I was contacted a few days ago by a recent immigrant to Ypsilanti by the name of Rob Noonan. Rob and his wife, Rose, just moved here from Australia to open a traditional Chinese medicine clinic… Here’s Rob’s official immigration interview.
MARK: Why Ypsi of all places? We don’t get a lot of immigrants from Australia… at least that I’ aware of.
ROB: You know, a lot of people ask that… not the least of which were the Customs and Border Protection agents that we encountered. One guy actually didn’t believe that I wanted to move to Michigan, much less Ypsilanti, and started asking a lot of very serious questions, because, in his words, it “makes no sense.” “Who would move to Michigan?,” he said. “What’s there?”
There are a lot of reasons that Ypsi has worked out. It started out as a good option because it’s close to Ann Arbor, so the laid back attitude and the openness to new and different ideas (like Chinese Medicine and acupuncture) kind of bleeds across. So we’ve got a good demographic, but without the price tag of Ann Arbor (which we could not have afforded, as it costs a small fortune to move across continents, and get things sorted out so that you can apply for the a visa). The Shadow Art Fair also gave us the impression that Ypsi was a place open to this sort of business might work. (In Australia to get the right demographic for any kind of alternative health venture means being in an inner suburb, which is very expensive. We could never have owned our own place that way.) Also, with Eastern Michigan University here, it gives us access to the student population, which is a demographic that’s increasingly open to alternative health.
Once we started looking at Ypsi it seemed to have more and more going for it. The town had a vibe we liked. It’s “city” enough to have the things that we wanted, but not too busy… It’s not too fast and choked up… The town has issues, but it seems to want to work on them rather than give up, like some other places that we looked at. And a lot of that seems to come less from the local government and more from people supporting each other’s local business, making a difference in their own way. We’ve kind of put it down to the frontier mentality that Ypsi was founded with (from my reading up on a little of Ypsi history). That ties in well with some of what we want to do. My wife is by nature a healer. She wants to help people, and this is a place where she might be able to make a difference, as people may not be able to afford traditional health care for chronic conditions. To start with, she’d like to offer discounts for certain patients (students, veterans, emergency services, and a few others we’re expanding towards) and eventually, when the business has picked up, she’d like to volunteer her services one day a week, or something similar.
Sorry that answer kind of got away from me there…. Why Ypsi? Lots of reasons. And more anytime we start to look at it, I guess. It seems like the best place in Michigan for us.
MARK: OK, that explains why you chose Ypsilanti, but why did you decide on Michigan? There are surely other towns in the U.S., outside of Michigan, where your wife might have had a good chance of making a go of it as a practitioner of Chinese medicine.
ROB: We have some really good friends in Michigan. When we first started coming to the U.S. on holidays, a few years ago, we visited Michigan. I wanted to meet a friend I’d made online, and we met up on Mackinac Island. Rose and I spent a few days there and a couple of days in Lansing. We’d already been talking about moving to the U.S., once Rose had finished her degree, and we both fell in love with Michigan on that visit. From there it was a case of looking at the practicalities, and, given Michigan was one of the hardest hit places by the U.S. downturn, it also seems to be on the forefront of recovery (at least in some aspects). So it seemed like a good choice. Rose has never seen snow in her life, so she was really excited about being somewhere that it snows, and she loves the autumn. And seeing how green Michigan was in the summer was enough to sell her on how it must look in autumn.
MARK: Can I ask how you made your friend online?
ROB: We were both a part of the same forum and, because of the time zone difference, tended to end up in the chat room there at the same time. I guess when you spend an extended amount of time around someone, virtually or in the real world, you either become friends or don’t. We had a lot of things in common and enjoyed each other’s virtual company so friendship kind of just happened.
MARK: At the risk of unearthing something about you that I don’t want to know, and/or you don’t want to share, what kind of online forum was it?
ROB: It was a metaphysics forum, so nothing all that scary or surprising.
MARK: My knowledge of Australia is somewhat limited… My friend Doug was in the movie Crocodile Dundee II. According to the credits, he had the role of “Toilet Citizen.” It’s been awhile since I’ve seen it, but I think he might say something to one of the film’s main characters as he urinates. Do you remember his performance?
ROB: I did have to go and look up that scene as it doesn’t come to mind.
MARK: OK, I looked it up for you. Consider it a housewarming gift… That’s my friend who looks out over the top of the stall after Paul Hogan threatens to cut off the penis of his urinating enemy, portrayed by Stephen Root.
Does this kind of happen a lot in Australia? And, now that you’re here, should we expect to have it happen to us?
ROB: It doesn’t happen all that often. Certainly not that I’ve heard of, at any rate! No worries though, I’m not planning on starting here.
MARK: Do you carry a knife?
ROB: Not since I’ve moved, I’m still not sure what the Michigan knife laws are, so I’m not sure that I’m meant to. Back in Australia, there were occasions on the farm, or when out in the bush, that carrying a knife was the same as putting on pants.
MARK: Speaking of Crocodile Dundee, what are some of the more common misconceptions you find that people have about Australia?
ROB: Misconceptions… well probably the biggest one is that the whole of Australia is outback. We’ve had friends come out to visit from the U.S. and be surprised that we have running water, cities, electricity… and that we all drive cars instead of riding kangaroos! While a lot of Australia is outback, and Rose and I both grew up on farms (separate farms, we aren’t that rural!) even that wasn’t desert. Most people live in the cities along the coast. Probably the other big misconception would be about food… We don’t really drink Fosters, and generally what we throw on the barbie are snags (beef sausages). Occasionally we’ll barbie up some prawns, but we don’t really call them shrimp. While not a misconception, the differences in language do tend to throw us, and others, a little. For example we wear thongs on our feet, which here are called “flip flops”… which is why we get funny looks when we say, “Hang on, I don’t want to walk in the dirt, let me put my thongs on.”
MARK: So, we’ve talked a lot about Rose, and her profession, but what do you do? Is the plan to have you working on the business end of things, while she handles the patient care, or do you do something different altogether?
ROB: I used to work in IT before moving into project management, and it’s the project management skills that I’m bringing to the business here. Rose is a wonderful doctor, but she really doesn’t like paperwork. All the paperwork, advertising and running of the business will be on me, leaving her free to treat patients.
MARK: How did your ancestors come to be in Australia? And, yes, this is my polite way of asking if they were criminals.
ROB: Rose’s ancestors were all English immigrants about 4 generations back so all upstanding citizens there. From my side mum’s parents came over from Italy as immigrants and legitimate businessmen. Dad’s Great Grandparents came over from Ireland/England as convicts as far as we can tell, the records are little bit funky at that point but the generally accepted view is that if there is no solid records then they were probably convicts. The time line for my dad’s side is also a little skewed as there is some confusion if it was dad’s grandparents or great grandparents.
MARK: If you had to guess, what do you think that your ancestors might have done to earn the trip to Australia?
ROB: At the risk of digging over old politics… being Irish? Chances are it was something reasonably petty, a lot of petty theft criminals ended up being deported back then.
MARK: Where did Rose learn acupuncture and Chinese medicine?
ROB: Rose began studying Traditional Chinese Medicine at Victoria University in St Albans before a course restructure had her finishing the degree at the Southern School of Natural Therapies Melbourne campus, but still done through Victoria University. Acupuncture was a significant part of the course as a treatment method, and, over the seven years Rose was working on her degree, she did seven clinical rotations at three different clinical sites, which gave her a broader exposure than a lot of students get.
MARK: So, how much time did you spend in Michigan prior to making the decision to move here?
ROB: We came out to Michigan a few times, first on holidays, and then as part of the moving process. I had to come out a few times to try to set-up business bank accounts and arrange a lot of the paperwork that can only be done in person, and also to have a look at Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, although I really didn’t get a lot of time to do that. We also had to come out for Rose to sit some of exams here in Michigan so that her Australian degree would be recognised here in the U.S… and took the opportunity to go to the Ren Fair since we really don’t have them in Australia. We didn’t really get as much time here as we had wanted, and, when we bought our house, it was after having a friend look at it for us and send us a video. It was a little scary buying it sight unseen, but it worked out.
MARK: Tell us a little about the practice that you and your wife will be opening. What is it that you’ll be doing?
ROB: We’ll be offering a fully personalised diagnosis and treatment plan. The initial appointment is very detailed and runs for about 90 minutes. During that time, Rose uses a variety of traditional Chinese medical diagnosis techniques to make a Traditional Chinese Medicine diagnosis, which is very different from Western medical terminology, and then offer a number of treatment options. Subsequent appointments run for 60 minutes, since the bulk of the patient’s history and symptoms have already been recorded during the initial appointment.
The treatments can range from acupuncture to traditional Chinese herbal formulas, electro-acupuncture, massage, moxabustion, cupping and dietary and lifestyle advice.
Over the last few years Rose has developed a very gentle bedside manner and adjusts her treatment approach to the client’s needs; as one of her first patients, I’ve forced her to be broad in that respect being incredibly needle phobic. (I go into shock when having blood drawn, but Rose is able to do acupuncture on me effectively.)
Aside from offering individualized treatment, one of the things which we are doing, which is a little different, is to offer tiered paying options for active military, veterans, emergency services personnel, seniors, students and a people associated with a number of community groups. They’ll get their initial appointments discounted to $60 (down from $100), and their subsequent appointments will be $55 (down from $80).
Also anyone refereed by an existing client, or even by way of this interview, will get the initial 90 minute appointment discounted to the rate of the regular 60 minute appointment ($80 down from $100). This is a little different than most places, but a major part of being in this line of work for Rose is about healing and helping people.
Being able to offer ongoing discounted treatments to certain groups is particularly important for us since a lot of the things that Rose can help mange are long term and chronic conditions like bad backs, fatigue, depression, allergies, fibromyalgia, anxiety, stress and migraines.
MARK: Are there any questions you have about Ypsilanti, things that either my readers or I might be able to help you with?
ROB: Best place to get good Chinese food? Honestly there isn’t a lot that comes to mind, everyone we have met so far has been very friendly and helpful but any suggestions on places to go, things to see and do would be grand.
ROB: It was when I first started the research to see if Ypsi was going to be the right place for us. Demographic-wise it sounded good, but I wanted to get a feel for the town and the people, so I started reading the paper online, reading police reports, subscribing to Ypsi city email lists and, somewhere along the way, I stumbled on this site. And I’ve been following it ever since, so that was maybe 18 months ago or so.
MARK: I was just curious if you found the series of Ypsi Immigration Interviews useful.
ROB: Absolutely. It reiterated all the reasons that Ypsi seemed like the right place for us, and it also helped us see some of the things about Ypsi that we’d missed ourselves. It was also reassuring to read about other people coming to Ypsi to make a go of it, maybe not from as far away, but that just meant there was a better chance they’d seen more of Ypsi than we had.
MARK: What part of town did you settle in, and where will you be opening the office?
ROB: We bought a house just down from Parkridge Park, in the south of Ypsi, and we’re renting office space at 124 Pearl Street, in the Centennial Plaza building. The office is open as of this coming weekend, the 6th of September. The last of the paperwork, licensing, insurance and equipment arrived this week. And, in a few weeks time, we’re looking at also doing a day a week out in Jackson.
MARK: I hate to overdo the Australian stuff, but I’m curious if you’ll be going to see Colin Hay tomorrow in Ann Arbor. If you should see him, as you’re sitting in the audience, is there a special way that you would convey to him that you’re from Australia? I mean, would you just yell, “I’m from Australia too,” or is there some kind of hand-sign or look that you could give him that would convey that message?
ROB: No, we won’t be going to the show. We’ve got other engagements tomorrow. As for how one Australian would make himself known to another, there’s a chant that’s used at sporting matches, but it isn’t really appropriate at other venues. That said, our accent tends to stand out somewhat, particularly here in the U.S.
MARK: Was Men at Work actually popular in Australia, or was that more of an American phenomenon?
ROB: At the time it was more of an American thing. These days, though, “I come from a land downunder” is a pretty popular drinking song. Incidentally, Mark, would you like vegemite sandwich?
MARK: …Because I apparently can’t stop with the Australian stuff, I also feel compelled to share that I liked INXS quite a bit, at least in their early years, before it became a band about Michael Hutchence’s torso. I listened to Shabooh Shoobah and The Swing a hell of a lot… Were you a fan?
ROB: Honestly the height of their career was kinda before my time. I heard some of their music when my sister was playing it, but it wasn’t really popular by the time I was listening to much in the way of music.
MARK: So, you’re calling me old?
ROB: I wouldn’t say old, just older than me. If I were calling you old, I’d have to risk calling my sister old… and that would end poorly for me, even if I’m on the other side of the world.
MARK: I’m sorry for all of these Australian pop culture questions, but I rarely get the opportunity to talk with Aussies here in Ypsi, and I have a big backlog of questions… Can you explain the popularity of Neighbours?
ROB: Heh, nope. I don’t think anyone can. If I had to take a stab at it, I’d say it’s popular because it’s popular. There’s a generation that has grown up knowing these characters and their lives, and so it’s kind of just what you do… you keep up with Ramsay St. Although I don’t watch it myself anymore it was one of the things that defined visits to my grandmother’s house.
MARK: If you don’t mind my asking, what are taxes like as an international person coming over to open a business in the states? Are you taxed a higher rate than we are? And, on top of what you pay in taxes here, do you also have to pay taxes in Australia?
ROB: Our taxes are pretty much the same, we only pay tax here unless we take the money back to Australia.
MARK: Do we make it relatively easy for Australians who to want to come to the states and open businesses to do so? If not, what could we do better?
ROB: What is the icon for hysterical laughter? Coming here to open a business if you have less than a half million dollars spare to invest directly in the business is remarkably difficult. Before we could even apply for the visa we had to invest every cent we own, buy a car, a house, lease office space, set up the business and pay for all the licensing with no guarantees that a visa would be issued and no way to get the money back if it were denied. The simplest way to make things easier would be to alter the “at risk” portion of the E2 visa requirement to simply make it a case of being able to show in good faith that we would be investing the money or possibly issuing a provisional visa with a requirement to show that we have invested the funds after we are here. Also the documentation requirements are a little steep, with our application weighing in at around five pounds of paperwork and supporting documentation but that is to be expected I guess.
MARK: Have you ever met the father of that guy who played Mad Max? I’m blanking on his name… I hear he’s kind of crazy.
ROB: I can’t say I have, but, then again, I may have done so and not known it, I guess.
MARK: I want to ask a Nick Cave question, but I’m not sure what… How about this: If you could ask Nick Cave one question, and you were assured that he’d answer honestly, what would you ask him?
ROB: Well Rose’s first response was “Who are you, a musician of some sort then?” I’m not sure if I have a question that I would need an honest answer from Nick Cave on.
MARK: So, when you’re not working, what might we find you doing in town?
ROB: There’s a good chance you could find me in a park reading a book or just wandering about getting a feel for the town.
[If you’re thinking about a move to Ypsi, be sure to check out our other Ypsi Immigration Interviews… and let me know when you get here.]