50TH PNG POSTCARD

This is my 50th post from Papua New Guinea! For someone with nothing important to say, I sure do a lot of talking.

2014-02-18 - One killed in riots in PNG Detention Centre

PNG made international headlines this week (including top story on the BBC) due to a riot at the Manus detention centre. For those who missed the news that day, Australia decided to send all illegal immigrants to Manus in PNG last year. The idea is that they will be either sent home or resettled in PNG. So the message is going out to the people smugglers that 0% of illegal immigrants will ever make it to Australian soil (though true refugees still can). The policy has been spectacularly successful and the number of boats arriving has dwindled to a tiny portion of what used to arrive. I think it’s genius and I applaud the Abbott Government for taking such a tough stand. But then I’m a right-wing jerk, so what would I know.

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So the Australian workers on Manus finally got around to informing the illegal immigrants that their choices were to either go home (apparently a number of them are from Iran) or to resettle in PNG. Well, they didn’t like that news one bit and they decided to start a riot. 35 of them escaped and that triggered a huge manhunt. There were accusations of them being attacked by local people. In the two days of chaos, one person was shot and killed. One was injured so badly that they had to be airlifted to Australia for treatment. Another was shot in the buttocks but is expected to recover. 70 illegal immigrants were injured in total.

The media has been having a field day. I saw the ABC’s correspondent at the bar on Friday night – he had come over here to report on the story. Of course, those who are opposed to the detention centre used the incident to call for it to be closed. Personally, I think they might just have to rethink how the break the news to the inmates that they don’t get to go to Australia. Maybe tell them one at a time. Let them cool off for a few hours and then send them back to the general population, then tell the next one? Could work. It might just save someone else being shot in the ass.

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In other news, some guy has tried to claim that he is the king of a part of Bougainville and had some currency for his ‘kingdom’ made up. The guy who brought it in got arrested. They’re charging him for breaching the Central Bank’s monopoly on printing money. This place never ceases to amaze.

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This is an older story but an interesting one. A study of the medicinal drugs on sale in PNG revealed that roughly 90% of them are fakes that are vastly less effective than the products that they claim to be. Given that these medicines include the anti-malarials on which people are counting to save their lives, this is disappointing news. It’s not entirely surprising. Without a strong and effective body like the FDA to police such things, this is what happens.

20140214_072614I arrived in Australia and was quickly reminded that it has some scary-ass spiders. I saw this one just loitering at the airport walkway, lurking in wait for some unsuspecting tourist to eat.

20140211_221351Brisbane airport seemed to be going to extraordinary lengths to welcome their Chinese visitors. Everywhere I looked someone was trying to sell me something by congratulating me on Chinese New Year.

20140204_111627Sydney Airport was the same. The official first day of the New Year in China is January 1st. China adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1912.

20140204_110441But old habits die hard and 102 years later, the Lunar New Year is still celebrated.

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Of course, not every store had billboards for Chinese New Year. Some had Cameron Diaz in her underwear. I almost walked straight into some guy because I got distracted by this billboard.

20140204_055518I just returned from a short break in Canada. I travelled through Brisbane and Sydney this time. I caught the train from Brisbane airport, which I really liked. Trains are definitely the most civilised way to travel.

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The Brisbane airport train even has free Wi-Fi. Although all I managed to find was the Queensland Rail homepage. A timetable is fairly useless once one is on the train, but thanks anyway, QR.

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QR did their best to make me feel right at home – using razor wire for their fence – just like they do in PNG.

20140204_061805The first thing that I noticed on the way into town was that the Brisbane skyline has changed.

20140203_183352The Infinity Tower has just opened and is now Brisbane’s tallest building at 249 metres. I thought I was going nuts when I first saw it. I used to live in Brisbane and work downtown so I was surprised to see a building that I didn’t recognise.

20140213_215131A new Burger joint has opened too – Mos Burger. Australians are the 4th fattest people in the world now, so it’s important to keep the burger chains opening around the country. 28.3% of Australians were found to be obese in a 2011 study by the OECD – up by 7% ten years eariler. The nation to beat is still the USA, followed by Mexico and New Zealand. And we know that Australia hates to lose to New Zealand in anything so come on Aussies – get down to Mos Burger and eat up. You can do it!

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I decided to stay at the YHA Youth Hostel in Brisbane.

20140203_175948I used to stay in hostels all the time when I was backpacking around Europe. I thought it would be nice to try one again. I had forgotten how primitive they are.

20140203_233436They have big stainless steel kitchens – since long before everyone thought it was cool to have a stainless steel kitchen.

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People keep their food in the communal fridges and when they leave they often leave their excess food for others. It’s kind of daring to consume anything out of there – do so at one’s own peril. But it’s a nice idea.

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Similarly, the recycling station has a section for “Stuff you don’t need but somebody else might”. It gives the place a nice, hippy-commune kinda feel.

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The swimming pool caught me by surprise though – I have never seen a youth hostel with a pool before.

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The view from the deck of the Brisbane CBD was quite pretty.

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I went downtown and guess what they celebrating.

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It was an odd feeling walking around the city. All very familiar and yet not. I lived here six years ago and yet I felt like a tourist.

20140203_185926Australians have way too much money. One can tell because they think that it’s acceptable to pay $4.45 for a slice of banana loaf at Starbucks – It’s $1.95 in Canada. Come on people, it’s bread with bananas in it. Let’s keep it real, can we?

20140214_065259I tried a coffee chain called Zoom for the first time. It wasn’t bad.

20140214_064338You know you’re in Australia when the largest coffee size is  not called a “vente” or even an “extra-large”, it’s called the “MEGA”.

20140204_054122I said goodbye to Brisbane in the morning and caught a flight to Sydney and then on to Vancouver.

20140204_100804I arrived at Vancouver airport (YVR) and found that Chinese New Year was following me wherever I went.

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It was great to be home and it reminded me of why I love Vancouver.

20140204_103400I caught the seabus across to downtown Vancouver.

20140204_103417En route across the Burrard Inlet, I passed this large ship.

20140204_103613I had just watched the Tom Hanks film “Captain Phillips” on my flight home, so the bright Orange life boat caught my attention.

20140204_102350As I passed the Harbour Centre tower, the brilliant sunlight illuminated the Canadian flag in an almost magical way to welcome me home.

20140206_135120Even though it was sunny, it was rather cold so I wore a jacket and scarf whenever I went out.

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I took a short trip down into the States too and passed through Seattle.

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They had seen a bit of snow that week.

20140209_133457I know too well the joy (and terror) of driving a Mustang in the snow.

20140209_110638Only in the USA do people think a car like this is normal. Although it might work in PNG too come to think of it.

20140217_121918My short break was over too quickly and soon enough I was back in PNG, confronted with the world’s largest cockroaches.

20140216_102214A year ago, I noted that they still sell Cathode Ray televisions in PNG. That hasn’t changed, although I noticed that they interspersed the boxes among the televisions in one store to mask the depth of the old-style TVs.

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Caffeine is my friend when it comes to overcoming jetlag. I noticed that my beverage of choice – the Café Latte is back to 6.95 kina. It went up to 7.95 briefly when the currency tanked. However, the price has dropped again – presumably because people weren’t willing to pay 1 kina more for a product just because the cost of imports increased. PNG produces its own coffee and even exports it. PNG coffee is sometimes available at Starbucks in North America.

20140203_082833These foul-smelling cigarettes are sold individually in PNG and are wrapped in Newspaper.

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A friend of mine from the gym was sporting a monster bruise on his arm this week. When I asked about it, he explained that he was visiting one of the settlements (illegal housing built without the permission of the land owner). He is part of a church group that was undertaking some activities to help people in the settlement. Apparently, some of his fellow churchgoers were beaten and robbed by some folks from the settlement. So my friend went down and sorted them out. He’s rather a big guy so I’m guessing the bruise on the arm was because that’s as high as the assailants could reach to try to punch him. He got the better of the incident and presumably these fellows learned not to mess with people from the church ever again.

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It’s the wet season here now and when it rains it really pours. I was drenched in seconds trying to get into the gym this week. The overnight storms have been ferocious.

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This amused me. At a busy intersection, an impromptu car wrecking yard has been established. One would do well not to question the provenance of the spare parts purchased here. Just be grateful for the new tyres and windscreen at bargain prices.

20140217_182906As the sunset over another enjoyable day in Papua New Guinea, I took a moment to stop and smell the fishing boats.

Until next postcard…

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