- 01. Fiji…Again?
- 02. Fun & Games
- 03. Growing Indigenation
- 04. Coup de Grâce?
- 05. Friends Go Away
- 06. Mercy by Coup, Merci Beaucoup
- 07. It’s Nice to be Needed
- 08. Walk Like A Man
- 09. Extreme Retirement
- 10. Get a Grip
- 11. Dangerous Cargo
- 12. Drinking in the Holiday Season
- 13. Fit for Purpose
- 14. Emotion Sickness
- 15. New Fiji’s Eve
- 16. One Helluva Christmas
- 17. Enough is Enough
“Did you enjoy Emori’s tales?”
“Excuse me?” I looked up from the room bill, still reeling from a nine dollar charge for the miniature tube of Pringles out of the minibar. “Tales?”
The front desk clerk clarified. “You took the island cruise yesterday, didn’t you? Emori’s memory is, uh, his stories are never the same twice. How much did he tell you the Dutch man paid for the island he gave his daughter?”
“Fifty-nine dollars and twelve cents!” I barked angrily about the credit card surcharge, head shaking.
“Really? Last week it was seven million dollars. Australian.”
For a moment we regarded each other quizzically. What we were talking about? I realised that having charged my credit card, she was completely disinterested in discussing my bill.
Finally, light dawned. “Oh, oh, the island…um, ten million, ah, US dollars, Emori said. But I thought the buyer was Danish, not Dutch. It was a daughter, though, that much is consistent.”
She handed my card and receipt back. “Then it seems her daddy made an excellent investment. Three million dollars in a week!” I got the sense that Emori’s tales were legend, or more precisely were vying to become legend.
A chameleon darted across my ankles as I joined the rest of the group sitting in the lounge. The pitter-patter of a moderate rain provided a soothing backdrop as we quietly waited for the bus we’d arranged to deliver us to Clara and Aydell’s apartment in Suva. There we’d spend the next three days — Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day — doing a Fijian Christmas in tropical style.
The three hour bus ride to Suva continued eastward on the Kings Road, through the edge of Viti Levu’s central mountains, before turning southward down the island’s east coast to Suva. With this segment, over my three visits to Fiji I had completed a full circumnavigation of Fiji’s main island.
It was a private hire for the six of us. With our considerable luggage we were tightly packed into the nine passenger vehicle, Aydell happily submerging himself in a pile of “personal effects” in the back. The driving was more of the same, barrelling down the centre of the road, weaving around oncoming traffic. Our driver was a quiet young man with a bad head cold who seemed to nod off once or twice, a cause of some concern for those of us paying attention to such things. I was not. I was watching the sugar cane fields and grimy processing factories becoming fewer, while the crop varieties and township industries became more diverse.
As we climbed up and down the mountainsides we came to a couple places where the road had been completely washed out, replaced by makeshift arrangements, temporary diversions fording the shallow spot in a stream, or unceremoniously ploughed through some no doubt disgruntled farmer’s crops.
I asked Clara “Were these wash-outs here when you came up, or did they just happen with the rain this past week?”
Aydell leaned forward from the armchair he had fashioned out of our luggage. “Remember the Fiji Law Society building, half burnt out on your last trip? It still looks exactly the same. Or that closed bridge you climbed over down by the university? Still closed, two years later. Or the ‘emergency closure’ of the bridge on the busy street near the Suva Market, in the middle of the business district? Same. I haven’t seen any work at all on any of them.”
“And yet,” Clara completed his thought “everybody says things are much, much better since Bainimarama took over. Imagine what they were like before.”
Basking at the luxury resort I had forgotten that our host country had transformed from benevolent dictatorship to fledgling democracy since my last visit. As we approached Suva the towns grew larger and more congested, yet prosperous if the amount of construction going on was any indication. In Nausori we actually encountered a traffic jam of considerable proportion, a first in my Fijian experiences. We later determined the back-up was the result of the funeral for a local dignitary who was well-loved indeed, judging by the hundreds who conspired to delay traffic in his honour.
As we entered Suva, our awakening driver pointed out the spot where a major sewerage leak recently resulted in the contamination of Suva’s coastal waters. The local paper confirmed “As a result of a sewage spill into the Samabula River, the Government of Fiji has issued an Environmental Emergency Declaration which prohibits the use of affected areas from the Cunningham River to the Suva foreshore area coastline to source livelihood and for recreational purposes.”
Minutes later we arrived at the centrally located Suva apartment building that Aydell and Clara now called home, having moved there from the Duncan Road compound since last we visited. The apartment’s major drawback in comparison to its sprawling predecessor was that it was a two-bedroom apartment, and we were a three-bedroom group. This was a predicted predicament, though, so Frank – not one to sleep on couches, at least not since he had outgrown having sex with newfound friends in studio apartments — had booked us a room at the immediately adjacent Tanoa Plaza Hotel. Aydell, Clara, Lucy and Shirley unloaded their bags and headed inside, while Frank and I stayed on the bus for another two hundred meters to the hotel.
The Tanoa Plaza Hotel is a ten-story structure emitting the unexciting but reassuring vibe of a Holiday Inn. Inside it was deadly silent, the restaurant completely empty despite it being the height of lunchtime, and the lobby vacant. A young lady appeared at the front desk. This was only an appearance, though, as the young woman, attired in a Bula-wear hotel uniform supplemented with a Santa’s cap, turned out to be a slender young man with lipstick and eyeliner, his long black hair pulled back in a bun. He was a close to a legendary Fa’afafine as I had seen. Only his Adam’s apple bobbling through a chirpy “Bula and Merry Christmas!” gave him away. Well, that and his nametag, which read “Henry”.
“Merry Christmas” we replied dutifully, reminded that it was Christmas Eve. Henry checked us in, complaining that the hotel was too quiet. He was clearly delighted to have two men sharing a queen-sized bed to talk to, chattering his way through what became a rather flirtatious reception. As we boarded the lift, Frank, who had spent much of his early career at a hotel front desk, observed “Some things never change — the gay staff still cover the Christmas shifts.”
Once we dropped the bags in the room we realised we were famished, so returned to the lobby for lunch. Henry was horrified to see us plop ourselves down at a table and begin to peruse the menu. He scurried back of house. The menu, tailored for the holidays, consisted of delicacies that could be prepared by staff with kitchen skills limited to opening and closing a refrigerator door and toasting a sandwich.
In due Fijian course, which is to say about twenty-minutes later, a middle-aged woman with the requisite skills arrived to take our order. She seemed a bit irked to have been prematurely awoken from a nap, but Henry was visibly relieved. Eventually she returned with some toasted sandwiches and the bill, which had already been charged to our room. Were we the only guests in the hotel?
Frank and I agreed that it might be best to find another place to take our meals. In fact we had largely done so already. At that very moment Aydell and Shirley were navigating the bedlam of the Suva market, filling the last-minutes needs to serve us both a lovely Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas lunch.
At about four in the afternoon we exited the hotel by way of a back staircase that left us abruptly on a busy yet familiar street. An oddly warm feeling washed over me – much to my surprise, it felt good to be back in Suva.
Back up the road, the apartment building security guard demanded “Answer me these questions three…”, which we did, allowing us to pass. Aydell and Clara’s apartment was a nicely furnished flat with all the modern amenities, including a balcony and a swimming pool.
Soon after our arrival Aydell and Shirley returned from the market with heaps of heaps. Aydell made a quick turnaround, this time taking Frank with him, heading out again to pick the evening’s pièce de résistance, Peking Duck from the local Chinese restaurant.
With their return, our bunch settled in for an evening of holiday cheer on the balcony overlooking the city. Highlights included watching the traffic dwindle into an intermittent parade of slowly weaving drunks and speeding taxis. The heads of snowman candles burned off in grotesque fashion, leaving us to ponder what kind of sick mind had come up with such a thing. Finally, after darkness fell, we enjoyed the competitive bombardment of amateur fireworks displays from three sides.
A most unusual Christmas Eve.
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