I'm still here. Haven't jumped ship, as some of you seemed to think, am not on a beautiful beach in Thailand or working in the mines – just trying to keep my head above water and wait until it's all over. But here's an update, for those of you who are concerned about my disappearance from your inboxes:
It's probably best that I not talk about teachers' college; no need to bring you all down with me, right? Suffice it to say that I'm counting down, desperately, and if you ever hear anyone say they're thinking of spending a year at JCU in Townsville, you just send them to me. Maybe I can convince them to go somewhere less damaging to the soul – like, oh, I don't know, Chernobyl. Or maybe Guantanamo Bay.
Last time I wrote I was just back from Sydney, and I thought I had all these stories to tell. On reflection, though, it was a great trip because of all the excellent people we met (through couch surfing), and that doesn't make for very good story-telling. ('And there was Jeremy, and he was really great... Then there was Kiko, a really great guy, oh, and Sam, our favourite host, was just so great!')
Sydney is definitely a beautiful city, but ultimately it's like Toronto, only with a much better use of its harbour. And with Lindt stores! Stores! Full of Lindt products! Including liquid-Lindt-hot-chocolate – needless to say, we stopped in a couple times a day. And good thing we did, because we needed all the warming up we could get; it was bloody freezing the whole week. Even after we went to K-Mart to buy socks, shoes, leggings and thermal underwear to add to our flannel pyjamas and sweatshirts, we still had to huddle together in our sleeping bags every night and invariably woke up with stiff, achy backs, chapped skin and cracking feet. But whatever. It was just a relief to be back in a place with different languages, colours, smells, sounds, foods... Even going to the pub was fun, because there were interesting people to talk to. I guess it's just tiring being in a small, white, drunk town for months on end.
Whitney and I, high on the Sydney trip and figuring the solution was to explore [warm] Queensland through couch surfing, drove up to Cairns and Port Douglas for a tropical tourist adventure. P.D. is quaint and quite charming, and there were some beautiful coastal driving views, but it turns out that the Beer, Boobs and Army Guys thing is Queensland-wide. It's best to just accept it, get over it and enjoy the sunshine.
The best part of the trip was definitely the soundtrack – once we'd made our way through the dodgy world music cds I'd picked up at the library, that is, and Whitney thought to plug in her i-pod. Are you all familiar with Mika? If not, then get on it! He makes for a good road trip, I'll tell you what, and 'Big Girls, You Are Beautiful' quickly became our theme song – and became increasingly appropriate as we chai latt-ayed our way through North Queensland. 'Get yourself to the butterfly lounge, find yourself a big lady': pure gold.
For my most recent prac, three weeks of full-load teaching, I was blessed with the most beautiful grade one class in the history of grade one classes – and I think I actually want to be a teacher again. Huzzah!
It was at a Catholic school, which – of course – I made a big fuss about, but in the end I discovered that they pay for Catholic school here, it isn't tax payers' money, so I don't really have a legitimate objection. I did have to lead morning prayers, throughout-the-day prayers, end-of-the-day prayers and a daily religion lesson, but I used it to talk about nature, the universe, human values and all the things that religion should be about. Plus, they light candles, which is always a good time.
I also got to sing, play phys-ed games, talk about sea turtles and saving the planet... grade one is the best! The best, I tell you. And they're so earnest, jumping fully on-board with whatever you're talking about. After a lesson on good lunches and bad lunches, as far as plastic wrap and bags versus tupperware and lunch boxes, I had all the parents coming in to thank me for turning their kids into little enviro-nazis. 'You can't wrap my sandwich in plastic, Mom – Miss Thomas said that it isn't biodegradable and it's piling up in the earth!'
There were such tears on my last day (mine and theirs!) that Greta, the teacher, asked me to come hang out from time to time. I've been going in for reading groups and general help, and even scored a field trip to the aquarium, which is the coolest place in Townsville (like being at the reef but without the sea-sickness or the hundreds of dollars.) I go back to grade six for all of October and it's going to be hard, but knowing that I get to go back to hang out with the littlies in November will make it easier to bear, I think.
Man, hospitality is the worst! I'm a supervisor at the restaurant now – not because I want to be, but because there's no one else to do it – and that means that on top of having to try to please whoever's sitting in my section, I then have to shmooze and grovel and smooth over whatever goes wrong in everybody else's section as well. My coping strategy is to remember that people who feel so small in their own life that they feel it is acceptable to verbally abuse the complete strangers who are serving their food are too pathetic to deserve anything but my pity; they certainly aren't worth getting upset over. And, as you may have already picked up on, Townsville isn't the classiest place out there, and Island Man Sam is a diner/steak house, so we get some pretty rough-n'-rowdy guests – I can't expect people to be their most elegant when they're drunk (everyone here is always drunk – everyone, always) and riled up because their team lost the footie match.
People have commented on my complete serenity in the face of abusive customers, which makes me suspect that the months I spent dealing with snooty Club Med parents taught me some valuable skills, as far as smiling kindly, saying 'I can see you're upset,' never saying 'I'm sorry' and just thinking of something else (grocery lists/unit plans are great) while they get it out of their system. You want to vent? Go ahead, vent. Feel better. Now get the hell out of my restaurant.
Ha HA! In the face of a town of drunk rednecks, a job in hospitality, a uni program that is sucking my will to live and the mountains of useless-but-impossibly-time-consuming work that our so-called teachers assign us, romance saves the day. I don't like to talk about personal things in these updates, but it's become a fairly central feature of my Townsville life, so it makes sense to at least catch you up on the basic situation. Which is this: I'm dating my housemate! Boo-ya!
Kind of a strange set-up, as you can imagine, and it has certainly sped up the dating progression (we used the same bathroom to get ready for our first date), but it's been great having someone to vent to and then have fun with. He's taken me to see a lot of the beautiful natural stuff around Townsville that you need a car to get to – that's right, he has a car! He's a real grown-up, with a job and everything! Unprecedented! – as well as dinners out, romantic get-aways, drive-in movies (don't see Dark Knight! Horrible movie!), family outings (he's from Adelaide but most of his family has moved up here over the last few years), all sorts of good stuff. He's even signed us up for dancing lessons because he feels bad that I love to dance so much and he's so desperately lacking in body rhythm. (Oh, that famous White-Guy Syndrome. Sigh.)
**Or just White-People Syndrome in general. Take our salsa class last Monday, for example: isn't salsa supposed to be sexy, easy, fun, natural, here's the basic step now off you go? Not in ballroom, it isn't: put your head like this. Pinky out. Arm straight. A bit higher and to the left. Back straight, but leaning away from each other. Don't move your hips, just your legs. Where's the joy in it? Where's the rhythm? What's the point?
But I digress. I'm having a lot of fun with Mark and am grateful for the silver lining he provides against the dark, gloomy, pain-in-the-ass Townsville cloud I was getting used to. Oh, and he cooks – no more yoghurt-and-muesli dinners for me!
And... We’re Done
Not a lot of good stories – sorry about this year's lame up-dates – but there you have it. Just two months to go and then I'll never have to set foot in JCU again, unless it's to drop of hate-mail packages to some of this year's star players.
Wish me luck with my grade six prac – I'm sure I'll be out of touch again for a while, trying to figure out how to teach an extended unit on Australian government, but I do have internet access, so please keep me up-to-date on all your adventures up-over.