I Blame Victoria’s Secret for This…

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I don’t really know how I started thinking about this experience, but it was definitely one of the more unusual (not to say that any of my experiences in Papua New Guinea were anything like usual) experiences that I had while I was in PNG.  Now, I think that I have mentioned before that I did not fit into the culture there, not just for the fact that I didn’t speak more than a handful of words of their working language (Pidgin), nor the fact that I was at least a head taller than everyone, but more for the fact that I was stark white and covered head to toe in clothes to try to keep the lobster burns away (yeah, I basically go from white to lobster in a matter of minutes, and then back to white again, without any hope of a tan of any kind).  I smelled, to, have I mentioned that?  Smell badly?  Well, I suppose that depends on what you call “bad.”  You see, I was already taking anti-malarial medication, but the mosquitoes were just relentless there in the humidity and all of the standing water everywhere.  So, in order to take extra precautions, I basically bathed in repellent.  And I don’t mean the lovely, new coconut or lime-scented versions of repellent that exist today.  No, I mean, DDT.  That’s right.  The really stinky, smelly repellent that only those in desperate need of a way to get rid of mosquitoes resorts to.  Thanks, Dad. So, I smelled.  But, I will say this:  I never got more than a handful of bites the entire time that I was there.  So I really do thank you, Dad.  That was perhaps the most helpful piece of advice (“Bring DDT!”) that gave me before I left.  Well, that and remembering to also bring along cortizone for those few bites that I did get.

Anyway, on to the rest of the story (what you thought that was it?). . . So, i stood out, is what I am trying to say.  And that goes for pretty much everything about me.  Right down to my knickers (that’s underwear to those of you not of the UK persuasion).  Thanks to a long-standing and profound addiction to Victoria’s Secret for bras and knickers, I was the proud owner of over thirty pairs of *extremely* floraly, frilly, colorful knickers – that’s right, everything from neon pink to green lace coupled with bright blue flowers.  Now, why does that matter, you ask?  Don’t you normally wear clothes over you knickers?  Why yes, yes you do.  However, everyone, no matter how many pairs they own or bother to bring on an extended visit to a remote area in the middle of the South Pacific, will eventually need to wash them.

But, I wouldn’t be the one washing them.  No.  You see, I was (at the time of this event) staying at a hotel on Wewak on our way to the small island on which we would be living for a few weeks.  The rains and the delay in the delivery of our equipment (see: prior stories involving the vanilla trade in PNG) caused a further delay in journey to Koil and in the meantime, I had run out of clean knickers. I asked Glenn where I could take them to wash (I was presuming that Wewak had a laundromat -silly me), and he just told me to leave them for the hotel staff to clean.  I couldn’t quite explain to this fifty-plus year-old man how leaving my underthings in the hands of unknown staffers worried me, given my previous experiences with the local people thinking that I was already quite far removed from their reality, if not Reality in general.  Instead, I asked him if it might not be possible, then, to take Herman (one of the PNG people that helped us on our trip and regularly worked as a translator / facilitator for Glenn on his trips here) and go to the “supermarket” (or at least, what they had to serve as one) and purchase some clothing soap that I had seen on their local TV shows and then wash my clothes in the hotel’s bathroom.  No.  He would have none of it.  That would be taken very badly and would essentially, apparently, signal to the staff and thus all of the local people of Wewak, that we thought that they were inept and incapable of even the most basic of tasks:  washing clothes.

So, defeated, I left my clothes in their hands.  Now, I should mention at this point that at the time, I was still under the somewhat naive presumption that Wewak, and PNG in general, possessed things that I took for granted, like can openers, electricity and, of course, washing machines.  I assumed that the staff would simply take my clothes, bring them to a washing machine, wash them, put them in a dryer and then bring them back to me.  I had known that such a procedure happened every day in hotels around the world, from Norway to Mexico.  Apparently, that’s not what happens in PNG.  And I found out the hard way; or rather, the loud way.

The next day, while trying to pass the time by talking to Glenn about his experiences in the South Pacific over the years (remember, no electricity most of them time, only one TV channel in a language you don’t understand and nothing else to do means that there is a *lot* of time to pass every day), I suddenly heard some kids in the distance giggling.  At first, I thought that it was coming from the road across from the hotel that led down to a beach.  I had heard kids there before, but this time, the laughing and giggling was louder and it was punctuated by adults giggling and talking loudly.  Again, I couldn’t understand much, but it sounded like they were having a grand old time somewhere.  Well, given that there wasn’t much else going on, Glenn and I decided to see what was going on that was clearly so funny.

What was it?  Well, let’s just say that Victoria has one less secret now.  You see, hanging from a wire across two tree stumps and waving in the slight breeze, with the sunlight shining off of them and highlighting their beautiful colorful decorations, were my knickers and bras, slowly drying.  Yup.  About ten of them, if my memory serves.  And around them were no fewer than five young children, a couple of teens and the entire hotel staff laughing and pointing at them.  And it wasn’t as if I could pretend that anyone else had left those to be washed.  Nope.  Those knickers clearly belonged to the strange, smelly, White Woman.

Now, I suppose that, on the plus side, at least it was just Glenn and I that witnessed that mortifying site and have escaped the island to remember and pass along the story.  But frankly, I blush even just thinking about it, and dread that one day, randomly (as things like this often occur) I will encounter one of those kids, now grown, that was laughing so merrily at my expense, and remember me and start laughing all over again.

Lesson learned:  Next time, listen to my mother and shop at Macy’s, where the prices are low and the knickers are all plain.

Things That I Don’t Understand – Round One

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1.  Mayonnaise on Pizza (see:  Budapest teenagers on their way to the subway trains snacking on slices of mayo-covered pizza slices while trying to simultaneously walk down steep staircases to the platform).

2.  Remote Controls for Toilets (see:  Tokyo hotel toilets that I never did figure out.  At one point, I pushed a button and it started to play music, and another button apparently engages that uber-flush, but I never did figure out the other, oh, thousandish buttons that apparently all controlled that one single device that in China wasn’t even available, as they basically still used the good old-fashioned hole in the ground with a couple of small footholds on either side.)

3.  Kinnie (See:  Malta – Wow.  Who thought that the idea of a “soft drink” with the advertised flavor of “bitter oranges and aromatic herbs” was a good idea was obviously smoking something and whatever that something was, I certainly never want it).

4.  Umbrellas in Ireland – Honestly, the winds are so strong (gale-force, really) that umbrellas are no match for them.  You could always tell those people that used them from those that didn’t; not because you saw some people actually using them, but rather because when you got into the classroom at the university, there were those people that were soaked head to toe (those without) and those that were soaked only from the waist down, since they tried to put the umbrella facing the wind, so that it wouldn’t get pushed inside out.  Really.  At some point, whether all of you is wet or only part of you, just acknowledge that you are still wet, still cold, and that the umbrella was a waste of money.  You would be better served just downing copious amounts of tea to compensate for the chill that inevitably consumed you for a good ten months of every year.

5.  Cars / Taxis in London – I once spent about a week in London with a relative on vacation (I had been living there for some time already and really knew the ins and outs of London by that point) who always thought that everything was so far away from everything else and for the first few days wanted to take the atrociously expensive black cabs everywhere.  I tried to remind her that there is literally *no* place in London that is more than a couple of blocks from a tube station.  Literally.  You just needed to turn a corner, any corner – just pick a corner – and you would find one right there.  Why do people bother sitting in endless traffic, and potentially spending enormous amounts of money just to travel a few blocks, when the tube can get you there for pennies and in minutes?  I will never understand that.

6.  Cars in Malta – You can *walk* from one side of the country to the other.  Seriously.  Just give yourself a couple of hours and you have done it.  You could probably even do it in heels.  Try it, it’s fun!

And that’s just a start….

Coke v Pepsi

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I was reminded of this because I recently had a conversation with a colleague of mine in Canada who mentioned that she would never, even under the pain of death, deign to drink Pepsi.  She was a Coke (specifically Diet Coke) fan for life.

This reminded me of my most recent journey – to Finland and Denmark  – and the stark differences between the two in terms of their soda consumption.

Normally, most countries are like the US; there might be a general preference for either one or the other, or, like in the case of Malta, a third option altogether (in their case, Kinnie, whose appeal I never understood).  You might have a somewhat hard time finding one or the other, but it’s possible and even easy in a lot of places, like the US and Australia.

Not in Finland or Denmark, though.  In Finland, although I generally prefer Diet Coke, I was forced to basically drink “Pepsi Max” (otherwise known as diet Pepsi) whenever I wanted a soda.  First, they don’t, like more European countries, offer any non-caffeinated versions of soda, at least that I have ever really found.  But beyond that, there was no such thing as Coca-Cola anywhere outside of a small display in one of the local grocers.  And even that wasn’t stocked every day, so there were a few times in which I went there, only to find that there weren’t any Cokes in sight.  I couldn’t believe it.  Never before in my life have I ever been in a place so thoroughly sold to Pepsi and their other products.  I mean, Coca-Cola is the largest, most widespread brand in the world, and yet, here is a country entirely committed to Pepsi.  Amazing!

Then, I went to Denmark for a couple of days as a side trip.  It was the exact opposite.  It was as though someone from Coca-Cola came and said the the entire country “Hey, you want to be cool like the rest of the world and not backward, like Finland?  Come over here, and let me show you something really great.”  And at that point, the salesman opens his jacket and displays all of the varied (except for the aforementioned non-caffeinated) versions of Coke products.  Every vending machine, from the ones in my hotel to the ones in the train station, offered only Coke products.  It was as if Pepsi never existed.  Simply amazing.  And not a bad thing, if you ask me, since I generally like it more than Pepsi (Pepsi is usually to sweet and not bubbly enough for me).  But still, coming from a country so single-mindedly devoted to Pepsi, it struck me right away.

Nothing else seemed to be like that.  They both carried chocolate products from all over, from Mars and Cadbury to their own local varieties.  They both carried other consumer products from a wide range of companies.  But when it came to their soda preferences, it was just unique and utterly fascinating to see two countries, so close to one another, so at odds over a simple thing like soda.

Interesting.  Very interesting <insert character from Laugh-In here>