Before You Go

I depart for Australia in about a week. I think everything is in order. There are so many things to consider when planning a trip especially a long one.

Your Passport

It should go without saying that you need a passport and preferably one that doesn’t expire within six months.

Australian Visas

When I approached the airline counter in Los Angeles just a couple of hours before my flight to Melbourne last February and handed my passport to the friendly agent, he asked if I’d obtained my ETA; I had. He smiled and nodded in approval adding that many people don’t realize they need a visa to travel to Australia. I was rather astonished. Yes, dear would-be-travellers, you need a visa to enter Australia. Tourists have a few options and there are others if you’re going to Australia for employment or studies. Visit the Department of Immigration and Citizenship for more information. If you’re an American with a clean record, travelling for tourism, and don’t intend to stay in Oz for more than three months, the Electronic Travel Visa is your best bet. You can apply online for about $20 and, if memory serves, it takes minutes for approval (but don’t actually wait until the last minute to apply for it).

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My Beloved iPhone

I am suffering from an existentialist crisis. I’d like to think that I am an independently acting and responsible conscious human being, but I feel like Steve Jobs is laughing at me from beyond the grave.

In January, I wrote about how much I love my iPhone. It’s unhealthy, I’m sure. I mean, it’s only glass, stainless steel, and plastic. And yet I love this brilliant little device that revolutionized mobile design, how we carry our music with us, how we photograph the world, and how we connect and share with others. My iPhone is my mini-computer on the go. I use it for texting, social sharing, photography, editing, keeping track of my calendar, storing contacts, finding directions, listening to music and podcasts, watching videos, reading, and blogging. Sometimes, I even make a phone call.

There are two ways to use your American iPhone in Australia for calls and messaging. One is to rack up obscene international charges, which I’m not willing to do. The other is to jailbreak and unlock the phone so you can insert a local sim card in it. Despite that many people boast that it’s oh so easy to jailbreak and unlock an iPhone, I’ve yet to find someone that can actually do it, including these braggarts and a few Asian dudes that hack stuff for a living. Apparently there’s something extra special about my version (5.1.1) and firmware (04.12.01).

I would like to continue using an iPhone in Australia, but with rumors about the release of the next version before the end of the year circulating, it makes more sense to me to wait than purchase a new one now, and since I won’t be able to use mine, there’s no sense in continuing to pay for the service. Yesterday, I went to my local AT&T store and broke my contract. I transferred my number to my mother’s dumbphone, which I converted into a pre-paid phone. This means I am able to retain the number I’ve had since I purchased my first mobile 10+ years ago, my mother still gets to keep a phone for emergencies, I’ll have something to use when I visit, and it all costs considerably less than what we had before.

My dilemma now is about what to do with the iPhone. I can’t make or receive calls and text messages on it, but I can use all of its other features via WiFi. I can still check email, access the web, use all the apps, play music, and use the camera. I’m just wondering if it’s worth it. Now is a good time to sell an iPhone and I’ve received a decent offer for mine. Selling it would be a good decision. Public WiFi doesn’t appear to be as readily available in Melbourne as it is here and it would be nice to have a little extra cash in my pocket. Without phone and messaging service and data, my iPhone is beginning to feel like little more than a pricey toy. The problem is it’s a toy I like a lot. There’s a battle going on between my id and my super-ego.

I’m not addicted to mobile phones. I couldn’t care less about my new dumbphone. I don’t answer my phone or text while I drive. I don’t walk and text. Though I like Instagram and checking in at certain locations, I avoid being on my phone when I’m out and about. Part of this is because it can be dangerous, rude, and because I want to be fully present in the moment. But I’m addicted to the idea of always having my iPhone.

What do you think? Should I sell my iPhone or keep it? How’s your relationship with your mobile phone?

The Joys & Griefs of Facebook

Facebook is my favorite social networking site. While I watch the tumbleweeds roll by at Google+ and Twitter is my go-to network for news and resources, Facebook is where I connect with friends, engage in interesting conversations, and cultivate personal interests. Like the internet in general, you can harness the power of Facebook for good, for evil, or for plain old silliness. Continue reading

7 Things I Need to Learn to Get By in Australia

Here are seven things I need to learn to get by in Australia.

1. Driving on the left side of the road from the right side of the car

About 66% of the world’s people live in right-hand traffic countries. Australia is not one of those countries. If that weren’t bad enough, cars are allowed to park on the left driving lane during certain hours. That means drivers are constantly zipping around them. Plus you’ve got pedestrians and bicyclists as well as buses and trams. While Melbourne appears to have better drivers than Miami (everywhere has better drivers than Miami), the street feels like an obstacle course. Then there’s the infamous hook turn.

2. The metric system

The United States is the only industrialized country that doesn’t use the metric system as its official system of measurement. I am prepared for mental discomfort, but I think the best way to learn the metric system is to avoid trying to perform conversions in my head. Simply accept that 23 degrees Celsius is pleasant and don’t worry about how much that is in Fahrenheit.

3. The government of Australia

The Commonwealth of Australia is a federal constitutional monarchy under a parliamentary democracy. I have no idea what that means and I don’t understand the difference between the Labor Party and the Liberal/National Coalition because, in the U.S., labor and liberal is wrapped up in a single party (Democratic).

4. Telecommunications

Though it feels overly complicated, communications in the U.S. is fairly simple. The telephone system is monopolized by AT&T. We have four companies that offer nationwide mobile phone service – AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint Nextel – and several smaller regional and local providers. And while there are about 18 broadband providers, they’re not all available everywhere, and only four companies lead the way: AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner, and Verizon. We tend to bemoan the lack of options. In Australia, the opposite seems to the problem. Australia has 188 licensed mobile providers. That alone boggles my mind.

5. Tipping

It’s not customary in Australia to tip except when it is. Servers are paid a normal wage and tipping is not expected, but if your food and service are exceptional, it’s acceptable to leave the change and up to about 10% at fine restaurants. I’m always tempted to tip and I have to reprogram myself away from thinking that leaving just 20 cents behind is not being cheap or insulting.

6. Public transportation

I live in a city with a terrible public transportation system and I rarely use it. That will change when I get to Australia. Melbourne has the world’s largest tram network, almost 300 bus routes, and a train network with 16 railway lines. There is plenty of driving too, but I don’t expect to have a car for quite some time.

7. The art of living dangerously

Spiders, snakes, jellyfish, drop bears, and even those cute kangaroos and koalas can be deadly. But that’s just life down under. If you’re going to have a good time, just get over the fact that some creature could sting, bite, or disembowel, and kill you at any moment.