Because migrating to Australia takes a lot of work, setting foot on Aussie soil after a one-way flight from Manila can feel like a big accomplishment. It’s said that an expat’s first year abroad is the most important. This is the time for setting up routines, finding a sustainable career, developing a network of friends and colleagues among fellow expat Filipinos and Aussie nationals alike, and perhaps even cultivating your own laid-back Australian accent.
Being in a new country that is so different from our own can feel exciting and exhilarating indeed, but after the initial novelty has faded, a faint sense of despair at being so far from home inevitably sets in. How do you make sure that your kids don’t forget how to speak Tagalog or Bisaya? Where on this side of the world can you find the ingredients you need to make sinigang or adobo? And how will you find seasoned Pinoy migrants who can help you find your footing?
Worry not, for the following life hacks ought to help you resolve situations that are common to Filipino expats living Down Under:
1. No Filipino grocery nearby? Try other Asian stores.
Two decades ago, purchasing tuyo (dried herrings) in Queensland or New South Wales was unheard of (and good luck explaining to your landlord or roommate where that “infernal” smell is coming from if you did manage to get your hands on a pack).
Thanks to the influx of migrants from the Philippines and the rise of hipster food culture, there are now Filipino groceries in Australia. We even have a blog entry listing some of the most popular ones in the country right here.
If you aren’t fortunate enough to live near a Filipino grocery, you can try visiting other Asian stores. Since Chinatown appears to be everywhere in the world, you will surely be able to buy a sack of rice in there in case you get an insatiable craving for every Filipino’s favorite carb. Thai groceries are good for seasonings like fish sauce (theirs is a bit milder than ours, mind you, so adjust your measurements accordingly) and any Japanese grocery ought to be stocked with bottles of Kikkoman soy sauce.
2. Plant your own vegetables or herbs.
Your wallet and your diet will be all the better for it. Someone once told me that you can get frozen alugbati (Indian spinach) from a Filipino store for about AUD15. Given how you can practically pick off this vegetable from someone’s backyard back home, having to pay that much for it is ridiculous.
You actually don’t need to have a big plot of land to plant your own herbs or even a few vegetables. Even a window sill will do so long as it can hold a few pots. Hardware stores should have basic gardening supplies like pots, shovels, and watering cans, and you can ask relatives in the Philippines to send you dried seeds for planting.
Alugbati isn’t the only plant you can grow at home; aloe vera plants can also be purchased at weekend markets and they can be tremendously useful for scorching Australian summers. Gel from the aloe vera plant’s stalks can be applied to soothe sunburns and to reduce inflammation, something that you would best keep in mind should you forget to put on sunscreen before heading out into the Australian sunshine.
3. Label things at home in your native tongue.
If your children were really young when you migrated or if they were born in Australia, teaching them Tagalog or Bisaya or any other preferred language or dialect can be really challenging. Speaking in Aussie English outside is unavoidable since you all have to adapt to your new country, but things can be different at home with a bit more effort.
My aunt, who is an expat herself, takes things a step further by labeling things within the home in Tagalog so that her US-born kids will always have a grasp on their native tongue. Canisters of salt and pepper, for instance, are labeled “asin” and “paminta,” respectively, while toy chests bear the label of “mga laruan.”
4. Save on overseas calls by downloading Viber and/or Skype, and getting your people back home to do the same.
This should be common knowledge by now, but there is still a surprising number of people who aren’t aware of it.
Smart phones are cheaper now and you can even use your laptop to make use of either program to get in touch with your loved ones in the Philippines for free. Granted, both parties will need a serviceable Internet connection for effective cross-continent communication, but making the effort to find such certainly beats the risk of getting high blood pressure when the monthly phone bill comes in.
5. Join a Facebook group to expand your network.
They say you can find a Filipino in just about any corner of the world. Heck, you can even find a Filipino storekeeper in Prague, of all places.
Fortunately, the spirit of bayanihan is very much alive in expat communities abroad. You will eventually run into a Filipino over the course of your life in Australia as there is a thriving Pinoy community here. Should you would want access to it at your fingertips, you can join a Facebook group. Pinoy AU Sydney is an example of one.
The beauty of being in a Facebook group for expats is that it helps you find fellow Pinoys in your area much more quickly, and it’s great for crowdsourcing if you need information on employment opportunities or upcoming events in the Filipino community (e.g., Independence Day celebrations, etc.). You are also highly likely to find your first Filipino friend in Australia on these groups too.
If nothing else, being part of such groups can make you feel a little less lonely.
6. To treat or prevent dry and painfully chapped heels or hands, slather some petroleum jelly on them and wear thick socks or gloves before going to sleep.
One of the biggest adjustments to life in AU for many Pinoys is that you now actually need to put on moisturizer.
You might have gotten away with not putting on lotion in the Philippines’ humid environment, but since the climate in Australia can get hot and dry, you’ll need to slather on the stuff even if (scratch that, especially if) you live in a part of the country where winter manifests itself.
Chapped heels and palms can be painful and if you’re in the medical profession, the need to wash your hands a lot probably contributes to the problem. You can remedy that by applying a generous amount of petroleum jelly or Vaseline onto your palms and feet and then slipping on gloves and socks, respectively, before going to bed. The gloves and socks will lock in the moisture from the petroleum jelly, and your skin will look and feel smoother and more supple in the morning.
7. Pressed for time? Make easy, one-pot meals in your rice cooker.
After a long, busy day at the office, you probably dread coming home and having to make dinner for everyone. Rather than throwing in the towel and calling for takeout (not that it’s a bad thing), you can make your rice cooker do most of the work for you.
For instance, you can make what I like to call a “no-sweat” paella. Heat up some oil in your rice cooker and sauté some garlic, onions, and chopped bell peppers. Once the vegetables have softened, throw in a few slices of chorizo sausage. Allow the fat to render for a few seconds, and then add about three cups of short-grain rice.
Dump in a can of stewed tomatoes, about five cups of chicken broth (you can use the ones that come in cans), and an envelope of paella seasoning (you can find this in the spices and seasonings section of your grocery). Mix it up and then leave it to cook, covered for about 35 mins. Serve it with a salad of lettuce leaves dressed with olive oil and lemon juice, and you’re good.
Will it impress a fussy Michelin-starred chef? Probably not. Will it provide a tasty dinner for two hungry adults and around three children/picky eaters? You betcha.