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Sunday, March 04, 2007

AUSTRALIA 3: Mykel's Australia / New Zealand adventures

Mykel's Australia-New Zealand Adventure
Episode 3

The nail that sticks up gets hammered down. --Australian proverb

I really hate this town (Cairns) and it's gonna take a fuck of a lot to convince me otherwise about Australia in general.Are the people here are stupid or malicious? I don't know. What I do know is their overwhelming lack of curiosity. I've never seen it anywhere else in the world.

It seems so normal to me: “I detect a bit of an accent. Where're you from?”

It seems so normal to sit next to someone at a bar and say, “Hmmm, you don't look like you're from around here. My name's Sam, and you?”

I am not wearing shorts. I do not have sandals. I'm wearing black levis with army boots. I have a fedora. I talk like Travis Bickel, not Crockadile Dundee. Aren't you the least bit curious? Aren't you even polite enough to talk? To cheer up a stranger?

Other tourists exchange stories with me. I meet this guy Alfred, from Saibai, one of the Strait Islands, between Australia and Papua New Guinea. 500 people on his island. He tells me his story. Amazing. Tri-lingual. His first language was Kalakawuya. He also speaks the Creole of the islands and English. He matches my image of an aborigine. If I can figure out how to do it, I'll put a link to a short movie of him introducing himself in Kalakawuya.

He's not a native to THIS ISLAND, the world's largest. The natives here, just don't give a shit.

They smile a lot. And speak with a friendly rising intonation as they give you a hard time. Every sentence is like a question. Makes you want to smack 'em.

Right now I'm back at the airport. Sitting in a breakfast place, having finished my $5 fruit salad. To my right are really loud German tourists. Retired, from the looks of it. In order to get to the food area, you have to go through the x-rays. Then you have to go back out, check in for your flight. Then go through the x-ray machines again. Jeezus. I came early to try to get a pre-paid SIMS chip for my cellphone. I figured an airport would be the best place to pick one up. I figured wrong. And am in security limbo eating fruit salad.

Ah yes, the airport. The story. The hell all of you has been waiting for. My entry into the land down under... hey I shudda figured. Hell? Down under? Oh, I get it!

Let's back up. After packing my bags 2 weeks in advance. Pocketing my camera with a new 1.5 Gig card... a gift from my sister, putting on my trenchcoat and fedora, I'm off at 1AM on Feb 22 to wait for the shuttle to my 5:30AM flight from Newark to Houston. At 2:15 AM, the van shows up.

A 4 hour planeride from New York to Houston. A planeride full of screaming babies, shuffling card players, coughers and sneezers. Then, an 8 hour planride from Houston to Honolulu. Then, a 7 hour planeride from Honolulu to Guam. Finally, a 5 hour planeride from Guam to Cairns. Each take-off is scheduled for less than 60 minutes after the previous plane was supposed to land. All the planes are late.

So that's 4 and 8 and 7 and 5. My mathematical mind puts that at exactly 24 (22 sleepless) hours in the air. Not counting the gate to gate runs. Not counting the wait for the van the day before or that, since I left at 2AM, I hadn't slept for 15 hours before the trip started. You can imagine the condition I was in when I finally arrived in Cairns and went through customs and immigration. No you can't.

I'm always nervous at customs. It's either the cause of, or (and?) the result of previous encounters. I guess I don't have an honest face. I've been stopped, questioned, stripped, enough times to make a dozen TV specials.

So I'm on the foreigners line waiting to go through customs at Cairns airport. The immigration agents are interesting. All women. The only place I've seen this in the 43 borders I've crossed. This is only one.

Sometimes they find something. In East Germany they found the Commie money I was smuggling in $20 of forbidden currency. In England, when I was 20, it was the jar of vitamins. They opened it, sniffed it, asked me about it. I was sweating bullets. How did they know, that bottle had been stolen! Naw, they didn't.

I always find something to worry about. Even if I don't have Commie money or a bottle of stolen vitamins, there's always something. Here I was worried about my ETA. That's a kind of electronic visa that you have to purchase before you get to Australia. I called and registered by phone. I MasterCarded the required $30.

“Can I have a confirmation number or something?” I ask.

“You don't need one,” said the voice from the other side of the phone. “You've paid and I've recorded that.”

“But what if it gets lost, or there's a mistake?” I ask, confident of my bad luck.

“It's impossible to get lost,” said the exasperated voice. “It's in the computer! It can't get lost.”

Ah, that gave me confidence.

Sudden note, the announcer from Virgin Blue has a British, not Australian accent....

I now write aboard a JetStar flight from Cairns to Brisbane-- on my way to the sixth airport in 2 days. I've got to get a longer life battery for the computer. It would be a great chance to write if the battery would last a whole trip. It would also be a great chance to read, but books are too heavy and there's a severe weight limit on non-US budget airlines. Back to customs

As I approach, the Australian line ends, and I'm shuffled over to the former Australian-only guard. She's slightly chubby, with her dark brown hair pulled into a bun behind her round face. I hand her my passport. She types my name into her computer.

“Yes, Mr. Board,” I have your information right here. And what is the purpose of your visit to Australia.”

“I'm actually visiting a friend in New Zealand,” I tell her (true). “I decided to make a trip of it and see the country while I'm here. I'll do a little sight-seeing, then visit my friend.” (not exactly the whole story.

“Ok,” she says, “that's all.” And she stamps the passport. I thank her and walk through the line to go to the baggage claim area. That's when the hell begins.

Is it something about the trench coat and boots in the middle of shorts and sandals? If I were a smuggler or terrorist, would I dress like a smuggler or terrorist? Come on guys! Maybe they think I'm super clever. They think I think that they'd never stop someone who looks like a criminal, because that person would never be a criminal. So they're surprising me, and stopping me.

A thin blond woman with extremely large teeth smiles at me when I enter the area with my bags.

“Do you have any checked baggage?” she asks.

She smiles wider as she asks the question and continues smiling through the following third degree. It is not the sadistic smile of Ilsa She-wolf of the SS. Rather it is the vague, empty, smiling-is-all-I-do smile of the Stepford Wives. [Break here. If you don't know those movies, see them. Then return to this blog.]

“Could you come with me to this inspection station?” she says, using a question intonation, but obviously not asking a question. “Let's chat on the way, shall we?”

Every sentence, question or not, ends in a rising intonation like annoying valley girl talk. Here, the intonation is more sinister than stupid.

“You're here on vacation? Is that right?”

I nod.

“And your job is...?”

“I teach English I say. I've got a card. Would you like one?”

“Yes, I would?” she says.

I hand her one.

“And you're here on vacation? Is that right?” she says.

I nod.

“You said you were going to visit a friend in New Zealand?”

“That's right,” I tell her.

“Can I see that ticket? The one to New Zealand?” Again, this is not a request.

I fish through my bags, pull out the confirmation of the New Zealand flight and hand it to her. She looks it over and hands it back to me.

“And while you're here, what are you going to be doing? You're here on holiday?”

That's right, I nod.

“And what exactly do you plan to do here?” she intones.

“Oh lots of stuff,” I say, “I'll go to the beach and...”

I frantically try to remember what was in the guidebook. An awful book, called INSIGHT GUIDE. It gives you a nice overview of the land, pretty pictures, some stories of local adventurers, but nothing you can use to bullshit a customs guard. Nothing about what's in the town, nothing about the local clubs, celebrities, statues. Where I can get a picture taken with a kangaroo. Nothing like that.”

“...I want to have my picture taken with a kangaroo.”

By this time we're at the special inspection station.

“I'm required by law to ask you these questions, do you understand?”

“Yes,” I reply.

She points to the customs form. “You've signed this form and this is your signature?”

“Yes,” I say.

“And you understand the nature of the form and all the questions on the form?”

“Yes,” I say.

“And everything you've said is true?”

“Yes,” I say.

She nods, still smiling.

“Please open that bag?”

I open the bag and take out the few books I brought with me. I also take out my personal diary, the OLD PUNKS NEVER DIE, THEY JUST WRITE BOOKS t-shirts, half a dozen wishful thinking condoms, and a bunch of promo postcards for my books.

Picks up my diary and thumbs through it. Then she goes for a sheaf of paper: the text of my readings. Sex with animals and extensive drug use. She asks, nothing, only raises her eyebrows and reaches for the promo postcards.

“And these are?”

“Oh, I wrote a couple books,” I tell her. “I figured while I'm traveling, I could do some promotion.”

“You're here to promote your books?”

“No, I just thought I might... I can talk about the books while I'm here, can't I? If I don't earn any money I'm not working, right?”

“This is Australia,” says the customs agent, “customs and immigration are separate. I'll get an immigration agent who can answer your question?”

She leaves, returning soon with the woman who first stamped by passport.

“You told me you were coming for tourist reasons,” said the woman. “Now I hear you're going to promote your books. According to Australian law, you are not permitted to work: paid or unpaid. You're not permitted to do anything that has the appearance of work. You may stop in a bookstore casually, but if you have a series of meetings with bookstore, don't come back and say immigration allowed it. We did not. Do you know the penalty for immigration violation?”

Death? Castration? Hanging? 30 hours of Hillary Clinton speeches? I say nothing.

“Your visa will be canceled. You will be deported. You will not be able to return to Australia for 3 years.”

“I understand,” I say.

“You may go now?” says the customs lady. “Out the hall turn right. There are the taxis”

For the rest of the trip I'll be looking over my shoulder. This does not bode well for things to come. The boding seems to be correct.


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ONE MORE CAIRNS NOTE:


The Cairns Weekend Post is like The New York Post. I don't know if it's a Murdoch paper, but it should be. The headlines today are about how the police want 50,000 stun-guns. A post survey said 95% of their readers thought it was a good idea. (An earlier survey said that 80% of The Post readers support the return to cainning in school.) That's not odd. Most cities have their right-wing pandering tabloids. What is odd is that this one has a letter from the mayor of Cairns. The mayor tells the readers that global warming is a fake, and even if it's not, Australia is only a small country and keeping jobs is more important than protecting some emu somewhere.

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1 comment:

kabukiboy said...

haha! i reckon that customs and immigration were pretty relaxed with you - i mean they even told you how to leave the building and find the taxis! anyway, better for you to be looking over your shoulder...