Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Papua New Guinea: Tales from the Bar: The Beehive: Part II

The Wednesday after Cathy punched Maymay's lights out, I returned to the Beehive. I wondered who would be there, and how I would be received.

When I walked in the door, there was the standard moment of shock when everyone in the place felt compelled to stop and stare at me. This happens on a regular basis, though, so I didn't much care. Many people recognized me from the week before, so I got a “hey, bro” here and there, and then everyone resumed their activities.

This time Stewart and some of his friends were going to meet me for happy hour. I was the first to arrive, so I went to wait at the bar.

When Bernard, the owner, saw me, he was overjoyed. “It's good to see you again,” he said. “I didn't think you'd come back.”

“Don't worry,” I told him, “I have very low standards.”

We had a good laugh over this, and then he bought me a drink.

Bernard was busy with other matters, so we chatted briefly and he moved on.

So, there I was – sitting at the bar, sipping my bourbon, listening to the band, and minding my own business. The surly waitresses were hanging around behind the bar, and two young ladies were sitting to my left.

The waitresses ignored me like I figured they would, but the two young ladies didn't last two minutes before they started asking me questions.

Their icebreaker was a question of nationality. “Are you Australian?” they asked.

When I told them that I was American, they were duly impressed.

They were concerned that I was alone, though, so I told them that I was waiting on my friends to arrive.

“We'll keep you company until they get here,” they told me.

Then we started in on the usual conversation about who I was, why I was in Papua New Guinea, how I liked it, where I had traveled, and all the rest.

These young ladies were named Medley and April, and they told me that they almost never came to bars. They were more into the nightclub scene. Specifically, they were Gold Club junkies.

Regardless of where they normally went, they sure were thirsty when I met them. They were downing the whiskeys and coke like water. This was OK, though, because the 2-kina happy hour was going strong.

By the time Stewart and his friend turned up, Medley, April, and I had been talking and drinking for half an hour. In that time, we had exchanged cell phone numbers; they had invited me to visit their village, and we had danced to several songs. Things were going fine, in other words.

Then Stewart showed up.

Medley, April, and I were still at the bar, and Stewart walked up to place an order.

“Hey, Bro,” he greeted me. “We've got a table over there.”

In the time it had taken him to place his order, I hadn't moved. Stewart took note of this and then went back to his table.

I was a bit conflicted. No matter where I decided to sit, I would offend someone.

I told the ladies that I would be back, and then I went to talk to Stewart.

Since he was a guy, Stewart obviously wasn't going to beg me to sit at his table. He did, however, make his case for why I shouldn't stay with the ladies. To paraphrase just a bit, he thought that they were bad girls.

This observation was in line with the advice several other people had given me already: You don't meet nice ladies in bars in Papua New Guinea.

I figured that Stewart was probably right, so I bought Medley and April a final drink and excused myself. They were a bit miffed that I had chosen Stewart over them, but they masked their disappointment with attitude.

Back at Stewart's table, I received a lesson on how to take full advantage of happy hour. Shortly after I sat down, the waitresses brought his order over. As they emptied their trays, our table began to look like a water station at a marathon. The entire surface of the table was covered with white plastic cups, and each contained some variety of cheap alcohol.

I had seen other tables covered with cups like this the last time I had come to the Beehive, but it didn't really register with me what was happening. Well, what was happening is that people were ordering 40 or 50 drinks at once so that they could lock in the happy hour price of 2 kinas per drink. Then they would work at clearing their tables, one drink at a time, throughout the night. This strategy would never work in the States, by the way, because most places that have happy hours of this type have a strict limit on how many drinks you can buy at once. For example, the bar I used to go to in DC that had a 25-cent beer happy hour would only allow a customer to have 2 beers at any given time.

Anyhow, Stewart ordered the three of us a boatload of drinks. This was nice and all, but I must say that I found his selections to be a bit puzzling. Of this sea of cups, there were probably only five cups at the most that contained the same thing. So we had five cups of red wine, five cups of bourbon and coke, five cups of gin and tonic, five cups of scotch and soda, and a variety of other random drinks. In order for the three of us to clear our table, we were each going to have to consume the full spectrum of drinks in one sitting.

“Who drinks like that?” I ask you.

I'll tell you who: people destined for hang-overs.

Unfortunately for me, my preferred drink is bourbon on the rocks, and Stewart didn't order a single one of these.

Not one to look a gift-horse in the mouth, though, I started drinking what was on the table along with Stewart and the other guy whose name I forget. I'll call him Trevor.

We drank and shot the breeze for a while, and then the dance floor started filling up. There were plenty of women looking for partners, so we all got called out at some point. One familiar face on my dance card was my homegirl Margaret, the security guard who had taken a liking to me the week before.

Margaret started calling me her small brother that night, which she thought was hilarious. The funny thing to her was that I was her “small brother” age-wise, although I was a good two feet taller than she was. I was her big small brother.

Coincidentally, this wasn't as funny to me as it was to her.

Anyhow, I had a few dances, and then I returned to the table.

Up to this point, I hadn't seen hide nor hair of Maymay or Cathy, and they were no longer fresh on my mind. Then Cathy, the Moresby Mangler herself, walked in the door.

She spotted me straight away and walked over to my table.

“Whazzup, Bro?” she asked me.

We went through a quick exchange of greetings, and then Cathy moved on to what was really on her mind.

“What's your involvement with that woman?” she asked. “She's got issues.”

I told her that there was nothing going on between Maymay and me. I also told her Maymay's version of the big fight.

Cathy was proud to know that she intimidated Maymay, and she verified Maymay's account of the incident, or at least the part where Maymay got pummeled. Not too surprisingly, Cathy did not agree with Maymay's assertion that she had started the fight.

Before she left to join her friends, Cathy gave me a message for Maymay. “If you see your friend,” she told me, “tell her that she doesn't need to hide from me. I won’t belt her again as long as she learns to keep her mouth shut.”

It was good to know that the hatchet was buried (sort of). I'm not sure if Maymay ever got the message, though, because I never spoke to her again. She's probably still watching her back.

After Cathy left, Stewart, Trevor, and I finished off our table full of drinks. The party at the Beehive was winding down, so Stewart suggested that we move to Ozzie's which was across town.

We were there in about 10 minutes, and who should we see in the parking lot? Why, it was none other than Medley and April, and they were hanging all over a paunchy, white-haired expat. Stewart's theory that these two were skanks panned out in the end.

Medley and April acknowledged me with a glance, and Stewart, Trevor, and I walked in to Ozzie's. It was deader than the Beehive. It was after midnight on a Wednesday in Port Moresby, and we weren't going to find much of a party no matter where we went.

We didn't need any excuses to stay out later anyway since we all had to go to work in a few hours. We had one round at Ozzie's, and then we went our separate ways. On my way out, I passed Medley and April and their elderly friend again.

My first visit to the Beehive ended with two women that I had befriended getting into a fistfight, and my second visit ended with two women that I had befriended doubling up on a geriatric with a few kinas in his pockets.

I'm almost afraid to see what's behind door number three.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Papua New Guinea: Rabaul

The weekend after Thanksgiving, I decided to take a little trip to Rabaul.

On the Saturday morning of my flight, I reported to the airport about forty-five minutes early, a perfectly reasonable time to arrive before a domestic flight. When I went to check-in, however, I was told that the plane was overweight. Once the plane was finished fueling and the final weight was known, I might be allowed to board.

I stood around and waited for the verdict along with three other people, all Papua New Guineans. One of my fellow stand-byers was a guy named Edwin. He was somehow related (brother or cousin, I think) to the Papua New Guinean Ambassador to the U.S.

Edwin and I chatted for a while and as frequently happens, he wanted to exchange contact information. As we swapped mobile phone numbers, I doubted very seriously that I would ever call him. Edwin, however, was very much interested in showing me around the greater Port Moresby area some weekend.

At the time that we met, Edwin was trying to transit through Rabaul on his way to Kavieng, where he was scheduled to audit the books of some company.

As we talked and waited, time kept ticking away. Before long, the posted boarding time passed. Then the departure time passed. The flight was late (nothing terribly unusual), but I was still starting to get concerned. Maybe I wouldn't make the flight after all.

There was no need to worry, though. Soon enough, the check-in agent called us over and gave us all boarding passes. By the time we were checked-in, the other passengers had already loaded up and the plane was ready for take-off. In his rush to get us out to the tarmac, the agent quickly hand-tagged our check-in bags and gave us the matching stubs. Then we ran out to the waiting Fokker.

Rabaul is on the island of East New Britain, the largest satellite island of New Guinea Island, and for the entire flight a panorama of palm trees, reefs, sand, and sea scrolled by my window.

During the course of the flight, the weather began to deteriorate, and just as we landed, it started raining.

Like most airports in PNG, the one servicing Rabaul was small. The terminal building was just off the runway, and I waited with the rest of the passengers in the little arrivals room while the luggage was unloaded.

There weren't that many passengers, so it didn't take me long to realize that my bag was not among the others. I pulled out my luggage stub as I set about trying to find someone to help me. And as I read the stub for the first time, I understood why my bag wasn't there: it had been checked all the way through to Kavieng. Doh!

When I eventually did find an Air Niugini employee, he told me that it wasn't possible to retrieve my bag from the plane because its time on the ground was short and it was nearly ready to take-off again. I would have to wait until later in the afternoon when the flight returned from Kavieng.

I had a reservation at the Rabaul Hotel, and I had paid for airport transfers as well. The hotel's driver had been waiting with me while I sorted my luggage situation out, and he offered to collect my bag for me. He would be coming back in the afternoon to pick up more guests anyway.

With the luggage taken care of, we rounded up two other hotel guests and hopped in the king cab of the hotel's pick-up truck.

Rabaul, by all accounts, was a happening town at one point. That all changed in September of 1994, though, when the volcano Tavurvur erupted and covered the town under a thick layer of ash. The ash was so thick and dense that it caused most of the buildings in town to collapse. Tavurvur still fumes today, and because of the threat of another eruption, most people decided not to rebuild in Rabaul. Instead, most of Rabaul's businesses and many of its inhabitants relocated to Kokopo, the next town over.

Rabaul's original airport, which sat just below Tavurvur, was ruined in the eruption. The main airport is now located outside Kokopo, about an hour from Rabaul.

The other two people with me in the hotel shuttle were a couple from Australia. I think their names were Beth and Matt. In any case, they lived in Canberra and worked at the university there. Beth was a biologist, and Matt worked in the IT department.

As we were talking, I noticed that Matt sounded exactly like my good friend Craig, an Australian from Darwin. I mentioned this to Matt, and it turned out that he was also from Darwin. I suck at placing accents, so I was proud of myself on this rare occasion in which I guessed one right.

Beth, on the other hand, was an immigrant to Australia from Germany, but I didn't guess this.

Beth and Matt were hopping around PNG on vacation, and they came to Rabaul specifically for diving. Although not a diver myself, diving and underwater photography dominated most of our conversation.

Shortly after we left the airport, we stopped at a store and the driver loaded up the truck with provisions. Then we continued on.

Only stretches of the road were paved, so there were plenty of bumpy segments of mud, dirt, and gravel. Our driver really babied the truck as we drove through these bumpy bits.

When we reached the hotel, we were greeted by a blond woman who was one of the owners. She told us that our rooms weren't ready and suggested that we have lunch while housekeeping finished up.

We took her advice and went to the hotel's restaurant. The place was basically a Chinese restaurant, but the menu also featured a few pages of Western cuisine. The Western food could be ordered any day, but one night each week (Wednesday, I think), it was the only choice because the chef who made the Chinese food got that night off.

I ordered a few dumplings, spicy squid, and combination fried rice, and without a doubt, that was the best Chinese food I had eaten in PNG. It was a real treat.

That said, a few days earlier I had gotten sick at the potluck Thanksgiving dinner that the Ambassador had hosted for the American community, so I knew that my lunch wouldn't be staying with me for long.

Beth, Matt, and I spent a fair bit of time at lunch, and by the time we finished, our rooms were ready.

I had booked a budget room, and it was nothing really to write home about. Mystery stains on the bedding, cracked tiles in the bathroom, random bugs...

There was definitely no reason to linger there, so I put my things inside and set out to see some sights.

It was still drizzling at the time, so I had to keep wiping down my camera which I was carrying out in the open.

With no particular plan in mind, I started walking down the street. Within two minutes, I was being shadowed by a crew of little kids. They all had names like Solomon, Jonah, and Zachariah. In fact, in this group of six or eight kids, there were two Jonahs.

In the area of town where the hotel was, there was not much else. As the kids and I walked down the deserted street, I inquired about some horses that were grazing on a fenced-in soccer field to our left. As all of the kids shouted out information about the horses and their ownership, I couldn't understand anything through the clamor.

In addition to all the shouting about the horses, a few of the boys also showed me some faults in the fence in case I wanted to go inside for a closer look. I didn't.

Just past the horses, we came to a church. There were a lot of people milling around, so I think that we had arrived at the tail end of some service or function.

The people outside the church included several young people, and these youngsters were particularly excited to see me. They rushed over and asked if I wanted to see the bunker. They were talking about the bunker of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, Commander-in-Chief of the Japanese Fleet during World War II and the architect of the attack on Pearl Harbor. (Rabaul was actually the last place to see Yamamoto alive; the Americans shot him down in April 1943 as he flew east from Rabaul toward the Solomon Islands.)

When I told the group of boys that I would like to see the bunker, we moved over to the site en masse. The bunker was painted white inside, and the boys led me up and down stairs, through corridors, and into rooms. The younger kids were unable to contain their excitement, and they were jumping all around. The older boys tried to make them settle down with very little success.

Some of the older boys also ran ahead to make sure the lights were turned on for me.

As the guys were leading me around, the thought crossed my mind that these tunnels would be an ideal place to jack up a tourist such as myself. My guides had no ill intent, though.

The highlight of the tour was a visit to Yamamoto's map room. The maps, which were painted on the walls and ceiling, were still in great condition.

As we worked our way out, one of the boys told me that his family lived in the bunker. I may have misunderstood him, though, because I didn't see any sign of habitation down there. In any case, it wouldn't be a very comfortable place to live; aside from the lack of fresh air and sunlight, much of the floor was flooded with rainwater.

Once we were outside the bunker again, I took a group shot of the mob that was hanging around me. Then I headed off.

I was alone as I walked down the deserted road, and before long I noticed a young man following me at a distance. He may have just been walking the same direction as me, but I kept a close watch on his movements all the same, lest he should succumb to the call of rascalism. He never did move to close the interval between us, and nothing untoward ever happened.

A few blocks from the Rabaul Hotel was the Travelodge, and just past the Travelodge there was another hotel. These three were about all that remained on that side of town.

A man would later tell me that before Rabaul was devastated by Tavurvur, the Travelodge had held the record for having the highest occupancy rate in the entire Southern Hemisphere, Australia included. The Travelodge had supposedly remained at or near capacity year-round.

At the hotel beyond the Travelodge, the name of which I forget, there was a woman selling beetle nut on the steps. She was talking with two men and with a woman who was crocheting. Everyone was chewing beetle nut.

The rain was now falling with more intensity, and I was getting a little worried for my camera. I asked the group if anyone could spare a plastic bag so I could cover it up. The beetle nut seller gave me one.

Of course, I didn't just take the bag and leave without having a bit of discourse. We went through all of the usual questions pertaining to my stay in PNG, my visit to Rabaul, my job, and so forth. Then we moved on to other topics.

One of the men was named Robert, and he went into the story of Rabaul's ruin. As he reminisced about the glory of Rabaul in the days before the eruption, he got lost in nostalgia for a moment. Then he came back to the present.

“You know what really killed Rabaul?” he asked me.

And then he answered his own question.

“It was the government,” he said, “not the volcano.”

In the Lonely Planet guidebook for PNG, the chapter on Rabaul tells the story of how the Rabaul Hotel was saved during the eruption, while nearly every other building was destroyed. Basically, the staff at the hotel stayed on 24-hour alert and swept the ash off the roof around the clock. They didn't allow it to collect and the weight of the ash was never enough to collapse the roof. Lonely Planet uses the example of the Rabaul Hotel to imply that the whole town could have been saved if people had only put a little effort into combating the ash.

Robert, however, had a counter-argument to the somewhat judgmental analysis by Lonely Planet, and I found it to be compelling. According to him, in the last couple of major eruptions in 1878 and 1937, many people had perished. When the volcano began to spew again in 1994, the government decided not to take any chances. An evacuation was ordered, and most of the townspeople obeyed the directive. As a result, not a single person died in the last eruption. Also as a result, the town was deserted, looters picked it clean in short order, and tons of ash crushed virtually all the buildings in town in a matter of days.

As we shot the breeze, Robert asked me what I planned to do the following day. I told him that I was considering hiring someone to canoe me over to Tavurvur.

Robert thought this was nonsense.

“It only takes a minute to see it from the harbour,” he told me. “As a matter of fact, I will take you in my boat in the morning, free of charge.”

Robert was part of the crew of a large ship called the MV Manus that was docked in Rabaul's Simpson Harbour. I assumed that our tour of Tavurvur was going to be by dinghy, although I never did confirm this. Robert told me to meet him back at the hotel at 9:00 the following morning, and I agreed.

We talked a bit longer about various other things, and then Robert asked what I was going to do for the rest of the day. I told him that I might just continue walking down the road to Tavurvur, which was a few kilometers away.

He thought that this was a bad idea, that the road was too dangerous. The other man in our conversation, who I think was named Martin, disagreed. He thought the road was perfectly safe. They debated this for a few moments before I told them that I would just go to the market instead. Not much interested in all the drama, I planned to come back and walk down the road later when Robert wasn't standing watch.

When I mentioned visiting the market, Robert offered to give me a lift. A friend of his had just pulled up in a pick-up truck, and they were about to head in the direction of the market.

Robert and I climbed into the truck, and a few minutes later we were at the market.

“Watch your wallet and camera!” they shouted as I got out of the truck.

The market wasn't very big. There were a few dozen people selling produce, baked goods and snacks, cigarettes, and beetle nut.

I bought a loaf of bread from some ladies and a megapode egg from a man. A megapode is a bird that is smaller than a chicken but lays an egg that is twice as big. The megapode buries its eggs on the sides of volcanoes, sometimes as deep as 2 meters in the ground, and allows them to incubate geothermally. While the eggs are incubating, though, villagers dig them up for food.

The megapode egg that I bought was interesting. As I mentioned earlier, it was about twice the size of a chicken egg. It wasn't proportional to a chicken egg, though. Rather, it was like a stretched-out version. It was hard-boiled, and I cracked it open to eat it. This revealed another interesting characteristic: The megapode egg was nearly entirely yolk. The yolk was enclosed in a white that was less than a millimeter thick and evenly distributed around the egg. The white clung to the shell, so peeling the egg wasn't easy. I ended up leaving most of the white behind, which the egg salesman noticed and pointed out to me. I didn't think that separating the shell from the white was worth the effort, though, and I told the vendor as much.

After I ate my egg, I was finished at the market. The market was in the heart of the city, but the few shops in the area were closed. I started walking back toward the hotel.

About halfway there, I crossed paths with Beth and Matt again, and we stopped and talked. They were a bit bummed because they had been checking out the diving conditions and had decided that the day's rain had muddied the water too much and ruined the visibility. After a few minutes, we continued on our separate ways.

A little further down the road, I also ran into Robert again. He was sitting with some of his friends outside a kai bar (a snack shack). He reminded me about the boat ride we had planned for the morning in case I had forgotten in the last hour.

It was about 5:30 when I got back to the hotel, so I watched a little TV and then went to dinner. When I walked into the dining room and realized that I was the only person there, I double-checked with the hostess to make sure the restaurant was open.

It was in fact open, and I had truly beaten the rush. I checked out the menu and decided to order the monster burger. Then I kicked back with a beer and waited.

Before long, Beth and Matt turned up, so we moved to a table that was big enough to accommodate all of us. Then we discussed the Australian elections which were underway.

After twenty or thirty minutes, my burger arrived. While it was called the monster burger, I think that monstrosity burger would have been more accurate. In the menu, the list of toppings had looked a bit lengthy, but when I looked that burger in the eye, there was no denying that the amount of toppings was, to put it mildly, excessive – and comically so. Including the bun and the beef, it was 8 inches tall and listing. To make matters worse, the toppings were an unholy combination that should never have been allowed on a patty together. The cast included lettuce, pineapple slices, pickles, avocado slices, mayonnaise, beets, onions, tomatoes, cabbage, cucumbers, carrots, and a fried egg. Among other things, the beets and the egg were Australian inspired. The rest was creativity run amuck. Even after I knocked most of the dead-weight ingredients off the bun, I still wasn't very impressed. The hamburger patty itself was formed so loosely that it completely fell apart on my first bite. The whole dish was a mess, and I kicked myself for straying from the Chinese menu.

As I left the restaurant, the receptionist called me over and gave me my bag. The driver had successfully retrieved it.

With my bag in hand, I walked back to my room to call it a night. To get from the restaurant to my room, I walked down a sidewalk. It connected to a second perpendicular one that ran along the length of the rooms. As I approached the t-junction of the two sidewalks, a few people from the room right there at the junction stood in their doorway and gave me the stink-eye. I don't know what their problem was.

I had a fine enough sleep that night, and round about 7:45 in the morning, I reported to the restaurant for breakfast. My Aussie friends arrived at the same time, and we shared a table again.

At around 8:30, I excused myself and set off down the road for my 9:00 rendezvous with Robert. When I reached the hotel, I was a bit early, and Robert was nowhere to be seen. The crocheting lady from the day before was there again, though, as was a family on the way to church. When the crocheting lady saw me, she remembered that Robert had offered to give me a ride on his boat. She told me that he should be around soon, and we chatted while I waited.

At 9:30, there was still no sign of Robert, and I decided to move on. Maybe he had had a work-related delay, maybe he had forgotten about his offer, or maybe when he had told me 9:00, he was talking “island time”. If his tardiness was in fact due to island time, it was a pity because I do not operate on island time.

With the boat ride off the table, I started walking toward Tavurvur. I was only a short ways past the hotel when three angry dogs came bounding toward me. I yelled for them to stop, and they ignored me. Then just as they were about to pounce on me, someone whistled and they immediately ceased their attack. The whistler was none other than Martin. He had come out on his porch when he had heard the barking and yelling.

After he called off the hounds, he told me how they were actually harmless – all bark and no bite. Dog owners always say this, though, and I wasn't convinced. I think those dogs definitely had more on their minds than barking.

Martin had been part of the conversation the day before in which Robert had offered me a boat ride. Martin naturally asked me about it, and I told him that Robert hadn't shown up. Martin tried calling him on his cell phone to see what the deal was, but Robert didn't answer. Then we bid each other farewell, and I continued walking.

A little ways down the road, a clearing opened in the trees off to the right, providing a nice view of Simpson Harbour. There were several ships at port. There was also a nice view of the Beehives, a couple of heavily eroded volcanic cones projecting out of the water.

I took a few photos and continued walking.

The road to Tavurvur was a bit eerie. As it was a Sunday morning, the mini-bus service that normally operated there wasn't running on a full schedule. Furthermore, most of the people who might have normally been walking along the road were in church.

The occasional truck loaded with people passed me, but for the most part, I was alone walking down the road of volcanic ash. I came across a few fires, but these all seemed to be unmanned trash or leaf fires.

At about the halfway point, I came across what looked like it was once a grand house. It had been ruined in the eruption, and the jungle was now aggressively encroaching on it. Through the trees, vines, and mounds of ash, I could see staircases, balconies, and pillars, all crumbling away. As I walked past the house, something caught my eye. There were a few homemade flags flying, one made of a strip of orange nylon and the other of blue. There were sheets of plastic covering portions of the dilapidated building. There was also another small fire. Someone was living here.

To satisfy my curiosity and to hopefully avoid startling someone as I passed by the property, I decided to make my presence known.

“Hello!” I shouted toward the concrete rubble.

I was answered by only the smallest of echoes. Then an uncomfortable silence engulfed the forest. There was not a sound from man nor beast, and even the wind in the trees subsided.

As I stood in the silence on the deserted road, facing the shell of a house that I was sure was occupied, I was suddenly overcome with fear. Had the occupant not heard me? Was he ignoring me? Was he watching me?

Only a minute earlier, I had been announcing myself, but now I was hoping that my greeting hadn't been heard.

Without making another sound, I left that place and continued down the road.

Not far from the house, there was a field with the wreckage of several airplanes. I stopped for a look, although with my untrained eye, I couldn't tell what exactly I was looking at. On a bluff overlooking the debris field, there was another homemade flag flying. Even as I warned myself against letting my imagination get too carried away, I got spooked again. Like a bird steering clear of a scarecrow, I backed away from the flag and found the main road again.

By now, I was close to my destination, and Tavurvur grew in stature with each step I took. Just in front of the volcano was a lagoon, and before the lagoon, there was a vast plain of ash that was dotted with palm trees, cane, and weeds. Tavurvur was grumbling, and a steady stream of gas and ash billowed from its top.

As I crossed the ash field, the wind shifted in my direction. Having majored in chemistry in college and worked as a chemistry teaching assistant in grad school, I had spent a lot of time in the lab. I could easily identify by smell and taste the cloud of sulfuric acid that Tavurvur was blowing in my face. The stream of fetid air continued to smother me and grew in intensity as I approached the lagoon.

My eyes were burning, and my lungs weren't too happy either. I was constantly coughing and I couldn't take a full breath. The experience was reminiscent of the time I got chemical pneumonia while working in an industrial laboratory.

In any case, I knew that viewing Tavurvur wasn't worth getting sick over, and I decided to turn back in search of fresh air. At that moment, however, the wind shifted once more. Tavurvur took another drag from his cigarette and blew the smoke in someone else's face. I could breathe again.

I admired the volcano for several minutes from the edge of the lagoon.

Before the eruption, the airport had been in front of Tavurvur, off to my right. Planes used to access the runway by flying past the volcano and over the lagoon. Now the airport was under meters of sediment. Beyond the airport was the village of Matupit, which was spared during the '94 eruption thanks to favorable winds. To my left were the remains of a destroyed cement factory.

I took several pictures of Tavurvur and started walking toward the factory. As I got closer, a lone man coming from the other direction called out to me.

We met up and introduced ourselves. The man was named Joseph, and he lived in Matupit. He was a guide for some hot springs that were near the cement factory, and he was waiting around for tourists like me to turn up.

The only other person there was a woman (probably Joseph's wife) who was weaving a mat and tending to a pot over a fire.

Joseph told me about his guiding service and then mentioned that he charged 10 kina (about $3.75) admission for the hot springs. I was low on cash and not that interested in the springs, so I didn't readily hire him. After my moment of hesitation, though, he offered to show me around for free. Lone tourists weren't his big moneymaker anyway. According to him, the big cash cows were the Japanese who would come on group tours to the springs. They considered a dip in the scorching mineral-rich waters to be therapeutic.

Joseph showed me the different pools that were fed by the hot springs and they ranged in temperature from aahhh to yowsers. Some of the pools were boiling, and others weren't boiling but still bubbled impressively with gases.

I elected not to take a soak, so Joseph showed me other things. There were large mounds of ash in the area that reminded me of rolling sand dunes. Little canyons had been carved into the surfaces of these by rainwater.

We climbed up one of the ash dunes, and looked out at Tavurvur. All across the dunes, there were clumps of dead leaves. These, Joseph pointed out, were the tops of palm trees that had been completely buried. This really put the depth of ash into perspective for me.

When we finished looking at Tavurvur and started walking back down the dune, the roar of the volcano changed pitch.

“He always wants attention,” Joseph remarked.

The sound of the volcano was like a jet engine or maybe a blow torch, and it frequently varied its pitch and volume.

Joseph offered to take me onto Tavurvur, but I didn't see any value in this. I have hiked on a volcano before in order to see lava flowing, but I didn't see any reason to climb on this gas-belching rock. That say, though, I understand that there are great lava flows on the backside of Tavurvur.

As we walked back toward the springs and the cement factory, Joseph told me about the eruption of 1994 and of a smaller one that took place in 2006, I believe. Both happened in the same way, except the one in 2006 ended sooner.

When the eruptions happened, Joseph had been on duty at the hot springs. On each occasion, Tavurvur was more vocal than usual. Then pebbles the size of marbles started raining from the sky. When this commenced, Joseph moved a little ways back from the lagoon and waited to see what would happen next.

After a few hours, rocks the size of baseballs started falling. Joseph moved back a little more and waited.

Then, rocks the size of soccer balls started coming down. Joseph moved further back and waited.

Finally, boulders the size of cars started to fall, and at this point, Joseph got the hell out of Dodge.

He retreated inland, and when he returned to the scene after the 1994 eruption had finished, he saw an unbelievable sight. The entire surface of the lagoon was covered in pumice (floating volcanic rock), and the layer of rocks was so thick that canoes could barely move.

Along with the floating stones, the surface of the water was also covered with dead fish. All of the debris that had fallen from the volcano into the lagoon had changed the temperature and the chemistry of the water enough to make it deadly for fish.

It took several weeks for the natural action of wind and waves to clear the lagoon.

After Joseph finished his story, we threw some large rocks into the water and watched them bob around.

Then I headed on my way.

As he had already told me that the tour was free, he didn't ask me for payment. I did, however, give him the loaf of bread that I had purchased in the market, and he was most appreciative.

After I left Joseph, I headed for Matupit. Along the way, I encountered several people who were more than happy to steer me in the right direction (not that the route was very complicated).

And before long, I reached the village. The reception that I received, however, was a bit icy. The general sentiment was more like “What are you doing here?” rather than “Welcome to Matupit!”

Several people actually did ask me why I was there, so I told them that I had just stopped by to view the volcano. As soon as I said this, two kids, a boy of maybe twelve and his little sister of about nine, appointed themselves as my guides. They led me past the cemetery and through several backyards to the edge of the lagoon, and the view of Tavurvur was nice indeed.

After they had shown me the volcano, my young guides – George and Helen – asked if they could accompany me back to town. I told them that they needn't make a special trip on my account, but that if they were already planning to go back to town, we could certainly walk together.

We stopped by their home, and they collected a few things for the trip. They got a large bag of bananas, and Helen got an umbrella to provide shade from the sun. Then we were off.

We saw a few more people than I had seen in the morning, but the road was still basically deserted as we walked along. Helen serenaded us for much of the walk, singing songs in a language that I couldn't understand. She was also very talkative, chatting with her brother in their local language. She had a chipmunk voice.

When we reached the Rabaul Hotel, I asked them if they would like to stop in for a Coke. They were reluctant to come inside but were willing to have a Coke if I brought it outside.

So, I ordered three Cokes at the restaurant and brought them outside. The waitress was acting very suspicious about the whole thing, but she didn't say anything to me.

George and I finished our Cokes without much delay, but Helen was taking a bit longer. After we waited for a few minutes, George started getting uncomfortable with the delay she was causing. He yelled at her to hurry up, and in response, she tried to chug her Coke and ended up choking.

As we waited for Helen to recover, Beth and Matt appeared with two guides of their own. George and Helen left with these two boys, and Beth, Matt, and I went to lunch.

When we entered the restaurant, I gave the hostess the three empty glasses. Then Beth, Matt, and I sat at a table.

When the waitress came over to take our orders, the first thing she said to me was, “Did you bring my glasses back?” as if I had intended to steal them or something.

I assured her that I had returned the glasses, and then we settled down to another fine meal. After the burger fiasco, I went back to the Chinese menu, of course.

After lunch, I settled my account and checked-out. I had booked a ride back to the airport, but the driver was running a little late.

As I waited for him outside, I saw the owners of the hotel going for a walk with their pack of rottweilers. There were three or four of these monster dogs, and their masters were letting them run freely around. They were sprinting around the neighborhood, and when a person on a bike came into view, they made a beeline for him. The owners were able to halt the dogs, but not before the man got a nice scare. The dogs also harassed a lady who was trying to walk by, although she was ready to defend herself with her umbrella. The dogs (and by extension, their owners) looked like menaces to me, and I was glad that I wasn't in a position to be chased by them.

The driver eventually showed up. This time it was a young man.

As we drove through town one last time, the driver pointed out several landmarks, including Rabaul's handicraft store which was inside the diabetes clinic. It was not open on weekends, though, so I hadn't had a chance to visit during my trip.

It only took us a few minutes to drive through town, and then we hit the open road to Kokopo.
Unlike the older man who had picked me up at the airport and who had driven so carefully, my young chauffer was much more aggressive behind the wheel. He definitely drove the truck like it was company property, and I appreciated his enthusiasm.

As we bounced around the roads on the way to Kokopo, he also stopped to give three of his friends a ride into town. I was getting sloshed around pretty good inside the truck, so I'm sure that the ride his friends got in the bed of the truck must have been bone-jarring to say the least.

When he delivered me at the airport, I had plenty of time for a leisurely check-in. And leisurely it was. I was in line behind a film crew, and between four people, they checked 17 bags of equipment (not a quick process). To pay the excess baggage charges, the leader of the group – a skinny, older man with a gray ponytail and dark sunglasses – popped open a briefcase full of cash.

Soon enough, though, it was my turn. I got my boarding pass, and half an hour later, we were in the air.

When an extra stop appeared on the flight schedule, I wasn't surprised nor did I much care.

By the time we landed in Port Moresby about an hour behind schedule, it was already official: I had finally completed a crime-free trip in PNG. Look, Ma – no police report!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Papua New Guinea: Tales from the Bar: The Beehive

At a reception at the Ambassador's house one night, my good friend Stewart was talking up a place called the Beehive. The Beehive had a happy hour on Wednesdays that featured drinks for 2 kinas (or about 75 cents in American money).

As we talked about the happy hour, I used the phrase “2-kina night”, and Stewart got a bit embarrassed. He looked around to see if anyone else had heard me.

“You can't say that!” he told me, a bit under his breath. Then he explained why.

Prostitutes in Papua New Guinea are known as 2-kina girls because historically the going rate for services was a mere 2 kinas. I don't know what the current rate is, but the “2-kina” name remains. As a result, “2-kina” isn't used as an adjective to describe anything except prostitutes – at least in polite company. So, it's not OK to say 2-kina night or 2-kina drink or especially not 2-kina happy hour.

I knew that prostitutes were called 2-kina girls, but I hadn't thought about the implications. It was good of Stewart to educate me.

The Wednesday after the reception, which happened to be the day before Thanksgiving, I called up Stewart to see if he would be going to the Beehive for happy hour. When he told me that he wouldn't be able to go, I decided to go on my own.

I didn't have a car at the time, so I asked the Embassy driver for a ride. Sam was on duty that night.

The Beehive is in the indoor sports complex at the main stadium in Port Moresby, and as Sam and I drove around the place, it looked pretty deserted. We parked in the dark and nearly empty parking lot, and I got out of the car.

Sam didn't like the look of the place, so he told me that he would wait outside while I went in to have a look. If I wanted to stay, I could call him and let him know.

I walked into the building and, figuring that the bar must be in the direction of the loud music, I went upstairs.

Sure enough, I found the bar. There was a “members only” sign near the door which caused me to pause for a moment. The sign must have been leftover from bygone days, though, because the bar was now open to the general public.

Before I entered, I called Sam and told him that he could go. It was about 7:00 at the time, and he would be back to get me at 11:00.

The guard opened the door for me, and there was a good-sized crowd inside. There were 3 expat guys sitting at a booth in the corner, and everyone else was local. As I walked in, everyone stopped to gawk. If this had been a scene from a movie, that record-scratching sound effect that often precedes an awkward silence would have been perfect.

Since I didn't know anyone there, I moseyed up to the bar and grabbed a stool. I was in the Beehive (“the Place to Buzz”), and I was ready for my first drink.

Happy hour was underway, so I ordered a bourbon on the rocks for 2 kinas. When I was served, I could see why it was so cheap. This whisky was awful, even by PNG standards. The price was right, though.

I had barely started on my drink before the two guys on my right introduced themselves. One was the owner of the place, and his name was Bernard. He pronounced his name with the accent on the first syllable (BUR-nerd) as opposed to the common American pronunciation with the accent on the second (ber-NARD). The other guy was named Sumasy, which I forgot repeatedly throughout the night. Sumasy was a pretty big fish, or at least that's how he presented himself. He was the Prime Minister's legal advisor as well as a law professor at a university in Australia.

Our place at the bar put us just in front of the small dance floor and just near the Fijian band, which was pretty good. We were also front and center for the action-packed card draw that was going on that night. For the card draw, the waitresses circulated around the room with a deck of oversized playing cards on wooden sticks. Customers bought the cards for 5 kinas a pop. Then when the whole deck was sold, someone would draw a card from another deck, and the person who had the matching card on a stick would win a prize. In the three draws that I witnessed, the prizes were a rotisserie chicken, a bottle of wine, and another rotisserie chicken. So, the stakes weren't huge.

When I had first started talking with Bernard and Sumasy, they had inquired as to what had brought me to PNG. I told them that I was working at the Embassy on a 2-year assignment.

They thought this was swell, and Bernard decided to honor me by having me pick one of the cards for the card draw.

All the cards on sticks had been sold for the new round, and everyone was waiting for the winning card to be selected.

Then Bernard went up to the band leader's microphone.

“For our next draw,” he told them, “we have a very special guest.” “Please welcome the American Ambassador!”

Seeing no reason to make a fuss over the extreme promotion Bernard had incorrectly bestowed upon me, I stood up to a nice round of applause and picked a card.

When Bernard and I sat back down, I explained to him a second time that I only worked at the Embassy and that I definitely was not the Ambassador. Feeling rather pleased with himself, though, he just sat there smiling. I don't think that he cared one bit about the point I was trying to make.

I was on the bourbon and Bernard and Sumasy were on red wine, and we drank quite a bit.

I would buy the occasional round, but Bernard and Sumasy didn't really leave much of an opening for me. They were ordering drinks so rapidly that we all ended up with one in the hand and two or three on the bar at the ready.

After a while, Bernard went off to chat with other patrons. Then the conversation was only between me and Sumasy. At one point, he asked me what all I had seen in PNG. At the time, I had been in the country for a shade over 2 months, and I had been to two places outside of Port Moresby. This wasn't good enough for Sumasy, though, and he started rattling off a list of places, asking if I had visited them. Of course, I hadn't. All of the places that he mentioned were worth a visit, I'm sure, but traveling in PNG is not cheap, and for me at least, it has to be spread out.

Sumasy, however, thought I hadn't been to many places because I was afraid. “You can live in fear, or you can get out there and experience life!” he kept telling me.

I found this to be a bit irritating, but Sumasy was drunk, and there was no sense in trying to deny that I was afraid to leave Port Moresby. He was absolutely convinced that a lack of courage was all that was keeping me from seeing the entire country.

When he finally got over the whole stop-living-in-fear sermon, Sumasy started telling me how great it was that I was willing to come to a place like the Beehive alone.

After half an hour of this, we were back to talking about work. As I mentioned before, Sumasy was an advisor to the Prime Minister. He was understandably proud of this fact, and in an effort both to impress me and to throw me a bone, he told me that he could connect me to the Prime Minister any time I wanted to talk with him. Calling the Prime Minister up on the phone would kind of be a big deal. It would be equivalent to meeting someone in a bar who told you that he could connect you to President Bush whenever you wanted to speak with him.

I thanked Sumasy for his offer, just before I told him that I could foresee no reason why I would ever need to call up the Prime Minister. He took this to mean that I doubted his connections, so in order to save face, he tried that much harder to convince me to call the Prime Minister. In response, I tried to change the subject.

It wasn't long, though, before I was saved by the band. The musicians were cranking out some catchy island tunes, and the dance floor was hopping. The music was calling to Sumasy as well, and he left me to have a stumble of his own across the dance floor. He also took a few turns at the mike.

Meanwhile, I talked with the waitresses and bartenders (all female), and they were quite possibly the least friendly bunch I ever did meet.

After Sumasy had his fill of dancing and evidently his fill of drinking, he came back over to where I was sitting. He was finished for the night, but before he left, we had one more bonding moment.

Sumasy told me again how great it was that I came to the Beehive. Then he leaned-in close to me, put his hand on the back of my head, and pulled me toward him so that my forehead was smack dab against his forehead, which was dripping with sweat.

As we sat there noggin-to-noggin, Sumasy gave me one last tip.

“Remember one thing,” he told me. “Don't live your life in fear.”

Then he repeated himself for dramatic effect.

I had an inkling that his parting advice was going to be something along these lines – either that or something about calling the Prime Minister.

After our little moment was over, we separated foreheads, and Sumasy left.

I wasn't alone for long, though, because Bernard soon returned with two lady friends in tow. Then, being the gracious host that he is, he introduced us. Actually, he kind of shoved the ladies in my direction and disappeared again.

The first young woman was named Jenny.

After she introduced herself, it was her friend's turn. “My name's Mavis,” she told me, “but you'll probably just call me Maymay like everyone else does.” She said this with a bit of a pout as if she didn't care to be called Maymay. Of course she did like to be called Maymay, or else she wouldn't have mentioned it in the first place. Later, both ladies entered their numbers in my cell phone, and Maymay listed herself as Maymay. She seemed pretty comfortable with the name to me.

Both Maymay and Jenny claimed that they rarely went out to bars, but they had decided to come out on this particular night because they had had a hellish week at work. With Bernard and Sumasy gone, and with two new friends in the picture, my kinas started disappearing much faster than before. Not to mention that happy hour had long since ended.

Maymay and Jenny were nice company, though. Maymay was the more serious of the two, while Jenny was more playful and had a bit of a wild side. She also spoke with a very strong Aussie accent owing to the fact that she had gone to school in Australia.

Jenny was the younger of the two, and once when she was gone to the bathroom, Maymay admitted that it bothered her that Jenny outranked her at work. Actually Maymay said that she didn't even care that Jenny was younger than her and outranked her, which I deduced meant that she did care.

Anyhow, Maymay was only grinding a small ax, and we all got along fine when Jenny rejoined us.

Eventually, we all ended up on the dance floor. Sometimes the three of us danced together, but more often than not, it was only me and Jenny because Maymay chose to sit out much of the time. There was a big crowd, and the dancing was good fun.

At one point, another guy who was on the floor turned to me with an observation. “Bro, you need some dancing lessons!” he told me. Well aware that I dance like the character Elaine Benes on Seinfeld, I took no great offense. He was half-joking anyways.

While we were all dancing, I met several other new people including Margaret, who was one of the security guards. She was a bit older, but still a good dancer. I also made the acquaintance of a young woman named Cathy, I think. That's what I was calling her, in any case.

After a while, I was ready to hang up my dancing shoes. Cathy, who had quit dancing earlier, invited me to join her table.

I did, and Maymay immediately got jealous. She came over to my new table and was like, “I'm only saying this because I don't want you to get into trouble: You should really be careful about who you associate with in places like this.”

She said this so that the whole table could hear, and Cathy of course took exception. “He's a grown man,” she said. “He doesn't need you to be his mother!”

“I know,” Maymay replied, “and that's all I have to say.” Then she turned to me and said, “I think you should leave, but you can make your own choice.”

I told her that I was fine, and she left us alone. Maymay was nice enough, but I didn't much care for her sudden possessiveness. Both she and Cathy were random people that I had met in a bar. I didn't know much about either of them, and I had no reason to believe that one was better than the other. Maybe they were both angels; maybe they were both devils; or maybe they were both somewhere in the middle. I was only having a bit of conversation over a drink, so it didn't much matter to me any way you sliced it.

My conversation with Cathy and her friends was nice, but after a while, I noticed that the crowd was thinning out.

Maymay also noticed this, and she came over to our table again. “I think you should go home now,” she said. “It's getting pretty late.”

This was Cathy's cue to get confrontational again, and the bickering started in short order. It was a bit before 11:00, but I decided to call it a night so that I could get away from both of them and their annoying squabbling.

Several of my new friends bid me farewell inside the bar, and several of the die-hards, including Maymay, Cathy, and Jenny, decided to escort me downstairs.

My entourage consisted of the very people that had driven me out of the bar in the first place, so I was relieved to see that Sam had arrived early and was standing by with the car. This meant that I could make a speedy get-away before any more feuding erupted.

Sam had never been to the Beehive before, so I filled him in on all the happenings as we drove the 15 minutes back to my house.

As I mentioned earlier, this particular night that I had gone to the Beehive was the day before Thanksgiving. It was the day before a holiday, which meant that I could sleep as late as I wanted the next morning. I was a bit drunk, so this was a good thing.

The next morning, however, my peaceful slumber was ruined by a phone call at 7:45. It was none other than Maymay who called thinking that I was probably getting ready for work.

I explained that it was an American holiday and that I was trying to sleep late. Maymay couldn't be bothered with this, though. She had to tell me how her night at the Beehive had ended.

Once I got in the car and left, all the loose-cannons were left unsupervised out on the sidewalk. They started bickering again. And then it happened...

Someone called someone... a bitch!

And all hell broke loose.

Cathy was the more scrappy and aggressive of the two women, so when Maymay told me that Cathy really gave her a beating, I wasn't overly surprised. Maymay was completely out-gunned and only managed to walk away from the ordeal because a male relative saw the ruckus and busted up the fight.

I found the whole story mildly entertaining, even though it would have been more entertaining if Maymay had called to tell me at a more reasonable hour.

She bellyached for a good long while about her injuries – a swollen this, a bruised that, an ice pack here, a bandage there. All the while, I was thinking, “hello... 7:45 in the morning on a holiday... I should be sleeping now.”

I think Maymay was hoping to inspire a sense of responsibility in me, or at the very least some sympathy, since she perceived that the fight had been about me. In my opinion, though, the fight had very little to do with me. Rather, it was about two hoodlums who needed to learn how to behave in public. Like I said before, I found the whole situation to be a bit entertaining, but it didn't leave me with any desire to see either woman again.

I finally got Maymay off the line, but the peace and quiet was short-lived. She woke me up twice more to give me further updates on her injuries.

It's times such as these that make me regret giving my mobile phone number to anyone who asks for it.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Papua New Guinea: The Long Walk: Part II

Another Saturday came to Port Moresby, and I called the duty driver at about 9:00 AM to request a lift to the store. Ephraim was on duty, and he was completely swamped. It wouldn't be possible for me to get a ride until some time later.

Based on past experience, I had a feeling that I wasn't going to get a ride on this particular Saturday, or at least not before 12:00 when stores closed, so I started for town on foot.

I wasn't wearing my Superman shirt this time, so I only attracted the normal “white boy” amount of gawking from the Papua New Guineans I encountered.

Our housing compound is on top of a hill, so the first part of my walk was all downhill and I made good time.

Then came the Poreporena Highway with its big hill.

It had been drizzling, and as I started climbing the hill, it started to rain a bit harder. The wind and rain were a nice trade, though, for the heat and sweat that could have been.

As I reached the top of the hill, Ephraim and my colleague Mike passed me in the duty car. Mike waved to me, and Ephraim honked. Then I continued walking.

As I walked along, many drivers took the opportunity to honk or shout at me, and maybe 20 minutes after Ephraim passed me, the Ambassador's driver passed me and also honked. I couldn't tell if the Ambassador was inside the car or not.

After about an hour and twenty minutes, I reached the Gordons district of town. I had originally wanted to go to the art gallery to get some framing done, but since I was without wheels, I decided to scrap that idea. I wasn't going to walk with art in the rain.

I hadn't planned on it, but as I passed by PNG Art, Port Moresby's biggest and best artifacts and handicrafts store, I decided to pop in for a look.

PNG Art is the coolest store ever, and I can never get in and out quickly or without making a purchase. It is basically a warehouse full of traditional carvings (masks, statues, and decorative pieces), textiles, pottery, and other odds and ends. The owner, a white-haired expat named Ken, is always getting new pieces from the provinces, so there are always new things to see.

Knowing that I would probably not be leaving empty-handed, I asked Freddy, one of the salesboys, if I could leave anything I purchased behind and pick it up on the following Monday.

He said this wouldn't be a problem, so I gave everything a look and found a few things that I couldn't live without.

As Freddy was ringing up my purchases, Ken walked up to the counter. Freddy mentioned that I was going to pick up my things in a few days.

“Why aren't you taking it with you?” Ken asked me.

“Because I don't have a car today,” I told him.

“That's what PMVs are for,” he responded with a bit of sarcasm in his tone.

I told him that PMVs didn't go as far as my house, so at best I could ride two-thirds of the way. Then I would still have to walk up the final hill in the rain with my artifacts, which wouldn't be good.

He asked me where I lived, and I told him.

“Well, how did you get here then?” he asked.

“I walked. It took me an hour and a half,” I replied.

And Ken was mighty impressed with this. “You walked an hour and a half in the rain to come here!? That's wild! We need more customers like you!”

I generally get a ten percent discount on my purchases at PNG Art, but Ken was feeling especially charitable at the moment, and I got a further discount.

He was also now completely on-board with me leaving my things until Monday.

Before I left, I called Ephraim again to see what the situation was. He was still busy.

I had spent nearly an hour in PNG Art, so when I walked the 10 minutes further to my favorite grocery store, Food World, it was just about lunch time.

Every Saturday (and maybe other days as well) a charity called Cheshire Homes sells sausages outside Food World to raise money. I don't know what the charity is about, but I almost always buy one of the sausages.

I was so hungry on this day that I contemplated getting two. In the end, though, I stuck with one, and it did the trick.

Soon after I started shopping, I bumped into the Ambassador. We briefly chatted and then continued on with our separate shopping.

As I walked through the produce section, the celery caught my eye. With Thanksgiving coming up in a few days, I needed to prepare a side dish for a dinner I was attending.

The celery inspired me to make dressing, and I picked up a nice bunch of stalks.

I continued to stroll the aisles and stopped at the meat case.

The first thing that I wanted was minced kangaroo. It was only offered in diced form in the meat case, however, so I asked one of the butcher ladies if it was possible to have it ground.

I hadn't thought it was such an odd request, but the butcher gave me a strange look. Then she consulted with someone in the back and informed me that it was possible.

With my kilo of ground roo in my cart, I turned my attention again to my dressing.

When we would make dressing back home for Thanksgiving, we would always incorporate the giblets that came with the turkey. Since I was only cooking the dressing and not a turkey, I wouldn't have any giblets to use. I walked over to the poultry portion of the meat case and scanned it for organ meats. There were none.

It was time for another special request. I called the butcher lady over and asked her if she could check in the back for chicken livers, hearts, and kidneys. I was pretty sure that there wouldn't be any turkey organs.

The lady gave me another weird look and went to check. The only thing that was available was liver, so I took a quarter kilo of these.

The last thing I requested was too much for this butcher to take.

“Can you check one more thing for me?” I asked. “The last thing I need is a chicken neck or maybe a backbone.”

My butcher lady had been joined by two others by this point, and they all burst out laughing. “Nogat!” they told me.

I mostly needed the neck to lend flavor to a broth, so I bought a few wings instead.

When I left, the three ladies were standing there grinning like cheshire cats.

I had had a good time as well, although I honestly didn't understand what was so funny to them. Surely in whatever villages they hailed from, they ate much stranger things than what I had just ordered up.

After the meat case shenanigans, I finished my shopping and checked-out.

And thankfully, about half an hour later, Ephraim was finally able to give me a ride.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Papua New Guinea: Tales from the Bar: The Gold Club

As far as the scene in Port Moresby goes, the Gold Club in the Lamana Hotel is probably the most popular joint in town. Interested to check it out, I went over on a Friday evening.

I didn't know exactly where the entrance to the club was, so I entered the hotel lobby and inquired at the reception desk. The young lady on duty was more than happy to point me in the right direction, and she sent me down a corridor that was actually for employees only. I didn't realize it at the time, but her backdoor shortcut saved me from the 25-kina (~$9.44) cover charge.

When I entered the Gold Club, I wasn't immediately impressed. There was a nice enough bar off to my left, but to my right, there were loads of video poker machines (pokies) and there were plenty of people glued to them. Just past the bar, there was a buffet that didn't look half bad, and beyond that there was a band playing 80s rock covers. There was a small dance floor in front of the band.

There was a good crowd gathered, so I weaseled my way to the bar to buy a drink. I ordered a beer.

“It's still happy hour,” the bartender informed me, “buy one, get one free.”

“OK,” I said. “Give me two.”

I had meant that I would buy one and take one for free, but the bartender instead thought I wanted to buy two and get two free. He popped the tops off four bottles before I realized the misunderstanding.

The quantity wasn't an issue really, but I didn't like the idea of taking four beers at once. Besides looking silly carrying around so many drinks, the beer would get warm before I could drink it.

Anyhow, what was done was done.

I grabbed my stash of beers and found a corner of the bar to park myself.

As happens in a bar, I started talking with some people sitting near me.

My first friend on this particular night was a lovely young woman named Helen. She worked in a building across the street from the Embassy. We talked for a while before she had to retreat to a quieter area to take a phone call.

The woman on my left must have been waiting for Helen to leave, because Helen had barely gotten up from her chair before Marigold introduced herself. Marigold told me that she was a travel agent, but it was later revealed that her sister was actually the travel agent. Marigold just did odd jobs around the office.

Upon hearing that I was new in PNG, Marigold took it upon herself to introduce me to people she knew. She trooped me around the bar, through the pokies lounge, and even to the high-stakes pokies room. All the while, she introduced me to friends of hers. While this was a nice gesture, it was also useless unfortunately. I am doing good to remember people with whom I have real interaction. In the case of all these people whose hands I shook and whose names I heard once, it was almost guaranteed that I would have forgotten them by morning.

Marigold was a trip, and we shared a few drinks and a lot of laughs. Helen, meanwhile, returned from her phone call and sat back on my right side. I briefly carried on separate conversations with both her and Marigold, but this was way too much work. I attempted to merge us all into a single discussion, but this didn't take. Helen, in particular, resisted, preferring instead to have a discussion with just the two of us.

This was a miscalculation on her part, though, and eventually she resisted herself out of the conversation all together. Perhaps it was bad form for me to stop paying attention to her since I had been talking with her first, but then again, she was the one who had left to talk on the phone.

In any case, Helen decided to move on before long. Before she left, we exchanged mobile numbers, so I guess there were no hard feelings.

When Helen left, Marigold and I continued talking. Soon enough, though, Helen's chair was back in circulation. A most scandalous young woman named Millie was now on my right side.

As extroverted as Marigold was, she couldn't hold a candle to Millie, who managed to insert herself into our discussion and dominate it from the start. Everyone was playing nice for a while, but eventually Marigold excused herself so she could go talk to her uncles whom she had spotted elsewhere in the bar. I don't doubt that she wanted to talk to her relatives, but I think she really left because she was tired of competing with Millie. As she left, we exchanged phone numbers.

Once Marigold left, Millie asked me to dance. I agreed, but one dance was definitely enough for me. The first thing that didn't work for me was the ridiculous height differential between us. I towered over Millie by a good two feet, and I'm sure I looked like I was dancing with my 10-year-old sister. No one would have really mistaken her for a 10 year old, though, because of what she was wearing. She had on a silver dress that could not have been any shorter and still qualified as a dress. I felt a teeny bit conspicuous on the dance floor with her.

The Gold Club is divided into two main parts. Up to this point, I had been in the inside bar and pokies side of the house. There was also a connected dance club which had a stage and a large dance floor that were open to the night sky. There was a bar outside to serve the nightclub.

For people who had ponied up the money to become members of the club (and for those people who were friends of members), there was an upper VIP level of the club. There was also a room with pool tables that was just off of the main dance floor.

As Millie and I made our way off the inside dance floor, I told her that I was going to go outside, and she followed along.

Things were pretty quiet outside. The dance club hadn't sprung to life yet, and the stage was being decorated for some little girls' beauty pageant that was to be held later in the weekend. We got a drink at the outside bar, and while we were there, a woman involved in the pageant starting talking with us. She had a daughter who was going to be competing, and she tried to hawk us some tickets for the show. I wasn't interested in the pageant in the first place, and when I heard that the seats cost a few hundred kina each, I was even less interested.

When we finished our drinks, Millie pointed out how dead the dance club was.

“I know a better place,” she told me. “We can go there for a few drinks, and by the time we get back here the party will be going.”

The place she was pushing was the Country Club. I had never been there and I didn't know where it was, but Millie assured me that it was nice and that it was close. As an added bonus, her uncle owned the place and she was sure that we could get freebies.

I agreed to give the Country Club a look, and we left the Gold Club. We hailed a ratty taxi outside the hotel, and we both had to get in on the same side of the car because one door didn't work.

In a few minutes we were at the gates of the Country Club. The taxi wasn't permitted to enter, so Millie paid the driver 5 kina (~$1.90) and we walked down the driveway to the bar.

As we entered the establishment, I felt that Millie had misrepresented things just a bit. The place itself was nothing special (a run-down bar and some pokies), and forget about a good crowd. Besides the two of us, there were only a handful of people scattered around the room.

At least if the place sucked, there was still the possibility of free drinks. Wouldn't you know, though, that this didn't pan out either. Millie's uncle wasn't there that night, so she called him on his mobile. Her aunt answered instead, however, and she read Millie the riot act. I was sitting next to her, and I could hear the discussion quite well.

Apparently, Millie had recently treated other friends to drinks and had rung up a substantial tab. Her aunt cut her off, which meant that I wasn't getting anything on the house that night.

So, compared to the Gold Club, everything at the Country Club sucked. Since we were already there, though, we settled into a couch and ordered some drinks.

Then for over an hour Millie dished out a series of tales that revolved around her former relationship with an Australian man, Trevor, who was thirty years her senior. She very freely discussed how he was her sugar daddy – how he supported her and gave her money and gifts in direct exchange for sex – and many of her stories were R-rated.

She was a feisty one, and her stories were shocking, touching, and amusing in turns.

She and Trevor had been together since she was in high school. At the time, she was really in love with a classmate of hers, a Filipino boy named Albert. They had dated for years, but when he learned about Trevor, he told her that she had to choose between the two of them.

She continued seeing both men, but told Albert that he was the only one. Trevor was never under this impression, though, because Millie would often tell him about Albert to make him jealous. She did succeed in making Trevor jealous and he continually tried to follow her to Albert's house so that he could confront him.

Things eventually came to a head at the Gold Club of all places. While Millie was on a date with Albert, Trevor showed up at the club looking for them. He found them, and a fight erupted. I find it hard even picturing a fight between a 17-year-old boy and a 45-year-old man, but this was the scene. As they slugged away at each other, Millie fled the club in tears, overcome by embarrassment and shame.

That night, Millie’s relationship with Albert died on the floor of the Gold Club. He knew for sure that Trevor was not out of the picture and that Millie had been lying to him. He dumped her straight away.

There were several more chances for her to mend things with Albert, but she admitted to him each time that he asked that she wasn't going to leave Trevor. Young and shortsighted, she chose the established man with money over the young man who only had potential. The sad irony of the whole situation is that Albert became successful in his own right and is now an engineer in Canada. Even on the day he left for Canada, he asked her to come with him. Millie obviously didn't go, and as I was talking with her, she was still regretting her decision.

Her choice to stay with Trevor wasn't without problems of its own. Trevor was a drinker, and he would often abuse Millie when he was drunk. As she put it, he would typically belt her while he was wasted and not even realize it. The next day when he would see her, he would be horrified. Once, he beat her so severely that she was hardly recognizable the next day. Instead of taking her to the hospital like any decent person would, he kept her locked in the house for months so that no one would know what had happened. It was weeks before she could even open her eyes, and a month before she got out of bed.

While she was under house arrest, her aunt stopped by once to check on her, having not seen her around for several weeks. Trevor allowed her to see Millie, and her aunt took her away immediately. Her aunt also threatened to kill Trevor if he ever laid a hand on Millie again.

The abuse resumed once the healing was done, of course, but Millie concealed it from her family.

Over the course of their rocky relationship, Millie did extract revenge of her own from time to time. After he nearly beat her to death, she decided to give him a taste of his own medicine. Once she had recovered and they were back together, she made sure that he was good and drunk one night. Then she worked him over with a bat and hid at a friend's house for several weeks while he simmered down.

Another time, she had him in bed with a knife at his throat. On that occasion, he threw her across the room by her hair and beat her up again.

Trevor had 2 young children and Millie would sometimes watch them. The rest of the time, they stayed at their mother's, Trevor's ex-wife's, house.

Trevor sent Millie to Australia several times, and on one occasion, he sent her with his 2 kids. When he came to meet up with them a few days later, he found that Millie had left the kids with his mother and gone off to visit her friends and family elsewhere in Australia. He tracked her down and beat her.

While I'm on the subject, Millie also told me how she also used to fight with Trevor's mother. They would often stay in her house in Brisbane, and during any argument that would spring up, Millie would always toss out something about how she was f**king her son. During one such argument, Trevor threw her down the stairs.

Millie knew about Trevor's two little kids, but on one trip to Australia, she learned that Trevor also had a much older son who was in fact Millie's age.

In an effort to hurt Trevor, she tried to seduce his son. The boy wouldn't take the bait, though.

Besides the failed seduction attempt, she and Trevor's adult son had other recurring problems. To show him that she was not one to mess with, Millie told the son’s Australian girlfriend that they were sleeping together. His girlfriend promptly left him.

She told me how her father had tried to kill Trevor when Trevor had accused him of having an incestuous relationship with Millie.

She also told me how Trevor had tried to pay her father her bride-price so that they could get married. (Bride-price is paid to the parents of the bride by the young man who wishes to marry her. It can be in the form of cash, land, pigs, shells, etc., or it can be a combination of things.) Anyhow, Millie's father refused to accept Trevor's bride-price.

In the end, Trevor lost his job in PNG, and his work visa was cancelled. Now he lives in Fiji and continues to beg Millie to join him.

According to her, they are definitely finished, and she hopes she never sees him again.

I don't know if all of her stories were true or not, but I don't really have any reason to doubt them. In any case, they left me thinking that she and Trevor were both mentally unstable.

In the time that it took her to bring all the skeletons out of her closet, we had each finished two drinks. When she suggested that we go for a third, I suggested that we head back to the Gold Club.

It was after 11:00 when we left the Country Club, and the crowd was no less pathetic than when we had arrived.

We caught a taxi back to the Gold Club, and the party was in full swing. We went to the dance club outside, and it was good fun dancing in the rain that was pouring down.

Millie didn't like the rain, though, and she suggested that we go play pool where it was dry. I was amenable, so we went down into the billiard pit. The area was full of people, and all the tables were in use. There were also several people waiting for a turn.

We didn't have to wait long because a group that was using one of the tables allowed us to work in with them. Millie had really played up her skills, and I got the impression that she was a shark. This couldn't have been farther from reality. She actually had no skills whatsoever, and I ended up carrying our team with my own sorry skills. The other people were much better than we were, but we won a few games in a row because of errors that they made (scratching on the eight ball and so forth). Winning because of luck time after time was nothing honorable, so I bowed out after three games.

As we were coming out of the billiard area, I spotted my good friend and colleague Carolyn in the VIP area. I waved to her and walked in her direction. I hadn't realized that she was coming down to see me as well, so by the time I reached the place she had been, she was gone. We never did find each other in the crowd.

Still trying to avoid the rain, Millie suggested that we go back to the inside bar, and we did. No sooner had we ordered drinks than one of Millie's friends came up. Her friend, a Papua New Guinean woman, was with her boyfriend, an Australian man. His name was Trevor. Not really.

Anyhow, the boyfriend was a maintenance man for Air Niugini, and he told me a bit about the Air Niugini fleet. The bottom line was that the planes were maintained well and that I should fly with confidence.

I had truly grown tired of Millie's company by now, and I was hardly paying her any attention. I was hoping that she would get the hint and go stalk someone else, but instead, she started getting clingy. As we talked with her friends who were sitting across from us, she also got a bit handsy under the table.

At the time, my car hadn't arrived to PNG yet, and I was still dependent on motor pool. I had pre-booked a ride home from the club, and as the pick-up time approached, my phone rang. I was saved by the bell.

The phone call was the driver telling me that he was en route, although I told my tablemates that he was waiting for me outside. As I excused myself, Millie grabbed my hand and walked with me to the door.

“I have a place just across the street,” she said.

“Be sure to look both ways for cars before you cross,” I replied.

And I left. We didn't exchange phone numbers.

Then with several minutes left to kill, I stood in the rain with the cabbies and smoked a complimentary cigarette or two.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Papua New Guinea: The Barber Shop: Part II

Around the time when I was ready to get my hair cut again, my colleague Bill, who had only been in-country for a few weeks, asked me if I could recommend a barber shop. When I told him about Brad's, he was interested in giving it a try.

A few days later, we walked over together during lunch break. That day was our third or fourth straight day of non-stop rain thanks to a cyclone in the area.

The impact of the rain on Brad's business was undeniable. The shop that had been full on my first visit was now dead. There were 2 guys getting cuts, and only Bill and I were waiting (along with a dreadlocked man who seemed to just be loitering).

All of the barber chairs were usable now because 3 days earlier they had fixed the water leak that had taken one chair out of commission. There were a few empty chairs, though, because there weren't enough barbers on hand to man them all.

When the first barber finished with his client, he called me over. It was the same skinny guy with a mustache who had cut my hair the time before.

I explained what I wanted, and he started with the clippers as usual.

He shaved the sides and back of my head and kept creeping higher and higher. Not wanting a buzz, I asked him if he wasn't going to use scissors on the top. And right at that moment, he decided it was time to switch to scissors.

Meanwhile, the other barber finished with his client, which should have meant that it was Bill's turn to hop in the chair. Instead, though, the barber went on break and started chatting with a woman who was probably his wife.

My cut was shaping up just like the time before. The guy started cutting my hair using the thinning scissors only. This time, however, I asked him to switch to the normal scissors, which he did.

When he was almost finished with me, a man and woman walked into the shop. The barber finished my cut, cleaned up my sideburns with a razor, and gave me a face full of baby powder. Then I was all done.

It was a better cut than the time before, so I was pleased with the progress.

When I left the chair, it seemed like it should be Bill's turn again. The barber, however, called the man over who had just entered the shop.

After I paid, I went and sat down next to Bill.

“I'm not really sure how this line is working,” I commented.

“Me neither,” Bill responded.

Perhaps the new-comer guy had made an appointment and that is why he was bumped ahead. We had no clue what was happening.

Once I sat down next to Bill, however, the barbers took note and they and the shop manager immediately started talking amongst themselves.

They broke their huddle, and the dreadlocked man, who also turned out to be a barber, asked Bill, “Were you here for a haircut too?”

At this point, a bit of information about Bill is in order. Bill is older than me, and he is balding. He has no hair on the top of his head and a band of gray hair going around the sides and back.

When Bill acknowledged that he was indeed waiting for a haircut, everyone – the shop manager, Bill, me, the barbers, the other customer and his girlfriend – broke out laughing.

The barber who had gone on break told me, “We thought that your father was just waiting for you to finish.”

It wasn't until I sat back down to wait for Bill that they realized he wanted a haircut of his own.

I couldn't make eye contact with any of the employees for like 10 minutes without one of us laughing. Something about the whole thing was hilarious.

The man with the dreadlocks ended up giving Bill his haircut, and while he didn't care for the rough technique, Bill was another relatively satisfied customer.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Papua New Guinea: The SP Brewery

When it comes to beer, South Pacific is really the only game in Papua New Guinea. Luckily, it is an excellent beer. The SP Brewery is in Port Moresby, and I immediately placed touring it on my list of things to do during my stay in PNG.

Tours of the brewery are only given by appointment Monday through Friday, so I booked one for Veterans Day, a Monday holiday.

In the weeks before the tour, I invited my colleagues at the Embassy to join me, and when the dust had settled, 15 fans of free beer had stepped forward. This was a pretty high level of interest considering there are only about 50 people total working at the Embassy.

On the day of the tour, I rode down to the brewery with my colleague Bill. We were the first two people to arrive, so we signed in at the guard booth, received visitor badges, and waited for the others.

Bill and I had arrived a few minutes early, and as the starting time approached, a few more people trickled in. Of the fifteen people who had signed up, only seven showed up. One person who wasn't on the list also showed up, so we at least had eight people.

I'm sure that the eight people who didn't turn up (both Americans and Papua New Guineans) all had good excuses. I wouldn't know, however, because only one of the no-shows bothered to offer any explanation.

Part of the problem was that it rained on the day of the tour. Many of the Papua New Guineans who had signed up for the tour had intended to walk to the brewery. The rain obviously put a damper on those plans.

Rain or not, though, I was a bit soured by the whole experience, and I don't foresee organizing many group activities in the future.

I had arranged our tour through a woman named Gorethy from the brewery's marketing division. She met us at the gate, and after waiting several extra minutes for any stragglers, we entered the brewery offices.

There we met our tour guide, Kuri, the brewery manager.

Kuri gave us a bit of general information and then led us to the production floor. Actually, we were on a walkway overlooking the floor, and down below, a variety of machines and their operators were cranking out scores of refreshing bottles of beer. I've been to several other breweries and factories, and I never tiring of seeing them. It's fascinating to me to see all the specialized machines doing all their specialized tasks, and to know that people invented them all.

Kuri left us to gawk at the bottling works for several minutes before he started into his narrative. Unfortunately, I couldn't hear much of what he said. I don't think anyone else could either because we were all standing around him and everyone was leaning in trying to hear him better. The problem was two-fold: The machines were very noisy, and Kuri was speaking very softly.

After a few minutes of this, I tuned out and didn't bother trying to listen.

When he had explained all that there was to know about the bottling process, Kuri led us away from the production area. Then I could finally hear him talking again.

The next stop on the tour was to the brewery's laboratory. Of all my brewery tours, this was the first time I could ever remember going into the lab.

There were a handful of technicians in the lab performing various tests on beer samples in flasks, beakers, and test tubes. One guy was taking careful measurements of bottle caps. These had arrived from a new supplier, and he was checking that they were up to par.

For the lab portion of the tour, Kuri turned things over to the lab manager, whose name was Henry I think. He explained some of what was going on in the lab and a bit about the brewery's quality control program.

The SP Brewery was established in 1952. In the sixties, a competing brewery affiliated with the Asahi Brewing Company of Japan was built in Port Moresby. A few years later, Asahi pulled out of PNG, and San Miguel took over their operation.

In the seventies, San Miguel and SP found themselves in what became known as the beer wars, as they fought tooth and nail for market share in PNG. Eventually, SP prevailed and bought out San Miguel. Today SP is a member of the Heineken group.

This is all pertinent because the lab quality assurance program at SP is based on the Heineken model. In addition to its in-house testing, SP couriers monthly samples of its beer to Heineken headquarters in Holland for evaluation.

SP's beer tasters are trained by Heineken, and there is also a Heineken representative on staff known as the chief engineer. At the end of our tour, we met the current chief engineer, a Dutchman named Jaap, but I already knew him socially. Before taking up the role of chief engineer, Jaap had sought to be a beer taster. Unfortunately, the final exam in beer-tasting school is very difficult to pass, and Jaap was never able to successfully identify by taste more than eight of the thirty-two ways that a beer can go bad.

Anyhow, after Henry spoke a bit about quality control, he explained the process of brewing to us. To supplement the lecture, he passed around jars filled with hops, yeast, and the rest. Then he fielded questions.

One thing that came out of the Q&A session that I found particularly interesting was the fact that nothing in the SP beer-making process is locally procured except for water and cardboard boxes. Everything else – ingredients, glass bottles, labels, label glue, bottle caps, aluminum cans, etc. – is imported.

Call me a nerd if you must, but the laboratory was a highlight of the tour for me.

Once that portion of the show was finished, Kuri led us to the area of the brewery where the beer itself was made. He walked us through the barley malting, the cooking of the wort in copper kettles, the addition of hops for bitterness, the filtering, the fermentation, the second filtering, and the carbonation.

With much less ambient noise than in the bottling room, it was considerably easier to hear Kuri as he explained these processes.

Then it was time for the best part of all: the sampling.

Kuri and Gorethy led us to the Brew Kettle, a very nice bar with a lot of hardwood and brass. Every Friday, the managerial employees of the brewery were treated to a happy hour at the Brew Kettle. (The non-managerial staff members were also treated to a weekly Friday happy hour, but theirs was in the brewery’s outdoor beer garden and not at the Brew Kettle.)

In any case, our tour guides turned us over to a pair of very capable young bartenders. These ladies were on top of things, serving up ultra-fresh ice-cold beer in chilled glasses. We had the place to ourselves, and the bartenders were quick to refill us as soon as we finished a glass.

As we drank and snacked on chips and peanuts, Bill and I chatted with Gorethy. After Bill called her Dorothy a few times, I mentioned to him that it was actually Gorethy with a G.

Bill pondered this for a second or two and then asked Gorethy where her name came from.

“It's from the Bible,” she told him. “I'm Catholic.”

Both Bill and I are Catholic, but neither of us had heard her name before. We all decided that it must have come from a different Biblical translation than the one Bill and I were accustomed to.

Our discussion meandered on through various other topics, and the beer continued to flow as cold and delicious as ever. Since we were there as representatives of the Embassy and the U.S. Government and all that, I “limited” myself to like eight glasses of beer in the hour that we were there. Man, it went down easily!

I didn't do anything embarrassing, though, and I wasn't driving, so I had no qualms with getting a little buzzed.

When I got home that evening, I topped off the experience by cooking myself a bratwurst for dinner.

Every rainy Monday should be so good!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Papua New Guinea: Superman's Long Walk

It was Saturday morning, and, like many other Saturdays, I called the Embassy's duty driver to see about getting a lift into town. Sam was on duty, and when he picked me up at around 10:00 AM, he told me that he had other runs scheduled, starting at 11:30. I told him that I understood this limitation, and we drove off to the few places on my list.

We started by going to the local post office where I mailed some letters and bought some stamps. Then we went to a stationery store, where I picked up exciting things like packing tape and a sketch pad.

By the time we got to my final stop, the Holiday Inn, it was 11:10. The 11:30 run involved taking the Embassy's shipping assistant to the airport to get something that the Embassy was importing cleared through customs. Sam didn't have time to wait for me at the Holiday Inn, so he dropped me off and left for his run.

I understood that this might happen, and I was fine with it. He told me that he would call me when he was available again.

My reason for going to the Holiday Inn was to see the “All Nations Christmas Bazaar” (or “Bizarre” as the sign on the ballroom doors read).

I paid the few kinas entrance fee and had a quick look. By quick, I mean that I was finished looking by 11:20. This was mostly on account of the overall crappiness of the bazaar.

Beforehand, I hadn't thought about what the “all nations” part of the bazaar was referring to. Well, it meant that the bazaar had craftsmen from different countries – about three by my count. I saw some Chinese, some Indians, and some PNGeans.

The Chinese people were selling ceramics that didn't interest me; the Indians were selling sewn items that didn't interest me; and the Papua New Guineans were selling a variety of things that didn't interest me. The Papua New Guinean component included a basket seller, a few jewelry sellers, a live plants seller, a few bilum (crocheted bag) sellers, and a few assorted artifact dealers. It was as if the bazaar's organizers had gone to the monthly craft market and selected all of the vendors that I normally bypass.

In my spin around the ballroom, I did buy a table mat that was woven from palm fronds for about $3.

As I left, I knew that Sam would be busy with his run. I called him anyway to tell him that I was ready to go whenever he was free. I also told him that I was leaving the Holiday Inn and that he should call me for my new location whenever he was ready to get me.

Just down the block from the Holiday Inn, I stopped at a Big Rooster restaurant. (“What is the time? What is the time? It's Big Rooster time!!”)

There are no international fast food chains in PNG. There are no Micky D's, no Subways, no Pizza Huts, and not even any KFCs which have pretty broad international coverage. There are no Aussie fast food joints that I know of, and while there was once a Jollibee (Filipino McDonald's) in Port Moresby, it went belly-up years ago.

There are a handful of local fast food chains here, and Big Rooster, well, rules the roost so to speak. There are probably 6 or 8 Big Roosters around Port Moresby alone, and being a Big Rooster virgin, I decided it was time to give it a try.

The menu at Big Rooster included a lot of fried chicken (no surprise there) and several fish dishes. All the usual sides were there as well - coleslaw, fries, potato wedges, corn on the cob, baked beans, and mashed potatoes. No biscuits, though.

I wanted chicken without bones, and as the menu was devoid of chicken nuggets or tenders, I was left with only one choice. I ordered the bacon and cheese chicken sandwich, along with some spicy potato wedges and a coke.

My order was up in a few minutes, and soon enough, it was time for my first bite. To say that the sandwich was OK might be a bit strong. Instead of a patty or a fillet inside the bun, there was a clump of chicken pieces smothered in a gooey white cheese sauce with a fatty slab of bacon blanketing the whole mess. I was losing interest in it before I was even halfway through, which tells you something.

That was possibly my first and last trip to Big Rooster, but the spicy potato wedges, which I enjoyed, may lure me back.

After Big Rooster, I called Sam again. He was still busy.

Realizing that it could be a very long wait, I decided that I would walk home.

Before I started walking, though, I popped into a pharmacy across from Big Rooster to look for my holy grail, contact lens solution.

I have checked for contact solution in numerous supermarkets and pharmacies here, and it is elusive to say the least. Apparently contact lenses are too new-fangled for PNG. For that matter, most vision problems here are probably not corrected by any means.

In my search, I have found only one store that carries solution, which it imports from Thailand. It costs over $25 a bottle. I wish that I had thought to bring some solution in my shipment of household effects, but it's too late for that now.

Anyhow, the pharmacy next to Big Rooster was another disappointment.

Striking out there, I started my walk.

It was around noon, and the sun was burning bright as it's wont to do.

The heat was a real deterrent to walking, and I didn't encounter many other walkers, local or otherwise.

I did, however, pass many people who were sitting by the road chewing and selling betel nut.
That morning I happened to have worn my Superman t-shirt (a blue t-shirt with the red and yellow symbol on the chest), and this did not go unnoticed.

As I walked along, everyone shouted out to me as they always did, but instead of “white boy” or “white man”, they were all shouting, “Hey, Superman!”

To get from the Holiday Inn in the Gordons district of town back to my house, I walked along the Poreporena Highway. This involved crossing a massive hill.

As I trudged up the mountain, everyone was keen on Superman. Drivers were honking and giving thumbs-up; people in truck beds and buses and along the side of the road were waving and shouting; people were running up to shake my hand. Some of the more ridiculous people were the drivers who would slow down and lower their windows to greet Superman. It was all a bit silly, but harmless at the same time.

The whole situation was funny because no one in the States (or most other places for that matter) would bat an eye if he saw someone wearing a Superman shirt. The Moresby reaction was totally unexpected for me. The way they were acting, you'd think I was wearing a full costume – tights, cape, and the rest.

At first, I thought that people were just playing around. Well, the adults clearly were, but a few incidents made me wonder about the children.

A group of kids who looked to be around 7 or 8 years old ran up and asked me, “Is your name really Superman?”

They asked me in fine English, but I responded in Pidgin just for kicks.

“Yes, nem bilong mi Superman,” I told them.

And they believed it. The kids were like, “Whoaaa!! Cooool!”

We had a few rounds of hand-shaking and high-fiving, and then they followed me down the sidewalk like I was the pied piper before I convinced them to go away.

Another time, as I was walking up a different hill closer to my house, a little boy of about 3 or 4 years saw me coming and freaked out.

“Superman kamap! Superman kamap! [Superman's coming!]” he screamed, as he ran up the hill in terror. Maybe he thought I was going to melt him with my laser vision.

His mother, meanwhile, was cracking up.

I never thought about it before, but Superman must fall in the category with Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy, in that children believe that all of these characters are real until they reach a certain age.

Getting back to the story, though, I crested the big hill and came down the other side. At the bottom, I stopped at the Yacht Club for a pitcher of water and a pint of beer.

A Papua New Guinean man was entering the club at the same time I was, and he commented that I must be hot because he had seen me walking over the hill. Other than to have something to say to me, acknowledging that he had seen me walking served no purpose whatsoever.

Just inside the bar, an Australian woman did a double-take when she saw me, and then yelled out, “Hey, Superman!” The Superman fascination wasn't limited to Papua New Guineans after all.

I nursed my beer for a while and watched part of a cricket match between Australia and Sri Lanka.

Then I hit the road again.

Just outside the Yacht Club, there were several people chewing betel nut by the side of the road.
I greeted them, and they asked me to stick around for a chat.

When I agreed to stay for a minute, the first thing they wanted to know was if I was a tourist.
I told them that I was not a tourist, but was working at the American Embassy.

At the Embassy, there is an American named Andy who was hired locally in Port Moresby. He has lived in Papua New Guinea for several years and has a Papua New Guinean wife. It turned out that the people I was talking with were Andy's in-laws. I met his mother-, father-, and brothers-in-law.

After this connection was made, they told me to call on them if I ever needed help in Port Moresby, and then our chat was over.

From here, I was maybe half an hour from home, and it was all uphill.

I walked on and chatted with many more Superman admirers. I also ran into several more people who could either be considered curious or nosey depending on your perspective.

Seeing my table mat poking out, they would ask me, “What's in the bag?”

I showed them all, and they acted duly impressed.

When I was about 15 minutes from home, Sam called to tell me that he was ready for me and was waiting outside the Holiday Inn. It was about 3 hours since he had dropped me off.

Since he had acknowledged my phone call earlier when I told him that I was leaving the hotel, I was unclear as to why he was waiting for me there.

In any case, I was close enough to home by then that his services were no longer required. I asked him just to bring my bag from the stationery store when he had a chance.

He came straight away, and he reached me when I was two minutes from the housing compound. I waved him by, though. There is no sense in walking 99% of the way home and riding the last 50 meters in a car.

When I walked through the gate, Sam met me and started in with his apologies and explanations. With my beer threatening to come up on me, I cut Sam off and told him that everything was cool. And it was. A good walk now and again is a treat.


As a post-script of sorts, a few days later, I saw the Ambassador's driver, Jimmy, and he told me that he had seen me walking on the hill that day. When I mentioned the Superman aspect of the story, he told me that he understood because he also thought that I looked like Superman even without the shirt. Or maybe he was trying to say that all white guys look alike...