Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Life's a Beach, Chapter Four

I recently discovered that very close friends and family members have no idea what’s going on in my life – like, no idea – and it turns out that it’s been three months since I last wrote! Ay, caramba! The problem with that kind of lapse is that so many stories build up that the prospect of sitting down to write an update becomes overwhelming and I keep putting it off.

So. I’ve decided to forget about trying for any kind of linear progression or entertainment value and just give you some news. Hopefully this will be a short one and then in a few days I might feel like doing another short one and I’ll work myself out of the habit of writing a novella each time – especially considering how many of you are reading on some hand-sized device or other; I can imagine how miserable it would be to get an epic e-mail on one of those.

Here’s what’s happening in my life right now:


Yes, I’ve been doing some supply teaching, but let me tell you, it isn’t the best. The schools around here are pretty rough and I’m doing a lot of “be careful what you wish for” thinking. What if I got a full-time teaching job? How miserable would I be? How important is quality of life compared to regular income? Now, obviously, some of the things that make supply teaching so completely crap would be better with a regular class, but most of the problems would be the same – like the kid who reached up and snapped off a ceiling fan – and then I’d be stuck. Food for thought.

Luckily – and really, I think I was so lucky to find this particular job at this particular location – most of my working hours are in a day care down the street that fills me with such joy and squishy love that Mark’s been checking my pill pack to make sure I don’t just throw caution to the wind and go through with making babies of my own. (I guess it’s fair that he should at least be consulted in these matters...) After the stress of classroom management and the complete lack of having-a-good-time-with-kids that school provides – other than one music teacher gig where I just played the guitar with them all day – it’s so nice to show up at the day care and have all this one-on-one time with bright, funny, beautiful children.

At school, if a kid has a big long story to tell you about where he or she went fishing, you can only listen to so much before you have to get back on track with the lesson or before one of the psychopathic kids in the class breaks or throws something and you have to cut the fishing story off and deal with it. At day care, you just listen until the story’s finished. Then the child, having been properly listened to, can wander off and find something else to do and you can go hear someone else’s hilarious story: everybody wins.

I love the curiosity that kids have, as they figure out how things work. Endless how-come discussions are generated simply by my wearing a different colour shirt than usual or heading over to return a library book on my break. If ever I mention that my mom’s birthday is in January too, they freak out at the idea that I, ancient as I am, have a mommy just like they do. They ask me if I have boobies, if I brush my teeth, if I’ll come to their house and watch Transformers. Also, little kids are just really excited about pretty much everything. If the new sand in the sand pit had them all losing their minds, you can imagine how they reacted to the Easter Bunny passing through the centre and leaving paw prints along the path. I get to play make-believe all day – like yesterday with Maddy, the smartest little 2-year-old (her mom’s Canadian – I’m just saying) who found out about how birds keep their eggs warm and spent the rest of the day roosting. I covered for her when she went in for nap time, but she didn’t want me to do it for too long, since my bottom is so much bigger than hers and she didn’t want her little chicks to overheat... See? Even the hurtful things that kids say are good fun. (Like Musou, who complains about my prickly legs and now checks them before he’ll sit on my lap for a story.)

Then, of course, there’s all the time spent cuddling them and patting them to sleep – try spending hours at a time with a little ten-month-old angel snuggling into your neck and see if your inner clock doesn’t go into overdrive! I went to a pre-natal class with a pregnant friend of mine and it just tipped me over the edge. (Poor Mark: how about we wait until we have a home first, maybe a long-term job...)


I’m here on a working holiday visa, which means that after six months I have to change employers and after twelve I have to leave the country. (Or apply for a six-month visitor visa and not be allowed to work.) This was the best option when I was looking to hurry up and get over here, since Mark taking the Cairns job was all a bit last-minute. Now, though, his company’s willing to subsidize the MBA courses that he’s finishing up, which means that he’ll owe them one or two years in exchange – which is great because that’s a work guarantee, not so great because all of a sudden we’re staying in Australia for longer than anticipated. (The best birth-control argument I can think of.)

So in order for me to a) be able to stay, b) be able to get a proper job and not have to do short-term and supply teaching, and c) be able to come back to Oz down the road if that turns out to be what happens with Mark’s work, I am in the final stages of preparing my Partner Visa application, based on Mark’s and my de facto relationship. It’s long and painful – and I had to sort out a Canadian passport renewal application at the same time, so I’m basically on a first-name basis with the JPs around here at this point – and of course, ridiculously expensive and non-refundable, so we’re hoping that it’s accepted. I’ll keep you posted.

*Incidentally, I’ve put down a whackload of names of people who know us in case the immigration department wants further proof than we’ve provided, so if they call or e-mail you, just tell them how great we are – please and thank you!

The sad thing is going to be in July, when I definitely won’t have the new visa yet but based on the old one, will have to stop working at the day care – I suspect I’ll just go in and volunteer, since it makes me so happy to be there. In the meantime, I’ll see if I can get on the supply lists for the Catholic and private school boards, and otherwise will have to waitress or something while I wait for it all to get sorted. Bloody immigration! Bloody international relationship!


Meanwhile, if we do stay on, it will probably be in either Brisbane or Gold Coast (an hour further South), where Honeywell’s head office and next project are, respectively. When Mark went down for a work thing in Brisbane, I found a cheap flight and went with him, to take full advantage of having a free hotel and car (whoop!) and to get a feel for the place and hopefully open my heart to the possibility of living there.

You know what? It’s really nice. A really nice city, good size and with a curvy river through it that means the best way to get around is on the public transportation ferry, easy breezy.
Lots of green and flowered walkways and garden areas, and of course the climate is great most of the time. The real estate options for us, though, are looking pretty sad – especially after the gold mine we found here in Trinity Beach. Having been spoiled with this beautiful, furnished, beach-accessible, garden-heavy and pool-side house, anything we could afford in Brisbane would be like moving into a cheap, stained van. In the basement. Smelling like pee.

Gold Coast, on the other hand, is super touristy – that’s where Surfer’s Paradise and all those beaches are – so there are people who come through for short-term rentals like in Cairns and there are a lot of similar properties available, including furnished ones. I don’t know what the teaching scene is like down there but hopefully I’d find a job, and Mark would finally be finished his uni work and would actually have some free time outside of work, so all we’d have to do is live in our airy, resort-style flat and learn to surf. Could be a lot worse, right?


For the record, though, surfing isn’t going to happen any time soon, as I don’t like big waves and can’t stand to have salt water in my throat. Yet another way in which I’m a wuss. Mark’s friends Jason and Mia picked me up from the airport when I landed in Brisbane and we all drove down to Gold Coast, which was fun because they’re so nice to be around, but holy crap was I not a fan of the beach! In Cairns, it’s peaceful water, rocking you like a lullaby, because the reef calms it all down. In Gold Coast, just standing upright in the water takes amazing core strength, between the giant waves and heavy undertow. The lifeguard kept whistling at me and telling me to stay in the flags – I’m trying! I’m using every muscle in my body and still am getting pushed off to the side – get off my back! The water is beautifully clear and a the perfect temperature, but it’s so stressful that if we live there I’ll have to pay for a pool membership to get some swimming time in, since I’m certainly not going to be beachy.

We had dinner with Jason and Mia at the Sushi Train, thinking that it would be so great to finally have some good sushi again, being in a capital city that presumably has a considerable Asian population, but it was nothing special. Though very expensive. Hmm. (It being “nothing special” didn’t stop us from pigging out something fierce, though, which makes me question our approach to food in general...)

We're trying to look nice but we feel like death - check out how many train dishes we went through... (But look at Jason's and Mia's pile - we weren't the only ones!)

The highlight of the trip for me would have to be when Mark was convinced that the planetarium we’d passed at the bottom of a big drive to the look-out was named Sir Thomas something Brisbane, rather than just Sir Thomas Brisbane, as I said. He was so sure of himself that he drove all the way back down and into the planetarium, only to discover – of course – that I was right. I was kind of a big jerk about it, but only for a few minutes – we stayed friends. Plus, my in-car version of the “you were wrong, LOSER!” dance was such a hit that it can only be a good memory for everyone involved.


We’ve had lots of people come through since this year, which was sometimes fun but mostly stressful because the weather was so consistently awful and we couldn’t do anything about it. One guest extended his trip in the hope that the bad weather would pass and ended up staying almost two weeks with nothing to show for it except some rainy jungle pictures. We did manage a trip to the Rainforest Dome above the casino, which turns out to be a waste of time except for the up-close (through glass) crocodile experience with their huge croc, Goliath.

It started as a joke, but you wouldn't believe how intimidating and all-out freaky it is to stare into this thing's eyes.

We also went to cascades that were somewhat fast and flowing before and that had turned into huge, swirling torrents, the water coming up to cover the stairs to the swimming holes – but we still swam, after finding some out-of-the-way corners, and we were sure to hold on tight. The pictures don’t do it justice – you’ll have to come to Cairns in the heaviest rainy season and see for yourselves.

(Some of our rainy nights were spent playing Trivial Pursuit, which I thought would be the worst but was actually good fun, and which has inspired Mark’s and my project to Know More Stuff, with daily fact-finding and -sharing duties. So far we’ve covered the Mayans/Incas/Aztecs, the Cold War, leopards, bees, Guatemala and so much more! We’s getting smart!)

Mark’s dad was here for a few days, too. As well as just being a great visit, he helped Mark fix the toilet (hooray for dads!) and told us that the droppings that we figured were from possums were actually from cane toads, which prompted Mark to head straight out and buy a little bamboo barrier for the door, not too high but how high can they jump? We’ve only ever seen one since, a little baby one that was so scared at our sudden presence that it peed all over the floor. Hard to hate them, isn’t it, the poor little things? It’s not their fault they were introduced and ruined everything – blame the scientists, not the toads!

We had a young, beautiful Swiss couch surfer who made me reconsider the wisdom of having young, beautiful Swiss people around when you’re not feeling so hot these days in the first place and now you’re all wearing bathing suits. I need to make some pale and dumpy friends.


The advantage of crappy weather is that if you decide that you’re tired of waiting for the rain to stop and you go out for a hike, you’ll be the only ones there. Stoney Creek: my new favourite place in Cairns.

It was a big drop down to the waterfall below - very exciting...

And even better for two!

One of the trails in our hiking book was unfortunately a no-go, as we literally could not figure out where we were supposed to follow – each time we thought we were onto what could be the trail, we’d hit a dead end. I didn’t want to give up and we got into increasingly precarious positions along the side of a waterfall – I felt like the biggest jerk ever when Mark, the one who doesn’t like to swim in cold water, fell in and had to hike around in soggy shorts the rest of the day. There were also tricky parts with the mud, our shoes sinking in and making me think of Atreyu and his horse in The Neverending Story – don’t let the sadness get you, Mark, it’s going to pull us down! – but generally it was such a beautiful and people-less place to be that I can’t wait to go back. Mark wouldn't swim, but I braved the ice water and it was worth it.

One of the hikes in our book was labelled “moderate,” so we figured we’d do it in the morning before meeting friends for a big afternoon one. Well, we almost died. There were signs all over the place about how crazy steep the climb was, so at least the council seems to agree with us that it is a VERY DIFFICULT hike, but the book said it was 40 minutes round-trip and had nice views. There was one look-out and you couldn’t see anything from it, there were climbs so excessively steep that they’d set up ropes for pulling yourself up – thank god there was a creek at the bottom, which we jumped into in our underwear, so desperate were we for any kind of relief. Well, I jumped in - Mark splashed around a little.

We’ve also been exploring the Atherton Tablelands, which are beautiful – no story to tell, other than our shock at how completely freezing cold it was, to the point of my not being able to sit and finish my sandwich at a picnic table, but running back to the car instead. The area is known for its waterfall circuit, but we want to camp and we’ll wait for nicer weather, so we went to the lakes, the amazing fig trees, some falls and lots of green, rolling hills. It’s a good spot.

How about we give it a rest, hey? So much for my short update, but since it’s been three months, it only seems fair... I still have more on my list, so hopefully I’ll be more on top of things from here on in. For now, fingers crossed for the visa (please send good vibes), I’m still stuck with the Yaris in my mom’s garage so if you know ANYONE who’s even SLIGHTLY interested in taking over a lease, PLEASE send them my way, and I hope May 2010 is treating you well.


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