Monday, 25 April 2011

When the Going Gets Tough, Should I Get Going?

I'm getting restless.

I've been here before and I recognise this feeling. I'm no longer as relaxed in my environment and I'm picking fault with too many things.

I read an article on Expat Exchange this week titled Ten Types of Expats that offered a slightly sarcastic and highly entertaining analysis of the ten different types of expats. One type of expat piqued my curiosity so I read further.

Restless. Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons thelearnr

According to the author, Tom Johnson, this type of expat longs for something unusual and different:  "For the first several months, he is immersed in the freshness of the culture, he sees life anew. He can barely walk straight for the hundreds of images, noises, and people competing for his visual attention, which he offers entirely. In time, however, these stimulations fade. On the inside, an emptiness is brewing. When the culture no longer fascinates, the escapee longs to escape again. It is his nature." Tom adds that this type of expat must cross any and all barriers in order to find the lasting happiness and utopia he will eternally seek. He is known as the 'escapee' expat.

Is this therefore the cause of my growing restlessness? Am I an 'escapee' expat, already longing for my next big move (after three major moves to date)? Am I looking to escape once again?

I've been in Sydney for five years and have established myself well enough in this beautiful city. I married my 'better half' here. I took on Australian citizenship last year. I own a fine house and I have a decent enough job. I'd even consider myself a 'local', with my favourite watering hole, preferred places to walk the dog, regularly frequented eateries, and a growing set of friends I can call and rely upon. I'm in no hurry to move on and there is no great emptiness brewing inside me so I don't feel like the 'escapee'.

But something's not right.

I'm growing uneasy with this life I've created in Sydney. It's not the kind of life I sought out when I left the UK - a life with less stress, a life more relaxed, a life completely different from the norm. On the surface, life as an expat Down Under is perfectly fine - we have great access to the beaches, we enjoy long summers, we indulge in great food but dig a little deeper and things are not quite as great as they seem.

We live beyond our means thanks to Sydney's rocketing cost of living. From the grocery store to the housing market, the petrol bowser to the shopping mall, life in Australia is proving more expensive than I had imagined or anticipated and it makes me increasingly uncomfortable. I didn't go in search of such an expensive way of life.

I sit in an hour and a half of traffic twice a day, cursing and groaning at the sheer volume of sorry souls commuting to and from the workplace in Sydney's heavily populated metropolitan region. The transport links are shameful, the congestion is spiralling out of control, and my five years here have seen things only get much, much worse. I didn't go in search of such a stressful way of life.

Sydney traffic congestion. Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons thienzieyung

We both find ourselves once again in a 9-5 office routine in a city where the working culture is focused on proving yourself as a hardworker to your peers, on putting in long hours in the week and at weekends, and on ambition and success at any and all cost, as we've found to our detriment. Trapped in this culture of working, our choice is to join in or get out which is no fair choice at all. I didn't go in search of such a poor work-life balance.

Taken alone, these issues probably aren't deal-breakers but, taken together, they cause me concern. These things may be part and parcel of life in, or near to, any major city but all I know is the issues are mounting.  It's time to review this situation, go back to the drawing board, and re-evaluate what we want from this life because a good life has to be about more than just sand, sea and sun.

So how do you separate out those genuine deal-breaking issues from an everyday gripe?

And how do you know if, and when, it might be time to move on?

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Friday, 15 April 2011

Finding My Inner Warrior

Sydney's a tart, while Melbourne is a lady, so the saying goes.

In other words, Melbourne is classy, cultured and refined, whilst Sydney is a showy, superficial affair - the opulent beachside houses, expensive European automobiles, over-the-top restaurants and city 'super' bars plus, of course, those ultra image-conscious Sydneysiders - a thong-wearing crowd of ladies with exposed cleavage and blokes flashing their underpants.

Or so I'm told.

There's no hiding away if you choose a life in Sydney, no option to be the shrinking violet. You either have it or you don't.

Leave your shyness and self-consciousness at the airport because, upon landing in this picture-perfect harbour city, the spotlight is on you and your body as you do battle with the masses for the ultimate prize - recognition of your highly visible beauty or acknowledgement of your hard won physical prowess.

The years in Ottawa had been unkind to me. Repeated harsh winters had hurt my waistline as I hibernated for six months each year taking comfort in the rich and hearty Canadian fare, and rarely venturing beyond the front door.

The television ruled my life and I welcomed its digital embrace.

This existence wouldn't cut it in Sydney. This was a city that never stopped, where its citizens sought out exercise with a frenzied passion, and where my expanding girth would be on display during all eleven months of summer.  I had no choice but to embark upon a path to better health and improved physical perfection.


A colleague of mine suggested I join her for a light evening workout in the suburb of Newport on Sydney's Northern Beaches. Naive in those early interactions with the obsessively fit Sydneysider, I assumed a light workout meant just that.

That was until I met the legend known as the Sandhill Warrior.

Photo credit: Rob Rowland-Smith

As I pulled up to the Warrior's home where a group of people congregated outside, I had that creeping sensation of being out of my depth. Peering closer from my position at the edge of the group, I realised these guys weren't just in good shape, they were at the peak of their physical fitness. Biceps rippled under the gaze of the late afternoon sun and quadriceps bulged out of shorts like thick slabs of finest Australian meat.

In the midst of this athletic posturing, I got my first glimpse of the man they call the Warrior.

Never claiming to be too easy on the eye and no longer the spring chicken, he was in his element surrounded by the fittest of the fit and revelling in his place as their leader for the night.

"One team, one dream" was the call as his posse of Warriors took up position in the legendary Pit - a place where names are made and bodies often broken. Four tonnes of sand stretched out in front of me covered with weight machines, dumb bells, bar bells, incline benches, chin-up bars, leg presses and then some.

In fact, the Pit looked more like a medieval torture chamber with its mechanical devices and bizarre contraptions. This was a place where tears would be shed, come rain or shine, as we went on our "quest for the chest".

As the session kicked off, the banter was beautiful, the retorts sublime.

"Still got it" proclaimed one of the old boys as he flexed his arms. "This ain't no Fitness First, you wood duck," snarled the Warrior. "Now bring that weight up to one of those five chins of yours."

Guys with names including the King, Titanium, Bucky, Iron Sheik, and the Behemoth pushed on. One young buck called out: "You don't get these pickin' cherries," as he curled his over-sized arms. This was high comedy mixed with painful drama.

I was loving it.

A circuit of the Pit ensued at high speed, no recovery between exhausting exercises, no chance to get a quick breath of air or a sly drink of Cyril juice. On to a sprint around the local school followed by team relays flipping tractor tires up and down the street. A fast paced run around the neighbourhood, down to the Arms, and back for a chin-up session on the bars. Then into the Pit for the mighty "Rack of Death", a hellish row of bicep routines, my weak noodle arms crying out for mercy. Finally, onto the street for more sprint relays and a five sets of the stairs.

The first hour had passed and we still had another 45 minutes.

Photo credit: Rob Rowland-Smith

Push-ups off the back wall, first inclines, then declines. Boxing in pairs, more push-ups, more running. The Warrior trained with us and as hard as us. We dropped to the ground and punished the abs. Knocking out my 350th crunch, I groaned in despair. Finished. Done.

My body couldn't take any more.

Cradling my broken stomach, I sat with the salesmen, accountants, bureaucrats and tradies as we nursed our ruined bodies in the cooling heat of a Sydney summer's evening.

I'd just trained with the best of them. An intense climate and a relentless trainer. I had a new found respect for this man they called the Warrior. Unique and old school, unlike anything I'd seen or done before. He epitomised the tough Aussie - a little intimidating on the outside, but warm and fuzzy on the inside with the individual or group's best interest at heart.

In Australia, I was set. I'd found my team and my trainer. I'd quickly start to reap the rewards.

This early experience in the land down under was about more than just the Sandhill Warrior. It was about my fledgling new expat life and improving a bad attitude to my health. My life in Oz now comprised of considerably less time sat in front of the television and infinitely more time spent outside. I'm measurably fitter, noticeably healthier, and much less inclined to flick the switch on the remote. My account with the TV is in decline and I don't miss it one bit - the TV or the bad habits.

Sydney may well be a superficial city and it might just put too much out on show, but as I found my inner Warrior in my early 30s, I realised one crucially important thing.

I've still got it.

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