CAIRNS :: QUEENSLAND :: 16.6 S 145.4 EFleeing my Japanese home of 10 years after it was hit with its epic earthquake/nuclear meltdown disaster in March 2011, I ended up in CAIRNS quite by accident. Then again, they say accidental encounters are always the most enchanting. It had been an anxious week in Tokyo prior to my escape: constant aftershocks and radioactive spikes. With the help of my Mum I snared a seat out on JetStar, that budget Aussie champion. The flight was due to depart Narita Airport on March 19 and fly to Sydney via Cairns. I was scheduled to spend a few hours here, in this popular North Queensland resort, from 5am to around 9am the following morn. I might have caught the sunrise if I was lucky. However, the aftershocks and nuclear meltdown fears in Japan necessitated a change to the flight plan, and I received an even luckier break. On the way home we dumped our cabin crew at Kansai Airport, safe from the crisis in eastern Japan, and picked up a new crew. It was my first visit to Kansai and I thought it looked kind of cool from the air, built as it is on an artifical island off the shore of Kobe and Osaka and connected to the mainland by causeway. We had to wait about two hours on the tarmac while a new crew came on board, but I was just happy to be away from Tokyo... at least there weren't any aftershocks here! Eventually we were off on the long leg south, but all this mucking about had put us four hours behind schedule. By the time we sailed down into Cairns International Airport it was about 8.30am.
Thanks to the 4-hour delay in Japan and the long, long outdoor walkway connecting the international and domestic terminals in Cairns, I missed my morning connection to Sydney. This might have been bad news for my Mum and Dad down on the NSW Central Coast who were dying to meet me, but it was an opportunity for me. In the spirit of One Mile at a Time, I scented freebies. Unlike the bearded guys in the queue behind me, who had missed their flights out of general tardiness, I had a valid excuse... the Great Tohoku Earthquake. To be fair, I had kind of ambled my way along the long walkway from the international to domestic terminals, weighed down by my luggage, and ogling at all the flowers. I suppose if I had run, I would have made it, but I was now on tropical time. I didn't care if I was late! By the time I made it to departures and waited in line for my serve, the plane was already out on the runway. D'oh! I hadn't slept properly in at least a week, due to all the aftershocks and radiation fears in Tokyo, and I hadn't really eaten either.
I had a few girlfriends when I was there, some more serious than others. I thought I was going to get married, at one point (but Fate had other ideas). Later on I had a girlfriend in Vietnam and I thought I would get married to her, too. Not that marriage has ever been a priority to me; it has been a priority to them (the girls), never to me. I just went along with the fantasy. For a couple of years I lived a strange fragmented existence: I worked in Tokyo teaching English and saving money for a few months, before flying down to Ho Chi Minh City for a week or two of tropical romance with my girl. It was fun for a while, but the loneliness started to drag, and even I could see that long distance relationships never make it long term. If N. and I wanted to take it to the next level, I had to make a move, to the Socialist Republic. Besides, I was sick of Japan anyway! At the end of 2010 I make a decision: I was leaving the country! To help get me into shape for a new life in Vietnam, physically, mentally, and financially, my Mum convinced me to make a detour to Australia, my homeland. I booked a ticket on JetStar back to Sydney, leaving at the end of May 2011, and stopping at Coolangatta for a few hours in the morning. I started preparing to leave. Then one day in March on my way to work in Tokyo, the ground started rocking and rolling, rattling and heaving, and I knew things would never be the same. The Big One I had always feared was here, just two months before I was due to depart.
An hour and a few apologies later I had been rebooked on the 4.15pm Qantas service and presented $20 in food vouchers. Winning! Apart from the hills and the beds of flowers there was not much to see around the airport, so I caught a cab downtown. I had an Indian man for a cabbie, and we had a leisurely midmorning chat about floods and tsunamis and life in Far North Queensland (or FNQ, as it is called here.) Before too long we were out of the lush cane fields and into the outskirts of town. The suburbs were classic country Queensland, but with an undeniably international edge. Rustic houses on stilts to protect themselves from floods, but plenty of foreigners around with their foreign ways. It seemed like every taxi driver in town was an Indian. There was some Indian looking architecture as well.
Beach House: Sheridan Street, Cairns. Website: website here.
This has become one of the my favorite places to relax and hang out. It is a quiet, chilled vibe in contrast to the hustle and bustle of the downtown bars. . A small group of Aborigines sat around in the shade on the edge of the mall, chilling. A scattering of tourists -- Australian, British, Japanese, Korean -- milled up and down the street buying souvenirs, while others enjoyed coffee and cake on the footpath. From time to time a plane fell from orbit to cut across the bright blue sky, on its approach to the airport. This being Queensland, there had to be at least one establishment in spitting range called the School of Arts Hotel. But it was too early for a beer.
Cheered by this unexpected detour on my return to Sydney, I took a right turn hoping to catch the sea. What I found was the wide river and the place they call Trinity Wharf. I passed the Barrier Reef Hotel on the way.
Down at the wharf, a P&O cruise ship sat berthed.
Chopstix Chinese Food: Sheridan Street.
This takeout/delivery shopfront was near our hotel in Sheridan Street, North Cairns (next door to Ali Babba's Kebabs, and close to the Beach House Hotel. I never ate the goods, but just a glimpse of the menu assures me that many modern Australian/Asian classics are here, for example chicken laksa. Japanese food is a big hit, and moved beyond the obligatory sushi into other aspects of the cuisine. At events like Lesbian Pride at the Tanks, Japanese caterers served the punters karaage, that delectable fried chicken favourite. Okonomiyake and ramen are also popular, all over the city.
...including this one practically groaning beneath greenery.
Ask white taxi drivers about the Indian community in Cairns, and you might get a hostile, racist response. As one cabbie told me, a few years ago a taxi company in the city started employing Indian drivers because they were cheaper, and helped them get visas. Before too long there was an Indian community of some 600 souls in town, drivers and their families, and all the infastructure that inevitably develops around such a community (such as an Indian supermarket). And, of course, restaurants.
Cairns also seems to have a small Filipino community, and there are a few Filipino restaurants in town... well, there is one at least.
The Nando's revolution has reached Cairns...
Night Market: .
For around AUS$14 you can get a medium plate with rice and whatever curry tickles your fancy, including the delicious pork vindaloo. "Australia is becoming more like Asia all the time," he said. Ken-san was right... Cairns is a little slice of Asia amidst the cane fields and wide verandahs. For Australians it is a gateway to Asia, and jets from its airport fly to exotic destinations such as Singapore and Papua New Guinea. I would never have known that, if I hadn't spent a few lunch hours walking around the place. And like the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear reactor meltdown which threw me out of Japan, my discovery here was totally an accident!