SINCE 1981

Random Ramblings

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Blackfish… a must see

My nearly ten year old daughter cried, which I’m very grateful for. It shows she has compassion for animals.

Blackfish, a documentary from 2013 telling the horrific story of orcas (killer whales) in captivity – yes, I’m looking at you Sea World.

When my wife selected it from the menu on our TV I immediately asked if it was about orcas in captivity. She responded yes, at which point I would normally leave the room. In general I rather avoid the horrible experience, but on this occasion I told myself to not be ignorant. I’m both glad and sad that I did. I know I should make myself more aware of the terrible way humans treat animals, but I know it will just utterly depress me if I do.

I won’t detail the film as you really should see it for yourself. However, the most gut wrenching part for me was the footage of them being captured in the wild… the young being taken from their mothers as they were ‘easier to transport’. Their intelligence and level of emotion is obvious, which is why I also shed a tear. One of the people responsible for their capture is interviewed for the film and as he thinks back to that moment he describes it as the “worst thing I have ever done.”

That is one of the better elements of this film… the fact that so many of the ex-trainers and Sea World staff are interviewed and they all unanimously describe it with horror and absolute shame. The total lies they are told by Sea World, which are then passed on to the park’s paying customers, are disgusting.

Please watch the film, and please say along with me… shame on you Sea World.

Peace

NY… What a Ride

The picture you see above is the last one I took in NYC. Inside a van (will explain later) heading over the Manhattan Bridge on our way to JFK Airport… the beginning of a 30+ hour journey back to Adelaide, Australia.

We spent a little under 18 months living in the concrete jungle… and a jungle is exactly what it is. Heading in I figured I’d just get used to it and normality would set in, and to a certain extent it did. However, I’m pretty sure my mind was blown at least once a week throughout the whole 18 months.

Summer 2015

We landed at the end of May and spent the first 30 days at the Residence Inn, Times Square (or as we now refer to it… Times Scare). For those that have visited Times Scare you’ll understand my next statement… we were lucky to be far enough away from it to not hear or see it! Sure, it’s must experience, but I hate the place. It’s commercial America at its absolute finest. I mean the 24/7 energy consumption alone is enough to make you ill, let alone the creepy ‘characters’ trying to take your money. Then there’s the shoulder to shoulder ‘slow walk’ through damn near all of it, trying stop your daughter getting elbowed by everyone walking passed (she was just the right height). Surprisingly, we didn’t go there often. 🙂

The hotel was just a block away from Bryant Park. While the park is busy, this was much more our style. If there is one thing NYC does right, it’s their parks (well, most of them). There were ping pong tables, seats and tables, a board game section, a reading section with library, mini carousel, and a huge lawn area. It’s a beautiful place in the middle of all the chaos. As mentioned in a previous post…

One of the first days we were here we walked through the park and Jude saw on Facebook that John Waters (director, author, actor, etc.) was speaking at the park and then doing a book signing! So we hung out for about 30 minutes and got to see John again (had seen his spoken word a few times back in Australia) and meet him to have books signed! A very cool NYC experience within the first week of being here.

The hotel was reasonable. It was neat and tidy, pretty attentive staff, and from what I’ve heard about cheaper NYC hotels, that’s pretty much all you can ask for. We did have an air-con leak in the room which produced a bit of mould on some luggage, but they had most things cleaned or replaced (by way of money), and gave us a bigger room.

Quickly after landing we began the apartment hunt. I don’t know anyone who would find the process enjoyable, especially at the beginning of NYC summer when everything is in demand. Some warnings taken from a previous post…

  • Standard broker fee is 15% of the annual rent, and it needs to be paid up front.
  • Without US credit you’ll be asked for a massive security deposit. We were lucky enough to negotiate our a little bit, but when the market is hot you can’t expect landlord’s broker to give in much (one place asked us for a year’s rent up front!).
  • You need to be prepared. By that I mean have everything you need ready before you start looking. If you see a place you like you’ll probably have to put in an application on the spot or risk losing it to someone else. Obviously this is more often the case for the less expensive apartments, but still happens in the higher end as well (especially in summer).
  • Be prepared to look at places without your broker. Some landlord’s broker won’t share their fee and therefore your broker won’t get anything from the deal. In fact, you can do it all without a broker on your end, but it will be MUCH harder… especially if you don’t know how the market works here.
  • If your money is overseas get it across to the US as quickly as possible. If it’s delayed then you may lose the place you’ve applied for. International transfers can take up to 10 days in some cases, and the landlord won’t wait that long.

If we had our time again, we would have looked at subletting, at least initially. This would have given us more time to find the area we loved and not get so far behind in relation to money. That or look more closely at luxury buildings as they generally don’t charge the tenants the broker fee (the call it OP, or owner pays).

We ended up finding a place in the West Village. Small and way overpriced, but we had a deadline, and we wanted to be zoned to a ‘good’ public school… so we took the hit.

The same weekend we moved in we were surprised by the Pride Parade that just happened to work it’s way down our new street, Christopher. First thing in the morning I had wondered why the NYPD barriers were going up along the sidewalks… and come about 1pm… no more wondering! It was a crazy 11-12 hours of Pride magic and madness… welcome to the Village!

The remainder of the summer was spent settling in to the new apartment and area. Lots of exploration of the West Village and surrounding areas.

Fall 2015

Things were starting to cool down. Jasmine started school and settled in really quickly (she is an amazing little girl, even if I do say so myself). Although, it felt like she was home more often than not. I don’t think they had a full week until some time in October due to all the holidays they observe in the lead up to Thanksgiving. She went to PS 3, one of two public elementary schools zoned for the West Village. It was about a minute’s walk from our building! She’s a private school girl here in Australia, so absolutely loved no uniform, teachers by first name, free breakfast, etc. There was no way we were going to put her in private school in Manhattan as the cheapest I could find was approx. $40,000USD a year! PS 3 was OK. It was obvious they cared for the kids, but the education department should do more. I was told they only fund the core subjects like Math, English, etc. and all the others rely on parent and community donations. To me, that’s a disgrace. But Jasmine was happy, and that’s the most we could ask for knowing it was not forever.

We took our first day trip out of NYC and caught the metro north railway up to Cold Spring. What a beautiful little town on the Hudson River, about an hour an a half north of NYC. A nice main street with various shops and cafes, including lots of antique places which are always great to browse through. It’s also the home of Cape Cod Leather, home of leather goods worn and used by the stars! We got chatting with the owner about our recent move and he was kind enough to heavily discount our purchases after our horror real estate stories! We ended up river side enjoying an ice cream before heading back to the jungle.

You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned work in the post, and it’s deliberate as I wanted this to be work free. However, I need to mention it briefly as it’s the reason I flew to the Netherlands for a few days! My client for the entire time I was working in NYC was Rabobank, and not long after starting with them I went on an introductory meet the team trip to their base in Utrecht. I stayed in Amsterdam as it’s only a 20 minute train ride to work, so outside office hours I had a great time walking around the city and exploring the canals. It’s an amazing place and I wish I’d had longer… but just means I’ll have to go back one day!

This was about the time when the weather starting getting comfortable enough for me to walk to and from work each day. It took approx. 45 minutes each way depending on the path I took and how many tourists I had to dodge. In Adelaide, this would be unheard of. I don’t know anyone who would walk 45 minutes to get to work, but in NYC it’s kind of normal. Catching the 3 subways I needed would have only got me home about 5-10 minutes sooner, so why not breathe some fresh air (cough cough), get some exercise, and see the sights? I walked to and from 102 Christopher St and 245 Park Ave… Map. My favourite path took me past the Flatiron Building, which amazed me every time.

Fall in the US also means it’s time for Halloween. Sure, we knew about it before and have even had a party for it as it coincides with my Birthday… but nothing could prepare us for it in NYC! Pretty much the entire city dresses up. As if the people of NYC aren’t already crazy enough… why not throw in some scary costumes? It was a blast… and Jasmine ended up with over 100 pieces of candy, so she was stoked.

We also had a few other firsts… Thanksgiving and S’mores. Sooo good, yet sooo bad.

Winter 2015/2016

I don’t think we could have had a nicer winter for our first in North America. After seeing on the news what happened in the winter of 2014/2015 we were a little worried whether we would be able to handle it. Turns out we had a very mild one with plenty of the good, and not much the bad.

We took our first trip out of NY state and headed to Philadelphia for a long weekend. What a gorgeous city, and this is where we saw our first ever snow fall. We ate Philly cheese steaks at the Reading Terminal Market, took our tourist pics of the Liberty Bell, ran up the Rocky steps, and visited the Museum of Art. We also experienced our first -20 something wind chills… fun (not).

Christmas Day is one memory that will be with me forever. We had lunch at the Rockefeller Center overlooking the ice rink (and the queue a mile long!), walked around 5th Ave and the shop’s Christmas window displays, then headed up to Central Park for a nice relaxing stroll. It was pretty much the perfect day.

NYE was also very cool. We had decided a long time before hand that we wouldn’t even bother trying to see in the New Year in Times Scare, screw that! So we headed out to Coney Island for music and fireworks on the boardwalk.

In January we had our first, and only, blizzard for the winter. From what I was told it was the ‘perfect blizzard’. The snow started falling on the Friday evening and continued through to Sunday morning. What was particularly ‘perfect’ about this blizzard was that you could still head outside and enjoy the snow fall. It wasn’t too windy, there was no traffic, and while the snow is fresh it’s really great fun. We spent the Saturday going for small walks around the West Village just taking in the magic of the snow (we don’t get snow in Adelaide). Then sun was out on the Sunday and the snow was gone in a week… which is lucky because it can turn pretty damn ugly once it’s mixed with NYC trash and dog shit!

We also had an All Access Tour of Madison Square Garden (MSG). The place is iconic, and seeing it when nothing is on is a fantastic experience. You even get to see the locker rooms!

Spring 2016

Spring is a special time of year for us… Jasmine’s Birthday. This will hopefully be one that she’ll remember for a very long time as we dropped an absolute bomb ($) on a trip down to Orlando. 5 days as Disney World followed by 2 at Universal Studios. It was amazing, and tiring! Doing it again we’d allow for a few days in-between to just chill by the pool, etc. but for this trip we just hit the parks hard. There really is nothing else like it. Even as an adult you get lost in the magic and the parks are outstanding with their level of detail, attractions, rides, etc. We timed it to be outside of school holidays so that the crowds weren’t too bad, and being May the weather was also pretty good. The longest we waited for a ride was about an hour, which I’m told is pretty good (you hear stories of 3+ hours!). Jasmine had a blast, and in the end that’s what it was all about.

Spring also brought us to our first (and only) Yankees game. I saw $10 tickets advertised and snapped them up. Sure, they were behind the base, but they were still great seats and we had a great time. Yankees scored a home run, and they won! What more could you ask for. Despite the games averaging 3 hours in length it doesn’t feel like you’re there for that long. They do a good job of entertainment in the slower periods of the game.

Oh, and some more MSG action. We saw Pearl Jam play the Garden. We’re both huge fans of Pearl Jam and the voice that is Eddie Vedder (there is nothing quite like it). We did have great seats but still enjoyed it. MSG does a great job of the sound and visibility no matter where you’re seated.

Spring is a beautiful time of year in NYC. The blossoms bloom and the parks become beautiful once again. Needless to say we spent plenty of time in them!

Summer 2016

This was a big season for us. We knew that our time in NYC was coming to and end so we tried to squeeze in as much as possible.

With our lease ending in the West Village we managed to secure a furnished loft in Soho (through a friend of a friend of a friend – it’s how it works in NYC) to end our time in the concrete jungle. This gave us the opportunity to sell all our furniture and have a smoother transition heading toward the flight home. Soho is… the shiz people! I loved it. Sure it’s insanely busy during the day (where isn’t in NYC?), but get up early and walk around before the shops open… magical. Cobbled streets, street art/graffiti, it really is like walking through a movie set. The closer you get to Broadway and messier it is, but head west towards Thompson and Sullivan and you get tree lined streets, nice little restaurants and cafes, and a bit more residential. It was my type of living.

Another great gig was experienced… Eagles of Death Metal at the Williamsburg Music Hall. Despite them coming on about 4 hours late at 2am, it was insanely good! Jude handed over a necklace to Jesse Hughes, we both caught picks, and I managed to leap much higher than I ever have before at 5am to secure a drum stick!

Summer also marks another Birthday… Jude’s. I managed to land some tickets to Paul McCartney at MetLife Stadium as he just happened to be playing on her actual Birthday. We both love the Beatles, but Jude even more so. Seeing one of them live on stage singing all the classics was an amazing experience, and even more special as a Birthday celebration. Needless to say we both sang the ‘Birthday’ song pretty loudly.

Another couple of trips outside NY state, the first being Montreal, Canada. This was one place I promised myself I would go while we were living in North America. I’ve always wanted to go, and I wasn’t disappointed. We had 3 nights in downtown Montreal and were walking distance to everything we wanted to see and do. Notre-Dame Basilica and the rest of Old Montreal took my breathe away. Absolutely stunning. After the first day walking around we learned that we’d once again been followed by the Pride Parade, but this time it was Montreal’s. So on that day we headed out earlier as we didn’t want to get stuck in the crowds. We saw some beautiful art in Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and headed toward the Old Port where a festival and multiple markets were taking place. It’s a vibrant city in the Summer.

The second trip was via bus down to Washington DC. We landed a last minute AirBnB in Capitol Hill and spent a couple of days checking out the nation’s capital. We didn’t have enough time to venture outside of the Capitol Hill and National Mall areas, so I can’t speak for the rest of the city… but what we saw was impressive. Most amazing to us were all the museums and that fact they are free to enter. We had nowhere near enough time to even scratch the surface, but what we did see was brilliant. Native American, Air and Space, National Monument, Lincoln Memorial, and on the second day the National Gallery of Art. We saw pieces that you could only dream of seeing. Jude, being the art buff, was in her element. I was so happy we had the opportunity to see DC and some of the things located there.

Fall 2016 

It was now time to wind down and get things organised for the trip back to Australia.

We managed to take one last trip to Central Park and also had an hour rowing on the lake (just like being in a movie). Although somewhat crowded with other row boats, the lake was peaceful, and coming from Australia probably close to a once in a lifetime experience for us.

The weekend before flying out one of Jude’s favourite bands was playing Webster Hall… Green Day. Note, this is one of the biggest rock bands in the world, and Webster Hall has a 1500 max capacity. In other words, landing tickets for this gig was like winning the lottery. Jude and I were trying at the same time on the day they were released and I was lucky enough to land 2! What a way to say goodbye to NYC. The gig was fantastic, but the special moment actually came after it. While in NYC Jude got to know Jesse Malin, a great musician who just happened to to the opening act for Green Day, and also the owner of a little club in the East Village. After the gig had finished Jude spoke to Jesse and got her name on the door at the private after party… long story short we ended up at the party hanging with the guys from Green Day, and much to my surprise Jame Hetfield. Yes, that’s correct, I was in the presence of a Metal God.  \m/

A true NYC experience to end our journey. Magic!

As you can imagine, after spending approx. 18 months in a city like NYC there was far more than what I’ve written above, but I’m not up for writing a novel at the moment.

In summary…

The Good

Things we liked:

  • The experience – When I say experience, I don’t mean the whole ‘moving the family across the globe for 18 months’ experience, that was hard work. I mean the experience of being in a city like NYC. Living and breathing each day in a place that is constantly buzzing. It can be tiring, but worth it.
  • Graffiti/street art – I took hundreds of photos! The art in NYC is amazing, and you definitely don’t have to go to a museum to see it.
  • There is ALWAYS something happening – You are spoiled for choice in NYC. The only blocker is how much you’re willing to spend.
  • Museums – Seeing things you would only otherwise imagine. Original works by some of the world’s greatest. I’m not an art buff, and even I was awestruck by many of the pieces I saw.
  • You can truly be yourself – NYC has a little of everything, that’s part of the beauty of it. You want to take your kids to school in your pjs? Do it… no-one will care. You want to eat at a fancy restaurant in shorts and a t-shirt? Go for it. There seems to be an understanding that NYC is what ever you want it to be, and people either accept you or ignore you. So you really can look and act however you want.
  • Concerts/gigs – This is more Jude’s thing, but OMG… they ALL come to NYC. This is a big deal to us being from Adelaide, because we normally miss out on the majority of bands and musicians. If you planned your trip around seeing great bands, you would never leave!

The Bad

Things we didn’t like (beware – ranting and cursing to follow)…

  • Service industry – NYC, work your shit out! Please! I could count on one hand the amount of times we got what I would consider good service. The majority of retail shops we went to were appalling! Customer service is pretty much non-existent. If you’re lucky you may get grunted at, but most of the time you’ll just get ignored. Tried to work out why this was the case, but gave up. In the end we just expected it and were likely rude back to them (yes, NYC will change you). Even if you’re not training in Customer Service 101 you should at least have basic manners when talking to another human being.
  • Food – Sugar, sugar, and add some sugar. The US is known to have an obesity problem… not shit! Look what utter crap they put in the majority of their food. You could leave a loaf of bread on the counter for 3 weeks and see no visible change. It tastes like cake! We did what we could to find healthier options, but when you do they cost a fortune. It’s no wonder people just get the junk instead.
  • Real estate game – It should be fucking illegal. The whole thing is just wrong! Read about it elsewhere… I get too angry to even think about it.
  • Tipping – OK, so… I get that wait staff get paid beans. However, I’m not paying any less for my food, and in fact most of the time the cost of my food is insanely expensive. The profit made on the food should partly go towards paying the wait staff more so that I don’t have to pay and extra 20% (the suggested tip)! Why should I pay more instead of the establishment paying decent wages to their staff? Hated tipping with a passion.
  • Competitiveness – NYC is a tough place. I can’t imagine it being anything else unless you’re extremely wealthy. There is a culture of competitiveness that goes beyond what I believe is healthy. This is true for both the working culture (that I was a part of) and general life in the city. You can’t help but feel everyone wants a piece of you, and more likely your money, so they can get ahead.
  • NYC changes you – A small example… after arriving in NYC I would often turn around and apologise when I bumped into people on the street (which of course is hard to avoid sometimes). 3-6 months in I completely ignored them. This may not be a big deal in NYC, but after coming back to Adelaide I found myself ignoring people still, and back here that makes you an arsehole. I’ve read a few times that you either leave NYC, or you become a dick. While that statement is a little extreme and ultimately black and white, I can see the logic. If you want to succeed in a city like NYC you need a little bit of ‘mean’, and I don’t like that.

The Good and the Bad

The subway!

I formed a love hate relationship with the subway not long after I started using it in anger. It’s disgusting, can be dangerous, unreliable (delayed/not running), crazy hot and uncomfortable in summer, no mobile signal, and often jam packed with shitty people (or people who have shit themselves).

However, even when considering all of the above it can get you almost anywhere and it’s reasonably cheap. Coming from Adelaide, which has one of the most useless public transport systems I’ve ever encountered, it was nice knowing I could get on the subway and get to the location I needed without ‘too much’ hassle. There have been multiple times since returning to Adelaide I’ve missed it.

Favourite Places

Some of our go to places in NYC (in no particular order)…

  • Coney Island – Sure it’s busy and kinda filthy, but Jasmine LOVED it. You’ll see all shapes and sizes, and who doesn’t love getting ripped off buying a famous Nathan’s hot dog?
  • Central Park – If I ranked the list, this would be number one, specifically Strawberry Fields. To be in the middle of a city like NYC and not realise it is just testament to how big and peaceful the place really is. Shout out to our favourite Strawberry fields busker Jimmy!
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  • Hudson River Parks – Our go to evening walk while living in the West Village. From the eastern edge of the Hudson River we could see across to Jersey City and took many great sunset shots while Jasmine was practising her cartwheels and handstands on the turf.
  • Battery Park – A little (well, little when compared to Central and Prospect parks) gem downtown which has it all. Courts, playgrounds, lawn, picnic areas with art sculptures, and more.
  • Prospect Park – Brooklyn’s Central Park.
  • Superare Fight Shop – OK, so this one is definitely one of ‘my’ faves. A kick arse mma fight shop on the Lower East Side. These guys kill it! Hey, they stock Winning boxing gear, so who wouldn’t love them!?
  • East Village – For me, this is NYC. Gritty, dirty, happening, edgy, a little dangerous… it’s wasn’t a great place to walk around at night with Jasmine, but what an experience when you do!
  • Highline – Sure, you need to get your elbows sharpened for use against all the tourists on a Sunday afternoon, but the walk is amazing. The old above ground railway that has been converted to a walking path/park. You get a totally different perspective of the city, and there are loads of great photo opportunities along the way.

So that about sums it up. Would I do it again? Yes, but I would learn multiple lessons from the first experience and approach it very differently.

NYC Service Industry

Disclaimer – This is solely based on my limited experience here in NYC. I’ve been told that it’s an “NYC thing”.

In my last post I mentioned I would write about the service industry here in NYC. Boring right? Perhaps, but it’s been that bad that I feel I need to write about it!

I want to be clear, this isn’t a NYC service industry bash… it’s simply facts and experiences. I’ll let you be the judge.

It is a very rare occurrence to enter a retail outlet in NYC and be greeted with… well, a greeting. What I’ve experienced to date is either nothing or a grunt. There are occasions where you’ll hear a “welcome to blah blah” because it’s clearly in their job description to say so, but what I’ve really missed are retail workers who are actually glad to have someone walk in their store.

Experience:

I went to a T-Mobile store to add credit to our prepaid accounts. I was greeted with something similar to the above and then pointed to the counter. The young lady who served me clearly wasn’t interested. Now, I don’t blame her completely… my transaction was far from interesting, but at the very least don’t make it obvious you don’t give a shit. She started to serve me while at the same time texting on her phone, which I assume was her personal one. Had someone done this to me in Australia I would have politely reminded them that I’m a paying customer and expect to be treated like one. Why didn’t I do that here? It doesn’t make any difference. It’s almost expected that you’ll get bad service.

Guess what? One of the credit transactions didn’t work and I had to go back to the store so they could correctly add it a 2nd time. What a surprise.

Fact:

Had she paid attention to what she was doing and shown even a little bit of interest I have a feeling that transaction would have posted correctly the 1st time.

Experience:

This time Verizon for my ADSL order. It started with an online chat which promptly led to me applying online. That process was actually quite good and the online chat agent was helpful. After then calling back a day later to validate my ID (didn’t have an SSN at the time) I was left thinking that the modem and connection would be ready a week later. Fast forward 3-4 weeks and I was still chasing mistakes.

Now, mistakes happen… I get that, but here is another disinterested customer service rep. In one of the many calls to chase up my order I talked to a lovely young lady who seemed to know her stuff, but was constantly snickering through the call. Eventually I asked if she found my Aussie accent funny, but no. Apparently she was in such a rush in the morning she had forgotten to paint her pinky toenails and so only had 4 nails on each foot painted. One of her co-workers found it rather amusing and made fun of her while she was talking to me. Hilarious I’m sure, but not while you’re trying to help someone out who has called several times already!

Fact:

She told me everything was done and I would have it all early in the next week. What a surprise, it never happened and the next time I called they couldn’t find the order nor any notes of my call with Miss Pinky. Please, get your shit together.

Experience:

Ah IKEA, what a wonderful place the world over… vomit. We furnished pretty much our whole apartment with IKEA. It’s cheap, looks good, the quality is OK, and it’s (supposed to be) easy.

So we purchased a couch in store and set it up for home delivery. Couch arrives, but doesn’t fit through the door. Honest mistake, all good. So we refuse the couch and let the delivery guys take it directly back to IKEA in the hope that it would make the refund process a lot smoother. Bahahahaha!

I called IKEA the same afternoon. I got my case ID and the promise of a callback or email with 72 hours. So we waited, and waited, and then waited some more. Well after 72 hours (like a week later) we called back to be given a new case ID and another promise of a ‘within 72 hours’ contact. So we waited, and waited, and then waited some more. Again, another week passes so we call again. I think Jude was on the phone for about 4 hours. That was wait time, call transferred, more wait time, promise of a call back…

So a little more than two weeks passed and I finally called again and got angry. It’s a shame, but it seems to be the only thing that gets their attention. It can also backfire, because if you piss them off they will likely just make it even harder for you (again, what a surprise). This time I asked if it would actually speed up the process if I went back to the store to get the refund. I was told that it would, but also that someone would call us back that same day just in case. Yeah, right… that was never going to happen (and it didn’t) so I went back to the store.

The wait time was about an hour for the refund desk (yay!). Eventually I got to the counter. All going well until they ask me for the same card that was used to purchase. Shit, it was Jude’s card. I pleaded with them, but was there even a little bit of empathy shown? You guessed it, no. Now, I understand policy and procedure but the clear lack of willingness to help was amazing. I asked if they (or I) could call Jude to get the card details… but no, they don’t do that. When I reminded them that they would have had to do that if the refund was paid 2 weeks earlier when it should have, they seemed a little dazed and confused. Yes, that’s right… you do that, you just couldn’t be bothered!

So, finally they agreed to get the card details and process the refund… which we still haven’t received but I’m assured is coming (it’s the bank’s fault now).

Fact:

We spent hours on the phone and I spent a whole Sunday afternoon getting a refund from a global company that processes refunds every fucking day. You suck IKEA North America!

Like I’ve mentioned there have also been good experiences, but these would normally just be my ‘expected’ experience. Every transaction should come with a good experience.

Are we spoilt in Australia? The other day Jude had to call our bank back in Oz and after the call she proclaimed, “God I miss Aussie call centers!” I have to agree. So far the service here in NYC has pretty much sucked.

So what’s the reason for it. Could it be that most of these staff members get paid beans and therefore don’t give a shit? Or perhaps it doesn’t really matter that much because NYC is so full of people that they will always come back to said store anyway? I really don’t know, but surely your day would be just that little bit better if you smiled at a customer and actually helped them. Call me crazy.

Oh, and don’t even get me started on Taxi drivers! They wonder why Uber is doing so well…

Until next time… with a more positive post I’m sure. 🙂

Feeling the Pride!

We’ve finally moved into our apartment on Christoper St, West Village. We’ve had a few surprises since signing the lease…

  1. It’s a famous street!
  2. Jasmine’s school is literally around the corner, like a 2 minute walk.
  3. The Pride Parade goes right by our window!
  4. McNulty’s Tea and Coffee company (since 1895) is right across the road.
  5. It’s a 10 minute walk to Clockwork BJJ. 🙂

Yes, all good surprises.

There has also been the odd bad surprise, like no gas in the building due to a leak, but all manageable at this stage. I’d rather they take their time and fix the gas properly than risk a repeat of the recent gas explosion in the East Village.

Pride

Parade

One of the views from our window/fire escape.

On Sunday June 28th I had planned on heading out to look for TVs. After I was ready to go I noticed the people gathering and the fencing on either side of the road. We’d already had a Pride Rally down the street on the Friday after the US Supreme Court’s ruling on same sex marriage, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I decided to stay… and I’m glad I did. The Pride Parade was not to be missed, and we had an awesome view! It went for about 6 hours, and I was sitting in the window sill with Jasmine and Jude the whole time! I was sore the next day, but it was worth it.

Happy people, floats, music, dancing, singing, costumes… the list goes on. We are very happy that we could be a part of this, especially this year after such a positive ruling was made. It was amazing seeing so many people happy!

Oh, by the way… later in the evening I did see a lady walking down the street with a yellow python around her neck. At first I thought to myself great costume… until it moved! WTF! NYC baby… crazy. At the very least it’s a great way to give yourself room on the sidewalk, as people tended to take a wide berth around her!

Clockwork BJJ

clockwork

Image taken from Google images.

I had my first class this morning. Lucky it was a no-gi class as I’m yet to get one! It was a small group as I’ve learned the morning classes are, but everyone was very welcoming. It can be a little nerve wracking heading into a new school, but they made it easy for me.

I did a bunch of research before leaving Australia as I knew I wanted to get back into Jiu Jitsu, and BJJ was the obvious choice here in NYC. Clockwork BJJ has wonderful reviews and awesome testimonials, and as mentioned above they are a 10 minute walk from our apartment! Add to this they are right near the 6 line so I can head uptown in no time after class. I can see even after 1 class that I’m going to learn a lot, and I’m very happy about that.

McNulty’s

If you’re not aware, coffee here in the states is generally pretty bad. the good stuff is here, you just need to take time to find it. We had a Nespresso machine back home which served our needs well, but with limited space in our kitchen we didn’t want to get one here. I went across to McNulty’s (long walk, all 10 seconds of it) and the place is amazing. The smell is amazing! Knowledgeable and helpful staff, and a huge selection of beans and teas. Beans selected and grinded, plunger and mugs purchases, quick how to given… and I was home brewing in no time.

I normally don’t like plunger coffee, but I’m happy now. I was probably brewing it wrong, and using crap beans… but now we’re set.

In the next post I’ll write a bit about the difference in the service industry between Australia and NYC, at least from my limited experience.

 

Landing in NYC

We made it! Roughly three weeks in and we’re settling in as much as you can when there’s 3 of you living in a studio room at a hotel. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great place and I’m very grateful to Doran Jones for putting us up, however it’s lacking that privacy that separate bedrooms allows!

I’ll start from the beginning…

Leaving Sydney was when we experienced the first problem. We arrived at the airport with loads of time, just the way I like it… only to find out that our Cathay Pacific flight to Honk Kong had been cancelled and that we’d have to take another one with Qantas. At first we were told that we’d be on a flight directly to New York, however that wasn’t to be. Instead we caught a Qantas flight to Honk Kong which only left a few minutes after our original flight anyway. So in the end it wasn’t a big deal, and Qantas Premium economy turn out to be much better than Cathay Pacific anyway.

After landing in Hong Kong we had less than an hour to get across to our connecting flight so I rushed passed duty free, and credit to Jude for sticking with me. We made it to the gate and waited, then we waited, and then… we waited. Turns out the connecting flight was delayed, so duty free could have been an option after all. Finally we take off from Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific as originally planned. While their premium economy was reasonable, it had nothing on Qantas. It’s great having a seat that tilts a long way back, unless of course you want to be a bit more upright while the person in front of you wants it all the way back! There is barely enough room to eat in that scenario. Still much better than cattle class, but the price difference would have me thinking hard about it next time.

Finally arriving in New York after 30+ hours on the go was a great feeling. Jasmine did very well considering it was her first long haul. When we landed at JFK last year the queue for customs was a mile long… this time we got straight to the front section and only waited about 5 minutes! Getting through customs was a breeze. I had all my paperwork with me just in case, but it wasn’t required. Just our passports and visas. Then we waited a while for the luggage, headed outside, found our driver, and off we went into Manhattan!

It was about 1am by the time we got to the Residence Inn on 39th and 6th, so it was hard to tell was the surroundings were like. Now I can say it’s in a great spot. 1 block from Bryant Park, one of my favourite places in NYC already, and a few blocks from Times Square (just enough to be out of the mayhem, but still close enough to get there when we dare). Speaking of Bryant Park, what a great place in summer. One of the first days we were here we walked through the park and Jude saw on FaceBook that John Waters (director, author, actor, etc.) was speaking at the park and then doing a book signing! So we hung out for about 30 minutes and got to see John again (had seen his spoken word a few times back in Australia) and meet him to have books signed! A very cool NYC experience within the first week of being here.

Then the fun stopped for a little bit… it was time to find an apartment. Before I bitch and moan too much about it, it’s good to know up front that we have a place and secured it in a little over two weeks from landing. I’ve been told that’s a good thing for people with no US credit, especially in the summer and in the West Village.

We started out meeting a broker the second day we were here. It was good to walk around and see just what we were up against, and how much we were up for! Let it be known, apartment hunting in NYC is not for the faint hearted. Be prepared for a lot of walking and waiting. There will be some open viewings that work to your schedule and others that need to be private coordinated by the broker. Lucky for us the weather was great so sitting in Washington Square Park in between was very pleasant.

This trend continued for the next five or so days. Jasmine was a trooper… an 8 year old looking at apartments day after day tends to get bored. It was hard work, and in the end we owe a lot to our broker, Kevin Keating of Loft Industrie. We were connected by a friend of mine who recently moved to NYC and also used Kevin. He was great and has helped us in a few different ways that would not normally be done by an NYC broker. So thank you Kevin.

Some notes on what may blow you away if you don’t have US credit or you’re not used to how it works here:

  • Standard broker fee is 15% of the annual rent, and it needs to be paid up front.
  • Without US credit you’ll be asked for a massive security deposit. We were lucky enough to negotiate our a little bit, but when the market is hot you can’t expect landlord’s broker to give in much (one place asked us for a year’s rent up front!).
  • You need to be prepared. By that I mean have everything you need ready before you start looking. If you see a place you like you’ll probably have to put in an application on the spot or risk losing it to someone else. Obviously this is more often the case for the less expensive apartments, but still happen in the higher end as well (especially in summer).
  • Be prepared to look at places without your broker. Some landlord’s broker won’t share their fee and therefore your broker won’t get anything from the deal. In fact, you can do it all without a broker on your end, but it will be MUCH harder… especially if you don’t know how the market works here.
  • If your money is overseas get it across to the US as quickly as possible. If it’s delayed then you may lose the place you’re applied for. International transfers can take up to 10 days in some cases, and the landlord won’t wait that long.

In the end, I think we’ve been pretty lucky. We’re paying a bit more than we had originally planned, but it’s what you have to do to live in an area like the West Village. Now we just need to furnish the place! The picture above is our street.

Next is enrolling Jasmine in school, which just happens to be right around the corner. 🙂

The guys at Doran Jones have also been really supportive, which makes a big difference.

Doran Jones and NYC…

With the E3 visa sorted we’re off to NYC!

I’ve been lucky enough to gain a position with, and the support of, Doran Jones (THANK YOU!). I’ve been following them for a while as they have been doing wonderful things not only in the software industry, but also in a greater social sense. Take a look at some of the media coverage. So I’ll be moving from a position of support, to one of action.

I’m extremely excited to become a part of it all. My goal will be to learn more than ever, and to offer up what I’ve learned from over a decade in various software testing environments. Working closely with the likes of Keith Klain and Paul Holland (among many other awesome people) is like a dream come true for me. We’re going to help change the face of software testing, and also the South Bronx! Being able work in software testing while helping a community like the South Bronx will be amazing. It will bring even more meaning to the work I’m doing!

On a more personal level I need thank my wonderful wife Jude for her support with the move. This is a big deal for a family that has lived in the same city all their lives, and I’m very happy to be sharing the adventure with her and Jasmine. Jude is a very creative soul – music, art, photography, and ideas! Therefore I’m also very excited about what she will be able to achieve. She shines in creative environments and there will be plenty of those available in NYC.

We also hope to be able to see more of North America while we’re there and will share the adventures here as much as possible.

I’m going to try and get back into Jiu-Jitsu. I’ve been boxing and kick-boxing for most of the past 2 years which has been great, and while I love the striking game I’m still drawn to ground game more. Every now and again I get the chance to roll with my boxing instructor and I enjoy it immensely every time. From my early research there appears to be some very good BJJ (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu) schools in Manhattan. The majority of my experience has been in Pangamot (Filipino) Jiu-Jitsu, so I’m really looking forward to learning how they differ and getting better at my overall approach. Some schools even offer kids classes in Jiu-Jitsu, so perhaps I’ll even persuade Jasmine to take a few classes!

We’ll hopefully be based in Manhattan so we can immerse ourselves in the concrete jungle and have a true NYC experience. Being in a good school zone is very important as we can’t stretch the purse strings enough for private school… so we’re currently looking at either Upper East Side or in the vicinity of Greenwich Village. I’m sure there will be challenges, but what good adventures are there without challenges? We’re going to make the most of it so that we have magical memories, and so Jasmine gets every opportunity that she deserves.

Here goes!

E3 Visa Process… the joy and the wait!

Hallelujah! Our E3 visas have landed. We’re off to NYC for a 2 year period and can’t wait!

For those not in the know, the E3 visa is for Australian citizens who:

  • Hold a degree in their specialised field, or equivalent work experience (approx. 3 years experience for every 1 year of degree study);
  • Have a US employer providing an offer of employment, willing to sponsor them, and apply for labor condition;
  • Will work in a ‘specialty occupation’; &
  • Will earn equal to or above the standard wage of that ‘specialty occupation’.

Note – There is more to it than the above. This is just a guide. Married partners and dependent children get the dependent E3 visa (defacto relationships are not recognised).  

Given the amount of research we (Jude and I) did in order to apply for the E3 visa I thought I might share some lessons learned from the process which may help future applicants.

Apart from reading other’s varying experiences online, the site I turned to most often was http://www.ustraveldocs.com/au/, and the E3 visa details can be found on this page. Further down on this page you’ll find the high-level steps you need to go through in order to apply. Don’t skim over this information, read it like you’re line editing it as you need to be prepared well for each step.

Our Process

The process we followed was not what I’d refer to as the standard one. What follows is high-level and missing some very important finer details. So be sure to use the above mentioned site for guidance. Also, keep EVERYTHING (appointment confirmations, application confirmations, receipts for visa payments, etc.). Sure you may not need it all, but keep it just in case. I created a Google drive for all of ours as well as a physical folder for all printed items.

Once I received the letter of offer from my future employer I commenced the online applications (DS-160 Information) for myself and my daughter, with Jude commencing hers. These online forms are pretty straight forward and simple to complete if you have all the required information. They also allow a period of time where you can save your application and come back to it later to complete, which is very handy if you discover that you don’t have everything you need or you get interrupted.

One of the required pieces of information is your visa photo. There are strict guidelines that the photo needs to meet, but this is fairly easily handled by most camera shops that offer passport photo’s. You’ll find that most have a template for US visa photo’s, and once you have them you can use the online photo checking tool (same link as previous) to make sure they pass before you try and upload them to your application form. Getting the dimensions is pretty easy, but be careful of the shadows!

After we had completed all 3 applications I went back to USTravelDocs to create an account so that I could book the in person interview. Yes, in person. Be aware of this because if you’re not in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra or Perth then you’ll need to get to one of them. I was lucky enough to have assistance from my future employer for the associated cost, but if not it would have hit the hip pocket pretty hard.

The interview booking process online is also quite easy to navigate. I was initially concerned that I would have to create 3 separate accounts for us and try to time all the interviews somehow, but it handles group bookings well as long as you have selected the correct visa types in the applications (primary vs. dependent). I went for a 9am booking. My thinking here was that it was early and that would hopefully mean less delays. Was I right? Not really. We went to Melbourne because we hadn’t been in a while and it was the cheapest destination for us to get to (coming from Adelaide). I had read another person’s experience of going to Perth which sounded very pleasant… let’s just say that Melbourne is not similar to my read experience of Perth!

We arrived at the consulate approx. 30 minutes early and there was already a queue to gain entry. This was entry to the consulate itself, not entry to the interview. The decision to bring Jasmine along to the interview was suddenly looking like a bad one! Note – Dependents under a certain age are not required to attend, but we opted to take her just in case. After some time waiting outside the consulate we entered the lower level which was the first security checkpoint. Please take note that NOTHING apart from what you require in the interview is allowed passed this point. No phones, handbags, etc. NOTHING. Once again, the decision to bring Jasmine came to mind (eek!). After this checkpoint we moved to the lifts which took us up to the second security checkpoint. This one moved much faster and was the point where were given our ticket number. I was still feeling pretty confident of a smooth and quick process at this point. Then we entered the main waiting room…

This room was the point where I realised we were going to be there for a long time. Only one or two empty seats in the room, and there were a lot of seats! We waited a while before being called to the first window. By this time I had already seen that people sat back down again after this initial window so had already assumed this was not the actual interview. This was simply the document check; the point where they made sure you had everything required and took photocopies of the items they needed. At this point I advised the consulate staff member that I didn’t have the signed Labor Condition Application (LCA) form from the US Department of Labor (DOR). This is one of the required documents but I had not received it from my future employer in time. I had already emailed the consulate prior to the interview to make sure we could still attend and simply provide it later (which was obviously all good). After that check was done, we sat and waited some more.

I can’t tell you the exact wait time for us, but it was long. There was a TV in the corner of the room which played a US tourism type video on a loop, and some old magazines that you could read. Lucky for me I had a coin… so played heads or tails with Jasmine for what seemed like an eternity! At last we got the call up to the next interview window. This was the actual interview. I was asked some very generic questions about the role and my experience, Jude was asked a couple of personal questions in relation to our relationship, and Jasmine was even asked for her middle name! All went well, but of course we didn’t get a final decision at that point due to the lack of the LCA. I was handed a form which provided the guidelines for sending the LCA once I received it, via email. That was it, interview over.

That would normally have been the standard process. We would have received a final decision there and then, but our E3 saga had to continue.

After some time had passed and certain things had changed (location in the US, updated offer, etc.) I finally received the LCA from my future employer. This was accompanied by a ‘package’ or sorts from their lawyer which collated the LCA and also a supporting letter, etc. I emailed this off to the consulate as directed in the hope that the turnaround time would be speedy. I had assumed that due to the on the spot decision that most people get (when they have all the documents they need) that this would also be rather quick. As it turns out, when supplying documents after the interview it can be up to four weeks (or longer – there really is no prescribed time) before hearing anything! So my one piece of very serious advise would be to try and have the LCA in your hands prior to the interview. What made this wait even more nerve-wracking was that the consulate held on to our Australian passports from the time of the interview. This is normal process, except that when a decision is made on the spot you get your passports sent back with your visas (normally around 5 business days). Ours were held there for approx. 5 months! Lots of things can go missing in 5 months, but fortunately for us our passports weren’t among those things. I’m not sure what we would have had to do if we needed to travel overseas during that period? I guess tell the consulate to send them back, but who knows what impact that may have had on the visa processing.

In the end it was approximately three weeks between sending the LCA and finally getting our visas delivered. Not too bad at all really.

When considering the bigger picture (our ultimate goal of living and working in NYC), what we went through was pretty simple and a small price to pay. It all went as smoothly as it could considering our circumstances. One thing I will say is that correspondence with the consulate was good. I had two phone calls with them, multiple emails, and a couple of live chats. All of these were good interactions.

So we’re off to live and work in the concrete jungle that is NYC! Stay tuned for updates as I’m sure there will be MANY experiences worth sharing.

Ninja Bug

The above picture is the chosen cover art for my book. I’m hoping to release the book this year, however I do keep thinking of more to write!

This awesome Ninja Bug has been illustrated by Phanduy over at Fiverr. I’ll likely be getting another one for inside the book (same character, different stance).

At the very least… I’ll know the book looks good! 🙂

Writing is Hard

It’s true, I struggle with it.

I’ve been spending a bit of time over the last two weeks looking over my unfinished book. There has been a little bit of writing involved, but more structure changes and assessing review comments from some very helpful people (thank you).

Some of those review comments have led to new ideas which I want to write about, but every time I try to start… I can’t. I find this particularly frustrating knowing that the first 10,000 words flowed so freely from my mind to the keyboard. Why the hell can’t that be the case now damn it! Writers block perhaps, but what is writers block exactly? Surely it means different things to different writers… well more so the cause of it I guess.

I find my mind constantly wandering off to thoughts of how I will publish it, and then start to question myself on when it will be ‘done’. The latter in particular is difficult considering the type of text I’m writing. It’s not a novel with plot that begins and ends, and it’s not a text book that is seeking to cover a particular subject in a particular way. It’s more of a personal journey, and that journey is added to every single day. So where do I draw the line? When will I know that I’ve covered enough for consumption by the big wide world? Bloody questions with no answers… you suck!

In relation to publishing I’ve been leaning toward Leanpub… until recently that is. I’ve discovered that their conversion from MS Word to Leanpub is not easy. Well, technically it’s easy, but very time consuming. I’ve taken advantage of the MS Word formatting tools a fair bit and the thought of converting all that formatting into Leanpub Markdown frightens the hell out of me… oh snap! As I was writing this I’ve just discovered Leanpub’s Bring Your Own Book option. I’m sure that wasn’t there last time I looked at all this. Well, hopefully that solves the problem. Now I can concentrate on the actual writing of my book. Oh wait, no I can’t… I’ve got writers block!

Bah…