26 November 2007

First foot in Thailand

As you might have guessed after reading my last post, our job interview at Fletcher’s went all good. It wasn’t really an interview, we just had to see the doc, who checked, that we are drug-free, and met an other guy, who told us, how much we’re gonna earn. That was it.
The next day was induction day. Approx. 25 newbies, two supervisors and a lot of talking. A lot of bloody boring talking. I fell asleep twice, even though I only attended the meeting for 6 hours, before I pretended to have a doctors appointment. In fact, I really had one, but noone would have cared if I hadn’t.
The topic about all the talking was ... ermm ... I’m not quite sure, but I’d reckon ... Fletcher’s. Or sth. like that. Maybe I was a bit distracted by trying to catch some sleep...
Anyway – the others told me, there had been a test after I had left, and the supervisors hadn’t asked for the answers but told them to their listeners. Well... they seem to need us workers desperately. :-)
The good thing about that is – they also need us in the arvos! And as I said last time I blogged, there’s quite good money to be made. So we work like 50 or 60 hours a week, get enourmous sums of money and are some sort of happy with that. Happy enough to keep going. One week remaining. Thailand is waiting!

Two weeks ago, we got some qoutes from various travel agencies about flights from Sydney to Phuket. The cheapest price those professionals could find was about 1100Au$!!! Damn. How should we pay that? We earn some money, but we don’t want to throw it away for a flight!
Well, so I started my own research. The hostel provides us with Wireless Lan, so all is good. I really managed to build up a funny route, which is a little cheaper than the quoted fares were. From Sydney we’ll fly to Brisbane, from there straight on to Darwin and stay there for three days. Next stop is Bangkok, and then we’ll hop in the plane to Phuket. That’s four flights, instead of one, and they all add up to ... 550Au$!!! Oh man, I was so proud of myself, I would have loved to dismiss all these lovely smiling, but completely incompetent ladies who shocked us a whole afternoon long!
Yep – we hit the “book”-button immediately. So I’ll leave Australia after almost 15 months on December 3rd...

The work at Fletcher’s is not too exciting: I changed departments, so now I have to change the sheep from one chain to another, vacuum them and ram some plugs up their asses. Have never seen so many assholes in my life before – probably not even added up together!

So we have to do some fun-stuff in our few spare hours: We love to play soccer, basketball, watch movies, have a huge BBQ, some pool-party or go out with the hostel-crew, which sometimes comes up to 15 young fellas. Oh yeah!

Isabel and I celebrate our 2. month today. Woohoo. And we’re still getting along really, really well with each other, get up in the morning, have brekkie, bike to work, have our breaks together, drive home side by side and then do what we have to do – shopping, the laundry, chill out...
Weekends are always great, last week she woke me up with some hot chocolate and a beautiful prepared brekkie – ready to eat! What else could I wish for?

Well... maybe my 2nd visa. The government hasn’t mailed me anything yet, but that doesn’t matter – even if they decided to throw me out, two weeks time would be more than enough to leave the country.
Aifs has extended my mail storage, after I wrote them a really angry email... all good.
And – christmas is coming! We’Re trying to find some nice Santa-hats, to take the best pictures on the best beaches in Thailand. You might get a little jealous, if I tell you, that we’re sweating here with 35°C every day, but you will get even more jealous, if you’ll get to see those pictures... :-)

Anyway – tomorrow is another at Fletcher’s, eight hours only, overtime has been cancelled, after school has finished and heaps of schoolies are trying to earn some bucks for lollies and stuff. *Arrgh* Isabel and I answered by working on Saturday: You get paid double the normal wage – from the first minute on – and just do some cleaning, some standing around and take some pictures. Definitely worth it! *g*

All in all, it’s not too bad here in Dubbo. We keep our good spirit up by studying our payslips – over and over again. And then we realize – we’re already standing with our first foot in Thailand!

09 November 2007

Becoming Bill Gates by boxing brains?

Early start: The alarm clock rings at 5.04am, far before the sun rises. Isabel and I get up, more or less voluntarily, switch the light on and walk into the kitchen. Markus and Oli are already sitting on the table, having breakfast. We take our Muesli flakes, some milk and join in.
Isabel made some sandwiches for lunch yesterday, as well as some rice with corn & beans. All good. So it’s my job to wash the dishes and fill up our waterbottles. Everything goes into our backpacks, and off we take.
It’s not really dark as we ride along the highway, on our rented pushbikes. Approximately 5km until we reach Fletcher’s, our new employer. The sun is just about to rise as we arrive at this enourmous factory.

“Which number, boy?” The receptionist grins gently. “79. Thanks.” He hands me my clothes, a blue shirt and some blue trousers. I grab a pair of earplugs and a hairnet and walk towards the lockers, get changed there and look pretty similar to any of the other 900 workers, each of them earning good loads of money here.

After entering the slaughterfloor, we gotta wash our hands as well as those green gumboots, which were waiting in the locker for me. Here is where we get some gloves and a plastic apron, put the earplugs in and enter the abattoir.

Let’s get started. Three sorts of jobs are waiting for us: Remove the fat out of those sheep corpses, disjoint the bowels or cut off their heads. We do it in a rotating system, so everyone does every job for half an hour, to avoid getting too bored.

All right, so we switch our brains off and start working. Same motion, time after time, one sheep every five seconds, 4000 sheep per shift, 8000 sheep per day, 40000 per week. Incredible figures!

After 3,5 hours we have our first teabreak, get out of the abbatoir, sanitize all clothes, our boots and hands, open our lockers, grab some food, put the backpack back into the locker, have a quick wee and rush back to the slaughterfloor. All within 20 paid minutes. Same jobs again. Another two hours, until lunch. Half an hour break. Unpaid. Same procedure as earlier on, just 10 minutes more time for eating. Back to work.

By the time the machines stop going, it is ten to three. 8,5 hours have passed by, 8 hours are paid. 136$. Not too bad. But not enough.
Markus, Oli, Isabel and I sit outside on a bench, having a sandwich and a drink, enjoying the sunshine. It is Friday afternoon, most of the guys passing by are looking forward to their weekend. We’re looking forward to work some overtime.

10 minutes later, we’re back in the slaughterfloor, dressed up as we have to be. The afternoon shift has started, and we’re waiting for some supervisor to tell us what to do.
Finally, one of those guys with the blue helmets comes towards us and asks, if we have ever packed brains. No, I haven’t. Markus and Oli have spooned out some yesterday...
All right, so he’s gotta show me. The guy, who cuts off the heads now, puts them on a conveyor belt. They are taken straight into a machine, which is supposed to cut them right in the middle. Well, that’s the best case – otherwise Oli and Markus have to improvise, as they try to get as much brain out of those heads as possible. Some of these sheep must have been clinically dead, before they were killed, we’re wondering, as we discover some grubs moving through those heads. Weird.

Markus and Oli chuck the brains on a tray. As soon as there are approx. 20 of them, I replace the tray by an empty one, put the full one into a freezer and leave it in there for a minute or so. Now, that they’re a little bit colder, I pack the brains into plastic bags, one per bag, and those bags into small boxes, 6 bags per box. These little boxes are squeezed into a bigger carton, 40 at a time. That’s 240 brains per carton. And I believe, that there must be enough customers, to buy hundreds and thousands of these brains, even though they seem to be expensive.

Because the only reason, why we’re working overtime, is the money. After 8 hours, you get paid 1,5 times the money you usually earn, after 10 hours even double the amount of it! Incredible! So we’re standing in that little chamber, talking, having fun, working in a pretty relaxed way, and earn almost 35$ per hour!!! Can you believe that? And there must still be some sense for the company to pay us overtime!

It was dark, when Isabel and I finally left the premises. 14,5 hours of work were done, and we earned 320$ today. Markus and Oli decided to stay on for another 2,5 hours, they finished by 11.30.pm. And we all got more money than we had earned with picking oranges in a whole week! Fascinating.

Back home we just stripped off our clothes and went to bed straight away – tomorrow we will sleep in and have a wonderful Saturday off. Awesome!

05 November 2007

Die, scurvy, die

Happy Birthday, dear Mum! Hope you have a wonderful day, ey?

All right. So the next day we started to pick oranges. Pretty funny, in my opinion. Up the ladder, down the ladder, grab every orange you can reach and throw them into your bag. Empty the bag in the big bin and wait for it to fill up. Three bins per person per day is the general expectation. That’s approx. 1,2 tonnes of oranges we have to shift. Each. With bad trees. With the good ones, you can reach up to 8 bins each – set the case you’re a little more experienced than we are. ;-)

The money is not too bad, sometimes we reach an hourly rate of almost 25$, cause we finish our three bins within 5 hours and get paid 8. Great deal. *g* Furthermore, I became the driver of our little team, and we’re allowed to keep the car in the arvo and drive around town with it. Fuel is supplied. All good.

You’re wondering, how orange picking can be fun? I’ll tell you: We get up in the morning at 4.45, have some brekkie, brush our teeth and get going. Us, that is Markus, Isabel, Chris & Alex, two other Germans from this hostel, John, a Japanese guy, who joined the team yesterday, and I. We drive down to Dan’s place and pick him up. Dan’s our new supervisor, sort of. Relaxed Ozzie mate, doesn’t take himself too serious at all and is more shy than bossy. Awesome. Then we hit the highway, approx. 50kms out to the orange plantation. Long way, if you’re aware of that the sun isn’t even up. Why should we be?

6.30: We arrive at the orchard. Sometimes we get into picking immediately, otherwise we hang around for another half an hour, cause we’re not that motivated or maybe still tired. As soon as we get started, our brains go crazy, somehow. We philosophize about genesis, the roles of men & women as well as PCs and stuff. We found out, that there’s no computer game simulating the hard life of an orange picker, that men are the elite of the world and that Eva must have been Paris Hilton. Sounds weird? Well... maybe it is. But it also is good fun. And that’s the main thing, ey? ;-)

Backpackers are generally poor. Poor enough, to eat 2 oranges in a 10-minute-break, just because they’re for free. And poor enough to take loads of them home, even though they just store them in their room. Who cares?
Everytime you eat an orange or a grapefruit, which are grown on the orchard as well, you gotta say: “Die, scurvy, die.” Usually we say it in German, but that doesn’t change the fact, that we’re seriously fighting against this bad and painful diesease which once killed thousands of sympathetic sailors and seamen. Come and fight with us! Eat more oranges!

There’s another thing about backpackers: They never get enough. So – even though we’re earning over 100$ per day with picking oranges, we applied at Fletcher’s, a huge, local meat processing company. Just because they pay 17$ per hour.
The application was succesful. Might be, that today was our last day on the orchard. Tomorrow is some kind of job interview, but our hostel mates told us, that they’d take everyone. So we’re looking quite forward to that. No worries.

You’re wondering, why I’m talking about hostel mates? The answer is pretty simple: Markus had enough from being alone with a couple in a 3-bed-dorm. So we all moved out. Isabel and I booked into a double room, Markus has two mates staying in his chamber. And we’re all happy with this solution – even though I miss the space and the air-con. *sob*

The trouble with the undergroundmotel is almost over: Markus never got his last payment. Jenny’s explanatory statement: He was working on a contract, which bound him to a one-weeks-notice, in case he wants to leave. Markus had never read that contract, so he didn’t know anything about that. But he doesn’t worry.
We all seem to have received our final payslips, Jenny said she had sent them to our postal address. Letters of recommendation might follow. Only problem: My aifs-program has expired, and these guys sent all my mail back to the sender. Either to Germany, to the motel, to Jenny – wherever. They didn’t even tell me that there was any mail! Oh, I hate them. After having set my flight to the wrong date, they’re now sending all my mails back. I couldn’t believe it, as they told me so. What is that for an organisation? Why did I pay them any money? Must have been young and dumb...

South-East-Asia seems to be for sure now. Plans are changing all the time, so you can never take anything for sure, but I’ll tell you the latest: I decided to get my 2nd visa. All examinations are completed, I’m just waiting for an email from the government granting me another year in Australia. Why? Well – Isabel has some financial problems, and that’s not what you need when you wanna go on an unforgettable trip to Asia. So we thought about taking a plane by the beginning of December, work straight through until then, earn as much money as we can and relax afterwards. Without a visa, I would have had to leave at the latest by the 20th of November, so now we have 2 more weeks to work. At Fletcher’s – up to 2000$!

We’ll see, if they’ll take us. Shouldn’t be a problem.
I better switch off the computers now, sit down with Isabel and Markus and say: “Die, scurvy, die.” Maybe the last time as an orange picker...