVE A PLATE IN THE SINK obsessive neat freak.
He didn’t strike me as the social type, so we always tried to stay out of his way when we visited. One evening we were playing an exciting game of B.S. and got a bit rowdy…well, as rowdy as four people playing a card game at 6 PM can get. I admit, we were laughing a bit and joking around, but noting out of the ordinary, and we surely weren’t disturbing anyone as it was only 6 PM, or so we thought.
After a few minutes the mysterious roommate emerged from his locked up room at the end of the apartment. He seemed flustered and avoided eye contact, as we looked up from our hands of cards puzzled at the sight of him.
He ignored all three of us and approached G directly, scolding; “I’m studying. Guillaume, you need to get this under control, you know we’re not allowed to have parties here! The neighbors will hear you and report us.”
We exchanged baffled looks, wondering how our so called four person party was so out of hand that it could possibly disturb this man in a closed room at the opposite end of the apartment, let alone neighbors who might report us! Ok, maybe we were a little excited about the game, but how much noise can four people at 6 PM make? Surely not enough to get a noise violation from the neighbors. We decided to take the man’s word as G apologized and vowed to be quiet.
We contined the game making a conscience effort to keep the tone down. This time, we were sure the roommate or neighbors would not be able to hear a peep!
The game B.S. is based on lying about the cards you have in order to win. If you’ve ever played, you know how funny it can be trying to guess who’s honest and who’s bluffing. As quiet as we were trying to be, there was one particular lie by Francesco that was too comical and caused us to burst into laughter simultaneously. No sooner than we had finished raving about his comedic move, the party-crasher roommate emerged.
This time, the scolding was intense. He distinctly reiterated his previous accusation and repeatedly pointed his finger at G as if he were a disobedient child. I had to turn away to stop myself from bursting into laughter at the ridiculous scene.
We exchanged giggles at how outrageous the encounter was, knowing that our laughter and noise level was nothing out of the ordinary for a Sunday evening. “Maybe he was just having a bad day,” we thought as we packed up the card game and departed the apartment.
The next morning, I received an email in my inbox:
Believe or not, I have been evicted from my place for having 3 people over playing cards, and need to move out in a week. It took me 90 minutes to explain to my roommate that hanging out with friends is something normal people do once in a while. So, needless to say, I’m looking for a new place if anyone knows of anything!
We all replied dumbfounded. A warning could have been suitable, but eviction? You’ve got to be kidding! This man is out of his mind!
Anyway, it all worked out for the better. G moved out, got a new apartment, and we now lounge around on his balcony overlooking the city screaming out B.S.! at the top of our lungs in memory of his once crazy roommate!
All the Americans at our Independence Day extravaganza! Photo credit: Theresa Winters
Celebrating the 4th of July Aussie style.
I didn't realize what American food was until we had a USA themed potluck. I always considered it to be diverse and a mix of everything from all cultures, but there are a few distinctive classics that are strictly American:
- Mac 'n Cheese
- Hot dogs
- Krispy Kreme
For the foreigners, the potluck was American FAQ time. With a room full of yanks, when better to ask your burning questions about America?
Common FAQs about the US:
- Is it true meatloaf is a combination of like 15 meats smashed up and cooked together?
- Why would you ever consider grilling a hotdog? I thought they were only meant to be boiled...
- Aren't rootbeer floats alcoholic?
Tasting Wine with Italians. That's right, I went on a little day trip to a vineyard in er, the middle of nowhere! It ended up being me, my newly found British friend, Adrian and a slew of Italians!
Luckily, we got the VIP treatment, sipped wines galore and finished off the evening with a delicious homemade pasta carbonara from the locals!
Making lots of cupcakes...and Dylan eats them. Dylan is my latest Melbourne vegan BFF. We do random things like play guitar, make dinosaur shaped cupcakes and have frequent potlucks at his house! Thanks to Dylan, I'm getting quite good at cooking vegan food.
These are my banana almond vegan cupcakes with fudge frosting. Amazing!
I can't believe I went 19 years of my life without tasting a single drop of coffee. "Disgusting!" was my sentiment. Then, I suddenly went from coffeephobe to coffee snob in what seemed like overnight. This is a chronicle of my dramatic turnaround and time spent in two of the most respected coffee cities in the world.
I LOVE coffee, and Seattle is my favorite city in the United States. See a connection? I know, it's obvious, but we are talking pre-coffee snob era Ember. My love for the Emerald City extends far deeper than the mere jumble of coffee joints on every street corner and caffeine-loaded locals. The gorgeous scenery, colonial houses, better-than-Photoshop green grass and quaint neighborhoods are what did me in. But I'm not here to gaze on Seattle's beauty, I want to talk about coffee!
During my ten months as a Seattleite, I became hooked on white mochas...that is with half a shot of espresso. Call me weaksauce, but you could spot me every morning work-bound, white mocha in hand. With an endless supply of coffee shops, I became conditioned to only study in the best looking coffeehouses (white mocha in hand, of course) and jumped head first into the world of coffee culture.
Enter California era, I would spend every Sunday, all day, at the Coffee Bean sipping black coffees, pumping out research papers and marketing reports. Yes, I did just take a giant step up the coffee ladder from half shot white mochas to straight up black coffees, and I eventually invested in a French press and some coffee beans so I could make the stuff at home.
It could be argued that coffee is somewhere at the center of our culture. We catch up with friends over coffee, the coffee maker is quite possibly the most important appliance in the office, and to carry a paper Starbucks branded coffee cup down the street is to be high status.
As I made my way through Europe, my hypothesis proved true for almost every culture. Giant black coffees in Sweden, mini espressos in Portugal, coffee with a cookie in Holland, Arabic coffee in Israel, everyone seemed to be obsessed with the stuff and I was in coffee heaven.
Then I went to Southeast Asia and it all went a bit beany. One Nespresso too many and I became a full fledged coffee snob. From that moment on I vowed to never lay hands on rubbish instant coffee again, and made it a game to find the best coffee shop in whichever town I was passing through. I even went on what turned into a tedious full day trek through the entirety of Bangkok in search a single-very well hidden-coffeehouse.
Now, as luck would have it, I have landed in arguably the best coffee city in the world; Melbourne. With over 400 cafes in the downtown area alone and an entire magazine dedicated to caffeine lovers like me, it isn't hard to find a decent brew. There aren't as many chain coffeehouses (like Starbucks), most of the cafes are locally owned, and forget all those fancy syrups, Melbourne is strictly cappuccino, latte, espresso. Seattle still trumps Melbourne for best coffeehouses and character, but when it comes down to the frothing, foaming, steaming hot mug of deliciousness, I've gotta give it to you Melbourne, you've out-coffeed Seattle!
The title pretty much sums it up. This is the story of how I went from corporate ladder climbing to world traveling to intimately knowing the inner workings of a dishwasher at a sketchy cafe run by a Lebanese family. And I assure you my days were packed with a daily dose of self-aimed criticism in Arabic, family quarrels and making terrible jokes with the dreadlocked, pierced and tattooed punk-emo chef who could really care less about his job (oh you know the type of person I'm talking about). At least we could relate on one level-our jobs were treacherous and everyone else at the joint was a bit, how do I put it nicely, "off."
I can't help but think of the poor Mexicans, Cubans, Chinese, etc who are respected doctors, businessmen in their countries and magically turn into taxi drivers and checkout clerks once stepping foot into the land of the free. There's something about wanting to make it so badly in a country that you are willing to sacrifice all self-respect and stoop to a new low just to survive. And there I was, lamenting over my downfall, covered in dishmuck watching business people chattering over lattes, experiencing life firsthand as an immigrant.
I felt shameful. No one could know my true identity as a dishwasher. "Actually, maybe I should tell the truth," I thought, "what if I exposed life as an immigrant, from corporate to cafe, and the battle to make it in a foreign country almost identical to my own." I didn't have a language barrier to worry about, no one could tell I was foreign just by looking at me, I was here legally and still stuck in a rut. Once I explained the situation to my friends, I realized that all immigrants had to pay their dues and it's not uncommon to start somewhere ridiculously low. One of my American friends started out as a fellow dishwasher before he scored a job at the Apple Store, and another Canadian friend swept floors at Safeway from 5-8 A.M. just so he could scrape by before getting a position as a head hunter in Melbourne. Finding a good professional job as a foreigner was anything but easy.
"Ember, you just have to hang in there a few weeks. At least you have something in the meantime, be patient and you will land a good job," was the general consensus from my friends. I started to accept my life elbows deep in dishes and actually thought I could manage for a max of about two weeks-at least that would get me another month of rent. That was, until I got promoted to Sandwich Maker.
I consequently received a dramatic cut in my hours and an endless stream of criticism for my terrible sandwich making skills and lethargic cash register operation. How is an amateur focaccia artist to cope? By the end of my first day, my boss threatened to fire me. I countered saying we could probably agree that cafe life wasn't for me and subsequently walked out, never to return again. And yes, I did get paid for my four days of work, and yes, I did just score a job as Campaign Manager for a creative marketing agency. Take that dishwashing job!
1. Abbreviate, abbreviate, abbreviate.
When in doubt just cut the last few syllables out from a word and you will sound unforgettably Aus. Here are a few of the key abreves you need to learn:
Even city and tram signs for Melbourne's Queen Victoria Market read Queen Vic Market. If the government approves, your new Australian friends surely will too!
2. Don't forget, walk on the left.
Nuff said. Try walking on the right side of the sidewalk and the Aussies burst out into a funky chicken dance sort of move trying to figure out which side you are passing them on, and they barely avoid running into you at the last minute. It seriously freaks them out. But then again, maybe you should try walking on the left side of the sidewalk in the U.S. and see what happens!
3. You don't have friends, you have mates.
4. Voice your enthusiasm for Vegemite.
Vege-what?! It's a sodium-loaded black paste used as a pastry filling and toast spread. It was invented by Kraft as a means for recycling the otherwise useless yeast extract. It's an Aussie staple and repulse to the rest of the world. Here's what President Obama has to say about it:
"It's like a quasi-vegetable by-product, that you smear on your toast," going on to exclaim that it's horrible! I agree.
5. Forget your thank you's. It has now become ta and cheers. While the Aussies still use thank you, ta and cheers have so much more character and will prove your true inner Australian even if they don't sound very Australian coming from your mouth. It's easy to work on the accent once you've got the lingo down!
Start practicing these five steps on a daily basis and you will be rolling with sheilas and blokes down under in no time! Australian slang lesson coming soon...
Of all the ways to introduce someone, “this is my new internet friend, Joe,” is possibly the worst. No one ever has anything good to say about Internet friends. I personally used to have a huge problem with online dating, thinking, “seriously, you couldn't just get off the computer for ten minutes, go for a walk and meet someone? For the sake of the social world, put those kindergarten interpersonal skills to use!” But then I realized friend finding isn't quite that simple and I've fallen culprit to the headline. It wasn't until I met some fabulous roommates on Craigslist a year ago that I became a believer in online friendships (I'm not quite ready to venture into the online dating world...yet).
Still, with what seems like an entire world full of Craigslist Killers plastered in the newspapers and Internet mingling scardeycats, it isn't easy defending my online friends. (Come one people, you just gotta be smart about who you meet. Thanks to Google and Facebook it is relatively easy to do a little background check. Now you can't do that with someone you just meet at the grocery store or your local book club, can you?). Everyone seems to have a strong opinion about the subject-you're either pro-Internet or anti-Internet-there is no middle ground. And for all those pro-Internet people, should the dreaded how did you meet question arise (and you know it will) mutual friends or the gym are always good covers. So, for the sake of my reputation and to prevent you from judging me, I am going to tell you about all the lovely people I've been meeting at the gym lately.
Making friends as a newbie in Australia requires a certain level of social creativity and craftiness. The old fashioned making friends at work, school or through old friends doesn't work too well when you are job-less, school-less and friend-less, so I resorted to my old fallback; the gym.
I’ve met a slew of friends at the gym and discovered some otherwise hidden gems of Melbourne thanks to my new workout buddies Facebook, Couchsurfing and Meet-Up, to name a few. I must say Couchsurfing is proving to be a top runner. The social networking site for travellers is bursting with enough local events to overwhelm any traveler's schedule. From Capture the Flag by Moonlight to Tango Illegal to penguin watching, he is consistently diverse and keeps me on my toes. I even scored two days of free beer tasting at a craft beer festival compliments of fellow beer loving travelers I met at the gym.
Facebook took me out one night to a Spanish/English conversation group which proved hilariously entertaining, I've met a few promising friend prospects on my 30 minute train commute into the city, and there’s still Meet-Up dot-com who I’ve been meaning to, er, meet-up with.
Here I am caught in my whirlwind of melbournian social nights, coffee shop catchups and crowd of fellow gym enthusiasts. Melbourne is proving to be quite a cultural, entertaining and charming city with a great sense of humor and I didn't expect to become this smitten with the place so quickly. I am ready to make it Facebook official, I am in love with this city! Go ahead, tell the whole world...just don't forget to mention we met at the gym.
Traveling is my destiny. Ever since I was a toddler I dreamt of far off lands. From time to time I would become obsessed with random countries and check out every library book I could find about them. I still have a poster I made in second grade with facts about Greece and common Greek words. I even memorized the entire Greek alphabet! For me, traveling the world was about as likely to happen as life's two guarantees; death and paying taxes. It just came sooner rather than later.
I like to think I lead a life of grand wagers. I am absurdly addicted to freedom and possibly too independent for my own good. I have been known to close my eyes and leap into the unknown just for the thrill of what could be waiting on the other side.
Four years ago my dream was to live in California. When I set my mind to something it is damn well going to happen, and soon enough I was thriving in the Golden State. I woke up every morning in disbelief that I was actually living in California, and that it was through my determination and hard work that I called this beautiful place home. Eventually, I knew that if I wanted to realize my dream of traveling the world I would have to give up my beautiful life in California; my friends, a job in the midst of a recession and my savings account; everything that made me comfortable. Giving up a good life for the possibility of one that could be better was exhilaratingly terrifying. But, as I always seem to do, I accepted the challenge, closed my eyes and leapt into the unknown.
Here I am today, 21 countries and a million miles later. I sit overlooking the Bangkok skyline as I write this, gazing upon this beautiful masterpiece that has become the past seven months. Of course the journey has had its ups and downs and almost nothing has turned out the way I planned. I've been scammed to the high heavens, lost out of my mind, scared of the unknown and there have been days I wanted to give it all up and go home. But that is all part of the travel experience. On the other hand, I have experienced bottomless undeserved kindness from locals, laid eyes upon some of the most beautiful places in the world and been greeted with thousands of smiles along the way. It has been an amazingly challenging, exhilarating and rewarding adventure that I wouldn't change for the world.
I look back on all the gracious people I've met--the ones who gave me a ride, shared a meal with me, or simply sent me words of encouragement from far away--and thank them for shaping my world. Not only am I more open minded, compassionate and knowledgeable now, I have a new view of the world--one I can carry with me to places where the world seems so small and to people who can't know the world. I travel with the purpose to leave each place I visit knowing it's now better because I have been there. A bold statement and I acknowledge that I have many shortcomings, but I feel I have done my little part for this world I am madly in love with. I will continue giving, giving, and giving until grace falls from the skies like rain.
My journey has come to a turning point, this season is over, but this is no means the end. In typical Ember fashion--constantly searching for a new adventure--I'm beginning a new chapter that I'm sure will be just as rewarding. I've got a work visa in one hand and a one way ticket to Melbourne in the other...I'm moving to Australia!
A part of me is sad that this chapter of my journey is over, but a part of me knows it's time to move on. This is it; my wager is placed, I am closing my eyes and embracing the freedom of the unknown.
Now it's just me and the Red Dirt Continent in for some fine times together.
What I planned to be a relaxing reintroduction into the travel life bopping around a couple of Australian cities turned into a jam-packed Australian adventure (much to my delight!). Here are a few highlights of my two weeks between Melbourne, Warrnambool and Sydney.
Long drives through the Australian countryside. Imagine the eastern United States 50 years ago. The ranch style brick houses and crops stretching to the horizon bring me back to a period well before my existence but somehow eternally romanticized in my mind. I feel like I should be wearing overalls or country dresses and running through the eternal rows of corn and grabbing milkshakes at the soda fountain on Friday nights. Towns are simply sparse and people are few and far between.
The funkily grungy side of Melbourne. It's full of artists, hipsters and culture. One of my favorite places was a gourmet style soup kitchen called Lentils Anything where you take your fill and pay what you feel like at the end. The experience is complete with table latte service, live music and a huge outdoor garden.
Yoga with Sam and excellent city views. We felt the double downward dog would be an impressive skill to master.
A trip to the outdoor cinema-one of Australia's favorite summertime activities. Not to mention, movies are always better on a roof.
Checking out the best Sydney has to offer. A fun and classy city bustling with up-there business people, swanky cafes and a laid-back beach attitude.
“Help! There’s a wallaby in the backyard” effectively sums up my introduction to Australian culture. I had been preparing myself for the descent into Aussie land by watching YouTube videos of the ridiculously cute local marsupials, thumbing through Outback picture books at the doctor’s office and browsing hilarious Melbourne help wanted ads on Craigslist. And now, here I was, a blockade obstructing the only opening between an angry wallaby and his freedom.
My introduction to the culture seemed to be going well. Sam picked me up from my 17-hour flight with a packed travel agenda! We were headed to Warrnambool, a town along the South Coast where I would experience small-town Australia life and gain a proper education in the workings of a mysterious creature called the bogan. January 26th was Australia Day-comparable to our Independence Day, except Australia is technically still under the queen’s rule (there was a proposal to make it into an independent republic with an elected president in 1999, but the citizens voted no), so they celebrate the arrival of the British settlers in the 1700s. It included everything a good nationalistic celebration should-bbq, slip n slide, beer, lots of flags and bogans. They fall somewhere between our version of a redneck and trailer trash, a bogan comes in all shapes and sizes and Australia Day is arguably their favorite day of the year. I’ve interviewed Australians around the globe and here are what the insiders have to say about the bogan:
- They are extremely nationalistic and can be seen wearing multiple pieces of clothing covered in Australian flags in conjunction with their daily attire of ribbed tank tops and Ugg boots
- They tend to reside in the country, although there have been spottings of rich bogans living in the city.
- The genders rarely mix unless in a one on one setting. Men can be found in the barn working on cars and drinking beer and the women busy themselves with cooking, cleaning, caring for children and sharing local gossip.
- Bottom line: they lack a general sense of culture.
I’m sure this phenomena exists in every country, it has just become a well-defined and talked about part of Australian culture. The idea of bogan seemed to pop up everywhere and each new Australian I met had something to elaborate on the definition. It also seemed that I had done a lot of bogan activities over the weekend—making a slip n slide, swimming in the river and celebrating Australia Day with my arm covered in Aussie flag tattoos—maybe being bogan wasn’t so bad afterall.
We wrapped up the weekend with a drive along the Great Ocean Highway in route to Melbourne. Just as we were getting ready to leave Sam’s mom’s house we heard the shrieks of a wild wallaby who had just been awaken by Buddy the dog galloping through the back yard. The wallaby was bouncing around uncontrollably crashing into the side of the shed and against the privacy fence. I quickly abandoned my position in front of the gate to distance myself from the wild beast. What would the bogan do? Maybe shoot the wallaby and make wallaby boots, or burgers. What would I do? Luckily, Sam’s mom was already running around the back of the fence and was able to open the gate from the outside. The wallaby spotted the glimpse of freedom and took it, bounding off into the forest. I guess I’m not so bogan after all.
Luke (we stayed with him & his wife Bree in Warrnambool) and me in our bogan australia Day attire
The 12 Apostales, one Australia's most famous spots along the Great Ocean Highway