Tottering like Frankenstein in a disco

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Finally I had a conversation with the college about my work and what I am actually supposed to do. For the past 5 weeks I could have dropped dead at my desk in my office and nobody would have noticed or cared. Isn’t that sad? So I wrote this long email whining about the lack of attention I am receiving and it had an effect and I had a meeting with the College’s director this morning. It is nice to have the freedom to build something from scratch, like my camera gear and editing suite but it is weird when your “client” doesn’t tell you what they want or don’t even tell you that they don’t know what they want. Now I know that they only have a vague idea of what they actually want but that’s better than nothing and at least we are at the same page.

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The fire training complex

Until my equipment arrives I won’t have much to do, which is nice. I will be helping Rob at the waterfront until then. On Friday he asked me if I can translate a german manual. Somebody purchased a smoke machine for the fire training complex a few years ago but the machine is from Germany and nobody could read the manual. It was untouched and in the original packaging for two years. They smoked up the training complex by making a real fire inside. This makes the whole training a lot more realistic but unfortunately also quite dangerous and a big hassle. Everything has to be cleaned afterwards and making the fire takes an effort. The smoke machine will be a huge help. Of course I had to test it, smoke machines just need to be tested. It works great. Of course I showed the staff how to run it at the same time, just to have some kind of educational component to the experiment but all I really wanted was to pull the trigger and smoke up the place. It needs to heat up for ten minutes and then it’s ready. We had in “Turbo” mode when I pushed the “Fog” button. The fog shot out and within 20 seconds I wasn’t able to see my hand in front of my face anymore. The whole complex was filled with smoke within a minute. Everybody was happy in the end, the college to have a really easy way of training the firefighters and I got to play around with a smoke machine.

Captain Onkau and his ship
Captain Onkau and his ship

The college had one celebration last week, the ship’s captain has retired. All staff went out with him on the last trip on his ship. It was a nice way to spend a friday afternoon, just cruising around the islands and then have a big feed afterwards. I love this part of PNG culture, everything is really easy-going, except when it comes to food. No celebration or reason can be too small to dish up amounts of food for at least 700 people, this seems to be kind of the minimum. If you know the Asterix comics, they always have a big banquet at the end of the story with rows of tables filled with plates IMG_0700and food. This is the way they do it here. I was told that in PNG it is a sign that the guest is still hungry if he eats up everything on the plate. Therefore they dish up so much it is absolutely impossible to eat everything. What a great tradition if you are the guest and what a pain in the ass if you are the host. I decided I will be mostly taking “guest” role, this seems to be the better part of the deal. And it always tastes so good. This is paradise for seafood, everything is literally being caught locally. And the difference between fresh and frozen fish is enormous. As a result of our little retirement snack I spent the following night rolling around with a sore stomach not able to sleep. It was worth every sleepless minute.

IMG_0699I finally got my bicycle fixed. I brought a small folding bike but it has been treated badly on the journey up here, everything was bent, one valve was broken, the tubes had holes in them, somebody let his aggression out on my poor bike. I could fix everything except for a bent wheel for the chain. People told me my old host, John Noxie, fixes bikes. I brought it to him and they brought it back to life. Well, almost, the gear needs more adjustments but it is usable.

I bought this old, used 70NZ$ folding bike because I did not want to stand out from the crowd so people won’t have an incentive to steal it. It is fair to say, this plan has not worked out. I think I wouldn’t be able to draw more attention in Kavieng if I drove a Lamborghini through town. It is safe to say I am THE local top dog when it comes to having the coolest bike between Kokopo and New Hanover. Wherever I go people point at me, waving, yelling “cool bike”. I had kids follow me home so they can have a look at it. IMG_0684As soon as I stop I attract crowds and this is no joke. Everybody wants to buy it. I have had grown men offering me 200 Kina on the spot if I sell it to them, even if it means they can only have it in a year’s time. Especially when I show them the folding mechanism, it’s like I have just introduced them to “warp drive” technology. I really don’t like the attention as it makes it more likely somebody might steal it. But what’s worse, I cannot go somewhere by bike just like that, meaning to lock it up and walk away to do whatever my intention was to do there. I always have to decline money offers, explain where I got it from, show them the folding mechanism and this takes time. Yesterday I was in town on foot and a complete stranger asked me where my bike was. No worries, I did not tell him! I pointed in the opposite direction, where the crocodiles live. It also attracts negative responses. I planned to go to work by bike but on my first trip I had some drunken guy jump out of the bushes, grabbing my handle and demanding that I help him get some booze. I had no coins (and I surely would have not given him my 100 Kina bill). He wouldn’t let go, yelling “No, No, you help me drink!” I contemplated of sending him into a light sleep state with a quick Chuck Norris style roundhouse kick to his forehead but I was told that kind of thing tends to be not one of the best ideas one can have on average. Fortunately the police came along. I was also told that relying on the police tends not to be one of the greatest ideas one can have on average. In this case, however, they were helpful and shooed the guy away. It was a bit awkward afterwards, they followed me at walking speed  until I was almost home. It was the first time I have had a private police escort. In a way it was a great experience but I attracted even more attention. Me, the white guy, on my bike from space, being escorted by a police car. I decided I will continue using the bus.

I noticed one interesting local thing. A lot of men here hold hands in public. This surprises me as this is such a macho culture and men tend to be “tough” guys a lot. Why would they do that then? I always have to realize from scratch how much we are all conditioned by our own cultures, especially when it comes down to what is considered “manly” and what is “feminine”. Wherever I lived I had to be careful how I present myself in order to come across as “manly” enough so I would fit in with the stereotypes. This varies so much it is actually funny. I grew up in Germany and in comparison to other countries the tolerance in these matters is often quite relaxed, more than in other places but still….. When I was about ten years old I remember my grandfather making a big fuss one day because I was about to use an umbrella which he considered to be for women. It was dark red and had a straight handle. A “manly” umbrella is black and has a hook for a handle in his opinion. I found this stupid then and have not changed my opinion until now. When being faced with the choice of being soaked to the bone or using an umbrella with a straight handle I go for the straight handle without hesitation, even tough it may make me less “manly” in certain people’s eye. I find the regional differences very amusing. For instance, as a child I wanted to learn horseback riding. In Germany this is something “ONLY girls do”! I remember that I was inspired by cowboys and I actually wanted to learn western style riding which I thought was very manly and macho. I don’t think Cowboys are generally regarded as sissy’s because they ride on horses. I never did it, it was just not acceptable in the culture I lived in. I only had the experience when I went to Australia many years later.

I think Australia is the most over the top macho culture on this planet (This is my opinion and I am sure this statement is open for discussion). Once I had a job as a jackaroo on a huge remote cattle station in central Australia. The workers there were as manly as you can find them on this planet, there is no doubt whatsoever. These guys were cowboys who make Clint Eastwood look like a little princess. Part of my job was riding a horse. So I had to learn it. It was so weird, as I child I was told this is too girly for me and now it was one of the manliest things I could do in this environment, this and using the f-work after every other regular word. As usual, life does not make any sense. No, that’s not right, life makes perfect sense, PEOPLE make no sense. Difference! On the other hand, my co-workers could not live with me being a non-smoker, a man has smokes in the outback or he is no man. Just has to! So I started smoking for the time I was working there. In my home country I am told smoking is not manly but stupid. I decided there and then that the whole man/woman identification signs/lists/habits are a load of bullcrap and only for people who are insecure in their gender and I now observe with amusement the differences in different cultures without taking part. Here the macho hold hands!

Out of curiosity I did some research on this topic and found two very interesting facts. The first covers two colors, pink and blue. Everybody knows pink is for girls and blue for boys. But why? It’s just two colors. It’s completely made up, it makes no sense whatsoever. It was simply decided for it to be so. Why not green for girls and red for boys? There is a myth floating around that it used to be the other way round in victorian times and pink was for originally for boys and blue for girls but according to an article from the BBC this is probably not true. Apparently they found four articles from that time which say pink was for boys and blue for girls but this could have been printing errors. However, the BBC also mentioned some research results which state that people tend to have a natural preference to primary colors, with blue being the most popular in both genders equally. So the reason girls seem to be attracted more to pink is probably due to the fact that they usually get surrounded by the color from a very early age and being told that pink is the color for girls, therefore being conditioned to like pink. As for me, I can’t stand pink and love blue, not baby blue but dark navy blue. Even so, do I really like the color or am I also just a well-trained monkey playing out the programming which was put in my head a long time ago? How do you know the difference?

The other interesting fact I found regards the french King Louis XIV. He had the problem that he was short. To make up for it and not be overshadowed by everybody else he had high-heeled shoes designed for him to compensate for his lack in height. According to the book “Stupid History – Tales of stupidity, Strangeness and Misconceptions throughout the Ages” by Leland Gregory his Royal Court caught up with the fashion and soon everybody was “tottering around in footwear resembling the Frankenstein monster at a disco” as Mr. Gregory puts it. The fashion eventually died off for men but it stayed in fashion for women and the original “French Heel” became the “High Heel” of today, mostly worn by women as I tend to observe. But originally they were designed for a man!

I don’t want to venture more into the world of relative interesting but actually quite useless facts and I will stop here.

Christmas has arrived in Kavieng and I am being greeted by christmas songs every time I go to the supermarket. As a Bavarian I am always having difficulties getting into christmas mood in New Zealand but here it’s even harder, standing in the dark, gloomy supermarket, holding a pack of Haloumi cheese in my hand and being overly happy to find it. Then the feeling of bliss quickly being replaced by the deep disappointment after discovering it has expired more than three months ago but they still want 20 Kina for it. Being in shorts and t-shirt and having sweat dripping down my nose. The local pharmacy sells inflatable snowmen and “Sexy Santa” costumes. Everybody agrees they must have been delivered by accident and they just put them up for sale anyway. Here, women don’t even show their shoulders and wear skirts and shorts down to their knees as a minimum length. It’s not really the place one can expect to see “sexy santas” running up and down the street. But who knows what’s going on behind closed doors up here?

“Joe’s Food Town” has put up an amp system in front of their store, probably to announce christmas specials. The past few days it was in kind of test mode. Every time I went to town Kenny Rogers screamed through the dusty streets the story of the man who met a gambler who told him to always know when to hold back your cards and when to draw or something like that. It sounds terribly melancholic and deep and keeps me even more from developing christmas feelings.

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