Thursday 31 January 2008

Two dollars a box

It's not quite midnight. The kitchen smells of mangoes. I have a milo in hand. And it's a bright new year. Besides for the fact that I'm supposed to be at work by 5am tomorrow, life's good.

But first thing's first - the mangoes. We picked up a box of these tropical beauties at Rusty's markets last Sunday - six minutes before closing time, two dollars the box of a dozen or more. Not the most pristine Bowens going around, but sweet and tasty all the same. Cheap, quality fruit is just one of the things I appreciate about living in Cairns. Rusty's is good for more than just the cheap fruit, though. I spend far more time there playing chess with Billy at the coffee stand than sorting through fruit and vegies. Not a bad way to spend your summer.

However, the concept of a weekend is sort of going out the door for me now. This whole shift work thing really does take some getting used to. The basic schedule for a part-time quarantine officer is 3 days on, 3 off. At the moment I finish by midday and have the rest of the day to myself. It's a great schedule really. Irregular sleep is a challenge, but otherwise I like being up in the cool dark of the morning, I love driving to work in zero traffic, and it all gives me a bit of flexibility. The work is good, too, and I'm on the floor with a good team. And thank God for air-conditioning in the tropical summer! But weekends? Yeah, days tend to blur into each other a bit at the moment.

My Japanese skills are finally getting some good use thanks to quarantine. More than half of our incoming passengers are from Japan – there's a set of flights in the early morning that dishes up most of these. Mostly I'm just able to carry out the basic inspection duties in Japanese, which I hope puts people at ease as they clear the border. There've been a couple of instances already, though, where I've had to have more serious dealings with clients to facilitate some sort of quarantine action. It's mandarin season in Japan and some people just don't realise how serious we are about stopping those babies, and what the consequences of non-declaration can be. Fortunately, most people want to play the game and we can just send them away better educated. It's all pretty interesting. And I even get a small bonus to my salary for having recognisably useful language skills. I won't call myself an interpreter, but it's nice to be recognised!

On days off, and sometimes in the afternoon after a shift at the airport, I've been getting some rafting in. The monsoon is just starting to get into gear, so the river has finally had a couple of days of decent flow and it's been enjoyable rafting – less pulling boats off rocks, more big waves, fun times all round! There's been a lot of turnover at the company since I was last rafting regularly, so there're a few new faces. I guess meeting new people is one of the things I really enjoy about rafting anyway.

Christmas was pretty low key for me. Firstly, I was on duty at the airport that morning! Not very busy, but someone's got to keep the country safe. In the afternoon, we knocked back a kilo of prawns and spent the rest of the day relaxing.

Just before Christmas I took a long overdue grading for kendo. I've gotten back into it regularly enough to learn the first few "kata" techniques and get back into some sort of kendo shape. Long way to go, though, I must admit! I took the grading at 6th kyuu, which is pretty elementary, and passed with no problems. It's nice to be on the road to kendo mastery and have some goals to look forward to this year.

Amazing how time has flown and I've now clocked up a year in Cairns. Two years ago I was in Tokushima city teaching English. Shortly thereafter I moved back to the valley to start my rafting career, which seemed like it could be finished when I got back to Oz in October. By January, however, I was driving up to Cairns to start my chess coaching business, and kept up some rafting work on the side. And now I'm a quarantine officer, once again a public servant, amongst other things. It's been a great ride.

Hard to see what 2008 holds for me. I'll be getting used to my quarantine job for a good while yet. Chess is about to kick into gear again for the year – it'll be interesting to see how my schedule works out. Rafting might have to take a back seat – I've thought about taking up kayaking instead, but I'll need to save up some cash for that, not to mention finding someone to teach me the basics! Speaking of cash, I'll be spending a lot of time just paying off my debts, and I have a half-formed idea of heading off to Japan in the northern summer to get my fix of Awa Odori dancing and Yoshino River rafting. Tough call, though, considering that's the middle of school term, probably a busy time for chess. I also want to visit my family regularly. My car keeps costing me lots of unexpected money, too, so we'll just have to see how it all pans out! All in all, it sounds like it'll be a pretty quiet year compared to the exotic adventures I've had these past couple. I guess that'll be an experience in itself.

I'll finish by wishing everyone a safe and prosperous 2008. I hope the New Year brings you all sorts of happinesses! And I hope we can catch up again soon.

Very best,