Stuck in Suva

I will preface this update by stating, up front, that absolutely nothing of interest happened this week. In an attempt to have some achievement to show for this otherwise unremarkable week, I have decided to challenge myself to include in this journal entry a reference to Lord Chesterfield’s views on sex, to use the word “indignant” twice, and to mention each of the attendees at the Yalta Conference of 1945. Here goes. The charms of semi-cosmopolitan living have worn off and have been replaced by an inescapable sense of confinement. The past week was spent awaiting approval to visit the famed Lau island group. Our request is being held up by the dawdling police department, who need only to stamp our application and mail it to the Lau office. The languid police force seems about as concerned about our paperwork as they do about the stream of convicts wandering away from Suva prison. If Churchill had fought World War II the way Suva’s finest process police clearance applications, we would all be speaking German now. During our first week in Suva, drunk on the delights of city living, we found the squalid urban conditions and reckless disregard for the environment pleasantly quaint. However, our second week has revealed a polluted town teeming with poverty. On Tuesday, an enormous metal barge picked up a mooring next to us, blocking our view of the majestic mountains to the south. Instead of waking up to an impressive natural skyline, we instead woke up in fear that the hulking leviathan would collide with us in the night. Adding insult to injury, the prevailing winds out of the southeast gradually veered to the northwest, causing our boat to float precariously close to the towering barge. In addition, the shift in the wind would have provided ideal conditions for a passage to the Lau islands, which normally requires a tough slog against wind and waves. (These pretzels are making me thirsty!) Previously overlooked, we began to notice the foul flotsam and jetsam drifting through the anchorage. Along with the many pools of oil covering the harbor, our trips ashore required our slaloming through an assortment of bottles, flip-flops, lumber, and a barely submerged office chair. Even the steady flow of escaped convicts, who were willing to crawl though a mile of raw sewage, refused to brave the polluted Suva harbor. Tired of retail therapy and already having visited both of the tourist sites in Suva, we altered our daily routines in attempt to make our confinement as productive as possible. The morning typically began with a cup of coffee and some reading to kill time. Yoga proved impractical since even the most disciplined yogi would have trouble meditating in the shadow of barge with workers yelling in some foreign tongue and continually hammering metal less than 40 feet away. On most mornings, I would tackle some minor boat project. Generally, after a couple of frustrating hours contorting my body into some tiny space, I would admit defeat and we would head downtown. Without exception, the woman in the Lau office would shrug indignantly and explain that the police clearance had not yet arrived. She would ask us to come back either the next day or the next week. Following a morning of unmitigated disappointment and reeking with the stench of failure, we would proceed to the Republic of Cappuccino to drown our sorrows with a delicious iced coffee. Feeling guilty for the daily splurge on the coffee, I justified my unhealthy expenditure by vowing to study Japanese for an hour every day while I enjoyed my coffee milkshake. After a couple of hours perusing cheap shops for clothes and DVD’s, we would normally dine on a large Indian lunch of either rice or roti’s with curry before heading back to the boat. The remainder of the afternoon would be spent reading or watching DVD’s before eating a light dinner. All in all, the days in Suva have passed quickly, but very little of our routine could not be replicated in a less exotic locale. The extra week in Suva has allowed us to get our fill of Bollywood movies. As far as I can tell, romances in India reflect the normal employer-employee relationship with the man acting as the employer and the woman playing the role of the employee. Before they are married, the man unabashedly chases the women, singing and dancing to demonstrate his terrific love. Similarly, while wooing a candidate, an employer promises eternal happiness and a good paycheck. However, once the woman marries and the employee accepts, the power changes hands. Suddenly, the woman is confined to a kitchen with only the occasional attentions payed by the once adoring man. In the office, the happiness proves illusory as well and the plentiful options once available to the employee dwindle as the drone slaves over a desk. In the end, both the wife and the employee grow fat and bald, beaten down by the cruel realities of the married/working world. One thing I do like about Bollywood movies are the costumes. The men all dress like Austin Powers and the women dress like what a 12-year-old girl would consider cool. Both sexes don the brightest colors that their eyes can tolerate. I’m especially fond of the dot placed between women’s eyes. In the past, I have received conflicting reports that this dot is purely decorative and that the color of the dot represents the marital status of the woman. Personally, I think a good invention would be a dot that could change colors to reflect the mood of a person. For example, in a bar, if a man’s advances are appreciated, the dot could turn green. If the attention is unwanted, the dot could turn red. And so on. When I proposed this idea to Anna, she mentioned that a friend of hers who was working at the European Union participated in parties in which married people were supposed to wear red shirts, single people green shirts, and people not on the prowl would wear orange shirts. Conceivably, this is the way that Stalin met his wife, Nadezhda Alliluyeva. I find it odd that the swingers from Europe are encouraging these types of frat parties and, so as to avoid the EU becoming the all-out orgy that we have long been expecting, I would encourage them to heed the words of the Englishman Lord Chesterfield who is said to have described sex (shagging for those across the pond) to his son as follows: “The pleasure is momentary, the position ridiculous, and the expense damnable.” So, what have I learned about Fiji? Well, the outlying islands are supposed to be beautiful, at least by Hollywood standards. Among the many films shot in Fiji are “Blue Lagoon” and “Castaway.” Not surprisingly, the cast and crew of “Survivor” have invaded these islands. In perhaps the best compliment that Hollywood can bestow, the movie “Contact” opted to use a beach in Fiji to represent heaven instead of the usual computer-generated version featuring flowing robes and plush white couches in the clouds. As for Suva, a completely unscientific study has led me to conclude that the residents of Suva are perhaps the slowest walkers of any city-dwellers in the world. I attribute this mainly to the many children in the city. Families often walk three or four abreast holding hands, effectively blocking the sidewalk and dictating the pace for all of the walkers behind them. If I were King, I would ban all children from cities and institute a minimum speed limit on sidewalks. If someone can not walk a mile in 15 minutes, then they would be exiled to the suburbs, where they could putter around in their SUV and play in the cal-de-sac with their 2.3 kids. The sidewalk speed limit would have the added ancillary benefit of deporting both the fat and the old people, thus creating a city populated primarily by young and attractive people. That is a place that I would like to live. On Sunday, I set off to watch a Fiji semi-professional league soccer game. I had read that, while the quality of play is terrible – one might even say that it is lamer than FDR’s legs – the atmosphere is supposed to be festive with enthusiastic fans and lots of tents offering local food. In any case, I was provided bogus information about the soccer games and never found the field. Instead, I enjoyed a scenic bus ride through the mountainside that offered stunning views from vistas overlooking the sea and that passed through quaint little villages made up of small corrugated metal shacks. One interesting discovery that I made was the odd obstacles that the police placed near construction sites to slow down traffic. On each side of the construction site, a maze of poles with spikes sticking up would be laid across the road requiring drivers to carefully pick their way through the hazards. From the back of the bus, I could see our drivers knuckles turn white as he weaved through the danger without popping a tire. Based on the number of rubber cones upturned near construction sites in the U.S., I do not foresee this innovation taking hold in the States anytime soon. One may ask why I chose to watch a soccer game in Fiji, a country who is currently ranked 149th in the world behind such soccer powers as Bangladesh and Mauritania, instead of rugby, the most popular sport and one in which Fiji excels. In response to this question, I would retort: have you ever watched a rugby match? Watching rugby is like watching a bunch of 4-year-olds play soccer with everyone huddled around the ball, colliding as the entire pack slowly progresses up and down the field. Americans get blamed for a lot of things, but we rarely get enough credit for the improvements that we implemented to cricket and rugby. Baseball might be boring, but at least it doesn’t take a week to finish a game. Football might have too many commercials, but no one can argue that passing is not a good thing. Perhaps if I understood rugby or had enough kava pumping through my veins, then I would find it interesting. In Tonga, I managed to sit through a half hour of a rugby match before I began gnawing on my arm to make sure that I still had feeling in my body. And thus ends a slow week in Suva. To be fair, there are much worse places to be stuck and we are still happy to be here. However, the desire to be in a clean anchorage and exposed to a more traditional culture is strong. With another week comes the renewed hope that our request will finally be approved. Until then, we will continue to try to make the most of our time in Suva, perfecting our routine and remaining indignant.

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