Tzy-yun Liu, who goes by the English name Mars, first traveled to Australia on a working holiday visa. Leaving behind his marketing role at the Taiwanese brand BenQ, Mars landed in Australia to do all manner of part-time and casual jobs. Despite recent media reports highlighting the exploitation of Taiwanese on working holidays, Mars’ experience has been different and his opinions on the topic quite contrary. He is now studying at the University of Tasmania for a Masters in Social Work, and works part-time at a child care center. Here he provides his own insight into his experiences after leaving home on his Oz adventure.
by Stuart Hill, with Mars Tzy-yun LiuSH: Do you think Australian’s take advantage of foreign students or foreign workers?
TYL: Take advantage? That’s a strong comment. I don’t think so. Foreigners have disadvantages, but having said that, Aussies don’t try to manipulate foreign workers — as far as I am aware.
Most Australian companies still follow the rules of work health and safety and there’s an ombudsman that has certain rights to investigate them if any issues emerge. Most illegal employers are non-Caucasians, which is known by most backpackers and international students (possibly some Aussie citizens could be aware of this too). It’s usually said by experienced backpackers that you should never work for an Asian boss if you want to pursue reasonable wages and expect reasonable treatment in the work place!
SH: So why would people work under these unfair conditions?
TYL: As an Asian, I feel some Asian backpackers and students just don’t want to adapt themselves into the Australian culture but would rather work in unfair conditions as they are aware of their own shortfalls.
Some people — such as Asians working on non-permanent visas — prefer to work at $10 per hour, while staying with their Asian peers. I guess that brings them a sense of belonging as they are located in an overseas place. They just physically live in Australia but emotionally and psychologically they are living in their mother country. They never watch local news or TV. Even at $8 per hour they can still make savings due to the relatively strong Australian currency.
However in these cases, they are following the old routines and not the Aussie way to behave in this new society.
SH: It sounds like you have chosen NOT to be like this, why?
TYL: It depends on the individual. I just keep trying…There’s always a chance. I’ve had about 10 different jobs. Some people just don’t want to try if the road is less (or never) travelled by his/her countrymen and women.
My first job was working as a kitchen hand 20 hours a week in Circular Quay. I also worked cash-in-hand at an Asian restaurant in Sydney’s Manly. I was a waiter, but I only did it for a month. I’ve worked as a construction worker for 1 day. I have Australia’s “white card” which lets me do construction work, but I quit because it was too hard and there was no insurance covering me for work injuries — which is highly possible to happen in that industry. It was cash-in-hand, in Canberra. The employer was Chinese.
After that, I realized how important it was to work legally and fairly to secure the best interests for myself as an employee. I feel people have to keep that awareness in mind regardless of what their status is in Australia. Once you are working, you are entitled to certain rights that are protected by law. This awareness will push you to be strong and eventually you will get what you should get.SH: Where have you lived in Australia, what was special about these places, and how are they different to where you have lived in Taiwan?
TYL: I’ve lived in Sydney and Northern Territory and am now located in Tasmania. They all have different characters and charms and they are absolutely very different to anywhere in Taiwan.
The Emerald City of Oz
TYL: Sydney is said by some people to be like any other metropolis in the world. It’s big, packed, hectic and with distance among its people. They could be right, but there’s still a sense of community that exists among suburbs.
I used to live in the eastern suburbs and they are quite socioeconomically advantaged. It’s hard to deny that it has a superior vibe over there; however, through the time I was there I saw different walks of life as I worked in local day-care centers, which allowed me the opportunity to witness part of the local family life.
Apart from the richness in the east of Sydney, people there hold a sense of community as we usually talked about local shops, eateries, weather, etc. It could be about a nice cheap eatery form the corner, biking on the weekend on Bondi beach (well, that could be interpreted as tourism but it’s actually part of local life), or who’s mum gave birth to a new baby. The longer I worked there, the more people I became familiar with and the more that kind of community sense was emerging. And I reckon once you start to get yourself involved in community, there will always be some nice people to drag you in even deeper.
Except for that, Sydney undoubtedly has some awesome natural beauty which is witnessed every day and everywhere. They have (mostly) beautiful weather and a handful of beaches (well at least for the east and inner west, taking prob 30 mins to get there). Imagine passing by the Sydney Harbour Bridge commuting every day or doing breathtaking coastal walks not far from your doorstep. I believe it’s worthwhile to spend a period of time living in this city.
The Outback of the Northern Territory of Australia
TYL: Northern Territory is another kind of authentic Aussie experience. Most people might get confused when hearing of moving to outback Australia. It could be hard to live there in the first place, but things get settled down once you get familiar with the surroundings.
You can imagine the heat, wilderness, and possibly the danger there. People can’t imagine living in a roadhouse with just 6 residents while the closest town is 300 km away (regardless of a village with 60 residents which is 60 km away; well they are lucky to have a police station!).
No mobile reception, no supermarket, no daily newspaper, with only TV channels 7 and 9 available. I could only spend 5 bucks per week to get an ice cream, with nothing else to spend my money on (which could be nice in terms of savings!).
I reckon it’s all about a sense of connection and belonging. People did feel that I was strange, as I am possibly the first or only Asian they have seen in their lifetime. I couldn’t even communicate with them, which brought up conflicts in the beginning. Having said that, they are people with a true Aussie spirit as they are genuine, and once they know you they will gradually include you and share life with you. That can be really fun as the lives of cattle station people, truckies (truck drivers), and national wanderers are so unbelievable.
These moments in the outback not only empowered my physical skills, such as language and working skills, but also enhanced “soft” perspectives such as reflecting on myself and my life journey. Eventually I become good mates with all my customers and they jokingly said I didn’t have to leave as the Immigration Dept. wouldn’t find me in the middle of nowhere!
I was also invited to visit a massive thousand-hectare cattle station, which felt like walking into a movie scene; and trust me, not just any tourist would have that chance! I am proud of being a Territorian, and that does change me as a person.
Australia’s Southern Isle of Tasmania
TYL: Tasmania is totally opposite to Northern Territory (NT) as it’s seriously freezing weather-wise. It has some similarities to NT as most mainland people feel awkward if someone is moving to the Apple Isle with Australia’s highest unemployment and possibly more corresponding socioeconomic problems.
However, I love it here for being compact enough but always picturesque at every corner. Meanwhile because of the small scale of the capital, it owns this strong sense of community as you can meet anyone somewhere always unexpectedly! I reckon that helps for new comers to build a sense of belonging, as you realize that this is where you will always have someone. And certainly people are still or way more friendly than mainlanders!
I am invited by local families to have parties or meals with them, either with my colleagues or church friends. Though we don’t have much fancy stuff like in Melbourne or Sydney (well, we can do seasonal shopping in Melbourne by an hours flight away if you want!) but we do possess awesome people and a ridiculously arty vibe (many gigs happening around town all the time and MONA!), not to mention we have a 24hrs Kmart; Sydney doesn’t!
We have heaps of lovely tiny markets with proudly Tassie produce. Ignoring the terrible weather (could be an advantage as we are Snowbart!), Tassie is a wonderful place once you can support yourself — at least you won’t be starving!
SH: Coming from Taiwan, how do you feel about the cost of living in Australia? It must feel like a very expensive place to live…
TYL: I think you know everyone feels it is expensive here. But when compared to (what you can earn on) a legal and regular income, Australia is not really expensive, especially if you buy groceries and cook at home. Most people cook. Food is cheap when compared to a reasonable hourly income rate. Clothing as well.