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Sunday, December 14, 2014

WASO's Symphony in the City (photos and mini review)

Last night we went down for the Western Australia Symphony Orchestra's Symphony in the City.  The annual event held outdoors in Langley Park is a free event and had an attendance over 20,000.  I've seen a number of WASO concerts of late (including a concert with the brilliant Ben Folds) and continue to be blown away by the quality and this event was no exception.  In fact, given the setting, the inclusion of the entire WASO choir this is right up there as one of my favorites.

Well done WASO....see you soon!

Balloon animals....and helicopters

Langley Park is an awesome setting for any event
Tight Security :)

The finale with fireworks

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Getting stranded on Rottnest Island

Back in early September we decided to take a short 4 day trip to Rottnest Island.  Rottnest for those who don't know is an Island off the coast of Western Australia which takes approximately 30-45 minutes by ferry.

A couple of key points about Rottnest:
There are essentially no cars on the Island outside of support vehicals and a bus that runs the length of the Island.  The main method of transport is bicycle which you can rent or bring across on the ferry.  This made a perfect place for Owen who wasn't yet 4 to practice his cycling skills and charm the locals doing it.

Rottnest is one of two islands in Western Australia where you can find the Quokka.  A cute agreeable marsupial which is everywhere on the Island.

Hello Quokka

Rottnest was once a military installation and still has some of the original equipment (A massive gun that was installed to protect the Submarines that were stationed at Fremantle - the second largest installation in the world only to Pearl Harbour during the second world war) as well as some of the tunnels that were built to support the installation.

Gun from World War II....it had a ~30km range

Storm coming in....

September meant we had the Island nearly to ourselves AND that the weather may not be the model of consistency that Western Australia was normally known for.  On the third evening the Wind exceeded 100km's an hour.  The following day, which was supposed to include our journey out the Ferrys were cancelled providing another day (at no cost) on the Island.  I can't say that we didn't enjoy being stranded an extra day. :)

I highly recommend the trip to Rottnest!

A couple of other notes:
We stayed at the Geordie Bay Cabins on the Island which are self contained with kitchens and bbq's and all have a view of the Indian Ocean over Geordie Bay.  They are basic, rustic and everything worked.  The cabins are about a 10-15 minute bike ride from the main town.  Luggage service was provided with the ferry ticket.

We brought an esky / cooler with food for the trip.  Food is quite expensive on the Island.

Geordie Bay

Friday, September 26, 2014

My ongoing list of favorite Perth cheap restaurants

We quickly found out, after being in Perth for a day or so that it's not an inexpensive place to eat out.   Let me rephrase that: it's mind numbingly awestrikingly outrageously expensive.   But... there are exceptions to the rule. 

Here are my faves.   I'm going to keep adding to this list it as I find more.  I'll only add restaurants that I have tried and would appreciate any suggestions in the comments.

Sept 26 additions:

Trangs Cafe (Vietnamese/Pho): Girrawheen

This is a new find and I've now been 3 times as the food is cheap, fresh, high quality and with decent portion sizes.  Dishes run between 10-13 dollars.  So far I've tried a Spicy Noodle Soup, Fried rice noodles, Vermicelli Noodle bowl with spring roll and pork and the Rice paper rolls with prawn and pork.  Trangs has just renovated and looks great in the small premise.  It has been busy each time I've been in there.

I should mention that in the area of Trang's there are 6 or more Vietnamese restaurants, 2 of which are producing BMT (Banh mi thit) sandwhiches for ridiculously low prices (5 dollars cash at the one I went in to try)  It's not a destination area for scenery but it should be for great food. 

EB's Cafe:  Wangara

Wangara is apparently known for having great lunch bars and I now know why.  Every day EB's has a different offering of Chinese food served with their standard tasty fried rice (you can also ask for steamed rice but you'd be missing out).  I believe the rotation is Monday: Chicken and Veg in Black been sauce, Tuesday Egg Noodles and a separate chinese omelette, Wednesday: Chinese Curry with chicken and potato, Thursday: A spicey thin noodle dish and separately a Chicken satay dish that seems more like a green curry and is my personal favorite, Friday: Some sort of stew that I've yet to try.  They always have a pile of sweet honey chicken balls that you can add on. A medium order of chinese with fried rice is $6.....$7.50 for a large.

The other thing EB's is doing daily is a $6.50 Pork Gravy Roll.  Take roast pork chopped up, add some of the cracklin, put it on a fresh toasted bun and pour tasty gravy all over it.  It's consistently really good and my go to when I'm not feeling like having Chinese.  They do a number of other dishes but I just haven't got to them yet.

Original selections:
Ali Baba's takeaway (Turkish / Kebabs): Rivervale
There are a lot of kebab shops in Perth and most are reasonably priced.   Ali Baba's is by far my favorite and by far beats any Kebab shop (we called them donairs) back home in Edmonton.   They have a massive wood oven turning out fresh awesome turkish bread which you can buy.   This same fresh bread makes up the bread component of the kebabs.  Everyone I've brought here agrees the food is excellent and the family that runs it is very friendly.

When we first arrived in Perth we would go out for an evening drive until both kids fell asleep, then pull up right in front of Ali Baba's and have a cheap date at one of the small tables arms length from the car while keeping a watchfully eye on the kids.  

The Red Chair (Breakfast / Vietnamese) : Crossways Mall, Subiaco
I'm not sure how we found this place but it has quickly become a goto for a cheap healthy lunch.   They're open until mid afternoon every day and serve baked items, good coffee, and nice breakfasts.   The reason I go though is the fantastic Vietnamese vermicelli bowls which are so fresh tasting, good portions and around 12 dollars.  I also find the ambiance of eating in the middle of Crossways Mall quite enjoyable.

Ten Ten (chinese) : Albany Highway Victoria Park
My buddy Adam turned me on to this place a few months ago and it's become a weekly favorite.   For 9 dollars you get a healthy portion of killer good fried rice with your selection of protein and sauce.   All served to you at bullet train speed that would make Mcdonalds envious.   See below my Curried Beef with Fried Rice.  The curry has a nice spice and the beef is tender.

Sparrow (Indonesian): Lord Street, Mount Lawly

I fell in love with the flavors of Indonesian food on my first and only trip to Jakarta back in September.  Unfortunately my body wasn't nearly as fond of the food for a good week after the visit.  

Then I found Sparrow in Mount Lawly.  Sparrow encorporates the flavors of Indonesia with the MUCH higher quality ingredients of Australia, fast service, and no need to deal with Jakarta traffic.  The owner is a total character and offers 10% discount for first time customers.  Three mains, rice and 2 ice teas came to $30 AUD.  That's seriously cheap here.

Any suggestions for what else should make this list???

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Great mobile apps for Expats - Part 1 the basics

I spend a serious amount of time using my three mobile devices.  My current setup is a Samsung Note3, a 4th generation full size Ipad, and a reasonably new Dell Lattitude laptop.  I also have a trusty Windows PC I built around 5 years ago which still gets a tonne of use.  At this point I'm going to focus on the apps for the phone and tablet but you'll see that many are also available via webapp (usually via the Chrome Web Store).

This first batch is the basics....these are useful for all expats regardless of what country you're headed to or already at.  I personally think these are excellent for anyone.

1) World time buddy - Basic (free) - Pro $4.00
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One of the major downsides of working in the Asia Pac region for a US company is dealing with the difference in time zones.  We're never at work when they are at work and vise versa.  Add to this many don't take the time to figure out time zones so I end up with meeting invitations at 3 in the morning or just comments like "What is the time there?"

World time buddy takes world clocks to a new level in that it shows you on a clever grid format up to 4 time zones for the free version and up to 10 per group (I haven't run out of groups yet) for the pro version.  The tool allows you to select a time in your zone (or any zone for that matter) and see immediately what time it is in the rest of the world.  I personally think it's an indispensable tool.

2) XE Currency converter (Free) - Pro $2.00.
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If you're changing countries, you're dealing with multiple currencies and need to be able to convert them.  This, besides being by a Canadian company is the best I've found.  I spent the whopping 2 bucks for the pro version which eliminates the adds and allows more currencies to be tracked.

On this point I suggest read about converting currency here if you don't have a plan or you plan to use your bank

XE Currency Pro - screenshot   XE Currency Pro - screenshot

3) Lastpass - requires 12 dollar per year subscription for mobile use (free if you don't want it on your phone)
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Lastpass is my soapbox app.  That is I get on my soapbox and tell everyone I can about it.  Lastpass handles every single password I have on every device I have extremely securely.  At current count I have 233 passwords - every one is different, and intensely secure (Lastpass will create them for you if you choose). The only one password you have to remember is your Lastpass master password.  The ones you want extra secure can be set so Lastpass asks again for the Master password.

Lastpass is actually free if you just want to use it on browsers on a PC, Laptop or IPad and then you pay $12 per year to have access on your mobile phone (as well as other helpful features).

Lastpass also has Secure Notes.  These are password protected notes you can save within your Lastpass vault.  You're an expat now, and as such have new country tax numbers and other funky data. Create a Secure Note for them and they are always at your disposal with your master password. You can even add attachments to your secure notes.

In Android Lastpass is also now filling in username and password in Apps.  In both Android and iOS they have created their own browser which works well and auto populates user names and passwords into your websites.

In Windows - Lastpass has browser extensions for Chrome, Explorer and Firefox which work flawlessly.  This is one of my can't live without applications.

4) Any decent cloud storage app - Dropbox is my favorite (free)
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You're moving.  That means you have more documents to fill out and sign and send than you can shake a stick at.  You also have travel documents and it's a really really good idea to have scans of them available to you at all time.  Enter the cloud storage app.  I choose Dropbox as my favorite but Google Drive, Microsoft Onedrive, and Box.net are all good solutions and there are many more.

When we were moving I created a folder in dropbox to contain all of the many many documents. Real estate, moving, visa submission, job contracts, expenses, taxes, policies, insurance, and much more.  I have dropbox installed on my PC, my laptop, my Android mobile and my iPad.  When I put any file into a dropbox folder on any one device it synchronizes to all of the devices and can be accessed by any computer anywhere in the world at the dropbox website with the correct user name and password.

When you're doing one of these moves this accessibility is unbelievably convenient.

I personally like dropbox because it can natively read all of the major file types without needed other applications in both Android and iOS. Dropbox give you up to 2GB free and then you can buy additional space or earn it through a number of methods.  Lately buying a Samsung android device has provided around 50GB for two years.

Dropbox - screenshot 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

My get ready for Australian power / Will my TV, computer, device or appliance work in Australia?? guide

Australian power is 230 Volts and 50 Hz.  A medium sized plug is used that looks like you took a three prong US / Canadian plug and bent two of the flat blades of the plug out...as per below.  The wall plugs are also always switched like you see in England.

This is not a voltage change if you are coming from most of the world with 220-240Volt power. In that case you either use a plug adapter (see a paragraph below) or cut the plugs off and buy a rewireable Australian plug at your local Bunnings, Masters or electrical wholesaler. Wire it up (or hire an electrician to do it) and you're good to go.

Rewireable plugs are easy to buy at Bunnings, Masters or many other shops

North American electrical items are a bigger problem.  Our kitchen appliances, stereo receivers and most TV's (more on TV's later) are 120 V - 60 Hz.  Unless you plan to plug in a big step down transformer rated to handle the power requirement they're not going to work in Australia.  For this reason, we have a whole pile of really nice small kitchen appliances sitting in a big wooden box in Canada.  I regret not bringing our stereo receiver and speakers as they're pretty expensive here but otherwise that seems like it was a good decision. I also don't like the idea of big step down transformers sitting around the house.

A relatively small step down transformer with US / Canada / European outputs.

Computer / tech gear is a different scenario.  Most computers*, laptops, monitors, cellular/mobile phones and other computer peripherals in general have auto switching / universal power packs.  My electric razor was also fine.  You can tell by looking at the power pack which should say something like 100-240V AC 50/60Hz.  If you see this range you are good to go and just need the plug adapter.  We did have a couple of computer items that were a problem including the printer and pc speakers but everything else was fine.  One small technicality to note is that electrical items "should" have the Australian "check mark" as shown below in order to be used here.  I have found that most electronic gear has it, but some may not.

*Be a little careful with desktop computers which may require you flick a switch to enter 230V mode.

Quickly on Australian plug adapters....we originally bought a 10 pack of US/Canada to Australian plug adapters on eBay.  While these have filled a gap, the quality is really suspect (honestly, they're terrible!) and some of them either don't stay plugged in or don't hold the plug you are trying to adapt.  They will move electrons across but consider yourself warned.  The more expensive ones such as Korjo (readily available at airports and Dick Smiths) definitely work a LOT better.

I love the "High Quality" comment.  Buyer beware on these eBay Australian plug adapters.
These adapters from Korjo are readily available and work excellent at a price.

The even better solution has been (where possible) buying the correct IEC power cords (some people call these kettle leads or cords).  I always knew that computers seemed to use the same style of cables but I didn't realize that they were part of global standards, easily available with any countries plug end and relatively inexpensive.  As per the chart below which I shortened to focus only on some of the more common cords, the ones you likely have are the C5-which is usually your laptop, the C7-this was on one of my scanners and apparently is used for for some appliances and the most common C13-which is used on TV's, monitors, printers, desktop computers and more.  For some reason when you buy the cables they refer to the female end even though you're buying the male end.

I did a quick survey of all of my tech gear and found that I was easily able to create a shopping list of all of the cables I needed.  I used website www.4cabling.com.au  which has all of the cables with Australian plug ends for approx $5.00 per piece and ridiculously good service.  The cables themselves are perfect.  For the 10 dollar shipping fee I had my plugs in Perth the next day.  There were a number of options with the cheapest being eBay but I decided I didn't want to chance it on these.

An example of an IEC power cord for my PC.

The result is we're down to just 3 US / Canada plugs-my electric shaver which will cost almost as much to buy a new plug as a new razor (note to self, buy a new razor, you never get a decent shave anymore), a Bose stereo plug which has an interchangeable plug but I can't find them, and one iPad charger which could easily be replaced from the Apple monsters.  Don't ask me why, but these projects make me smile.  (Note to self, get help)

** Exceptions you need to know about:

Wireless home phones (not cellular / mobile phones) from the US / Canada cannot be used here as they use a different frequency which is causes a conflict in Australia.  I never tried and don't suggest it.  See my post on my awesome voip phone for what I use here.

Television broadcasts have different standards in different parts of the world.  That said will always work as monitors from computers or same standard DVD players (assuming they have universal power or you buy a large enough step down transformer) but US/Canadian TV's will very likely not be able to play broadcast television.   We ended up leaving 2 big plasma TV's in that big wooden box.  For other countries see below the current digital standards around the world.

Some helpful links:

Want to know what power your country or any country has... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mains_electricity_by_country

More on IEC standard cables.... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IEC_60320

A good discussion on bringing a US / Canadian TV to Australia (the summary-don't bother) http://www.avsforum.com/forum/25-hdtv-technical/1390270-possible-bring-us-cdn-tv-australia-atsc-dvb-t.html

About the digital television standard DVB-T that Australia uses: DVB-T and Countries using it

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Kalbarri is worth a trip

We did this trip up to Kalbarri in early January.  It is about 5-6 hours straight north of Perth on the coast of the Indian Ocean.  The trip was a 5 day, very necessary stress reliever during the events that lead to the bleepedy bleep post here

I think during my time in Australia, this trip stands out as my favorite.  Margaret River will continue to get awards for it's trendy wine country, sea side surf, fancy cave, lots to do, tourist possibilities which may or may not be deserved.  Mostly this depends on perspective but I can see what they love down there.  

That said, I couldn't help but love the Kalbarri Region.  Hope you enjoy...
On the way up we started off back at the Pinnacles.  See my original post on the Pinnacles here.  This visit solidified a couple of things.  1 - You should visit the Pinnacles during sun up or sunset as the lighting gives them a totally different feel which can't be truly described.  2 - Heavy wind and sand don't really mix.  It was seriously windy that day and rather unpleasant to be walking out among the pinnacles.

A quick stop in Geralton where there is a great park for the kids to play on the waterfront while coal freighters get filled in the background.  A quick stop at Dome for a standard mediocre meal and back in the car to try to hit Kalbarri before sundown.  I'll let you decide if Owen liked his and Olivia's room....   

One of the big attractions in Kalbarri is the Kalbarri National Park which includes several nature trails. Many are very short 500 metres to 2 kms while others are in the 8km + range.  We were sternly warned before we headed up that the temperature can be 5-10C hotter than in town and that these tours should be done early in the morning in Summer.  How bad could it be right?  We got in the car and headed up.

The drive is around 35-50 minutes from town to the major visitor areas with nature walks.  After about 15km the road turns into the washboard you see below and we were forced to slow right down to prevent the car from shaking fillings loose or loosing control.  It isn't that bad, just requires some patients.

We were warned about heat....and oh yes it was scorch your face off hot, but we were not warned about the flies.  The flies were really really bad and apparently this is a well known fact.  There were a few people with mosquito nets and I think this is the way to do it.  Don't let what I'm telling you scare you off, it was worth it.

River gorge to me meant I was going to see a river.  It becomes clear very early that there hasn't been water flowing for some time.  Apparently it can come fast and furious when the Pilbarra region to the north gets Cyclones and heavy rain but that clearly hadn't happened for some time.

Natures window itself...probably the most photographed feature in the region is only a 500 meter walk from the car park.  It's not a difficult hike but there were certainly sections I made absolutely sure I had a good grip on whichever child I happened to be walking with.  It was so hot that at one point Olivia and I were switching hands about every 30 seconds as my hands were so sweaty.

The views were simply brilliant and awe inspiring and forced us to spend a lot of time soaking it in despite the heat and flies.

 After a much needed siesta, swim in the pool and dinner we decided it was time to see the coastline.  Just outside of Kalbarri are a significant number of lookouts, some require short walks and some you can drive right up to.  The wind was really howling but it didn't spoil the great views of the coastline and Indian Ocean.

The next morning we headed back up to Kalbarri National Park and this time went to the Z Bend trail.  This trail is about the same 500meters from the car park and this time there is a small amount of water to see...though not flowing.  We went earlier this time which meant the heat was more bearable.

After we got back to town it was time for another Siesta, swim and then we found some Pizza at Kalbarri Pizza and let the kids burn off some energy.

One of the real highlights for me in this sleepy little tourist town is where the Indian Ocean meets the Murchison River.  Not 500 meters away you have the strong surf of the Indian Ocean but the water in town is almost perfectly still and perfect for swimming.  That is not to mention a great spot to catch the sunset.

This was a really great mini vacation that I would highly recommend to anyone willing to make the trip up.