The Royal Melbourne Show

22 Feb

The Royal Melbourne Show is more than a carnival event for kids – it is a one-stop event for family and for tourists visiting Melbourne around mid-September or October. DSC_0001 Some our friends from Melbourne actually shrugged off the idea when I asked them if it was worth going to this event, but I was really interested in going anyway so we still gave it a go.. Animal shows, live music, art, craft & cookery competitions, stunt shows, fireworks, a glimpse of the Masterchef kitchen, and so many more activities – you name it, and this event would probably have it. It has something to offer for each person in the family, so it is worth having the family spend a day together here. 20140924_131024 As a Masterchef Australia enthusiast, I enjoyed going to the Masterchef pavilion the most. DSC_0413
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20140924_132811 We got to see the kitchen and pantry up-close, and we were even able to see Emma from season 5 and Byron from season 6. DSC_0414

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DSC_0440 My next favorite would have to be the sheep-shearing demonstration, as it was my first time seeing this done. I know being sheared is just similar to us humans getting a haircut, but I couldn’t help but feel pity on those poor little things.. DSC_0003

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In addition to sheep-shearing, there are other agricultural experiences like wood chopping, cow-milking, and honey-making.

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For animal lovers out there, there are animal (alpaca, dog, cat, horse, goat, sheep, cattle, etc) shows throughout the event.

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I am not a pet lover but I enjoyed having a look at the dogs, so I imagine dog lovers out there would love a visit to the pavilion housing the canines waiting for their turn in the dog show.

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Though we did not get to see the actual art, craft and culinary competition, the entries were on display for us to have a look. There were amazing pictures in the photo exhibit. I especially enjoyed seeing the different creative cakes on display.

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Amazing cake showing different places in Australia

Amazing cake showing different places in Australia

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For food lovers, there are plenty of food-tasting opportunities.

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For TV enthusiasts, you will have a chance to pretend to be a contestant in X-factor or Million Dollar Minute.

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Hubby and I trying to have a go on answering questions for Million Dollar Minute. Behind us are brave ladies playing anchors for the local news

Hubby and I trying to have a go on answering questions for Million Dollar Minute. Behind us are brave ladies playing anchors for the local news.

You can have a go at playing anchor in the local news channel and get to take home an actual recording of yourself delivering a news item. We didn’t have the confidence and time to do this, but for brave souls out there, this would be a blast and a good keepsake of the experience 🙂

Lastly, the majority of the show is ultimately devoted to the kiddies.. So I can’t end my post without saying that there are a lot of rides the kids will enjoy – animal rides and thrill rides. Plus tons of show bags for taking home! It really is mainly a carnival, after all 😉

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We arrived before lunch, and went home without even having a chance to check out the musical shows and other attractions (there really were so many things to see and do). But it was getting dark and our feet could not bear the standing and walking anymore, so we had to call it a day.

Aussie Animals Down Under: Up, Close and Personal

31 Oct

DSC_0255   Feeding encounters with Aussie animals in the zoo? Yep, those are quite common. But I must say that I haven’t experienced (or for my case, witnessed :P) a more ‘personal’ encounter with the wildlife here than what me and my sister were blessed to have one cool, sunny day at Phillip Island Wildlife Park. What do I mean by ‘personal’? Maybe the following pictures will help explain 🙂 DSC_0295 DSC_0281 Yep, that’s right, the wallaby and the grey kangaroo in the photos did not just feed off my sister’s hand, but they were actually holding her hand with their own paws while munching on their treats 😉 They must have been afraid that my sister will run off with their snack! =D It was not an easy encounter to have, as it actually takes a bit of time before these animals warm up to you and let you bond with them up close (yes, it was vital to follow the advise of the zookeeper to feed them AT KNEE LEVEL. Anne learned that the hard way :P) But once they do, boy, they can turn out to be a greedy and aggressive lot LOL DSC_0278 DSC_0252 And sadly for the feathery folks in the zoo, people tend to focus on feeding the furry kind.. Hence, the photo above of the huge bird trying to nick some of the snacks Anne was trying to feed the kangaroo 😛   Another memorable moment for us was when we heard someone suddenly exclaimed that there was a joey hanging on to its mother kangaroo! DSC_0272   We quickly looked around and lo and behold, we saw a tiny head sticking out of its mum’s belly 🙂 I was really quite pleased with our visit to this park. After all, Phillip Island Wildlife Park does not give a very good impression when just passing by or looking at the park from the outside. Contrary to the photos in this post, from the outside, everything just looks brown/gray and old.. So you definitely won’t be expecting a lot from the place. That’s why it will be a pleasant surprise to visitors how interesting and unique this park is from among other wildlife attractions. We haven’t even been to the grey kangaroo area, but we were already surprised to find a wallaby just hanging around the visitor boardwalk in the koala area – DSC_0145 DSC_0149 I also noted that it was in this park that I really got to see a lot of kangaroo activity, with a lot of ‘roos jumping around and hanging out with kids and adults. I’ve gone to quite a few where these animals would just lie on the grass, seemingly uninterested with the human activity around them. DSC_0267   DSC_0239 In addition to this, I think the best thing about the kangaroo area here is its greenery. There is an abundance of grass and trees around (so the view is much better than in Featherdale Park). The koala area did not disappoint as well, because there was actual movement here, as there was a koala moving across the tree branch when we went there – DSC_0169 DSC_0170 DSC_0171 But then, soon after these shots were taken, it was back to its usual lazy, sleeping pose on the tree 😛 LOL – DSC_0176 DSC_0175 So yeah, there’s not much fun and games in this bit of the zoo.. And it doesn’t help that my sister and I have just been from Taronga Zoo in Sydney, where I was blessed to have taken a video footage of really wild koala action (will post that soon when I get my hands on WordPress Premium 🙂 ). But still, I am really pleased with this visit as it was a one-stop shop for my sister to view animals that are native to Australia. She was able to feed an emu as well, which tickled her hand so much 😀 – emu   And for the first time in my Aussie life, I’ve actually been able to take a decent photo of an eastern quoll (which I saw in Tasmania, but was moving so quickly there that it was impossible to take a good shot) – DSC_0214 And last, but not the least, hooray to finally having good photos of a not-so-cute (since it’s huge) but seemingly cuddly (which is actually not, as wombats bite! so you have to feed them from the ground) wombat – DSC_0234 DSC_0229 DSC_0227 DSC_0233

Aztecs in Melbourne

6 Aug

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I’m no history buff but as an enthusiast of ancient civilizations, a few of my life-long dreams were to go to Egypt and see the pyramids, or go to Macchu Picchu in South America. So I was quite happy to have gone to the Aztecs exhibition in the Melbourne Museum a few weeks back. Let me quickly share with you my favourite photos from our visit.

The exhibition focused mainly on the ancient Mexican city-state Tenochtitlán, made obvious by the big model in the centre of a temple in the state.

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For a growing empire at that time, warriors held quite an important role –

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Religion played a huge part in their society, and it was interesting to learn about the different Aztec gods.

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I couldn’t help but be astounded by their portrayal of their god of death above, Mictlantecuhtli. Wondering what that thing hanging out, or rather, down, from his chest is? It’s his liver…

If you are faint of heart, you might find it incredibly gory looking around the exhibits, as most of the features talk about human sacrifice. Below is an actual human skeleton, which portrays the mask of death –

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One of the displays I liked the most are the miniature models of Aztec community life, shown in the photos below. These are very much similar to the tribal communities back home, I imagine.

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For double the usual amount you’ll need to pay to get into Melbourne Museum, I must say it is well-worth it. If my sharing above didn’t interest you enough, maybe the following can help –

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I’m quite happy with the photos here that I took with my Samsung Note 3. I came unprepared with my DSLR cam. It’s a good thing, thought, that this phone’s camera was useful to me this time, as I have been missing using my iPhone’s trusty camera… Apart from cropping some of the photos, I didn’t use filters or nor felt the need to edit them.

It’s the last week for the Aztec exhibition in Melbourne. If you haven’t checked it out yet, it’s worth spending some time in this part of the Melbourne Museum.

Mornington’s Enchanted Adventure Garden & Tree Surfing

28 Jul

The Enchanted Maze Garden – quite a catchy name, which can draw different kinds of reaction, don’t you think?

Running out of places to go to in the Mornington Peninsula, my husband and I decided to give it a try when my Pops and aunt visited us in Melbourne a few months back. We’ve been to the Ashcombe gardens and frankly, that is not worth going back to.

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Once inside, we were greeted with a very nice view of several mini-gardens.

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To our right was a tall hedge maze, similar to the Ashcombe maze.

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I was about to ditch this area as I was disappointed with the one in Ashcombe, but then I read the sign below and thought that the ‘hunt’ challenge was quite interesting and so we gave it a go.

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The concept of having an actual goal while going around the maze apart from just the usual aim of just being able to go out was actually quite good. It removes the ‘fear of not being able to go out’ factor as you are focused on finding something. So were we able to find all five buddhas? Not quite 😛 But we were able to find four though –

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Moving on from the hedge maze, we then went around and had a look at the mini-gardens within this big garden. Each has its own theme. My favourite among them is the Marble Garden –

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Not too impressed by the next feature below but I guess the kids might find it interesting –

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Here are a few more photos of areas I found worth sharing –

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I think what sets this attraction apart from the others is that it does not only provide you with beautiful scenery where you can stroll about, but it is a good venue for the entire family as there are a lot of activity areas.

The tire play area below is just one of the many play grounds here –

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The tube slide is a fun play area for kids and adults alike –

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I had to sit this one out to accompany my dad and aunt (oh yes, I seem to get along well with the ageing clique now, as my back has still not fully healed 😦 ) but my husband enjoyed the downhill ride –

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And for the kids who are not faint hearted, there’s the tree top surfing area –

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So how does this garden live up to its ‘enchanted’ theme? Well, it appears that the trees in the area have its own character..

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What was most striking to me, though, was this wood carving that looked like the real thing —

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We actually had to stare for more than a few seconds just to make sure that the winged creature did not move along the branches 😛

To cap off the afternoon, we checked out the 3D indoor maze, which gave us a very unique, modern experience.

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The view indoor was all in 3D of course, so it was almost an impossible task to take a decent photo. Here’s my most ‘passable’ shot of what’s inside (you have to really hand it to me for trying 😉 )-

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Among the many attractions in Mornington Peninsula, I think this is one go-to destination a family can’t pass up. Good value for good fun for the entire family.

White Night Melbourne 2014

28 Feb

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Melbourne CBD braced itself on Saturday night for at least 300,000 people showing up in the city centre for White Night Melbourne 2014, following last year’s attendance, but the turn-out was overwhelming as about half a million people flocked to the city for the 7 PM to 7 AM festivities. The yearly festival, which originated from Nuit Blanche (White Night) in France, is free of charge, and is a 12-hour all-night extravaganza of arts, dance, film and music. It is only Melbourne’s second year holding this event, and with the overwhelming response this year, the city is exploring the option to make it an all-weekend event.

Law and I arrived at Flinders Street a few minutes before 7 PM, hoping to get on a tram to quickly get to Melbourne City Baths. I wanted to get to the Moonlight Synchro precinct to watch the synchronized swimming which starts at 7 PM. But to our dismay, we didn’t realize that they were stopping tram operations on Swanston Street at that time.

So we ended up walking up Swanston. Along the way, we can see crowds beginning to gather and people stationing their cameras in front of Flinders Street Station and the state library. There were several points of interest lined up along Swanston and queues were already forming.

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It felt exciting to see a lot of people turn up for this event. When we finally arrived at the City Baths, it was about 7:20 PM and there was an insanely long queue already. Thinking that the long line meant it was something really worth watching, we decided to queue up anyway.

So after a 45-minute wait, it turns out that this is what was in store for us –

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The presentation took about less than 5 minutes. I’m not sure about your thoughts on the photos above, but for me it wasn’t worth almost an hour of waiting.. Although I must say that I’m proud to have come up with a few decent photos from it, anyway 😛

By this time we were getting hungry so we headed off to the Gypsy Pig for a Japanese kurubota pork dinner. I had the crumbed breaded pork (tonkatsu) and Lawrence had their spicy pork ribs.

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Forgive the resolution of the photo, as it was taken outside the restaurant since we were only able to get a table outside because we didn’t book in advance 😛 Law frequents this place and would always have their crumbed pork. He tried the ribs for the first time and he liked that it was soooo tender that you can also nibble on the bone coz it was even softer than the actual pork. Seeing the red spice powder in his meat, he expected it to be spicy but it actually wasn’t. I liked that I didn’t have to put a lot of sauce in my tonkatsu, and the dressing for the shredded cabbage was quite good.

After dinner, we were then able to walk along the length of Swanston again, which was now packed from the State Library all the way towards Flinders Street. It was really a massive crowd, and somewhere along the way we even have to push our way through the jam-packed chaos.

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There were a lot of precincts scattered throughout the CBD, which cater to everyone’s interests. But the highlight of the night are the light displays. Different landmarks were transformed into works of art. The normally earthen-colored old bricks of facades came to life bursting with bright colours. There are multiple designs for each landmark, you have to spend a few minutes staring at each one to be able to see what themes the light designers have come up with.

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There were performers both indoor and outdoors, and dancing in the streets –

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As mentioned earlier, there were a lot of precincts to go to, and you could probably cover most of them throughout the night until the wee hours of the morning. But by about midnight, Law and I were so tired already so that all we can manage is to take one last souvenir shot of ourselves 🙂 –

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Again, forgive the resolution please as this was just taken using the front camera of my phone and it was so dark in that area that we actually used the iLights app on Law’s phone to light our faces up 😛

But to give you a glimpse of what other things were in store for people that night, I’ve grabbed a few photos from the White Night Melbourne Facebook page –

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Train service was extended until the morning so there is public transport going home at any time. But trains were jam-packed as well, and there were some pushing and crying that night (it was a scary, tiring night for little kids not used to big crowds)..

So there, hope I was able to help you decide if you want to go next year or not..  For someone like me who gets thrilled by events and don’t mind the crowd, it’s a yearly event I would surely go to.

An Afternoon in Chocolate Heaven

24 Feb

Yarra Valley is not just about wineries, but it is a haven for good produce and fine food as well.

My husband and I keep coming back to Yarra Valley, not only when we have friends or family visiting Melbourne, but when we feel like going for a relaxing drive around greenery or when we want to have a break from the usual places we go to in the city or around our suburbs.

We would go to the farmer’s market once in a while, and lately, we found ourselves going back to the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery, a relatively new place in Yarra Valley.

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To people’s delight, when you step foot inside, this is the sight that will greet you : three big bowls of free chocolate you can help yourself to –

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As you can see, you can sample their white chocolate, milk chocolate, and dark chocolate. So everyone’s tastes, no matter what type of chocolate you prefer sinking your teeth into, is well-catered for. It’s free, so you can nibble on some chocolate while finding something to buy inside the store.

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Aside from the wide range of typical flavours you can choose from off that chocolate wall down that far end of the photo above, they also have a garden line of chocolates below, where flavours such as celery, lavender, curry leaf, fig and fennel are incorporated into the chocolate –

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This makes chocolate sound healthy, don’t you think? 😉

They also have a chocolate therapy section, which offers chocolate or sweet infused lotions and other body products.

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Chocolate flavoured lip balms, anyone? 🙂

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Chocolate body therapy soaps should provide a relaxing and interesting bath, huh?

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For hard-core chocolate lovers out there looking for the chocolatier type, their three-meter signature truffle cabinet will not disappoint.

What’s good about this place is that it’s not just a store but it’s an activity hub for the family.

They have a viewing window for their chocolate machinery so you can have a look and observe how the chocolate is made –

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They have a cafe that serves breakfast and lunch,  and the greenery outside provides a nice ambience (where you’ll normally find both kids and adults hanging around).

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Although I’m not sure if the lying around as shown in the photo above is allowed, since there is an actual sign that says no picnics allowed 😛

For lunch, I had smoked salmon on rye toast with rocket, red onions, capers and lemon myrtle cream cheese. The salmon tasted fresh (thank goodness, as we hate a fishy taste) and the rocket and capers go well with the salmon. I couldn’t quite place what the cream cheese and its supposed flavour brings to the dish, though.

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Lawrence went for their chicken, bacon and barbecue sauce pizza. They have their own homemade pizza sauce. We liked it at the beginning but then towards the end we found it too sweet already (would have been nice if there’s a bottle of Tabasco nearby 😉 ).

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The coffee, as expected from a Melbourne cafe (yes, I’m a newly converted Melbourne coffee junkie), was great. I didn’t even need to put sugar on my coffee (as I always do!).

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Of course I wouldn’t miss mentioning that aside from the chocolate, it’s the ice cream here that majority of people who come here would queue up for –

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To cap off our afternoon here, we chose to indulge in one of their oh-so-yummy-looking desserts on display below (which by far outshines all the dessert places I’ve come across with here in Melbourne).

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Our choice of dessert was the raspberry macaron delight (note the massive size :D). It’s served with cream on the side and their couverture chocolate. There is a lemon filling along with the fresh raspberries you can see in the photo, which neutralised the sweetness of the dish.

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So there you go. I’ve practically listed everything you can do in your visit here. I think you will agree with me that you can easily spend a whole afternoon here like we did 🙂

Moving to Australia: Tips to Make Your Transition Easier

23 Jan

Your permanent resident visa in Australia has been approved and you are preparing for the big move. So what exactly do you need to arrange once you have landed in the Land Down Under?

We have a lot of friends moving to AU this year and my husband and I thought it would be helpful to share the things we know that have been helpful to us in our early days in Melbourne.

We came here without knowing anyone in the area. I have relatives in Sydney but they’ve been here for more than 20 yrs so it’s been a while since they’ve settled in, and obviously, they’re in a different Australian state. So Law and I pretty much took a plunge into a relatively unknown world, but with enough research (really proud of Law when it comes to this), moving wasn’t so difficult for us.

So here are our tips in moving to Melbourne/Australia –

1) Get assistance from IOM (International Organization for Migration)

If you are eligible, you will be given discounts to airfares for your landing in Australia. Plus you are entitled additional baggage allowance.

2) You can look for a house/apartment/flat to rent or buy even before you land in Australia.

Websites such as www.domain.com.au and www.realestate.com.au give very detailed information about each property, photos included. Couple this with Google maps and you will find that it is very easy to shortlist potential houses. Use the street view option in Google maps to get a more visual view of the places you are looking at (unless the house/apartment building is brand new, street view is quite reliable).

3) As per the usual immigration policies, you cannot bring so much cash on hand when travelling to Australia.

So you may want to open an account with a bank in your originating country that provides you the access and flexibility to transfer money to you once you are in Australia, without any charges. We opened one with Citibank Singapore and once here, we opened one with Citibank Australia. I believe other banks offer this service, too (like HSBC).

4) Your visa is already linked to your passport number.

You can go old school like the paranoid me who insisted to get my passport updated with a hardcopy of the PR visa (just in case they somehow can’t find it in the system :P), but this is not really necessary as your visa would already have been updated into the online system. Upon arrival, you just need to tick off that portion in your disembarkation card that you are a migrant making the first landing.

5) In determining how much start-up money you need in going here, prepare to spend for appliances and furnishings for your house, and enough money to be able to pay at least 6 months of rent.

Keep in mind that most rentals here are NOT furnished (so unless specifically stated, those furnishings in the photos you see in the real estate websites may not be there any more once you move in). Also, unlike in Singapore, where rentals would commonly include the washing machine, stove and refrigerator, here in AU, the basics that go with the rent are the dishwasher, stove, and oven.

Also, the deposit on the house is not for assurance of a month’s worth of rent. It is for insurance of the rental property for any damages that may be incurred. If you need to move out before your contract is due, you may need to pay for re-advertising and re-letting fees and pay for the rent until the end of your lease.

6) Research on which suburb is most suitable for you.

Perhaps the most important thing for a new migrant is to feel at ease in the new place he/she is settling into. Read around about the demographics of the state you are moving into. You will want to find a place where most people from your country stay. Stores selling food items from home and restaurants serving familiar food will be in close range, and people with similar interests and culture will help greatly in making you feel at home. As an example, you will find that most Filipinos reside in the west of Melbourne. Box Hill, where my husband and I are staying now, houses a big Chinese community (so yeah, we feel very much like we’re still in Singapore 😉 )

Wikipedia actually talks about such demographics in detail –

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Melbourne#Ethnic_groups_and_multiculturalism

7) Be a savvy shopper when buying appliances/furnitures.

There are electronics/appliance retailers such as JB Hi Fi and The Good Guys, where you can ask for discounts or haggle when buying from them. Let them know that you have found another store which offers a lower price, and you can get them to match or even beat that amount, or maybe throw in a few freebies.

There are online sites offering both brand-new and second-hand items, not just from retailers but from just about anyone in Australia wanting to sell something. You will be able to get good bargains (of course, at your own risk, so take precaution). Try www.gumtree.com.au or www.ozbargain.com.au to see offers and deals on a lot of items up for sale.

8) Be prepared to arrange for connection of multiple utilities for your home.

I remember paying simply for water, gas, and electricity in Singapore and the Philippines. And there is just one company providing each service.

Here, depending on where you live, you may have to pay for hot water and cold water separately. This was something new to us. And there are so many providers for gas, electricity, water in every area. Again something new to us. We had to go through plans of numerous providers, for each utility! And just when we thought we’re done figuring things out, we were informed a few months later that the company providing the meters in our apartment building is different from our actual electricity provider. So we have to choose between paying a rent for the meter, or switching providers.

Since our apartment is a brand new one, there was initially no telephone connection yet. So we had to arrange for that first and pay the $200+ one-time installation fee (which the owner gladly reimbursed later, thank God), on top of paying for monthly telephone service fees.. It is only after we have been connected to the telephone network that our internet provider allowed us to sign up for a contract with them. And so before we had internet connection at home, it took about almost a month of waiting… Good thing mobile internet is available.. Also a good thing  we didn’t want cable TV, or else that’ll be another matter to take care of.. 😀

Talk about making life complicated.

9) If you are a Filipino migrating from Singapore, better get a driver’s license in SG before coming to AU.

Singapore and Australia have a similar driving system, so the SG license can get converted directly here without taking an exam. Having just the Philippine license is just like not having a license at all. You will need to take the exam and start from the probationary license. This also applies to migrants coming from other countries driving on the right side of the road.

10) Apply for Medicare as soon as you arrive.

Just for security in case something happens, you may want to apply for health insurance once you make your landing in Australia. For Medicare, you will need your passport and proof of visa (i.e. visa grant letter) to apply. You can do this as soon as you come to Australia. You will be asked for your bank details for payments of any claims you make. This can be provided later if unavailable at the time of application. Also, you can can choose to be on separate Medicare cards or be included with family member at the same address in one card.

And lastly…

11) RELAX! 😉

Don’t be bothered much by those ‘scary’ stories being passed on about racism in Australia. We’ve been here for 2 years now and we only would hear about a few encounters here and there and never experienced being marginalised first-hand.  My personal take on that is that it’s not something only known to Australia. I felt it in SG, and I believe even my own countrymen (and myself) are guilty of ‘having a feeling of superiority’, if you will let me put it that way, from time to time 😛