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First Six Months in LA
Moving to LA, Posts

The first six months in LA

Two years on: the first six months are the hardest

We’re in the thick of the first semester and it’s getting harder to work out what’s for dinner each night and we’re struggling to get up in the morning.  Isn’t that a sure sign the novelty’s worn off and you’re in normality?

It’s a lot easier this time around than two years ago–our first six months in LA–though.

It’s nearing the end of October and it’s still so warm.  Despite this everyone here seems to be very excited about “Fall”.  I’m not exactly sure why.  It could be the cooler weather (well that’s not happening), the smells of Fall like cinnamon and fires (that’s not happening either) or the prospect of a little rain (nope, still not happening).

I’ve started noticing people on the East Coast dressing up and the Coats starting to come on and the magazines are filled with darker colours.  But here in LA the only thing that’s not playing the game is the weather.

I don’t get the Fall love.  It feels more like Spring to me (apart from the leaves falling from the trees).  It’s still warm and probably has more to do with the fact that I’m intrinsically trained to think that September and October are the Spring months.  I don’t know, maybe it’s a wavelength thing.

When we first arrived we didn’t want the weather to cool down as we’d just come out of an Australian winter (yes it’s mild but still winter) and the prospect of back-to-back winters was not something I was looking forward to—no matter how mild they were.

The first six months

It’s time to continue with my series on looking back at our first couple of years here.  I left you having found a place to live and the kids accepted at a private school here in LA.  All was going well until reality set in.

It’s so true of moving anywhere that the first six months are the hardest.  But you’d think a girl from Sydney moving to LA—California—with a few moves under her belt would not have such a tough time.  Right?  Wrong.

Let me tell you the first six months are the pits.  The honest-to-goodness pits.  Then they can be exhilaratingly good: everything is new, life is an adventure and things as simple as grocery shopping can be a challenge.  I was used to that in China but not America—land of the ultra big supermarket.  But when I had to buy bullet chilies for example, I had to go to an Asian grocer because they don’t sell them at the normal supermarket.  That’s right, all the chilies are Mexican.

So then the challenges become nightmares.  The glass half full starts to look more empty.

Even things like paying bills I have to think twice.  No more BPay or Direct Debit.  I’ve caught myself a couple of times saying, “how do I pay you?” to which the response is generally always, “Well I take a check,” yes not a cheque.  That means I’ll have to go to the Post Office and buy stamps.  Such a foreign concept for me.

Anyway, It’s true the most important thing to do is to find a school and somewhere to live.  But once you’ve moved in, done a bit of sightseeing and getting around … then what?

So I started going to visit different areas checking them out, taking photos and posting lots of “cool” stuff on Instagram.  But there’s only so much of that you can do.  On your own.  We all go through it.  And we all get over it.

I remember hearing about some women in Shanghai living far out in the “suburbs” feeling lonely and depressed.  If I felt lonely and depressed and I live in the middle of Beverly Hills—with a car to drive myself around and a working internet connection—it’s a wonder they survived their long weekdays.

That’s why you can’t write this post at the time.  No, you need the benefit of “I live to tell the tale” behind you and a bit of perspective.

LA Private School

I remember the first time I went to school to the Orientation, the Welcome BBQ and even to pick up the kids in carpool I was feeling very intimidated.  I imagined everyone being rich and groovy and famous.  If not then they’d look like something out of Housewives of Beverly Hills.  I thought I’d be the beached whale—helpless out of water and a little larger than my LA counterparts.

Last weekend–two years on–I volunteered to help at the school’s Open House and if I wasn’t comfortable with my place at school by then, I am now.  Granted they’re not in yet but there were some interesting looking people.  Why do we always doubt ourselves in a new environment?  Why can’t we—I—back myself and be confident I would fit in?

Scattered amongst some rather good-looking people were fat people, skinny people, daggy people and just plain weird people.  I actually started to think that I fit into LA life better than some of these people.  How’s that for a turnaround?  And, I wonder if the family that came in matching-coloured tops—five of them—and daggy footwear will get in?


It’s true as a family moving into 90210 and finding ourselves at a school with well-known identities we’ve done our fair share of Googling.  What did we do without it?

I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned it before my daughter is friends with the son of arguably one of the most famous people in the world, certainly one of the most successful.  She’s recently told us that her friend is obsessed with Mr H’s company and thinks it’s the coolest thing in the world.  And, in an interesting turn of events he was telling her how he’s been Googling Mr H.  Wow, Mr H being Googled by said famous offspring.  How funny.  It’s all about perspective.

What else do you need to know when moving to LA?

Back to those first few months.  The most frustrating thing would have to be …

Credit rating, credit rating, credit rating

… it affects everything.  Literally everything.

When Mr H tried to connect up to our Direct TV “cable” service there were specials on at the time.  Ready to go ahead he found out that our price would be higher than the advertised special price.  Because we had no credit rating.

Same thing when we went to open our Electricity account.  We needed a giant deposit because we had no credit rating.  Aren’t they supposed to help people with no credit?  Isn’t that discrimination?

Everywhere we turned it came down to credit.

Luckily, with a Citibank account in Australia we were able to open up an account in the US.  And, once Mr H said he’d get his salary paid into the account we could open a credit card.

To this date I don’t really have any accounts in my name—something I should seriously try to do.

We were also lucky we could get a car—actually two.  That was thanks to BMW recognising that Executives tend to move around so if they’ve previously owned a BMW in another country they’ll take a look at you.  Thank you BMW!

Two years later on the whole credit thing

Two years later and I’m still tossing up whether or not to buy a house here.  The good news is we can get a mortgage, the bad news is we need a sizeable deposit.  And they still look at your bloody credit rating. The rate they give you actually depends on your credit rating–the better your credit the sweeter the deal.  The lower your credit rating, the higher the interest rate. Wow, way to go America, nothing like being supportive and helping those trying to get ahead in life.  Keep the poor downtroden and the rich richer.  OMG. Granted ours is better now but the fact that we’ve only had a credit rating for two years tends to go against you.  Go figure.


I’m off to keep Googling.  Who knows? Maybe my daughter’s friend will start Googling me and subscribing to this Blog.  That’d be cool—so long as he tells Chuck Lorre he loves it.

Enjoy the rest of your week. Happy Fall!

xx It Started in LA xx


Moving to LA, My LA story, Posts

Two years ago: finding schools in LA

This time two years ago was quite a significant milestone moment for us as it was a rude awakening that this LA “thing” might actually happen.

Cut back two years and six weeks ago Mr H got a call from an old boss with four questions:

  1. How’s the family?
  2. Do you still hate your job?
  3. Would you consider moving to LA?
  4. How quickly can you get here?

Then I got the call from Mr H:

“I’m about to rock your world,” he said. “F called,” he started. We were down at our beach house on the South Coast of NSW getting ready for a long weekend with friends. We’d prepared the menu, bought the grog and I was out in the car with a friend heading to the Bottlo to get a couple of extra bottles of champagne—just in case as we hate to run out.

“Oh my god,” I interrupted. “Is he in town? Coming to town? It’s OK, he can have the spare room…” as I proceeded to play musical beds and musical rooms so we could fit in an extra person…

“…And I’ve got seafood which he loves so it’ll be all good.”

“He wants to know if you would move to LA,” he said once I’d done with my ranting.

“What? Sorry? Huh? LA? I hate LA. Remember? Been there done that never coming back?”

“I knew you’d say that.”

It’s true Mr H and I went to LA with my best friend and her boyfriend when we were all of 19 or 20. LA didn’t really do it for us and I had absolutely no desire to go back. So why would I want to live there?

“Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God.”

By this time my girlfriend, sitting in the car next to me is wondering what on earth is going on. I looked at her and shook my head.

Digesting the concept

It was a crazy weekend of utter shock that some 36 hours ago we just got that call to move to Hollywood and Mr H had gone back up to Sydney to attend a video call to get briefed on the job. The job was to run the post-production division of a multinational company. He would be based in Hollywood and he’d have to work with all the studios and production houses. To say the weekend was a daze with endless workshopping, dreaming, reality checking and more workshopping was an understatement. And let’s just say there was a LOT of champagne (and wine) drunk as we all tried to come to terms with the prospect of moving to LA. Those extra bottles came in handy—we didn’t run out.

We too’d and fro’d with the pros and the cons but first practically had to come into play.

Schools in LA

We thought we’d be very systematic about the possible move: pinpoint work (Hollywood), find a decent school not too far away then find somewhere to live.  Sounds easy enough.

Contrary to how it looks on Beverly Hills 90210 and the OC the LA public school system is in shambles—especially as you get to Middle and High School. There are a few good school districts in South Pasadena, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and the Bay areas but they either require a long commute to Hollywood for Mr H or require me to sell my body to pay the rent in Santa Monica or Beverly Hills. Then you have to be in the right zone for the “better” school in that area.  (Read: it’s not as straight forward as let’s rent a house in Santa Monica and we can go to Lincoln Middle School.  Thankfully we didn’t find that out the hard way.) The public school system in LA is not easy to navigate—and when you have finding a house in the zone is like playing the lotto.

So as I was coming to terms with the fact that US high schools aren’t like they are on TV and my kids weren’t going to have a Breakfast Club/Sixteen Candles/Ferris Bueller/90210 high school experience moving to LA started to look a little bleak.  Both kids are thriving at great schools in Sydney and education is so important to my family (my dad drilled that into me from a young age) that we’re not going to a below-standard school just because Hollywood is knocking on our door.

(Now I wonder if they’ll get the chance to have a College experience like Pitch Perfect?)

I emailed a few people and the resounding response was private school. There go my dreams to be rid of private school fees and enjoy my life. Plus, America being America, private schools aren’t subsidised so we got a rude shock to see not only weren’t we saving any money but it would cost us more money than it does in Sydney.

I knew the prospect of a Hollywood lifestyle was too good to be true.

But I ploughed ahead and started researching websites to see what schools we liked and what we didn’t. We rated them and I started the arduous task of ringing admissions directors. It was now May 2013 and applications closed in late December 2012 and offers were made earlier in the year. There’s a shortage of places at LA private schools—because the public ones are in such a state—so all of a sudden our dream of moving to Hollywood was shattered.  No school=no move.

Because of the time difference I would set the alarm for 4:00am Sydney time (which was 11am the day before in LA) and start making calls. It’s pretty hard to pitch your family and your kids to an Admissions Director with a full enrolment at that time in the morning.

Some were helpful, others felt for me, others didn’t care.

I got traction at two schools. A great start. The next hurdle was sitting the ISEE test. What on god’s earth is that? Well it’s a standardised test (Independent School Entrance Exam) that most of the private schools use to test would-be students.

Can’t we just skip that bit? How do we do it in Sydney?  My  kids are doing well in school, here are copies of standardised tests they’ve completed here…

Well as matter of fact there is a location that administers the test in Sydney.  It was a pain in the backside booking two appointments at the same time because the system would only allow one student at a time (I guess what are the chances of two kids wanted to sit an entrance exam for private school in the US in Sydney?). There was no one to talk to either at the location or at the head office (another alarm set for 2am this time to try to reach someone in the New York office). Nothing about this stage was even remotely easy.

So Mr H took the day off work, we all went in hoping they’d say that both kids could sit the test together—no luck—so I sat with one while Mr H took the other home then came back again to swap kids while I waited the entire day given it was a ruling that the parent or guardian had to stay with the child the whole time. And the ID rules were so stringent it was as stressful as anything formal here in the US. One thing wrong and you have to reschedule—and pay for it all over again as there’s a cancellation fee involved don’t you know? A day I’ll never get back. An experience I’d rather not have to relive. But I was so proud of my kids, they did it.

It wasn’t until we got to LA that we heard that kids are tutored for this exam and some take it a few times until they get the score they want to give them a better chance to get into their school of choice.

This was my first glimpse into the privatised world that America is—there is a company making money for a service (which comes at a fee) for everything.

Playing the waiting game

With two schools secured (with no promises even now there’s room for one or both of them) and another interview secured at a school for my daughter it was time to look into public schools.

Public schools have open days where you can come and check them out. I was still in Australia for these so via our relocation agent we put calls into Santa Monica and Beverly Hills both of whom said they were so overworked they didn’t have time for private tours. Tell me that didn’t put me right off.  And they’re supposed to be the good ones.


Such an emotional rollercoaster that whole “will we move; won’t we move”, “can we move; can’t we move” thing.  At least when there’s little or no choice like “normal” expat assignments you know the city is geared up for you. Shanghai, for example, has plenty of expat housing (not all good by the way), a number of international schools and the company you’re moving with has some degree of leverage because they’re responsible for not just your school fees but a number of others.

What I remember most about this time was how applying for schools was anything but straight forward. Simply having a place was not a guarantee of entry. You had to pass the test but you just don’t know what that (or those) tests are.

It’s a bit like a Seinfeld episode:

“Great, so you’ve got room for both my kids?”

“We have the flexibility to admit your kids but first you have to apply.”

“So is it worth my applying if there’s no room?”

“We have room but you have to apply.”

“Oh so there’s room for both my kids so if I apply, based on what you’ve seen and what I’ve told you then there’s a good chance we’re in.”

“Go ahead and complete the application and proceed with the tests, we’ll have a better idea of what our enrolments will look like once you’ve done those and we’ve interviewed you.”

Wowsers … I hope passing school isn’t as hard as getting in.

Nonetheless we hopped on a plane bound for LA not sure what to expect when we got there.

xx It Started in LA xx

Next week … looking for somewhere to live


Homeless, Hermés & Godspell

I went to my first Kings game of the season last week.  Great way to cure jet lag.  I love watching the Ice Hockey, it’s so action-packed.  (Going to a game of any sort is on my top 10 things to do in LA).

I have been going with a friend of mine who is a staunch fan with season tickets.  Kings fans are like Collingwood fans—crazy.  But (in the King’s case anyway) great.  That guarantees that the atmosphere is electric and the stands are like a sea of King’s jerseys.  (For those of you not clued into Hockey trivia the King’s won the Stanley Cup (Grand Final) last year so we’re talking big deal for LA).  My favourite by far are the goal keepers.  I can barely follow the puck let alone stop it going into goal.


Go Kings Go


Two funny things about the ice-hockey though:

  1. The scantily clad girls who clear the ice every few minutes. And yes, they have their own website.
  2. The “control” of the fans.  When they want the fans to start chanting and cheering their cry, “Go Kings Go” they play the theme.  That cues everyone to start the chant.  At one game I tried to start the chant in our group and couldn’t get any momentum at all.  Unlike at the footy or cricket at home, it just takes one person to start and they’re all in.

Anyway, on our way to the car park there’s a homeless guy asking for money.  My girlfriend says to me, “Oh god I’ve got nothing for him today.  We usually collect ones and fives and when we go to the game we give them to him.  Oh well I’m back Saturday so I’ll give him some then.”

I thought nothing of it.  Over the summer holidays a homeless guy was standing at the exit to the car park at the Pier in Santa Monica with a sign saying, “Need money for beer.”  My girlfriend and I thought his honesty was worthy of a couple of dollars.  Then, when I took the wrong turn and ended up back in the car park again we gave him more money.  Seeing people asking for money is just one of those unfortunate things you get used to seeing here.

Then the guy yells out to my friend, “Hi!”  Now the good thing about (most) homeless people is they don’t yell out to you.  My girlfriend winds down her window (figuratively speaking of course but pushing the button to open her window doesn’t quite sound the same) and holds her hands up and says, “I know.  I’m sorry, I don’t have any spare cash today.  I’m back Saturday I’ll give you some then.”  He’s yelling back at her all happy and she says again, “Yeah I know, I’m sorry.  Saturday.”

“Oh my god,” I said to her.  “He full-on knows you and remembers your car.”  Of course he does but I was blown away that this guy knows my friends car and waves to her because he knows there’s a 95 per cent chance she’s giving him some money.

“Congratulations,” I said, “you’ve made my Blog”.

Only in LA.  Well maybe only in America?


I love tennis Fridays.  I’ve been playing tennis for years now and I’m still bad at it yet I actually love it.  We have a really nice group of girls (I was terrified of joining a tennis group here in the US for fear they’d be so competitive and it couldn’t be further from that—still we all like to win!).  One of the girls’ sons is going to Australia for Christmas to stay with his (ex) girlfriend’s family so she’s been asking me for advice regarding “gift giving”.

She covered off a Christmas present for the girlfriend and next she wanted to know if she should get the mother something.  “That would be lovely,” I said.  “Just something small to say thank you.”  I said (quite unimaginatively) like a candle or a coffee-table book.”

She thinks for a minute.

“Oh, I was thinking of a Hermes scarf.”

“Oh, OK.  How sweet,” I said.  “That’s so Beverly Hills,” I said with a loving giggle.

If this was my sitcom and there was a soundtrack there would be brakes screeeaching right about now.  Oops.  Didn’t go down so well?

“You’re so sweet, I was just thinking something little, you know? to say thank you.  A nice little token.  God if it was me I’d love a Hermes scarf.”

“Well I was thinking of the bracelets, you know the coloured ones with the H on them, but I think the scarf is a little more appropriate.”

“Yes, I know the ones, you’re right, the scarf is much more appropriate.”

“Of course, that’s you, you’re so gorgeous that’s a lovely gift.  Yes, she’d love it.”

Did I get away with it?  I think I got away with it.

My Chinese name is “not one to dwell” (in joke) so of course I couldn’t help but ponder my gaff.  Then I had a horrible thought.  What if this girl’s mum is a bogan who won’t like the Hermes scarf let alone appreciate it and to make matters worse scoff at it?

So I continued to dig my hole.

“What area does she come from?”


(OK, good start.)

“What area of Sydney,” I asked.

“I’m not sure.  Why?”

“Well, I was just thinking that … well … if she lives in certain parts of the City she may well … ummm … not … ummm … appreciate a Hermés scarf.”

“Really?” she looked at me puzzled clearly thinking who in the world would not like a Hermes scarf.

“Yes, well, ummm, there are people who may not … well … appreciate it.  Yes.  I mean … ummm if it were me of course I would but … well … some may not necessarily …  And that would be such a shame because it’s such a lovely thought and … (help me!) …”

“She’s English so I always pictured English women very stylish, they always are when I visit.”

“Oh, yes, absolutely, in London they completely are.”

“Well I guess that’s where I always go, yes, London.”

“..  But .. well .. umm .. in other parts, say the Country, they’re not all stylish, some can be … well …  a little more … ummm … dowdy.  (Then I picture Penelope Keith from The Good Life who would definitely consider herself very stylish and very Hermes-worthy.  Barbara on the other hand would not be Hermes-receptive.  There I rest my case.  And of course my friends are—stylish—but they’re different, they’re not all like them.)

Oh my god, can this please be over.  (Now I’ve just offended my English friends–you get what I mean though don’t you?).

She’s still puzzled (possibly even more so) and extremely perplexed.

“So,” I continue positively, “let me know where they live and I’ll let you know if that will go down well or not.  Don’t forget!”

“OK,” she says, “I will.”

Is it over?  Is it safe for me to rear my ugly head?  Oh god.  Sixteen months in 90210 and I’m still digging myself a hole.

I do wonder if she’s from the North Shore, Eastern Suburbs or way out west.  You know there is a difference.  The same as there is be a difference here.  Now curiosity has got the better of me and I’m dying to know where they live.  Sometimes “not-one-to-dwell” should be “leave-it-the-hell-alone”.

Stay tuned to see if she gets back to me re where they’re from.


On Saturday night we went to the final show of the school production Godspell.  School productions aren’t quite what they used to be are they?  I’ve been impressed by all the productions schools have put on—since we’ve been at a few school now such is the life of an Expat.  I’m the one with tears rolling down my eyes and beaming with pride.  I am, in fact, quite embarrassing.

Those of you who know me will know I have a penchant for singing.  It started in the shower then turned more serious chasing karaoke nights—first around Japanese restaurants in Melbourne and then more seriously around Balmain pubs and has graduated to trying desperately to get myself up with the band to sing a few numbers.

I used to be an amazing singer.  I made the choir in Grade six and we went all the way up to Ballarat to sing in an Eisteddfod.  I wanted singing lessons  so badly but they never happened(you know, only to get much better of course).  I don’t know why I never tried out for any of my school plays.  My ex-boyfriend was in a band and I tried so hard to get a gig as the lead singer.  Somehow they never took me up on my offer.  I think it must’ve been because they didn’t want a couple in the band.  Yeah I’m sure that’s it.  If I had my time again (and there was such a thing) I’d be in Glee Club.  And form a rock band.  What a waste of talent right here …

My kids go to a very small private school here in LA.  If you’ve been following along for a while you’ll know that there are a number of famous alumni and a number of famous parents.  Well tonight I saw a number of performances that I’m sure will make the number of famous alumni grow.

It’s not often I name names but watch this space for Cameron Defaria, Kylee Evans, Rio Thoroughgood, Greta Pasqua and Ella Beatty who each gave stand-out performances with great voices.  I hear you protest that you’ve seen some amazing performances at your school and local productions.  I couldn’t agree more.  But when there are Hollywood agents and famous parents in a small and extremely intimate audience you already have a headstart.

As usual the audience was packed with famous identities.  But tonight must be the first time my eyes didn’t wander, no my eyes didn’t leave the stage.  So much so that when we left the carpark my son said, “Wow mum you sat three seats away from Gary Oldman.”

My son, the most celebrity-adverse in our family.  Saw Gary Oldman.  Sitting next to me.

“I what?  Stop it.  Get out of town.”

Epic fail.  I confess looking for Wazza and Annette in the front row but that was the extent of my rubbernecking.  My girlfriend had also jokingly said to keep a lookout for him (Gazza—she has a rather soft spot for him) and I forgot all about it.  Damn you cast of 12 talented boys and girls.  Damn you.

I guess it’s back to LA life with a bang.  Never a dull moment.  I’m so thankful I live where I do and this is part of my everyday reality.  There’s no time to be homesick or worry about what I’m missing at home.

xx It Started in LA xx

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