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.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Never A Dull Moment

Simple things can become sagas.

Got offered a lift into town at lunch. Decided to take. Need to pay off that bloody PNG Power bill I keep forgetting. Don't want them to turn off the power while I am away for two weeks. Get dropped off on the main street. Arrange to meet my lift buddy back at his car after Utility bill paying is complete. Nearly get run down by a raskol running towards me from the bank. Screams of "holdim, holdim" follow as well as a few pursuers. They don't catch him. Think to myself "That guy should become a professional runner and win gold for PNG" - he was going fast. See cops zoom off from the cop shop in their troop carriers. Think wow that is some fast response. Get to PNG Power only to discover that they are closed - "nogat pawa yah" (blackout). Walk back towards my rides car. Decide to pop into the bank and get some small notes for next week. Underestimate the size of the queue. Spend far too long waiting. System goes down three-quarters from the end. Fill in a slip of paper and hand to a bank teller who knows me. A wantok, one of our students. Tell him I will be right back. Go outside and discover my ride has disappeared. Go back in the bank and get my cash. Wander around outside to see if I can spot the vehicle. Go back to PNG Power when I figure I have more time to kill now. Utility still closed - bloody blackout. Wander around some more, vehicle definitely gone. Try to ring the office to see if he has returned without me - my mate should get a mobile phone, this is the 21st century - can't get a connection after 5 attempts, "Network Busy". Think "This is the 21st Century!". Receive a text message from another mate. Read it and smile. Decide to go and jump on a bus to Eriku instead. Get to Eriku and get a phone call from the office. "Yu we?" (where are you?), "mi stap long Eriku nau, mi kam long bas" (I'm at Eriku on the bus), get informed that my mate has returned and he tells me I should catch the bus. Think "good advice". Get off at Eriku and pay the bas kru. Find another bus going to Unitech straight away. Some luck at last. Catch that one and make it back without a hitch. Find my mate at the office and get an apology. Tell him no worries, inform him that I should have told I was going to bank as well. Sit down on my seat and look forward to the wine tasting tonight at the International hotel I was informed about via the text message. Nice.

Two hours in the life of me. All fun and games.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Digital Divide Narrower

In the cyclical world that is the education industry we have come to that time of year again which everyone seems to dread - Registration. Multitudes of frustrated students, long queues and long hours.

I know I have moaned before and before that, but bear with me as I moan again, especially considering how this time I figured I could really make a difference and narrow the digital divide in this place. But hey this is PNG and of course there are bound to be a few hiccups.

In the time gone past, registration was a drawn out and antiquated process. Student applies to continue their course or start a new course. Student goes to bank, deposit cash into our account. Student brings deposit slip to a staff member waiting at a table. We write a receipt for that deposit and give them a three layered carbon copy registration form. Student fills in form and takes to another staff member. Staff member complete the form and double checks what they have applied for. Student signs, we witness. The form gets filed and then entered manually into the database at a later date.

A rather long and slow procedure, especially for us with that data entry part. We don't really care that the student has to run around, that's their problem.

So what I have got organised was for the two steps to merge into one. After the student gets a receipt of payment they go directly to the registration officer and they enter all the details direct into the computer terminal and straight into database. This then prints out directly onto the registration form, which then gets signed. Sounds good, doesn't it?

Anyway after various complications this is finally what we have got to happen. We managed to get a wide body dot-matrix printer that could handle the form. I managed to create a report in the database that marries up with the form fields and I got my Access savvy expert to tweak the database to have a print form button and associated query. All going to plan so far.

Then three minutes into the implementation of the process, what do we get - a blackout for 3 hours. We resort to manual registration until the power comes back on and then we discover the process does not work with new students but only for the continuing. So while they are queuing up in their numbers we scratched our heads in frustration before resorting to manual method while fixing.

Finally we seemed to have straightened it, and not before time either. Come this Friday I am out of here for two weeks and not a moment too soon. My work here is done. Either that or I won't be caring less either way.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Permitting Permit

Finally pulled my finger out and am organising for my little team the legal right to submit ourselves to 6-9 days of gruelling jungle hell.

There's an statutory body called the Kokoda Track Authority, which requires everyone who walks the track to buy a permit - this little bit of paper apparently goes towards upgrade and maintenance of the track. Good stuff.

I should have organised this a while ago, but of course I only started to do it last week. No real worries there though in the end, Warren from KTA sounded like a good bloke and we have arranged to pick them up when I pass through Moresby on Friday.

My plan is as follows, fly to Moresby on Friday, meet my team members (the old man and a mate from school) at the airport, collect permits and stay with an ex-vol mate I know. Then on Saturday fly to Popondetta, stay overnight and visit the battlefields of Buna and Gona, and either head to Kokoda on Sunday afternoon or on Monday (am leaning towards the former). From Kokoda of course there is only one way to go, walking along a track that is up and down, up and down ... repeat.

I originally heard that the cost was K15 per day you are on the track, and then I heard it was a round figure of K200. On the phone speaking to KTA I learnt that it was K200 for international hikers and K100 for PNG residents. Then when I got the permit form I finally found out that it was the figures above but it is also free for Volunteers and Aid Workers (ok if you insist - it is good being a volunteer).

In case you ever want to do the gruelling thing, here are the guidelines as stipulated by the KTA, which make interesting reading. I particularly like how they mention no credit facilities are available for payment at Village Guest Houses ... umm yeah, you're in the jungle dude!

Guidelines for Trekking the Kokoda Track (Trail)

The Kokoda Track Authority and Landowners of the Kokoda Track welcome you to the experience ahead of you.
  1. Ensure you have your Trek Permit obtained from Kokoda Track Authority or through your Travel Agent or Tour Operator.

  2. Trek Permits are to be carried by Trekkers and stamped by Village Recorders if desired as a memento of your trek. There is no fee charged for stamping of these Permits. Trekkers without the Kokoda Track Authority permits will be required to return to Kokoda Track Authority office at Sogeri or to the Kokoda agency office, presently located adjacent to Kokoda Post Office to obtain their permits upon paying the Permit Fee.

  3. Individual Trekkers or Groups should be accompanied by a recognized Guide from the Kokoda Track area, and if required, porters from the Kokoda Track villages. Such is a safety measure to protect people from becoming lost and assisting in case of injury, ill health and advising on war history, eco-tourism interests and general information.

  4. Please follow the recognized Kokoda Track. Do not detour off the Track, your guide knows the way.

  5. Overnight in village guesthouses is welcome. Ensure Guest House fees are paid in cash and obtain a receipt. Up to K20.00 per night is the recommended fee for trekkers and sometimes K5.00 for guides and porters. No credit facilities are available. Meals are a separate cost.

  6. Bush campsites are available in numerous locations but trekkers may be requested to pay the landowners an overnight fee up to a maximum of K15.00 per trekker. Guest house, bush campsite accommodation and food for meals are normally paid by the Tour Group Leader or Guide.

  7. Please pay villagers for any fresh vegetables and fruits they are happy to supply. Other food items are limited.

  8. Please respect the culture and religion of the communities. Seventh Day Adventist is the predominant religion and people observe prayer daily between 5.00 pm and 6.00 pm, and their Sabbath from 5.00 pm Friday to 6.00 pm Saturday. Do not put requests to the communities at these times. You are welcome to join their church services.

  9. Trekkers commencing and completing their trek should visit the Kokoda Track Offices or representatives at Riverside Store Sogeri and Agency at the Kokoda Post to have their journey recorded. Your trek can be monitored by radio transceivers located in each village along the Track. Some Guides may carry a handheld radio for additional communication with their base in Port Moresby or Kokoda, other villages and Kokoda Track Authority.

  10. Trekkers should be medically fit and have medical insurance coverage and also carry basic first aid supplies. Your Guide should have a First Aid Kit for medication of the group of trekkers and porters if required.

  11. Do not litter the Track, village, guesthouse or campsite areas. Please burn or bury waste.

  12. Do not deface or damage memorials, trees or buildings.

  13. The Trek Permit Fee paid by all trekkers is for funding community infrastructure projects and their maintenance, together with the maintenance and upgrading of the Track facilities such as walking track and creek/river crossings, radio communication, signage, memorials, airstrips, etc. It is not for paying Trekkers? personal expenses of guesthouse, campsite, food, cultural performances, village museums or scenic attractions.

  14. The Kokoda Track Authority accepts no liability for any injury or loss sustained by trekkers and their guides and porters on the Kokoda Track.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Travel Dreaming Again

I am soon to go on holidays, but I am already dreaming of future travel. Had my first look at the new Lonely Planet for PNG and was dreaming up a trip to do in September for myself for a couple of weeks.

I have this thing where I want to spend my birthdays in a different country. It all started back when I went travelling in 2000 and my birthday happened to coincide with a two day stay in Luxemburg. Since then I have managed to be in a new country for each passing year of my life. Last year I was here, so this year I want to get over a border somewhere and clock up another year in another country.

The options are limited for obvious economic reasons to the ones close by. Australia is ruled out straight away - unfortunately I blew that ace card already in 2003 - so that leaves Indonesia or the Solomon Islands.

I like the idea of the Solomons as I probably won't ever get there at any other point and it really is pretty close. To add some spice to the trip I am seriously thinking of going to Bougainville first and then crossing the border on a banana boat. There really is bugger all distance between the two countries when you look on the map.

Bougainville-Solomons Map

So the plan would probably be something like the following; Fly to Buka, cross over the straight to Bougainville proper, head down the coast to Arawa and keep making my way further on until I reach Buin at the edge of the country. From there get a banana boat across the border to the nearby Shortland Island in the Solomons and then either wait for a plane or catch boats down to New Georgia Island.

This could be the most time consuming part of the whole trip. The Shortland Islands are a pretty far flung and isolated place from what they say in the guide. Once I do get to New Georgia I will make sure I check out the famous lagoons before heading on to Honiaria with another flight. By this stage I should have been gone a couple of weeks and spent the birthday there somewhere and so shall get a flight back to Moresby.

It all seems feasible enough, and is written about in the guide, but obviously there would be a couple of issues. Firstly I would not be able to get an exit stamp when leaving the country so when I fly back to Moresby, they could be a touch suspicious by the fact I am returning to the country when I never 'left'. The Solomons are a bit less worried by the sounds of it and when there is no visa required all I need to get is an entrance stamp at the first sign of civilisation. Secondly the connection to get from the Shortland Islands onwards could be tricky, but I could of course just stay there like a beachcomber until the date passes and then head back to Bougainville.

Anyway I am sure it would be another adventure to notch up, and one to tell the kids about one day, but first up I should be busy planning for a upcoming little adventure and one that I will definitely be proud to tell the sprogs - the Kokoda Trail in a week!

Friday, June 24, 2005

Library Update

I must admit I did get a bit carried away last week when I compared the stripping of the library's façade artwork to the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas. I now know that it is in fact a restoration, but you have to admit it is a tad extreme to restore something by competely destroying it in the first place.

The uni has employed a local signwriter to fix the artwork as it had started to flake. Ironically enough it seems that it was only flaking because the last restoration - carried out by the same signwriter - was a touch-up job that was done in the completely wrong type of paint to the original epoxy paint, therefore it flaked in the harsh sun.

Being 'restored'

Thursday, June 23, 2005


I was given a free lunch today.

Battered fish (called fish flour or pis plaua here), cooked banana and a small Coke, all from the Kopi Haus. Lucky me.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

To Beat?

There is an interesting public debate that has started in the press here as to whether alternative punishments for crime should be looked at, specifically whether public caning, whipping or beatings should be brought in.

It was raised by a national court judge, Justice Gibbs Salika, and he was quoted in the Post Courier saying "We should go back in time to impose beatings and lashings in regard to crimes like robbery and rape because it has customary connotations and biblical support". He seems to think this will work to deter violent crime because it will shame offenders.

From a western point of view this of course seems barbaric and antiquated. We scoff at Singapore when they lash teenagers for defacing walls with graffiti or throw away chewing gum. But the question I have been wondering is it really such a bad idea. Singapore's crime levels are certainly low.

There is an important point that the Judge brought up, not the bit about biblical support but about the bit about shaming the offenders. I have been told this a few times in PNG - and I gather this is the same in other Melanesian countries - guilt is almost non-existent. If a man does a wrongful act he will not feel guilty about it later.

Instead PNG is a shame country. If a man does this wrongful act and then his entire community finds out and condemns it, the man will feel shame - a loss of face. Carry this on further and have a public humiliation of the person in front of not just his family, village and wantoks, but the entire public and the shame will be overwhelming because he has brought about a loss of face not to just himself but to everyone associated with him.

As the judge notes the public humiliation and shaming would do more to reduce crime than the current sentences of a relatively easy prison stay (besides they seem to break out often enough anyway). In some ways I agree with this approach especially when looked at in cultural point of view. In other ways my liberal western views of right and wrong are against the use of violence to counter violence.

If there is one thing I have found out since being here, it is that PNG is a violent place already (I wrote about it a while ago). A public lashing would be a popular event. Certainly the police would have their job cut out for them to keep the crowd from wanting to have a go.

It will be interesting to see where this debate heads. Something certainly needs to be done to reduce crime, as the levels are pretty critical at the moment.

Shortest Day Of The Year ...

... which means the sun rises here at 0621 and sets at 1805 - 11 hours and 44 minutes of sunshine. Of course the longest day of the year is not much different.

Here is a handy link I found when trying to work out the sunrise and sunset times. Looks like I am in for sun & rain, sun & rain, ohh and then just rain - funny that. The newspapers here don't even bother to publish weather information (apart from important tidal times).

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Night Clubbing

Yes I was doing an Iggy Pop on the weekend. Back on the tiles for the first time since Oz. The venue being the newish and good, 'Club 69'.

I was impressed. The place actually feels like a nightclub, not like my previous experiences with the only other popular nightclub in town, Phil's, which just seems like a massive tiled bathroom/echo chamber. Instead '69' actually has carpet, funky moody lighting and character. If it had a lounge area it would be pretty close to perfect.

DJ wise though there is still something to be desired. I admit that computer technology has its advantages, but there are some things where old school is so much better. Give me two turntables and a microphone (and someone who can use them) instead of Windoze Media Player any day.

The problem with crap DJ'ing in PNG is that PNGns are the most fickle dancers anywhere I have seen. A liked song will play and they all pile onto the dance floor. The song will finish and before you can say "boo" there is a mass exodus back to tables and chairs. Compound this with the large gaps between songs and non-existent mixing ability and it looks like human tidal action or an out of control Hokey Pokey.

The clubs clientele is a vast improvement on its competitor. Where the usual boof-heads will go to Phil's and break bottles on heads, get staggeringly drunk and harass the girls, it seems '69' has yet to get those sorts. Instead there seems from my small observation, a nice class of sane 20 some things keen for a dance and good time, not a fight. Hopefully it will stay that way.

So that was my Saturday night, for the rest of the weekend I mainly hung around in town. There was a birthday to celebrate, some very depressing cricket to watch, photos to shoot, more photos to organise (part of a book I am helping to create), plenty of satellite TV to be updated with (including some of that Big Brother Uncut - that is some risqué stuff) and a cat to play with. All good.

Naispela pusi

Friday, June 17, 2005

In Hindsight Not A Good Idea

Another one these stupid robber stories, this time from today's front page of the Post-Courier. Some raskols copped it again, the amusing bit was what the crims decided to target.
THREE criminals were shot dead by police at Barola Hill outside Kainantu after they attempted to rob a truck-load of professional shooters, all of them policemen.

The three dead were among many others escaping after their robbery attempt failed. One of the shooters, who did not identify himself said, eight criminals came out of their hiding spot to hold-up their vehicle - a police issue carrying 14 shooters to attend the National Shooting Tournament in Lae last weekend.

He said the Highland's representatives (shooters) were all policemen fully equipped for the shooting tournament. ...

If you are going to hold up a vehicle in this country, make sure it is not full of fully armed cops and off to a shooting tournament.

Ironically enough for me, after writing about how the police will shoot you down in my little incident laden story, the Barola Hill mentioned in the above article is the exact same spot.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Cultural Desecration

Somebody slap me because I am just astounded at the lunacy of some Papua New Guineans at the moment.

In a cultural desecration of ones own national identity that must rank with the Taleban blowing up the Bamiyan Buddhas, this morning I stumbled across a university 'maintenance' employee taking to the university library's original façade artwork with an angle grinder.

Upon seeing (and hearing) I was just dumbfounded. How can this sort of thing happen? Who could authorise this sort of thing to happen? I actually couldn't believe what I was seeing and since then I have been struggling for words to describe how I feel. I will have a go though; flabbergasted, staggered, shocked, aghast, disbelieving ... the adjectives go on.

The regime of lunacy and removing anything on campus that gets in the way has been going on in earnest throughout the year. It started with the massacre of the massive rain trees, it then passed to the boulder which bears the original plaque from the opening of the uni in the sixties, the natural granite look was bizarrely painted white, and now it has moved on to the David Lasisi creation which had been left peacefully alone for the past 27 years. It has obviously been deemed unworthy to grace this 'esteemed' establishment.

I wrote tongue in cheek about the library only a little while ago but my attention didn't focus on the outside artwork that adorns the front. Perhaps I should correct this. The artwork ironically signifies PNGs fading beliefs (an area in the centre of the motif) being swamped by current trends and fashions. It was designed, created and erected by David J Lasisi in December 1977. I hope nobody now informs him that the painting is worthless and is being ground off the building.

The stupidity of this action stretches so far and wide that it is hard to grasp how anyone could be that, well, stupid. Disregarding the cultural significance for a second the fact that the panels which the motif is painted on are in fact asbestos makes a good case not to go anywhere near it with something that will finely disperse the fibres into the air (our employee with the grinder of course was fully protected for this task in a typical PNG way - with a pair of sunglasses only).

Then there are the financial considerations (which would never have occurred). If you really wanted to get rid of the artwork, why not just remove and replace the panels. The panels then could at least be sold or given to a national institution to be displayed. Instead the pea brains at work decide to grind it off.

Thankfully this whole thing may be stopped before it goes too far. The architecture department has taken up arms, including my next-door neighbour and custodian of the Architectural Heritage Centre. Questions are being asked to the top, and answers will hopefully come as to who ordered it. Hopefully the damage may be limited yet.

The concerned action group taking a closer look

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Head Spin - Literally

Geez I was feeling weird this morning. Everything was perfectly fine except for the fact that my motor skills seemed to have been thrown out the window. No headache, nausea or anything else, it just took a bit of an effort to walk in a straight line without swaying all over the place. Or when I attempted to look at the ceiling things started to go a bit wobbly. It was all strange new sensation - well maybe not.

First thing I was thinking was of course *drum-rooolll* Malaria. But this is probably just because anytime you don't feel perfectly normal here, the big M starts to flash in neon before your eyes. I did cancel it out quickly just from gut instinct and the fact last time I was having major headaches in the lead up.

So I was going to head on home at lunch, have a lie down, maybe a cup of cha, but by the time I got to lunch I started to feel normal again. Dang. Easy come easy go. But I couldn't help but think what the hell would cause me to have a slight dizzy spell? Was I pregnant?

I was fine all during lunch but then it started up again. The slight swaying, a bit wobbly and this time with a bit of nausea. Arrgg. What the feck.

Then like a neon brick hitting me in the back of the head I solved my own puzzle. How stupid of me to forget about the extension work going on to my building, with the paint fumes, turpentine, thinner, all the other nasties, floating around, just outside, near the air-conditioners, the ones that suck and filter away the smell, straight into the office.

If there is one thing that really screws around with my head, it is paint fumes. Cancel the baby shower.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Got A Canoe? Come And Visit

My planned trip to do something over the long weekend did not eventuate, instead I stayed in Lae and had a usual weekend of activities. I got to sleep-in, have breakfast at a Filipino bakery, go to a movie night, sleep-in, help with ideas for a book, drink too much, sleep-in (yeah I like this bit) and watch it rain, rain and rain. So much rain in fact that I woke up on Sunday morning to find my street had turned into a lake.

I had only seen it this bad once before, back in March last year. That time it had risen to its maximum height of about one and half metres in only half an hour and then it was all gone a few hours later. This time it lingered around for much longer. So long in fact that my neighbours had to walk to church instead of drive - the first time I had seen them go anywhere without their cars.

High tide on my street

For the weekend, I was planning on taking what must be the only regular proper ferry service in PNG (one with a boat not made of fibre glass) from Lae to Finschafen. Finschafen is a three and half hour trip on the Luship ferry and is situated on the northern side of the Huon Gulf at the tip of the Huon Pennisula. And as the name implies was orginally settled by the Germans in the 19th century before the mozzies and malaria drove them out.

Like my other idea for the weekend, to hike the Black-Cat, this little trip did not eventuate either. I talked myself out it when I realised I would be stuck there for the long weekend without a hell of a lot to do. It apparently is a nice place to see, but one where a book is essential. With the amount of rain that came it probably would have been a soggy get-away anyway.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

You Know You're In PNG When ...

... you're in a nation-wide bank and notice their in-house advertising for a bonus savings account saying "Looking for ways to reach your goals faster?". Underneath is a cartoon of a man blowing up an enormous balloon with a big "K" on the side. Attached to the top of the balloon are tags with savings goals written on them; "Personal Goals", "Air Fares", "School Fees" and "Bride Price".

Reading this while in the queue the other day made me remember, somethings just aren't the same as home.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Clip-Clop Security

Reading todays Post-Courier I was reminded how last Saturday morning I was sitting at home minding my own business - in boxer shorts with a cup of tea pondering life's questions (I was reading that Bill Bryson book and it throws a few at you) - when suddenly I heard a noise coming from outside the window. "I know that sound" methinks, "what the hell is it doing here?". Looking out the window and fair enough there was a horse and rider clip-clopping along my street.

The noise of the hooves was almost drowned out by the wave of angry barking that followed it, emitted from the various mangy dogs that reside along my cul-de-sac (I have said before but I will say again - someone needs to put half of these creatures down). It seems the mongrels are not yet used to the sight of seeing something with four legs and a lot bigger than they are roaming through their patch. Someone once told me that dogs don't have a sense of "size" in relation to other dogs, I guess this includes monstrous dog-like horses as well.

I guessed at the time that it was a new part of the security service and it now looks like this is the case. There are three of these horses currently assigned to roam around the fences and make sure everything is hunky-dory. My only questions are where these beasts being stabled and are the riders same as those that usually work on the big cattle farms up the Markham valley, the ones that show off at the Morobe Agricultural Show.

I like the idea (even if the dogs don't), the campus is a hefty area and any way to get around quickly along the rough fence line is a good idea to me. Let's see how long it lasts.

* Update *

I was told a little story regarding these new horse-top guards. Apparently during the week one of them was chasing a group of boys in the back blocks of the campus. The boys hurdled a barret (storm-water ditch), the chasing horseman didn't see the ditch, the horse did, at the last minute. The guard managed to clear the ditch without the horse and is now in the haus sik with back injuries.

Obviously the boys thought it hilarious and returned to taunt the prone guard by chanting "Kuima, Kuima, Kuima" (the security guard company's name).

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Another Fish Out Of Water

Another fish out of water has joined the online community. This fish has jumped straight out of its pond and landed smack bang and flapping in the middle of the PNG highlands. It makes fun reading this fish gasp for air.

By chance yesterday I happened across this new(ish) blog from another volunteer type living in Simbu province. Mark is working on a project for a Catholic school through VSO, only with a slight twist, firstly he ain't British or Dutch or wherever else VSO recruit from, but a Yank and he is only here for 6 months.

Being the small world that is the PNG social scene I have already met him at the Goroka Coffee Ball a few weeks ago now. I remember thinking "this guy is loud, but funny" - at the time he had just blagged his way into the Ball posing as a Journalist.

His humour it seems has translated well into text. There are some beaut cultural shock stories posted already and I guess he will be probably having a few more to come - Simbu ain't nothing like Ohio.

Here are some highlights:
I was riding into Kundiawa with my friend John this past Friday. John is a retired systems planner from London who is moonlighting as a volunteer teacher at Rosary. Great guy. As we made our way though the busy streets, John exchanged one of those abrupt, shouting hellos (by far my favorite kind of exchange) that occur when one party is in a moving vehicle and the other is on foot. The two men waved happily at each other. I asked John who that was and he cheerfully responded 'oh, that was the man that organized the burglary of my house'. Good times.
and ...
I was on my porch at dusk when a man approached wearing a trench coat and brandishing a large machete. I tried my best not to squirm and tightened my grip on my only weapon - a 300 page paperback book. Turns out he was a sentry that needed to turn on a security light, the switch being on my porch. I am now down one pair of underwear.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

"Suitable only for masochists and Israeli Paratroopers"

... I want to include at the end of that line, "... and stupid volunteers".

There was planning by me to go on the Black Cat Track over the long weekend coming. From all accounts "Track" may be a misnomer, but there is a route that runs from the coast at Salamaua to old mining town of Wau, both of which are in my province of Morobe.

Various keen adventurous types have done it, and I wanted to include myself in that group. I had found a few willing participants but they have mainly now dropped out due to not enough time available, busy doing other things or not interested anymore. So considering that I am not mad enough that I will do it by myself I have decided to postpone.

I did find one willing candidate, but I only found him today, it was mate and former work colleague, Knox. He was the one you may remember that came up Mt Wilhelm with me the first time and rode/pushed/carried a bike from Lae to Port Moresby. I should have asked him a while ago if he wanted to go but of course I left it to the last minute and had forgotten about him beforehand. It is all a tad too late now to get organised.

So being able to write up stories about how I hacked my way through jungle, avoided hoards of alien looking leeches and stepped around old world war 2 bombs will have to wait. In the meantime I can test myself out on the Kokoda first and then get keen by reading other adventurous nutters stories. For example:
"This track is not for the faint hearted, nor for the inexperienced bush walker. For those of you who have done the Kokoda Trail it makes that trek seem like a stroll in the park. ..."
Pam Christie (PNG Trekking Adventures)
"... Leech and snake - infested jungle, moss - covered rocks and fallen tree stumps, precarious cliff crossings, and potentially - dangerous river crossings make the Black Cat arguably one of the toughest tracks in PNG and the world. ..."
Malum Nalu (PNG Journalist)

Or looking at some of their pictures.

Spot the Trukai fun-run shirt - they turn up everywhere

Look mum we are playing with a mortar

Funnily enough I met Pam Christie the last time I went up Mt Wilhelm. That time I wasn't that impressed, mainly because of the twenty thousand women porters her group had and the calling out of the altitude every 10 steps from her GPS/compass/altimeter thing. But kudos to her now that I see she has hiked the Black Cat.

And as to this long weekend I do have a backup plan which I will now enact. It is a lot less adventurous, but at least it is somewhere I haven't been before. Will keep mum for the time being about where though.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

PNG Marketing Genius

The Trukai Fun Run was on over the weekend, actually starting at the ungodly hour of 7am on Sunday morning. But I have admit I tip my hat to whoever it was in the Trukai's marketing department who came up with the idea to sponsor this event. A piece of PNG marketing brilliance.

The fun run is a very popular event here in PNG. They are held all over the country - Port Moresby, Lae, the highlands, Madang and even outposts like Kavieng and Alotau. To enter the fun run - and here is the brilliance - you need to purchase and wear the bright canary-yellow Trukai emblazoned T-shirt. Not sure how much the shirt costs, no doubt cheap, but it doesn't really matter.

If you are thinking "hey that's not that brilliant an idea" you haven't been to PNG. Because this marketing ploy is a long-termer. Not only do Trukai get their well-known T-shirt's on the evening news and in the newspapers the day after, but they get a whole years and more free advertising.

PNGns like nothing more than a "free" T-shirt to wear around, and one that denotes that they have partaken in a fun run, even better to show off. And they certainly do, canary yellow will be the colour on the streets for a while to come.

Monday, June 06, 2005

It Can Be Tough Being A Volunteer

Oh yes, volunteer life can be hard. Yesterday was another prime example.

After the drama of the earthquake during the night, I got picked up and taken down to the yacht club. It had been organised through friends for me to spend the day on a big company boat/yacht/ship thing (don't ask me what the correct term is, it had a galley, an engine room and two bedrooms - what does that make it?).

The one with the keys came to my Tropfest party. I didn't really know him before that, he was just a friend of a friend. But I was glad to get an invite to come along and spend the day on the water. Certainly something different from sitting at home reading a book (currently Bill Bryson's Short history of nearly everything - a good read if you are interested in science).

The day was perfect for cruising. Calm, still, peaceful waters. Sun warmly shining above - heatedly shining later. No hint of wind or distant storm. Just great. We boarded at 9 and off we headed to about the only decent place to head to close by - Salamaua.

We chugged along at a cruising speed of a few knots, taking our time, sitting out the back and gossiping. Plenty to gossip about to including the earthquake and a major warehouse fire that morning that had nearly spread to one of my mates place of employment (she went up the roof with a hose).

We got to Salamaua and anchored in the harbour. The board shorts came on, and we had a pre-lunch cool off. The roof of the boat seemed like a good spot to dive in from. And it was.

Johnny Weissmuller reincarnated

Bbq and beers for lunch, more social chatting followed, a superb trifle for dessert and then a cool off again later. Pulled anchor around 3 and cruised on back to the marina, sipping champagne. It really was all quite tough.

Travel brochure cover shot

I could use a wanky line from Titanic here - but I won't

Never fear all you types that think I am going soft and am not doing it hardcore enough. Well I did get a little sunburnt and it sort of hurts today ... and I think the Kokoda in a few weeks should be none too soft.

Sunday, June 05, 2005


A guria shook my house last night. I awoke alert, attentive, bizarrely, in the middle of the night and then the house started shaking. The strange thing was that I awoke 10 seconds before it struck. Do I have a sixth sense?

It was the talk of the town this morning. 6.0 on the Richter scale - "it was only 50km away at Nadzab", "I was ready to dive into the triangle on life". I became wide awake for some strange reason. Then the earthquake started and I was waiting to hear the cracking and crashing from the roof, walls or whatever. Thankfully they didn't come.

It seems everyone other than me was worried. Maybe because I haven't been in a major earthquake before. I was just riding through the 10 seconds of violent shaking at 12:50am and pondered if it was going to get any worse. It was bad but obviously not as bad for me as others. My fridge didn't pop open, items did not topple over, and cat did not run away.

I know I live in a geophysicically dangerous place. Right on top of a major fault line. The crushing Australian/Indian plate bumping into the tiny Bizmarck plate, which in turn is being jostled by massive Pacific plate. But until last night it had all been rather minor gurias. Now I know what to expect.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Campus Life: Part 2 - The Matheson Library

Time for part two on my view of university life and its infrastructure. A time for another piece of the big campus jigsaw to fall into place. Another segment taken from the university mandarin. A patch of fabric from the college quilt. A snapshot from the album. A biscuit from the biscuit barrel ... you get the idea.

So following on from Part 1 - The Kopi Haus, I am switching my discerning gaze squarely onto the nearby library. Officially known as:

The Matheson Library

Flush square with the main gate, with 3,344 square metres of floor space jam packed inside, there is a big square building called the Matheson Library. Inside and out is like a journey into the recent past. Straight pronounced lines, sharp detailed corners, bold vivid frescoes, shit brown highlights, it is mini time warp back to the grand architectural age of the 70's. To be precise 1977 was when it opened (one year off being the best year of that century).

Opening times are a thing to behold. Not only can you go there during the week to catch up on all kinds of learned activities, but occasionally - when they feel like it - is open on weekends as well - amazing. During the terms students midweek can burn the midnight oil, spending their precious time in pursuit of knowledge all the way to 10pm, instead of watching EMTV in the dorm common rooms. Note: at non term time you are booted out at 4pm sharp.

Like historians with ancient scrolls, the students must be careful not to handle the available textbooks too roughly or pity the poor future students. Money, alas, for new texts - and carpet, and repairing holes in the roof, and fuel for the generator - is not immediately forthcoming, so willing learners must make do with the best of what's available. Anyone for a scuffed up copy of Microcomputer Fundamentals: Where to start soldering (3rd edition: 1984)?

Technology has been advancing even into this backwater. New computers now shine like a beacon. Once the front doors are breached just progress towards their light and punch in your request and hope there will be an answer. A search for "Tolstoy" will avail you with zero results, a cursory glance to the nearby shelves of fiction will find the three volume War and Peace set.

The computer system on the whole is very good, if at times frightingly supernatural. Present a book to checkout, give them your library card, watch them tap away, barcode scan away and security strip reset away and then get asked, "why haven't you returned Electromagnetic and Induction Principals?". WTF? How did they know I nicked that book from Tighes Hill TAFE in 1995? Very spooky (this really did happen BTW).

Going on a grand tour of the place, we enter through the large glass doors, we glide over the top of the vomit coloured carpet (chic 70's styling again) and come to a cross roads. Straight ahead for the dazzling computers and fiction, left to the old reference section and checkout or right to the student work area and the Audio Visual department (seeing as this dept is a separate entity I will leave this to another day). We don't take any of these options and instead aim for the lovely concrete stairs which are straight and slightly to the right. Once on the second floor, the real fun begins, wander off to the PNG rare books section with not so many rare books (already noticed elsewhere), head off to the PNG collection or check out the large general reference behind.

It is in the large general reference where old Matheson can proudly boast and breast beat. Apparently this is the largest collection of books in PNG, a total over 100,000. After seeing most of its competition around this country, with the notable exception of the UPNG library, I would be hard pressed to disagree - we won't even go near public libraries, bless their dying soul.

So there you have it, she may be old, but the place at least has the decency to have old books as well. I may ridicule but I must say that I'm not much for these brand new upstart libraries with their fancy architecture and brand new shelving, lined with ancient books. Give me a library that matches its collection any day - even if it does look like flares meet Stalin.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

My New Mantra

My mantra for the last couple of months has been, "it's not what you know, but who you know".

I thought that things work wise for me were slowing grinding to halt and that the whole point of me coming to PNG would be a complete waste of time (that is work wise of course, personal development wise - brilliant). Now it looks like things might at last be happening.

I mentioned before about an old ex-kiap that was coming to town, well I met up with him this morning and it looks like the future is rosy. He is the sort of person who can assemble all the required groups and entities together and get some of the fading dream back into reality ... and he is dead keen to use us and our study centres - it doesn't make sense not too. And all that just occurred through a chance meeting at the conference I attended in December. I won't talk too much about it until things kick off.

Another case for me of getting things sorted through your associations that happened recently, was after my laptop modem died - I had left it plugged into the phoneline over Easter while I went and scaled Wilhelm. Initially I rang up the local dealer for Apple and asked them if I could get it replaced under warranty, they said no because it was a spike on the line that ruined it. They wanted to charge me K600 (Au$250) for a replacement.

So I sent an email to an old mate I used to work with who has mates at an Apple dealership in Sydney. He got in contact with them, stitched a deal where I pulled my modem out of the laptop, posted it down there and they replace it under warranty. In the post yesterday I got the new replacement modem returned, all for the cost of postage.

And another case recently was when my colleague and author, John, needed an editor to help him edit some new booklets he is writing. I got him in touch with a certain white knight editor (aka Goroka volunteer) who is now looking after his editing needs, for minimal charge of two free books. I can safely say John is sufficiently chuffed.

Like I said "it is not what you know, but who you know". Of course it does help if you know a little as well.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Other Thoughts From ENB

A few observations from my time in East New Britain:
  • Tolai (the local tok ples or language) names are tricky bastards to pronounce. It took me a hell of a long time to get some of them spat out correctly. In particular, Vunadidar (a place we visited) and Tavurvur (the volcano), took their initial toll on my tongue.

  • The local Tolais have the weirdest reddish hair. It is a strange look. They are a typical Melanesian sized person (ie shortish), with the usual dark skin, typical face and then a crown of curly red/orange hair to it all off. I had noticed this look around Lae, but I never clicked that they were in fact Tolais.

  • East New Britain has easily the best roads of any province I have been to. And they are numerous to boot. They go all over the place and they are all sealed with lines down the middle and, get this, in some places they even have kerb and guttering! If only the Morobe administration didn't spend all their cash on law suits we may have something similar.

  • The devastation that destroyed Rabaul has certainly been a boon for the province. Kokopo has some of the best public buildings that I have seen, all brand new and shiny (and mostly built with aid money), and of course, as mentioned above, they now have fantastic roads running all over the place - apparently thanks to German aid money.

  • The PMV system is sorted out. None of this, lean out the window and shout in that strange lanaguage where the buses are going. Instead they have - and wow what an innovation - signs in the front window announcing what direction and place they are heading to. There are also numbers clearly painted on the bus to announce the route they travel along. When you pay for the trip, you pay the driver directly - there is no bos kru - and the amount you pay depends on the distance you travel. Gees, at least logic prevails somewhere in this country.

  • Kokopo really needs decent Internet access. K18 for ½ an hour at the only Internet café in town for a shared 33.6kbps modem link is a bit ludicrous. I might just have to help out in this situation. In fact it looks like I will be helping out with this situation, we will see what happens.