Archive for January, 2009

Televisual travesties

Despite best efforts I haven’t been able to unfurl much glorious prose to pay tribute to the fantastic Madang-Goroka holiday we had during the silly season. In part this is because of what I said earlier – writing is hard. Much of the holiday was scenic, yet there’s nothing more laborious to write – and, often, to read – than rolling descriptions of landscapes, figures of speech piled atop each other like the hills and mountains that are the object of evocation.

Another reason why my attempts have fallen short is that television has made a loud re-entry into our lives. Originally we accepted the thing because we knew there was only one channel on free-to-air TV here (actually there’s also a public station that broadcasts only a few hours daily, and a 24-hour bible-bashing channel as well). ‘We’ll watch the news every now and then’.

Test cricket didn’t help. Then came the Twenty/20 games and the one-dayers. Meanwhile the nightly EM-TV news has continued to surprise and amuse us with both its shoddy production and Channel 9 material (even the theme music is the same as Channel 9 news!), and A Current Affair’s vulgarity sucks us in like a great whirlpool – we’re doomed, but we have no hope of escape. Then comes Temptation – ‘quiz show! quiz show!’ I exclaim nightly, before indulging in half an hour of whistful ‘I’d be such a great quiz show champion’ reverie. Then – who knows. Tok Piksa is actually half decent. The other night it featured a retrospective show on the Sepik Crocodile festival, with footage of guys in full ceremonial regalia dancing around with live grown crocodiles strapped to their backs! Other nights we emerge, baffled and dazed, after having sat through the duration of some rugby show. (Not even a Rugby League show, which would at least have local credibility, but an imported Rugby Union show. Yes, Union. I sicken myself.) Thus far I have not succumbed to any of the shitty American movies screened by EM-TV, although Kit’s resistance has crumbled – last night she inflicted a lame Nicole Kidman & Sandra Bullock romantic comedy on herself. ‘Our Nic’ and the Bullock (the name says it all) played a pair of latter-day witches in search of love. I went in search of a porcelain bowl to vomit in, before retiring with the almost-equally painful ‘The Constitution of Liberty’ by F.A. Hayek.

Excepting the cricket, the programs on EM-TV has no chance however when compared with the ads – in terms of production value, ingenuity, or just pure dodgy hilarity. Advertising on TV here is equally as infuriating as in Australia, equally as loud, but thoroughly addictive nonetheless. The best ads are those with original jingle lyrics. We dutifully chime in with ‘Ela Motors! Ela Motors your first choice!’ at the end of every Hino truck ad. We enjoy the afroed antics of Henry Wopa who went on holiday (a Wopa breakfast biscuit sent him on his way… he ate one on the mountain, he ate one by the sea, he took them to the singsing and he shared them happily…). We sit awestruck by the advertising hegemony of Brian Bell retail stores (separate ads for sports equipment, Puk Puk brand hardware, electronics, and the new home centre). We wonder why we never actually see ‘real’ PNGeans cavorting in the ocean with their Yamaha outboards like in the (other) Ela Motors ad. We also wonder at the mindset of an advertiser whose slogan for a new range of laptops is ‘small but terrible’ (the laptops come with Linux operating system so maybe they really meant it), and marvel constantly at the ingenuity of the names given to mobile sawmills – the six inch model is called ‘Model 6’, while the eight inch model is called ‘Model 8’. There is also a ten inch model but the name is not divulged in the ad – guesses anyone? And there is always, always time to sing along with the Tablebirds chicken song – ‘Mama save kukim yu! Pikinini laikim yu! Papa tu! Bubu tu! Tablebirds tasol!

But nothing, NOTHING matches the overpowering genius of ‘Klina Meri’. First, you take a jungle directly ripped off from the Tom Jones song ‘She’s a Lady’. Then you get a montage of well-dressed PNG ladies (ie, mostly wearing meri blouses) of various ages performing their domestic duties while looking dazed yet happily at the cameras displaying the product in question – an all purpose soap – in a hand that swings left and right, left and right. How that klina meri soap swings hypnotically! The true value of this ad is only understandable when you render the lyrics from Tok Pisin into English (don’t forget to sing to the tune of the Tom Jones song):

Klina meri i gat groove (cleaner woman she’s got groove)
klina meri i gat style (cleaner woman she’s got style)
trupela meri (true woman)

Laikim yu, nating tru (I love you like nothing else)
Yu never gonna get a beta meri (You’ll never get a better woman)

And the refrain:

Klina meri! (Cleaner woman!)
woah woah woah
klina meri! (Cleaner woman!)
o klina meri (o cleaner woman!)
klina meri bilong mi (My cleaner woman!)

Then finish with the family shot of a younger klina meri, her no doubt utterly pristine husband and daughter, with the slogan – strongpela sop, gutpela smel (strong soap, good smell).

Goodbye, brain!

Best pants, worst pants.

We’ve been back in Moresby for over a week (at the time of writing, not time of posting), and I’ve spent a lot of spare moments in the interim trying to sweep together the images and memories of the two weeks holidaying beforehand to give them a shape appropriate for a reader’s consumption. It’s too easy to just to tell stories – we did this, then we did this, then we did THAT and wasn’t that exciting. So you say, says the reader, but all I have here is words on a screen. One enthusiastically shuffles the pile of dust and hair into a single pile with the broom, only for a casual observer to remark that hairballs and dust heaps are no more or less interesting that the detritus previously strewn around the place, it’s just that they are merely shoved into the same place for convenience of disposal. In short, after coming back to Moresby eager to convey what I’ve seen and done, what’s made me amused and bemused, I discover yet again that writing is actually difficult.

It’s probably easier to start where I am now and work backwards. As I have said we are back in Moresby, living through an odd jumble of expected and unexpected feelings. The expected: bouts of tedium, annoyance, isolation and paranoia, interspersed with flashes of incredulity and humour (usually both at once). The unexpected: the sensation of relief upon our trouble-free return trip, an ascetic steadiness in knowing one’s most frequent company are books to be read or written in, the quiet yet remarkable happiness in seeing green hills and clouds overhead.

Our return was a good omen. We were upgraded to the big seats at the front of the plane, the taxi ride from Jackson’s airport to Waigani Heights was faster and cheaper than expected, the streets were far less hectic than when we left during the pre-Christmas febrility, the house was clean (enough) when we stepped through the door, the power and water were both on, the rain was on its way, and the beer shop was just downhill. It was not a triumphant return, but it was encouraging. It occured to me that it had become easier to say ‘home’ when I talked about this no-frills besser-block unit on a small hill in Waigani. Sometimes I can’t convince myself, but sometimes it’s a comfortable fit – like a fickle pair of pants that stretches and resiles from day to day. Some days, loose and fancy-free. Other days, the worst pants ever.

“Bigpla pik blong Kwin i bai kam!”

Pigs are fantastic beasts. I was smacked by this revelation as we stood under the twilight stars and lazy palms negotiating a price for a boat ride the following day. While our companion discussed the details with the boat owner I looked around and saw two mottled swine rummaging through foliage. One was seized by an urge and backed itself against the trunk of a palm, vigorously scratching its backside by rubbing it against the tree. For some the purest image of uninhibited freedom is a hawk in flight or perhaps a motorcyclist at top speed. For me it is a pig shamelessly scratching its arse on a coconut palm in the tropical twilight. This may be linked with my outlook on life. For some, the ultimate itch to scratch is that of itchy feet, relieved only by travails across the globe and residences in exotic cities. For others, sex or addictions. My equivalent is much baser, and much more easy to satisfy – provided one has a similar attitude to a pig in paradise.

I have found that the best justice I can give our two weeks away can really be best rendered in momentary glimpses, the snippets of memory that persist vividly despite the jumbled competition of everything else that preoccupies me. The best of these images of our two weeks away, especially during our two nights in the Eastern Highlands, are all swine-related – as evidenced by the example above, or the too-cute piglet tied by the leg to a Goroka pikinini as they both sat and waited for ‘mum’. Other pig related moments also stick solidly in the mind – like the nun we heard on ABC radio who was explaining the source of tribal conflict in the Highlands – invariably land, women and (of course) pigs.

What beast can stand atop a heaped mound of organic market refuse, snout its way through the debris until it finds something edible, and still look magnificent? Only the mighty Highlands swine! These fantastic animals have no fear or hindrance, and seemed to roam parts of Goroka as one would expect a stray dog to – except there would never, ever be a ‘stray’ pig in PNG. The animals seemingly face only two grave dangers in life. The first danger is that of the speeeding PMV. These vehicles – typically fifteen-seater minibuses – career recklessly around the sharp corners and over poorly-maintained bitumen up and down the length of the Highlands Highway, from Wabag or Mendi to Mount Hagen, Hagen to Goroka via Kundiawa, from Goroka to Lae or Madang on the coast (the Madang-Goroka route was incidentally the trip we took, up into the Eastern Highlands and back – what a ride!). Villages line the highway, inhabited by people who are not accustomed to the general rules of road safety that are drilled into the typical suburban Aussie kids’ head (Get off the road! Get here! I said get off the bloody road! etc etc). Mind you there are many suburban Aussie roads that are trafficked more heavily than the Highlands Highway, by vehicles that often travel faster – except the PMVs. With a roadside population unfettered by road safety worries, it can be understood why concern for animals straying onto the road is also minimal. Thus the three (maybe more) situations on our rides to and from Goroka where the PMV we were in had to brake suddenly, veer wildly, or simply rely on the self-preservation instincts of the unsuspecting pig who moments before had been snorting away, merrily and unmolested, on a nice sunny patch of road. Our PMV drivers were both skilled and lucky, and no pigs were killed or injured during our travels, however there is no way every pig on the highway could be so fortunate.

The unfortunate event of a pig’s injury or death is not a cheap one. I have been told of a Chinese saying, that if you run over a chicken then it’s the chicken’s fault, but if you run over a duck it’s definitely YOUR fault. Substitute the chicken for a skinny dog and a duck for a mighty Highlands hog and you have a pretty solid PNG aphorism too. You accidentally kill a pig, then you’d better have some handy cash – maybe half a grand, maybe two grand, depending on how angry the villagers are, how big the pig is, and whether or not you managed to speed away without anyone taking note of the vehicle you were in. Pigs are items of huge value, especially in the Highlands, they are not killed and eaten willy-nilly. They have ceremonial functions, and are ‘outlaid’ to settle tribal disputes, bride prices, or to honour guests of high esteem. It is simply not cool to smash one up with your car.

This brings us to the other certain danger of the Highlands pig – the mumu. A mumu is a feast, involving the cooking of pigs and other (less important and delicious) items underground using the hot-rocks technique. A mumu takes hours and is accompanied by an event of great significance – as aforementioned, a wedding, or the brokering of peace between feuding parties, and honoured guest, or maybe an aspiring leader trying to impress his ‘constituents’ with his magnanimity and generosity (and thus consolidate his constituents’ obligation to support him in elections). Many, many pigs have died over the ages thanks to the threat of the mumu, often en masse. They often don’t die well from what I have read – accounts include pigs only just stunned being thrown onto fires to burn off their coats of hair, or bludgeoned brutally by hands wielding sticks, the same hands that until moments before had nurtured the animal, fed it and comforted it with as much pride and dedication as would be given a human child – perhaps more. A dire end to a previously unfettered life of luxury. This was probably the fate of the pig who we saw trussed and hanging from a long pole carried between two men as we sped on our way back to Madang.

Another great pig memory is indeed not even my memory, and it actually had little to do with any pig whatsoever. Martin is a friend who we met in Madang, a film-maker who is from Rabaul but who lives in Germany (prospects in the movie industry are better in Europe). He recounted a tale from his youth, when the Queen sent an elephant on tour of Papua New Guinea as a gesture to celebrate the territory’s imminent independence. The arrival of the great beast was in the offing and many villagers of all ages clamoured exitedly by the roads, giddy with anticipation. A large motor was heard in the distance and the word spread rapidly – “bigpla pik blong Kwin i bai kam!” The Queen’s big pig is coming!


Well the internet at the ultimate think-tank institute (a tautologous phrase, methinks?) has been about as useful as tits on a bull lately so the anecdotes have been stymied somewhat. More news is imminent however – assuming the internet doesn’t break tomorrow.

Meanwhile, a village in Texas is about to welcome its’ most famous and reviled idiot back. What a relief.