Monday, 21 May 2012

That's a Wrap


I’ve been putting off writing this post for nearly two months for several reasons. 1: it’s really hard to find the time to write when you have real work to do during business hours. B: no longer being in the country means there’s less inspiration (ie I can’t just look out the window anymore and spruik nonsense about mongooses). And 4: I don’t want to admit that it’s over. To admit it’s over is to admit I’m back in the real world, and to admit that is to look down at my feet and actually have it register that I’ve worn thongs to work. But the admission is a necessity. Stalking Fijian volunteers’ Facebook newsfeeds is not a healthy past time. Also, I’m about to embark on the sequel, and to do so, I really need to finish up the original. This has to be done.

But how? How does one wrap up a year of a life without it sounding like the final scene’s voiceover from a Grey’s Anatomy episode? What do I have to do to get to the level of Scrubs? I tried putting copious amounts of product in my hair (the lack of sweat and salt concentrated in my hair really hasn’t done anything for my devil-may-care look), but so far that’s been unsuccessful. How do I say that Fiji was one of the best, most frustrating, beautiful, surreal, completely flabbergasting, funniest, worst, tan-inducing, ringworm-contracting, sign language-learning, social, character-defining, sign language-ignoring, carbo-loading years of my life, without sounding overdramatic or verbose? I don’t think it can be done. Not after that completely grammatically incorrect sentence.

Let me put it this way: having a fridge stocked full of every item and more found here: http://www.steveinfeej.blogspot.com.au/2011/12/all-i-want-for-christmas.html, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, only marginally blunts the pain of not being able to head down to Bad Dog for happy hour drinks and running into at least half a dozen volunteers. Being able to listen to Triple J every single morning, afternoon and night doesn’t quite make up for the hours and hours and hours of suboptimal music we made on our own on various beaches, campfire sites, and resorts. The pleasure of a salary, no matter how big, is basically irrelevant compared to the pleasure of rugging up and spending AUD5 on a movie and choc top combo.

At the same time, home is home. Food IS amazing. Listening to non-Suva Soundtrack tunes is quite literally music to my ears. Having money is, well, awesome. But there’s sort of a sadness there too, as I come to realize just how much the price of normalcy has cost me. A year ago, our little group of six volunteers were brave little Vegemites, fully aware of the noble sacrifice we were making to spend a year of our lives away from home volunteering (shut up, just because it was Fiji doesn’t make it any less hard). We knew not to expect the same level of infrastructure and development. We knew not to be angry when a bus didn’t ever show up, or a boat broke down, or, heaven forbid, somebody stuffed up the movie reel at the cinema. And although we’d been told before we left Australia that the return wouldn’t be easy, none of us took it to heart. I don’t think anyone realised the sorts of memories we’d create. And now, that’s all they are. Reality has shifted completely into past tense, and so have my casual boasts: ‘oh, Fiji’s lovely. I volunteered there for year’. If I’m feeling particularly devastated about leaving, it’s more like: ‘oh I wouldn’t know anymore. I volunteered there for a year, true, but it felt like a lifetime ago. I couldn’t tell you what it’s like now’.

While it’s easy to wallow over what was, the wallowing is only occurring because the year was so enjoyable. And that’s saying something. Anyone that’s read portions of this blog, anyone that’s seen my Facebook status updates, sent me an email, caught up with me over Christmas, talked to me on Skype, or lived in Fiji with me, will know that it’s not the easiest place to work in. Sigh and mention tropical islands as much as you like: they only took up 25% of my time. OK fine, another 10% was taken up at the movies. Then again, about 3% of those movies were so terrible it was pretty painful to sit through them. That still leaves two thirds of my time (minus trips to Australia and North America) in an…interesting work environment, which wasn’t always fun. Sure, it doesn’t pay to dwell on the negatives, but unless I’m providing advice to prospective volunteers or critical feedback, I honestly don’t have anything negative to say. Funny stories about pushing buttons to get free money from AusAID, and raffling off chickens to pay for office rent, sure. But all those mildly troubling times are so heavily outweighed by Taco Tuesdays, Wire Wednesdays, Band Jam Slams, Bad Dog pizza, choc tops and Fijian movie audiences, buffet breakfasts, Beach House scones, arguments over Fiji’s best snorkeling, yoghurt making, getting called fat and having money stolen by the cleaner, free sweet ‘n’ sour chicken every month, getting saturated on EVERY single boat ride to Leleuvia and Caqalai, the first live performance of the Suva Guitar Heroes to an audience of largely deaf children (thank goodness), wearing shorts and thongs to work, not going to work because it’s raining and watching Harry Potter instead (I hope no one important is reading this), rocking the manskirt, getting over the manskirt, challenging myself not to die due to slipping in the rain, naming and claiming hammocks all over the Coral Coast and beyond, becoming the ‘guy over there reading. Still’, cooking curry from total scratch (except not catching the fish), writing a blog that only crazy people will ever read (plus about 1000 from India thanks to my Roti post), conducting careful research into the pros and cons of locally-produced sweet biscuits versus Australian sweet biscuits and then having large portions of the volunteer community debunking the myth by discovering the Australian biscuits were actually made in Indonesia, becoming addicted to the smell of Pure Fiji coconut anything, single-handedly introducing Community to Fiji and cementing my position as Global Entertainment Consultant, bringing culture and steak (and graduating from well done to medium steak) in the form of Ye Olde Book Clubbe at Scott’s, GROWING A BEARD!!!!!, being confused with Daniel Craig’s James Bond and assuming the awesome descriptor of ‘Steve: he’s so cut!’, dancing on the tables at Beach House, learning to surf, re-learning to surf after I didn’t do it for 8 months, beating my own personal best AND Lars’ best at the Intercontinental buffet dinner (6 plates for the win), enjoying eating a pineapple out the window of a moving bus whilst experiencing conjunctivitis, Toorak balcony breakfasts with House 2.4, the muffin/roti parcel/sandwich man who finally in the last month upgraded to real chicken sandwiches with avocado instead of chicken luncheon with butter and mayo, getting almost completely stuck on a sandbar with Amanda and swearing never to follow her again only to do the exact opposite of that, telling housemates that our volunteer allowance was being increased and watching them dance on the bar with glee, living in a house that had a bar, spending entire days at work playing Pokemon, spending entire days at work on Skype and Gchat, not experiencing winter except for spring in North America which wasn’t even that bad but I like to complain about it anyway, becoming a total banana snob, becoming even more of a beach snob, and I guess meeting a whole bunch of people that I hope will continue to feature in my life.

























That’s quite a list. You may notice there aren’t many fond memories or achievements from the workplace. That’s not to say they weren’t there (they were, they’re just a bit tricky to find). But the other parts are so much more important, and have had such a bigger impact on my life. That’s not to say I haven’t grown as a professional, not at all. But Fiji, for me at least, was a year of personal development over anything else.

My final words are going to be somewhat cheesy, but everyone knows by now how much I love cheese. All the above memories, and the billions more that are being flung around the vacuum that is my brain, were created in concert with the people I’ve shared them with. Pre-Feej, I would’ve laughed, hard, at anyone that suggested putting a group of completely different people on an island and letting them loose leads to some pretty solid relationships. But somehow, it works. And I’m glad it did. Because without the cast of dozens that featured heavily in my life this past year, none of that massive paragraph above would’ve happened. Which would’ve sucked, because as paragraphs go, it’s a pretty great one. FYI, that was totally a double meaning. Insert ‘year’ where ‘paragraphs’ is. Bingo.

In addition to all the peeps I met whilst in Fiji, a shout out really has to go to all my blog readers: especially that one person in Uzbekistan. Without your comments and harsh criticisms, I would never have had the motivation to keep this going for a full year, or really flex my creative muscle and write truly weird posts. Sorry about the bad ones.

For anyone interested in a sequel, my time in the Pacific has not yet come to an end. Come mid-June, you should be able to begin reading about my new adventures at SteveNG (www.stijipng.blogspot.com)

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Flashback Episode


Stiji sat back on the mould-free and actually comfortable couch, sipping pulpy fresh orange juice and smiling at Muppet Goo’s last quip.
“And everyone kept coming up to me and telling me I was totally ripped, and I consistently shot them all down and told them I was torn”.
Sven looked on, mild displeasure on his face. “Muppet, you really are lame.”

“Oh come on”, Stevo said, a toothy grin illuminating his face.  “We’re all allowed to have fun from time to time”.
Muppet Goo laughed a laugh similar to that of a muezzin's call to prayer. “Stiji knows all about fun. People say that’s all he did last year”.
“Which isn’t true at all”, Stiji remarked sharply, straightening his back.  “Remember that time I had to write that letter asking for free chickens in order to cover my office’s rent for the month? I’d hardly call that having fun”.
“It was a fun story to hear though”, Stevo commented.
“It’s also just one mildly frustrating story out of about a million excellent ones”, Sven said drily. “I can still recall the complete look of wonder on your face when the little boat arrived at that tiny island, what was it called again? Leleuvia, that’s right. Yeah, you looked pretty damn excited when that boat’s hull hit that pure white sand, and you arrived on that perfect little palm-tree-clad island sitting in that calm, azure water”.


Stiji raised an eyebrow. “Great story, and you’re right. That was my first real trip away from Suva, and it was mind-blowingly amazing. But seriously, who talks like that? Azure water? Come on”.

Stevo cut in diplomatically. “You all have good points. Stiji, you have had a lot of really great times. And most of them were outside of Suva. I mean, remember that trip to Taveuni? Your jaw was on the floor of the plane throughout the entire flight, and that was before you even got there. And yes Sven, who does talk like that?”


“I would like to point out that I’ve had plenty of good times in Suva as well”, Stiji said. “It was where I graduated from being terrible at guitar to mildly OK at it, and had some amazing jam sessions. It was where I learned to make coconut milk, and the subsequent fish curry, from scratch. It was where I had great balcony times with multiple sets of housemates. Where I enjoyed innumerable happy hour drinks at Bad Dog. Saw 46 (and counting) movies. It’s where I’ve eaten some phenomenal steak. So don’t go spouting off that I think Suva sucks. Because it’s just not true.




Stevo put his hands up in mock surrender. “Fine, fine. I stand corrected. Sorry”.
“Except now your argument is that you had fun times everywhere, and no bad times at all”, Muppet Goo pointed out.

Sven piped up. “What about the time your parents came and got ridiculously yet typically ill, and you had to change a whole heap of your plans? Surely that was a pretty low moment.”
“True”, Stiji nodded thoughtfully, “it’s not a natural thing to take charge over one’s parents. Still, a bit of a stomach bug is easily forgotten when they paid for my first trip to the Intercontinental”.
“A bit of a stomach bug?” Stevo asked? “Your mother could barely move. And then you caught it off them yourself!”


The multiple personalities sounded a chorus of agreement.
Stiji conceded. “Yeah, OK, so I was pretty miserable. But it was pretty hard to hate life when I was sick lying on a sun lounger in the Yasawas. Besides, my parents also bought me a can opener”.


“You’re really not helping the case for your year not being totally 100% fun with absolutely no negatives, you know”, Muppet Goo commented. “You’re hardly disproving the masses that believe you spent a year working on your amazing tan and snorkelling abilities”.
“Well, I’m not going to focus on the negatives now, am I? It’s the end of an era!” Stiji practically wailed.
“Shush now,” Stevo murmured. “Let’s focus on the positives then. Do you have a favourite moment in particular?”
“Not really, I don’t think. It’s all been pretty amazing. Although the colour of the water at Yanuca, that will always be in my memory. But yeah…all of it”. Stiji was murmuring quietly now, lazing on the sofa, in a state of warm contentment. His compatriots stood up, forming a creepy circle around him.



“Good night Stiji”, Stevo murmured.
“Sweet dreams”, Sven whispered.
“You’re totally a crazy person”, Muppet Goo crooned.
And he was. But a happy one.

Another flashback that just springs to mind is spending 20 minutes one morning walking to work with George and discussing the pros and cons of turning Japanese, after I spilt tumeric on my foot and made it turn yellow. Yes, I may be actually crazy.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Repetition Repetition


It’s it’s one one of of my my pet pet hates hates,, so so you you can can imagine imagine how how difficult difficult this this is is for for me me. A a source source of of major major frustration frustration, repeating repeating myself myself is is something something I I just just can’t can’t stand stand.

Alright, I think I’ve proven my point. That was hard for me. The following post will probably make some readers angry, just like repetition does to me. And people who don’t indicate. Seriously, how difficult is it to move ONE finger and push a small lightweight lever up or down? Now I’M angry.

With the ten-month mark rapidly approaching for the surviving members of my intake and I, it’s somewhat of a mad dash to fit in as much stuff before the end. For some of us, this means cramming in an awful lot of work (i.e. making sure a bookshelf at school actually gets built so books aren’t locked in a cupboard). For others, it’s a test of just how much work can be avoided in the final weeks, not due to their own laziness (entirely), but more because the rest of the office isn’t quite interested in participating in the four workshops that have been built around four manuals that no one will ever read. I’m not bitter, I swear. Either way, all this pales in comparison when it comes to the scarily scant remaining amount of the most sacred object of them all.

Weekends.

Most of the volunteers in my intake can count them on one hand. We all have five fingers on each hand, so you can do the maths. They’re precious commodities (weekends AND fingers), and much thought goes into how they will be spent. Here’s the rub though: we’ve already had forty-something weekends in Fiji, and it’s not exactly a big place. There is a very finite number of places one can get to on a weekend out of Suva. This means repeating yourself. A couple of weeks ago, I spent the weekend on an island called Yanuca. It was my second trip. As you can see, it hadn’t changed much.

Yanuca the first time

Yanuca the second time
Even the frighteningly eccentric leatherbound American who managed the place was the same (although she had attempted to strangle my sister in between my visits). The weekend previously, I spent at the Intercontinental, one of Fiji’s finest resorts. It was also my second visit there, although slightly different due to inclement weather. And the list goes on. Volivoli: twice. Wyndham Denarau: twice. Leleuvia: four times. Beachhouse: at least five times and counting.

I can see the looks of horror on your faces. OK, fine. It’s not like they’ve all been identical visits. The sunset the first time I went to Yanuca was truly stunning. Not so much the second time, although watching the rain roll across the mainland was pretty amazing in its own right. The buffet dinner at the Intercon the first time was better than the second, although I did have the most perfectly poached eggs at breakfast the second time around. And in all of these cases, the company has been different. As volunteers come and go, and other expats get promoted onwards from Fiji, the people that constitute these weekends away change dramatically.  So whilst the location repeats itself often, the contents of the weekends themselves is generally pretty fresh (unless like me, you have a favourite hammock and lie in it for hours at a time each time you go to the same place).

The absolute worst thing about repetition though is just how habit forming it can be. My Dad always insinuated that forming habits was a major weakness (although try getting him to vacuum at any time other than Sunday morning). It means you’re not thinking or caring, and simply going through the motions. In some ways, he’s right. But I have to admit, as habits go, visiting the cream of tropical island crop is definitely one of the better ones. And if, God forbid, I was found repeating myself on Yanuca or at the Intercon one more time, I think I’d be OK with it.  It wouldn’t be easy, but then again, neither is getting into a hammock with style.

In the midst of all this repetition, I recently found myself doing something entirely new: dolphin watching and snorkelling at the amazing Moon Reef. Ah, I love this country.



Monday, 6 February 2012

Stormy Weather


Sometimes it’s hard not to take things personally. Like when your cleaning lady says you’ve gotten fat. Or nobody but you is in your office for two weeks (and you spend the majority of that time smelling your armpits, just in case the reason is that obvious). Some more recent examples also come to mind. Watch and be amazed as I eloquently weave a tale that is not only humourous, but also beautiful and symbolic. And if I don’t meet your unnecessarily high standards, you’ve only yourself to blame. You should know the kind of quality this blog produces by now.

I’m no meteorologist, but I can tell you this much: storms occur due to a collision of warm and cold fronts of…air? Pressure? Stuff? Apparently I didn’t need to preface that sentence with ‘I’m no meteorologist’. My well-crafted point is that storms occur due to atmospheric turmoil. OK yes, Fiji isn’t exactly the most tumultuous place. It’s hardly brimming with violence or intrigue. Outside of Suva the skies are blue and the palm trees are still. Life is generally lethargic.

Until BAM.
Cyclone season.

In a matter of days, the landscape can go from this:


to this:


And suddenly life goes from seeming:


to:


The last couple of weeks here have been a bit crazy. Cyclonic conditions in the west and north, parts of the country being declared a state of natural emergency, new housemates (definitely not akin to a low pressure front or whatever, but a change nonetheless), and yet another person leaving Fiji for a bigger but not necessarily better country. You would think that after nine months (that’s right, the home stretch is upon us), I’d be accustomed to this constant state of flux, but it doesn’t always get easier.  Of course, my frustrations are minimal compared to those volunteers who actually had to experience firsthand the above floodwaters, deal with a lack of electricity for days, and no water for even longer. Still, you have to look at the positives, and it was pretty great having some of those volunteers come to Suva and batten down their hatches with us, party style. However, when several depressions moved over the Pacific and threaten further wind and rain at the same time as my very last legislated long weekend, the idea of spending a weekend on an island whiling away the hours in a hammock or wearing a snorkel (or both, if you’re feeling particularly idiotic) doesn’t seem so appealing. Then again, the thought of spending three whole work-free days in Suva is on par with having an ingrown toenail removed while simultaneously having your wisdom teeth ripped from your jaw sans anaesthetic.

We followed the wildly inaccurate weather reports for days before deciding to bail on our tropical island adventure (it was that or spend a few hours bailing out the boat). It was a painful decision to make, until I realised that sitting in a hammock in torrential rain wasn’t the most fun. So Suva it was. And it actually turned out to be pretty great. Which just goes to show that even if you do take things like cyclones personally, you can make the most of a bad situation by eating a lot of food and seeing a lot of movies and getting chocolate stains on your clothes from gorging on choc tops. All in all, there are much worse ways to weather the storm.

The storm was more lots of grey skies and heavy rain every now and then than an actual storm. Of course, the day after the long weekend, the sun came out. Which was even harder not to take personally.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

The Finer Things


There comes a point in many of our lives where we’re able to really enjoy the classier things in life. And no: turning 18, buying a cask of wine and playing Goon of Fortune does not constitute ‘classy’. Not even a little bit. I’m referring to the time when you get your first real job and your first real paycheck, and you buy yourself a nice bottle of wine, instead of Passion Pop. Or when you go to a restaurant and get a full meal instead of a side salad with a side of salad. Or buy real cheese instead of cheese slices. Maybe even going to see a show, or a stand-up comedian, instead of watching reruns of Walker: Texas Ranger (Fun Fact #461: it’s one of the cheapest shows to air reruns of, which explains why it’s on here all the time. All the time) while eating noodles and wiping your mouth on the hood of your jumper and your hands on your ‘comfy’ (read: unwashed for 10 months and counting) trakky daks.

Most people around my age would agree that finer things come with the demise of university lifestyle. Sure, we can still eat off paper plates and use plastic cutlery, but that’s just for funsies. Not because we smashed the two plates we had playing My Big Fat Greek Frisbee and bent the spoons out of shape using just our minds. And then I decided to become a volunteer, and watched as my very life devolved before me. No flatscreen TV (for some of us, anyway). No indie bands gigging in town. No comedians. No electricity, currently.

Even our paltry volunteer allowance gives us the opportunity to, from time to time, enjoy the finer things in life. The great and beautiful Pam Beasley had it right. For the more ignorant, it might appear as though a place like Fiji is devoid of opportunities to appreciate these finer things. This is of course completely incorrect, in addition to being horrifically discriminatory. Shame on you. For you see, there are many places in which to discuss books and art and celebrate culture in a very civilised way.

Ye Olde Book Clubbe
Established at a time when adding ‘ye’ and random ‘e’s to phrases and words was totally in vogue, this high-falutin monthly meeting is terribly refined and exclusive. By exclusive, I of course mean expensive. Occurring at the most prestigious (again, read: expensive) dining establishment Suva has to offer, Ye Olde Book Clubbe offers an opportunity for the more high-minded volunteers to come together and discuss great literary works over a meal (usually just the mushroom soup, because the steak is too expensive. Delicious, but expensive). Tie required; pants optional.


Jam Sesh
Affectionately nicknamed ‘IXLing’ by a puntastic member, Jam Seshes fill the live music void. Whilst some pubs and clubs offer music, it really pales in comparison to being in a band yourself. That’s not really a live gig, you say? Only playing for yourselves, you whisper snidely? Up yours. Our first live gig was at the Hilton Special School. Performing to largely Deaf students. And even though my sign language skills are only basic, I’m pretty confident they totally loved us. Don’t believe me? Check out our official tour T-shirt.


Cinema
Village 6 cinemas don’t just show the Hollywood rubbish, no sir. I might only see that stuff, but hey, that’s my own fault. Because there’s so much more on offer. Bollywood, for a start. Even a Korean film festival. And then of course most recently, an epic shadow puppet showdown during a city-wide blackout.


…Fiji
Alright fine. We don’t have an opera house. The tallest building here is about eight storeys high. An orchestra would serve only as some sort of science experiment testing the effects of saliva on mould growth in wood and brass instruments. But you know what? That’s OK. Because there are plenty of fine things here. And I don’t just mean the 5 star resorts, although they’re not so bad either. The food’s pretty amazing, the company is truly stellar, and let’s face it, what’s finer than a tiny tropical island with white sand and snorkelling and sunshine?


And there you have it. The finer things.

This does not mean I don’t want care packages with fine things (i.e. chocolate) in them anymore. I still do. Bigtime.