• Meet the family

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Monday, January 27, 2014

Expat life can be a bleepedy bleep

I originally wrote this a little over a month ago and wasn't sure whether it was a good idea to post it.  I will post an update in the next little while....

Expat life on a foreign service package with an oil and gas company is perfect, right?  Nearly everything is paid for. Good housing, private schools for the kids, cost of living adjustments if the country you move to is more expensive than your home country, great heath insurance, hardship bonuses, a good car and the fuel for it, tax equalization, trips home to see family and more.

Yep, perfect....until....

You begin to realize early on.  Holy ****, they've got me locked.  In my case I signed a document that said I couldn't leave until 18 months into the position.  The penalty, repayment of the relocation cost from Edmonton to Perth.  A likely 100K-150K+ touch when you add in all of the flights, air and sea transport, real estate fees, temporary housing, rental cars etc etc etc.

And to be perfectly honest, 2 months in....a part of me wanted out.  I loved Perth but the role was filled with conflict and unnecessary politics and had I been sat in Edmonton I would have walked into a senior HR persons office and said, "find something else or I'm gone".  Ok, it probably would have been stated in a more gentle tone, but you get the idea.  You simply can't do that on these packages.  You suck it up and in some cases you and your families (assuming you bring it home) suffer.

Originally posted on twitter by @thinkingip

The work environment over time would improve and my family would grow increasingly attached to Perth and the Western Australia lifestyle and weather.  We would make wonderful friends and then often have to say good-bye to them as their expat terms would come to an end, or their companies realized just how outrageously expensive it is to keep expats in Perth on these packages.

The biggest question I had coming in to the process of becoming an expat was this:  What happens when it's over.  I once asked someone "When the two years is up, does something explode and then I'm magically transported to my new assignment?"  "How does it work, does the company have a process?"

I began to worry more about the next step about 4 months ago.  In my role, I see the costs, I see the profits and I always understood this was a 2 year (3 year max) get in, do your thing, train train train as many people as possible and then get out, situation (though not less than 2 years as promised).  I sought visibility but none came.  A mentor suggested I begin the networking process then but I struggled with how it would be productive while keeping it under the radar.

And then 2 months ago, I was told, "It's time"  My biggest project and the most critical reason for having me sat here was complete, the costs were too high, the global business was suffering.  "Start your networking, we'll help, we don't think it will be too hard"

Notice was given on our expat home which set the timer ticking, we had 3 months.

I walked around like a zombie that day thinking how I would break the news to my family.  No way to put a positive spin on this one.  Just need to network like crazy and find the right role and fast.

Uncertainty = Stress

Phone calls, emails, txt messages at all times of the day, to all parts of the world.  "How do you feel about _____?" would come.  In many cases even my fairly well travelled self would need to to pull up a map of the world and say "Where is that?" followed by "Oh my....ummmm no, that's not happening, I'm not taking my family there"

And then....like magic:

"How do you feel about ______?"

"Holy ****, what could be better?  The European experience. Yes, we're on board....let's do this."

Interview, Interview, "Congratulations we'll get the paperwork going, glad to have you on board".........and then

Sorry, just got some changes from corporate, we can't afford to do it.

And now here we sit....XX days left on the lease of the house, offices around the world closed for holidays.

Expat life can be a bleepedy bleep.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

My VOIP phone - How I get nearly unlimited worldwide calling for $5 a month

I'm a bit of a tech head.  I get right into computers, mobile phones, software etc.

I can't imagine what it would have been like being an expat years ago (ie Pre-Internet)  Now we've got skype, facetime, viber, bbm, whatsapp, facebook....the list of good applications is truly endless.

One site you need to get on if you're going to research technology in Perth is whirlpool.net.au  It is one of best technology forums in any country, and there are answers to pretty much any technology question you have in Australia.

whirlpool.net.au is the best source of tech info in Australia

I started doing research on phone plans shortly before coming over.  While mobile phone plans are very reasonable, fixed line / residential phones in my opinion are expensive.  They either charge high per minute rates (outrageous when calling mobile phones) or have high monthly rates.  As high as 90 dollars per month and still having to pay 36 cents per minute when calling mobile phones.

Have I mentioned my favourite money is the money in my pocket?

This brought me to start investigating VOIP?  Most people think of Skype, but for standard calling Skype is in my opinion not practical.  VOIP or voice over internet protocol involves a special phone connected to your internet service which works almost exactly like your standard phone.

I had used a VOIP service in Canada with fairly spotty results.  There are many many services in Australia but the fine folks on the whirlpool forums pointed me to mynetfone.  Website:  www.mynetfone.com.au

The way it works is this:

You buy a device.  Either an adapter which will work with a standard phone or a special IP phone.  You can bring your own or if you buy it through the VOIP service provider they often preconfigure them.

You plug the device into your internet router (it tends to be important that you don't have a really old crappy router)  You go ahead and start making calls.  I purchased the Gigaset IP610 wireless unit with 3 handsets and have been very happy with the call quality.  People I'm speaking with have not been able to tell I'm using a VOIP service.

On mynetfone they offer a package to whirlpool members (membership to whirlpool is free) called Neosaver which for 5 bucks givies you 100 untimed calls to 30 different countries (This includes my key US, Canada, Italy, Singapore and Malaysia)  I get a local Perth / Western Australia phone number which people can call us on and the phone works exactly as a standard land line.

It is not unusual for us to rack up over 20 hours of calls in a month a get the whopping $5 invoice at the end of the month.

Mynetfone has many competitors in this space including Maxotel , Siptalk, Faktortel, Didlogic, Clickandcallnow, Worlddialpoint, Freshtel, Telecube, etc.  Combined with a good internet service this has been a fantastic service for us which we use daily.

If I've missed something or you have questions...leave a comment...I do reply :)

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Cricket...hot dog with potato salad....sure!

My buddy and all around good dude Alpesh asked me if I wanted to join him for the Twenty20 cricket match last night at the wacker.  I've never been and really don't understand the game but near the end was getting the jist of it.

Twenty20's are nice because they're 3 hours long rather than the standard decade long butt destroying cricket test.

And take a look at the sausage with potato salad on it.  It was seriously good and quite unlike the normally plain jane food I'd expect at such a venue.

I'm pretty impressed with the images as shot from my Samsung Note 2....there were some pretty funky skies going on and those light stands are really imposing.

The Perth Scorchers finished off the Hobart Hurricanes (just barely) in what was a pretty exciting game for a guy who didn't understand the game at the start.  

Wow the grammar in this post is shocking... Enjoy the pics! 

Beautiful evening at the wacker complete with ufo flash

That's a serious sausage complete with potato salad

Starting out

That sky was pretty epic.  If you look closely we're winning.

The wacker lights are cool

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Learning Aussie Rules football

One of the true surprises of the journey abroad has been how much I've enjoyed Australian Rules Football or Footy as it's affectionately known.  Footy is like a religion here and as soon as you can talk the game, striking a conversation with men (and often women) gets a whole lot easier.

NAB Bank was playing the below commercials this year which I love.  In very simple terms, it explains the game.  I think it's pretty cute.

There are 4 posts.  Kick it through the middle two posts:  A goal - 6 Points.  Kick it between the outside posts: A behind: 1 Point  Hit one of the two middle posts:  A behind - 1 Point.  Hit an outside post - No points  Ok now you know how to score....got that?

Then you've got the mark.  Kick the ball at least 10 meters and if a player catches it he is awarded a mark.  A mark is basically a free kick that the opposing team cannot go beyond where the mark was taken.

There are lots of other rules...but if you can get the scoring and the mark, then you can watch and enjoy quite easily.

When moving to Perth, there will be charlatans who will try to convince you to cheer for the West Coast Eagles.  Don't fall for this nonsense.  When in Perth, cheer for the Fremantle Dockers and all will be well with the world.  (No bias to see here folks - move along)
Joking aside, we have two teams in WA, West Coast and Fremantle.  The rivalry is not as strong as hockey's Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers that I grew up with, but it does show up.  West Coast has won grand finals and has overshadowed Fremantle for a long time.  That is, until this year.  This year Fremantle was a dominating team and went to the Grand Final only to beaten by the very strong Hawthorn Hawks.

Showing Dockers pride during the finals
Angie and I got to go to a game in a company box which was a truly awesome experience.  The field is massive, different at each stadium, and holds a huge number of people.  The Subiaco Oval, where Fremantle and West Coast play, holds 43,500.  The MCG (Melbourne Cricket Grounds) where the Grand Final is played each year holds 100,018 (yes, 100,018)

Our first game at the Subiaco Oval - Fremantle Won!

Every regular season game (1 per week as a general rule, played Friday, Saturday or Sunday) for both Fremantle and West Coast is on Freeview television. (it's normally got a minor time delay, which you can avoid by lining Rupert Murdoch's pockets with money and getting Foxtel)  I've added a few good videos below for your viewing pleasure.

I've you've made the journey to Australia, or are intending to and enjoy sports, I highly suggest giving the game a shot.

Best goals and marks of the year

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Coffee Culture in Australia

I love my coffee.  See my ever evolving latte art above.  Regardless of the region and the way the local culture drinks their coffee, I get engaged and enjoy it.  One of my favourite experiences is breakfast while staying in Italian hotels.  Not because of what I traditionally think of breakfast, but because of the cappuccino and espresso that is served with near perfect consistency, and all included in the ridiculously low room rate.  Even outside the hotels that perfect coffee is just 1 euro.

Cappuccino and Brioche on one of my trips to Milan

Fast forward to Perth, and we are fully enveloped by a coffee culture with it's own lingo that will certainly trip up those new to it.
Epic Espresso in West Perth - My personal favourite cafe

Perth, like Italy is an espresso based coffee culture.  Drip coffee is nearly unheard of though you are starting to see some shops serve a "pour over" like it is some sort of special alchemy to be tried by true coffee aficionados.  Coffee here is also often very milk based.

If you order a coffee in North America you will receive a drip coffee and usually the standard "Do you take cream or sugar?".

In Italy the simple "un cafe per favor" will garner you one shot of espresso.

In Australia...."coffee please" will likely get you a blank stare followed by "so....Flat White?"

Ok lets go through the options and what they mean:

Short Black = 1 shot of espresso.  You certainly can ask for a double short black as well.  It should be served in a small ceramic cup and drank immediately.

Long Black = An americano.  Take a shot of espresso and add boiling water.  Generally 1/3 coffee to 2/3 water.

Flat White = It's supposed to be a stronger version of a latte where the milk is not as frothed.  In my experience it is just a latte with less foam but some may disagree.

Latte = Latte  I think we're ok here.  The only difference in Australia is it's often served in a clear picardie glass.

Cappuccino = No real change here.  It's often served with chocolate powder on top and I find them to be much less strong than what I would get in Italy.

Short Macchiatto - If you frequent Starbucks, forget what Starbucks told the world a macchiatto was.  A proper macchiatto is a shot of espresso with small "stain" of steamed milk foam.

Long Macchiatto (usually topped up) - Bring on the marching angry barrista's.  This is consistently made differently so you are best to tell someone how you want it made if you are going to order it but generally it is 2 shots of espresso with steamed milk topped up to an 8 oz glass.  Often if served to "dine in" it comes in a clear glass.  Many barristas will argue that this is a piccolo latte.  The problem I have with this is that ordering a piccolo latte often gets me a stare, follow by "Flat white-then?".

One of my frustrations with many coffee shops is that they offer different sizes and if you go for a larger size you get more milk.  I'm told there are barristas that know better but I've yet to find them.  My solution: order a small only.  This has the benefit of keeping the Italian coffee gods happy as well.  This is of course assuming you don't order a milk based drink like a cappuccino after 11am.

I should mention to be prepared to pay for that coffee.  Perth ranks as having the most expensive cup of coffee in Australia with an average price above 4 dollars.

Love coffee....please share...How do you take it?