CBP maintains a number of fact sheets on its website to provide information to the public about what it does. It was recently brought to my attention that the explanation of the canine program on the Agriculture fact sheet (direct link) is illustrated by an action shot of yours truly, with my partner Benny, as we search a passenger's baby stroller. (The beagles LOVE baby strollers. They generally have lots of food.)

Aside from that, not much has been going on around here this week, other than a heat wave. In an area where temperatures generally never get higher than the 80s, it actually topped 100°F. I'm definitely going to have to make a note of that when I write up my variety trial results for this season.
This week has been quite full. It started on Tuesday, when I arranged to shadow the canine handlers. I spent two hours following them around, listening to them explain how they accomplish their tasks, and seeing how the different dogs locate contraband. It certainly is eye-opening.

Then on Wednesday I was assigned by the health and safety team to edit a Powerpoint lecture into presentability. It only needs minor edits, but I'm going to have to take time from my normal schedule to get it done.

On Thursday I heard from one of the canine handlers that they had just been told their two requested positions were denied. Since several supervisors had previously said the positions had been approved, this sounds like an abrupt turnaround. It's probably related to the reason that we recently got word that a grade increase to GS 12 that had been announced last fall was also going to be delayed due to budget reasons. The grade increase was supposed to be implemented this month, but it was postponed, currently until the end of September. That's when I would have gotten it anyway, so if it does actually go through then, the delay won't affect me much. A lot of hope is being pinned on the budget for the new fiscal year, which starts in October. They're hoping the two canine positions will be advertised in October for participation in the training class next January.

After that, I participated in my first airplane boarding. Boarding airplanes to look for contraband left behind by passengers or hitchhiking insect pests is part of the agriculture specialist job description. It's certainly a different experience from opening baggage. It's interesting to see the kind of food that people leave on the floor or in seat pockets.
This past week has been quite eventful. Last Monday my new knives arrived, and I set out to test them right away. I baked a batch of buttermilk bread, and the bread knife in my set cut like a dream. I polished off about half a loaf in one sitting, together with asiago cheese spread. [Note: This isn't exactly the recipe I used, but the one I found last week is no longer showing up in Google results. The one I used was the same except only 1T basil leaves and 1cup oil.]

I took a loaf of bread together with the cheese spread to the CBP holiday potluck on Wednesday. ...And by potluck, what they mean is 90% of the people just pay $10 into a pool for somebody to go out and buy a bunch of food. The selection was really good...for non-vegetarians. Along with what I brought, I was able to eat some pita and hummus, baked baby potatoes, lasagna, and potato chips. I tried the macaroni salad, but I discovered that it had tuna mixed in. None of the dishes had labels listing the ingredients, or even the names of the contents, so there were a number of things I didn't even risk trying. (I put a handwritten note with my cheese spread, but even so, one person told me he thought it was guacamole. ~_~) On the bright side, I won a $10 gift card to Subway in the raffle.

On Friday, there was some kind of accident early in the morning that resulted in flooding in the basement where luggage is loaded onto the conveyor belts that take it to the baggage carousels. This meant none of the luggage could be loaded for about an hour. We had four flights full of people packed into the baggage area waiting for their luggage. As you might imagine, when they finally got their luggage, they were not at all pleased to be selected for an agriculture inspection. Several complained quite vociferously about having to (gasp!) wait in line, making the supervisors wish they were on night shift.

On Sunday, the members of a certain reality show came through my terminal. The supervisor on duty had been told in advance that they were coming, and let us know that we shouldn't let it disrupt our duties in any way. It caused about five minutes of excitement as people were like, "You see those guys running? That's them."

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Edit:
Holiday travel tips

Tip 1: If you are traveling internationally, do not take wrapped presents. I know it's the holiday season, but if you are picked for inspection, the inspector may be forced to cut open your gift, thereby ruining your pretty packaging and wasting the wrapping paper. Wrap presents upon arrival at your destination.

Tip 2: If you ignored Tip 1 and an inspector is cutting open your packages, DO NOT attempt to "help" by asking to borrow the knife to do it yourself. Trying to take a weapon from a federal law enforcement officer at an airport is NOT a good idea.
* * *

Outside of work, I took my next belt test in tae kwon do. It was originally scheduled for last Sunday, but I couldn't make it because I was working, so the headmaster stayed after class on Wednesday to let me take the test. I didn't do all that well on the breaking portion, but the rest went okay, and I got my green belt.
This week marks the one-year anniversary of my employment with CBP. Starting tomorrow I'll be wearing my shiny new GS11 epaulets. News at work is that we'll be getting X-ray machine upgrades, so we're all looking forward to seeing what those will be like. Also, I made a trip to the Oakland airport on Wednesday to get my ID badge there. They only have a few small flights, so they don't have a permanent agriculture specialist staff. SFO ag specs are assigned to travel to Oakland to meet the flights when they arrive. The Oakland badge is all sparkly with laser designs, and it has "LEO" (law-enforcement officer) printed on it. Agriculture specialists are considered law-enforcement officers because we enforce federal laws, even though we aren't armed as the regular CBP officers are. There is a lot of debate over whether our uniforms should be identical (as they are now) or distinct (so that we aren't mistaken for people who have guns). The most common confusion that I see caused by our identical uniforms is when I ask to see a passenger's declaration form, and the passenger responds, "But I just showed it to you guys!" No, actually you showed it to an officer. Now I'm going to ask you about food.

Anyway, I still haven't heard back about whether I'll get a permanent morning shift. They have to wait until everyone submits their bids for desired location before they can assign permanent shifts, and the deadline for that isn't until October, so it's going to be a while. Everyone thinks I'm likely to get it, though, because not many people want to work mornings. There is a fierce battle over the afternoon and night shifts for the extra pay, but waking up early? Not so much.

On Saturday I had my tae kwon do test and advanced to an orange belt. I also received a small trophy for "best board breaking," which was nice, because last time I was the worst.

My cooking experiments this week involved making pizza using a recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. This required a baking stone, a pizza peel, and a mixing bowl with a lid. I ordered the bowl from Tupperware, since I thought that was a good brand, but I was disappointed because the lid wouldn't fit on the bowl. It's just slightly too small and refuses to close. I'm debating whether I should bother returning it or just keep it to use without the lid.

I'm looking forward to my trip to Michigan next week!
Things have been proceeding as usual for me. The biggest event of the past week is that I was drafted for overtime this past Sunday. The way the schedules work, there are generally a number of overtime slots Sundays. They start by pulling the people who leave themselves open for overtime, but if they run out of volunteers, they start drafting people from a list, starting at the top and working down. My name is at the top of the list because I never sign up for overtime. They are drafting more people than usual this month because they want to use up the overtime budget before it resets at the start of the new fiscal year in October.

In general, I don't sign up for overtime because I have way too many hobbies to spend my time working when I don't have to. I am living comfortably enough on my salary without the extra, and I'll be even more well off starting next month when I get a grade increase. I don't need to take an overtime slot away from the GS5 and GS7 level employees who really need the money to make ends meet. ...On the other hand, it's inconvenient to be drafted when one is planning on having a free Sunday. For that reason, a lot of people sign up for just enough overtime to keep themselves off the top of the list. I'll probably start doing that in October after the list resets.

This coming weekend, I wound up not being drafted because the nice lady who keeps the list marked me as being on annual leave so that I wouldn't get pulled. I did actually take annual leave on Saturday for my tae kwon do belt test, and no doubt she saw that it resulted in a three day weekend for me and wanted to keep that from being interrupted in the middle.

As it turns out, I have more annual leave than I expected after my Japan vacation. When I checked my hours, I saw that whoever input my vacation used my annual leave for the first five days but took the second five days from my sick leave instead. That means I have plenty of hours left when I thought I would be down to nearly nothing. I had no trouble getting the time off to visit Michigan in October. I'll be arriving early October 1st and leaving the afternoon of October 4th. ...Now I'll just have to remember to pay my rent before I leave...

Outside of work, I've been thinking of things to do with the herbs from my balcony garden. Some actually survived two weeks without water and were still green when I got back from Japan, so that's nice. I started by making a batch of lemon-mint syrup that tastes lovely and works well for sweetening tea. After that I made a batch of herb cheese, which turned out okay, though I could have added more salt. Homemade pasta sauce also turned out well, so I'm thinking of making more of that and canning a bit for later.
Last week at work I started my Cargo Desk training. The job of the person in charge of the Cargo Desk involves answering phones, reading faxes, and assigning duties to the other inspectors. The latter two aren't so bad, but sometimes the phone is ringing off the hook with people who want to know what paperwork they need to bring Item X from Country Y, asking if we've received the documents they sent, and demanding that we release the hold on their shipments RIGHT NOW. Honestly, I empathize with people who took the day off work to drive all the way to the airport to pick up a shipment only to find that it hasn't been inspected yet, but if we don't have the manpower to do the inspection, we can't release it. For the people calling, it's their one and only shipment and they are emotionally invested in it, but for us, it's just one of a loooong list.

The problem is, one never knows which shipment might contain contraband, so we can't really just say, "We'll take your word for it, here you go." Even if a person isn't intentionally smuggling (and there are people who do), the shipment may contain an item that the owner never dreamed was prohibited. This is particularly true when it comes to things like chicken extract, where people often don't even read the ingredients closely enough to know that their food contains it. Sometimes the shipper puts items into the package (as packing material, for example) that the recipient didn't know were coming. Some items would be okay with the proper paperwork, but are prohibited without it.

Anyway, I was on the desk from Wednesday through Friday, which is the usual training schedule, and then again on Monday. I was told that I got an extra day because I was so good at it, they wanted my help longer. The way I look at it, working the desk keeps me off the road. I may not enjoy answering the phone, but at least I can't crash and die doing it.

My cargo training module ends on Friday. I'll be going back to passenger baggage on Sunday.

In my free time, I started looking up what house prices are in my area, out of curiosity. It seems that the asking prices for houses in my neighborhood start at a million dollars and go up from there. Yeesh.
As the time for my trip to Japan approaches, I feel like there just isn't enough time to get everything done. I've gotten my credit cards in order, and the hotel reservations are made, and I bought my plane tickets. My biggest concern right now is my poor patio garden. I'm getting a nice crop of green tomatoes, but I'm afraid they won't be ripe before it's time for me to leave. The plants can't go for two days without being watered, much less two weeks. The other thing on my mind is that my annual leave hasn't shown up on the work schedule, despite the fact that it's already been approved on the computer AND I've emailed the supervisor in charge of the scheduling team twice about it. I emailed a third time this past week after the "final" version of the schedule came out with my leave still not on it.

Aside from that, work has been going as usual. The biggest thrill (if you can call it that for something that scares you to pieces) was that I had to drive to Oakland on Friday to help out at the maritime port. Driving locally is bad enough. Driving one of those huge CBP SUVs on the highway over the Oakland Bay Bridge...my hands were frozen to the steering wheel with terror, particularly when I was sandwiched between the wall of the bridge on one side and a semi truck on the other. All it would take is one slip in concentration--by ANY driver--and boom. Ugh, I don't know how people can stand to do that every day.

On the bright side, I only have two more weeks left of cargo training. Half of a week will be spent at the desk answering phones, so not much more driving to do.

In other news, on Saturday the 11th I met up with Jenn and her friend in Berkeley to go shopping for used books. I had the foresight to bring a wheeled bag along to carry my purchases. We walked all over town, hitting at least six different stores. I wound up buying about $100 worth of books, enough to fill up another whole bookshelf. We ate lunch at a new Mediterranean place where you not only have to borrow a key to use the bathroom, you have to use the key to activate a secret elevator, and then use it again inside the elevator, just to GET TO the bathroom. That is one heavily fortified bathroom.

Jenn mentioned that she hangs out on Facebook, but she never reads LiveJournal, and I also received an invitation to join a Facebook community set up by some former college classmates, so I set up an account over there to keep in touch. I still plan to do all of my posting here, though.

And now the dirty dishes are calling...
I've been procrastinating (again) about posting because it's hard to figure out exactly how much of my job I can talk about without getting into sensitive information. They just made us all take an online course on safeguarding secret information, so the topic is fresh in my mind. I'll try to stick to things that could be considered either common knowledge or common sense.

To start off, on the week of the 8th through 13th, [livejournal.com profile] megory and I hung out together, watching shows and doing a little shopping. I saw her off at the airport on the 14th. After that, it's been back to the same routine.

I'm in the middle of my air cargo training at work. The airlines have big warehouses all around the airport where they store the cargo that they bring in. My particular branch of customs has to check any items from overseas that could potentially be a threat to our agriculture. This includes commodities such as cut flowers, hunting trophies, medical supplies, and fresh herbs. (Every day I can't help but be amazed that people can cut a flower in, say, Thailand and ship it to the opposite side of the world while it's still fresh.) This also includes shipments of personal effects. The things people ship over as "personal effects" could be completely harmless toys and clothes and books, but there might also be things like camping equipment with soil still attached, dried flowers or spices with weed seeds mixed in, or even fresh fruits. We don't know until we check.

When I arrive at the office in the morning, the first thing I have to do is grab a set of keys and bring one of the official government cars over from the parking garage. If I'm lucky, I get a regular car. If I'm not so lucky, the only vehicles left are the SUVs. ~_~ Have I mentioned that I hate driving? The reason that I have to get a car is that, while some of the air cargo warehouses are within a block or two of the office, some are several miles away. Once I have a car, I wait for the person in charge of the desk to hand out the morning assignments. Everyone gets about three shipments to inspect. Some shipments can be released if they have the correct paperwork, so those are fast. Others require a lot more work. Hunting trophies, for example, usually come packed in wooden crates. The lids have to be completely unfastened, either using a drill to take out the screws, or with a crowbar and hammer if they're nailed shut. If we're checking perishable items like cut flowers, sometimes the brokers will watch us do the inspection so that they can collect the shipment as soon as possible after we finish.

If we're inspecting fresh items like flowers or herbs, sometimes we find pests. (That's what the inspection is for, after all.) If we collect an insect or snail or stray seed, we have to continue to hold the shipment while we drive the suspected pest to the nearest Plant Inspection Station to have it identified. If it turns out to be harmless, everything's okay. If it's not, however, usually that means the shipment has to be destroyed. (Generally the options are "reexportation or destruction," but perishable items wouldn't survive reexportation anyway.)

When a shipment is released, we call the broker to let them know, so it can be delivered to the proper recipient. Have I mentioned that I hate talking on the phone to strangers? Yeah.

Then we get a break for lunch, and repeat the inspection process in the afternoon. Return the car to the parking garage, and that's it for the day.

Some people really enjoy the cargo environment, because once the assignments are given out, they just go off and do the inspections on their own, at their own pace, getting out and about in the (sort of) fresh air. They don't have to deal with passengers, they don't have to work together with a bunch of other people, they don't have to stay cooped up in the airport all day. I have to say that it's not my favorite job, though. The driving and constantly having to call people on the phone is extremely stressful for me. I'm going to be glad when this training ends.
It has certainly been a busy couple of weeks. I met my parents at the airport after work on May 22, stumbling across them by chance just as I was turning on my cell phone to call them. In the morning, we started with an early breakfast at a nearby restaurant, then we went to San Francisco to check out the farmers' market at the Ferry Building. I picked up several things there, including a pound of biwa for making tarts. From there, we walked along the edge of the water until we came to Pier 39, where we browsed the shops and watched the sea lions hanging out. We walked back through North Beach and Chinatown.

On Sunday morning, we headed back to the city, starting off in the Mission district, where we walked around the neighborhood admiring the murals. Then we lined up to watch the Carnaval parade. I hadn't realized the parade would last three full hours. I filled up my camera with pictures and movies, though most of the best shots were ruined because the press photographers were standing in the street directly in front of the performers. A lot of my shots mostly show photographers' backs. My camera battery gave up at around the two hour mark. After the parade, we browsed through the various vendor stalls. We followed that up with a stop at Japantown for an okonomiyaki dinner and a brief visit to Borders.

I had to work during the week, so my parents amused themselves doing their own sightseeing. They went a number of places, including Golden Gate Park. Meanwhile, I started my ten-week cargo training module, beginning with the post office international mail room on Tuesday. The mail is very different from the passenger baggage environment. The pace is more relaxed, since you're not dealing with cranky passengers in a hurry to catch connecting flights, but on the other hand it seems that people are willing to send far more contraband through the mail than they risk carrying through the airport. We not only have to watch out for agricultural commodities such as uncertified seeds or sausages, we also have to recognize dutiable goods, counterfeit merchandise, and various drugs of concern. All that, while being on the alert for radioactive packages.

On Tuesday night, I took my parents out to watch Wicked. That was a lot of fun. And of course it got the songs stuck in my head again. On Wednesday I managed to take some time during my lunch break to greet [livejournal.com profile] gnine and [livejournal.com profile] xparrot as they made a connection through the airport on their way back from Japan.

Saturday the 30th, we went back to the Mission district, where we walked up the street and checked out some of the small markets. We continued on through the Castro area, finally ending up at Haight-Ashbury, where we stopped for lunch at a small Indian restaurant. The next day we took my dad to catch his early morning flight at the airport...then got stranded when we tried to take the BART back to Millbrae, not realizing that the earliest train on Sundays doesn't come until 9am.

On Monday I started working in air cargo, though the beginning has been a bit rocky because my supervisor is just starting out and hasn't gotten the training module into a routine yet. For example, he was supposed to give me and another trainee a safety orientation on Monday, but due to one delay or another, he wound up not giving it the entire week. I was supposed to go out shadowing various customs teams, but none of that has been arranged. I did spend two days at the Plant Inspection Station watching slide shows about various plant pests that we are trying to prevent from coming into the country (or at least California). The cargo inspectors have a great deal of responsibility. I had to condemn a large shipment of fresh flowers worth thousands of dollars on Friday because of finding one harmful snail.

This weekend, [livejournal.com profile] mangaroo came over to join me as I showed [livejournal.com profile] megory an Avatar marathon. We actually managed to make it all the way through the series by Sunday evening. That was quite thrilling.

We'll see what the rest of this week brings.
I waited what I considered a reasonable amount of time, and still didn't hear any news about the canine position. Finally I went knocking on the chief's door today to ask what the decision was. He said that the Port Director was not thrilled at having to decide between two trainees for the position, so instead he's not hiring anyone. He plans to advertise the position again "next calendar year." Since that could conceivably be anytime during 2010, I asked the chief specifically whether he thought that meant January, and he said probably yes.

On the bright side, this means I can go to Comiket!

In domestic news, I bought myself a new blender and a pair of pressure cookers (one large, one small). I'm continuing to experiment with making Indian food. My most recent dish was a three-legume curry that turned out quite well.

I'm looking forward to having my parents come visit starting this Friday. I hope they get to experience a lot while they are here.
I've been waiting to update in the hope that I would get more information about the canine situation, but so far there hasn't been much progress. I did receive an email letting me know that I meet the minimum qualifications for the position, but so did my co-worker, so we still don't know which of us will get the assignment.

I did hear more about the language test, albeit second-hand. One of my classmates who also applied for it told me that our new supervisor claims we have to finish cargo training before taking the test. (Our previous supervisor hadn't said that.)

Several amusing things have happened at work. A couple weeks ago, one of my classmates saw a group of people hanging out together waiting for their luggage, and he decided to send the whole group through agriculture inspection. It turned out that they were the cast of a major motion picture, and they were none too happy about having to be inspected. (He hadn't seen the movie, so he didn't know who they were.) The other day, a co-worker's car broke down and had to be towed. When everyone recommended that she become a member of AAA for the roadside assistance, she became extremely confused. She was convinced that she had to join AA and receive a certificate of completion before being allowed to join AAA. (She had three supervisors in stitches by the end of the conversation.) One of the things I am asked to do thanks to my Japanese skills is translate for the CBPOs, the officers in charge of collecting customs duty and determining whether people are bringing illegal items into the country. On a recent occasion, the officer who requested my assistance seemed to think the passenger would be reluctant to talk to me. I soon found out why: The officers had stopped a Japanese man with several porn CDs, and they wanted me to question him to make sure they didn't contain child porn. (Luckily the man was quite easygoing about the whole thing.)

Most days pass without too much incident. Thursday, however, was very eventful. We started off the morning by having a fire drill during a time when there were few passengers in either terminal. That was all well and good. A couple hours later, we were back to business as usual when we heard people yelling, and a supervisor came rushing up, ordering us to evacuate all the passengers immediately. At first we wondered whether it was another drill, but it was actually a real evacuation due to a bomb scare. (Thankfully, it was a false alarm.)

One big flaw in our evacuation procedure wound up becoming apparent. The agriculture specialists, including the supervisors, don't have any walkie talkies or other means of communicating with each other as the CBPOs do. My group was standing around with one supervisor for an hour before the supervisor let us back in the terminal. When we got back inside, another supervisor yelled at us for being missing for an hour; it seems his group didn't have a clue where our group was (standing at a different exit), and they went back to work much sooner than we did. I hope the supervisors got that all straightened out among themselves afterward.

I have a nice three-day weekend right now, but then I'll be on the afternoon (1-9pm) shift for a week. That's annoying, because it means I can't really do anything social during the day or the evening. At least it's only for five days, and then I'll be back to morning shift.
Friday I had the day off, so I ventured into San Francisco to have a look around Chinatown. I figured that stores would open around 9am, since it was a weekday, so that's when I timed my arrival. It turned out that many of the stores don't open until around 10:30, so mostly all I could see were the building exteriors. There were a couple of shops doing business, so I browsed there, and as it approached 10am the small grocery shops with their tables of vegetables spilling out onto the sidewalk were packed with customers. After picking up a few things there, I headed back home.

On Saturday I had my tae kwon do belt test. The numerous small children had their test before ours. My group consisted of three boys, three teen girls, and three adult women. We all had to show off our kicking and punching abilities, go through our memorized form, and break two boards (one with a punch, one with a kick). I managed to break the first board okay, though I slammed my wrist bone against the wood, from which I now have a nice purple bruise. It took me four tries to break the second board, which was more than anyone else. Regardless, I now have a bright shiny yellow belt.

Sunday morning, I cleaned my kitchen pretty thoroughly, including mopping the floor. I'm sure the hair tumbleweeds will respawn far too quickly, though.

Today I heard an update on the canine situation. They apparently had offered the beagle position to one of my coworkers, who then decided he didn't really want it. So now the chief is recommending me for it, though headquarters still has to make the final determination. However, the ten-week training course starts in mid-July, at which time I will still be doing my cargo training. (Not only that, but if I go then, I won't be able to attend Comiket in August. ;_;) The chief wishes we could postpone so that he wouldn't have to juggle my training schedule around, but the canine training slots are so tightly planned that if I miss this one I'm told I won't get another chance before next year. We'll see how it goes.

The big issue on everyone's mind at work is, of course, the swine flu outbreak. They've issued us lots of hand sanitizer and face masks for those who wish to wear them. The morning shift only gets one small flight from Mexico, and we're all wearing disposable gloves for everything anyway, so there isn't too much concern.
Still no word about my canine application, though I should be hearing something any day now, if the supervisor I talked to was correct in his estimation that it should take two or three weeks. I also haven't heard anything about the language test that I requested that would increase my pay for being able to speak Japanese. Another member of my class (with the same supervisor that I have) is in the same predicament with his application for the Vietnamese test. One of my coworkers with a different supervisor has already taken the test for Tagalog; she heard back right away after she applied. I'm wondering if my direct supervisor, who recently moved to cargo inspection, somehow misplaced the applications and didn't turn them in.

A further bump in the road is that, although my schedule was supposedly finalized, my date for starting cargo training was delayed three weeks. That means I won't start until May 25. On the bright side, that means I'll be working more Sundays in the interim, which pays more. Since I spent quite a bit on knitting supplies and Indian cooking supplies this month, every bit helps.

The weather here has been nice...TOO nice, perhaps. It got to be over 90° in my apartment this afternoon, and that's with the balcony door open to catch a breeze. I tried switching my thermostat to cool, but nothing happened, so I suspect my apartment is not equipped with air conditioning. I'll have to ask the manager about that tomorrow. My coworkers tell me such high temperatures are unusual for the area and seldom last long.
A.k.a. "I survived two weeks on the graveyard shift."

It turns out that the late night shift really isn't too bad overall. The most inconvenient part of it was that the BART stops running before all of the passengers are gone. Luckily, one of my coworkers with a car was willing to drive me home most nights, which saved me from having to take the once-per-hour bus much. Also, it just so happened that a cold ravaged through the ag specialists, and a number of people wound up calling in sick, making things a bit frantic as the rest of us had to cover for them. One guy called in sick for the first time in six years. I had sniffles for two days, but that was about it.

The work load is relatively light, and I had enough down time to finish the blouse I was working on. (And that's including having to pull out one entire side because the gauge given in the instructions was on crack.) The hardest part of the job is that most of the late night flights are from Mexico and Central America, which require an entirely different set of X-ray skills. For example, the morning shift gets lots of Asian flights, and we have to be on the alert for poultry products because they have bird flu. There's no bird flu in the Americas, though, so everyone can bring in as much chicken as they like. (And they do...everyone comes in with a big bag of fried chicken. Or two. Or three.) The language is also a problem. I kept my mouth shut as much as I could. Although I studied Spanish in high school and college, every time I thought about asking a passenger for food, the sentence forming in my brain was something like, "Comida ga arimasu ka?"...which no doubt would have been highly amusing to my coworkers.

There isn't much other news here. I've been continuing my experiments with making Indian food, and I've found several winners so far. I've also ordered a number of balls of sock yarn. Now I just need to get some needles and I can start experimenting with knitting.

I'm making plans to attend the cherry blossom festival in San Francisco on April 11th. The cherry trees in my neighborhood are mostly done blooming by now, so the date seems a bit late, but I'm sure there will be a lot to enjoy. I have also been scheduled for my first tae kwon do belt test on April 25th...I just don't know if I'll be able to attend. It probably depends on whether I can get someone to swap me for that day off.
Work has been going smoothly. Tomorrow I'll be starting my first late-night (5pm-1am) shift, for which I hope I will be able to stay awake. A lot of people like that shift for many reasons, including A) being able to sleep in, B) getting paid an extra 15%, and C) fewer flights and thus less work. I hear there's a lot of down time, during which people can sit at their desks and read. The down side (other than having to stay awake) is that I won't be able to make it to any of my Warcraft evening raids. Luckily, my tae kwon do place has just started offering noon lessons, so I can at least still do that.

A position with the beagle brigade has opened up at the airport, and the head supervisor told me that I can apply for it even though I haven't been here for a year yet. Whether I get it or not will depend on how many people apply.

Some of the things in my herb garden have begun to sprout, which is exciting to watch. Hopefully more will start popping up this week.

The yarn that I ordered arrived, so I've been able to start work on my blanket project. When I used to crochet in college, I always used the cheapest yarn available. It's pretty enough, but it has a plasticky feel to it that isn't entirely satisfying. This time I've been looking into higher quality yarn. On Thursday I went back to the nearest yarn shop (the one closed Mondays) and browsed through their collection for yarn to make a blouse matching a skirt I bought at the Ann Arbor Art Fair. I wound up picking a type that's around $9 per skein--much higher than the cheap stuff, but hopefully it will feel nicer when I wear it.

One of the things I've been wanting to try is making my own socks. It's always a challenge to find socks in the colors that I want for matching my clothes. I thought that if I made them myself, I could pick whatever color I wanted. I looked up the location of the nearest Michaels, which turns out to be relatively easy to get to ("relatively" because only every other train stops at its station, as I found out the hard way). Sadly, they only had two skeins of sock yarn in the entire store. I tried looking sock yarn up online, and not only is it expensive ($18-$25 per skein), most places that produce it dye it into weird color combinations for making striped socks. Few places make solid colors, which is what I wear. Alpaca Sox is the most promising I found so far, although I kind of want to get Sleeping Dragon just for the name...
Today is the official last day of my passenger baggage training period. Starting next week I will be on the regular schedule. I have already had my introduction to the wonderful world of shift-swapping. That is, the supervisors don't care who works during each shift, as long as someone does. So if a person is assigned an unfavorable shift, the challenge is then to find out who would be willing to swap for a more convenient one. For example, one of my co-workers comes in a carpool with another person, but that only works if they both have the same shift hours and the same days off. When the times or days don't match, she has to swap around with other people until they do. I helped out a bit by swapping one of my Thursdays off with one of her Mondays. The problem with all this swapping is that you have to be careful to remember which days you are actually supposed to be working...

There was a bit of excitement last week when we had a group of people come through with 50 cartons of cigarettes each. Now, everyone is allowed ONE carton of cigarettes duty-free, but any more than that and customs charges just under $5 in duty per carton. For one or two extra cartons, it generally isn't worth the effort to collect the money, but when the amount of duty owed is over a thousand dollars, you better believe they are all over it. A couple days ago a routine search uncovered an entire (taxidermy-finished) sea turtle in someone's carryon bag. We can't seize such items for destruction under customs authority, because they don't have any diseases or pests that would damage US agriculture, but we have to detain them until someone from Fish and Wildlife can examine them to see if they are endangered. No endangered animals, or any body parts thereof, are allowed into the country without proper paperwork.

On Saturday I went to the Ferry Building as [livejournal.com profile] kirbyfest suggested to see the farmer's market. That was pretty neat, and I wound up purchasing several flavors of jam and olive oil, plus an awesome vegetarian cookbook.

On Sunday I went to [livejournal.com profile] mangaroo's place to watch more Avatar, which turned into an overnight marathon to finish the series. It certainly does get exponentially better with each season. Here was a fun excerpt from the marathon session:

Me: Argh! I know I've heard Toph's father's voice before...

[livejournal.com profile] mangaroo: You'll never guess where.

Me: ??

[livejournal.com profile] mangaroo: He's the voice of Malygos from World of Warcraft.

Me: !!

It was definitely entertaining.
Certain people have been reminding me that it's about time I posted an update. First, my training in passenger baggage is nearing its end. Starting this week, rather than requiring a trainer to tell all the trainees what to do, we have been written into the daily assignment schedule so that we are expected to show our initiative in keeping ourselves busy. Once we've done that for two weeks, we will be finished with our baggage training and can be put on the regular work schedule. The main benefit of this is that we will be able to work overtime, which we currently aren't allowed to do. The drawback is that we aren't guaranteed weekends off. In fact, for the first couple weeks in March, I will have Thursday/Friday off and work on the weekends.

My tae kwon do classes have been going well. I broke my first board last week (and couldn't help thinking "but I'm not being attacked by a tree..."). Apparently breaking boards is a requirement for advancing to the next belt. I have also been practicing something called a poomse (kata in Japanese) that consists of a punch and a block repeated in various combinations. I've been told this is also part of the belt test.

My first fan tale is about the fan in the furnace of my apartment. It was just installed in December, so it's brand new. A couple weeks ago, it started making a strange noise, which sounded like a motorboat or helicopter...or the sound you get when you hold a piece of paper up to the blades of a revolving fan. After being awakened in the middle of the night repeatedly by this rather loud noise, I told the building manager about it. He showed up one day to see what the problem might be. First I had to convince him there WAS a problem, because he wasn't able to hear the noise until I took him to one of the rooms where it echoes through the vent. After fiddling with the furnace for quite some time, he decided that the filter was loose. He didn't do anything about it that day.

Yesterday I came home after work to find that the noise had grown even louder. I opened up the furnace to see that the building manager had come in some time during the day and had attempted to hold the filter in place with duct tape. However, the tape had worked loose and was flapping around wildly. I wasn't about to sit through all that noise, so I ripped the tape out...and lo and behold, when I pulled out the piece of tape that had gotten one end sucked into the fan, that end had stuck itself to a piece of paper. Once the strip of paper came out, the sound vanished, and all was well.

The second fan tale is about [livejournal.com profile] mangaroo, who has recently become a fan of the animated series Avatar. She invited me over to her house on Saturday so we could watch a marathon of the first episodes. Cut for spoilers )

Note: This would have been posted Tuesday evening, but my internet service went out.
I am happy to announce that the last of my purchased furniture has arrived and been assembled. My sofa and table set were delivered last Saturday, and I put my three bookshelves together yesterday. The shelves are still shamefully empty, but I'm sure that will be remedied soon enough.

Training at work has been continuing on apace. We had a day-long field trip to the Plant Inspection Station where we send all our unidentified plants and pests for their experts to identify. We'll be going back there later for another two days of training. We had a lecture from SITC, our sister organization responsible for finding illegal agricultural imports that have gotten past customs and out into the market and recalling everything for proper destruction. Those of us who scored above 95% at the academy in Maryland were invited downtown to the customs house to be congratulated in person by the port director.

Outside of work, I had a chance to visit briefly with an uncle who had come to town for a conference. I've also been sticking with my tae kwon do lessons, and I believe I may be starting to get in slightly better shape. I attempted to go watch a movie at the nearest theater last weekend, but the ticket price was over $10, yeouch. Not as high as Japanese ticket prices, which are truly insane, but not something I'd be willing to spend on a movie unless I know in advance that I'm going to like it.

I've discovered that somewhere in all my moving about, I've lost my entire address file. If anyone wants me to have their snail address, for newsletter purposes (if I ever get around to writing one) or whatever, drop me an email and let me know.
This past week at work I spent most of my time attending a course on anti-terrorism. Most of it was geared toward the regular customs officers, and they really take that stuff seriously. By the time passengers make it to my area in agriculture secondary, they've already gone past at least two customs officers, and possibly more if they had to stop at immigration secondary. I also learned how to input records of our searches and seizures into the computer system.

I finished my three trial tae kwon do lessons and signed up for a year at two lessons per week. It was expensive compared to, say, a gym membership, but the students are getting one-on-one or one-on-two attention from the instructors, who are doing hard physical labor. It does take away from my warcraft time, though.

Sadly, I was unable to arrange for my furniture to be delivered during a time I would actually be home on Friday, so I had to reschedule. The earliest time I could reserve for a date when I would be home all day was next Saturday, so I'll still be sitting on the floor until then.

The weather here has been sunny and in the mid-seventies all week. Yesterday I decided to take advantage of the fair weather to go sightseeing in downtown San Francisco. The first thing evident as I exited the BART station was that the streetcars were indeed quite common. There was even a special streetcar crossing sign designed for them.

I began by walking up to North Beach. On the way, I took a couple pictures for [livejournal.com profile] wednesday_10_00: one inspired by Flesh & Blood and the other by City of Glass. My first stop, just north of Chinatown (which I skirted but didn't really enter), was to view the Bill Weber Mural. It took me a few minutes to realize that the white flappy things suspended from wires in front of the building were books, not birds.

From there I walked up the street to the National Shrine of Saint Francis. This whole area is Italian, and the street is lined with cafes that have outdoor seating. In fact, it was a little tricky to walk down the sidewalk without tripping over the feet of the people sipping coffee at the rows of tables. I continued on to Washington Square, which is dominated at one end by the Saints Peter and Paul Church. There were a number of people in the park enjoying the day by practicing their dancing or tai chi.

Next I walked up--and I do mean up--the road to the Coit Tower. This walk is not for the faint of heart. Once there, I paid the five dollars for an elevator ride to the top, where I could gaze out at such sights as Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. The interior of the tower itself was not very impressive compared to, say, Tokyo Tower. It was all bare concrete, and very cramped. The elevator operator didn't even try to entertain us with facts about the tower, as I had expected he would.

After leaving the tower, I headed west along Lombard Street. There were a number of interesting examples of architecture along the way. Finally I reached the famous crooked section of the road. I was glad to be a pedestrian, I must say. I was going to head home after that, but I took a brief detour north to the Hyde Street Pier, because I was so close anyway. I didn't stay long, since by that time I had been walking for over four hours and was getting a bit tired, not to mention hungry. On my way back to the nearest station, I passed by San Francisco's decorative city hall.

Now I have to plan where to go the next time I have an opportunity for sightseeing...
<breathes huge sigh of relief>

My internet and TV are finally all hooked up. It really would have been difficult to wait much longer.

Work at the airport has been going well. It's amazing how many different kinds of food and animal products one can encounter when opening luggage. This past week we had an abundance of pigeon, for some reason. And even the senior officers were astounded by the drink holder made out of a male kangaroo's nether region.

I'm interested in seeing what will be featured on ABC's upcoming series about Homeland Security. (Apparently it was inspired by the Australian series that I saw a commercial for while I was there on vacation in the spring.) No doubt it will focus on some of the more exciting/sensational aspects, such as Border Patrol, but I'm crossing my fingers that Ag Specialists will show up in it somewhere. Maybe a bit of Beagle Brigade cuteness?

Now I must be off to check out which channels I get...
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