Posts Tagged 'Moresby'

Up the garden path.

The internet habits of “googling” and hypertext clicking (link-hopping?) are probably changing many of the ways which we look for information, read text, digest data and words, and so on. This isn’t really the time and place to dwell on these matters which frankly others are doing better than me anyway. But, thanks to WordPress, I get a little list of search terms that led people to this site. Not sure if they found what they were after, or whether they were happy to have themselves led up the garden path in a virtual sense. Virtual seekers, seek on, and good luck to you.

Here are some of the terms that seem to have brought people to this humble blog. Some I offer just for expanatory purposes, so that if the same search leads someone here then they may get the answer. Some are included because they’re just odd. Here we go:

Tok pisin olgeta: “olgeta” means “everything”. Hence the name of this blog – “olgeta longlong”, i.e. “everything’s crazy” or “everything’s insane”.

How did Mt. Tavurvur get its name?: I dunno, but I daresay it’s a Tolai name. Sounds impressive though doesn’t it? Say TAR-VUR-VUR in a sonorous voice, like James Earl Jones would after he’s swallowed a nice cup of gravel. I think if you pronounce it like that, it means “goddamn awesome” or “do not fuck with my shit”.

Big supermarket in PNG: As I’ve written before on this blog, the most popular expat supermarket in Moresby is the aptly named Foodworld. An entire WORLD of FOOD. Makes the mind spin. There’s also a place by the harbour still often referred to as Anderson’s, although it was sold to the SVS Group a while before we got to Moresby. The supermarket formerly known as Anderson’s now smells putrid, and old timers are sometimes heard moaning things like “bloody Malaysians turned the place into a bloody trade store”. There is also a whopping new supermarket called Vision City, which houses one of Moresby’s three RH Hypermarts. Vision City will also make your mind spin, due to the fresh aroma of cheap imported plastic toys.

Meri Buka porn: As far as I know this blog does not feature pornography featuring women from Bougainville. All the best with that though… hmmm.

Forget in tok pisin: Sori, mi lus tingting!!!! Ridim dictonary pastaim.

Brave old world.

Things certainly work differently down here. Propriety is different, not so much snobby but more stylish. The classic Yacht Club outfit sported by Moresby upper crust will not do in Sydney. Where are the floral shirts? The stripes and saggy breast pockets? At least sandals and thongs are still OK, if somewhat less ragged and dusty. I find myself slipping into the old uniforms with surprising ease – new Bonds t-shirts are a comfort after not being able to wear them much, thanks to that swift Moresby slickness that comes up every time you step into the heat.

An iPhone in Sydney is part of the kit. Requisite. An iPhone in Moresby is a fatuous gesture, a joke, a trinket good for being thieved and not much else. Selecting a good kalamata olive leaves one boggled for choice. In Moresby, it is one kind or maybe the other and by God you’re happy to have it despite the clearly indulgent price. Bicycles and after-hours strolls. The ability to get snobbish over instant coffee and wallow in internet that loads like a breeze. Drinking beer with names like “Fat Yak” and in styles like “amber ale”, with the words “south” and “pacific” nowhere to be seen on the label.

On beer – a reunion BBQ in Brisbane by the river sees a pair of mates show up with the cheapest beer they could find in the bottle-o: a six pack of nothing less than the mighty SP brown. I made eyes at the free bottle opener that came with it, and am thankful for their generous gesture – nowhere in Moresby did I see one for sale. The memorabilia and the memories keep coming, like little shockwaves one month on, elegiac ripples of sorts (for isn’t nostalgia a kind of mourning in its own way?). I hope they keep coming, I really do.

Memory is tricky and motivation is fickle. I am no longer in PNG but Kit and I have aspirations to return – just not quite yet. In the meantime I hope to use this nether-space as a repository for the moments, images and stories that the last two-and-a-bit years have given me. Subject of course to the two factors mentioned above. There’s enough to keep this thing going a little while longer in any case. Until then – Manda. Apa kanda. Catch. Luuukkiiiiiiimm yuuuu.

Odd things happen at supermarkets too.

Every weekend the ritual is much the same: drive (partially or fully) hung over through the aggravated heat to the bizarre oasis called Boroko Foodworld at Gordons, buy a newspaper and an orchy, read as much of Messrs. Kelly, Shanahan, Pearson and Adams before getting more woozy, and try not to think about mushrooms. Mushrooms are uncommon – in Kokopo we saw a strange but tasty type of local fungus that is apparently harvested from trees, otherwise they come cheaply in cans (not good) or in brown paper bags from the imported food aisle at Foodworld at a ridiculous cost. So we make do with baked beans, just as we make do with The Weekend Australian in the absence of much else. Yes, life is extraordinarily hard.

Being the haven of expatriates city-wide (more so on Saturday with its influx of Weekend newspapers from the south), Foodworld is a strange simulacrum of a place – a real simulation of a real supermarket from more indulgent, opulent places, shelves gleaming with imported items like olives and quality brooms and twenty types of bloody tinned corn. Meanwhile most people outside earn in a week what we pay for a bottle of olive oil, and the cost of the special newspapers we need to survive would be an outlandish sum for most. Yet like many of Port Moresby’s simulacrums it has an atmosphere redolent of the past forgotten by most, when socks were always pulled up high and a white ham and cheese sandwich with a milkshake was the best you could expect for lunch and cars did not clog the streets let alone the entrance to the supermarket (and as for the colour of the people who drive them, well…).

Inside is cool and different to the dusty hardship of the world outside, even though the regular absentees on the shelves (no Vita Weets? Check in six weeks) allow the psychological distance between here and outside to leak though the gaps on shelves – before the gaps are in turn plugged up by the latest in stupid and unnecessary canned American surplus items… what the hell is hominy, anyone?!?)

When you drive in you traverse a gauntlet of local people selling stuff. For the sellers it’s a case of going where the money is. Tables fashioned as crocodiles and statues of men with masks and spears. If you are seen giving a passing glance to something the seller will start his pitch – boss, fifty kina – and you have to retreat behind a layer of indifference and wait for the traffic to inch onward. A regular group set up under the shade of the tree to sell flowers and plants, and often men from Central Province have crabs for sale, their claws bound and squirming uncomfortably on a sheet of cardboard, every so often being squirted with water to prevent them being cooked alive under the sun. When you drive past they proclaim their wares, except their accent warps the word so they sustain a funny chant of “crebs crebs crebs crebs” as you ease past. I would buy some, but I honestly have no idea what to do with a live crab. One day I saw men selling gigantic lobsters and on one of our first days here over two years ago a grinning man was offering a baby wallaby to passers-by (again in both cases I would no idea what to do with these creatures). The other day a man was selling a baby crocodile. “Nice crocodile” he said as we drove past. “I can see it’s a nice crocodile” I snapped as we went past, “and you shouldn’t be selling that shit.” I was scolded for my outburst and was told it was indeed time for me to get outta Moresby.

Once a man saw we were admiring an item of his – I can’t even recall what it was, which makes the episode even more tragic, was it a table or an ebony bowl or a carved mask? – and tried the usual pitch. It was a big thing, whatever it was, and I think he wanted about five hundred kina. The usual “no thanks” and air of disinterest was met with an offer for about fifty kina discount. We continued driving – but as we were getting out the car the man was there, offering us another fifty kina off. Again the attempt at politely declining before heading inside. The newspaper, the orchy, the muttering at Christopher Pearson, the shopping, and about an hour later we return to the car with a full trolley – to find the man waiting for us again, this time armed with an offer of three hundred kina. Uncomfortable at having to decline again and again, we loaded the car. Two hundred and fifty as we shut the boot. By then we had given up saying no thanks, we don’t really need it. Missus, two hundred as the doors shut. One hundred and fifty as the engine started. Then the last attempt as we drove off – Boss, fifty kina! One tenth of the original price. Our car was moving as he made this final offer, and he was trotting along beside the car, leaning down to address me.

As we drove home I felt perturbed, guilty – and annoyed at feeling guilty. I wondered at the man’s desperation to sell, thinking of what kind of circumstances he faced, how much trouble he was in, or who he had stolen it off (a cruel thought but not an impossible scenario). But there’s always that odd and slightly shamed feeling when faced by the desperate – I merely gave the object a passing glance, I did not say I wanted it or ask how much it was, I did not want to be followed and would rather be left alone, it would be easier for me if you were not here right now, if you and your desperation just went away. Wonderful, wealthy white guilt. At least if you don’t give a fuck you’re not a hypocrite.

Air conditioned comfort.

Air conditioned comfort – which is of course a bad sign, because if you are in air conditioning you are probably in an office, and often offices are places where things take longer than they should. For example: an hour to change the details on a plane ticket, with various calculations, recalculations and apologies necessitating additional taps on the keyboard and calls through to supervisors, inaudible from where I sit despite the woman only sitting on the other side of the desk. The women are all dressed like the hostesses on the planes, all emerald green and blue and lilac, they were fussing over some shoes when I arrived. One of their relatives sells them for her children’s school fees. The archaic creak of a dot matrix printer banishes whatever made you thought this was any time after the 1980’s. Another example: the long line to replace a licence, only to be given a pink form to take to a court house for the signature to be witnessed. Despite my protestations of gross inefficiency I am compelled to go. The next day, a longer line. The stainless steel barriers gleam strangely under the flouro lights, they could belong in any of those forbiddingly familiar and banal foyers. The staffing arrangements could also be anywhere, with the usual story of less than one third of the available windows occupied by the customer service people (and by standards up here that is in fact a good ratio of windows to staff!). A newspaper is all that staves off a frothing expatriate tantrum during the half hour wait. At the window the man takes a split-second look at my signed pink form and tells me to go straight to the next window (with a nice, fat, fresh looking queue) to pay. In other words, I had no need to negotiate the first line. At the next stage there are indeed two lines – licences and registrations, but with little to indicate which line is which. In a moment of camaraderie some customers figure out the situation and advise the rest, which causes groans as people shuffle obediently from the line they had waited patiently in to the line they were supposed to be in. I think idly that this kind of experience would be the kind one would have in a Cuban immigration office, but I would expect much better music there.

Domesticity.

Domesticity – strange sounds filter in from outside. A man with a megaphone is reciting the names of the Highlands provinces – Enga, Simbu, Eastern Highlands, Western Highlands, Southern Highlands… there is some kind of meeting on tomorrow but the wind warps the sound so I cannot make out what it’s all about. I go out too look but can see nothing from the balcony, just the shuddering leaves, the curved rooftop of the new market being built, and the endless parade of traffic on Waigani Drive. Inside, more water is boiling. It boils for thirteen to fifteen minutes. I keep a lid on it so it doesn’t all evaporate away. The city has cholera these days, apparently more than 450 cases have been reported around town but it seems like not many people have died. I remember that the lettuce I bought at the market probably needs a wash in sterilised water. Aside from the tedious inconvenience life goes on. Television in the evening still broadcasts news services and cooking shows. One such show was on the day while I was telling a story. Mid-sentence I find my words cut off by the volume. Somewhat piqued I turn the TV off at the wall. How dare you! I was trying not to laugh, because I could see what had been on – some luscious looking dessert is being made on the screen. Kit looks at me, disgruntled. But that was FUDGE!. Other domestic scenarios surrender their momentoes to the curious bank of memory. At the supermarket – not the supermarket for expats and ‘aspirationals’, but the local one visible from the balcony – the woman at the checkout was happy to see me, possibly not for any reason besides the fact that any evidence that other people could come here and go to the ‘normal’ supermarkets was welcome. I was happy to humour the woman, although I did not spare the time to explain our usual shopping tendencies. The woman commented that the city had a bad name thanks to the exaggerations of the media, both local and foreign. Not for the first time did I find myself agreeing with such sentiments – but only half agreeing. The half that disagreed was bemused, yet again, by the propensity of many PNGeans to blame their country’s ills on the hype of the media, as if this were some great sweaty dusty simulacrum where the reality of crime and poverty was a problem borne purely from the illusory powers of the powerful ideas-manipulating forces of the media. Never mind that media access is hugely limited countrywide, never mind the gross and obvious disparities in wealth (not just between expat and national but elite PNG and poor PNG), never mind the shitty roads and the shitty services and the shitty state of health and education… never mind that in the next sentence after decrying the media most PNGeans will agree vehemently that things are indeed no good. I bought my mi goreng noodles and the tin of bamboo shoots I found, waved goodbye to the two women sitting in the shade nearby, and went back home just in time for the power to black out.

Breezy afternoon.

Breezy afternoon – a woman snips at the hair of a young man, who sits with head down obsequiously but with frequent, sullen glances up. He looks like the energetic hound being given a bath, pride stung and enthusiasm stifled. They are seated on a balcony, on the same level as the palm leaves rustling in the wind. As she snips, the wind picks up severed clumps of thick, curled hair. It is carried aloft for metres before settling on the dry grass like a strange hirsute black snow, except that days later it has yet to melt. It merely sits like the other odd organic and inorganic detritus. It is rubbish day, the bins await their moment of purging by the ragtag collection of workers who rattle through the streets in their old green garbage truck adorned with Japanese writing. I fancy sometimes it says something like ‘A Gift From Osaka to Port Moresby!’, and think that’s funny because after all nobody would have a clue what it said. Meanwhile, as the bins languish on the roadside for two days, the bags of rubbish pile up on top of bushes. They are torn own every night by the desperate scavenging animals, who scatter the pungent contents all over the place in search of whatever sustenance they can glean – a scrap at the bottom of a can of tuna, the bloody ant-covered smear on a piece of dish-shaped styrofoam, a piece of bread mostly eaten. The next day it is collected and disposed of by the groundskeeper, but small bits remain, settling comfortably into the grotty cityscape, to be kicked aside later or ground into the road by the passage of vehicles, or swept into the drains with the next deluge.

Hot night

Outside somewhere in the still smothering dark a dog yaps, the irritating acoustic to a night too hot to sleep. Whatever part of the body that touches the mattress became a thermal engine. When sleep nears the heat of one’s own body became too much and some movement becomes necessary. Jerked awake by the body’s own hot panic one just learns to lie there, hope for a breeze or some rain, or at least some maddened rifleman to end that fucking dog’s life. Even in the morning, with the world having launched itself into a wakened state, the wretched, bored creature’s incessant, monotonous exhortations can still be heard. How the neighbours do not take extreme exception to its habits are a mystery. It is incomprehensible how, in this city so reputedly bristling with firearms and so indifferent to the lives of mongrels, this one bastard mutt manages to remain a pest to those in need of sleep. The thought is almost as maddening as the barking itself. It’s yapping becomes a noisesome contagion as other unseen hounds join in the chorus hour or so. The fervid restlessness continues. The fits eventually subside and sleep gets you, a febrile slip into that strange nothing-but-anything place, the surreal bulwark that prises one day’s overheated frustrations from the next.