What would you do if you had 20 billion dollars? Well, if you’re Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, the answer is “buy the world’s largest privately-owned yacht and sail it to Papua New Guinea”. The talk of the town this week was the visit of Mr Allen’s dingy, named “Octopus”. He sailed here from Cairns where he had been hosting Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
The first I saw of Octopus, it was anchored in the harbour not far from my house.
Half the city was plotting how they might be able to wrangle a visit aboard. My idea involved a white coat, a clipboard and a fake ID labelled, “Health Inspector”. Truth be told, I would have been happy enough just to paddle out to the yacht in a kayak with my laptop and ask Mr Allen if he could reinstall MS Office for me, because I sure as hell can’t figure it out.
By any measure, Octopus is a remarkable ship. It’s 126 metres long. It costs 20 million per year to run an has a permanent crew of 60 people. It has two helicopters. Inside the ship there is a 19 metre tender launch, for quick trips to town, and a submarine that can take 10 people on undersea excursions. Octopus holds 850,000 litres of fuel in its tanks. When purchased in 2003, it was the largest ‘superyacht’ in the world. Now it is merely the 13th largest. How embarrassing for Mr Allen – he must feel so inadequate.
Octopus was parked alongside the key right outside my office for a day or so. One can see one of the helicopters on the back. The tug boat in the foreground provides a frame of reference for the scale of this ship.
Port Moresby has a large, and seemingly growing, community of expatriates. People are drawn from all over the world for various reasons. It is said that expatriates in the developing world fall into one of three categories: Missionary, Mercanary or Misfit. Some people have a healthy smattering of all three.
Among the expats in Port Moresby are a not-insignificant number of North Americans. Surprisingly, local supermarkets embraced the theme – especially those frequented by the expatriates. This store even had a big sign labelled “New Stock From America”. Why was I not surprised to find that there were four varieties of microwavable popcorn.
I was able to meet a few more this weekend at a combined Canada-Day-Independence-Day party. Canada day is the first of July and I.D. is the fourth, so the idea was to have a joint celebration. It was a riot. Americans know how to let their hair down on the fourth of July.
We sang rousing renditions of the Star Spangled Banner and O Canada.
The food was typical fare – hotdogs and hamburgers. I brought the bowl of fruit. I figured that I should give the Americans the chance to try something new.
I even met a Cajun who speaks French as his first language. It was quite odd being at a party full of Americans and chatting to someone who was born in the USA (yes, they played the Springsteen song), having a conversation completely in French. His accent was somewhat unusual, but I had no trouble understanding him.
The other matter attracting the attention of the populace this week was an international rugby tour including teams from Tahiti and the Cook Islands. These friendly-looking chaps are the Tahitians, who seemed delighted about being asked to pose for a team photo.
The papers here love this stuff – a family self-destructing in public. This time right outside a police station. The caption refers to a dispute between brothers over a woman. It’s the classic love story of man meets woman and then beats up his brother in public because he also likes the same woman.
The Bougainville Finance Minister, Albert Punghau, ranted in the paper this week that Bougainville needs to collect more taxes. The majority of Bougainville’s revenue currently comes from taxes on cigarettes, alcohol and beer. His approach to increasing revenue for the government caught my attention. He said, “These drunkards and people who smoke are the ones paying tax to the Government…”
In New Britain, a disgruntled former employee who stabbed his boss with a kitchen knife was sentenced to six years in prison this week. The man knew that he was about to be fired (three formal warning letters had given him a bread trail), so he brought the knife to work and then, after receiving his termination letter, promptly stabbed his (former) boss in the back. Fortunately, the boss was not killed and made a full recovery. This is office politics worthy of the Roman Forum, right here in PNG.
“Rope, a handy tool for a man”. The inference being that it is useless in the hands of a woman?
According to this article, “Every woman’s dream is to have children”. Maybe that’s why they don’t have much need for rope.
One of only two (I believe) Hummer cars in Port Moresby. It’s an impressive vehicle, however the owner will likely struggle to obtain parts to maintain it.
A huge new bank has been constructed in my neighbourhood. The driveway was recently covered with asphalt and is now without question, the nicest piece of road in Papua New Guinea. It is being kept that way through a fence constructed of old oil drums. They are not intended to be garbage cans but in a city that is badly lacking in both garbage cans and garbage collectors, they were quickly filled with rubbish.
Why are the dogs hanging around the gate? Because they respond to stimuli, just as Ivan Pavlov predicted. The dogs love to rush out of the gate when it opens and tear up the street barking at the neighbour’s dogs. They know that whenever I walk down the stairs I get into the car and then open the gate. So now, as soon as I get half way down the stairs, the dogs are already hovering near the gate waiting to pounce on their opportunity to run amok.
I attended a briefing on obtaining visas to Australia by the Australian High Commissioner. The ABC was in attendance, as was EMTV (pronounced MTV), the most popular local station.
This subject is of interest at the moment since the former PM was embarrassed when she visited by criticism of the difficulty that Papua New Guineans encounter when applying for visas to Australia. Frankly, I think it’s extremely important that Australia be conservative about issuing visas to anybody from the developing world. It was an interesting event and at the morning tea afterwards, I met the High Commissioner; a very friendly and personable woman.
The award for imaginative use of steel fencing goes to the owner of this car.
(Canadians would call it a “beater”. I would use the Australian term, but Australians usually refer to such vehicles as “a bomb” and since we’re not allowed to say “bomb” on the Internet anymore without it ending up in a CIA database, I’ll call it a “Beater”). Rather than going to the trouble and expense of tracking down a replacement rear window, the owner of this beater just welded some fencing mesh into the gap. Not ideal when it rains, but at least it improves the airflow through the vehicle on hot days.
I took a ride in this taxi yesterday. I noticed something hanging from the rear-vision mirror and upon closer inspection, I realised that it was a dead bird. Who the hell hangs the carcass of a bird in their car? And why?!? That shit is just sick. Who does that?
Crime abounds and I see little evidence of governmental efforts that will change things. A friend told me recently that she was on a local bus and was sitting towards the back listening to music on her headphones. The window next to her was open and a man reached through it and snatched her headphones right off her head in full daylight. A guy on the bus saw what happened and raced out of the bus and beat up the thief. He reclaimed the headphones but they were damaged beyond repair. It is a minor crime, but an annoying one and demonstrates the constant threat of crime that hangs like a storm cloud over everything that is happening in this country.
The fugitive Kapris remains on the run, having been assisted by a female guard with whom he was in a protracted relationship. The government’s response has been to provide additional incentive for its prison wardens to avoid emotional entanglements with the inmates. The thrust of the message is “don’t sleep with the inmates or you’ll lose your job”. I wouldn’t have thought it needed spelling out, however apparently this is not an isolated case. Evidently, the ins and outs of daily prison life have not been too onerous for some of the guests.
Heading up the street on the left hand side of the road, there is a political parade underway. They decided that the best way to get attention for the political candidate was to drive through the centre of town the wrong way up a one-way street. Of course, no one thought to warn people or to have the police block off the street. The result was that the convoy of parade floats ran head on into the constant stream of traffic flowing through the downtown area, causing instant gridlock and chaos.
The police were present – they were part of the parade, complete with helium balloons hung from the sides of their cars. I guess an apolitical police force is too much to ask in a country where the police seem to have trouble tying their own shoelaces.
My favourite newspaper clipping from this week was this story dating back to 1974 when a group of criminals broke into a car dealership an stole 12 of the cars. Except, in typical PNG-Style, there was no grand plan for making vast amounts of cash. No links to global networks of car thieves. Instead, the played dodgem cars. They just drove them around the garage for a while having their own private smash-up derby. Those scallywags.
Until next postcard…
PS: If you’d like more information on Octopus, check out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Octopus_(yacht)
For more on Pavlov’s studies on conditioning in dogs, have a look at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classical_conditioning
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