Tunnel tour

After doing a quick wine tasting at the famed Voyager Estate, we drove back up to Fremantle to do the Fremantle Prison tunnel tour. The prison tunnel tour is a bit different than your usual prison tour in that it’s very intensive in what they require you to do. Because you will be canoeing in water and climbing very long ladders in a harness, they mandate that you take a breathalyzer test (can’t have any drunks on this tour), tie your hair up if it’s long, wear socks so that you can put on gum boots, and also wear helmets and body suits to cover yourself from all the dust and debris that may get on you. I’ve never heard of any tour that makes you do a breathalyzer test, so I knew we were in for something crazy.

The tunnels are were the prisoners of the Fremantle Prison worked under the prison during the end of the 1800s, and it was eye opening to see the terrible conditions that prisoners have always had to endure up until today. Not that prisons in the U.S. are known for treating their inmates well, but here, they were forced to wear kilos-heavy shackles on their ankles and climb ominously unstable and thin ladders, carrying all types of heavy material to do their work in tunnels and holes that barely had any light. If anyone died in the prison, their family would be notified only of their death, but not how they died. They had virtually zero rights. And if an inmate ever got on the bad side of another inmate, it would be easy to fake an accidental death by pushing them off the ladder or beating them over the head with shackles. No one would ever find out, so what was there to lose?

I always feel so sad for prisoners. In most cases, many of them did commit wrong and violent crimes. But at the end of the day, they are still human beings who have rights. It especially pains me to think of prisoners who have spouses and children that they can barely see if at all (in the U.S. at least, I know that minors are not allowed to visit inmates). What have the spouses or the children done to have deserved being separated from their husband or wife or father or mother?

Work to live

Today, we did a tour of the Margaret River area of Western Australia, which encompassed far more than just wineries that Australians usually talk about first when mentioning WA. We started the day with canoeing along the river, visited a little creek area and learned about local, healing honey, and had a delicious lunch among the wine vats at the boutique Fraser Gallop winery. Then we progressed onto seeing the Wilyabrup Cliffs in a secluded area you can access only by a 4WD. When the day ended with our guide, who toured six of us around, we went on to a forest to see these endless regional trees and visited a beach to see the surf.

One person who was on our tour was actually local, and she was originally from Melbourne but moved out to Margaret River once her daughter decided to move there. She originally just wanted to visit, but she fell in love with the area when visiting and decided to stay. Her friend who accompanied her on the tour who was visiting was going back to Sydney, but she had lived in the area for a few years, working random jobs at wineries, reaping the benefits of the wine discounts and just there to enjoy life. When the guide asked her what she did for work, she responded that she just needed a job, any job, and decided to work at a winery. She’s working to live, not living to work, so whatever paid the bills and allowed her the lifestyle she wanted would be what she’d do while in the Margaret River.

It’s so rare to hear anyone in my industry say they are working to live, not living to work. In tech, the way it works is that it’s the cool and trendy and “right” thing to say that you will do whatever it is that is needed for your company so that in our startup case, you will get bought or go public because that’s the end all and be all of your life. If you were to ever say that you worked to live, no one would ever compliment you; in fact, people would be more likely to look down on you and think you are some loser who doesn’t fit into the “culture” of the company. We’re all supposed to be ambitious, trying to achieve the most for the company and our careers. Anyone who doesn’t fit that will not fit in.

Getting “sanded”

In the modern day world of social media where everyone’s travel photos are at the tip of your fingers, it’s easy to see amazing destinations all over the world on your small mobile phone screen and romanticize about how lovely it would be to visit. You see hill after hill of sand dunes and think, what a beautiful place to visit and photograph; I’d love to stand up on that hill and experience that.

Then, your reality comes, and you do visit. And the experience is not as lovely as you imagined. Instead, you end up feeling the greatest winds that Western Australia is capable of and nearly get blown down a sand dune with the thickest layer of sand stuck on every inch of your body, even when you have clothes on. Your mouth is full of sand because the wind blows it into your mouth the few times you open your mouth to either talk to your partner or scream down the hill. All the while, you are trying to do sand boarding for the first time and realize it’s not as idyllic as Instagram uploaded photos want you to think it is. In fact, you are trying to board down a hill against the wind, which results in your eyeballs getting stuck with sand in them; your sunglasses, or your “sunnies” as we call them here, are not enough to cover your eyes from the intense speed of the sand blowing literally everywhere. You have to floss sand out of your teeth later that evening. That’s how much sand there is. It is seriously everywhere and even gets embedded in your scalp and ear canals. If you are a woman, it’s even in your bra. Yep — in your bra. Let’s not even get started where else that sand found its way to.

That was us today at the Lancelin Sand Dunes after our local WA rock lobster lunch north of Perth. We rented one sand board for two hours and stayed only half an hour to board down the dunes. The guy from whom we rented the board said that we came on a bad day and that today had some of the worst winds Lancelin was capable of seeing.  I don’t think I’ve ever experienced more insane wind in my life.

And the end part that was really bad and is lingering? I didn’t have my hair tied up because I wasn’t thinking, so this monstrous Lancelin wind destroyed my hair. I ended up getting large knots all over my fine hair, resulting in huge chunks getting ripped out tonight with a wide-toothed comb. And I never get knots. Now, my hair is brittle at the ends and probably in the worst condition it’s ever been in. I never thought hair masks or leave-in conditioner was important until now. I’m going to need at least a night’s worth of coconut oiling to get my hair back.


Places less traveled

This morning, we flew from Melbourne to Perth, Western Australia, as our side Australian trip this year. Western Australia is one of the largest states in the world, and just getting from Perth to the top of Western Australia could take 24-36 hours driving time. During our five days in the state, we’ll barely be touching a dot of it but are trying to see as much as we can that is in the vicinity. This will be my first time on the west coast of Australia, and my first time seeing the Indian Ocean.

Western Australia isn’t really a place that the average person thinks to go to first when they think of Australia. Oftentimes when you meet people who have been to Australia, they think of or have been to Sydney, Melbourne, or Cairns to see the Great Barrier Reef. Perth, Broome, or the Margaret River aren’t top of mind unless they are Australian. WA has a more rugged “bush” feeling than the east coast of Australia – at least, that’s what I’ve been told since I’ve been here for only a day at this point. Of all the friends I’ve told about our WA trip, only one had heard of Perth before and had a strong desire to go. And if it weren’t for Chris, I probably wouldn’t have known anything about Perth or the Margaret River. I’d even heard of Adelaide, South Australia, before I’d learned about Perth.

That’s actually a shame, though, because Western Australia has so much that is amazing about Australia: gorgeous aqua beaches, intense waves for world-class surfing (yeah, not for me, but I will happily watch), white sand, golden desserts, tropical flora and exotic fauna everywhere. And because it is lesser known on an international scale (especially for Americans who probably don’t know where to identify Australia on a world map), it’s satisfying to tell people I’m going here when they have no clue what or where it is. Popular destinations are popular for a reason, but that’s because enough people have gone there to make that road known. We have to start somewhere, and someone is eventually going to do it. But some places that were once relatively unknown eventually blow up – places like Iceland, where I personally know three clients, three colleagues, and five friends who have gone in the last year. I’m not crapping on Iceland; I’d love to visit it, but it’s such a turnoff when everyone and their grandmother is going to a specific destination like Iceland.

Jeju Island, the honeymoon island of South Korea that was once virtually unknown outside of Korea, is now incredibly popular with foreign tourists to the point that now, many tourists go to South Korea to visit Seoul and Jeju, and then leave. It’s fun to take the roads less traveled to then come home to friends and tell them what an amazing experience you had at a place where few people to no one you know has gone to, and then convince them that this is a place worth adding to their travel bucket list.

Perth is also one of the most isolated major cities in the world, and maybe this is the introverted side of me, but the idea of being isolated from the rest of the world is actually quite exciting.

It’s hard, though, when you have limited paid leave, a fixed travel budget, and need to make hard decisions about how and where to spend your holiday, especially for Americans with such annoying and stingy paid time off policies. Oftentimes, we end up doing what is the easiest – visiting major cities that people we know are aware of and skipping everything in between those cities. Chris’s cousin recently biked through Vietnam from the south to the north and was able to see so much of the country that the average Vietnam visitor would not have seen. “I just don’t see how anyone could just go to Ho Chi Minh City, then fly up to Hanoi, and leave,” she said.” “So many people do this. Why would you do that? There’s so much else to see!” I understand that sentiment, but then the reality of everything above I mentioned kicks in; you want to see what you know and have heard of when you know your time is limited and you don’t have weeks or months to explore lesser known areas. It’s all about how you set your priorities given your time constraints. Me? As the saying goes: I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.


Splat pigs

We saw several of Chris’s friends over the course of today and ended the day at his cousin’s, where the family has just welcomed their third son a couple of weeks ago. When we were in Korea last summer, we saw a street vendor demonstrating these “pig splat” toys in a trendy shopping area in Seoul. You take this squishy orange ball with a pig face on it, slam it down on a hard surface, and the ball “splatters” on the ground, then slowly gathers itself up and becomes a ball again. We thought it would be a fun, inexpensive gift to get Chris’s cousin’s sons, so we bought two of them. As we drove to their house, I asked Chris how long he thought these balls would last, fearing that they’d barely last an hour. When we got there, the kids were so excited to play with these that they threw them constantly on the floor and on the ceiling, squeezing them to the point that both burst and even had liquid oozing out of them. It was nonstop screaming and laughing and throwing until the last little bit of liquid spilled out.

Thirty minutes. Little boys are like little monsters. I do not understand how anyone can raise three sons at once. Good luck to them.

2am work calls

This work week has been absolute hell. Our team is way behind our revenue goal, and I’ve been taking client and conference calls at times anywhere between 1:30-7:30am, oftentimes waking up at 1:15 and staying up until 3, then waking up again at 5:30-6 for another set of calls. I cannot complain much about this given that I know I’m lucky to be able to work remotely at all, but of all the years I’ve come here and worked remotely, this year and this specific week have been the most brutal. I feel exhausted every day, and feel a little bad when I feel like dozing off when meeting with Chris’s family and friends. But, I am fortunate to have this choice to come here and not sacrifice my job.

My friend, who is doing her medical residency, is always so amazed every time I tell her I’m going on a trip or am spending 2.5 weeks in Australia and “working remotely.” As a doctor, she will never have the ability to work remotely. She will never have the flexibility I’ve been lucky enough to take advantage of. Hell, each year during her residency, she receives only two weeks of paid leave, and she needs to schedule them out almost a year in advance. In 2016, she took almost all her leave to attend our wedding and fly from Arkansas to Southern California, and that ultimately meant she missed two of her cousins’ weddings in California at other times of the year. It made me sad to know she made those sacrifices and missed out on those important family events, but I felt extremely touched she chose my wedding over her own blood relatives.

Relative “problems”

We spent today in Sydney, where Chris needed to be for work today, and caught up with his brother, cousin, and soon to be cousin-in-law. While at dinner, Chris’s youngest cousin, who is the youngest of three girls in her family based in Melbourne, is expressing worry about her mother once the last child, her middle sister, leaves to move out to a home she purchased in another suburb of Melbourne. The oldest daughter has been living in Sydney with her now fiancé and are planning to move back next week to Melbourne, and this cousin is about to start her medical residency in a New South Wales city close to the Blue Mountains. The middle daughter has lived at home up until now and is moving out. Granted, two out of the three daughters are still living in the Melbourne area, while this cousin is living in New South Wales, which isn’t far at all by flight from Melbourne, yet she’s freaking out about how her mother will cope with all daughters being out of the house.

“Mum will be lost once B moves out,” Deb says. “When B went abroad for a few weeks a couple of years ago, Mum called me constantly, and I kept saying, ‘why are you calling me?’”

I’m wondering why this is a big deal; two out of three girls will still in Melbourne while one is in a state next door. Yes, all the girls will be out of the house for the first time, but that is inevitable with healthy, functioning adults, and it’s actually late considering the last one moving out is 27 years old. Empty nest syndrome is a common feeling, hence the name, but we move on with our lives. It’s not an unhealthy situation at all, and we should be happy when our adult children move on with their lives and stop being dependent on parents. In this dinner group, we have Chris’s brother, who moved to the other side of the world to live in Toronto for three years and is now in Sydney; Chris has been away on the East Coast of the U.S. for ten years now; I live 3,000 miles away across the country from my parents, who only have one living child left.

“But two out of three of you will still be in Melbourne, so it’s not like they’re that far from your parents,” I said. I could not believe she was freaking out about her mother coping when she’d still have two out of three of her children within short driving distance.

“I just don’t know how Mum will deal,” Deb insisted, ignoring my comment.

“Well, how do you think my parents felt about me moving here to Sydney? I’m an only child!” James responded, finally trying to burst Deb’s closed minded thinking.

It’s all relative. We all have our own problems and our own situations. But we feel them the most when they are our own situations, not the person next to us.

Observations of Aussies

When I’m traveling, I often write a short post on things that surprise me or are different than what I am used to back in the U.S. I realize that I don’t think I’ve done one for Australia even though I’ve visited this country five times now, so maybe it’s time to compile a short list.

  1. Everyone says “Merry Christmas” here, even those who aren’t Christian and don’t celebrate Christmas. Take that, you politically correct American idiots. “Happy holidays” is such a crap saying. The more I see “Merry Christmas, Melbourne” signs and hear “Merry Christmas” being said to everyone and anyone here, the more annoyed with New York and San Francisco I get. Trump got one thing right: Americans, especially those who live on the coasts and in blue states, are way too obsessed with being politically correct just to seem like they aren’t racist or prejudiced. When are people going to realize that so many people love Christmas for the beauty or material aspect of it rather than the religious part? The island nation of Mauritius is 80% Muslim, yet everyone has a Christmas tree and wishes each other “Merry Christmas” happily and freely. They aren’t standing around getting offended because they are Muslim.
  2. Most bathroom stalls are actually toilets in rooms with locks. They’re not the cheap bathroom stalls where you can see people’s feet underneath and hear literally everything going on as someone is pissing or shitting. They’re not as concerned with cutting costs here as they are in the U.S.
  3. The obsession with renovations and new construction and newness in general is so tiring here. A home that is 20 years old here is considered old and time to tear down to build a new one; the Marriott Circular Quay where we’re staying in Sydney for the next day while Chris is there for work has its lobby under construction until March 2017. If you asked me, I would say it looked pretty modern and fancy when we were there this time last year.
  4. No one cares what you do for a living here. In the U.S. when you meet someone for the first time, chances are that within the first few back and forth questions to get to know each other, the question of what you do will come up quickly. Here, no one seems to care what anyone else does. Most of Chris’s family, who I’ve been seeing every year for the last five years, have no freaking clue what I do for a living, nor do they care. The question doesn’t even come up. And that’s not to say they don’t care about me, but they don’t care about the prestige or lack of prestige my job has. It feels so refreshing to not discuss work and money.
  5. Orange yolked eggs. I cannot get enough of these. Chickens eat grass and bugs here, which is normal. In the U.S. for the most part, they eat corn and grain. That’s not normal. And that results in yellow yolks, which are never as pretty or as nutritious as the orange yolks.
  6. Water is never poured into glasses for you when you sit down at a table. Servers usually ask you if you’d like water, then if you say yes, they bring over a water-filled carafe and two glasses. You serve yourself. Minimize water waste. The world needs it.
  7. For my racist cousin: it’s common to see Asian man/white woman couples here and not just Asian woman/white man couples the way we do in the U.S.
  8. CAR TAXES ARE SO EXPENSIVE. Your $40K Lexus in the U.S. will cost something like $100K here in Australia. Eeeek.
  9. Australians in general get far more paid leave than the average American. However, when they do request leave, it’s such a big deal because they really do need someone to sub in for their work (me? I check email every single day I’m on paid time off and in many cases respond at least once a day). Most of the time, they are asking for leave and also providing a reason, so everyone knows what they are doing and where they are going. I’ve never really tried to justify my time of with a reason; in fact, most of my employers could care less what I do with my free time.
  10. Bathrooms here are usually marked with signs that say “toilets” with a directional arrow. In the U.S., we usually write “restrooms.” I guess “resting” is eliminating body waste?
  11. People in Australia hear so much and keep up with American news, and in America, we hear little to no Australian news. Australians care about the world, and America doesn’t give a shit and lives in its own bubble, literally believing that the world revolves around America. Isn’t that why so many people in America say they don’t care what foreigners think about U.S. policies or Trump being president, and are constantly saying they don’t need to take advice from people “who weren’t even born in this country”?


Tonight, Chris’s parents took us to the renowned and highly respected restaurant Attica as our early Christmas present. Attica is on pretty much every list for the world’s best restaurants, and after dining here, it’s hard to see why it would not be on the list. Although Chris and I have been privileged enough to have dined at some of the best restaurants around the world and especially in New York City, the dining experience at Attica was in a world of its own. New York City’s Eleven Madison Park is probably the top overall dining experience I’ve ever had when it comes to uniqueness of local ingredients, presentation, and outstanding but unpretentious service, but Attica takes “local” to another level. The chef who has now bought the restaurant is originally from New Zealand, and he grew up on a farm where he was accustomed to eating things grown right in front of him. He wanted to bring that experience to his restaurant, and so he incorporates hyper-local ingredients that you literally can find only in Australia, such as wattle seed, bunya bunya nut, Santa Claus melon, plum pine (he’s obsessed with this, as it’s literally everywhere on the dinner and cocktail/mocktail menu), and anise myrtle, among other seafood, greens, and herbs.

Attica has its own back patio where the staff grows its own herbs and vegetables, and before dinner service, they snip the vegetables and greens minutes before being served. They also use the land at the Rippon Lea Estate across the street as grounds to grow fresh produce. And given that the air is cleaner and fresher here than it is in New York City, I’d trust this produce more than the produce being grown on rooftop gardens or back patios in Manhattan. Attica is one of the freshest dining experiences I’ve ever had, and with beautiful plating that is reminiscent of Eleven Madison Park. One of the dishes is kangaroo completed covered with thinly sliced purple carrot. We learned from one of the cooking shows featuring Attica that each of these dishes takes about five minutes for the kitchen staff to hand plate.

Another thing that was notable and unique about the restaurant was how diverse the kitchen staff is. With most kitchen staffs I’ve seen in New York, the people working in the front of house are primarily white, while the back of house/cooking staff are Latino/white. Here at Attica, the kitchen staff represents all colors and areas of the world. Accents were varied depending on the person, and it was refreshing to see this for the very first time in such a world-acclaimed restaurant.  Attica is representative of everything good and progressive about the world. Now, if only other famous restaurants could mimic this desire for diversity, as well as other major companies around the world.


Eager beaver

After 21+ hours of travel, we finally arrived in Melbourne this morning. Chris’s parents picked us up from the airport, and when we arrived home, Chris’s mom wasted no time in showing us the new window blinds she recently had installed on all second floor windows. Chris’s parents live in this beautiful two-story home with what Chris and his brother like to call “suicide windows.” What they are referring to are their massive floor-to-ceiling windows in each second-floor room that open out like doors, so if some unknowing child decided to open the window, he could easily step out and fall to his little death. Chris always gets apprehensive during the Christmas season if his parents are hosting Christmas or Boxing Day celebrations for the family because that means that in the past, they’ve needed to child-proof the house as much as possible. That mainly entails covering all the windows with drapes and making sure Chris’s cousin’s young children stay as far away from them as possible.

I originally thought Chris’s mom just wanted a change of décor for the house, so I complimented the new window blinds and noted how much larger and more spacious the bedrooms looked with blinds instead of the window drapes. I also noted that with blinds, the windows are now fully child-proof, which means that when the nephews come over, they no longer had to worry about the windows. She didn’t beat around the bush at all and said immediately, “Yes, that’s what I wanted them for – to child proof the house for my future grandchildren!”


Chris’s mom was very transparent. She said that Tony thought she was being a little absurd, and to get another opinion, she consulted with her friend and told this friend of her plans. The conversation went a little something like this:

Susan: So, I’m having new blinds installed in the house on the second floor, and Tony doesn’t seem to approve.

Friend: Why not?

Susan: Well, I want to have them installed so that the house will be safe and child-proof for my future grandchildren, but Tony thinks it’s too premature to plan for that.

Friend: Oh, is your daughter-in-law pregnant?

Susan: No, not yet.

Friend: Have your son and daughter-in-law mentioned wanting to have children soon?

Susan: No, they haven’t mentioned anything.

Friend: Susan, don’t you think you are getting a little ahead of yourself?

My mother-in-law is an eager beaver. She simply cannot wait to be a grandmother.