One year mega blog.

I have decided for the sake of continuity to do one huge blog entry, so sit back, relax and battle your way through this one!

We had spent a lot of time considering moving over here. As most would know we had a bit of a false start back in 2000, so for many years we had considered the notion of moving over.
Even with all that time, and, as we thought, having all angles covered, we really were knocked off our feet when actually got here.
It took about 2-3 months for everything to kick in, so at first it was all about just arriving and getting here, being busy settling in means that you don’t really notice whats going on in other aspects of your life.
Once we had transportation, the kids were in school, you got used to commuting to work and things like that, only then did it become apparent that everything was not as we thought it would/should be.
Pretty much everything was mixed up from what we were used to………

Work:- It was pretty clear from day one that I was not in a basement programming air-conditioning while listing to techo music. For example, even something as simple as the inter-cubical chatter took a lot to get used to, the people at Opto are really friendly and a lot like a big family, pretty much everything and anything is up for discussion. It was only in the last few years I had Nick in my office and even that took some getting used to, having 7-9 people around was really unsettling at first.

Answering the phone (my primary job) took a lot of getting used to. The range of accents in this country is staggering. Just listening to the person on the other end was a huge amount of work. Add to that the fact that it was often a highly technical discussion and I was daily stretched past what I thought my breaking point was. Often I would be mocked, belittled or just the brunt of jokes because of my accent. Not by the people at Opto, but by the people on the phone. It was (and still is) really hard to take. I cant put on an American accent, I just cant. There is nothing I can do about how I sound. When I stop and think about it, it must have sounded like they rang the sales line and got put through to India. None of us likes that, so I can see how they would be a bit caustic to my accent. Thankfully I know stuff about Opto and it was just a case of working hard to win them over by accurately answering their questions, which, I am a tiny bit proud to say, I have never failed to do. In all the ‘nasty’ calls I have had, only one guy apologized for being a jerk.
I am grateful to my boss, my first day was a blur, but one thing sticks in my head. He told me that he wanted every customers contact with me to reflect the high quality that Opto 22 is known for. That request still is in the front of my mind every time I answer the phone.

Being involved in the training has been interesting. I never imagined that I would stand in front of 9 to 11 people, many real engineers, some with PHD’s and teach them about Opto hardware and software.
Its exciting and astounding hearing about all the different applications that our customers use our product for. Its exciting during the breaks and after class helping many of them configure and improve their systems.

Passing on some of the many tips I have learned over the years is something I really like doing. Many of them are beginners, but even some of the more experienced users appreciate hearing a different take on solutions to challenges you face in the ‘real world’. At the end of each training session I am usually pretty exhausted. I am very enthusiastic about the product and what it can do, I tend to pour a lot of energy into my class, I hope in time I learn how to regulate it better.
Being ‘inside’ Opto is exciting. You get to work with new things, you get to see why some things are the way they are. You are in a position to change things, you can make things happen for different customers. I like being able to give my input that results in changes that make a better (higher quality) product.
The result of having to concentrate on the accent (still to this day) on the other end of the phone, concentrate on the technical aspects of the call, the desire to deliver a high quality outcome to the customer and the high volume of calls (often 20-30 a day) did and still does leave me pretty exhausted at the end of each day. This leads me to another aspect that is mixed up from what we were used to……

Family life:- Each day I am off at work talking and listening all day, the kids are at school talking and listing all day and when we get home all’s we want to do is crawl into the corner and shut the world off.
Freddy is home alone all day, all she wants to do when we get home is talk and listen. It is a change that we are still getting used to.
Often I am so numb that I cant even answer Freddy’s question about what I want for dinner. She wants to please me, its the highlight of her day, to cook a meal for her family, she can see that I am in a state that she has not seen before, its natural that she wants to do what she can to please me, but I am so out of it that I can not see through the fog enough to know what I want to eat.
The kids are a little the same. They are hassled at school because of the way they sound. They are tried of listening to the accent and watching what they say. They just want to switch off for a bit.
By the time we got to Friday night, the last thing I wanted to do the next day was go to church and listen to a sermon and fellowship with people. Which brings us to another aspect that was mixed up from what we were used to…..

Church:- At first we were new and novel, so were welcomed, but within about two months people lost interest and we faded into the background. At the three month mark, just as we really needed help, ‘church’ pretty much faded to nothing. Some people we did not know stuck with us and helped a huge amount, some continued to ignore us, some we thought we knew well were stumbling blocks. ‘Church’ was no longer something we could rely on for help. Its taken us almost a year to get this sorted in our heads and feel comfortable there again.

School:- It is the one area that I really felt that I made the wrong choice by moving over. Over here is not about pass or fail, its about credits. If you don’t have the credits at school, you cant graduate. If you don’t graduate, you are an outcast. The school system here did not acknowledge any of the credits that Amy earn in Australia, so she needs to do a LOT of work to make up a years worth of credits before she can graduate. Its a huge challenge for a 15-16 year old girl. I think she is going to be Ok, I’m not sure.
Terry is fine. They have elementary school, middle school and high school. Terry is in middle school and they do not have the same rules and regulations.

Driving:- I have blogged about this, its vastly different getting a car, getting a drivers license and getting into the daily grind of commuting over here. When you are here on holidays cruising around, you miss a lot of things. Its yet another thing that is mixed up and takes a lot of mental work to get sorted.

Riding:- The bike I have is nothing like the bike I had. I cant say one is better than the other, they are different. Its taken some time and mental effort to get this un-mixed in my mind.

The roads here are totally different than at home. One is not better than the other, they are just different, it takes some time to get used to this. Its just another thing mixed up in your head.

Light switches:- Sounds crazy, but when you are tired and stressed even little things put you off. Light switches work opposite here. Up is on, down is off. I will blog more about this, but I want to make the point that there has been nights where I have been upset by the fact that I cant even turn a light on or off with out having to think about it.

Bathroom taps:- I will blog about this some more, but the taps here are nothing like at home. You just want to have a hot shower and you have to really think about how to turn the tap on and get warm water to come out.

Food:- Someone once asked us what food we missed from Australia. We made a list of about 25 items. The list of food we would miss from here is about 4 items long. We have pretty much given up on dinner. The food through the day is so rich and calorie loaded that we only need two meals a day. Its still something we are trying to get sorted into some sort of rhythm. Freddy has been amazing though this. I cant imagine what it must have (is still) been like to feed us. Very little is the same. The weights are different for starters. We have only eaten out 2-3 times since getting here. Our first meal off paper plates was Freddy cooked and she has not dropped the ball once. Its taken a lot of time and effort for her to do that.

Weather:- There is none. That sounds like it should not be a thing to be stressed about but we are talking about things that are mixed up and cause metal effort to get sorted. Its unsettling to have ‘perfect’ weather for about 300 days of the year. In Australia you probably have 65 perfect days, the rest could be tweaked in some way to make them more enjoyable, not so over here. It really does a number on your head to wake up to a different shade of perfect day after day after day.

Money:- One of my Australian friends thought I was over here living the high life in the land of gadgets. I put him straight. Its a lot more expensive to move countries than we planed and Southern California is a lot more expensive to live in than we thought. The banking system is totally different here. Checks still rule the day. Credit ratings rule your life. Its been a lot of stress and very little fun in this regard.

Time:- You get two weeks leave a year. (Opto is fantastic in this regard, most companies only give you 1 week a year). Church takes about 8 days of that. So you are left with about 2 days holidays a year. You get about 5 public holidays a year. (Pretty much one a quarter, then new years day). There is not a lot of time to trip around and see the place. It takes a while to get used to that after having about 6 weeks a year in Australia. Time to decompress is the weekend, that’s it. Saturday your in a coma, Sunday you come up for air, by Monday you are ready for a sermon and fellowship……. I always enjoyed my monthly roster days off in Australia, but I never relished just how much they were adding to my mental health. I had heard the term ‘postal’ before, living here, in the SoCal pressure cooker, you get to feel it, not just hear about it.

Kid time:- Ever wondered about all those movies about kids getting a summer job when you are a teenager?? I know I did. When you get here and LIVE through the fact that the kids get about 3 months off over summer, the movies make a lot more sense. You really do have time to get a job, learn a skill and earn some money over summer break. Our kids are not allowed to work. So having your kids sitting on their butts at home for three months a year takes a little getting used to.

Resident Alien:- We don’t exist here, we are not welcome here. This is the message shouted to us from the government. Thankfully every one at Opto is the exact opposite and so it balances out a lot, but its still tough doing things like getting a drivers license, renting a video, submitting a tax return, renting a house, buying a car, getting any sort of insurance, going the Dr’s, getting the kids in school, getting time off school for church days and so on. The DMV, DHS and IRS are not connected, so proving you exist and are allowed to be here with one, does not mean the others will be Ok with that. So you have to do it over and over each time. It is still something Freddy is getting used to, she is a vapor, a non-person, it takes some getting used to, and even then, its always in the back of your head. We are constantly in fear of getting sick or getting a traffic ticket, anything that might force you through yet another system or process.
Having a skill that is unique and is helping build the American economy is a liability, not an asset if it resides in the brain of a non-US citizen.

Accents:- Freddy and the kids have nice little American accents. They can turn them on and off, I notice that they are ‘on’ more and more of the time. Freddy puts it best….. “Sometimes you just want to go though the check out and not have a hassle”. Its worse on the phone. You pick up a lot of visual cues when talking with people. When on the phone you cant do that. I pity a lot of our customers that get me some times. It must be just as hard for them to understand me as it is for them I’m sure. My ‘i’s and ‘a’s are the worst. A lot of Opto product part numbers have i and a in them, for example SNAP-AIMA and SNAP-AIV. Its horrific. I have to phonetically spell them out most of the time. Its really hard to take being the brunt of jokes about something you cant change.

Security:- People often ask me if we are going to stay. Its really hard to say because its not totally up to us.
Some guy sitting behind a desk somewhere will make the final decision about when we come home. I would like to stay for another 2 years. I say this for two reasons, firstly, for all the reasons that you have read here, and then some (that are too personal to blog about), to go home after just two years, it just would not have been worth it all. Secondly, I really do not want to mess up Amy’s schooling again.
Its very hard for use to settle and ‘relax’ when there is the clear expiry date written on our visa.
As a family we miss the security of buying our home. Freddy would like to get a dog, but since our future is not known, she does not want to take on another member of the family when she is unsure what might happen.

Hobbies:- I used to do a bit after work and really enjoyed tinkering with lots of things. Now I am so zonked out when I get home that the last thing I feel like doing is getting in front of a computer and programing something, or concentrating on putting something together, and yet the urge to tinker still burns strong….. Its been really really hard for me to readjust in this regard. I am still, a year latter, getting this settled in my head. I want to tinker with the bike, but its a hassle having it apart, it means that Freddy has to take me to work and back, so I feel pressured. Pressure is something I am trying to reduce in my life at the moment. Hobbies are supposed to be relaxing, not vice like….. its a little mixed up still…….

Well, that gives a bit of a feel for a one year over view. I have never been challenged so much in my whole life, I have never had to change so much in such a sort period of time. One year seems like a long time, but the stuff we are having to deal with are real deep down core issues so it has gone past VERY fast.
Of course the question that gets asked a lot is ‘has it been worth it?’ You simply can not answer that. Its too big a question and its too soon. My visa expires in February next year. Given how much has changed this year, and how pretty much all of it was unanticipated, how can I possibly decide if it has been worth it? Money can not buy the sort of challenges that we have been faced with. I never would have been stressed and prodded into new areas like this in Australia. You cant answer the question because I feel its not the right question in the first place.

Am I home sick? For each of us the answer to this one is different. I cant answer for my family. For me its got an odd sort of answer…. In some ways yes, in some ways no.
I feel something inside when I realize that I cant just jump on my bike and ride for 5 hours and see my mate. Or that I cant just nick over to my Dads house after work and look at a technical issue he is having (he has sent me digital photos and voltage measurements and such, but its not the same). Its an odd feeling. More of one of space and time. I become aware of the space that’s between us. Not just distance, but also time.
I miss the bush. We have gum trees here, but its not the same. I miss knowing that I don’t own 20 acres of bush there any more (ironically the sale of the block of land gave us the airfare money for the holiday that got me the job that now makes me miss owning the block).
I miss some of the people, some of the times, sure, but its not like I am ‘sick’ for them. I can pick up the phone or send them an SMS, which is about all I would do if I was over there a lot of the time.
I KNOW I miss the time I had over there. I had a life. Do I want it back, no, not like it was, but the time ‘off’ was nice. So, again, as you can see, its not a clear answer, because I do not know really what the question is.

I am looking forward to the next year. Given how much has changed and how much I have been exposed to this year, if nothing changes at all, it still will be an amazing year as we will go into it with the experience of the past year. Some things have been sorted, the change over is finished for them. Some other things are still getting sorted, and so we will not have to spend as much time getting our thoughts in order. The point is we are a lot better equipped to deal with the next year than we were for the past year.

They say ‘travel broadens the mind’ (or something like that). Its true. Just because you are in a country that speaks the ‘same’ language, does not mean its the same culture. Our minds have been stretched and exposed to things over here that we never could have dreamed about.

Im still Ben deep down, but there is no doubt in my mind that a lot of my opinions have changed about different things.

Ok, thanks for suffering though this, regular blogging will resume in the next day or so.