Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Why I Travel

Last week I was at a family wedding and my Aunt went to me 'So you're throwing away all your life savings and going travelling' and I said confidently 'Yep!' with a big grin on my face. I can't wait to start this new chapter of my life and here are a few reasons why:

- To break bad habits. 
Life falls into routine. Currently I wake up, have some tea and a carbohydrate goodness on my balcony, go to work, come home, bitch about work to Kevin, go to sleep. This is pleasantly interspersed with outings with friends and making terrariums. That's it. It's OK but there's an ever growing pressure within me to shake up the routine. I took a different bike route home yesterday. That was fun. But soon, every day will be a bit different. Every street will be new. Is it scary? No, it's exhilarating  The thought of it makes my heart beat a little bit faster.

- I have arms and legs and I'm going to use them
Recently a close friend of mine had a serious health scare which has spooked me deeply. After sleepless nights and shedding a few tears, I know that there's nothing I can do. I can't change what's happening to him and I can only try to be the best person I can for him and myself. Health is so important. So many people (including myself) take their health for granted. They can run, jump, dance and yet they don't. You can a ride your bike to work (which also saves you and the environment on a bit of petrol) and yet you don't. Why not? We're going to be hiking, walking, exploring all whilst carrying everything we own on our backs. Whilst I have functional limbs, I'm going make the most of them.

- To explore different cultures
I'm a immigrant that came into Australia in 1987 in a plane via a Malaysian refugee camp. More about that later. All I've ever known is how to be Australian. To live in the suburbs with my primarily Asian-Australian friends growing up. We've gone through university, some have gotten married, most have jobs and most still living in Sydney. When I went back to Vietnam for the first time in 2000 it was a rude shock for me. THIS is what my life could have been like. A parallel life in a third world country. I couldn't process it. So even though that was my motherland, I couldn't accept it. Yet I've never been easy here either. The occassional racisim (half times unintentional), the natural grouping of racial communities in Sydney, the natural rudeness of people on the street, I need to find another place. I need to see some wrong places and hopefully some right places and find where I fit in the world.

- To be brand new
When you're travelling, no one knows who you are, where you're from, what you did (I'm pretty sure that's a Backstreet Boys song I'm channelling). So its a good chance to try to be the best person you can be and do it consistently. No regrets to dwell on. No old hang ups.  I'm currently trying (as we all should I guess) to be kind, considerate, witty, interesting but I guess you can start to get a bit lazy when you see the same people all the time. You fall into old habits. I've changed a lot in the last year and I want to leave that shell I've shed behind but people who I haven't seen in a year or two pop up and are a bad reminder. Its time to cut the cord and start fresh elsewhere. 

-To get ideas
My world is currently quite small and I know I need to expand it. I need fresh ideas to fuel the activity in my brain. I know I have the capacity to do much more with my life, I want to be useful and make a difference somehow, someway. I've just got to find my purpose in life. 

Monday, 21 January 2013

The Final Countdown

Our departure date - March 2nd edges ever so slowly closer and so my excitement grows bit by bit. Time is a fickle creature. At times she's dragging by, mocking you as you sit staring at your work computer, eyes flickering to the clock every two minutes. And then, at times, it feels as if the weeks zoom by and suddenly your UK Visa is approved and in your hands and you're looking at the next item on the agenda. As it stands, I currently have under 6 weeks in the country, 4 weeks til we move back with my parent's and 13 working days left. I don't know if I'm happy because it seems so close or stressed because it seems so little time to finalise everything. 

This week I'm giving notice for my rented apartment, got my Visa's back, continuing my selling rampage, getting my rabies vaccinations and looking into travel insurance. Having the list of things to sell on my blogspot worked out well and most of the major household items are sold now which is a big relief for me. We've adjusted smoothy to a minimalist lifestyle and its doubtful that'd I ever want more 'things' in my house ever again. Kettles just seem a bit redundant now. 

It's also a countdown with all my lovely friends and family so I'm furiously making plans to see them one last time. It's odd to know that someone who you've seen every week or so will be suddenly out of your life for a while. Luckily, there's facebook.And to end my rambling, I will quote Kodos from the Simpsons and say that 'we must move forward, not backward, upward not forward, and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

How To Apply For A UK Youth Mobility Scheme Visa

Applying for my UK Visa was no doubt stressful. But looking back, it needn't be. Ten weeks before we leave I had a panic attack about it. The what if's about getting rejected and and not having it ready before we go was freaking me out! Kevin, being the calmer and more rational one assured me we'd be fine and there was no reason at all why we'd be rejected. And he was right, 10 days after our applications were sent off we  got the confirmation email saying we were approved and passports with Visa within was making its way back to us. What a relief!

So, to make a slightly annoying, very stressful and time consuming process a bit easier for you I've made a 'How to Apply for a UK Visa as an Australian' cheat sheet (please note that this is general advice only and anything more specific you probably should refer to the UK visa website.

Youth Mobility Scheme
One reason I had to the itch to go to the UK sooner than later is that the 2 year working visa 'Youth Mobility Scheme Tier 5' has a 31 year old age limit. You also have to be over 18. Also you need to show that you have at least $1800 pounds (around AUS$3000) in your bank account and you need to have an Australian passport. To see if you can apply you can just this points based calculator on their website but if you have all those things you should be right. Also, being Australian they allocate 35 000 places so your odds are pretty good. 

Applying for a Visa
1. Apply online with the VAF9 form at the visa4UK website.
2. Go get your biometrics taken at one of the British Consulates.
3.Send off your application with a self addressed envelope.
4.Nervously wait til it comes back (which if you've done steps 1-3 should be pretty soon).
5. Receive confirmation email.
6. Do happy dance.

Cats can't appy for Visa's - sorry Amelie.

1. Online Application
OK so before you start make sure you have your passport (and any old passport) details ready. They will also ask you about your parent's birth city and birth date so if you are a bad child like I am, call your parents up quickly. Guidance notes HERE. Also you will have to print out your finished application once done so make sure you have access to a printer (though it is saved in the system so you can print it any time and anywhere with internet access once done). It pretty much just checks your vital information and that you don't have any nasty intentions for going there. My favourite question was 'Have you engaged in any other activities that might indicate you may not be considered a person of good character?'. Does dressing up a cat in Christmas clothes and making her dance for food count?

You will also need to roughly outline all your previous trips overseas which can be a bit time consuming. Once done, you will need to pay your application fee which is AUS$310 with a credit card and will then be asked to book a time to have your biometrics taken. As an Australian you have to submit your application by post only. Note: The form should have a barcode on the first page and the last page, if it doesn't print out that way then they say it could delay your Visa processing. Kevin's didn't so he re-printed it at a different place and got his biometrics taken a second time. You cannot save and print this form as a PDF so if you do need to print it elsewhere you have to log into the UK application website to access it. 

2. Biometrics Exam
Our nearest British Consulate is in Circular Quay in the city and its easy to book and change your time online. They are pretty relaxed there so just make sure you have a printout of your online application, passport and your confirmation letter. I got there 15 minutes early and they just processed me on the spot. Kevin got there when there was a bunch of people waiting and the officer was just coming back from lunch so they just when by a first come,first serve basis rather than the appointment time. It takes 2 minutes, you just need to scan your fingerprints and have your photo taken. They will then stamp your Visa application form and you're on your way.

3.Posting your Application
Once you do your biometrics they will give you a summary sheet of where and how to send your application through.
In a registered or express post envelope you will need to enclose:
- Your stamped Visa application
- Passport sized photo
- Passport + copy of the ID page
- Appendix 7 form found HERE
- Bank statement with proof of funds (if you print it out online like we did then you have to get every page stamped by the bank). Also the statement cannot be more than a month old from the application date.
- Self addressed envelope so they can send your passport back to you. To ensure the fastest and most safe passage for this very important document I bought a Express Post Platinum satchel and sent it to my work place. Kevin and I lodged our Visa's in the same envelope but I bought two separate envelopes for the home journey, just in case.

4. How Long Does it Take to Process the Visa?
Account for the time it takes to get the GPO box in Sydney (1 day) then 4 days in transit to the Manila processing office and then back again. We got our confirmation emails sent to us exactly 10 days after we sent them off and our passports back 5 days after that. Here is some data from the website about average processing times for Australians.

Points Based System Visas2 days3 days5 days10 days15 days40 days60 days90 days120 daysTotal decisions made
PBS Tier 10%0%0%75%75%75%100%100%100%4
PBS Tier 20%0%9%99%100%100%100%100%100%107
PBS Tier 40%0%5%96%97%100%100%100%100%88
PBS Tier 50%0%3%96%98%100%100%100%100%721

When Should I Apply?
They say you can only apply within 3 months of entering the UK, however since Kevin and I are travelling beforehand for 6 months and we need to be in Australia to get the Visa, we applied for it 7 months ahead of time. I put my entry date as 1st September then had a panic attack they won't accept my application as it is outside the time frame. After a frantic email to the office (you can also call them but it is crazy expensive to do so) and a week later they assured me that this will be fine as long as I have a good reason for applying earlier. So I also lodged my flight itinerary to South America and a letter saying I will be travelling there beforehand. Kevin just put his entry date three months from now to make things a bit easier. Both ways were fine and our entry date started 3 months after the application date.

So next up, once we get our passports back, applying for Brazil Visa's. 6 weeks to go!

Monday, 14 January 2013

A Letter To My Mum

Yesterday I found out something that was mind blowing. My mum reads my blog...or 'brog' as I think I first heard her say it. =) Hi mum! I never thought to share it with her and now, I want to use it as a chance to connect with her in ways that I never could before due to language barriers and a sort of shyness I guess.

I just wanted to say thanks so much for looking after Kevin and I over the years mum. All those takeaway containers of pre-made food, at least 100kg of bananas (even though I kept assuring her that I could get bananas in the Eastern suburbs), the homemade Asian desserts I couldn't find in the city and the bags of that beautiful short grain Vietnamese broken rice. 

Unlike other families, we don't go around telling each other we love them or hugging each other all the time, its just not our style. But I know through food that my mum loves me a lot and I'm going to miss her, as well as my inventive dad (who put not one, but two windmills in our garden and then proceeded to connect them to a generator so he can power his back toilet light) and my awesome aunt who always waves goodbye at the door whenever I leave and my Warcraft (is that what the kids are playing these days?) loving brother, Dennis. I love you all and I will think of you always whilst I'm away.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Being The Person You Want To Be

Inspiration comes from a lot of places for me. The people I know, movies I watch and occasionally from the fear in my mind. Sometimes I resent my upbringing, I see those rich kids with their extra curricular classes and dreams. They're the ones that become actors, singers, elite tennis players, artists. Me, I went to weekend tutoring on top of normal of school and was pushed to excel at school and school only. We never went on awesome family holidays snorkelling or skiing in some exotic location. But life is relative. I could of still been in Vietnam, a third world country with fewer opportunities and countless restrictions. 

My youth was squandered, as youth often is, due to a lack of direction. I was bored so I shopped. I was poor so I worked. I was lazy so I became complacent. At the very least I got my Veterinary Science uni degree. I did more than some that I knew, and that would have been enough.  Until  I met the love of my life and though we were young, over the 8 years, we have matured into each other. Like two trees growing side by side, we have grown around each other to fit perfectly. He is both strong and supportive and I would not have been able to move out of home or look for a better job without him. And he will be by my side on this next journey into the world as well. 

Having lived now for 27 1/2 years, its only in the past year have I really decided to be something. To devalue all materialistic possessions and to be someone that I was proud of. An interesting person, a productive person, a more active person, a likeable person. For others and for me. And to do that I had to strike a different path. I can't say what the actual catalyst was but it all happened after our 4 week holiday to Cambodia/Vietnam. 

I'm having a 'Flight Club' revelation, without the blowing my apartment or split personality bit. Lets see how  Fight Club relates to my story:

 'You're not your job. You're not how much money you have in the bank. You're not the car you drive. You're not the contents of your wallet. You're not your fucking khakis. You're the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.'

' The things you own end up owning you. '

'If you wake up at a different time in a different place, could you wake up as a different person? '

'All the ways you wish you could be, that's me. I look like you wanna look, I fuck like you wanna fuck, I am smart, capable, and most importantly, I am free in all the ways that you are not.'

Fight Club pretty much sums up how I feel right now. The freedom I long for away from the norm. I don't think anyone really wants to feel 'normal'. Us selling up and going isn't just to go on an extended holiday and seeing some sights and then go live in London in the same way we've been living here. It's about breaking from the 9-5, buy a house, have some children mould.  That life isn't for me and I now that I know what I don't want, its time to get out there and start searching...

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Selling Everything You Own

After deciding that you are going on a long term trip the next question is 'What are you going to do with all your stuff?'. We could store it but then we'd have to pay for storage space which I hear is about $80 per week. Or we could sell it all off and keep a few boxes of things at my mum's place. It was a no-brainer, it was time to start selling. 

After 4 years of living in your own place it's been a natural inclination to build yourself a bit of a nest and make it as comfortable as possible. Not that I was intending on laying any eggs or anything like that. Gah! But now the focus is on getting rid of all that stuff and doing it in the most efficient way possible. Ebay, even with its high fees, was the best way to get rid of most things though a lot of the smaller items that were less than $10 were sold at the garage sale earlier on. My heart does a little happy dance whenever I take another item out of the house and mail it off to a new home. Now with 7 weeks to go we're starting to getting rid of furniture and everything that is non-essential on gumtree and ebay.

Kevin's sister recently renovated and furnished her investment apartment so luckily for us she bought a lot of kitchenware, our bed frame and some small appliances like the kettle. This lucky timing saved us a lot of time and energy trying to sell a lot of annoying little things. Thanks Judy and Simon!

Hobo living,  its not that bad.

Now there came a moot point when Kevin told me he wanted to keep his bike. He told me he'd be making a loss if he sold it and had to buy something else later on. After having read every single article on selling everything you own and being very determined to be completely 'stuff-free' I then presented to him the following:
'Is the value of the bike worth the storage?'
'How are you going to get it from Sydney to Melbourne when we come back?'
'Can you not get a bike that is the same or even better when we get back'
'Will you be making that much of a loss selling it now?'

In the end he reluctantly agreed to sell the bike. I too, made excuses about why I should keep certain things, whether for sentimental or monetary reasons but at the end of the day the only thing I will keep is some fabric and a small pile of clothes. Overall its not a  particularly fun experience selling all your worldly goods for a fraction of what you paid for it but a rewarding and liberating one. As the departure date looms ever closer, I'm impatient to leave the nest and go on migration.