Settling in

https://www.etsy.com/listing/123205210/

Hectic times! We arrived in Nerja and had about half a day on the beach before we were forced to urgently find a new place to live. Finding something bigger/better than S’s crappy bachelor flat was always on the agenda for after we arrived, but we did not realise just how awful his place was (picture an underground prison bunker), AND THEN WE GOT RATS (again)! M and I panicked and moved to a hotel, but with the cheapest hotels around €60 a night we were desperate for a place. With limited options available we jumped at a place that gave us the option of vacating with 2 months notice (it’s for sale). It’s grand to have a place again (and not have to listen to rats fighting above your head at night) but it’s a good 45 minute walk from town – hardly ideal when you’ve just arrived in a place and need to do large grocery shops, and buy things like bed frames and pot plants. As we’re on a strict budget while we live in Spain (at least until I get residencia and can work), we are trying to avoid getting a car, but the bus service is rubbish (€1 each way, and it’s 10 minutes walk to the bus stop, only goes on the hour, doesn’t go at all between about 130 and 430pm), so it’s been a little disheartening.

For instant happy, just buy plants:

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Roadschool Maths lesson today: how many more pots do we need, and how much will it cost to fill the pallet?

I’m not the only one who has discovered the calming properties of gardening. Just catching a glimpse out the window makes everything seem better. Then I googled “pallet gardens” and suddenly discovered we have a problem – pallets can have toxins in them (due to needing to be pressure treated to kills bugs) so aren’t great for growing food, unless they have a little “HT” on them, which means “Heat Treated” and safe. Our has this…

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We have the HT! But what else is lurking in the timber???

BUT if you aren’t sure what was carried or stored on the pallet, this could also lead to toxic poisoning. GAH! Considering S found this one on the roadside on his way home from work in the early hours of the morning, we will just grow flowers in this one!

Pallet garden advice here and here

Most apartments have terraces – usually more than one (our current place has FOUR), which is awesome. It’s cool to look out from the rooftop and see the ocean (considering we are a good hike from it!). The dream is to fill the terrace with cool plants and loungers, and spend our days up there…

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Terrace dreaming…

Similar to the UK, most places here are rented fully furnished – not empty like Oz. This is a plus, as we sold all our furniture before moving to China in 2014, and it gives us a breather from having to spend more of our savings on stuff.

Anyway, I was going to post about our trials so far with trying to get Spanish residencia, but this was much happier!

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¡Hola! España

We have arrived in Madrid – to flamenco, hot chocolate and churros, and the delicious freedom that comes with free, (hopefully…) unlimited wifi.

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Out the AirBnb window

We’re AirBnB-ing it near the Estación de Atocha (Madrid’s largest railway station). We were met by Ricardo, who is from Portugal. He has left his 2 children in Portugal because he had concerns they wouldn’t adapt or pick up the language (?!), so he was interested to know how Matilda has moved through life in Australia, China and now Spain. She moans constantly and her dream is to live in one big house surrounded by all her family, and she constantly makes me wonder if I am a cruel parent for dragging her round the world all these years.

Saying that, although she is all in a muddle after 2 months in Oz with family, I think the years are paying off now she is older. She turned 11 right before we flew, and this is the first overseas travel we’ve done where she has jumped straight back into it, and we’ve had none of the drama and tantrums (me) that have sometimes plagued our past travels.

I booked Madrid for a week as initially we thought we’d have paperwork that would be done more easily in the capital. That plan changed, but now we have a chance to explore before we transition to our new life as unemployed folks who cannot afford to travel!

I’ve been hit by terrible jetlag so our first few days have been slow, and yesterday (Monday) was bureaucratic – SIM card etc. We have discovered not much (business-wise) is open on the weekend in Spain. Also, similar to Asia, things don’t open until mid-morning (gah). Can’t say much about the evenings yet as I keep falling asleep at 5:30.

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Metro trumpet player

Getting around: we got a Madrid Metro Tourist Card on the first day. I am not sure we will end up taking enough travel to justify the €40,20 (1A/1C), mostly as the main line from our apartment to the city is closed for maintenance. We met a friendly local girl while we were trying to buy the ticket which made it all worth it. She is teaching English, has worked in Costa del Sol and was able to give me some advice. It made our first day a little bit special. On the 2nd day a random guy played the trumpet in the carriage for our entire trip. So the Metro has made our “good beginning” in Spain.

I think I’m going to cave and also pay €31 to do the Madrid Tourist Bus. These are good for getting a feel for a place, and the city does feel like it is kinda sprawling. I also want to get Matilda excited about the history, and it’ll sound better coming through headphones than from me!

SIM card: Spain’s prepaid mobile plans are even more rubbish than Australia. I really thought Telstra had the monopoly on “world’s worst Telco”, but there you go. €15 for 28 days with 1.5 paltry GB, 50 mins talk and NO SMS with Vodafone. Other options are apparently Orange and Movistar.

So, it’s been less museums and history and more bureaucracy and falling asleep on the couch at 5:30pm so far!

Viva la adventure lol.

Leaving China #blogjune 4

Trying to think of a topic that is not immigration…but it is kind of our life just now. We are officially in our last 20 days of life as expats in China. In 20 days we will hurtle down from the 21st floor for the last time, and close the door on our 2 years in China.

I have mixed feelings, which I expected and did not expect.

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Looking out our apartment window to the Yellow Sea

Professionally, my 2 years here have been a crushing disappointment. The fire in my heart for libraries has completely died.  In hindsight, I wish to God I’d had more confidence in my ability and aimed higher – taken a job in Shanghai or Guangzhou or a bigger school. When I chose a small school in a backwater – thinking it would be an easier transition back into teaching after 3 years in public libraries – I condemned myself to a role with no budget, and complete and utter ignorance of my purpose and that of libraries.

Many times in the past 2 years I have wanted to quit, and some beautiful opportunities have come my way – jobs in Scotland (impossible due to visa), and jobs on either side of Australia – one literally in “Eden”. I made the difficult decision to turn them down, because I’ve left my hometown many times with the end goal of Europe, and I have turned back every time when things got too difficult. I felt like this time, I had to stick it out.

And *happy dance* in a few weeks we will be on our way to Spain.

Plus, having all passion for my job crushed out of me has made me think about what my real passions are, what I dreamed of being when I was 10, or 16. And while my job may have been less than desirable, the salary was not, so now I am in a position to live those dreams.

China has birthed my almost-mid-life-crisis.

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Scottish immigrants #blogjune 3

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Aussie immigrants – the Brain Family with Scotland’s First Minister & Kate Forbes, MSP

This is turning into serial rants about immigration, but speaking of expats and immigrants, the Brain Family case has once again come to the forefront in British (and world) media. Their case fills me with despair, and a teensy spark of hope. I could easily be in their shoes. I am in their shoes in some respects – in the same desperate, futile situation where my whole family life is in limbo because of ridiculous UK Immigration policy which fails to recognise central London and the back streets of Dingwall are two very, very different places.

 

If you haven’t heard of the Brains, it’s all over the web, but lazywebs This is an Australian family who followed the same path I planned to – move to Scotland to study and then gain a “Post Study Work” visa and repopulate an area in decline. They managed to get into Scotland a few months before I did (because I was giving birth). By the time I emerged from post-baby fog and started preparing my application, the rules had changed. I’ve spent every moment since 2005 trying to find another way back.

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Zielsdorf family in the Laggan store they revitalised

It’s the Daily Mail (ugh), but they’ve found another family (Canadian this time) who are in a worse position than the Brains. This family sold everything in Canada to buy a flagging local store in the Highlands and revitalise it, and are now being deported on a small technicality (we’re talking £8000 a year) because they cannot afford to employ a 2nd UK person in their shop. Despite investing over £200 000 already.

 

I completely and utterly understand their frustration. I can feel their tears. I’ve travelled through and lived in the regional areas where they are. I’ve befriended the locals, employed some of them. These areas are desperate for new blood.

The only hope is that these high profile cases will lead the UK government to alter their immigration rules, introducing points for people who migrate to regional areas, or get immigration devolved to Scotland.

Expat v Immigrant #blogjune2

A while back I found this interesting article about the terms “expat” and “immigrant” in the Guardian, and I posted the link to twitter. In the past few days a bunch of people have suddenly discovered my tweet and are commenting and retweeting. As I didn’t write the article I’ve decided not to engage in debate with them on twitter. It usually ends badly.

I always thought “expat” referred to temporary stays abroad, while “immigrant” was a permanent move. So, while in China, I am an Aussie expat, but once I finally get back to Scotland I will be an immigrant.

I retweeted the article because as a “white expat”, it made me think. I was curious if the reason was as the author (Mawuna Remarque Koutonin) suggests (white supremacy, dominance of English language). At the same time our Year 11s are sampling their first unit from next year’s IB Diploma English programme, and looking at why English has become the dominant world language, and the impact of this on other languages and cultures.

This has parallels to Indigenous issues in Australia, as well as Gàidhlig issues in Scotland – the significance of language on culture.

 

I am blogging June #blogjune 1

rollercoaster of emotions

This week. My goodness. I wasn’t expecting migrating to Spain to be easy. I’ve moved to enough places to know better, but I’ve been left completely drained by the immigration doozies we’ve had thrown at us this week.

Some of them I can’t mention, as I’ve heard horror stories of immigration authorities trawling the interwebs to find evidence of potential migrants and using it against them. I’ve heard of people being refused entry to the UK because they “seemed too knowledgable of immigration law”.

One thing I can vent about is that I discovered I could not ship household goods to Spain without my residence card and 2 copies of my personal inventory IN SPANISH CERTIFIED BY THE SPANISH CONSULATE IN BEIJING.

The residence I cannot obtain until I arrive in Spain. The Consulate is in Beijing or Shanghai – a 2 day trip, maybe 3, on a work day. Not going to happen at this point in my contract.

So now we have to cull everything, because I plan to travel by train through China, spend a week in Thailand and 9 weeks in Australia before arriving in Spain, and I was kind of counting on not having to lug my daughter’s laptop and our favourite frying pan with us.

Español

Ms10 and I have been learning Spanish in preparation for our move to Spain. We are using the Duolingo app, which is fantastic, and we are posting 10 words a week to our vocab wall. So far, SO much easier than Chinese!

Our Spanish vocab wall
Our Spanish vocab wall

Slow boat in China

So we have given up on our Trans-Siberian/Trans-Mongolian railway dream…for now. Back to the drawing board for travel plans.

Options:

  1. Visit Mongolia
    1. At first, this was our plan. Ditch annoying Russia and their annoying visa process. Then I discovered obtaining a Mongolian visa is just as difficult as a Russian one. Don’t know where I got the idea a Mongolian visa was easier, but it’s not. So scratch that.
  2. Fly to Europe and start travelling there
    1. Schengen visa complicates this, as the 3 months start ticking as soon as I land in any Schengen country. Also expensive
  3. Japan
    1. Meh. It was okay but for some reason I just can’t get excited. Probably because it was so expensive.
  4. Korea
    1. Going there for 4 days over Duan Wu festival in early June.
  5. South-east Asia
    1. Hot, mosquitoes, hot.
  6. Australia
    1. Expensive. Extra flights. The whole “but I’ve spent over $10000 visiting my family 4 times over the past 2 years and they’ve not visited us once”. This whole thing is really starting to get to me. Also we – well, I at least. Not sure about the kid – have reached a point where I’m comfortable living away from home. The apron strings have snapped. I’m keen to keep moving in a northerly direction, for now.
  7. China
    1. Well, this is something I have thought about and discarded and thought about and discarded…
    2. We haven’t seen enough of China. We don’t want to come back anytime soon.
    3. The parts I want to see are in the south, which is hot, with mosquitoes, and heat and humidity…

Hmm.

Trans-Siberian

Here’s a post I started and discarded…

Source: http://www.statravel.com.sg/trans-siberian-rail.htm
Source: http://www.statravel.com.sg/trans-siberian-rail.htm

I’ve thought about the Trans-Siberian railway since last time we were in China. We looked at it last summer but we decided to go home to Australia for a month instead. This time it’s our “last chance” so I am seriously considering it. The ticket prices if booked independently (as opposed to part of a “tour”) are reasonable. We plan to travel to Beijing, then overnight to Ullaanbaator in Mongolia, where we are super keen to stay in a Ger. I found a short stay option that looks really cool – with Stone Horse Mongolia It is 3 days with a local family. A cool blog about the stay here (also worth reading the rest of Rachel’s Trans-Sib trip). I have a friend in UB from my Rotary GSE exchange back in 2013, and it would be cool to catch up with her.

From Mongolia we would travel on to Irkutsk, where our plan is to stay on Olkhon Island (great info on this site).

Our biggest challenge is obtaining visas. As we have Chinese Temporary Residency, we are eligible to apply for our Russian and Mongolian visas in China, but we would have to do this on a weekday, in Beijing. It’s a 1.5 hour flight to Beijing or a 5 hour train journey. And we would have to travel back 5 or 6 days later to collect. I searched for agencies who could do this on our behalf, but the response was either “only for mainland Chinese” or “only for people who also book train tickets with us”.

In the end we decided that due to visa issues we would travel in China instead. We did have some success with Monkey Shrine travel agency, who were able to offer us a quote for “train tickets only” which worked out around Euro780 each (they didn’t offer child discount). This meant they would help obtain our visas. However the price tipped over our budget when they confirmed everything – 40euro per visa application per person, and a 65euro per person “late notice” supplement. I think their service was reasonable, but this was before I had even started looking at hotels, or travel from Moscow onward.

Special mention for the unfailingly useful Man in Seat 61 site I do not know how that guy does it. My “go-to” site for train travel, anywhere in the world.

Catching my breath

I read all these other travel blogs and they seem to capture the trials and tribulations of expat life so well. I don’t know how they manage it. When I am in the thick of decision-making – spending countless hours googling “move to France” or “Aussies in Europe + blog” and “why is homeschool illegal in Europe” – I don’t have any energy for blogging.

I also waste most of my downtime online at Instagram, Facebook & Twitter. There just isn’t time for researched ramblings.

But anyway, there are 7 weeks to go in China and I am giddy with excitement. I am so so so so SO happy to leave China. At the same time I am awfully proud of Ms10 and I for surviving 2 years here. I gaze in wonderment at expats who spend 5 or 10 years in China. Mostly the people with that sort of mileage are married to a Chinese national. OR they are here for the money.

We’re all here for the money, which is another post, and says a lot about China as a country. Even we, to an extent, came here for $$$. In fact this is probably the first decision I have made where money has been the main motivation. And let that be a lesson to you kids: Money makes you miserable! But as I keep telling my 10 year old, sometimes you have to suck it up to get where you want to go. We want to move to Europe, I have a dream to live in Scotland – and we have saved more here in the past 2 years than I saved in 10 in Australia.