The Wizardess of Oz

An American's Adventures in Australia and Beyond

Category: Life In Sydney (page 1 of 7)

The Daily Comings and Goings of Living in a New City

A Birthday in Melbourne

If I were a better planner, I would have pulled out all the stops for Beth’s birthday: A nice hotel, a fancy dinner, a full itinerary of things to do and see in 24 hours, since that was all the time we had in the city before our Great Ocean Road trip.

But I was none of those things, as I had promised myself not to over-schedule my travels and to generally let things happen as they do. And so we ended up crashing on an acquaintances couch, who also happened to have four other people staying with him that weekend in his two bedroom apartment in Richmond, a suburb of Melbourne very close to the city. I had looked into dinner places, but we hadn’t wanted to be rude to our host and his friends, so we asked them where we should go. Fortunately, they suggested Fitzroy, one of the most fun places to go out in Melbourne – packed with restaurant and bar options and only a 10 minute cab from our host’s apartment.

So we trundled off, two Americans, an Aussie, and two Germans, to find a nice meal for Beth’s birthday and a place to have a few drinks and maybe some dancing afterward. We ended up at a Greek restaurant, which is unsurprising due to the huge population of Greek immigrants in Melbourne. The food was great, as Greek food usually is, and we all dove in with some wine and drinks to kick us off. After that, we headed to a rooftop bar, but took one look at the huge line to get up and the threatening sky and decided we should probably head someplace else. So we headed to a hip-hop nightclub that was somewhat reminiscent of the underage, alcohol-free nightclubs I went to as a teenager. But the drinks were cheap and there was no cover or line to get in, so in we went.

The DJ kept playing a mix of the strangest throwback hits from the 90’s (Think ‘Let’s Get Married’ by Jagged Edge) mixed with more modern garbage like Iggy Azalea. It seemed to keep Beth happy, as she danced up a storm. We decided to pull the plug around 1 a.m. since Beth and I both had to get up early to get a car and depart on our Great Ocean Road adventure early that morning. Correction: I decided to pull the plug, Beth was too busy whooping up a storm on the dance floor to notice what time it was, though she didn’t complain when we did leave. Though it probably won’t go into the record books as the best birthday celebration in history, hopefully it was a memorable one.

It’s All Happening…

Flights are booked!

Suddenly I know what January and February are looking like, at least abstractly. I’ve booked the flights I needed to book that will get me all around Oceania and into Asia. From there, plans stop and the REAL winging it will begin.

I’ve broken all traveler advice: “Don’t plan too far ahead;” “The worst thing you can do is over-commit yourself and have to rush off when you’d rather stay,” etc. I’ve done it for a few reasons:

  1. My sister is on a timetable for some reason and doesn’t want to spend too long in any one place [silly!]
  2. I know how lethargic/lazy I can be, and I’d probably be happy to just plop myself down in the first place I love and stay
  3. New Zealand has already proven itself to be a black hole, with a gravitational force all its own, and if I didn’t pre-book my flight to leave I might have just stayed forever

So right now, here’s what it’s looking like:

Australia: 3rd January – 28th January: Sydney – Melbourne – Great Ocean Road – Uluru – Whitsunday Islands – Sydney
Fiji: 28th January – 5th February: Nadi – Mamanuca Islands – Yasawa Islands
New Zealand: 5th February – 22nd February: Auckland – Bay of Islands – Waitomo – Wellington – Nelson + Abel Tasman Park – Queenstown – Milford Sound – Auckland
Quick Stopover Back in Sydney
Indonesia: 25th February – 5th March: Seminyak – Ubud – Komodo
Thailand: 5th March until ??: The plan is spend at least 3 weeks [or more] exploring the Islands, the North, and volunteering at an elephant sanctuary!
From here: Cambodia, Vietnam, possibly Laos, the Philippines, Hong Kong, then Europe [just in time for summer]!

I’m hoping that once I’ve set the pace I’ll be able to keep myself from lingering for TOO long, but can also slow down a bit and spend the time each place demands. It’s probably for the best that the more expensive destinations will be “in n out” trips, since staying for too long could quickly deplete my bank account. In Asia, I should be able to travel at a much more leisurely pace.

So while I am still in a place of limbo, and the planner in me is a bit panicked about the lack of a detailed itinerary in New Zealand and beyond, I’m forcing myself to kick back and let the universe take care of the rest of the plans.

Now who want to join?

Until Next Time! xoxo

BIG News…

Oh blog. I’ve completely abandoned you.

Though there are only a dozen or so people who missed it [and thanks to those of you who told me that, it really does make me feel like a rockstar in a little corner of my mind], I’m back in action with some explosive new news.

I’m leaving Australia. Permanently.

Big news, and I’ve fielded lots of the same questions, so I thought I’d list them out with corresponding responses below.


There’s so much that has gone into this decision that it’s hard to know where to start, so maybe I’ll just lay bare a few facts and you can connect the dots:

  • Early in 2014, things at work weren’t exactly amazing. I would go home every day miserable and feeling like I was treading water with a 30-lb. weight strapped to my waist.
  • In March, my grandmother passed away.
  • In April, the English Muffin and I met my parents in New Zealand for a holiday. While we were there, we got the news that my other grandmother passed away quite unexpectedly.
  • Around this same time, an old friend from high school shared with us that she had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, and had 6 months to live.

This confluence of facts set me about seriously examining my life. My grandmothers had both lived long, full, productive lives. Losing them was difficult, and highlighted to me how far I was from my family, my strongest support system.

But my high school friend’s sudden diagnosis was a gut-punch. She is so intelligent, accomplished both academically and personally [Masters degree, volunteered at orphanages in Asia, traveled everywhere you could imagine], recently married, and incredibly beautiful. My mind kept telling me: People like her don’t face this sort of thing. Because she could have been me. We battled the throes of Junior year together: high-school parties, getting our driver’s licenses, generally just being 16 and thinking we had it all figured out. Neither of us were supposed to die before we turned 30.

But she is.

And so I started to think about what I was doing with my life. I wasn’t exactly happy, and it was pretty clear to me that life is too damn short not to be. And while I understand that 90% of happiness comes from within, that 10% that comes from without is a pretty big 10%. I had tried and tried to change my attitude, and decided it was time to change my circumstances.

So I started saving up money. A month ago, I quit my job. I went home for a holiday and let my family and friends know I was coming back. And I started to plan 6 months of travel.

Where Are You Going?
Long-term: San Francisco
Short-term: I’ll be traveling around Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Bali, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Hong Kong, and points to be determined in Europe.


Who Are You Going With? 
My sister Beth is at a bit of a cross-roads herself, having recently graduated from college and [like so many of her generation] working in retail without a clear idea of what would be a better option. So she’s joining for the first 5 or 6 of those countries listed above, and then I’m on my own [dropping in on friends here and there, of course].

Jenn and Beth

Wait, When?
I finish work on the 19th of December. Beth arrives on the 3rd of January. We’re spending a bit of time in Sydney then starting off to various points around Australia for a few weeks, before we head over to Fiji and New Zealand. I likely won’t be back in the US until June or July, unless disaster strikes or my bank accounts get utterly emptied.

What About the English Muffin?

He’s coming too! Not on the traveling bit, but on the San Francisco bit. He will be staying behind in Sydney while I go on my epic journey, looking after my dog and organizing himself financially and visa-wise for a move to the USA. He’s truly a gem.


What Will You Do When You’re Back?
I have absolutely no idea. There are vague and fuzzy plans about moving out of the advertising agency world into marketing, ad product development, or maybe even VC consulting. But I’m hoping that getting away from it all will help clarify for me exactly what I want to be doing. I really don’t know. I’ll be sure to update you when I do.

And that’s it! That’s my news, and my plans for the next 8+ months, as unclear as they are. Many a sleepless night was spent trying to figure out what to do, trying to be comfortable with flinging myself unknown to the mercy of the world without a safety net. It’s utterly against my nature, but I’ve finally warmed to it. In fact, once I’m used to it I might never go back.

Adventures What If

A Loss Abroad

I knew it would happen when I moved here. I did what I could to steel myself against the reality that at some point, tragedy would strike and I would be far, far away.

And yet, despite all my preparation, I still found myself collapsed in a heap, sobbing this morning after receiving news of the death of my grandmother. Her passing was merciful – she was immobile, in pain, ready to be reunited with my grandfather. But the sting is so much stronger when your first reaction is to hug a family member, and the nearest one is 6,000 miles away. When your father’s choked-up voice is cutting through a bad connection that’s stretching across an entire ocean. When you’re trying to call siblings and cousins and aunts and uncles and no one is picking up because it’s still work hours on a Friday in their time zone.

I was lucky that I had the chance to see my grandmother in July. I visited her a few times during my week on the East Coast. On the night before I flew back to Sydney, I stayed for a few hours, as she was more alert than my previous visits. We talked about a great many things as we watched the Trayvon Martin verdict. About love, the differences between my life at home and my new life in another country, about God and my interpretation of it. She told me how much she admired my courage and intelligence, urged me to write a novel, and as I said farewell so she could get some sleep, she made sure the last thing she said to me as I left the room was, “I love you so much.” I bawled my eyes out for 20 minutes in the parking lot of her nursing home after that night, because I think we both knew deep down that it was the last time we’d see each other.

My grandmother left behind a legacy – six children, 25 grandchildren, six great-grandchildren. She was a major part of our childhoods and adulthoods. An example of love, devotion, and forgiveness. She was sharp, and she was tough, and parts of her are now scattered in the 37 people she helped create, and dozens more she touched through her life.


When my grandfather passed away in my early teens, I didn’t fly from California to Philadelphia for the funeral. I was afraid of seeing my dad and uncles cry, of so many people that I loved hurting so much. I had an excuse (final exams), but it was really just that – an excuse. I’ve always regretted not making the trip and feeling the love of my family and supporting my dad in his loss. And now here I am half a world away, stuck in a similar predicament. I have an expensive and time-consuming decision to make – do I go, or do I stay? My grandmother is gone, this trip wouldn’t be for her. It would be for me and the 36 other people she’s left behind – to lean on each other, remember her, and comfort each other. Twenty-four hours of travel on either end and likely only a few days to spend with them. $2000 I didn’t quite fit in my budget for this month. Closure and comfort I just couldn’t get from here.

Whether I make it back to pay my respects or not, I am proud to be part of my big, messy family, filled with such an array of personalities. A family founded and guided by an amazing woman with an amazing soul. 

18 Months

I’ve been living away from the US for a year and a half now. I’ve had two birthdays in Australia, I’ve missed a family Christmas, dozens of birthday parties, engagement parties, and baby showers. I’ve even missed the wedding of one my oldest and dearest friends. And missing the big events does bring the distance between myself and home into sharper perspective, but it’s the daily moments that I miss the most, I think. The coffee dates and brunches, days at the beach and happy hours on weeknights, dog parks and road trips and being able to see my mom and dad much more frequently than every six months. Not that I’m not doing many of these things in Australia, or that the people I’ve become close with here aren’t just as amazing, funny, fun, or intelligent as my friends in the US. But there is a big difference between being a part of someone’s daily life and being another email they put off sending.

Sometimes, you can feel yourself slipping out of other’s lives. Texts, emails, or Facebook messages become further and farther between, then stop. Wedding invitations don’t come. Birthdays pass unnoticed thanks to the international date line. A year and a half seems to be the point where friendship over time and distance is tested, and it’s either pass or fail.

I’m the first to admit that I am a difficult person to stay friends with, depending on your personality and definition of friendship. I’m shit at staying in touch with people, even though my communicative-ness (or lack thereof) is in no way an indicator of my feelings for another person. So I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise when an email scribbled out after months of non-contact goes unreturned. But with lives so busy for people our age – we’re getting engaged, having babies, buying houses, are in a critical stage of our professional lives – I understand that life moves quickly and many things seem much more important than remembering to give someone a call. It’s sometimes difficult to see the world turning without you and knowing there is nothing you can do to participate in these small moments.

As I read this, I know it seems whiny and depressing, which isn’t my intention. Just an observation that even in our hyper-connected world, with the Snapchats and the Tweets and the WhatsApps, it’s still very easy to lose touch.

We Gave Thanks

One really fun thing about being an expat is bringing the traditions of your home country to your new international friends.

And so several weeks ago, I created a Facebook event, called a butcher, and began the plan to recreate Thanksgiving with 18 of my friends. Due to the capacity of my oven, I had to outsource many meal elements to my fellow Americans who were joining to celebrate the day, as my primary task was the 17.5-pound Turkey I had a local butcher bring my way.

The crowd was heavily skewed toward non-Americans this year, whereas last year’s Thanksgiving only had a few Aussie interlopers. However, as I sat at a table full of English men and women and told them the history of Thanksgiving, I made the point that this holiday was technically begun by the English settlers of America, so it was as much their holiday as it was mine.

There we a few groans when I mentioned the tradition of going around the table and giving thanks, but everyone was a good sport and participated, with one of the single young men giving thanks for the single ladies of Sydney (fair shout). I looked around the room at the crowd, a few familiar faces from last year and several new faces who have entered my life only this year (including the English Muffin), and I knew that I was most grateful for how much life changes, bringing new people into and out of your world. How in one year many things that had been steady in my life before my move had changed, but that those things weren’t the ones that mattered. Because here I was sitting among people that I loved, but hadn’t even known this time last year. And so I was quietly grateful for the difficult times I had thrust upon my life by uprooting everything and moving to an island on the other side of the sea, because those difficulties have borne out the most beautiful and lovely life full of new friendships I never would have had otherwise. And most importantly, they brought me to a very kind man with a lovely soul that I never would have had the pleasure to know if even one little detail had been different.

More wine was downed, football was watched, dishes were cleared up, pumpkin pie was consumed (much to the bewilderment of many of the English in attendance, as pumpkin is meant to be savory), and a generally great Thanksgiving was had by all.

Comparing this to last year’s Thanksgiving of eight lovely people that I had newly met, to eighteen that could all be counted as friends, with a tip of the glass to the universe, I gave thanks.

A Delicious Massive Bird

A Delicious Massive Bird

The English Carving the Turkey

The English Carving the Turkey

Dig In! Photocred: Annie Bettis

Dig In! Photocred: Annie Bettis

Pumpkin Pie! Photocred: Annie Bettis

Pumpkin Pie! Photocred: Annie Bettis

Mr. Perfect

Have I not covered off on the Mr. Perfect story yet? Well, now that I’m all boring and coupled-up, I’ll have to dig into the archives for juicy dating (or lack thereof) stories.

I met Mr. Perfect late last year, not too long after my arrival in Sydney. I was still a bit in recovery over my attempted and failed foray into long-distance relationshipping, but had gotten enough distance to be out the wallowing zone and into the “prove you still got it” zone.

Enter: Mr. Perfect. Attractive, tall (6’3″!), educated (P.H.D!), amazing job ($$$) that allowed travel to lots of travel to cool places, great taste in food, great taste in booze (a scotch man), a working knowledge of wine, down-to-earth, witty, open-minded, friends with people of all ages and backgrounds… absolutely… perfect. My mother would have loved him, he probably would have been able to give my dad a run for his money on the golf course, he probably could have had an intelligent conversation with my brother about whatever the hell he does in finance while simultaneously delighting my sisters with his stories about abseiling in Jordan.

And I felt… nothing.

No pulse of romantic interest, no heart-flutters, no physical desire whatsoever. We had met through mutual friends and managed to have a few drinks together (in a non-romantic context) with some of our friends. And the more I got to know him, the more perfectly perfect he became, and the more I realized that perfect on paper rarely translates to perfection in reality. There was just no spark. No click. He was a lovely guy to spend some time with, and had a lot of amazing stories. And it’s fun to speak to someone very intelligent who works in a fascinating field that has nothing to do with your own.  But that’s about as far as it got. When he asked if I wanted to go back to his for a drink at the end of a night of boozing, I politely declined.

I know a lot of people who aren’t believers in “everything happens for a reason,” but I am one. And it’s probably not a mistake that the winds of fate didn’t create the right conditions for a spark to be struck and a flame kindled with this Mr. Perfect. And I know that no one is perfect and there’s probably a reason this smart, well-traveled, attractive guy is still single, but even if there wasn’t, I still somehow knew he wasn’t perfect for me. And that reason is most likely because I needed to meet my English Muffin, who IS perfect for me (Awwwwwwwww, sappiness!). So despite my initial frustration at not being able to force myself into an attraction with this guy, it’s all turned out well in the end, I suppose.

…And ladies, he’s still single.


The Benefits of Bitchy Resting Face

Surely by now everyone has seen the Bitchy Resting Face YouTube video, correct? This made the rounds of the internet several months ago, exposing an issue many of us didn’t realize we had. I sat back after watching the video in wide-eyed amazement, thinking, “THIS is what people mean when they say I’m ‘intimidating.’ They mean I look like a bitch when I’m not smiling!” It was a fact that has always lingered in my subconscious, but the YouTube video finally brought it into consciousness and gave it name.

Here's an Example

Here’s an Example

While the video focuses on the things that bitchy resting face can screw up in your life, I’ve actually found that bitchy resting face has some positives to accompany the negatives. Here are a few:

1.) Business Meetings: Bitchy Resting Face (BRF) can be key when you’re sitting in a meeting with just about anyone. A friendly face automatically makes the person in the meeting with you think you’re on their side. My face says, “Convince me,” without me ever having to say a word. When you’re in the business of buying things from groups of salespeople, you need a face that says, “Bullshit me and die.”

2.) Walking Through a Crowd: When you need to get somewhere, or are leaving a concert or sporting event, or when your natural walking speed is about 4x that of a normal human being (me), BRF can be a crucial asset. Here’s my tactic: I fix my eyes into the distance to avoid eye contact and focus on the end goal, don’t smile, and walk with purpose. Most people who are coming head-on will naturally just move out of the way, probably because I have a face that looks like a serial killer’s.

3.) Keeping the Boyfriend On His Toes: My darling English Muffin tends to be a bit of a worrier as it is, but sometimes I’ll be lounging reading a book or watching TV and he’ll look over and say, “Everything alright?” To which I usually respond with a look of bewilderment, until I realize that I probably look super bitchy because all of my facial muscles have relaxed. BRF is actually helping me keep tabs on the health of my relationship, because now I know that when he stops asking if I’m alright, something’s wrong.

4.) Avoiding Bums, Criminals, and Religious Zealots: When you live in a major city and commute primarily by foot, there is no way to avoid the bums begging for change, or the people trying to stuff their religious creed down your throat by shouting and shoving a doomsday pamphlet into your face. Unless you have BRF. They take one look at your bitchy face, and decide your bitchy eternal soul can rot in hell. The bums tend to be a bit more indiscriminate, but there were a few occasions where he/she would look at me, then go for the person next to me. Success! I also have an overactive imagination and am always assuming that anytime I walk anywhere by myself after sunset that I need to be hyper vigilant about all the murders and rapists in Sydney (paranoia, I know). So in the evenings I’ll put on my bitchiest of faces without even realizing it. I’ll stroll up to the bar queue and my friends will say, “Are you okay??” with concerned looks on their faces. BRF has struck again.

Now that I’ve identified that I have this gift, I find myself slipping it on like a warm sweater when necessary. Take today, for example: I was already late for work, speed-walking the six blocks between the bus stop and my office, leading the pack of foot-shuffling city walkers. There was a sizable gap between us the group of corporate commuters walking ahead, and as I advanced I saw them: blue-shirt-clad RSPCA volunteers. There were puppy prints on their hats. There were clipboards. There were wide, fake smiles plastered across their faces. My opponents had presented themselves.

I felt the muscles in my cheeks relax. I fixed my eyes on the bus stopped a block ahead. I was easily supposed to be their next victim, and I could see the first of the three of them size me up as I approached. My brows drew together just the tiniest bit. I waited for the advance and overly-loud introduction, and as I passed I heard him go for the girl walking directly behind me, with a much friendlier face. Both of his fellow volunteers did exactly. the same. thing.  Now who wouldn’t want to avoid being accosted by well-meaning but obnoxious tree-huggers without having to say a word? Many may think the bitchy resting face is a bad thing, but this girl’s embracing it.

Men Can Have It Too

Men Can Have It Too

Until next time, xoxoxo!

Tall Poppy Problems

Australia is very much a land of the “everyman.” Everyone created equal, no one is better than anyone else, and fitting into the pack is respected much more than separating oneself.

In business, this translates into Tall Poppy Syndrome. If you are American, you may be unfamiliar with this term, so here’s the Wikipedia for you: a social phenomenon in which people of genuine merit are resented, attacked, cut down, or criticised because their talents or achievements elevate them above or distinguish them from their peers.

In the US, this only applies if you lack one crucial element from the above sentence: genuine merit. And so much of the struggle to succeed revolves around developing that merit, growing it, and celebrating its growth as it happens. One of my biggest professional struggles since my move has been exactly this – being resented for being willing to push what I think is right, even if it diverts from “authority.” In the US, challenging the status quo is seen as way everyone keeps themselves sharp. But here, it’s frequently seen as a personal attack, most often from people more senior than myself. It’s always a bit of a shock to my entrepreneurial and capitalist system when someone takes a small shot at me for having a better idea than they did. Americans spend their entire childhoods being indoctrinated to reach for personal excellence. Our Army’s slogan is “Be All You Can Be,” but that phrase might as well be plastered on the walls of every college and white collar boardroom in the nation.

Trying to adapt to such a fundamental and deep-rooted shift in perspective is a tough one. I’m fortunate to (now) work in an environment where this isn’t the norm. But every once in a while when things are going well and recognition is coming in from multiple sources, a small kick in shins comes my way to remind me that I’m just like everybody else (because you know, my giant inflated head can’t figure it out on my own), and the wind of achievement lessens within your sails just a bit.

Hopefully I’ll be able to retain my Americanness this regard as much as possible, because it would be a shame to come back to the American workforce indoctrinated with this negative perspective on success. It’s one small and strange way the Australian culture really rubs against the grain of my native culture, and frankly (I’m a little biased though) I think it’s +1 point for the USA.

SUCCESSES in Aussie Dating (Yep, It Happened)

Well loyal blog-readers, the moment you’ve been waiting for has finally arrived. I snagged myself a boyfriend Down Under.

I know you’re going to have mixed emotions about this (“But Jenn, we really want to hear more about what a miserable failure you are at picking up a man!” or “Oh joy, now you can go back to being boring and coupled-up,” and maybe a few “Oh yay, that’s lovely. Is he hot/rich/have a brother?”), but I am indeed officially off the meat market that is the Sydney dating scene.

Because the Aussie men in Sydney appear to only be interested in women who viciously attack on nightclub dancefloors and practically beat them over the head and drag them to bed, I wound up with an Englishman (who prefer to be the ones beating over the head and dragging. JOKES!). And, at the risk of sounding like a giddy schoolgirl, I’m pretty smitten.

Not that it was very easy, mind you. Firstly, we were not supposed to get together – it wasn’t even on the table at all when we met. No, this is not the typical “boy meets girl at a party or happy hour and they exchange phone numbers and have a couple of dates then things get serious” situation. It was much, much different. It was a “boy meets girl because they’re both at the end of their leases and need a new house” situation. Yes, ladies and gents, I started dating my roommate. Cue the canned laughter, it’s an expat version of Friends.

After we realized that there was a little more going on here than sharing a bathroom, it was all male freakouts and mutual “this won’t serious” conversations. And I was fine either way; I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to be dating someone that close to home anyway (see what I did there?). Then I went on holiday for three weeks. And my English Muffin pretty much shriveled up and died in my absence (potentially a slight dramatization). To be fair, I missed him a bit too. And he instantaneously locked it in once he realized that I am amazing and he couldn’t live without me, roommate or no roommate.

Then there was the awkward, newly-minted relationship bit. Both of us had to reacquaint our mouths with the word “boyfriend,” and “girlfriend.” In fact, sometimes I still default to calling him my flatmate instead of my boyfriend (or “partner,” as per my last post). And then we had to do things like letting each other know when we had weekend plans, when before we didn’t have to answer to anybody. And then came the joint birthday party, and weekends away, etc. etc. and I slowly realized that we had flown from not knowing each other at all to serious, serious, really damn fast.

But such is the speed of life sometimes. Sometimes you meet and click and it seems silly to artificially pump the breaks when everything is really good. And maybe I’ll find myself single and homeless in six months, but I’ve got a pretty good feeling about this one. So friends, place your bets! And we’ll see where we are come March.

Til next time, xoxoxo!

Because I didn’t mention this post was sitting in my draft folder for like a month, then published it without his approval.

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