Category: Travel


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For the story preceding this article, click HERE.

I stayed a fine two years in Malaysia per my work contract requirement. It’s funny and interesting how I was not able to visit most tourist spots any resident expat normally could in a span of two years. Within that period I had gone to the US for a business trip and to Taiwan for a short company trip but ironically had never gone to Batu Caves, Genting, Kota Kinabalu, Langkawi, Melacca or other states within Malaysia.

Throughout my stay there I never forgot that the whole point I was working in Malaysia was to be able to find work in Canada, a stepping stone to fly to another country as I had previously planned when I wished to go to Singapore.

One of my housemates was a French-and-Arabic-speaking Algerian who also did not foresee getting into the same company as he came into Malaysia under a student visa. He encouraged my goal to fly to Canada but I hesitated because I felt not being a skilled worker would hurt my chances to try.

During my last year stay, I would frequently notice billboards displaying Air Asia flight discounts to cities in Australia. Coincidentally I also saw the movie, Australia, that year. However, I could barely get my free schedule to coincide with my friends’. Read: I didn’t like traveling alone. That same year I had reconnected with one of my best friends, Christine, who I had totally forgotten had been working in Sydney since 2007.

Maybe I was fated to visit there instead of flying to Canada. I hardly had any problems nor delays in applying for a tourist visa to Australia and had spent 7 weeks observing and trying to immerse myself in their way of life.

Looking back, I don’t think being put in Singapore would have given me the same string of profitable opportunities in work and travel. Things would have run an entirely different course. As the lyrics of John Lennon’s Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy) says, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

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I had read a good post by Heatherperk few days ago wherein she points out some of the unforeseen timing of events in her life. It reminded me of my own experience in the past regarding job hunting which also involved a great deal of traveling.

I remember 2007 to be a year when I applied for a few overseas job vacancies. My co-worker in the Spanish team and friend, Winnie, one day handed me a cut-out newspaper ad for a Spanish Help Desk vacancy for DHL Malaysia. I sent the agency my resumé but decided not to push through with the interview. Like my other co-worker from the same team, Laurice, I was more keen on finding opportunities in Singapore as a possible stepping stone to applying for a Canadian immigrant visa. Unfortunately my application for the Singapore Eligibility Pass Employment Certificate was declined by the Ministry of Manpower.

When the same agency had an opening for an overseas post in Alberta, Canada, I seized the opportunity to apply. Applicants were trimmed down to 15 for the final interview but they would only pick 3. I did make it to the final interview but did not make it to the top 3 cut. Around the same time I had applied, my two friends, Winnie and Louise, had already been accepted for the DHL Malaysia post.

I certainly did not foresee what would happen by August. I used to be seated in a cubicle next to a colleague named Tess who at the time recently gave birth to her first baby. She told me she had found an overseas work opportunity in Malaysia requiring Spanish communication skills on JobsDB.com. She was already screened but sad that she couldn’t leave the country because of her child. She suggested I contact the same company to submit my application. Surprisingly I passed the exam and before I knew it my working visa documents had been taken care of.

Who would have thought that I would land a job in the same country as my friends Winnie and Louise had albeit in a different company? I certainly did not expect that. But, yes, I did visit Singapore twice to visit my friends Laurice, Cathy, Buen and Eloisa during my two-year contract in Malaysia since these are neighboring countries.

 

***Also check out Unforeseen Timing: Canada or Australia

I was browsing my old pictures when I recalled that I have been to a few countries where the famous tallest buildings in the world are. Being a petite girl coming from a country where short people live (no, not The Shire), I would feel awe and at the same time a bit intimidated by the so-called world’s tallest structures.

Back in elementary school, short girls had the most disadvantages compared to tall girls. Everyone seems to be competing for the superlatives. Even though I couldn’t help but think of how superficial we can get sometimes to be able to hold world records, these man-made edifices have undeniably captivated me.

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The Petronas Twin Towers

I had lived in Malaysia for two years and could get a tiny view of this beauty from my bedroom window. The Petronas Twin Towers is breathtaking to behold during the daytime and much more so during the nighttime when it’s all lit up. It was only in 2010 when I entered the building and took the tour to that middle bridge together with mom and her friends.

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Taipei 101

I visited Taiwan with my former colleagues during a company trip. It’s called Taipei 101 because it has 101 floors. In 2003, it surpassed the Petronas Twin Towers for the world’s tallest building record. The last time I went there in 2008, the entrance fee to go up the Taipei 101 Observatory was $400 NT. The Observatory was located at the 89th floor. Because the building is too high, it needs a wind damper.

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The Statue of Liberty

At first glance, I was like, “Wow! She’s so BIG!” We weren’t able to go up to the Observatory though as we mainly stayed in the park below. There was a long line to get tickets for the Staten Island ferry ride. Nonetheless seeing the iconic Lady Liberty in person left us breathless and we didn’t want to leave so early.

I sure hope to visit more of the world’s tallest structures next time.

Three Degrees of Separation

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Two days ago I told my friend Caren that it’s almost a year when we first met in Queen Victoria Building in Sydney’s Central Business District. Looking back on it I realized that there are people you meet for the first time with whom you mesh well with. It’s also interesting to reflect on stories about six degrees of separation and how far back you can trace your friend connections.

It was sometime in April or May 2005 when I moved to a new apartment closer to the Makati Central Business District. I became friends with Nona, a housemate, because we speak the same dialect. When I finally was cleared to fly to Malaysia for an overseas work for the first time in December 2007, she helped guard some of the boxes which contained stuff I didn’t want to bring for my sister to pick it up at a later time. She later became friends also with my sister and was even present when my niece was delivered in 2009 in a clinic not far away from my old apartment.

I went home in 2010 and a year after my sister and I would decide to go back to our hometown because of the high cost of living in Manila. I only saw Nona again in late January 2012 when I had to fly back to Manila for a seminar and for my flight to Sydney.

We stopped by a McDonald’s for lunch and I told her of my impending trip. Much to my surprise, she actually had a sister who lives in Brisbane while the niece of her husband, Caren, was in Sydney also. We had never talked about her connections to Australia before! And I thought it was too much of a coincidence that she only mentioned it a few days away from my departure. She suggested I add Caren on Facebook and get to know her.

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Queen Victoria Statue

Once in Sydney, I started chatting up with Caren and she agreed to meet up so we can roam around the CBD. The minute I spotted her at the entrance of the QVB near the impossible-to-miss Queen Victoria’s Statue, I approached her in a casual and brusque greeting typical of people who speak our dialect. We couldn’t stop chatting and sharing stories on our way to Hyde Park and George Street.

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For the next four weeks up until my last day in Sydney, we would meet up and roam around CBD and part ways with tanned skin and sore, tired feet but pleased nonetheless.

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With Cassie, Caren’s cousin

I like happy accidents and I can’t look back on my Sydney escapades without being reminded of friends I also made through Caren.

Today my friend Danielle asked me about the Show Money or Proof of Funds for my tourist visa application to Australia last year. She’s planning to make the trip to Melbourne this May with a friend and it will be their first time to visit. I told her between February and May she has little time to prepare and advised her to plan her trip and buy tickets at least 6 months ahead. She was not the only friend who asked me that question. Last year one of my college friends also wondered how I took care of the Show Money during the application.

I responded that I merely had $1200 in my dollar savings account but my bank statement shows $1200 deposits every month from my previous company. After I sent the photocopy of the bank statement to the Australian embassy along with other required documents, I proceeded to withdraw my own money. That was it. Of course they also require your employment contract so they can also look at your earning capacity.

My college friend was surprised and thought I had to produce half a million Philippine pesos just to apply for a tourist visa. She added the embassy is making it difficult for applicants from the Philippines to get in and that I was lucky. Maybe I was and I believe she has the right to question the process because she had applied and worked in Sydney from 2005 until 2011.

Danielle said that she did look for good deals on Air Asia, Air Asia now flies direct from Clark Manila to Melbourne. But she still found the promo fare expensive and said she might be having problems with the Show Money within 3 months.

The last piece of advice I did tell her was if she wants to resolve the Show Money problem, it’s best to ask for a letter of invite from someone she knows in Australia, that’s if she knows any close friend or relative who lives there. Having a letter of invite will take away the burden of the proof of funds required from her.

Homestay and Couchsurfing in Sydney

Couchsurfing and homestay are economical travel options. When I first planned to visit Australia in 2009, I was daunted by the prospect of traveling to a first-world country. I knew the travel expenses would be higher – the 40 Philippine Pesos against the 1 Australian Dollar was a constant reminder of that. Within 3 years my working circumstances got favourable and I was able to push through with my walkabout trip in 2012 because of the couchsurfing and homestay accommodation.

I wasn’t fond of bringing any travel guide book such as The Lonely Planet with me. I depended mostly on the internet and my Australian hosts for place and city information.
I never stayed in any hotel while I was on a trip in Australia. Of course nothing beats economical stay if you have a close friend in Australia. Your friend’s family would love to have you over for a while and they would be more than willing to show you around. Australians are hospitable people.
Otherwise, I would recommend the site Gumtree because it is easier to use and you get ad responses in less than 2 hours. You can put up an ad for free indicating that you need a place to stay for a week or more. You can also browse under the Couchsurfing category – you would find that there are hosts who are putting up their spare rooms for a generous fee per night’s stay inclusive of laundry and internet use.

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The Harbour Bridge in Sydney, NSW

Some just want to experience hosting a foreign tourist to their country in exchange for a service, e.g., babysitting their kids. Others would boldly state in their ad that they will let you couchsurf for free in exchange for a massage. I had experienced receiving responses to my ad which were perverse in nature. You will get those, too, but it’s best to ignore them.

If you don’t like the unpredictability of couchsurfing, then homestay is a more comfortable choice. I personally recommend Sydney Homestay Directory. Gumtree also has a Homestay Category in their website you can browse with but Sydney Homestay Directory has more detailed hosts profiles. Homestay is not for free, though. Depending on the area in Sydney, the homestay rates can go from 110AUD to 200AUD per day. With a 150AUD I had 3 free meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner), free laundry and access to WiFi. I picked a place which was closer to a train station so it would be easy to commute to and from the city.

I considered 150AUD a good bargain because of the free meals. You would find that having your meals in fast food chains and restaurants can be costly and even unhealthy. I was lucky to have an Egyptian architect and builder for a homestay host who also knew how to cook.

Couchsurfing and homestay accommodations allowed me to immerse myself in the Australian culture. Wherever your next travel will take you, do consider these 2 options.

 

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