12.10.2011 - 21.01.2016
For those of you that don't yet know, I'm home. I arrived back in England on Christmas Eve, a surprise to all except a couple of friends and my sister. Let me fill you in on the last three months of my life and the final chapter of my journey.
After four straight months of living with a small piece of hand luggage, a couple of t-shirts and a now empty bottle of sunscreen, I was now on my way back to living a regular 9-5 life. But I wasn't going home quite yet. In mid-October I landed at Perth Airport and began the process of re-Westernising myself. Out went the resilient but tattered khaki trousers and in came some jeans. Out went the flip flops (or thongs as they called them here) and in came the trainers.
Within a week of landing, I had found a place to live. I would be spending the foreseeable future sharing a house with four Brazilians and a Korean, all students at the local University. The house was located in an area populated by offices. There were no bars or restaurants and after 5pm, the place was a ghost town. Luckily it was just a few minutes walk to the train station, overshadowed by the Burswood Dome, a 13,000 seater venue that played host to a Tina Turner concert and the Top Gear Live show while I was there (I didn't manage to catch either). And from the station, it was just a few minutes to the city centre.
My housemates were nice enough. The Brazilians were great fun, but their English was very limited, and it was often awkwardly that they had to change from speaking Portuguese when I joined in a conversation. I didn't see too much of my Korean housemate, but it was on the same day that I moved in that I received a strange warning underneath my door..
'Be careful with the Korean. He likes asking personal questions and put his finger in other people's life. After read please destroy it.'
As it was, I never had much trouble from the Korean guy, and I never did find out who wrote that note! My next mission was to find a job, and if it was going to be anything like England, I knew I was in for a long and painful process.
I applied online to a local recruitment agency who asked me to complete a couple of online tests and come in the next morning for an interview. It was less of an interview and more of a casual chat, and within minutes, the helpful consultants told me they had a job that they were going to put me forward for. The only catch was it that it would be an hour-long commute every morning, as I'd need to head into Perth and out the opposite side every day.
I went home to think about it, but decided I couldn't pass up the generous $24 an hour. I rang up to tell the recruiter that I'd accept the job, and was startled when she unexpectedly offered me an extra dollar an hour. I gratefully accepted, only to hear her add on another 50 cents an hour. I said 'yes' to the job for the third time and was told I'd be starting the very next day. Two shirts, a pair of trousers, a pair of shoes and $200 later and I was set for my first day of work, not two weeks after arriving in the country.
My job title was 'Records Officer', but I'm not sure what the relevance of that is to the real role, which was a receptionist. I was working with two Aussie girls at the head office of Racing and Wagering Western Australia, affectionately nicknamed 'rah-wah', who oversee and operate the horse and greyhound racing industry for the entire state. In addition to this, the company also franchises out hundreds of betting shops around the state, and it turned out that my third day of work was also Melbourne Cup day, the Aussie equivalent of our Grand National.
The Melbourne Cup was the only day of the year that the head office would be taking bets, so on this particular day, punters from all over the business park would turn up and watch the action unfold on the big screen. As it was, the main event came down to a photo finish, with the race decided by literally millimetres. The day concluded with a huge barbecue on the back lawn, but while most operations closed for the afternoon, we still needed someone on reception. So instead of missing out, we ran down to the barbecue, grabbed a few sausages and beers and took them back to the reception desk. I don't think there's any boss in England that would allow you to be the first point of call for a $250m company while under the influence!
Working full-time hours at RWWA was an absolute pleasure. While the work itself was sometimes hectic, it was nice to be able to relax occasionally and share stories with the girls. Neither of them had ever left Australia, and it seems that this wasn't unusual among locals. As the weeks went by, I began to get homesick. It had never been a problem while I was on the move; going from one place to the next meant I always had somewhere else to look forward to. But now, I was effectively living on the other side of the world from my close friends and family.
As Christmas drew nearer, the temperature soared. It peaked at 38C one day. And as summer drew closer, the flies got worse. Oh god, the flies. Every single morning, I'd walk the short ten minute walk to the station, and pretty much the entire journey was spent waving my hand in front of my face. When the doors to the train carriage opened, about 20-30 insects would flood inside as well. As someone who has grown up not used to the persistent buzzing as a fly tries to enter one's ear, even the shortest of walks ended in frustration and exhaustion. And they were only to get worse once the temperature enters the 40s in January.
Even more of a shock was seeing photos of Christmas past. I can't describe how bizarre and unreal it was to see photos of people dressed in festive outfits, with tinsel and piles of presents basking in the sunlight at the company's Christmas barbecue. I was half expecting to see the shopping centre Santa dressed in shorts and a vest like everyone else in Perth, but the poor chap must have been roasting as he wore the same fluffy red coat as in the rest of the world.
As we entered December, it was the little differences between Australia and home that were bothering me. Cashiers automatically pack your bags for you at supermarkets, leaving you to just stand there and watch. Nobody buys advent calendars. And even worse, their version of Marmite is a horrible black sticky tar that leaves a horrible taste in your mouth. With about three weeks to Christmas, I made the decision to come home. While job opportunities, salaries and working environments were infinitely better in Perth, it just wasn't worth it without my family and friends out there with me. I was planning to surprise everyone on Christmas Eve, but when my sister told me that my stepdad was considering buying my mum a ticket to Australia for Christmas, I figured I'd probably need someone on the inside to avert an embarrassing and costly disaster!
I stuck around long enough to experience RWWA's 2011 Christmas party. No expense was spared, but once again I had to return to the reception desk, beer in hand, to man the phones. One of the girls that worked in the licensing division had taken off most of her clothes and therefore won the 'best costume' prize, a hamper of many varieties of alcohol. And on my last day, she kindly offered to share her hamper with the office. Not an eyelid was batted as everyone filled up on their favourite tipple at lunchtime and returned to an afternoon of work.
Due to the terrible transport links between the city and the airport, I had to head to the airport late on the 22nd. I had a polite conversation at the bus stop with a man who really really wanted to tell me all about his drug empire past and all the famous people he'd dealt to. And when I got the airport, I had about 8 hours to kill before my low-cost flight to Kuala Lumpur.
If the 6 hours to Malaysia with AirAsia weren't bad enough, I had 22 hours there and another 14 hour flight to look forward to. I made the long journey into the city, had a sleep and made the long journey back again. The sleep had been much needed, but meant I definitely wouldn't be able to sleep on the cramped flight to Gatwick. Being with AirAsia again, there was no entertainment, not even on a little fold down telly. Luckily it was a mostly cloudless flight, so I spent the hours staring down at the mountain ranges below, an activity a little less boring than looking at the fold down tray table.
Eventually, nearly 2 days after leaving Perth, I made it home. I was absolutely delighted to be back, but I didn't regret anything from my journey. I learned a lot, experienced a multitude of fantastic cultures and I now feel richer for the experiences and the friends that I met along the way. I'm so glad I did it, and if you haven't already, I can only urge you to set out and experience your own adventure around the world. I promise you won't regret it!