Category Archives: Cultural Immersion

A Peruvian in Australia: Schooling (part 2)

I recently finished a 6 month course on Retail Travel Sales at NMIT. Here are some thoughts after that experience.

My background is in tourism and hospitality. I have worked in that industry for about 8 years. When I left Peru to come over to Australia I was working as a tour leader. I did not want to leave that industry so when the opportunity to study something came up I was sure Tourism was my choice. In the words of Robert, one of my classmates, I was ‘formalizing my experience’.

I was a bit concerned about this choice. Someone well-informed had told me that Tourism is one of the ‘typical’ choices of international students who attempt to ask for a visa.  They choose it because they think it’s easy. So there was that cliche. As soon as I was granted a my second student visa, off I went, back in school, at a TAFE (Technical and Further Education) which is the equivalent to an institute in Peru, but it is tertiary or university level education.

The course was expensive, over 5 thousand dollars (not a student budget-price if you think about it), so it was important for me that it was something I wanted to do. Having paid all that and being able to work only part-time under the conditions of my visa, my budget shrank and I was soon trying to save on money.

I got my student ID and with this I was able to get some discounts at the movies, entrances to museums and other attractions, like the zoo. Luckily the Preston campus is not too far from home. I rode my bike as much as I could while summer lasted; but then June came and with it winter and the days started to get chilly. I’d ride the bike as far as the bus stop and it was public transport after that. Have I mentioned that public transport is a sad shame in Melbourne? I have? Good, ’cause it is. Despite the late train departures, the cancellations, the dirty trains (all of which happen more often than one would wish for), one of the low points for me was discovering that as an international student I have no right for a discount on a ticket. I pay 6.6 dollars per round trip. Considering I was only allowed to work part-time and that the cost of life is high, it’s not cheap.

Food was another field for savings. There’s a market at Preston, just across the road from school, which is a cheap option for students to buy lunch. But most times I took my lunch (which I cooked of course) with me and only visited the market a couple times. Another pleasant surprise was that at school the chef students cooked and sold their products at the school’s restaurant. So every Tuesday I was able to buy nice food for very low prices.

Mostly the course taught me about the different destinations in Australia and what is there is to offer. Certainly some beautiful places such as The Kimberley, The Great Barrier Reef, The Murray River area, the train ride across the desert from Adelaide to Darwin know as The Ghan, and so many other spots this vast country has to offer to visitors. Ironically, Australians prefer to go abroad these days than to travel within their country. This has to do with the prices. It is cheaper to fly and stay in Bali for a week than to go spend the weekend in Cairns. It is cheaper to fly to New Zealand from Melbourne than to go to Perth. Obviously Perth is farther from Melbourne than NZ but that gives you an idea of how large is Australia.

Bungle Bungle Range National Park, near The Kimberley

I can’t wait to get my license and hire or buy a camper and just drive around this country with Mel. While in school I presented a power point on North-West Australia, on the exact opposite side of the country. That area is called The Kimberley. It is one of the last remaining native forests in Australia. On the East coast, where most of the 22 million people live, 75% of forests have disappeared. And though the national parks are great, many conservationists are leading a campaign to stop a large transnational from extracting gas in The Kimberleys.

In my course I also learnt about the business and the local know-how. Most of my teachers had worked in the industry and that was great. They knew the standards and the ways.

One of the low points was that in the class there were those who didn’t really care about the course. They enrolled just because, like those looking for a visa, they thought it was easy and required no talent. I remember a guy who wanted to work at the airport picking up luggage or a girl who wanted to work at the airport at an airline counter. You certainly don’t need this course to work there. Others enrolled because their parents forced them to. So they would come to class late and when in class just chat and interrupt. I thought it was very disrespectful to the teachers and other classmates. I was even more angry when I discovered that those kids were paying 350 dollars for a course that costed Mel and I more than 5 thousand.

Luckily there was Ken. Ken is a war veteran who had been to Viet-Nam and at 60-something he still drove a taxi and studied to be a travel agent. A very clever man who had been all over the globe. He stood up. He was from a different generation, one that didn’t get free things. He stood up and hushed them down. I want to dedicate this post to Ken, who was not able to finish the course against his will. I’m sure one day he will finish it and become a great travel agent.

Along the course we had to do several presentations on destinations, package tours, country profiles, set up a stand for a tourism fair, talk about cultural differences. Normally I picked Peru when it was about an international destination. I remember a comment from one of my classmates who said that through my presentations she had learnt so much about Peru that now she had it on her list of places to go. I thought that that was a great compliment and it proved to me that I can be a great travel agent too!

from left to right: Tim, Ashley, Danny, Salma, Tracey, Mou-mou, Vikki, Robert, Andrew, Tamara, Pepe and Tom

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Filed under Australia, Cultural Differences, Cultural Immersion, Education Abroad, Food, Immigration, Living Abroad, Travel, Travel Stories, Travel Writing

A Peruvian in Australia: Football?

Last weekend I went to the stadium to see a game of football. Or should I say ‘footy’. What people call football here is quite different from what football is in Peru. I have tried to explain to locals, for the sake of naming things right, that, as the name suggests, football is something that requires foot (or feet) and a ball. But that won’t do, they love this sport to death, which is to say the exact same way I love football (the one that requires only foot and a ball).

Especially in Melbourne, where most teams that play in the AFL come from, footy is hugely popular. It’s on the headlines every day since the season began and at the end of it there is a parade where the champions can be seen driving around the city centre. When I arrived last year it was the time of the finals. My first ‘social presentation’ in Melbourne was a BBQ party at one of Mel’s friends’ places to watch the final. There I learnt some of the rules and enjoyed a great game between Geelong and Collingwood.

Australian Football seems to me as a hybrid between Rugby and the other football (soccer). According to Wikipedia, it is related to Gaellic (Irish) football, which would be little surprise considering it dates back from the 1850’s when many Irish, among other nationalities, came to Melbourne to work in the nearby gold mines. I have heard from locals that ‘footy’ started as a way of using the cricket fields the ‘other’ half of the year they were not used–in winter. But also to keep cricketeers fit. You see, cricket is a sport that requires good weather as games can go on for days (that’s right, DAYS…and they call soccer boring?!), so the cricket season takes place during the best time of the year, summer. While ‘footy’ can be played in the same ground (an oval) as a cricket game and weather is not such a big deal for it since players are constantly running. They in fact run an average 17Km per game.
It is played with an oval ball in an oval field, of which there are plenty distributed around the city. There is one just a block from my place and many others not far. You have 2 teams, each with 18 players and each team has a goal, like that of rugby, with 4 long posts standing, the 2 middle ones longer. If the ball passes through the center is a 6 point goal and if it bounces through the sides is a 1 point goal. To carry the ball there the players can run with it, but they must bounce it every few steps. Or they may kick it or send it with their hand by hitting the bottom of the ball held on the opposite hand. It requires a lot of strategy and speed to get to the other goal, and while some games can be fast and exciting, others might be slow and boring.

On Saturday my friend Julio, also from Peru, asked me to go with him to see a game and though hesitant at first I decided to join him. What better way to spend the weekend and get to see an important aspect of life in Melbourne? As another friend of mine,Henry, who used to be a guide in Peru used to say “when visiting a place make sure you go to the market, the church and the main square to learn the different aspects of local life” and he was right but the rules are different here where there are no main squares (not in the sense they are in Latin America) and religion is much less popular. I would in fact replace religion for footy here in my friend’s formula, which sounds also appropriate for Latin America where people approach both in a very similar way: fanatically.

The clash on Saturday was a fun, fast-paced game between Saint Kilda Saints and Sydney Swans, two of the oldest teams in the league. It took place in a packed Etihad Stadium, with capacity for 55 thousand people; very pretty stadium I must say. I’m not sure what would happen if stadiums in Peru had sliding doors and TV monitors all around. I say that because in my country football is usually associated with the lower demographic and it is quite common to hear of riots and hooligan confrontations. Many end in deaths, like the case of a young man who was thrown off a box earlier this year.

Etihad Stadium

Surprisingly, in Melbourne the association is the same and it is just very funny to me to see these different societies tagging themselves in the same way. If an Aussie ‘bogan’ met a Peruvian ‘barrista’ (hooligan) what would they say to each other? Of course this is just a portion of the people who attend the stadium, and, like everywhere else, parents go with their kids, so I don’t mean to generalise, just to play with the clichés.
Julio, who has been living in Australia longer than I, was explaining further to me the rules and I think I get it now, I think I am a fan of footy. He was supporting the Swans since he lives in Sydney, and I was supporting St Kilda. How funny is that? Two foreigners choosing their teams of ‘footy’, is that assimilated enough for you? I might have become a fan of footy but I refuse to call it ‘football’.

And yet what I saw was families together, friends drinking beers, people screaming, supporting their team and enjoying their sport just as passionately as we enjoy ‘our’ football. And then it dawned on me that this must be a big and important part of Victorian, if not Australian, life. I have been to concerts, clubs, events and never people seemed as excited to me as they seemed that Saturday at the stadium. They were spontaneously enjoying the game. It seemed to me like I had noticed an important part of being aussie. And it´s exactly what football, or footy, our football, or fútbol, or soccer, does to people– it brings them together. That’s the beauty of it, you forget where you come from, where you are, and just enjoy the sport.

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Filed under Australia, Cultural Differences, Cultural Immersion, Immigration, Living Abroad, Peru, Sports, Travel, Travel Stories, Travel Writing

A Peruvian in Australia: Gigs

I am a big fan of music. I consider myself a frustrated musician, which, as bad as it sounds, seems better than being a struggling musician (I trust all the women who have dated one will understand what I mean…). Sometimes I still play my ‘air-drums’, an imaginary set of drums where I ‘follow’ the percussion of whatever my ipod is playing – people freak out when they see me on the train! And yes, when I was little I did build a drumset out of pots and pans driving my mum to insanity as she begged for silence. She is my biggest critic. Phrases such as ‘How can you listen to music all day?’ are well engraved in my memory.
Having proved that I AM a big fan of music, I’ll proceed with my story. I grew up in Peru in the 90’s and nobody went to Peru during that time. We had a sort-of-civil-war where a terrorist group named Shining Path would place car bombs all over Lima and that meant enough of a threat for any band to skip our country. And the few opportunities we Peruvians had had of seing any ‘big’ artist often resulted in mischance. I remember when my dad told me he had tickets to see Santana in Lima back in 1971 at the peak of his popularity, having just recently played Woodstock. At the time we had a military leftist government (you thought you’d heard it all ah!), and General Velasco, who led the Revolutionary Government, forbid Santana to play in Peru calling him an ‘imperialist hippie’. Poor Santana, I don’t think he saw much of Lima other than the airport. Luckily he came back in 2006 to close open wounds.

The first big band I remember that came to Peru was pop duo Roxette,  back in 1993. I was a fan of Roxette at the time and I was mad that my mum had decided we had to move to Mexico just a couple months before their concert in Lima. Some of my friends did go and said it was great. On the flipside, Mexico had become a must for bands to tour, so I finally found a place where I could go to live concerts. But I didn’t. Not the massive ones at least. Several friends were starting in music at the time; I remember everyone wanted to play guitar, there was a lack of bass and drum players. Some of these friends formed bands and I used to go watch them play. The circuit for school and local bands was quite healthy in Mexico back then. There was a rebirth of rock in Spanish and a lot of creativity around; it was a great time to go to gigs. When I moved to Mexico City I befriended people from ‘Los Musicos de Jose’ and used to go to their gigs everytime. Those were the only gigs I could afford. My first big concert had Bush and Delinquent Habits as headliners (?!?) with  a bunch of Mexican bands at Palacio de los Deportes.  I saw Jamiroquai at Auditorio Nacional ’cause my then girlfriend had been given tickets. But I always missed the biggest ones: Rolling Stones, U2, Rage Against The Machine, McCartney, etc.

While living in the US my biggest problem was not having a car, since public transport is non-existent and I was living in the suburbs of Cincinatti. There, I missed more bands. I must hold the record for having missed the same artist over and over again. That’s Manu Chao, a legend in Latin countries, whom I have missed in Lima, Mexico City, Barcelona, LA and Sydney by a matter of weeks.

Now that I live in Australia I am starting to taste  the joy of gigs and concerts. This last month I have been to two: Yann Tiersen and Mark Lanegan. The first is the composer of the music for the French film Amelie, which I love. I showed the movie to Mel and she really liked it too. I thought it’d be a great idea to listen to him live so I got us tickets. The venue was the Melbourne Recital Centre, a beautiful wooden concert hall ideal for small orchestras and classical music, and since the concert was being promoted as ‘the composer of Amelie’ I thought that he would play some of those songs. But I was wrong. Yann Tiersen has a big repertoire and he was travelling with a new album under his wing so it shouldn’t have been a surprise that he played none of the songs that brought him international attention. Not only that, but he was far from THAT kind of music. He played some violin but most songs were rock with synthetisers and a full band accompanying him. It was very good, but I am sure it caught more than one audience member surprised.

Mark Lanegan was another story. I heard his last record and loved it inmediately. I bought tickets to his concert on my own. I had come to The Forum just weeks before to see Mark Watson’s comedy stand-up show as part of the Comedy Festival, but the hall was different. While outside The Forum looks like an arabesque architecture building, inside it’s all red carpeted and decored with Greek imitation statues and the ceiling lights are bright blue as if it was night. With this description you might be thinking ‘What a horrible combination!’ and you could be right, it’s a daring combination but it doesn’t reach a kitsch or bad taste level. Either that or the love that locals have for The Forum lead me to believe that.

The Forum from the ACMI

The friend of a friend, Tom, was going too so we ended up going for a couple pints before the concert. There we ran into another friend of his. All together headed to The Forum, an old cinema dating back from the 1920’s. Back then it was the largest cinema in all of Australia. Today it was the perfect spot to see Lanegan: not a very large venue with capacity for maybe a couple thousand, some tables at the back and standing room right in front of the stage. Two bars on the sides and one more upstairs keep the thirsty ones apeased.

Foyer at The Forum

While discussing how to get through the crowd Tom’s friend decided she knew how to do it without the need of pushing or squeezing amongst the crowd. Turned out she found a perfect spot, we were not only 3 metres from Mark Lanegan but at the best angle and right next to the speakers. When ‘The Gravediggers Song’ started I trembled in surprise. It was not just loud, but fucking awesome sound!

But it was going to take more than fucking awesome sound to get the aussie crowd moving. In the words of my friend Julio, who went to see Manu Chao in Sydney just recently, Manu had to play his fastest ska to get some nodding from the crowd. Tom told me that Melbourne audiences are demanding, probably because this is the capital of music in the country. Certainly the range of music on offer is astounding. If I could I would have spent all my money on going to gigs this summer! The Pogues, Elbow, Electrelane, Radiohead, Prince, Soundgarden…
When I went to see Portishead and The National at the Harvest Festival last year it was my first taste of that attitude. It was Portishead’s first Australian gig in 10 years or so, and I am aware that their music is not precisely dancing music but rather hypnotic, yet the crowd, though cheerful, remained rather quiet, something to which I am not quite used to. Later I read in a magazine that for that critic it had been the best gig of the year in Melbourne. I guess I need to see what a bad gig is like to compare. Mel tells me that another feature of gigs here is the ‘Circle of Death’ that sometimes exists between a (usually unknown) band and the first people of the crowd: nobody wants to be in the front.

The National at Harvest Festival
I think now I begin to understand why so many bands speak of the ‘warmth’ of Latin audiences. When I went to see James or The Killers back in Lima I couldn’t stop dancing and jumping, whether it was the excitement to see a ‘big’ band or the effect of the music itself. When I went to see Calle 13, a Puerto Rican hip hop band, it was a massive party!
Can’t have it all I guess. Meanwhile I am planning my next gig, maybe The Black Keys, maybe The Shins, whose last album is going straight to my favourites of the year so far. Perhaps Jack White and hope he plays some White Stripes while he is at it. But definitely I will go and see the band of my work mate Will – Big Words. They play hip hop and he says they are pretty good. I’m sure there won’t be a ‘circle of death’ there!

Portishead at Harvest Festival 2011

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Filed under Australia, Cultural Differences, Cultural Immersion, Immigration, Indie Music, Living Abroad, Music, Peru, Travel, Travel Stories, Travel Writing

A Peruvian in Australia: Getting Around (Part 2)

The Grampians

The Grampians must be one of the classic family holiday spots for Victorians. It definitely seemed very popular when we went camping there in November last year. We chose a campground at the heart of the Grampians: Hall’s Gap, a little village with a few restaurants, bungalow facilities, a nice museum of aboriginal history, an information centre, petrol station, etc. From here most hikes or roads leave from into the Grampians National Park. Mel was a bit curious and concerned about the accessibility, as in early 2011 this area had suffered from floods and mudslides and fires. We realised that one of the main roads was still under repair and to get to one of the main spots we would need to make a huge loop by car on what otherwise would be a 5km drive from Hall’s Gap.

The Grampians and Hall’s Gap down in the valley

But the weather was lovely, the people were happy and as soon as we set up our camp we were out looking for hikes. First we walked to a lookout point up on a mountain from where we could see massive flocks of Cockatoos flying across the valley, filling it with their loud calls that reminds me of those from macaws. The kangaroos were there too, in large groups, not shy at all, grazing next to the paths where people walked.

A Mob Of Kangaroos

But the highlight was definitely the circuit we did on day 2, when we walked for most of the day, to The Pinnacle, a lookout point at aprox.1200meters , and a circuit of beautiful avenues carved in ancient rocks where once water must have flown. I don’t want to seem rude but it is funny how when aussies refer to the Grampians they refer to them as ‘high’ mountains. You need to have in mind that the highest point in this big island is Mt. Kosciuszko at 2228 meters. So for me, having grown up in Cusco at 3400masl, surrounded by ranges well above 5 or 6 thousand, that was a bit…well, no disrespect at all, it’s just a simple way of saying how context is such a big thing in our lives.

The Pinnacle

We were able to witness the damage made by last years natural disasters when we walked by forest that had been burned. It’s very clear how the fires are such a big part of nature’s cycles here. The winds are strong and the heat is too, the land is flat and when all of these factors conspire, fires are the result.

Ballarat

Ballarat is one of Australia’s 20 largest cities and it only has 90 thousand people. It’s only an hour and a half drive from Melbourne, a reason why many of its inhabitants move to the bigger city looking for better opportunities. But there was a time when Ballarat possessed the bigger opportunities and attracted people from all over the world because of the gold that was found there. Nowadays the most popular attraction in Ballarat is Sovereign Hill, where a gold processing facility has been kept and well maintained. Visitors get to be dressed in the old fashion, just like we do in Peru with the visitors to Lake Titicaca. If you are thinking that it sounds like an amusement park where you get to see how the miners lived, you are right. If you think it’s boring, you’re wrong. Every detail is been taken care of and walking into Sovereign Hill seems like a passage back in time, to the 1830’s, when immigrants from all over the world were coming to this new continent in search of wealth and fortune. If it wasn’t for all the visitors…we did go on what probably is the busiest day in the year, but still managed to enjoy it!

Old shop in Sovereign Hill

Demonstrations on how lollies were made the old fashioned way (with the old-fashioned machinery and tools and all!) were so inspiring – we still have lollies from that visit a few months on! Another show on how a gold bar is melted and poured was particularly beautiful and entertaining. They had a whole foundry still working and it’s so impressive to see that machinery not only working but to imagine all the effort it actually took to make it and all the thought put into it. That’s one thing I love about old machines, they actually look clever. Modern stuff just looks pretty and disposable, utterly incapable of being appreciated for its charm. Just mass production.

And as you walk by you discover the whole village: the bar, the bakery, the mechanic that repaired the trolleys, the bowling saloon, the school, the Chinese neighbourhood (someday a whole district), the gold-wash area. We actually walked down into a mine. I couldn’t but sigh at the light years between this, still a working small mine, and the mines that I saw in Potosí, Bolivia, where the health and safety conditions are non-existent and when you sign the waiver it says clearly that there’s a chance you will die buried in the tunnel!

Chinese shop

So far I think Ballarat has given me that sharpest impression of what Australia used to be when it was founded. It reminds me what a young nation this one is and how fast it has gotten to where it is now.

Brisbane

Mel had to work in Sydney and Brisbane and I decided to tag along. I had miles on my account so I traded them to do my first domestic flight in Australia. Besides, Brisbane has a reputation for sunny weather and chilled out people and is close to some of the biggest tourist destinations in the whole country: Gold Coast and Noosa.
I had contacted my friend Renata on e-mail and we were plotting a visit to a nearby beach. She, a marine biologist, and her boyfriend Nick also a biologist and a surf enthusiast, named a few amazing sites nearby that were ideal for camping, hiking, surfing and just relaxing. I was reassured by Renata that sharks don’t eat people and that it is easier to die in a car accident and that’s all it took to sell me.

Mt. Glorious forest

I purchased a train ticket online to go from the Brisbane airport to the city, and in Melbourne I got a bus ticket to the airport. It is quite surprising how the second largest city in Australia (and the current most liveable city in the world) has such a weak and inefficient public transport system. There is no train to the airport. If you don’t have a car you have to go to the city centre and grab a bus from there that costs AUD$17 and takes 45 minutes with some traffic (not talking peak time). In comparison, Brisbane has a train that takes you straight to the city centre in 20min and costs AUD$14.

When I arrived at the airport I hesitated about where to go. The domestic area had only computerised check in and a few attendants. This is funny about Australia, everything is automated: when you go to the supermarket you weigh and pay for your products at automated check out machines. The idea is the same at airports, and since pretty much everyone has a frequent flyer number or a reservation code, there is really no need to hire staff to check people in. But I didn’t know how to use it, and also I was travelling on miles so I thought it better to contact a real person to help me out. I wondered though how these systems would fare in Peru. My first response is that in such a corrupted society as ours they would probably not do well, but then again, why think so bad of my own people?

The weather forecast (yes, I now use the forecast – I have an app on my Iphone that I check every morning) was not kind on Brisbane: showers for most of the weekend. Ironically that would turn out to be the last super hot weekend in Melbourne with temperatures of 38C! With Mel and I both recovering from a flu, the Brisbane weather was no real help to improve. But a new city it was and it needed to be discovered, so rain or shine, out on the streets I went, to the CBD, the Royal Botanic gardens, Southbank, the Gallery of Modern Art. Brisbane seems like a smaller, tropical, more relaxed Melbourne. I liked it lots on first impression. With Renata and Nick we went to The Joint Pub to get a glimpse of the night scene. We also drove to Mt. Glorious for some hiking and birdwatching in the beautiful rainforest. Mel and I visited the West End and dined at a Greek restaurant in a popular part of town. Not soon after we were considering the idea of moving to Brisbane someday to get more sunshine (I know, right!) and outdoors.

City contrasts

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Filed under Alternative tourism, Australia, Cultural Differences, Cultural Immersion, Immigration, Living Abroad, Peru, Travel, Travel Stories, Travel Writing, Trekking

A Peruvian in Australia: Friends Found Faraway.

I have friends that I made a long time ago. I even say these days that my best friends are those I haven’t seen in ages. Just the other day I was talking to one of them: Fufo, who lives in Sweden. It was the first time we had talked on Skype. We haven’t seen each other’s faces for, like, 7 years, at least. Now he is married to his long-time girlfriend, Nancy, whom we used to hang out with back in the days of Mexico.
It is hard not to be melancholic when one is away from home. Friends from a distant memory, far from home like me (or at home this time) is all it takes to feel better. They have seen me in other places and situations and know me better than almost anyone in Melbourne. They are friends, new friends, becoming friends, whatever you wanna call them.
I have had the luck to meet with several people I met over in Peru as far back as 2004. This happened with Catherine D, whom I met during my days as a bartender at the Flying Dog Bar in Lima. She showed me a cool pub in Melbourne’s CBD that I would have never discovered on my own, nevermind it being so close to my prior school! And where does one begin to resume 7 years of life and how on Earth one got here? We tried and promised a BBQ soon to meet our significant others.
I’ve also met with a couple of people from my tour leader days. It’s funny to see them in their country, doing what they do and telling them my stories as a tourist here. We have switched roles now and meeting with them actually brings lots of perspective to my life. That’s what happened with Catherine S, with whom I went for a drink and caught up in Fitzroy, one of the liveliest neighbourhoods of Melbourne. We had dinner at a super busy and popular veggie restaurant there and shared a couple of beers. Melbourne is becoming a mecca for small breweries and artisanal, organic beers. I don’t think I’ve been so happy beerwise since my days in Belgium! It was weird at first to meet. We hadn’t seen each other in at least 2 years, when she was in Peru and we walked the Lares trekk together. But it was great to see her and know she is well and nearby, so next time I promised to pay her a visit and go surfing together.
With Shalla I also went to Fitzroy while she was visiting Melbourne, something she luckily does frequently. She is somewhat of a music guru to me and we always talk about music and share new bands. We still have a pending date to go to a gig together. But we did go to a rooftop bar and talked for hours and hours reminiscing of the days when we got stranded in Aguascalientes due to a strike or a mudslide (whichever happens more often in Peru) a couple years ago. How time does fly! She gave me some clues about how to become a radio announcer, one of my long-time procrastinated dream-jobs.
Meeting these friends has brought me perspective. Not only perspective, but help. Zoe, with whom I struck a friendship after chatting at Positive Bar (best pub in Puno, Peru) recently contacted me. She is running a café here in Melbourne, Per Diem Café in Richmond (excellent coffee by the way) and she needed staff. I was in need of a job because the starting months of the year are really slow in the Hospitality bussiness, where I have my other job. She remembered something I didn’t: when we were in Peru I sort of organised a trip for her and her mum, who were traveling independently with little knowledge of the places. I guess I helped them out by just doing what I always do. Now I have a job in a cafe! How’s that for good karma ?
Life takes interesting turns. It’s like 6 degrees of separation all the time with me. And I love it. The idea of people traveling over the world, settling in places or just venturing to exotic places, meeting others, sometimes friends, sometimes lovers and then moving on, yet carrying all that memory. To me that’s the clearest way of expressing what interests me the most in this world: chance, coincidence, the unknown, love, choice.
So now, I’m about to catch a plane to Brisbane for my first aussie domestic adventure. Mel is going there for work and I decided to join her. I have traded my miles flown with LAN and so the trip is free. But there is another reason that I’m exited about going to Brisbane: I’m gonna get to meet with my friend Renata, whom I haven’t seen in what must be around 15 years at least! We were friends back in the days when I was studying secondary school in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Then I moved to Mexico City and I lost track of her. It was a few years after, with the marvel of email, chat and later Facebook that I started contacting a lot of friends whom I never got a chance to keep in touch with. Renata was one of them. We have continued our friendship ‘virtually’ all these years. And in a couple days we will meet. How will we recognise each other after all these years?
Well, the good news is that we did recognise each other! She came along with her partner Nick and we headed to a cool pub in Brisbane (The Joint) on one of those fews nights when the gods decided it was time to rain, and rain it did for all of the day and all of the night. Under a ceiling that cared little about doing its job, we begun to catch up and all of a sudden I was telling stories of my time in Europe, of when I left Mexico, of my journey to the jungle of Peru, of how I got to Oz…
She and Nick are both biologists and while she studies the ocean and its inhabitants, he studies birds. Together with Mel we visited Mt. Glorious the next day, and though it was still rainy, the forest was beautiful and with Nick´s help, I had the luck to spot a couple of never before seen birds. At one point, while driving back to Brisbane, I started sharing a story with everyone of how we used to hop in the back of a friend’s truck with buckets filled with cold water. We would drive to a nearby posh club and just splash the hell out of the people queing at the entrance! I had forgotten that Renata was there on that truck! Suddenly, as if a plug was removed, memories started pouring in. It is true what they say about memory: it is a muscle and it does need exercise. But how to remember so many things, so many wonderful things!? And what an amazing thing memory is that it can take you back so long ago!

Mt Glorious eerie forest

I am so happy to see someone that I enjoyed talking to so much when I was younger and how she has grown and how our paths have crossed again. It makes me happy and makes me feel lucky to witness that. Normally people meet again after so long when they are 45 or something like that and cliché says they are usually dissapointed and end up depressed of the meeting. I don’t like judging people but I like seeing the people I care for well and happy. In my case meeting all of these friends is a proof of the magic of travel and life.

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Filed under Alternative tourism, Australia, Birdwatching, Cultural Differences, Cultural Immersion, Education Abroad, Immigration, Living Abroad, Peru, Travel, Travel Stories, Travel Writing, Work

A Peruvian in Australia: Schooling

I came to Australia on a Student Visa. I came to study English. Quite a few people were surprised by that but I was actually interested in studying English at an Academic level. The whole idea was always to study to pass the IELTS test. IELTS is an organization that certifies your level of English and together with the TOEFL are the most accepted English language certificates over the world. My immigration agent had recommended a school and the pictures of it and its location had seemed promising since before leaving Peru.

I have now spent 4 months studying English; the last 2 months specifically studying for the IELTS test. The first 2 I was placed by my institute in the Advanced level class. I also spent 2 weeks in Business class between Advanced and IELTS. I was back in class at 32! This was not an easy task but definitely an interesting one. It felt like it must have felt for Dave Grohl to play drums on the Nirvana Unplugged album. If I remember well his words – he said it was like ‘playing inside a crystal cage’ that he could break at any moment so he had to be real delicate at not smashing his drums. Yeah, it kinda felt like that.

The transition involved taking the train every morning and discovering the world of one of the most hated public companies for Melbournians: the train company. Stopping at 10 stations in about 35 minutes to reach the CBD (you should know what the CBD is for Melbourne if you read this blog somewhat frequently; if you don’t, please refer to the post named ‘…First Impressions of Melbourne’), I then walked two blocks everyday to get to school on the corner of Swanston and Flinders Street.

The location is one of the liveliest and more emblematic corners of the city: Flinders Street Station, St Paul’s Cathedral, Federation Square, the City square are all in the vicinity. One of the first things I looked for on the student roll was for other Peruvians. I met a few. But most of the students coming from South America came from Brazil or Colombia. Most others were from South Korea or Japan, perhaps China, and more from Eastern Europe and Spain. But whatever nationality, school was a boiling pot of different cultures and young people looking for a chance in another country, adapting, learning, looking for a job, renewing their visas, having a good time. People like myself, missing home, looking ahead, with someone else back at home or here at a new home. I miss school mostly because of those people, travelers like me. Other than that it’s been very interesting realizing that I am still the same kid I’ve always been in class! It’s incredible how little one changes from the essential self one was at 8 years old until one is an adult! I should thank my teachers for having the patience with me as I kept interrupting their class,tryng to entertain everyone by being the tour leader/storyteller that I used to be back in Peru.

My English course wasn’t cheap but it was the best way to get back together with Melissa. The price has meant that I have appreciated it and was more critical too. That was a new experience for me because my previous studies during high school and my degree were at public schools, and though before that I was at a private school I was too little to care about the money. It also made me realise that in Peru we have a very good level of English and that our education is not as bad as everyone would think. Or, to say it differently, that education abroad is not necessarily light years ahead of ours.

Since we are on the subject of schools, let me give you an idea of how important International students, as we are called here, are to Melbourne’s economic health. The industry of Education produces around AUD$ 4.5 billion every year only from international students and is Victoria’s first export and at one point just a couple years ago there were 400,000 students in Victoria alone. A year of study in one of the most reputed universities in the city is a little more than 30 thousand US$. Certainly Aussies have  more benefits compared to International students, yet this is not always the case from what I’ve heard them say. And Melbourne seems to be a mecca for people of all over the world that come here to study. You see it on the streets, on the news, everywhere. Some critics of education in Victoria mention that this bussiness dependency is what has damaged the image of the Victorian educational system.

Nevertheless the laws are changing, accordingly. Australia has a very agile legislation that covers a wide set of areas. And though they can’t stop the influx of foreigners without damaging the economy, they are controlling it pretty well. As an immigraton lawyer was explaining to me a few days ago, a lot of students come here not to study really but as a way to stay in the country. Because of this the government recently introduced a rule where one needs to demonstrate to them the ´genuineness´ of one’s intentions to study here. If they see that a doctor is applying for a hairdressing course, they most probably will refuse that visa.

A few days ago I learnt my results from the IELTS and I was gladly surprised with an 8 out of 9. The IELTS is not just any English test. They want to see a certain structure in the writing, they use different accents in the listening section, they like you using idioms in the conversation, and the articles they give you to read have complex academic style. You can have a perfectly operational grasp of the English language and still fail the test (though technically you can’t not pass the test, but of course as the test is a requirement for visas or uni enrolments, certain scores are requested by these institutions). And then there’s all the hype around it. I gave my test at a conference room with other 600 students. The organization was massive, you could smell the stress in the room and it was such a serious bussiness that there were vigilantes checking passports on the tables every 15 minutes (people have in fact gone to jail for trying to impersonate a student at the IELTS). And it’s not cheap either, 330AU$ are invested in it, so not reaching the score you want can be a high price for a student. I would like to thank my teacher Ruby Brunton who taught the structure that the test required and with her help I’ve improved my writing enormously. Thanx Ruby!!!

Now that I’ve got this first chapter closed my next step here is to renew my student Visa to study a Certificate III in Retail Tourism for 6 months at a local college. I’m sure that could be a very interesting experience. Back at uni! The last time I went to a university class was around 10years ago in Mexico when I was studying Journalism. I went to my orientation a few days ago and the University campus is pretty, similar, though much smaller, to that of my uni in Mexico City. My aim is to learn at this course how to create a tourism product and learn how to use the software that is necessary at a travel agency. In the future I would like, with these tools, to create my own travel agency or, more modestly, work in one.

Hopefully I will get myvisa renewed and then you can continue reading this blog entries as a Peruvian in Australia, cause a Peruvian back in Peru doesn’t seem like a very exciting title!

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Filed under Australia, Cultural Differences, Cultural Immersion, Education Abroad, Immigration, Living Abroad, Peru, Travel, Travel Stories, Travel Writing

A Peruvian in Australia: Work (or the lack of it)

Finding work was one of my main concerns before coming over to Oz. My student visa allows me only 20 hours of work per week which is alright but my main worry was the fact that I was going to start all over again. Whereas in Peru I had been a successful tour leader with excellent job opportunities I decided to quit all that. I knew I would have to work as a waiter, cleaner, or any of the jobs usually no else wants. My friend Johan, also from Peru and a guide there as well, has found this new beginning quite difficult in Australia. Here he works cleaning and that change meant an obvious punch to his self-esteem. I have been feeling a bit like that, back home I was the man with the knowledge  and the know-how. Here I’m another immigrant without a clue, and I feel so minuscule when I have to pull out my map to find my way around.

But still, the possibilities to find a good job are always there. Always positive, right?  I was aiming at finding something in the tourism industry where I have been working for the past 8 years. I contacted my previous employer in Peru and they offered me a job, it was perfect! I was going to be selling and advising on how to sell South America. Sadly the chance fell over when I learnt that they needed a full-time person with the proper visa. Pretty soon it dawned on me that it was going to be impossible to find something in the tourism industry so soon. I then decided to leave that for later and meanwhile dedicate my time to learn how things work here and to know the history and facts and practical info that I will be needing in a hopefully not too far future. As part of that masterplan I have enroled myself in studies for a 6 month Tourism course focused on the retail industry. There I will learn the tools to create and sell product and the software-knowledge to work at a travel agency.

You know what it feels like...

Money has been an issue though as it is not flowing in as I would like it to. I am amazed at how much I have been able to stretch my savings. Of course I have an advantage that many immigrants don’t: my partner. Mel is been crucial in understanding this whole situation and more than once lending money for what I need. Luckily we foresaw all this and since the early days when we met in Peru she said to me ‘look, I don’t need a provider man, I need a man that loves me, so I’m happy to help you now’. I’m thankful for that and aware that when the table turns I want to be ready for it. Even though it has been a bit of an issue for me. You see, I was raised in a traditional Catholic,Latin American, struggling, middle-class family. Whether I like it or not, there is some macho training in me, and having less money is not the comfort zone of your typical latino male. Of course there’s a lot of bloodsuckers out there who make a living like that, and I don’t mean only latinos, but that’s a whole other animal. For my own peace of mind I have had to find a job, at least a little one that helped.

Family is always a blessing in difficult situations and it was through my uncle Alex and his wife Cecilia that I was referred to an events company. They hired me right away and after investing my last bucks on my uniform I was ready to get my first cheque and cash-in. Weddings, graduations, special events, functions for companies, etc. I’ve been working as a waiter and a bar helper at these and the job has been going great, very fast-paced and surrounded by good people. The hours went by quickly until 2 am every weekend. Until Christmas came…

I missed my last day of work because of playing football (soccer). I did not warm-up or stretch and I forgot I’m not the guide who climbs mountains every weekend or goes on treks every other day. At the end of the game my back was killing me and my leg was limping. Oh dear, welcome to the 30’s! And then Christmas came and everyone went on holidays. In Peru we call it ‘the January steep-climb’. Everything slows down, people are still on holiday, the new year has just begun, people are relaxed, others try not to spend anything because the holidays left them indebted…and there’s no work.

So back to the work chase, printing CV’s, posting adds on the web, walking around with resumes at hand and a pretty smile. This chase can be depressing. Some of my school mates can’t believe that I find it so hard to find a job. Maybe I am being too picky? But I am looking for all sorts of jobs: waiter, barista, cleaner, Spanish teacher, writer, nature conservation volunteer, translator, guide. I’ve had a couple of funny anecdotes looking for a job too. I went to see a bar where they needed a manager. That’s a fun job, I used to run a bar some years ago and it was fun and active. But this was not the case. I learnt what the word ‘bogan’ (Aussie redneck) means when I saw the clientele. To describe the place may I use the words of the owner ‘we don’t warm up partygoers, this is where they come after the party’. Then I went to see an Italian restaurant where they needed a waiter. The owner asks me how to carry 3 dishes and I show him how. He says that’s not the way to do it and I ask him to show me how and he says ‘you are supposed to know that, i’m not telling you…’ I’m still wondering what secret way that is because where I work now I carry 3 dishes and they tend to stay on my hand.

I’ve tried to keep a balance between jobs I have to take and anything I really want to do. Recently I came up with a couple of ideas, one for a tour where I could be the guide and another one for a radio show where I’d be the announcer. Both are doable projects but they need a lot of input and with lots of luck they will pay little or not too often. I need to tell myself the quest is hard ’cause it must have a good surprise for me later on and difficult times create character. I’m lucky to have a supporting partner and to be very stubborn. But I knew this about the world of the immigrants, work (or the lack of it) is an essential part of it. It has made me remember when I used to work and live in the USA with Mexican illegal immigrants, or when I lived in Europe and performed all sort of jobs to get by. It is when I look back at my path that I find the strength and trust in myself to know that I will make it, it’s just a matter of patience. And a little of good luck too.

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Filed under Australia, Cultural Differences, Cultural Immersion, Immigration, Living Abroad, Peru, Travel, Travel Stories, Travel Writing, Work