An Australian volunteer who was doing whatever volunteers do in PNG.
I was there for 2 years until Dec 2005 .. I hope I made the most of it.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Tropfest: The Planning

I briefly mentioned in a previous post that I was looking at taking on a short film project, in conjunction with my mate Wendy or perhaps I should say that Wendy is looking at doing the film and I am just helping out. I have lumped all the creative hard work onto her and so far she has come up trumps with the idea and has turned that into a script. My ideas were all pretty lame.

But I have to pull my weight now which luckily does not involve a lot. There are some purchases of garments and props I have to do and I am reading all technical fine print on what the Tropfest mob require. I am also trying to teach myself Final Cut Pro as I have a copy but have no idea how to use it. FCP will kick all over the top of using the basic iMovie on my iBook, which can become a bit flaky after previous experiences with it. The only problem is that when they mean Pro they mean your a pro with film editing, so it will take a bit to come to grips with it.

In the script - which I won't divulge too many details about at this point in time - there is only one character and it follows him through a journey. To fill this part we have recruited our neighbourly extra extraordinaire of Roger. Roger has featured in plenty of films as an extra, and has met such luminaries as Richard Gere, Sharon Stone and David Duchovny, the later while doing an x-files episode. So now it is time for him to prove that he can become more than just a guy walking around in the background of a shot.

Between us we seem to have most of the equipment that we will require. Wendy has the DV camera, I have a tripod and the computer to do all the editing on. A friend in town has the VCR to create the two VHS tapes that we will need to submit. One of Wendy's friends in the UK is going to be recruited to do a backing score. The only thing I need to think about is how to record Rogers narration. Hopefully we might be able to use the Audio Visual departments equipment for doing this. Although from previous inspection what they have got seems more inclined to the visual side of things.

We plan to shoot the footage on the weekend of the 20th and 21st of November over at Salamaua. We only need to make a seven minute film including titles and credits, so it should not be to hard to get the whole things shot in one or two days. We might shoot a couple of the opening scenes in Lae but that can be done at any time.

As to what the final product will look like, here is a subtle clue. If you have seen the Terrence Malick film "The Thin Red Line" - which is a movie I still think should have won Best Picture at the Oscars over "Saving Private Ryan" - and the opening scenes of a solider gone AWOL from US army during WWII, this is sort of what I have in mind mainly in regard to the voice-over narration.

I shall keep you posted.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

To Bike or Not to Bike ...

Lately I have been thinking of buying myself a bike. For one reason or another I keep holding myself back from the purchase. If I did get one it would make the trip to the office go pretty swiftly and then I could sleep in that little bit extra. Not that I don't push the sleeping part to the maximum.

Everyone knows there are two types of people in this world, those that are early risers and those that .. well aren't. You can include me in the later group. I usually try to set my clock early (around 6:30) so that I hope it will make get up early. In fact all it does is make me keep hitting the sleep button until the last possible time that I can get up, get ready and be out the door so that I arrive at the office on time.

Anyway back to the bike. I have seen a few at Brian Bell and Courts and they are not too expensive, 300 - 400 Kina for a mountain bike type. But still I keep holding back. Part of the reason I think is because I actually like the 20 or so minute walk as it gives me time to just walk. Being the morning it is not hot but very pleasant. Lately near the sports grounds there have been lots of canary yellow butterflies dancing and fluttering with each other on the way. If I had a bike I would miss all that.

I also like to listen to my iPod - not that I don't use it in the house - and if I had a bike I would get one song in before I got to my cupboard.

It's not like I could really use the bike for anything other than around the campus. I certainly wont be riding it into town. Not because I would worry about my security, but more because of the bloody PMV's and trucks running you off the road, not to mention the pot holes.

So it would really only be used for around the campus. And the only places I go is to the office, the market and occasionally down to the Rainforest Habitat, though that is if usually if I am with someone. Riding to the market on a bike is a bit of overkill, as it is just around the corner, so the office would be the only place I would use it to go. Unless I decide to .. shock, horror .. do some exercise? I could take Patches around on a leash. Then again I would only do that a couple of times before I got bored of it.

At the moment I am leaning to the not bother side of things. May as well save my money and spend it on other things like a trip to West Papua for my birthday next year.

I don't think I mentioned this when I said it was my birthday a month ago (doesn't time fly) but for the last 5 birthdays I have been in a completely different country each time. It shouldn't be too hard to continue that tradition for a few more years? West Papua (Indonesia) sounds like a good as any destination.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Mysteries Abound

PNG, or one island at least, is an excellent place to have wacky mysterious stories emerge. All it needs here is a alleged sighting in a remote village, which soon becomes fact amoung the villagers and then it will go like wild-fire and spreads to the international press.

Well one story at least did. It is the story of a half dog/crocodile creature found in New Britain which hit the news agencies back in March.
Villagers in the superstitious island province of East New Britain this week said they fled in terror after seeing a three-metre tall, grey-coloured creature with a head like a dog and a tail like a crocodile.
A search was organised but nothing was found. It is good to see though that people are thinking of the possibilies.
Kokopo's Mayor Albert Buanga said the dinosaur would make a great tourist attraction, if it existed.

It also seems that dinosaurs are elsewhere on New Britain. I received a group e-mail from a Unitech staff member about another alleged beast called a Ropen. See what you make of this ...

Shortly after World War II, as Western missionaries began to penetrate the deep jungles and remote islands of Papua New Guinea, stories of a flying creature called the Ropen ("demon flyer") began to be reported. Described as a nocturnal creature, the Ropen possesses two leathery wings like a bat, a long tail with a diamond-shaped flange on the end, a beak filled with teeth, and razor-sharp claws. The creatures inhabit the caves that dot the islands of New Britain and Umboi, located in the Bismarck Archipelago. Reports seem to fit the presumed-extinct Rhamphorhynchus, a pterodactyl with a wingspan of 3-4 feet. Like the Kongamato in Kenya, the Ropen is said to have a taste for decaying human flesh and has even harassed native funeral gatherings with western missionaries present. Carl E. Baugh of the Creation Evidence Museum has conducted two Ropen expeditions to New Guinea. He observed one of the creatures through a monocular night scope and snapped a picture of a strange print in the sand the next morning. In 1987, Tyson Hughes, an English missionary, began an 18 month contract to assist the Moluccan tribespeople of Ceram Island, Indonesia to develop efficient farms. Tyson heard stories about a terrifying creature called the Orang-bati ("men with wings") that possesses enormous leathery wings like a bat and live in the caves of Mount Kairatu, an extinct volcano situated in the center of the island.

An artists impression of the Ropen
Call me a sceptic but this sounds like another village story gone wild. As the SMH article points out they are a superstious mob over on New Britain.

As a reply to the Ropen e-mail above one of the other guys at Unitech sent an e-mail stating that he had never heard of the Ropen but he knew of a couple of other beasts in West New Britain. These being the "Piuli" which is apparantly a wild humanoid and the "Pote" who is a sky swimming ghost. Hmmm this looks like it is starting to get out of hand.

Not only mysterious beasts get a run in but spirits and ghosts as well. Back in East New Britain one of my volunteer wantoks on the Duke of York islands keeps sending e-mails about Duk-duks which are apparantly spirits of the dead (correct me if I am wrong).

When a Duk-duk turns up, every one runs and hides. The problem is for my mate, he has no idea when they turn up as you can't see them ... or only certain people can see them ... I think. I need to read the e-mail again. It is all very complicated over there.

Monday, October 25, 2004

The Bad, The Good and The Bad Timing

Ever had one of those moments when the timing could not be any worse? Yes I hear. Everyone must have at some point, right. What about the opposite when the timing is perfect. Well for a couple of times over the weekend there were a few of those experiences. The events were not solely mine I might add, but I was participating in all of them. Let me explain.

It started on Friday night. After three days of being cooped up in a training workshop with all my co-workers learning accountancy software .. fun, fun, fun .. we decided to head in to the Aviat club for some well earned liquid refreshment.

John decided to make use of his vehicle to take me and Paul in. George was going in separately and would be in the club before us. On the way in John decided to big note about his prowess as a motor mechanic. "Why pay hundreds of kina, when you can do it yourself", good point. The problem in hindsight now it seems is that he may be able to fix his cars mechanical problems, but he is not brilliant at preventing them.

Just after he had finished telling us about how his Land-Cruiser is a top vehicle, having it for years and being very faithful, we hit a pot-hole at Kankumeng and the steering wheel starts to shake violently. John manages to pull the troop-carrier over, whence we all climb out to take a gander.

My first thought was that a front wheel was blown. But this was quickly established as being false, besides we would of heard a tyre going bang. John then grabs the front right tyre and manages to wobble it with minimal effort. I look underneath and notice that the tyre iron that controls the steering has come unstuck and rests now on the leaf suspension.

So much for Johns bragging. It made us laugh though as we told the story later over a SP in the club. Bragging one minute, climbing around in the dust and dark the next.

We called up George as soon as we realised that the job was substantial, got some wire, lashed the tyre iron up and limped the thing into a wantoks place.

The next morning ... with a slight headache ... I woke to find that my power was off. I chilled for a few hours and it still had not come on. Hmmm. I went next door to have a chat to Martin. He told me the story was that PNG Power were doing load shedding as they were doing maintenance work on a substation somewhere. According to Martin - the early bird he is - the power went off at 6 and had stayed off since. It was now 10:30. We both had a grumble. They had done this previously, with a two hours on two hours off arrangement. Not a four and half hours off, arrangement.

Just as I was heading out the door, I yelled out in vain to PNG Power, "Turn the bloody power on!". Lo and behold the power comes on as soon as I have finished saying it. Nice timing.

The power being off would become a saga and a bane over the course of the weekend, as they were not due to put it back on until Monday morning. My mate from Salamaua, Wendy, had come to town and rung up to see if she could crash at my place.

She rocked up around lunch time and we chatted. Later Roger turned up and so did Martin and we decided to have dinner in at the Lae International. It is great when people have cars, this time Rogers worked fine though.

The next day, it was another marathon power outage. For the entire day they had us turned off. Wendy wanted to use my iBook to edit it some DV footage that she had done of a volunteer getting a traditional tattoo and a sak-sak (sago) making. Luckily we could borrow martin's charged spare battery (he has an iBook as well) which he wasn't using. So the power being off didn't effect us.

Once she had finished the editing we had grandiose plans of creating a DVD on Martin's e-Mac in his office, as it has a Superdrive. I had previously bought some DVD-R's.

So at about four with the power still off at the house but apparently on in the academic area we headed off to burn some DVD's. Of course when we got there the power had switched over to being on at home instead. Bad timing this time.

We decided that we would do the burning first thing in the morning before I started work. Wendy would be catching the boat back to Salamaua in the afternoon, so had the morning to do things like this.

We all arrived down at the office and thankfully the power was on. This was the first time I had burnt a DVD using iDVD and I didn't realise just how long it takes to do the pre-encoding. It kept on going and going so much so that my alloted work time had past by half an hour. I told the others to let it run while I headed off to put my face in at work. I was keen to see what the finished product would look like so I told them to give me a ring when it had finished.

A bit later the power for the University went out and I got a call from Wendy and Martin just after that to say the DVD was still in the process of encoding when the power shut down. e-Macs don't have batteries and Martins UPS is playing up at the moment.

Argggg, more bad timing with this bloody PNG Power. Such is life in PNG.

As an aside, I have been trying to convince Wendy that she should do a Tropfest short film for the 2005 festival. The last time I saw her I gave her the guidelines for the festival and told her to think of a story and we would then shoot it on her DV camera. Well she has taken it on board and got a script written (a pretty trippy but good one I might add). So be sure to follow in future posts as I share the details of us trying to get a film together. Wendy is the director and I am producing, no working title yet - whatever all that means, sounds like I know what I am doing though. Anyway watch this space.

If you don't know this whole Tropfest obsession has flowed on from my Tropfest movie night earlier this year. As I have said before you have to make your own entertainment here.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Shadowy Movement

Picture yourself in the semi-darkness of your lounge room. It is closing in on 11 o?clock. You are tired. The movie you are watching is in the final stages. Bed beckons.

From the corner of your eye you see movement. A shadowy thing is moving on the opposite side of the room. Weaving in between the legs of your dining table and chairs. You cannot make it out. It keeps moving, following the wall. It looks like nothing you have seen before. A shape not unlike a pint glass on legs. Moving in a bizarre way.

What could it be? Your brain tries to think. Is it a turtle? No they wouldn?t walk like that.

You need to illuminate this thing. You cannot discern what it is from the shape alone. Unfortunately the light switches are on the other side of the room as well.

It has stopped against the wall. You get up and slowly move towards the switches, continually watching the shape. It does not move. You keep going being ever alert. The switches are reached, and then flicked on. First one, then another, and another, until the room is ablaze with light.

The shape is not a shadow anymore it is .. it is .. ahh it is a toad giving a piggyback to another toad. The one on its back must have a sore leg or something.

A bit of cane toad lovin'

The scenerio described is what happen to me a couple of nights ago. I had left the backdoor open with screen closed. Patches entry hole is there. My toady lovers must have hopped on through and thought they had found a love nest. Well all they found was my umbrella whacking them.

It took a bit for the big fella underneath to head on out. A few whacks and no movement. A harder whack and then a hop. A poke and two hops. It had got the message just waving the umbrella near it now and it was heading to the door.

Bloody ugly things whatever they are. They look like the infamous cane toads of Queensland, but seeing as I grew up in NSW, I have no idea when it comes to these golf balls with legs. Anyone care to elaborate?

It is not the first time one has ventured inside but it is the first time one has brought a guest as well. In terms of other houseguests I have had a couple. A mouse was in my house not too long ago. I even managed to capture it MacGyver style by rigging up a trap consisting of a bucket, a mug, a piece of string and some cheese. The best bit is that I captured the whole event on Wendy?s video camera, as the Salamaua girls were staying at the time.

I released the little fella outside, but he must have found his way back in because there he was running around again not much time later. He was or a gang of them were terrorising the block I live on, so Vivenne from next door put some poison out and not long after I found one dead mouse in my pantry.

I tried to tell Kila my haus meri this but the pidgin I was using wasn?t quite right. I was saying ?mi pianim wanpela mouse gone pinis antap? (I found one mouse dead on top - while pointing to the shelf in the pantry). The problem was that mouse or maus in pidgin means mouth. This made her a bit confused. I then had to look up mouse in the dictionary and discovered that it is actually liklik rat!

My other houseguest who briefly stayed was a house spider. Coming down the stairs early one morning I got a shock to see this fella. He was massive. If he was to stretch out his spindly legs I am sure he would be the size of your hand. Luckily he was at the time munching on a cockroach, so I decided to let him go and name him Insy. Unfortunately that was the only time I saw Insy. He must have been discovered by Kila and a broom.

Insy during my brief sighting of him

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

You Call That A Knife ...

Time to turn my discerning eye for all things cross-cultural and today it has landed on the PNG Bush Knife. Ahh the Bush Knife. Anyone who has ever been to PNG will know about these babies. Also known up here as a busnaip in Pidgin or a big-f@%#-off machete in English.

They are the ubiquitous New Guinea weapon come all purpose implement of choice here. Some how managing to leech into every corner of the country. There seems to be a bush knife for every man, woman and child. If not I am sure that during the next elections some politician will be giving them away free to get people to vote for him. When driving into town you would not be able to get there without seeing some guy on the side of the road walking with a big bunch of bananas over one shoulder and a bush knife swinging by his side.

Don't get me wrong I am not saying they are bad. I think they are great. I have got one in my laundry ready for all those bush knife related activities. PNG is probably one of the only countries in the world where it is expected you have a huge monster knife. In the first few weeks that I was in the country, before I had fully got my kitchen set up with all the pots and pans, resting up against the wall next to the washing machine was my bush knife. The guys in the office made a special trip out to a certain hardware store because they sold the best bush knife.

Not that it really matters because in terms of knife care they get treated like shit. Mine is looking decidedly dodgy now after all the weeding it has been doing. That and being used to chop up the compost heap when I throw on a new load of scraps. But once I have given it a bit of a sharpen with a file it can be back to use for more traditional purposes like trimming the hedge or lopping off useless limbs from the guava and frangipani trees.

My busnaip looking a bit worse for wear now

The average Joe Blow will probably more likely be cutting down bananas, a sugar cane or getting a ripe pineapple. Which reminds me I need to ask Martin if his haus meri took the ripe pineapple underneath the guava tree the other day, cause I will be pissed off if someone else has nicked it. There is a saying some of the other ex-pats have here, "how do you know when your pineapple is ripe? When it has disappeared".

Other good uses are more gardening related activities like as I said using it for weeding, edge trimming on a footpath and cutting grass. Although the last task here is not really suited to the bush knife and a special sword like knife called a sarep is required for this, which has a blade close to a metre in length. You don't want to be standing behind someone when they are swinging these around. Watching them being used though is impressive.

I am sure every week there would be scores of people checked in to local hospitals requiring a bit of repair work from a bush knife related injury. That is of course if they make it that far. On the front page of the Post-Courier a couple of months ago there was a story of a couple in a village in the southern highlands who had an argument, which obviously got a bit vicious, because the end result was the wife came out missing a head. Lesson learned: Bush knives don't kill people, people do.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Someone Else's Story

While I am going through a lean patch with not too much action happening lately you may want to check out someone else's story of a journey up the nearby Snake river.

Here is a bit of a teaser.
The caves were a bit of a surprise. The entrance is not promising -- lots of crawling and squeezing -- but this was only a side vent into what looked like the course of an ancient underground river. Huge caverns open out, perhaps twenty meters to the ceiling, and tracks lead off into dark and mysterious places. Country for dwarves and balrogs this.
Perhaps I will have to head off to this river and suss it out myself. Apparantly it is quite possible to white-water raft down it, just need to get the equipment.

Prickly Heat

It always sounds like someone is desperate for something to say when they bring up the weather as a topic of conversion. But I have to say that after a week of no rain this place has turned into a dry sauna.

With the constant blue sky and the sun now at a point when it is directly overhead it has been unbearable. It is times like this when I wish I was in my cupboard at work, because at least there I would have air-conditioning.

So I was trapped indoors with the fan going flat out, not making it much more pleasant, getting visits from Patches throughout the day. She would pop in through a hole that she has made in my screen door - one day she was inside and desperate to get out so she charged through and ripped open the fly wire on the back screen, so it now complements the existing hole that I inherited on the front door. Once inside Patch would lie supine with that not a care in the world doggie attitude and drift off to doggie dreams.

Then once her black body has sufficiently cooled, she would turn into the lizard dog and head outdoors to lie in the full blast of the baking lamp above and warm her cold blooded body up. Martin (her real owner - I only look after her occasionally) has a theory that she does the lie-in-the-heat trick to kill off any bugs that she may be carrying. Somehow I think that she just likes to heat up.

Anyway the heat was hot enough for me not to get out the hammock. I have a great big Brazilian style hammock that Sue gave me for Christmas last year and which I managed to smuggle over here with the other 40+ kilos of stuff I brought. Unfortunately when it is too hot the thing gets left in its usual storage spot, hanging as a wall covering. If I attempt to use it at these times I would be baked like a foil wrapped potato in an oven.

The hammock does get pulled out and strung up when the temp cools off at the end of the day from about 4 onwards. Then it is great to lie outside, have a cold beer, read my current book and listen to my music waft out from inside. It?s a tough life.

Me and Patches enjoying life

During the middle of the day it is a case of just opening all the louvre windows, sticking on the fan and hoping that a nice cross breeze will blow up.

If only there was a decent beach in Lae, then I would not care so much. I would head down there, take the esky and cool off by jumping into the Bizmarck sea. No beach though and no pools either. When I first made the decision to come to a university I thought it would be a given that they at least would have a pool .. ahh to be so naïve. I should have asked in hindsight. But I guess I still would have come.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Another Malaria Breakthrough

More good news in the battle against Malaria. After the news that they have created a cheap treatment using a synthetic version of Arthemeter some more boffins have, by the looks of it, managed to create a vaccine for the pesky parasites. Can only be good news, surely.

Bad VCD's

Yesterday I went into Lae to do some banking and I had a bit of time to spare while waiting for my lift so I popped into Brian Bell (PNG's leading retailer - with a very annoying ad on radio with a jingle that goes "hey hey mister B") to browse for a while. I stumbled as I usually do to have a look at VCD's on sale.

PNG seems to have taken to the VCD's in a big way. Probably because they are very cheap. At 14 kina you can walk home with a copy of a latest film that has come out only recently in the cinemas back in Australia. And when no cinema's exist in Lae this is a big plus for the entertainment starved locals.

The reason they are so cheap is because they are all bad quality pirated movies made in Malaysia using the old video camera mounted on a tripod trick at the back of the cinema.

I have purchased a couple of them so far, these being "Eternal sunshine for the spotless mind" and "Shrek 2". The quality has been passable and only once have I noticed a black silhouette of a figure stand up and leave their seat.

From what I have been told in regard to some of the other VCD's people have got the quality can become almost unwatchable. I was told a story about one film where halfway through it the video camera tilts forward on the tripod and for five minutes there is nothing but footage of some guys shoe. In another there is the distinct sound of someone munching on popcorn throughout the film and it's not unlikely that you will hear plenty of laughter from the audience if you are watching a comedy.

Some of the VCD's that land on the shores here are not only dubious in quality but the content of the films is dubious quality as well. After looking through some of the C grade crap yesterday on the shelves I had a laugh at the description of one film called "666: The Demon Child". I even wrote down the synopsis it made me cringe so much.
Five archaeology students discover an unusual egg, which hatches releasing a demon child into the world. The creature attacks the students who try and discover its origins. This leads them to a hidden temple, the sacred tomb of the giants and millions more eggs...

Pity I could not scan in the backside so you can see the demon child attacking the students. Very funny stuff. I might just buy it for looking so bad.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

The Cupboard I Work In

I call my office a cupboard. Not because I keep brooms and mops leaning against the sides, but because the size is not much bigger than the wardrobe that I have back at my bedroom in my oldies place - isn't it great to know that if I ever need to, one day I could go back home and live in my old bedroom and admire the plastic kit-model planes that I never got round to painting and have a big wardrobe/small office to use.

Anyway back to the office. The rough dimensions for the spot I spend most of my time at work would be about 2m x 2m. So it is bigger than a cupboard, bigger than most wardrobes unless you grew up in a big house like me and probably a little bit smaller than the size as a small bathroom.

"Not that small" I hear you say. Well maybe not comparing it to some of the cubicles I have seen on sitcoms and movies (Office Space springs to mind), but there is a reason I call it a cupboard. It is because there are no windows apart from a little cell like one and a door which makes me have to squeeze up against the desk to close it if I want to shut out the noise from the duplicator machine just outside.

I think your getting the picture. Our whole department is crammed into a tiny building which looks more like somebodies house rather than a University department building.

I get a converted storage room to use as an office, we have the printing guy Sanga going non stop in the space outside, the two reception girls, Maria and Damaris, nearby where they serve all the students over a counter who come and cram in to get transcripts, pay fees or whatever. In between there are stacks of ream paper boxes full of either new A4 paper or printed books for the students. To the sides there are a couple of other small offices, one being another converted storage room - although bigger than mine, but missing the essential A/C. John gets that one and is always complaining about the dust swirling about from the fan.

In total there are eight of us working in a house sized building. And that is not all of us. Because of the lack of space inside, outside we have two converted shipping containers that are full of student materials. Stacked to the top full with more boxes full of books. There are two guys working there as storemen, if you have been reading my posts, one is Knox from the Mt Wilhelm trip and the other is Robin. Then finally there is also Paul who is working in a completely different building about 5 minutes walk away.

Thankfully the wheels of progress are turning and some of the cash we are making is being spent to extend our little green house. Although of course in true PNG style this is taking a bloody long time. So far since getting the approval back in March we are now at the stage where the footings are in place - only 6 months later not too bad.

It may sound like I am complaining but it actual fact it does not bother me, even though it did took a little bit of getting used to after the open plan commodious environments of all my previous places of occupation. The only real pain that I have is that I have nowhere to properly set up computers to install and test them. It means that I have the one corner of my cupboard not already occupied by a desk, chair or door swing that is stacked with computer bits going through their testing phases.

My other slight complaint is that due to the lack of natural light in my cell, I need to take breaks regularly and get outside, otherwise by the end of the day the bombardment from the CRT will be to much for my then frazzled brain to take. Breaks usually involve a nice walk over to the Kopi Haus (Coffee House - where buying a cup of coffee will get you a cup, a sachet of instant coffee and some hot water) where I will buy some of my favourite PNG snacks. I will elaborate in a future post on some these.

Well that is enough digressing and slacking off from work, I need to get back to it and set up some more PCs. Ciao.

A tad on the cramped side

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Column 8 Classics

After my adventures with mum at trying to get to Maimafu (see the story), what my big sister Sue has just sent me in a package is very appropriate. She has clipped some clippings from the Sydney Morning Herald's Column 8 about some bush pilot stories in PNG. I'll share them together here all in the one place.

Column 8 - September 17th
Wing and a prayer. V. David Thurlow, of Birchgrove, tells of an experienced and presumably mischievous New Guinea bush pilot who handed the instruction manual to his passenger and asked her to read to him the relevant paragraphs on: "Instructions for take-off."

Column 8 - September 20th
Myth or legend, Bob Phillips had to share this tale, inquiring if the bush pilot prankster in Papua New Guinea (Column 8, Friday), who needed take-off instructions, was the same man who walked backwards out of the cockpit with a ball of string, asking an unsuspecting passenger if she minded holding the string taut while he went to the toilet at the back of the plane. He never mentioned he had a co-pilot.

Column 8 - September 21th
From the fertile field of flying in Papua New Guinea, John Egerton, of Wollongong, recalls the noisy bi-plane of the 1950s, the Dragon Rapide, whose wings flapped unnervingly in flight. High above the Sepik jungle, a twitchy passenger shouted at the pilot to ask what would happen if the engine stopped. Without a word, he switched it off, allowing the deathly silence to sweep over his passenger before restarting the motor. Lesson learned, John asked? Never interrupt a bush pilot when he is at work.

Column 8 - September 28th
Flights to life's edge abound. Mary Anne Kennan, of Burwood, recalls the Papua New Guinea pilot who calmly landed his light aircraft on a field "the size of tennis court" on a mountain ridge with deep valleys around to pick up the coffee harvest. Turning off the engine, he leapt out, cursing and shouting at some young desperadoes near the runway, later explaining grimly: "They put stones in the windsock. We nearly didn't make it."

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Tall Tales and Truth

When I started telling everyone I knew at the end of last year that I was packing up, heading offshore again and going to PNG, one thing I found was that everyone seemed to have some sort of tale or stereotype about the country. Mostly the stories ranged in what I thought at the time to be the bizarre and no way could that be true category.

So now that I have firmly planted my feet here and taken stock of the situation I thought that I would pass judgement on a few of these tales and tell the world if they are true or false.

Tale: My mate Basil, who I used to work with and who once gave me a slab of homebrew that I left stupidly stored under my bed (word to the wise - don't do this! homebrew has a tendency to be - lets just say - unstable), told me that he worked in Hagen for a few months and saw all sorts of things. The one that sticks in my mind the most was his story of walking down the main street to go to the bank and seeing a woman coming the other way suckling a pig. He then proceeded to tell me that this was quite common for them to do this.
Verdict: True. As bizarre as it seems this is apparently true, though I have never witnessed it myself, I have been told by a number of reliable sources since I have been here that this is true. Pigs are valued so highly in the Highlands that they are nursed like babies during their infant stages.

Tale: A popular tale told to me before I came up, which almost all people seemed to know is again about pigs in the highlands. This one involves what you need to do if you accidentally manage to hit one while driving. What they said was if you do collect one underneath your Bridgestone's is that you just need to keep going, don't stop and just get yourself to a police station.
Verdict: True. Because of the value of the beasts if you kill one, even if it stumbles as they do right in front of your ute, you just need to get out of there. Compensation and even payback are big problems especially up in the highlands. What is worse obviously is if you manage to hit and kill a person, then you would need to up and leave the country.

Tale: My old man was the first to tell me this tale after he came up here in the late 80's to try and win a contract, again he was in Mt Hagen - all the good stories seem to come from the Highlands - and he told me that he had hired a 4WD and went to see some location or whatever when they came across a road-block. The national guys he was with said stay in the car as there was a tribal fight going on. After a bit of time dad saw guys wearing their traditional clobber with bows shooting off arrows at each other.
Verdict: True. Tribal fights happen, or at least did happen in the traditional way. Unfortunately now they are more likely to pull out the machine guns rather than the bow and arrows. I guess the old man was quite lucky to see it still in the traditional way.

Tale: Jason my former boss, and all round great guy (hey he did ring me up after coming back from the U.K. and offer my old job back - well almost old job), dragged out the old tale of cannibals when I told him I was up and leaving. This is not so much as a tale but more of a stereotype about PNG. One of the only things that people seem to remember about PNG is the head-hunters and you should skip the place because you just might end up in a pot.
Verdict: False. Of course this is just bollocks. The last head-hunters died out in the 60's or so, the missionaries have done a fine job of that. But I guess it is one of things people remember most about PNG, therefore it is raised.

Tale: Another adage based on fact, is the one about PNG still using shells as money. Jason again raised this stereotype before I came up, in fact most of the things he raised about PNG were stereotypes, though at the time he was just trying to wind me up.
Verdict: True and false. Shells do still have value, especially in the Tolai villages of East New Britain, where they traditional give big coils up to a metre in diametre at weddings and funerals. But of course there is a proper cash based currency here. Interestingly the name for it, Kina, means shell in Tolai.

Tale: Another guy I used to work with had the story about the time while he was working on a Russian cruise ship that docked in Port Moresby (a bizarre story in itself, if you ask me), and being the pot-head he was at the time, tried to secure some of the local produce. He asked someone on the wharf if he could get some and gave him a US$20 bill when confirmed to see if this would cover costs. When the guy came back the next day, he came back with two full garbage bags worth.
Verdict: Unknown but most likely true. I would dare say this probably happened though it could be a little bit exaggerated, knowing the person who told the tale to me. One thing I do know is that there is plenty of weed growing wild all over the place here.

I have changed my blog slightly so that it uses Haloscan for the comments - much more user friendly - but I did not want Riss's comment to disapear, so I will recreate it here below.
Well i think if you're going to recount true stories of PNG, you really need to post Neil's story after he visited a (not to be named) village earlier on in the year - the pig story... remember it? How he realised not only were thongs totally necessary when walking down the street because people had no worries about dropping their dacks if they needed to take a dump - they just needed to make sure they also took along a stick, because the pigs roaming the town liked nothing better than a hot breakfast and were often in a rush to be first in line...

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Wonders of Modern Communication

It is amazing once you start one of these blogs and publish a few anecdotes, thoughts and observations about life here in PNG, how many people start to get in contact with you and the fascinating things you can learn from that.

Well many may be slightly overstating it, but so far I have had quite a few different people send me e-mails. Included in these is a PNG woman from Enga who has mainly studied in Australia but is currently now travelling through the mid-east. I have just received a long and brilliantly written e-mail from her about her current exploits. It made me jealous just reading it and desire to just whack on my back-pack and head off on a new trail somewhere.

Also I have received an e-mail from a American woman who did a lot of field work for a tectonics phD in PNG and specifically she worked at Unitech while here. She even e-mailed me her thesis on the plate movements in this area after asking if I wanted to get a copy - of course my reply was.

Quite a few travellers coming to PNG have got in contact with me in regard to going to various places. It makes me feel like I some sort of expert in PNG now. I have to keep telling people that I have only been here 9 months and there is still a lot for me to learn yet as well. I guess when you start travelling any information is better than none.

All of these people I think have come to my blog because I have posted a few replies on the Lonely Planet Thorntree to specific questions about PNG - hence the travel questions - so it just makes me admire the age we live in when we can converse, share ideas, experiences so easily. Sure the Internet has bad sides, but surely overall it must be benefit for all.

I will finish up this post with a link to a great article sent to me by my new globetrotting-Engan friend about the dangers of travelling. The article is called Danger Abroad!: Our Concerns Are Often Another Display of Our Xenophobia and I think this quote from it brilliantly somes it up:
Millions of tourists flock each year to what Dave Barry describes as “the most heavily armed place on earth� - Miami. Most return alive.

Friday, October 08, 2004

My Liklik Market

I have mentioned a few times in posts previously the liklik market around the corner from my place on Campus and I thought now was as good a time as any to do a proper homage to it instead of just some half-baked description. The correct name for it is the Sogeri Market, but everyone just seems to use the pidgin word for small or little and it goes by that name.

If you have ever been to a developing nation you will know what this market will look like, as they are homogenous throughout the third world. Women and the occasional man, sitting or squatting down, with their mats of produce in front of them.

Part of the market on a typical afternoon

I like to head off down there after work at about 5-5:30 and get myself some local and highlands grown kumu (greens) that is brought to it by the women from nearby settlements. All the same women usually turn up day in and day out (Sunday excepted), rain or shine and place their mats of seed bags down in front and then unload their produce from their bloated bilums.

Easily the best thing about all the stuff they bring, is that it is mostly local grown and organic. The cost of pesticides would be out of reach for all these growers and why bother when you can just plant anything and it springs up out of the earth, especially in the highlands. Some crops have issues growing down on the coast, but up in the highlands with it’s mostly rich loamy soil, and constant cool (but not frosty) temperatures it is like crop heaven.

Some of the highlands produce make it down to small markets like mine, when certain things are out of season (like pineapples just were), or when they don’t grow to well here, as in kau kau (sweet potato - the staple throughout the highlands).

I am not sure how or who works it out but there is some sort of protocol between the women as to who gets to use what spot. Nearest to the road is obviously the choice in pickings as to seating arrangements, as everyone who comes in has to go past your goods to see all the stuff available. But the same women have the same spots every day, so they must have a hierarchical system worked out that is adhered to.

There is also a sort of loose grouping together of the produce. The meri's near the road seem to just sell vegetables (carrots, beans, chives or spring onions, and spinach like kumu), and as you go further in they change to selling more fruit (banana, coconuts, pineapples and paw paws).

In between these two areas is the sheltered kiosks that have on one side women selling peanuts (lots of peanuts) and on the other manufactured goods like biscuits, chewing gum and cigarettes. Up the back on the fence is reserved for the woman who comes with one of those big 50kg bales of second-hand clothes shipped from Australia that they purchase for 150 Kina. She has them all strung up on the fence for everyone to see, though I have never seen her sell any, probably because they are lot more expensive than in the stores in town.

In terms of cost it is as cheap as chips. When you convert the costs back to what you can expect to pay in Sydney or London it is laughable. Of course in realistic terms this is easy to understand why as there is no huge mark-up costs on the products like you would get in Coles or Tesco, because most of the goods come from around the corner in a nearby garden.

Some products are more expensive than like pineapple that comes from the highlands. Each pineapple can take up to 3 or 4 months to grow and there is only one that grows on a plant at anyone time. So when you consider how long it takes to grow and that they then have to be carted from the highlands down to Lae, it is no wonder that you end up paying 2 or 3 Kina for a good one – mind you this is still only $1 or $1.50.

Usually all the vegetables are grouped into 20 toea groupings bound together by using a plastic thread from a seed bag. The same goes for peanuts. Kau kau is stacked into piles worth 1 kina. Pineapples and paw paws just lie there and you have to ask "hamas" (how much) to find out their worth.

A few of the women who I regularly buy from now have taken a bit of a liking to me. One old duck especially always pops a couple of extras into my bag when I buy from her. I posted earlier that she gave mum a huge hug when she came and yesterday she told me that she will be making her a bilum and that I have to take a photo of her and then post the bilum and photo back to mum.

With David going the other day it has made me think about my eventual leaving from here and one thing I know for certain is that when I eventually do uproot and head home or wherever the first thing I will miss when it comes to cooking my dinner is the convenience of having the market 5 minutes walk away.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Blog Changes

With some added blogging competition from one of my volunteer colleagues here in PNG (she sent me an e-mail stating that she wanted to make her blog better than mine), too much time on my hands and internet access at the Uni, I have decided to make a couple of changes to my blog.

First up is I have got rid of the "... Read More" link to all the posts. It makes the front page pretty long to scroll down (due to the amount I write for some of the stories) but it means the second change becomes immediately obvious.

I have found a free pic hosting site that is really easy and simple to use and does exactly what I want. Check it out at So this means I have gone through and added in a heap of pics to old stories I have written, see some examples below.

Thirdly I have allowed comments from anyone, not just Blogger users. So let me know what you think.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004


Last Thursday it was my birthday. So like most of the time you have a party with your friends to celebrate another tick on the box to being old. This year I had sent out the invites early, in fact as you can see from the earlier post (Party, Party, Party!) I had sent out the invites about month before the event. It was good timing for a party as well as David is heading home this Thursday after 2 years here, so it became a joint Birthday and Go Finish.

I didn't follow up with any more reminders, so when the time for the party came around on Saturday night, I was worried if anyone would actually show up. Of course I shouldn't have worried as it turned out that there was everyone local that I had invited and more turn up, in total about 25 people.

The next thing to worry about was the fact that I forgot to tell my neighbours and I hoped that the party would not create too much noise. At least one of my neighbours Martin came along anyway but poor old Vivienne and Betty on the other side might have copped it a bit. I got a ride with Betty this morning and she asked me about the "Ball" on Saturday night at my place.

The party went off great in the end and after midnight there was general all round concensus to head off to the Aviat to continue it there, as apparantly a good band was playing. Well they weren't but that didn't matter, we still managed to have a good time.

The third worry that I had was that I had to clear up my place once I got back in the morning. The place was an absolute right-off, but then again so was I. The first thing I did was go straight to bed, then got up at noon, looked at it again and then went straight back to bed. Eventually I had to clear it up, and I managed to get left with a pile of empty beer bottles in my laundry that came up to mid-thigh. Kila, my haus meri, has come today with a big bilum to take them away - you get money back when you collect empties.

Friday, October 01, 2004

PNG Tour Guide

The last couple of weeks have been interesting, it all started off while mum was still here and me trying to do something different in terms of PNG tourism - which usually consists of Sing-Sing, beach side dive resort, a cruise up the Sepik river etc - and tried to take mum off to a remote village called Maimafu in the south of the Eastern Highlands. Maimafu is in part of what is called the Crater Mountain wilderness area and you can do "eco-tourism" stays at village guests houses there.

I had organised a stay there through the Research Conservation Foundation (RCF) in Goroka a couple of months beforehand after being told about the place by Monica who had visited in March. Though like most things in PNG, plans did not go as expected. To start with I should have realised there would be issues when I rang up to double check my bookings made by RCF with the village servicing airline MAF (Missionary Aviation Fellowship), for the flight to the village, and was told they did not have any bookings in my name.

They also told me that they only flew in there on Mondays and Wednesdays and not Thursday like I was told by RCF. So I made a new booking all the same for the Monday and to come back out on the Wednesday. It meant that my planned hike in the area would probably not go ahead but it would mean that we would both get to experience some highlands village life. The weather had other ideas though as it turned out.

We took off with MAF at about one o'clock, after waiting around all morning for the clouds to break up and flew off to the first of four villages that the plane would land at. First stop went off without a hitch, although we did have to circle around a couple of times to wait for a Cessna already on the hill top strip to go - not enough room on these strips for more than one plane. Second stop was at a village called Herowana, and this did not work as well, as the strip could not even be seen due to low level clouds over it. The pilots did try admirably to locate it by circling in a gap in the clouds but it was in vain.

They headed off instead for our stop at Maimafu which seemed like it could go the same way as Herowana and with us not even finding the runway. It was found though after we crept up a valley wrapped by a blanket of clouds, but the approach to it was whited out and only half of the strip was visible anyway. There is no chance of a fly-by at Maimafu as the strip is on the side of a mountain and at a slope of 14°. If you miss it the first time you plunge into the mountain.

The pilots decided to abort the approach and headed off to the next stop which was Guwasa, which was in the bottom of a valley and very visible, so they had no problems landing there. They told us they would stay here for a while to sort out what they would do next, so while they thought they told us to get out and stretch our legs.

We did as we were told and climbed out only to be greeted by the entire village of Guwasa it seemed. The weeks entertainment had arrived and they were not going to miss a minute. First Act was mum climbing out, white hair and skin a showing, and this was greeted with a rapturous cheer.

The crowd forms around the weekly entertainment in Guwasa

As we huddled underneath the wing to keep the rain off our heads all the locals surrounded us. I got busy taking pictures of the excited crowd, while mum took off to do a lap around the village, shaking hands with everyone and being treated and acting like she was the queen.

After this bit of excitement we headed off again for another attempt on Maimafu. Luck was not with us though and this time they could not even see the runway, so we circled around and headed back to Goroka. MAF gave us a refund for both of our tickets as we did not wish to try again for the next day, a wise choice in the end as we heard that they could not land then either.

Our plans changed instead and we decided to catch a bus down to Madang on the coast. As with most of these inter-city buses it was just a little Toyota Hi-Ace crammed full of people and baggage. When it pulled up at the Market bus stop in Goroka and the boss-crew called out Madang, I did not think that we would be able to fit in. But somehow they did and we managed to get on the road with us in the front seats with a bag between our legs and one on my lap.

So there we sat for five hours, as we headed down the highlands highway to Madang. The bus was not too bad in retrospect apart from being cramped, because the driver was competent and the bus clean. My view for the entire trip involved looking around a chain of daisies hanging as bilas from the rear view mirror. Mum at least got the box seat for coming down the Kasam Pass from the nice cool highlands into the hot and sticky Markham valley.

I got the driver to drop us off at a cheap clean place in central Madang that I had stayed at before, and then we went for a walk around town. Did a few touristy things over the next few days like take a trip out to a nearby island and have dinner at the nearby resort.

After exhausting the few tourist features that Madang has to offer, I booked us into a resort called Jais Aben up the coast where you can actually dive and snorkle, plus it has normal sandy beach that Madang lacks. The place was very picturesque and quiet, perhaps a bit to quiet for me - I get bored easily if I have to read books all day and then cool off with a swim or beer.

After a few days of this luxury I felt it was time mum came back to Lae and spend some time there, where we could see some of our local sights (not that much more than Madang really). So on Saturday morning, the first day of the school holidays we got dropped off in town at the bus stop and then waited for a bus.

This was a major mistake as being the first day of school holidays demand for buses was increased a lot more than usual. So we arrived too late and all the good buses that ply the route had collected their passengers and taken off. What we were left with (after a two hour wait) was a dodgy bus that usually goes to Mt Hagen but could not get the customers so decided to go to Lae instead.

The contrast between the trip from Goroka could not have been more profound. Again we sat in the front seats next to the driver, but this time it felt like I was sitting on top of a stove. Instead of looking at daisies, they had a stuffed toy that looked like a dead rat hanging from the rear view mirror.

The driver kept falling asleep and I had to jab him in the ribs a couple of times to stop him veering off into the jungle. To counter his fatigue he had a constant wad of beatle nut being chewed that consisted of four nuts at one time (one usually does the trick).

On top of this the bus itself was a piece of junk and broke down twice. Firstly from a flat tyre (one bald tyre was replaced with the spare bald tyre) and then because the radiator hose blew off.

Our bus getting it's tyre changed, with mum looking on

Eventually though we did make it to Lae, safe but maybe not so sound. The driver and boss-crew wanted to oust us in Lae itself, so I had to tell them that they needed to take us to Unitech because my mum was old and we had lots of bags (conversation goes something like "Mama bilong mi em olpela na mipela gat plenti bag stret! Yu mas kisim mipela long haus bilong mi em stap long Unitech"). That didn't quite work, as they still wanted to turf us out, so then I told them I would give them an extra 5 Kina if they would do it, this did the trick.

So home at last and then the rain came for the next 3½ days, so our activities in Lae became limited. I did though take her to the Rainforest Habitat on campus and to the Melanesia Arts Centre and did the tour of the town on the local buses, which is a bit of a sight seeer in itself.

And now I am back at work, and mum is back in Oz after a no doubt eye-opening experience of PNG life. I am sure she will have a few stories to tell, after my introductory tour efforts.

I reckon if you go to a place you may as well do it like the locals.