Published: May 14th 2012May 14th 2012
Before floating off to Honolulu and home, our cruise took us to Fiji, Western Samoa, and American Samoa. Here are a few thumbnails on these islands. There isn't room to tell you everything we did, so some of the story will be told in the captions under the pictures at the bottom of the page. I end with a few observations about globalization and travel. Happy reading. Suva, Fiji
Bill, Joan and Nancy took off to see the Island in a taxi. But I needed to post my blog. So I took a shuttle courtesy of the local shopping mall to go in search of a reliable internet café. At the entrance to the mall, there were guys playing ukuleles and guitars and they were dressed pretty much like Fijian cannibals; boar’s tusk necklaces, black smudges on their faces, grass skirts, tattoos. I turned to an elderly Aussie sitting next to me in the shuttle and said, “Is this the part where they cook us and eat us?”
“Actually, he said, “These blokes are quite friendly.” (Author’s note: It’s my lot in life to be taken seriously when I’m joking, and laughed at when I’m being
serious). There’s not much of a story here. I asked around, found an internet shop up a flight of steps on a back street in Suva, posted my blog, then went to the food court at the shopping mall and had lunch. A huge percentage of the population of Fiji is Indian, brought to the Island as indentured workers by the Brits in the late 1800s. As a result, a form of Hindi is widely spoken, and the food court is full of Indian restaurants.
Another thing: many locals still wear their traditional dress, which is basically a tight sarong that goes to about mid-calf. The 21st
Century Fijian sarong, however, is not simply a piece of brightly patterned cloth wrapped around the waist and tied in a knot. It’s more like conservative business attire, made of tan or gray tweed, with pockets cut into the sides. The cops wear white sarongs with a dentated hem and a blue uniform top for a shirt. Even the Mormon missionaries have gotten into the act. I saw three of them in tweed sarongs, white shirts, black ties, sandals, and black name tags. Apia, Western Samoa.
Robert Louis Stevenson, author of “Kidnapped,” “Treasure Island,” and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” lived the last five years of his life in Western Samoa. Known locally as Tusitala, or “Story Teller,” Stevenson built an enormous tropical mansion just a few miles outside of Apia. Of course we had to go and pay our respects.
Our cab driver took us down a long paved road through dark green tropical foliage. We emerged onto a bright baseball-diamond sized lawn. The Stevenson mansion was built in three sections and looked very much like a royal English summer palace. We paid our 20 tola (pidgin for “dollar’) and joined a guided tour led by a young Samoan woman who spoke with more than a hint of Aussie in her accent. She mentioned that she’d been educated in Australia and New Zealand and had written her dissertation on Stevenson’s life in Samoa.
The mansion, she told us, was constructed of termite resistant redwood that had been shipped from California. The kitchen was in a separate building out back, away from the house. Stevenson apparently had fire safety in mind, figuring that if the cook shack caught
fire, the rest of the house would be spared.
We saw his sickroom. We saw his porcelain bedpan. We saw the bed where he dictated his writing to a secretary in the last years of his life. Stevenson, never in good health, died of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of forty-four. Forty chiefs carried him to his burial site on the top of Mt. Vaea, just in back of the property.
After his death, his wife returned to her native California, and the mansion fell into desuetude until 1990 when a Mormon businessman, who in his youth had done his mission in Samoa, restored it to the tune of $250,000 (Yankee Tola). On December 5, 1994, one hundred years after Tusitala’s death, the completely restored mansion was opened to the public as the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum.
After our visit, we rode back into Apia to the McDonald’s, and there in the parking lot had an altercation with the cab driver who tried to argue that the price we had agreed upon was for going, not for coming back. Yeah, right. I laid the money on the seat
and got out. “I call police,” he said. “Suit yourself,” I told him. “We’ll be right in here.” The cops never came. Pago Pago, American Samoa
Now you probably think that Pago Pago is pronounced Pay-go Pay-go. But it’s not. It’s not even pronounced Pah-go Pah-go. The proper pronunciation for the name of this South Pacific Paradise is Pango Pango. Sort of. It’s not a hard G. It’s a soft, swallowed G.
I had one objective in going ashore here, and that was to ride one of the funky, homemade buses that ply the island’s long main drag. There is no public transportation per se on American Samoa. Instead, each bus is owner-built and owner-operated. Basically, they take an old Ford or Toyota truck chassis and build a box on top of it out of whatever materials are available. The seats are painted plywood, and the ceiling over the cab is upholstered in an old blanket. The bus we haled had a TV set and an I-pod sound system that blared Samoan pop music, which is basically hip-hop with an island beat.
There’s no set ticket price. Near
as I could tell it was “pay-what-you-think-the-ride-is-worth.” So a short hop might cost you 50 cents, and a longer island tour was pretty much up to you. We gave the guy ten bucks each and took the bus in both directions, heading first to the north side of the harbor where we entered a miasma of fish-stinky-ness that signaled our arrival at the StarKist packing plant. It’s the world’s largest tuna processing plant, by the way, accounting for something like 80% of private sector employment on the Island.
The bus did a turn-around at StarKist, and we stayed on it and rode it east, past the McDonalds, past the diminutive shopping mall with its Filipino restaurant and internet café, past the Jean P. Haydon Museum which contains displays of dugout canoes and war clubs, past the outdoor covered fruit and vegetable market where two teenage girls were doing Michael Jackson covers in front of a karaoke machine, past the Pier where our ship stood tied and waiting to take us to Hawaii, and on along the lovely sea coast past a couple of cylindrical islands, one tall, the other short, with trees growing out the tops of
them like a gel-spiked haircut. “Flower Pot Rock,” explained one of the young Samoan girls who was riding the bus as far as Community College. She went on to tell us the legend associated with these two islands. In ancient times, she said, a pair of lovers, fearing retribution from an evil shaman/chief who liked to dine on young folks, ran away together. Unable to catch them, the old chief cast a spell that turned them into these two islands. “The tall one is the boy,” she said. “The short one is the girl.” They stand within sight -- but just out of reach -- of each other, their love forever unrequited.
We rode the bus to the end of the line, then turned around and took it back into Pago Pago where we got off at the McDonalds, which by then was full of cruise passengers taking advantage of the free wi-fi. Later, back on the ship, we braced ourselves for the five day voyage that lay between us and Hawaii. The long days at sea gave me a chance to reflect on what I’d learned from my time abroad in Asia, Australia, and Polynesia. What I Learned from My Time Abroad in Asia, Australia, and Polynesia
First, I’m happy to see that countries that were once destitute have emerged from their many centuries of ill health and destitution into a time of wellness and plenty. People seemed prosperous and well educated, their public amenities every bit as good as what we’ve become accustomed to in the States.
On the other hand, with globalization has come a certain cultural uniformity. So Hangzhou looks like Singapore, looks like Brisbane, looks like Fiji, looks like Denver. The old cultures, the old costumes and customs, are rapidly being subsumed by a generic Western lifestyle that would not be unfamiliar to anyone coming from the US. You’re traveling, but you’re leading your American life, or some variation thereof, pretty much anywhere you go. So Asia’s not as interesting a place to visit as it once was.
That having been said, I did find some vestiges of the old ways being honored in outposts like Bali, Fiji and Samoa where the people still wear their native sarongs, and go about with flowers tucked behind their ears, even if they
are eating their lunch while surfing their smart phones at McDonald’s.
It’s not as interesting and diverse a world as it once was. And unlike in the US, there doesn’t seem to be much of a post-consumerist ideology -- no slow food movement, no 100 –days-with-no- agenda, no back-to-the-land. If it sounds like I’m kvetching, well, maybe I am. But I do miss the ancient ways.
There are more photos below