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Thursday, March 4, 2004

Niu Gini on My Mind

I've been expecting 2004 to be a bummer year for travel after the heady heights I attained in 2003, the finest year of my life yet in many respects, and most especially for globetrotting. The past 12 months have seen me clambering the old stone walls of Suwon (수원), South Korea, lost in a medieval reverie; I've scoured the dunes of Tottori (鳥取) on the Sea of Japan, metal detector in hand, sand in my shoes, and a girlfriend grief in my heart, looking for buried treasure. In the middle of all that, in the golden summer of 2003, I flew with Singapore Airlines and Iceland Express all the way to a place I had always dreamed about, but never imagined I would actually reach: Scandinavia, the enchanted realm of the North, right on the opposite side of the world! It was just as mystical and as magical as I hoped it would be, and I had some wicked adventures smoking weed with the anarchists in the lovely free town of Christiana, Denmark, floating over the fjords of Norway, and then finally making landfall on the wild, windy, grassy, glassy volcanic shores of Iceland, saluted by leprechauns. All in all it was the trip of a lifetime but it did exhaust me financially, to the extent that I was living off a piece of chocolate and a cup of green tea per day by the end, walking everywhere instead of catching the bus, and sleeping at the airport (two airports, in fact) to save some kronurs on accommodation. This might sound like a miserable experience to most but I actually found it strangely liberating, and it fortified me physically, spiritually, and emotionally... it is good to push the envelope a little, and see what you are capable of! When 2004 dawned I was drowning in debt, and I resolved to tighten the belt, in every way possible. I was supposed to go back to Australia for Christmas and New Years, had a one-way ticket and all, but I had to cancel it due to a lack of funds. Poverty has been grinding hard, and I often worry about money. I look back on my adventures of last year, and ask myself: How long will it be before I can go anywhere interesting again? It's not possible, at least on my coin. And coins have been pretty much all I have been earning, the past year at least! However, when I do eventually climb out of this pit, I will have a brand new country to visit, following a discovery I made this week. 

I was at A'cross Travel in Shinjuku the other day when I found a brochure put out by Air Niugini, the national carrier of Papua New Guinea, an enigmatic Oceanic nation of six million souls just south of the equator, near Indonesia. Perusing the brochure, I noticed that Air Niugini fly from Tokyo's Narita Airport (成田国際空港) to Australia twice a week via the New Guinea capital Port Moresby. Now Port Moresby has long had a rough reputation in Australia, and I never would have picked it as a tourist destination. But living in Japan has given me a chance to start thinking outside my Australian box, and do things I wouldn't normally do. Just because Aussies do not think it is safe or the done thing generally, does not mean I ought to write the whole country off! Aussies have their own prejudices, born out of colonialism, and an often patronizing media. Anyway, while I know I am not supposed to travel for a while, when I can eventually afford it I ought to give Air Niugini a try, whatever the naysayers may say... with a stopover in their homeland! I haven't been home in a while, and I am about due for a trip there. I've done all the south-east Asian stopovers (Singapore, Bangkok, Hong Kong, etc) a million times before, I need to try something different. And sojourning in Papua New Guinea would be an introduction into an entirely new world for me -- a tribal world, you might call it, a Melanesian islander world, an Australasian world. New Guinea would offer me a glimpse of how Australia itself might have turned out, if it hadn't been overrun by white folk like me. And it would be cool to tick off another country off my bucket list, and take a host of cool photos on my trusty Malicia (who was sadly knocked out of action on the way to Iceland, and missed the parade there!)

For a relatively small country, New Guinea certainly packs a punch attraction wise. I'm thinking about them all this week, in cold, gray Tokyo. The fabled Trobriand Islands: argonauts paddling across a transparent sea, canoes piled high with necklaces, playing their endless game of pass the parcel. Coral-fringed atolls, bare-breasted maidens gathering yams and other edibles, bilum bags strung over their shoulders. Another world another world another world. A whole society powered by magic: a wizened farmer fertilizes the soil with incantations. Vilamalya (magic of plenty), gift and counter-gift, the taboo of accumulation. I have heard there are parts of New Guinea where the locals don't use money, and the economy resides totally on barter. With all my recent woes, maybe I ought to emigrate there! The Highlands: jagged, snow-topped mountains rearing from the jungle, volcanoes simpering in the mist. Headhunters, tribes of people living in treesMadang on the north coast, jewel of the South Pacific, shaded by casuarina trees. I'm thinking all about these places tonight, and doing some research on the Internet. As this week ends in frigid Tokyo, "Niu Gini" is definitely on my mind!
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