A Travellerspoint blog

New Chapter, New Blog

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Hello beautiful people,

as most of you may have deducted from our last few entries our lives have changed dramatically. From not knowing what the next day would have in store of us, worrying about job security, not having a place to call our own or a mode of transport, we suddenly have it all. But as flawed human beings, we will of course strive for more, ever pushing ourselves to be the best we can be. And so, rather than the expected fleeting visit to earn some much needed cash, we have found ourselves committing to a stay of around three years in this bizarre tropical capital. Funny how life rarely respects your well-thought plans for the future!

For that reason, we feel as though the “Ben & Emilie Down Under” travel-blog no longer fills its purpose. Sure, the title is still very relevant, but we are ready for a new blog; a fresh start to illustrate this fresh new chapter in our lives. See, the other evening, we were reflecting on the many years we spent together and came to the conclusion that it feels as though we have lived so many lives already, the last of which have been recorded (in excruciating detail - I admit) in our many blogs. And these past months, it has definitely felt as though a new life has unfolded itself before our eyes, so a new blog definitely seems to be in order. But worry not, despite having moved away from our nomadic tendencies, and despite this new travel blog being a little less focussed on the travel and a little more on the ordinary, traveling will without a doubt remain an important part of our lives and identities.

So, why don't you join us in our new adventure – I'm sure we will have a lovely time together :)
Simply follow the new link: Ben and Emilie in Darwin
Click subscribe in the right hand column, enter a (nick)name and a valid e-mail address, and leave behind your worries of not getting the latest “Ben and Emilie”- gossip. It is free, safe and won't hassle you with junk mail.

All the former blogs will remain online and can be read, and even re-read, by following these links:

Much love,
Ben & Emilie

Posted by Fat Face 20:56 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

New Work, New Scooter, New Home

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With Ben acquiring an awesome new job, which led to us both getting sponsored, the 23rd of May - not so fondly referred to by us as “Deportation Day” - came and went like any other day. Less than a month prior to that, we were still madly worrying about the future, where we would go next if we could not stay past our one year working holiday visa and what would await us this time. One company's decision to hire someone new and life changes forever. Or at least that is the case for us.

Wood and Grieve Engineers is Ben's new work place and man, oh man, what a lucky soul he is for being recruited by such an extraordinary company. Not only that, but Ben gets to work in Darwin's prime location, nestled in the middle of the stunning Waterfront area, where attractive tourists lay their bodies to tan by the gorgeous little lagoon. Lunch breaks were never so exciting! ;) I will let him tell of his work experiences in his own words. (Read: I will gently force him behind the laptop and watch him struggle to write more than fifteen words in half an hour!)

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Wood & Grieve Engineers

As soon as Ben received the call that Wood and Grieve Engineering were hiring him, and we were going to get sponsored to stay on in Darwin/ Australia for a few years time, we did not stand still for more than a second. It was time we made some big life-changes and the first one was brought on by the acquisition of a beautiful second hand 125cc scooter. We survived a year of getting around Darwin using our walking feet and the bus system. It never really bothered us, but it was eating up important quality time and we were longing for a change. We looked up a man named Michael, who advertised his scooter online and we drove back home with his scooter an hour or so later, never looking back or regretting our (slightly) impulsive decision.

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Our Scooter, with Ben lurking behind it...

You cannot find a better mode of transport in the tropics than a scooter: wind blowing in your hair, that feeling of freedom rushing through your veins, and the ease of being able to park anywhere you want for free. Going for a larger scooter than the standard 50cc, meant it comfortably sits two people, goes fast enough to keep up with traffic and has a large compartment underneath the seat to store our belongings. And as if we needed another reason to love our little addition to the family: a full tank of fuel, which lasts us the whole seven days of the week, sets us back $7. And that is premium fuel as well! To think that a weekly bus ticket costs us $20 per person and you wonder why you would ever use anything else to get around on! Ah yes, we love our scooter!

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Emilie's equipped and ready to go!

Next up, it was time for us to find a new home. As much as we loved our spacious modern flat in Parap, and loved having Scott as our landlord, we needed to regain our independence. Finding any type of accommodation that isn't in a state of destruction or infested with creepy-crawlies is already hard enough to come by in Darwin, let alone trying to find a studio or one bedroom apartment. Bomb shelters in supposed “third world countries” would make better homes than some of the places we visited, and that is being friendly. But unfortunately, people are often too desperate to find a dwelling that they are willing to put up with the most atrocious of living standards at a very high cost. Very sad. Ben did an amazing job of contacting every known estate agent in the Northern Territory as well as checking up on every private advertisement. His hard work paid off when he came across a cute spacious studio apartment slap bang in the city. He viewed it on a Wednesday during work hours, sent me pictures of it, filled in his expression of interest online on Thursday, and we both signed the lease on Friday. The keys were entrusted to us on Monday, which was also the first time I ever set foot in the place. Luckily (for Ben!), I loved the place as much as he did. Yes!!!!

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View from our balcony

We had some amazing support from friends helping us move and getting the essentials for our new humble abode. We truly are blessed to know so many wonderful people and it has made an otherwise stressful move a smooth and fun one. Thank you :)

Posted by Fat Face 20:25 Archived in Australia Comments (3)

Recap: March and April '13

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March 2013

March brought both excitement and sadness. Our beloved friend Scott got offered a job in Perth and so that marked the end of nine great months of us living together. Scott had entered our lives as a complete stranger, turned housemate and landlord, turned good friend to feeling like a long-lost brother. It was strange to imagine Darwin without him... and we were very sad to see him go. With Scott gone, two new couples moved into our flat: Lisa and Jacob, and Michael and Alison 'Ak'. From a leisurely three people living in the spacious flat for a few weeks to a crowded six people. It was quite a shock to the system.

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Fun with Scott

March also brought more work for Bennie. He got offered casual work at a lovely Café in our suburb and he also got offered work at the cinema. He enjoyed the work there a lot more than at the restaurant, the hours were more regular and the people were a joy to work with. Best of all: he got fed all day long at the Café and he received two $2 cinema tickets a week. I think that had a lot to do with him liking his new jobs ;)

It did become clear to us that chances of Ben finding an engineering company to sponsor us to stay on in Australia were very slim. We are no hypocrites: we know Australia is unlikely to become the country we settle in and we will always be appalled by some of things that freely occur here. It is nothing compared to what people make it out to be: there are problems here that are mind-boggling and I often wonder how it can classify itself as a first world country. But... and a BIG 'but' in fact... We also know that we are VERY fortunate to be able to live and work here, especially in Darwin. We have had our fair share of issues with this little city, but the work opportunities that it has offered us are beyond what we could have hoped for. Because of its transient population, we have also made strong friendships with people whom we wouldn't usually have sought a connection with. Our friends range from children to pensioners, but nobody cares. In order to survive in a small city, in the middle of nowhere, far away from modernity and even the most common commodities, friendship is worth its weight in gold. And we are very lucky with the friends we have made :)

Anyway, we decided to apply for the Northern Territory state sponsorship. In order to apply for this, Ben had to sit an IELTS (English) test, the absurdity of which still astounds us today. The next IELTS tests wouldn't be held for another few months, so we had to find another city or country to take it at within the next few weeks. We had a few options, but ultimately decided to go for Sydney.

Apart from the stress of sitting a ridiculous English test, our time in Sydney was truly wonderful. Scott's parents, John and Angela, were kind enough to put us up in their gorgeous house in Copacabana, North of Sydney. They are really lovely people with a heart of gold. We can see where Scott gets his kindness and joie de vivre from! Rather than just putting us up, they showed us around all the stunning beaches, took us to a famous photography gallery, to a pelican feeding colony, and cooked us the best dishes. It truly felt like a holiday and we had a super time together!

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John and Angela

Our last two days in Sydney were spent doing some sight-seeing and catching up with a good friend from University, the lovely Stephanie, who just happened to be there at the same time as us. The world is indeed a small place!

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Emilie and Steph!

April 2013

April was a hectic month for us. It marked the end of the first school term, followed by a week of holidays. I was dreading the end of it, worried about committing to a new term at the Darwin Languages Centre, which could abruptly be cut short if we did not find an alternative to the looming end of our working holiday visa. Jeannie, the director of the Darwin Languages Centre - and my secret Fairy Godmother – ignored my worries and kept insisting that something would pop up at the last minute. She even offered me the position of head French teacher after one of the teachers signed up for retirement. I envied her hope and trust in fate, but was worried about leaving her stranded, so I continued on. On top of that, I started teaching a third Dutch family, whom I loved to bits from the very start. Come what may, we had no doubt that we would end up on our feet facing the future together with confidence and strength, but for me it had become a sad thought thinking about all the families I would be leaving behind without a tutor. It really worried me...

Then, a couple of weeks into the month, Ben got called in to sit two interviews! Just like that! One Skype interview for an engineering company in New Zealand and one interview for a local engineering company. He would be lucky to get either jobs, as both companies offered him great career opportunities, but we had learnt from past experiences not to get our hopes up. We had also put forward our application for government sponsorship, which seemed to be heading in the right direction. Now all that was left to do was wait...

… Suspense …

We did not have to wait all that long as a week later Ben got the EXCELLENT news that he got offered the job with the engineering company in Darwin and that the company would be sponsoring us both to remain in the country for a few years to come! We were overjoyed!!! Well done, Bennie!! We are all so very proud of you!!

And thus ended a full year in Australia. Since then, our lives have moved on at a rapid pace... which you will be able to catch up in our next blog post!

Thank you for checking up on us, and I hope you are all well.
Take care and much love,
Ben and Emilie (well, mostly Emilie, but Ben sends his wishes from afar too!)

Posted by Fat Face 07:12 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Recap: January and February '13

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So, you probably have wondered a few times why on earth you ever bothered signing up to our blog. We admit that six whole months of inactivity is indeed quite shocking, but we are back to set it all straight and bring you the latest juicy gossip that has kept our lives interesting and exciting. Whenever we referred to being busy in previous blog posts, we most likely were in a state of delusion as “busy” does not even begin to describe these past six months: ab-so-lutely craaaazy!

Anyone who has kept close tabs on our nomadic lives will have realised that we have now been in Australia for over a year, exceeding our one year Working Holiday Visa, without any news reaching the world of a young Belgo-Luxembourgish/ English couple being deported... Needless to say we have LOTS to tell you!!

January and February 2013

From the 24th of December to the 11th of January 2013, Ben and I embarked on an adventure around South East Asia visiting Singapore, Vietnam and Cambodia. There were ups and downs, as there are with most trips, but overall we had a really good time. If you could not guess from our many blog posts we were especially wowed by the beauty, culture and people of Cambodia. This country has definitely created itself a warm spot in our hearts and has without a doubt made it onto our “favourite countries ever!” list. There is no such list, but I would happily create one just to feature Cambodia at the very top. Thát is how amazing it was! [To those of you, who haven't received our notifications, the blog posts regarding our travels around South East Asia have finally been published with no less than seven accounts to read up on.]

Scott was so kind as to come and pick us up from the airport, which was a great welcome back to Darwin. Scott's brother Mark and his lovely girlfriend Nat came over for a visit and we found ourselves wishing they would give up their lives in Sydney and come and move in with us. We did run the idea past them, but we are not all that sure they realised how serious we were. Although there wasn't much time for fun for me - I was being thrown straight into work a couple of days after our return – we had such a wonderful time.

Whilst Ben was struggling to find any type of work, I was flooded by it. I was in charge of teaching Spanish to an immigration officer and his wife, who were going to be stationed in Chile for three years. The lessons were held at their house: three hours a day, five days a week for a total of six weeks (and thus a total of 90 (!!) hours). It took an enormous amount of effort and dedication preparing all the materials from scratch and tailoring it to their needs. I was up at 5am to make sure everything was set up for the day, and often did not go to bed until long past midnight. My biggest worry, however, was how we would all get along. Six weeks is a long time after all! I really should not have worried: Mick, Andrea (and their two gorgeous boys Tamlin and Oscar) were an absolute joy to spend time with. We all got on beautifully and had lots of fun tackling the language of Cervantes.

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Emilie and Oscar

On Australia day, which should have been an official day off for everyone, we were told the lessons should continue as per usual. So to add a bit of fun, we decided to have a Chilean cooking lesson together instead. Ben joined in and we made the most delicious Empanadas and Sopapillas:

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Empanadas

It was really great fun! The weeks flew and soon enough it was time to say goodbye. During one of our last days together, I invited our friend Pablo from Costa Rica over to come and cook us all a scrumptious paella. It was the perfect way to say goodbye to six incredible weeks and an equally incredible family. Needless to say, I got a little teary bidding them farewell, but I remain hopeful that our paths will cross again one day.

I never had much time to sit still as around that time, my work at the Darwin Languages Centre (DLC) picked up again. I went from being just a mere French assistant to suddenly becoming the main Spanish teacher to both the children and adults learners as well. The enrolments were streaming in and it became very clear that French would have to make way to Spanish in becoming the centre's most popular European language. Many students complained that they could not make it to the centre's sessions and so I took on one private student after the other. Before I knew it, I was running two busy classes, assisting another, teaching my two Dutch families on the weekends, and tutoring a handful of new students of all ages and backgrounds. Poor Ben struggled to keep up with all their names!

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Some of my little Spanish-learning rascals at the DLC

The weather in Darwin drastically changed as we entered the “Wet Season”. Compared to accounts of people who have lived through numerous wet seasons, this year's wet season wasn't very wet at all, which I guess is a good thing. Previous years have seen monsoonal rains go on for days, sometimes weeks in a row, facing the occasional cyclones with giant thunder storms. We had little more than a taster of what wet seasons should be like, and in all honesty, we very much enjoyed it. The rains brought a welcome relief to the sticky 90% humidity levels, the thunder storms lit up the skies giving us a never seen before spectacle of lightning and the unpredictability of the weather brought some excitement into our lives. Scott went out one night, his mammoth of a camera in hand, and took this mind-blowing shot of the lightning.

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Lightning, taken by Scott

Amazing, right?

After a solid month of being a gorgeous house-husband, Ben too got some more luck: after realising that he was not going to be finding the engineering job of his dreams, he applied for casual work and soon later started working at a Mexican Restaurant. The work was no where near great or rewarding, but he was no longer tied at home all day and found enjoyment in keeping busy again. It was a stressful time for us both. I would wake up really early and try to get to bed after midnight, so that I still got some time with Ben after his evening shifts. Stressful, hectic and busy, but oh so rewarding at the same time.

--- [Disclaimer: this next section contains strong language and an out of hand rant. Feel free to skip it all together and head to the next paragraph.] ----

All would have been great if it weren't for our flatmate Kate doing her utmost to make my life miserable. The girl has some serious problems and so when the news arrived that she would be out of our lives on the 14th of February, it was welcomed with open arms and cries of joy and relief. Kate made sure that the day of her departure would not go unnoticed and in the morning, before going to work, her parting words to me were: “You have no idea how fucking hard it is not to be able to punch your fucking face in”, followed by a few more insults here and there. Yes, Kate is a real ray of sunshine. I was busy getting my lessons organised for the day, so did not have the time to indulge in her idle threats. Ignoring her seemed to fuel her hate ever more, but the outbursts that followed went unheard by me. My heart was screaming of joy that I no longer had to deal with her and should she ever have tried to punch me, it would have been a pleasure to take her down. Between you and me: I did fantasise about punching her once or twice – the satisfaction would have been huge - but she just isn't worthy of the attention.

I have added a photo of her below, as a reminder to me that there will always be people in your life who will try and bring you down (for no apparent reason whatsoever). As a reminder that we should cherish those who stand by us and love us for who we are. And that what does not kill you does in fact make you stronger. And finally, as a reminder to Kate not to ever mess with me again.

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Kate

------- [End of rant and use of strong language. My apologies.] --------

But January and February weren't all work and no play.

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Our spare moments were spent with some of our wonderful close friends, mostly involving stuffing our faces with food of some sort ;)

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My beloved friend Justin, whom I briefly taught French last year, also cordially invited us to watch one of his football games. Now, “football” isn't the football we know, but there is no educating these Aussies and I right out refuse to call our football 'soccer'. Justin's football is known as AFL (Australian Football League). We went along on a sunny Sunday afternoon after my work, completely clueless. We felt a little bad that we spent the first ten minutes cheering on the wrong team, happy that they were beating the other team (sorry Justin). Thank goodness for smart phones and wikipedia kindly teaching us the rules in no time, so we could sit back and enjoy it. Thank you Justin, for an awesome day of Aussie sports and culture :)

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You can tell how much we enjoyed it, by the fact that we only remembered to take pictures when the game was over, and a beautiful cloud appeared in the sky...

Posted by Fat Face 03:19 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

South East Asia: Vietnam and Singapore

South East Asia December 2012 – January 2013

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Tuesday, 8th January

After another long journey through stunning Cambodia, we made it back to Vietnam around 11am. Now, Ho Chi Minh City is definitely more inviting than Ha Noi, but we were nonetheless not all that excited to be back. Going through customs and being treated like animals was a harsh reminder of the big difference we observed between both countries.

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We checked into our hotel, had a shower, and then tried to book a little trip to the floating markets. As was our luck, we could not fit it into our tight schedule and the weather was starting to get really bad and drizzly. Our disappointment was huge! We walked around for a little while and realised we were too much in a shitty mood to enjoy anything the city had to offer. And so, we looked up the nearest cinema to watch “The Hobbit”. Our moods soon improved, even more so when we paid the equivalent of $2.10 per ticket. Yusss! We must have been the only two white people in the cinema and it was yet another surreal Vietnamese experience, highlighting the big cultural differences and the communist influences. Whenever scenes were meant to bring on laughter, the Vietnamese became awkwardly quiet, followed by laughter only at the most inappropriate of moments. Very bizarre... but still a good outing!

Wednesday, 9th January

We had a really lazy last day in Ho Chi Minh City walking around the city, going to the markets and trying to find the only post office, as well as doing some nerding on the free internet at the hotel. Anywhere else we would have classified this day as a complete waste of time, but nothing tickled our fancy in this country and we were ready to catch a flight out. This sounds overly negative and depressing, but such was our experience of the place and comparing it to the joy, the beauty and the kindness we encountered in neighbouring Cambodia just made our impressions all the more intense.

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Now, many people have thoroughly enjoyed their time in Vietnam and we would certainly not discourage anyone from going there. The scenery is really beautiful and varied, there is a range of climates and a range of activities on offer. But we simply found that a country is only as beautiful as its people and we generally found the locals to be very unwelcoming, rude and cold. This does by no means include the segregated indigenous communities, who themselves suffer from the communist regime, and who we have come to regard as the “real” Vietnamese. Will we ever come back to this country. I think the simple answer would be “no”. Sure, it would be nice to see the scenery properly and without rushing, but there are many more countries that in our eyes deserve a visit.

Thursday, 10th January

And off we went, leaving Vietnam behind to return to Singapore for the day. We made sure that our connecting flight to Darwin was delayed long enough for us to be able to enjoy this city/ country one more time. We got our passports stamped and off we went to explore the area. We took the cable car up to Sentosa Island. It's an absolute tourist attraction and for everything you get charged an arm and a leg, so we just wandered around until we had enough.

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We ended our short little city-trip with a visit to Little India. It is definitely true what they say: the slickness and bling of Singapore disappears right in front of your eyes and makes way for vibrant colours, Bollywood tunes and a sensorial heaven. We loved it and it marked the perfect end of our little tiki-tour around South East Asia :)

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You can see the pictures of both trips to Singapore by following this public and free link: Singapore Pictures

Posted by Fat Face 22:01 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

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