Few days laterEric | August 8th, 2005 | 9:32 pm
So then, where was I? Oh, yes. We had arrived in town and got a great little tour on our first day.
We stayed with Manuel from our arrival on Saturday until Thursday when David came back from his month long trip in the US. The layout of their flat was such that it would be tres inconvenient to have all four of us there at the same time, so we made arrangements to move to a hotel in Chinatown that Thursday. But, it was really wonderful that we were able to take advantage of Manuel’s hospitality for almost a week. He’s the tops (although he’s gonna hate that I used this picture of him, but it’s the only one I got…)
Manuel is originally from back home and he and Angela knew each other when they both lived in Boston. Lucky for us he decided to move to Australia first, do all the legwork, and then give us all the good info on how to negotiate the obstacles of trying to settle in. We were fortunate that he has wireless networking at his flat and that allowed us unfettered access to the internet to research all that needed to be researched, pay bills back home online, and keep up with emails. So with a strong base to start we, well, got started.
The first thing we needed were cell phones. Our T-Mobile accounts didn’t work and they don’t have T-Mobile in Sydney. Manuel recommended Optus for getting our new SIM cards. The good news is that because we had our own phones, we didn’t need to sign up for a contract. The bad news is, like most things here in Australia, they nickel and dime you to death with fees here. The way mobile phones work here is that you pay for making a call (usually not less than $0.30 a minute), but incoming mobile calls are free. Don’t even get me started on the costs of SMS’ing or accessing the internet. So we pay $35 a month each to get a plan that allows us the $0.30 calls, but if we don’t use all the minutes, we lose them. If we go over, it cost something like $0.45 a minute. To be fair, you can change you plan each month if you want, but still it’s just silly really. The other SNAFU was that you need three forms of ID to get a phone plan. ID #1, Passport. Check. ID #2, Credit Card. Check. ID #3…, ID #3…, Crap, we don’t have a third form of ID that works here. Evidently the state of Pennsylvania’s motor vehicle department doesn’t carry a lot of weight around here. So a little begging, a little pleading (I showed a little leg, but that may have hurt us in hind-sight), and the promise that we would bring along our ATM Bank cards as soon as we had some (which we haven’t done), they reluctantly relented and signed us up. One thing we have definitely noticed here is that customer service takes a back seat to pain-in-the-ass bureaucracy every time. So with phones in hand, we went off to open said bank account.
Now I had done a lot of research on accounts here in Australia before we left and the same nickel/dime philosophy reigns supreme here as well. There are basically no “free” checking accounts. I found one that allows us not to be charged a $6 a month maintenance fee, but only if we keep $3,000 in the account at all times. That seems fairly reasonable, but it is lone in its standing in the Aussie banking world. Every other institution charges you even if you have $50,000 with them, use their credit card (which are all annual fee based here as well), and never ever use a teller. The upside is that most savings accounts give over %5 interest, but you lose it if you touch the account during the month. We finally settle on the bank with the $3,000 minimum after lots and lots of comparison shopping. So, once you have settle on a bank, it should be a no-brainer to set up an account so they can have all your money that you can’t touch without getting charged, right? Oh, you naive little bumpkin. You don’t just walk into a branch and give them your money, you make an appointment to open an account. And you make the appointment through the teller, as there are no desks set up in the room. We were relatively lucky in that the branch we went to at 9:30 had an opening at 3:00. Disappointed but not dissuaded, we headed off to explore more of the city. Hell, we had most of the day to kill before we could get in anyway. The city is really beautiful and relatively easy to get around and everything is pretty much within walking distance. Manuel’s place is south of the city near more residential areas, and the bank branch we went to was near his flat. But up in the middle of the business district, there are branches all over the place. So, screw it. We’ll just see if we can get in earlier than 3:00. Not only could we not get an earlier appointment, we couldn’t even get one for the same day. I honestly don’t know how banks do any business here at all. We were literally being refused the honor of giving them our money. I kept looking around for the bread line, as I figured we should get in early before all the other comrades got the best brioche. To make a long story less long, we arrived at our scheduled time and were moved to a back room where we set up our checking account. Now, I have worked in a bank in the past manning the new accounts desk, and I can tell you that to open a checking account, savings, credit card, and set up ATM cards, should take no longer than 20 minutes. We sat around for over an hour just to set up our checking account. The ATM cards had to be mailed. But on the bright side, it only took our passports to ID ourselves for this particular transaction. We also wanted to look into getting a credit card here in Australia (so we don’t have to keep using our US one), but the account lady didn’t look too optimistic. Seems they are a little gun-shy on granting credit to people on a one year work visa. But we still may attempt it.
So with mobile phones and cash in the bank we turned our eyes to finding a permanent place to live. Here Manuel was particularly helpful, in that he was able to go over a map of Sydney and tell us where to narrow our search. “This is close to the train, this is dodgy due to the druggies, this area is expensive, this area is cheap, but you might get mugged”, etc… He also had a couple of websites to steer us in the right direction on finding apartment listings. So Angela (mostly) and I got to work looking for a 2 bedroom furnished apartment within our budget. Now, like banking, finding a place to live is a customer unfriendly experience. First, most places just have an open house on Saturday that you have to make an appointment for (of course). So you are supposed to find all the places you want to look at, set up appointments that will allow you enough time to get to each place, and then you are pretty much self-serve for the rest of it. It was really weird to make an appointment and then be told to just show up and let the current resident show us around. In fact, the only time you can get the agent to go out with you is if the place is vacant at the moment. So we started looking at places and were disappointed in the size and qaulity of the furnishings. It looked like for our price range (which was pretty high, mind you) a two bedroom, furnished wasn’t going to cut it. So, we changed tactics and started looking at larger one bedrooms. There seemed to be more of these and we had an appointment straight away to see one that looked very promising on the web site. Unfortunately, Angela had to go to work right away and I was left to go check out the place myself. To say it was nice, would be an understatement. It’s in a cool part of town near Manuel and David, lots of cafes and restaurants, and even a methadone clinic. What more can you ask for? Well, a pool and gym for starts. Got ’em. How ’bout a balcony to do some summer barbie? Check! OK, then. How about super cool modern architecture and furnishings, including modern art and a water sculpture built into the wall? Check and mate. Still, it was pricey, but fully furnished and ready to move in. Since we were looking at a 12 month lease, we were even able to negotiate the rent lower. The only draw back is that we are about 15 minutes from the train station and there is a big long hill. On the plus side, here come my new buns of steel…
Our new apartment
A look off of the balcony at night.
Before we were able to move into this place, and for the first few days we were here, we didn’t have any internet access – hence the long interruption. Unfortunately DSL is capped at around 200kps and the building only has satellite cable (meaning no internet on it). There is a service called iBurst which is basically a city-wide wireless internet provider. So we signed up for that, but the speeds have been pretty inconsistent. We are supposed to be able to get up to 1,000Kps, but it has been more like 50 to 100. I will see if I can figure out what the problem is, although the signal strength is very high. It kinda stinks not having real broadband access, but I guess it could be worse. All in all, we are very happy and settling in well. The apartment is comfortable and most of the annoying set up stuff is done. We just need to get a bookcase or two from IKEA to have some storage and we will be good to go.
Well, that’s it for now. More to come soon…