I put the idea off for awhile, reminding myself that time was not an issue and the only thing that needed to be planned was money. I didn't want to rush through Asia and I knew that when I left it would be because I was ready to leave. Yet of course, when I boarded that plane in Singapore I realized I wasn't ready, that I'd never truly be ready. But if I stayed there too long I'd get lost and warped into a lifestyle that didn't feel productive or fulfilling forever. And if every cliche life saying has taught me anything, its that one door closes so another one can open, etc.. So I landed in Melbourne without the faintest clue where to live or what to do. What I realized quite quickly was that I did it the opposite way from every person I met. Most people work in Australia, then use those funds to travel through Asia. Not travel through Asia, then use very little funds to set up a life in Australia. After being in Asia eight months, Australia, and any first world country for that matter, not only seemed outrageously expensive, but complicated by millions of distractions. After a week of being lost and confused I realized I was experiencing reverse culture shock for the first time in my life.
Reverse culture shock is a really strange phenomenon thats hard to explain without sounding pathetic. Basically, after you go abroad, where everyday is a new, interesting and fascinating experience, you return "home". After being in a foreign place for so long, you become accustomed, even expect, sensory overload; every food tastes exotic, each sound is a strange language and all the smells can only mean a food bazaar around the corner. All these exciting daily experiences make normal life seem mundane and gray. I can't complain too much, because I experience it while in Australia, which is still a new and exciting place. However, after being in first and second world countries, I was also used to very simple living. All I had to worry about was where to find my next meal, or where to sleep that night. I lived out of my backpack and went where I pleased. But in first world countries, this lifestyle pretty much makes you a homeless woman. Immediately arriving in Melbourne I felt very aware of my lack of clothes, makeup and overall clutter of things. I also felt intensely overwhelmed by all the things I needed in order to survive here: bank account, tax number, identification card, medical insurance, cell phone plan, lease, resumes. I felt an extreme feeling of isolation that, even after traveling alone for eight months, I had never felt before. I'm not writing about reverse culture shock for pity or anything like that. Its mostly because I know other people who have traveled, and experienced another way of living, can relate to these feelings.
So my first two weeks in Melbourne I was dealing with the shock of being back in a fast paced, modern city as well as coping with the fact that I had just moved to Australia unprepared. I scrambled to stay afloat, blowing through money that took me four months to spend in Asia, in two weeks here. The entire process of settling down was a huge challenge along with a great learning experience. My first two weeks I basically lived in a hostel, in a dorm room with eleven other people. Half the kids in the hostel were doing the same thing I was attempting, looking for work and a place to live. Each day we would come back to the hostel and cook dinner, comparing horror stories of the apartments we visited or tips on where to apply for jobs. It felt like I was living in a halfway house for backpackers. On the job front, I got lucky pretty quickly and found a waitressing job at a fun restaurant nearby. The conditions of the work and holiday visa make it near impossible to find any proper job outside of hospitality or construction. My search for an apartment was an entire other battle.
The first apartment I moved into I shared with an Italian, British and French guy as well as a Dutch girl. I only stayed a week because not only were there cockroaches, but it had to be fumigated for bed bugs. The landlord was reaping the benefits of preying on insecure backpackers wallets and charged an outrageous fee for water and electricity. I was supposed to have a three month minimum stay, which I ignored, took my deposit and left. The apartment I live in now is owned by a lesbian couple, nepalese and australian. Its a centrally located apartment with a pool, gym and tennis courts. The catch? The Australian woman has the most severe case of OCD cleanliness I've ever encountered. She insists that everyone wears slippers into the bathroom, wipes the water from the sink and spends each Saturday doing a massive clean. Luckily Lizzie and I have decided to laugh at her rather than fear her, making it an altogether interesting living experience. (And I'm having flash backs to the OCD french woman I lived with in Paris). Now that I've settled a bit into life here, I haven't decided how long I'll be staying. However, I do know that I'll really enjoy living in Melbourne.
Melbourne has a very European feel to it. It wraps around either side of the Yarra River and each suburb carries its unique identity, although some seem heavily gentrified. There are cafes and bars with outdoor seating on each block and in between are lane ways filled with street art. The city thrives with cultural events, live music and festivals. This last weekend Melbourne hosted its first White NIght, where all the museums, bars and cafes stay open all night from 7pm to 7am, a sort of world exhibition of culture. On each street live performers gathered huge crowds. I know there is so much more of the city to explore and I look forward to having some form of routine in my life while I plan for my next move!