Thursday, 29 November 2012

Labels.

No, not the kind I tag these posts with.

The ones that we all give each other.

In case you haven't worked it our yet, I am ever so slightly opinionated.

Q'uelle suprise!!

I am pretty out about my politics/atheism/feminism/humanism and any other isms I find interesting.

But here's the thing. I've realised that being 'out' means that people who don't agree with you simply often dismiss you.

Oh, she WOULD say that, she's an **insert ism of your choice**.

Thereby rendering the message null.

Up Here, anti-intellectualism and reverse snobbery seems to be endemic. Faux News is taken as gospel. If it was on MSN, then it MUST be tru, ya? By inviting debate, I seem to only invite ridicule.

It fascinates me that people who have the balls to leave their country of origin, and live in a place which teh interwebz describes as 'the most dangerous place on the planet outside a warzone', cling to their racial and gender stereotypes so firmly.

I have, whilst having Vop sitting on my lap, been told that "you can't train locals", that ALL Nationals are 'lazy", that women up here 'deserve' the violence because they drink/cheat/fight back.

And, trust me, I don't auto-launch into femiNazi mode (well, I did when a WWW* man refered to PNG Nationals as "lazy fuckin' kanakas" within Vop's hearing), I do try, I really do, to counter arguments like the above with calm and facts and logic.

I might say "Really? On what do you base that?" or "Can you prove that?"

At which point, you can often see the internal dialogue mirrored in their eyes.

"Oh, she's SUCH an atheist/feminist/foodie/kanak-loving hippy."

 And from that point on, any rational discussion is moot.

I am guilty of it myself sometimes, I admit it. I've been in awesome discussion with someone up here to find "Dear Goat, I bet (s)he's a religious nutter/Bob Katter fan/Birther Conspiracy lunatic with opinions like that", but I TRY to be aware of that internal filter and still allow positive discourse to flow.

However, interesting discourses/potential friendships I have been involved with have ended thus when my politics/feminism/atheism has come up:

You worship Satan because you used to be Pagan. (In a discussion about why I have a pentagram on an incense holder.)
Easter has nothing to do with Estrogen, Jesus named it. (in a discussion on the etymology of words)
You only post stuff about abused children because you're an atheist and you hate religion.
You're only interested in Domestic Violence up here because you're bored with no job.

and my personal fave:

Why are you adopting Vop? You're an atheist. You don't care. Not like a Christian does.

They haven't always ended friendships, but they HAVE ALWAYS ended discussions.

At home, friendships were forged over gallons of wine  years of commonality. People change, grow and sometimes the friendships don't last. But in my late 40's I have a circle of people who might not share ALL my beliefs, but there is a core of like-mindedness that cements the relationship.

Up here, the gene pool of potential friends is small, and because we are all human, we yearn to bond. To mingle. To have friends.


Being dismissed for having opinions is one thing, and certainly nothing I haven't experienced in MANY other countries, but Up Here it comes at a cost.

You get that most 1950's of damning labels.

You get

A. REPUTATION.


WWW = PNG expat slang for White With Wallet.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

You can't make this shit up

Recently, I sent my weekly "What's on in Lae" email home to friends and family. It's my weeklyish report home. I include Vop's milestones, what we've been up to and various stories from up here in Lae.

I was mentioning to a friend up here, a long-termer, that I often get emails back accusing me of exaggerating stories in Lae (like the time I ran through the main market, in my pajamas, wielding a bush knife)

She said, and I will never forget this:

"You don't EVER need to exaggerate about life up here, it's bizarre enough without it. But people who've never been here will not ever be able to understand it"

I will blog about the above market incident one day, and the time I ended up driving in a car in the middle of the 4 Mile settlement, lost, but for now let me present you with a pictorial story that needs no words. NONE of the following are photoshopped in any way.






Welcome to Lae. You can't make this shit up.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Fresh Meat!

All roads lead to Rome. Well, in Lae, all roads eventually lead to the Yacht Club. The Yoti, as it's known. Sooner or later, all noobies up here end up at the Yoti. Sometimes they end up there of their own volition, and you can tell them by the stunned, glazed look in their eyes. That's when people like me walk up to them and introduce myself, and invite them to sit with us. I don't know whether it's the smell of the legal alcohol that stuns them, or the sight of so many white people in a single mass, but they're usually looking pretty gormless.

Sometimes they get taken there by a kindly 'old timer', to be introduced to life in Lae.

Either way, all fresh meat usually ends up at the LYC.

And like all cultures, those of us who live here are eager and willing to share our experience, to give the noobies a hand.

When I first went to the Yoti, I was told MANY things about Lae. I will never forget an older expat woman telling me "Whatever you do, don't over-feed your house staff, you'll only spoil them'

I am still not entirely sure what that means.

I was also told that it;s impossible to buy shoes in Lae (untrue), or women's underwear ((partially true) and that household items such as mops et all are impossible to buy up here (completely false).

The very delicious Dr Wendy, writes about it over at her blog,  and was told that feminine hygiene products were unavailable in Lae. As such, she turned up with a container-load of tampons. And ended up giving them away as gifts when she left several years later.

So The Husbang and I have developed our "Noob Speech:, which we impart to all Fresh Meat with suitable gravitas.

Basically it's this:

Lots of people will tell you lots of things about Lae. Don't listen to them. Discover it for yourselves. You're here, which means that you have an open mind and haven't been lulled into the BS that is spouted about Lae on the Web. Lots of people will want you to see THEIR view of Lae. Keep an open mind. Lots of people will tell you about lots of OTHER people in Lae. Remember, this place is like a small DEEP SOUTH town in about 1974. Everyone knows everyone else, and plenty are quick to judge and gossip. Discover people for yourself and make up your own mind.

But the most important advice we can give noobies is this:

"DON'T DRINK THE TRADEWINDS"

This pearl of wisdom, this Nugget of Truth, if you will, is always delivered in the same sonorous, sing-song tones that one would use to say:

"DON'T DRINK THE KOOL-AID"

And the comparison is apt. Trade Winds will kill you. Very dead. A lot. And unlike the Kool-Aid, it will be painful and horrible and nasty.

Trade Winds is our local brand of spirits.It's made locally, of godknows what ubiquitous ingredients. It's not the local home-brew, it's the locally made commercial liquor. They manufacture brandy and vodka and bourbon and godknows what other hellish concoctions in their meth lab of death distillery.

I am pretty sure Macbeth's witches, with their "bubble, bubble, toil and trouble" were brewing up an early batch of Trade Winds Vodka.

It's cheap. VERY cheap, compared to imported spirits. And its bottles seductively grace the shelves of the Yoti, batting their fetching eyes like so many Sirens and try to lull you into tasting their wily charms.

""Lae's under alcohol ban", they coo.

"How long has it been since you felt the sweet, sweet burn of Scotch?" they susurrate.

Now I am pretty sure telling women there are no tampons in Lae is part of some hazing ritual that the old timers designed to have a laugh at the noobies expense, but listen to me  people, this thing with the Trade Winds is FOR ROOLZ.

IF you want spirits at the Yoti, or anywhere else in Lae, you MUST ask for it by name, as in "I'll have a Johnny Walker Red with coke, please" or "Can I have a VSOP and ginger ale in a long glass?"

Otherwise, you'll get Trade Winds.

Infact, when The Husbang orders his bourbon, it goes something like this:

"wanpla Jim Beam, No Cock, jus Jim Bim, an ice. NO TRADE WINDS, ya? Tenk yu tru" and we will often follow a new waitress to the bar to ensure we get the Right Stuff.

Because Trade Winds will Fuck. You. Up.

Once, early in our tenure up here, there was an open bar at the Yoti. Some night that some local company had sponsored, and for one hour, EVERYTHING across the bar was free. I'd had a single glass of wine with dinner, and I took the opportunity of getting shit-faced for free supporting local industry. I had three brandy and drys.

Three.

The Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster was invented by Zaphod Beeblebrox, in  The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The effect of a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster is like having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon, wrapped 'round a large gold brick. It has also been described as the alcoholic equivalent to a mugging; expensive and bad for the head.

Trade Winds spirits are Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters with  pissy attitudes. Trade Winds Spirits are the just-wormed pit bull older more streetwise cousins of the PGGB.

Three Trade Winds Brandies and Dry caused a spontaneous purging from every orifice in my body. With no warning.

There is a very specific headache that goes with a Trade Winds hangover (And you WILL get an hangover, even after only one glass), Waking up the next morning is akin to being reborn. Not in a New Age Pixie-Freak kinda "Past Lives" way, but in a "My mother was a crack whore meth head and I am being delivered using forceps by Dr Nick" way.

And this will last for HOURS. Hours and hours of photophobia and unquenchable thirst and that headache that goes on and on and on.

And this, prospective noobies, was after THREE SINGLE SHOTS.

So when you get here, prospective new residents, take with a LARGE grain of salt, any 'advice' you're given about shopping or crime or tampons or the fact that I worship Satan in bloodthirsty rituals in my basement some of the people up here, But any expat who knows their shit will tell you about Trade Winds.

It's possibly the most important advice about Lae you'll get.


Thursday, 22 November 2012

The good, the bad and the ugly

I guess sometimes I get caught up in the 'bad' of Lae. There's plenty of it. The crime, the dust, the boredom. Much of Lae is, currently, without water. No-one seems to know why. Last time this happened, in 2009, it was because PNG Water hadn't paid their bill to PNG Power and so 'someone' turned off the water, at the source. Then there was the time that a rumor went around town that the Lae water supply had been poisoned, so 'someone' turned it off at the source.

We, however, still have water. We're at the bottom of the hill, almost at sea level, so even after they turn off the water, we still get some residual flow and pressure from the pipes.

We also get all the manque that has collected in the pipes.

Typhoid, anyone?

So my kitchen is currently full of various containers, all filled with filtered and boiled water, from which we will bath, drink and prep food until the water comes back on.

We COULD probably shower, even with the pissy water pressure, but I can't be assured that 50 years of someone elses' skin cells wouldn't be the major ingredient in what was flowing aponst ma body.

Doesn't really bear thinking about, does it?

So, yes, it's bad.

It's also amazingly good.

Coming from much more temperate climes, I am constantly amazed by the fruit up here.Back home I once, much to The Husbang's chagrin, bought an organic pineapple. $USD for a tiny wee thing that, once peeled, yielded about a teaspoon of fruit.

But, OH!! What fruit it was!

Here, I can get 'organic' pineapples, for about $1USD. And they're only organic because the villages in which they are grown can't afford pesticides. And they're HUGE! Big mutha pineapple-on-steroid kinda huge.

They taste like sunshine.

And the watermelons up here? Not for us the pale, chalky melions of home. Up here they are called sugar melons, cost about $4USD for a whole one, and are electro pink. They are melons like you can only dream of back home.

Apparently SOME people **shifty sideways glance and nervous foot shuffle** cut a tiny hole/plug in them and empty a whole bottle of vodka into them, refrigerate overnight, and then consume in a lustful mouthgasmic Bacchanalian tribute to Tastevarna (to mix a few dogmas)

Bananas are bananier. mangoes are mangoier, Tomatoes give The Husbang gout, they're so tomatoey.

Fruit that you would pay el prino prices for in some snooty specialty "purveyor of rare victuals"
 back home are available for a few cents here. Mangosteens cost me about $.25c each. I can pick up a bunch of rambutan maybe 8-10 fruit in a bunch for less than 0.50c.

I can do my fruit and veg shop up here for about $25USD a week.

Of course, this is at the local main market, NOT at the supermarkets, where much of the fruit and veg is imported from Australia and is ridiculously expensive.

I'll blog about The Ugly later. ((yes, freaky ugly white man, with nasal hair and warts that was perving on my boobs at the Yachy Club last Friday, I AM talking about you!! Wearing your cap backwards does NOT make you Gangsta. You're 60 and fat, it makes you creepy. However, your **cough cough** manly strut as you attempted to get my attention, along with your cap, DID earn you a rapper name "Fat Crust Pizza" sung to the tune of "Ice, Ice, Baby")

Believe me, that Ugly is worth a WHOLE post of its own

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Schadenfreudeliciousness

Well two of  the step-monsters have just spent the past fortnight with us. It's been.. interesting. Vop fell in love with both of them immediately, which is awesome as she can be quite reserved with strangers. Thanks to the miracle of Skype and FB, she's seen pix of them before, so I suppose that helped.

They also fell in love with her, and she totally rocked on with her "These are my white brother and white sister" self.

Here in PNG, it's not big deal to see a white man with a National wife, and kids all shades in between. Plenty of people, like The Husbang and I, are on their second marriages, so older white kids with younger mixed-race sibs are perfectly normal up here.

And talking about skin colour is not taboo, as it is in the West.

It's pretty damn evident that Vop is brown and her step-sibs aren't. But rather than glossing over the fact of skin colour, we've chosen to glorify it. There's no point ignoring the obvious.

And it was never more obvious than during the step-monsters' visit.

The step-daughter and I have a chequered history. We love each other, but our relationship is as complex as that of any natural mother/daughter. We've clashed heads MANY times, mostly over clothes.

She's in her early 20's now, so I figure she can pretty much make her own decisions- and I have openly supported them when others didn't (like the time she announced she wanted to work as a stripper to finance her course in child care).

However, up here, the cultural mores regarding women and clothing are very VERY different.

In PNG, breasts are no biggie. Most tribal costumes involve elaborate headdresses  and exposed breasts for women.

It's the thighs that are considered taboo.

Apart from the fact that people would run, screaming "Mein EYES!" into the night, I could probably go to the supermarket topless and not cause a scene. I mean, really, I'd bend down to get a can of beans of the bottom shelf at Food Mart, and my breasts would look like a pair of oranges in the toes of a set of pantyhose.

However, if I were to wear short shorts, or leggings where my thighs were not covered by a long t-shirt, I would be the object of much scrutiny.

It's why we dress up to go to the Yacht Club, one of the few places in town we can wear a short dress, or tight pants. Not that I do, cos me in leggings looks pretty much like two puppies fighting under a blanket, but you get the idea.

Rhee, the step-daughter, was actually pretty good about it. I had sent her an email detailing the above issue and also explained that rape and violence towards women is endemic up here.

Which is where cultural appropriateness butts up against my feminist principles. (but that's a whole 'nother post).

So, we're off to Salamaua for the day, last weekend, and Rhee decides to wear a teeny weeny see-throughey WHITE bikini. Which I have no issue with, as long as she wears a lap-lap (sarong) over her thighs.

So, we get on the boat and I ask her "Have you put on sun block?"

Now Rhee is as pasty a white person as you will ever meet. She is simply breathtakingly beautiful, but man, is she PALE.

She is also, I was told, a physiological miracle.

She "doesn't burn".

I explained, patiently, realizing I was wasting valuable Vodka-consuming time, that Lae is 8degrees south of the equator and the sun is much stronger up here, and we're closer to the sun because of the curvature of the Earth.... and.. and....

But she DOESN'T burn.

And, apparently, IF she uses sun block, she burns faster.

Who knew?

Neither would she wear the lap lap. Apparently it's "their" problem, and if she wants to wear a tiny g-stringy bikini bottom that becomes see-through when wet, then the problem lies with "them" She is, after all, a "fenemist" (sic).

Again, I tried to expand on issues of cultural appropriateness ("if someone turned up at your work wearing a penis gourd and  bone through their nose, wouldn't you say something?  That's what it's like for Nationals over here, you dressed like that. Shocking and inappropriate") But to no avail.

Well, by the time we returned from the island, she was classically lobster-red. The heat coming off her legs was insane. She spent the next two days bathing in milk and rubbing unguents of all types into her skin to ease the pain. The blisters appeared within 24 hours.

All of which fascinated Vop. She couldn't stop holding out her arm and comparing her skin colour to Rhee's. She's never burned and, I guess, never seen anyone who has.

The questions were endless. Why was Rhee that colour? Where did her white go? Will she stay that colour? Would the sun make Vop pink? Why is Rhee's skin falling off? Why did all those men at Salamaua keep staring at Rhee? Why don't bikini manufactures line white bikini bottoms?

(Ok, I made that last one up but Mommy had a few questions of her own. Like "Do you know what Schadenfreude means, darling?")

I explained, as best I could without using the words "melanin" and "Actinic Keratosis" and "Western arrogance" that it's just what happens when white people go out in the sun.

And I was met with possibly the most beautiful thing I've ever heard:

"Mummi, me no go pink and lose em skin. Me brown ALL over! Brown, em MUCH better."

Yes, it is, darling.  As a skin colour, but also as the colour of your bikini bottoms.