06 April 2014

The Tax Department is EVIL

But you knew that already, right.

When I did my taxes last year, I realised I could get a rebate from having an invalid sister.  I checked it all out and it seemed fine and got the money paid.

Then I got a scary letter from the taxation department.  In Australia, you basically do your taxes and send them in, get your money and they do all the fact checking later.

So, what happened is this - my sister is on a disability pension.  That is non-taxable income.  It is not considered income for just about anything official.  The rebate is only paid if the person being cared for has an income below something ridiculous like $1000 a year (can't remember exact numbers).  I figured that made sense - if you are disabled and on a pension, you aren't going to earn much more than that.

After inquiring about the scary letter, I found out I was completely wrong.  The $1000 income includes the pension!  The person you are caring for has to be on a pension for you to get the rebate BUT the amount of pension they get is way, way over the cut-off amount for the rebate.

In other words, the government wants to look like they are doing something nice but don't actually want to give out any money for it.

From what the woman on the phone said, a lot of people have fallen into the same trap.  There is like this tiny little window of people who can receive the rebate and you pretty much have to be a spouse to get it.  So why not make it only for spouses?  Why put this shit in and bury the important details in the fine print?

I now have a massive tax bill to pay.  That makes me pretty damn unhappy.

24 March 2014

Are Tourist Ripoffs Okay?

Say you are a tourist in a third world country.  You go out to a local restaurant for dinner and have an amazing meal for $5.  You are happy and satisfied.  Then you find out the local people have a separate menu with separate pricing and they'd pay 50 cents for the exact same dinner.  Do you feel ripped off or that it's a normal part of being a tourist?

I've read a few things lately saying you shouldn't feel ripped off because this is how the world works.  You aren't a local so you get charged the higher prices because you can afford it.  You come from a country with a higher standard of living so you should be paying something back.

That's making a huge assumption that the person I want to help out in the local community is the owner of the restaurant and not say an NGO that helps street kids develop skills.  

I don't think one or two experiences are going to make that much difference and, like most sane people, I'd never get into an argument with someone over a few bucks for a dinner that still costs a lot less than I'd pay at home anyway but, when you travel and you are constantly seen purely as a source of money, it does get tired very fast.

It's been quite a number of years since I've had that issue because I've not travelled to countries where the standard of living is much different from what you get at home but I remember getting very irritated when I went to Vietnam about 10 years ago, to the point where I didn't want to leave my room.  I met some pretty awesome people but the majority seemed to only be out to get money from me for an overpriced gaudy souvenir or be calculating the maximum profit.

And it works in the other direction too.  I've had people ask me why I'd want to travel to Japan when it's so much cheaper to go to Thailand or other SE Asian countries.  They don't think about why those countries are so much cheaper, that you are profiting from low wages and a low standard of living.

These the whole argument of how tourism can wreck the local economies and whether it is a good thing but that's more than I want to get into here.  

I guess all you can do is try to minimise the bad experiences, try to get off the tourist travel and to keep your wits about you.

I'd love to know how other people cope with these kinds of issues when they travel.  Tell me...

19 March 2014

Why am I still fertile?

Getting my period.  Seriously.  At my age, I pray every period is my last -- I'd always thought I'd go through an early menopause but I'm about to miss the boat on that one.

I actually put menopause on my list of New Years's Resolutions this year but, like love, it's one of those things you can hurry.  Seems like people want to delay it, not speed it up.  One of the girls I used to work with told me that menopause does terrible things to your body.  She said that because she is childless so has yet to experience the joy that fertility creates.

When I gave birth to my son, I wanted the whole lot ripped out.  I had no intention of using it and it was just taking up space that I could use for other things - like free storage and shit.  The (male) doctor refused, telling me I was too young and I'd regret it.  I should hunt him down and kill him -- or at least get compensation for 27 years of unnecessary tampons.  I calculate that out at around $7000, not including the interest I'd have received on the money.

I have not for one single moment in the time since he slide out of my woman parts thought, "Gee, I wish I had another one of those."  But you know, a male doctor knows more than I do about my own body.

Recently I heard you can get a scan to see how many eggs you have left in your egg holder.  I think it's designed for women who want kids but I'd love to know.  I mean, I don't want to buy tampons that aren't going to get used and I'd like to throw a Final Period Party.  I could celebrate by screwing around with no fear of pregnancy!  Only, knowing my luck, they'd have miss counted.

10 March 2014

Things are getting worse

The housemate situation is going into steady decline.  She "cleaned up" on the weekend and we are finding our stuff in weird places around the house.  One of my vases was in the back of the bin cupboard behind the bins and she'd actually thrown out a bunch of containers we were saving for when we make kimchi.  Of course, we might never make kimchi but I think it's up to us to make that decision not her.

She's taken down the curtains in their room - the front room of the house.  I'd already mentioned that the neighbours across the road can see into the room when the curtains are open -- and they spend most of the day sitting on their front deck.  I dunno, maybe she likes getting changed so the neighbours can see her.

She's done washing every single day since she's been here.  Multiple loads of washing! She doesn't even have that much stuff so how can she wash things.  And she takes random shit out of the cupboards and washes it up! Not to use it but just for fuck knows what reason.

And, despite all the excessive cleanliness, she left a tea pot full of tea leaves in the kitchen for 2 days, a fuckton of hair in the shower and the adhesive strips off her menstrual pads in the bathroom.

She's only been here a week!  I think tomorrow will be confrontation day.

07 March 2014

So tell me...

My housemate's Japanese girlfriend has moved into our house.  It's been a bit of a strange settling in period.

I need to know, is this a Japanese thing... anyone with a Japanese wife/partner reading this... she has been obsessively cleaning since she moved in a week ago.  On the plus side, the house is really clean but it feels like she's judging us.  Plus she keeps moving things around!

But the really strange thing is that she has left folded up dish rags on every surface that might ever need to be wiped!

I mean, it's not like a wet Chux is a decor feature!


22 February 2014

Why are travel tips written for the stupid?

I've been reading a bunch of travel blogs and other stuff about travel lately, hoping to get some ideas but most of them have left me with an "OMG, you are kidding" feeling instead.

The worst are the ones written by/for Americans.  Seriously, do not read anything about travelling in Europe written by an American.  Unless you are stupid.  Most of the Americans I know aren't stupid so they don't need to be told this shit, I'm sure.

For example, do you really need to tell people not to flash the bling around?  That's just common sense, right.  And telling people not to wear jogging shoes (unless you are jogging)... if you don't know that by the time you are ready to travel, you are never going to know it.  And do you really, really need to use exactly the same brand of toiletries you use at home?

I don't know what it is with travel advice.  Someone writes something then ever other writer repeats it as gospel because they don't have enough sense to think about it for themselves or test stuff out.

Top of my list of crap advice is to stay in backpacker dorms so you can meet people!  Seriously.  Have you seen the people who stay at backpacker hostels?  Why the fuck would you want to meet them?  I don't get it at all.  You travel half way around the world to hang out with a bunch of douches in a run down building stinking of mildew and unwashed socks?

Maybe if you are young and want to party and have *fun*, that sounds great but, if that's what you want, why not just got to hostel a couple of towns over from your home and stay there.  Save a fortune on travelling and you can get all the partying and shagging you need.  Bung on a French accent to make it more exotic.

I was thinking about staying at a backpacker place in Amsterdam for one night (the night that I'll be going out getting shitfaced with my friend) and they wanted $60 a night for a room in a 32 bed dorm - including queen size beds for couples!  I'm pretty open minded but having a randy couple shagging in the bed next to me is not how I want to enjoy my hols.

Packing:

If you need to pack a pair of thongs/flip flops to avoid getting foot diseases, maybe you should stay somewhere else.

Also, why do these people think you need the protection of thongs/flip flops in the shower but then tell you to pack fast drying NYLON underwear?  Really?  Do they not have any understanding what the combination of hot weather and nylon underwear can lead to?  No one wants to spend a holiday with a yeast factory going on in their pants.  Trust me.

Teva sandals - so many travel sites are all over these things so I googled them.  I'd rather die.  They are so freaken ugly.

Hiking shoes - again, WTF?  I can understand it if you are actually going hiking but why would you wear them otherwise?

Another chestnut is to pack some concentrated laundry detergent so you can hand wash stuff.  Because you want to spend every night of your holiday wrist deep in dirty knicker water.  I've done it in emergencies and it takes much, much longer to hand wash stuff than you think.

The washing part is fine, it's wringing stuff out that is the hard work.  Rolling your clothes up in towel and stomping on them helps but even that is limited by the absorbency of the towels -- and, if you are staying at the cheap backpackers mentioned above, you probably have to pack your own towel that you'll need for stuff like showering.

Just pack a bunch of clean knickers to last you.  How much space do knickers take up anyway?  Not a lot.  Then go to a laundrymat.  Sure, that's not much fun but it's a helluva lot more fun than hand washing.

My tip (for chicks): leggings! Not only do they keep your legs warm (or cool in summer if you get the right ones), you don't need to wear knickers with them.  Or maybe wear them with knickers the first day and without the second to extend the number of wears.

My other tip: instead of hand washing, spot clean anything that gets dirty (not knickers, obvs but other clothes) and hang clothes up to air after you wear them whenever possible.

My third tip: soap is soap is soap.  Why carry multiple soaps?  Shampoo, laundry detergent, body soap - they are all the same.  Just pack one.

Ultimate packing tip:
Cute clothes take up the same amount of space as ugly ones.

Other stupid travel advice:

Cook meals at your hostel instead of eating out.  Because you traveled all this way to have some cheap spaghetti and canned sauce in a shoe-boxed size kitchen with a couple of banged up saucepans and chipped plates?  The whole reason for traveling (for me, at least) is to eat awesome food - that is cooked by someone else.

For safety reasons, don't go out alone.  Go with people from your hostel.  Because the rapey creeps are sure to be the locals, not other backpackers?  Just because someone's from your home country, doesn't mean they are trustworthy. And the creeps from the hostel know where you sleep.

Money pouches/belts etc.  To be honest, I giggle like a pre-adolescent boy every time someone uses the word "fanny pack".  If you are English or Australian, it has a whole other meaning. I had a money belt once.  I used it for a day then threw it out.  I have enough padding around my middle without adding to it.  You don't have to be MORE aware in foreign countries than you do at home.  You should be that much aware in your own country too.  No matter what.  Don't sit your wallet/hand bag/purse on the table at a cafe then get wrapped in talking, reading, eating or whatever. Don't hang your handbag on the back of your chair - out of sight.

Money safety tip:  the bra purse.  If someone is fishing around in there to grab my cash, I'm going to know about it.  I use the bra purse all the time, at home as well as when travelling.  I've used it for cash and cards.  I've not tried putting my passport in there but I'm not ruling it out.

For guys, you could probably stash some cash in your socks or socks.

Extra tip - retrieve your cash in private. One time I went for a run and needed to buy some shit from the supermarket on the way home.  I stood at the register, fishing a sweat-drenched $20 out of my bra and then noticed the look of horror on the check-out chick's face.  Yeah, sometimes I'm a bit clueless like that.

On my last holiday, I had all my vital shit like passport, wallet etc in a zipper section of my bag.  I got sick of fishing it out every time I needed to buy something or catch a train, then making sure it was all zipped up and secure so I got a cheap coin purse to hold a few dollars for my immediate needs + my transport card and had that in the main part of my bag.  It made life so much easier.

What is the stupidest piece of travel advice you've ever been given?




17 February 2014

Travel plans are coming together

I don't travel until mid-July but, since July and August are peak travel times in Europe, I've been trying to get all my shit together early so I don't get screwed on prices.  Even though prebooking everything takes the spontaneity out of things, it's better than sleeping on the streets.

Actually, to be honest, I don't get that spontaneity thing that backpackers do.  It sounds like fun, just turning up somewhere without plans, but I've seen them, lugging those heavy packs from one hostel without beds to another, like modern-day Josephs and Marys -- in turtle form.  Unless you have a whole shitload of time, who wants to waste the best part of a day trying to find somewhere to sleep for the night.

Anyway, after trying to get an open jaw ticket or cheap one way flight (see previous post), I gave up.  Now I'm flying in and out of Milan which is pretty central to where I want to be.  I've also booked a few of the city to city flights now.  Maybe I could better prices later on but I didn't want to risk it.

This is the plan:

Milan
Venice
Geneva
Amsterdam
Brussels
Naples
Rome
Florence
Milan

I'm thinking of cutting back my time in Florence though and going to Bologna (we have been having arguments about how to pronounce that).  Mostly because I am not that into pre-20th century art, I hate crowds and I'm allergic to red wine.

God, Amsterdam is freaken expensive.  I thought Tokyo was meant to be the most expensive city in the world but it's nothing on Amsterdam - well for accommodation anyways.  I've been using AirBnB to book most places and have got some good deals.  My absolute hard, upper limit is $AUD50.00 a night but I did go over that to get a decent hotel the first night and also for the night of my friend's wedding since it's in a small town with not many options.