Chapter 3   Fiji and the United States

 

 

Friday, 26 April, Arrival in Fiji



As the 767 slowly descended towards the ocean high above Fiji, we viewed flat fields of sugar cane along the coast and a mountainous interior inland. We smoothly touched down at Nadi, a small airport, which had air bridges, to my surprise. We had arrived in Fiji and discovered excellent service; quick strong lifts from the airline seat into the aisle chair, then into my wheelchair waiting at the air bridge.  (Thanks Air New Zealand)  The humid 32 degrees Celsius heat struck like a hammer so we quickly stripped polar plus gear for short sleave shirts. Clearing customs and immigration quickly, I exchanged $300.00 at $1.15 Fijian to $1.00 Australian.  Fijian money has the British queen, showing the country’s colonial background.  We picked up a Toyota Echo at $140.00 a day with $700.00 payable in case of accident.  “We’re not being ripped off,” I reassured Richard.  “I’ve found my visits to Norfolk Island, Tahiti in 1988 and New Caledonia in 2000 very expensive for nearly everything.”  While I negotiated cars, a Fijian girl outside Thrifty Rentals picked up Richard.  “Are you married? Like to go dancing with me tonight?” Richard put her off saying, “I’m too tired, many things to do,” but thought, “”Women are hot here and I’m going to have a good time.”

 

My first impression of Fiji was that Fijians are big, really big; over two meters in hight, big boned, and with an endomorphic solid build.  “I wouldn’t want to play contact sport against the Fijians,” I thought. “Rugby, soccer, football, nothing at all.  These people are mean machines and the farm workers all carry cane machetes. Wow!” The Fijian people were attractive in appearance, mostly dark brown, sometimes nearly black with black eyes, and black, tightly curled hair.  They seemed to love music, and Fijian love songs were endemic, rhythmic and enjoyable.

 

Turning on the Echo radio, I found about half the stations broadcasted in English. We heard the Fijian announcer in English read an ad that praised a three-burner gas stove top.  “It’s only $50.00, $10.00 down and $2.95 a month.”  I thought, “We wouldn’t advertise something essential so cheaply, much less on a plan.  This is a poor country.” A fifteen minute drive on narrow badly maintained tarmac roads took us to our resort, the First Landing, selected for its price $150.00 per night compared to other resort prices ranging into thousands of dollars.  I felt disconcerted from my first experience with Fiji.  There were crowds of men standing doing nothing, unkempt riotous green jungle growth everywhere, and simple, overcrowded houses.  Everything smelled of general poverty and contrasted with the green mown lawns, well maintained gardens and pretty bright houses of New Zealand.  

 

Driving past a Mobil and Shell sprawling industrial oil tank farm, I raised some of my reservations with Richard, my thoughts fuelling my anxiety like petrol on a fire, “What have I gotten into?  Should I have selected a higher price?  Will we be safe?” I recalled booking the resort eight months ago, six days accommodation for $900.00 with breakfast included. I didn’t know until my checkout that the posted rate for my room was $325.00 nightly.  “Why does this resort have no address, only Box 538, Lautoka?” I asked a puzzled travel agent.  “How do I drive there in a rental car?”  I checked their lovely web page, still no address, and then emailed the resort.  The reply came the next day.  “Buela, turn left from the airport, follow the road fifteen kilometres then follow the signs.” 

 

This was my initial introduction to Fiji.  Everything is small, and no addresses are needed.  All Fijians know the famous First Landing location, as it is where their ancestors arrived 3,500 years ago.  This place is a revered monument.  There’s only one road around Fiji.  It’s hard to get lost.  Buela means ‘good day, mate,’ in Australian, and it’s used everyday by everyone.

 

We stopped at a small general store to buy coke.  A hefty five-metre fence topped with five strands of very mean looking barbwire protected the store.  The store itself possessed heavy bars and mesh.  “This is a nation under siege,” I told Richard.  “The violence and crime here are epidemic.”  Nearing the resort we followed a narrow muddy road riddled with potholes. The entrance was worse, crawling at five kilometres an hour around muddy chasms.  I reassured myself thinking, “You’ve been up since 4.00 AM and you’re tired and stressed.  Tomorrow, you will see Fiji as a South Pacific pearl.”  I felt better, even ok.

 

When we soon reached the resort, directly on the ocean, I was overwhelmed, firstly by the immense out-of-this-world hospitality of the people.  All the staff introduced themselves by name, and came over to talk.  They offered to push the wheelchair, show us around, and outline activities. They speak Fijian but everyone speaks perfect English.  Then we reached our cabin, about 6.00 PM.  “This is great, Richard,” I boomed, enumerating my list of desired features. “We’re directly overlooking the ocean, and we have a new spacious   cottage of wooden construction with large balcony, thatched roof, and polished floor boards.  There’s a fridge, ice, air conditioning and firm new king size bed standing at wheelchair hight for easy transfers.  The huge bathroom is totally equipped for quadriplegics, and there’s a large modern spa for you, Richard.”  A small courtyard outside the toilets allowed large bathroom windows to be left open in privacy. All access was suitable for wheelchairs with a flat wide wooden walkway outside the room near the sea.  I looked forward to a relaxing six-day visit, so Richard and I celebrated success by wrestling polar bears with shots of Bundy and coke.

 

Leaving for dinner at 8.00 PM we followed well lite groomed trails illuminated by powerful gas flares which flicker yellow light surreally.  We reach open dining areas under palm trees.  These overlook sand beaches, being only five metres from the sea. “With a high tide, water would wash under the dining area,” I commented.  We ordered local South Pacific fish in Cajun sauce, and a Fiji export bitter beer.  We followed that beer with TNT cocktail and felt mellow when dinner was served forty-five minutes later.  As we eat we were serenaded by two Fijian folk singers accompanying themselves on acoustic Yamaha guitars. Leaving late, we walked past the bar and an American on a full size Harley Davidson, roared down the pathway.  He pulled the machine between tables to the bar and ordered Fiji Export Bitter.  “Wild West or what?” I thought. “That’s something.”  Finally, near midnight, we went to bed, and I missed four hours of continuous rain during my heavy sleep.

 

Saturday, 26 April Exploration of Lautoka and Nadi

 

Richard and I got up late and enjoyed a comprehensive tasty breakfast, in the open sided dining area near the sea.  We listened to a Dean Martin CD while dining, then relaxed all morning.  At 2.00 PM we walked towards the car to explore the island.  We talked with an elderly German couple from Vienna, Austria.  “Took us thirty six hours of travel to get here, with stop-overs in Amsterdam and Los Angeles,” Herman told us.  “We’ve mostly rested quietly for a week, being utterly exhausted and jet-lagged, now were doing a seven-day SCUBA diving boat tour, and then flying for a week in Vanuatu.  We’re both retired and do three trips a year.  In management I used to get six weeks holiday annually and always travelled.”  As we walked to our car, Richard muttered angrily. “Fucking Germans. Hate those assholes.  They lost the war and live like millionaires while I’m poor.  They butchered Poland. They should be paying billions in compensation.  It’s so unfair!”  I reflected silently.  “Unfinished issues here. I teach kids in anger management programmes to avoid beliefs containing should or shouldn’t or fair or unfair.  These concepts are illogical and guaranteed to drive up your blood pressure. It’s illogical to think those uninvolved in World War II should pay reparations.  Richard wasn’t even born then.”  I said nothing in reply.

 

We offered Maroona, a woman employee with a large pizza, a lift to Lautoka, and gained a guided tour of her town.  Suva’s are largest city and Lautoka’s second, with lots of industry.  We have the Fiji Sugar Refinery, Fiji Distillery, producing Bounty rum, a large saw mill and chip board plant, superphosphate centre and large ports.”  She was proud of the First Landing.  “The resort’s only seven years old and recently was awarded four stars,” she boasted.  “It received the 2002 gold award for best accommodation and 2001 gold award for best seafood restaurant.  The resort will double in size as it moves into the second phase expansion.”  She added an illuminating comment.  “The Indians here outnumber the Fijians and Indians run many businesses.”  “Ah,” I thought.  “Aren’t the Indians Fijians too?  Is this the reason for the anger and violence in this society?”  I recalled that George Speight had violently overthrown the elected Fijian government a few years ago, promising justice for the ‘hated’ Indian population.

 

[Speight was not supposed to lead the coup: according to hostage Poseci Bune, "There was someone else coming [to take charge], but he didn't turn up." But the voluble former insurance salesman proved an eager substitute. In rambling interviews, he cast captive Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and his fellow ethnic Indians as exploiters and himself as a bald Moses. "I am the repository of the will of the Fijian people," he said. Inspired, young women wrote songs for him ("George Speight, I'm behind you all the way," ran one paean), grandmothers cooked special dishes for him, and unemployed youths rushed to serve in his private army.]

 

Driving along the narrow, bumpy highway, we saw lots of large noxious black smoke belching from the backs of poorly maintained diesel engines powering open windowed buses, the principal means of transport in Fiji.  There were vans, trucks, some taxis, but not many private cars.  Sugar cane flourished as the main crop here on the fertile coastal plain, standing tall in lush fields.  The fields were backed in the purple haze by impressive hills with small bungalow houses dotting the landscape, serviced every few kilometres by small heavily fortified general stores looking like medieval fortresses.  “No driving to the supermarket here to stock up on provisions,” I commented. “”Corner stores are still in business.”  We noticed the numerous small narrow gauge railway tracks that crisscrossed the land to carry the harvested sugarcane.

 

Leaving the industrial port of Lautoka, we drove thirty kilometres back to Nadi, located nine kilometres beyond the airport.  At 4.00 PM we fought heavy traffic in town.  Signs of the distinctive Indian presence appeared in Shiva temples, private Indian high schools and ubiquitous Indian restaurants. I noticed all stores were built one large step above the ground, possibly to prevent flooding in heavy rains. “No wheelchair access here,” I joked, “but the shopkeepers will be happy to help us.” Richard openly smiled and admired lithe beautiful young Indian girls walking the main street. We decided to eat at the Dragon Palace, which also served Indian curries.  Heavy bars and screens protected this eating-place like Fort Knox.  An elderly Chinese man admitted us, helping Richard pull the wheelchair backwards up the step, then he locked the door and steel grate, locking us in. “Been here twenty years,” he told us in broken English.  “From Hong Kong. Three children grown, girl receptionist, boys are electricians.  This place ok.”  While we waited for chicken paulau and beef curry, and a king brown Fiji Export, men hammered on the door.  Single cigarettes were sold. I understood now why he locked the door.  These Fijians had no money.  “Tourism very bad since start of war,” the man lamented to the empty restaurant.

 

Leaving at 7.00 PM, we saw that night had fallen and larger stores had posted all night security guards standing outside their doors.  Our car was parked on a dark stretch of road, near a bus stop with two large Fijians.  “Buela, can we help.  This is very bad place.  Many bad people found here.  You get robbed quickly. We are villagers planting cassava.”  I was nervous, thinking, “Are you the bad people intending to rob us?”  As always happens when rushed and stressed, I got stuck trying to transfer from the wheelchair to the car.  At last, we got away safely, thanking our unwelcome help. 

 

Reaching the resort, Richard chatted with Saki, a policeman assigned to resort protection. He carried a heavy steel truncheon.  “Only soldiers, special police have guns.  Bad people use knives and machetes.  I have a very dangerous job.  I caught three young men breaking into a villa two months ago.  Hit them hard with club, called for more police.”  It became apparent that Saki was a little drunk.  “Ok, grog not spirits. Don’t tell boss or girls.”  As if it mattered since many of the other staff were drinking too.  “Heart of darkness,” I commented thinking of Joseph Conrad. “The veneer of civilization is thin.”  Saki told us being a policeman was a good job.  “We sit in post and play guitar and sing.  Singers make $7.00 per hour in the big resorts and all police wish to be singers.  We wait for call about burglary then go out.  We test for drinking by having offender blow on wrist, and we smell breath.”

 

Saki invited Richard to a church service in his nearby village at 10.30 Sunday mornings.  “Lots of food, drink, we have big party.  Bring your friend in a wheelchair.”  “Should we go?” Richard asked me.  Some bad experiences while travelling made me cautious.  I remembered being conned of traveller checks in Bombay, India in 1975 on a six-month overland backpacking trip from Canada to Australia.  I remembered staying in a backpackers hut in beautiful Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia in 1978 and awaking to find my wallet stolen.  One must be wary when abroad.  “Check out this man at reception.  See what the hotel suggests.” Richard did so.  “He’s been here seven years and is reliable,” Richard reported.  “The receptionist said not to take you.  They are evangelical and will try to perform a service to make your friend walk again.  They’ll be tipsy, and may turn nasty if your friend refuses.”  I urged Richard to attend but elected to stay in the resort.  After a polar bear nightcap, Richard undressed me for bed, then left to prowl the resort.

 

Sunday 27 April Visit to a Fijian Native Village

 

We enjoyed a 9.00 AM Sunday buffet overlooking the sea. Dean Martin again crooned boringly in the background. “What about Fijian music,” I thought.  Richard left at 10.30 AM with Saki to visit his village.  The villagers are all huge muscular men and Richard felt nervous eying cane machetes against Saki’s small simple cottage, which was the size of our hotel room.  Richard was introduced to the family in a simple one-room hut divided into function areas but lacking furniture other than bunk beds.  Saki lived with his wife, son, his son’s wife and two grandchildren.  “We have 500 people in this village, and have a church but not a school. If we sent a local member to be a politician, we would get a school. We pool all our money and the village provides food, houses and possessions.  If we want something we request it from the village council.  I earn $1.00 per hour as a security guard, $2.50 as a policeman.  Money all goes to the village and an increase in wages helps the village, not me.  Money is not important to us and we don’t need it to live. We grow and catch all our food.   We don’t rush and we don’t worry about time or money here.” 

 

Listening to this report, I later thought cynically, “Sure, money doesn’t matter.  That’s why you asked Richard for Kava then later requested $5.00 for cigarettes and asked Richard to come back to visit and to eat again the following day.  I suspect that Richard’s money doesn’t go to the village.  This is a little example of Fijian entrepreneurship, a small tourist business and a classic illustration of Leon Festinger’s (1954) theory of cognitive dissonance.  Money is so important that you cognitively reduce the real anguish of not having it by convincing yourself that it is unnecessary. Fijians are performing their own cognitive therapy here.”

 

Richard sat on the floor eating a special meal of the best the village could offer. The food was served on the floor using hands to eat, traditionally Fijian style, a small piece of steamed fish and large serve of a locally grown soft white vegetable.  Only salt and vinegar had been purchased. They served kava juice, a special Fiji drink that Richard for $10.00 had bought at Saki’s polite request from an Indian shopkeeper.

 

[Your head is affected most pleasantly. Thoughts come cleanly.
You feel friendly...never cross...You cannot hate with kava in you."
-Tom Harrison, Savage Civilization, 1937]

 

Villagers spoke good English due to a special government-retaining programme.  “We are forbidden to drink on Sunday, “but since you bought kava, we drink to relax and dream.” 

 

Richard was told that men provide food, meat and fish and plant vegetables.  Land is shared in common.  Saki told Richard, “Women care for children and tidy house. The old are respected, sweep outside and care for flowers.  Grand children must respect the old.  We don’t own a boat.  The village has a net and all villagers tie it to their waist and swim in the sea for twelve hours.  The net is designed so we don’t get pulled under and drown.”  Kids giggled seeing the digital camera.  They had never seen a digital camera or computer before. They shouted and touched Richard and seemed to him to be undisciplined.  Larger bosomed older girls stayed outside the house and were not introduced.  They asked, “Are you married? How many wives do you have?”  Richard said, “Girls are beautiful.  Could I make love to one?”  This strange request was ignored.  Asking about education, Richard learned that primary school commenced at seven years of age and was free. High schools charged, so villages selected only their brightest most motivated youth to continue their schooling.   .

 

At 2.00 PM, Richard returned from the village disappointed at his failure to meet eligible young women.  “I won’t go back there, not unless I could talk to the girls.  The kids are feral. I felt uncomfortable and when Saki asked for gifts I was afraid to refuse.  The adults drink non-stop.”   Ironically, after Richard’s criticism of their drinking habits, we enjoyed a beer at the bar.  Ralph introduced himself.  “I’m from Carson City, Nevada, formerly, Santa Cruz, California, an ex-Pan American pilot, and now one of the private investors in First Landing.  I live here most of the year.  My wife has polio and is confined to a wheelchair.  I designed the toilet access properly; seat placed perfectly, good shower access in a wheelchair, quality equipment, high water pressure, and temperature control. It’s the only hotel with correct disabled access in Fiji.  We have two rooms 207 at the back and yours, a new room on the ocean.”  I could only agree the bathroom and spa were the best I’ve ever seen in a hotel, equal to my own but higher in water pressure. 

 

“How’s tourism?” I asked.  Ralph replied “Speight’s 59 days of terror killed the economy for years.  The clothing industry never recovered as people fled the country and employment is still down.  We delayed our resort expansion plans due to start the day of the coup until now.  The bank understood.   Then, the American tourism business was hamstrung by the September 11th   terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre, and crippled by the Iraqi war.  We’ve been hit hard.  Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) is hurting us badly now and the resort is only 20% full.  Americans aren’t flying and Air Canada, United Airlines and American Airlines are in liquidation.”  “Investing in resorts is a risky business,” I active listened like the counsellor I am, but really thought to myself, “but with Australian prices and nearly free labour, the returns must be enormous compared to other resorts in western countries.” 

 

“Why the crime?” I asked.  “When people are poor they steal,” Ralph replied presciently.  “Seven years ago, there was no crime.  Chiefs ran strong benevolent socialist dictatorships.  Teenagers were kept in the villages.  Now there’s no jobs, no money, no hope for the young to gain a career.  They sneak out and steal what they want at night with their machetes.  Penalties are relatively light, robbery with violence that would fetch ten years in Australia are punished by a year here.  Police are limited to short truncheons; criminals rob with impunity with machetes.”   

 

I asked about expansion.  “We’re planning a series of villas directly on the shore backed by a second series of two story villas.  We’ll add numerous private swimming pools, lawns, fences and BBQs making villas into luxury private homes on the sea front.”

 

Leaving the bar and Ralph, I then talked to a friendly young biochemist with his wife and two charming young children at the pool.  “You’re legs broke?” Ben, the five-year-old boy asked, eyes glistening from his pool swim.  “Yes,” I lied.  “I’ll be better soon.   Where are you from?”  “Lautoka,” came the Australian accented boy. I then spoke to the dad, originally from Melbourne. Dad worked in the sugar refinery and brewery, “a quite small operation,” he said, “that presents me a pleasurable variety of work and challenges.  We export 50% of Bounty rum overseas but not to Australia. Much is relabelled, repackaged for overseas. Carleton Breweries, Fiji is a subsidy of Carleton Breweries, Australia, and they own the refinery and bring in skilled technicians.  I worked in Perth for Matilda Bay Brewery in Mosman Park, then was transferred back to Melbourne and Fiji.”  “I live in Peppermint Grove only three kilometres away,” I exclaimed.  “Yes, before that we ran pub brewing at the Sail and Anchor and Norfolk Pubs in Fremantle.  I lived in Fremantle, and would like to go back, but we’re enjoying Fiji.” The biochemist headed off to catch is family.

 

We wandered the grounds checking out other accommodation, cabins and villa, noting that most cabins were new and empty. Next, we attended the hotel supper under the clouds, a tender very tasty South Pacific fish. At dinner, Richard confined his sadness to me.  “No women here, only tourist couples and all the hotel staff leave by bus at night.  This place is dead and I’m bored and ready to move on right now.”  “Not having much excitement, Richard,” I active listened, but, irritated, thought analytical assessments to myself, “This resort seems fine to me but I’m not intent on hustling women.  When would Richard get another chance to stay in a tropical paradise? Here’s an example of someone unable to internalise a truly positive event and make themselves happy with positive thoughts by focussing on advantages instead of disadvantages.  They see fortunate events as once off and temporary.”  I ruminated on to myself,   “I know Richard has a history of depression in his background and what I’m seeing is how it stems from a learned cognitive style of pessimistic beliefs, not from some chemical imbalance”.  We both had an early night.

 

Monday 28 April A Day at First Landing

 

Dreaded two hour BT procedures commenced at 6.00 but went smoothly in the spacious well-equipped room, fine powerful shower jets were tingling my skin.  Breakfast buffet was tasty, the breakfast setting placid, the sea millpond quiet, the sky leaden, air still and birds chirping from the trees. Mercifully, Dean Martin had left.

 

As I typed sitting under a shady tree near the pool in the humid Fiji breeze, Richard had Fiji revenge, a bad case of the runs, which soiled his pants.  “Food at the village yesterday doesn’t agree with me,” he said.  Then Richard took the Echo for a drive.  He stopped at a fortified Indian store and looked around.  “$1.20 for a coke, by golly these are all Australian prices,” Richard thought. The Indian shopkeeper was friendly and introduced a pretty fifteen-year-old girl who spoke fluent English.  “I sent her and my wife to Seattle, United States for a holiday and they have just returned,” the Indian storekeeper told Richard.   It was apparent that Indian entrepreneurs earned Western wealth and lived a European lifestyle.

 

On hearing Richard’s story, I wondered, “How would I feel as a Fijian earning $1.00 an hour towards the wealthy new Indian interlopers with their Hindu or Moslem religion, Hindi language, Indian food and education, who own the neighbouring fortified stores? Would I harbour a grudge having to pay them Western prices for essential products while I earned a miniscule Fijian salary?”  No wonder Indian shops were fortresses and were looted during the coup, as were private homes of anyone with wealth.” 

 

On his drive, Richard noticed that houses at the roadside burnt rubbish, as there was no garbage collection.  He saw many Fijian men walking, sleeping or chatting aimlessly in the country.  People seemed to have nothing to do.  Employment was an issue here.

 

I read Wilbur Smith and slept away the afternoon. Richard wasn’t back at 5.30 when I awakened.  I felt pleased being able to sit myself upright in the bed without a gooseneck with twenty minutes of flinging, rolling and effort.  “Don’t go down that path of thinking what things were like before the accident,” I warned myself. “Focus on your success right now and praise yourself.”  I placed the transfer board correctly between bed and wheelchair.  The incline from the bed to the wheel chair cushion was too steep for my limited strength and I couldn’t push myself up it to the wheelchair. “Trapped on the bed,” I thought, “There may be a fire and this hut is all wooden.  None know I’m here and I can’t get into the wheelchair to get out. This is a catastrophe.  Richard might have an accident in the car and not return.”  I felt a little uneasy as a product of these classical anxiety-provoking thoughts, but I recognised these beliefs for what they are, unhelpful. Now was the time for disputing erroneous thoughts based on factual evidence.  “Be calm,” I counselled myself.  “Relax.  Go back to sleep.  Richard’s got a good track record in driving and will return soon, safely and this place is highly unlikely to catch fire. Anyways, there’s scores of staff and other guests who would hear you call out and quickly help you.”  My new belief was,   “I’m fine.”  I relaxed and rested 100% confident in my safety.

 

 Richard, restless, had driven ten kilometres to Lautoka and was back at 6.00 pm with his news.  He quickly pulled me into my wheelchair, and we had a bout with a polar bear. He drank and said, “There’s loads of private fee-paying vocational schools advertised there, programmes for security guard, waitress, receptionist, computing, hospitality, accountancy courses and so on.  I saw hundreds of the high school kids that were walking home in groups with packsacks at 3.45 pm, all wearing white uniforms.  I felt uncomfortable in Lautoka.  Everyone stared at me as I wandered through city stores for an hour. I passed a few thousand Fijians after struggling for parking and paying my parking meter 40 cents for an hour. There were rafts of parking agents looking for violations.” 

 

Richard thought, drank and then continued.   “Everything was available for purchase, in Lautoka, mostly Australian products such as TVs, and vacuum cleaners but at high prices.   There are no whites around at all.  I hate the way they hassled me to buy.  The markets were huge, filled with vegetables at below Australian prices.  The supermarkets were very small and simple.  I found diet coke at last, two litres for two dollars but chicken was costly.  Shops may be closed afternoons and open in the evenings. That’s when shopping occurs.”

 

Richard poured another polar bear and added, “I looked for service industries, beauticians, exercise clubs, nightlife, nothing, no massage parlours, brothels, social clubs, night clubs, nothing at all to be spotted. I was really disappointed.  Maybe the wealthy use the resorts. I got hot looking at a beautiful Indian girl but there was no action.  I bought Indian take-away for tea from a large Indian restaurant.  Everyone is crowded and rushes in the city, unlike the slow country pace yesterday at the village. People are taught to work hard and be efficient.  I noticed that it took hours for the shopkeepers to close all their screens and locks.  I enjoyed a beautiful promenade along the beach before my drive back.”

 

We enjoyed two more sessions wrestling polar bears, consumed Richard’s spicy tasty Indian takeaway and I was pleased to avoid the one-hour wait and $70.00 combined fee, for the resort meal.  We’d found service snail slow between orders to the waitress, and the meal arriving, characteristic of the hotel restaurant. “It’s their technique to sell more drinks,” I concluded to myself.  Bedtime was early in preparation for tomorrow’s eight-hour return trip to Suva, the capital city. “Be careful,” we were warned by Ralph, the American investor, “There’s a very high crime rate there.”  Richard departed for a walk around the resort, returning to say disgustedly, “This place has filled with drunken Germans who can’t speak English.”  He added that the receptionist had advised, “Take the southern road to Suva and back.  Don’t try to circumnavigate the island in one day as the eastern road is gravel and full of potholes that slow you to a crawl.”

 

I awoke at 2.00 am when a violent leg spasm upset my urine bottle and wet my sheet.  This is a frequent occurrence in any quadriplegic’s life and the life of their carers.  I’ve found it important to avoid thinking anger and anxiety provoking thoughts, “This is a catastrophe.  I can’t stand it.  I must be changed now.” These beliefs are a quick formula for a divorce.  Instead, I try to minimize adversity by ignoring the bad event, saying, “it doesn’t matter, it’s inevitable.” I don’t relax and think, “Not a good thought, Don.  Making bad events permanent makes one depressed.  Make the adversity small, specific and temporary. As Edward DeBono advocates, think laterally of a solution.”  I think, “Well, the accident might never reoccur if I use a longer towel to tie down the bottle.”  Suddenly an inspiration hits. “Why don’t I strap the bottle with Velcro to my more stable right leg.  Then when I spasm and move the bottle is still secure.  I’ve never tried that.  What a brilliant idea. I’ll try that tomorrow.”  I sleep on wet sheets feeling happy and excited, reminding myself of the positives, “At least I can’t feel them due to my paralysis,” and thinking, “I’m so clever. This spillage won’t happen again.” [Richard and I used this idea for the remainder of the trip with a nearly hundred percent success rate, no more accidents.  The downside towards the end of the trip was a badly swollen leg which I now know was caused by phlebitis from the tightly secured night strap.]

 

Tuesday, 29 April Lautoka to Suva Return by Car

 

We were both up after a poor night’s sleep at 4.00 am.  BTs consumed two hours, and then we finished the buffet breakfast alone in the open-air restaurant, listening to natural tropical birdcalls, much preferred to resort CDs.  I transferred into the car for the 200 kilometres, four-hour drive to Suva, and the capital of Fiji.  The national highway of Fiji has eighty kilometres per hour set as top speed but many buses and trucks advertise sixty as their top speed.  Sixty is a sane speed, although fifty is the official speed, reinforced by twenty kilometre speed bumps in the thirty odd villages along the route.  The highway winds as sinuous as a belly dancer through steep hills reducing speeds to thirty kilometres per hour but highway construction overall is good: reasonable width, well sign posted, white lines clearly painted, all potholes filled, and the occasional passing lanes and bus pull-offs. 

 

There are areas of danger. The highway is the main pedestrian way in the villages not only for adults, teenagers, and unsupervised toddlers, but also for herds of unfenced horses, cows, goats, pigs, chickens, ducks and mongrel dogs.  In the villages, roadside stalls sell fresh fish, tropical fruit, vegetable produce, and seashells and buyers back onto the road.  Fijians all see empty cars as fair game for lifts and everyone in the villages runs out on the road to flag you and beg you to stop. “Hitch hiking is a way of life here,” I commented.  Fijian drivers ignore rules, speed and frequently overtake in blind corners, ignoring double white lines. You may find a vehicle in your lane as you round a corner, but slower speeds allow some element of avoidance.  Alcohol ads are prevalent as are signs urging drivers to drink responsibly. Alcohol abuse and unregulated consumption of the cheap Kava relaxant are road threats in a country without machines for breath testing. White crosses warn drivers of the locations of tragic accidents.

 

The drive is scenic from the hills, with sweeping views of pine plantation, sugar cane and farm country, and with numerous vistas of the widespread ocean, the white surf roaring and pounding sand beaches and palm trees bending like accordions in ocean winds.  There is an anthropological curiosity attached to the villages some with thatch constructed buildings, carved posts, children running unchecked and primitive farming methods such as oxen pulling the plough.  There are numerous luxury tourist resorts sprinkled like oases along the road, monuments to western wealth with immaculate lawns, tennis courts, and stately buildings. I said, “My agent warned me that most Fiji resorts are costly and now I see proof.”  The logo of one caught my eye, “Nomads of the Wind and the Surf.”  Backpacking and dive shop accommodation was in the minority but available.  Only one small hotel advertised Fijian ownership.  Clearly, resorts kept the tourists within their borders, and kept the profits for overseas investors.  Fijians are employed cheaply for labour, but unlike Bali, Puket or Penang, Fijians do not run entrepreneurial cut-rate restaurants near the resorts.  They don’t share in the real wealth.

 

Listening to a religious broadcast station, seeing numerous Bible College and evangelical ads, looking at churches in every village, and viewing mosques, and Hindu temples in the towns, I reflected, “Richard really has come to the wrong place to pick up women. Fijian people are modest, devout, and very careful in their dress and expressions of sexuality; no nudist beaches, no public kissing, no bordellos. Sex is not used in advertising here; there are no pretty women in bathing suits in billboard ads. Richard needs to take care with his advances.”  In a newscast that followed, a prison sentence was announced for an offender who had exposed himself to a woman in public.  “That wouldn’t happen in Australia,” I thought. “There are different morals here.”

 

 Reaching Suva was like reaching a tiny Sydney. Traffic jams predominated, fifteen and twenty storey buildings loomed, and expensive brand name goods filled franchise shops, crystal, and wedge wood china, and samsonite. KFC, MacDonald and other chain restaurants and Australian franchises like Officeworks occupied the street level of high office blocks. Computer stores and Internet Cafes abounded. We wished to return to our resort before nightfall, and already it was 1.00 pm.  Richard pushed my wheelchair. Sidewalks were civilized with ramps and pedestrian walk lights. Some stores were accessible, but many possessed a single large step. A quick chicken and beef chow mien and two Fiji Export cost $17.00 and left enough take away for our evening meal. We enjoyed a Cappuccino at The Republic of Cappuccino, a Suva coffee shop chain. Returning to the car at 2.00 pm, we viewed the parliament buildings with its rows of palm trees, and then drove past rusting ships anchored in the harbour.  “Ships,” Richard exclaimed excitedly. “That means seamen, hot women, bordellos, night life, action and a good time.  I like this city.  I wish we had stayed here two days, instead of the boring resort.”  ”That’s a familiar refrain,” I thought and reflected to myself on a different theme, “What would the unpaid villagers think of this capital with its western lifestyle and prices?  I suspect they might only visit it every decade. For them, a trip to Suva would be the trip of a lifetime.  It would be for them a bit like my trip to Tokyo in 1991, where the taxi fare from Narita Airport to downtown Sinjinuku was $200.00.”

 

Heavy tropical rain drenched the car throughout our trip back to the resort limiting photo opportunities.  Richard drove non-stop from 3.00 to 7.00 pm in heavy rain, with me cautioning him to slow down occasionally.  After dusk at 6.30 PM we trailed a large timber truck overflowing with logs.  I worried that one might fall off and hit the car and didn’t try to refute my belief with evidence that this was unlikely to occur. I was too spent to play mind games. To my relief we reached the resort safely, fought polar bears, consumed our takeaway luncheon meal for evening tea, and went to bed exhausted.  We did strap my troublesome leg and we did try out the new bottle idea.  I slept soundly, and awoke dry in the morning.  The new technique had worked.

 

Wednesday 30 April. A Rest Day

 

Richard expertly managed two hours of BTs. Bad back or not; Richard knows the routine and does it smoothly.  The procedure was in our wonderfully equipped bathroom, and a tingly hot shower followed.  It allowed us a late 9.30 AM breakfast, followed by a morning for me at the resort pool.  Richard slept on a hammock. “First time in my life,” he told me at lunch. He asked me,   “Did you really sleep in hammocks as an officer cadet on board ship in the Canadian Naval Reserve?”  “Yes, Richard,” I’d recalled, “in the mess hall.  We’d roll them up and make the room useful for dining and recreation in the day.  We couldn’t sleep in daytime, but stood four-hour navigational watches at night. I’ve never been so tired.  I hated the sea and puked incessantly. What an irony, Richard,” I added. “I’d joined the navy to learn the skills to sail a yacht around the world.  That’s a goal which I didn’t mind losing when I became a quadriplegic.” 

 

I continued to meditate to myself silently, thinking,   “What I really got from the navy was succeeding in the face of physical and academic challenge.  Many cadets quit, having a low tolerance for frustration, unable to handle the unending discipline, the sleep deprivation, exams, long enforced runs, and being continually hazed by the officers. Graduating as a commissioned officer was like leaping a hurdle in a race, just one of many in my life, not as important as graduating from university, or succeeding as a high school teacher. Yet meeting challenges and beating them helped to build my esteem and confidence to clear the highest hurdle in the race, the hurdle of quadriplegia.” 

 

I then gazed at a calm sea that wouldn’t upset any stomach. I felt appreciation for being on terra firma, I watched the boats on the horizon, but did not wish to be there.  I absorbed a satisfying awareness of being, of the present, of being at peace.  I felt and loved the caress of a gentle tropical breeze, heard the gentle lap of waves and melodious twits of birds and felt excited at the prospect of writing on my laptop all afternoon.  This, for me, was living. Fiji was paradise and I loved my visit, the climate, this wonderful resort and the people. Richard departed and drove to Lautoka to save on a $75.00 resort laundry bill and to keep busy.  Richard can’t sit still for any length of time.

 

A visit by an Indian accountant interrupted my reveries and made me wonder to myself, “Why do Indians here have the privileged positions?”  She asked me a question,   “Do you want to check out at 10.00 am tomorrow or extend until 5.00 pm, at $167.50, half the room rate posted for 302, of $325.00.” I promised an answer tomorrow morning but negotiated $75.00 for a room extension.  I contemplated on having paid $900.00 for our lovely six-day sojourn.  I’d booked in September 2002 and 302, our room and the others with ocean frontage, were built in early 2003, this year.  The other room for handicapped clients, 207, was older, with access ramps, and was well away from the water, hidden at the back of the resort.  It was far from the dining rooms, in insect filled thickets.  I told Richard excitedly, “They’ve upgraded our accommodation, free, to the ocean view of room 302, probably because of low numbers and the need to renovate 207.  What incredibly good luck. I remember when I paid $2000.00 to stay at the Radisson Hotel for a week in a small room, lacking a disabled equipped bathroom, in Noumea, New Caledonia in 2000. No ocean views there.”  Recalling my good fortune made me feel good all the rest of the day thinking, “I’m always a really lucky person and I plan and negotiate expertly.”  As Seligman (1997) points out, optimists see good events as general rather than once off, ongoing instead of temporary and take the credit for themselves.  That’s me.

 

As I closed my laptop, Richard returned at 6.00 pm, wearing a lugubeous expression.  He had bought large servings of Indian curried food and king brown Fiji Export for $7.50 each. We eat and drank our fill of the spicy food, throwing much away. Refreshed, I asked him to tell me about his trip.

 

“It took me forty minutes driving back streets to find the laundry,” Richard said, “a laundry, not coin wash Laundromat, and they wanted $25.00.  I suggested twenty dollars and they ignored me.  I fought to get a 5.00 pm completion date.”  Richard drank beer and added,   “I filled in three hours wandering the city looking for take-away.  The rain poured down in buckets for an hour. There’s no restaurants, coffee or cake shops. Everything is small, ugly, covered with flies, and filled with cigarette smoke. I found the humidity, pollution and smog from diesels intolerable. Everyone greets me and tries to talk. One guy wanted my shoes. It’s draining.  I met only one white couple.”  I empathised and recalled a similar experience during my circumnavigation of India for a month in 1976, and again for six weeks with my wife Lily in the mid-80s.

 

Richard continued his story as we switched to bourbon and coke. “There’s rusty fenced off engineering works everywhere and no place nice to go.  On the beachfront, homeless vagrants, drinking Kava, accosted me. I talked to a few people and took photographs in the largest market. It sold only fish and vegetables. I was warned not to give my camera to any one, as they would run off with it. As I drove, I learned that Fijian drivers all proceeded through red lights when the way was clear.  They blew their horns cacophonously and continuously, when I stopped and waited for a green light.  I wished I were back at the resort and I couldn’t wait to get the laundry and return here.”

 

We prepared for bed early, in preparation for a thirteen-hour flight across the International Date Line to Los Angeles tomorrow.  In irate pique Richard uttered a final tirade.  “I hate Fiji. I detest the humid heat, which makes me feel lethargic and ill.  I feel nervous being the only white person amongst people who are so tall and heavily built.  It’s impossible for me to assimilate here, as I would always feel marginal and outside their culture. I’m bored and sick of the lack of action with women. I’m really pleased to see the last of Fiji and I never want to return.”  I thought of Seligman’s analysis of the attributional cognitive style of a pessimist, someone who sees adversities as general or pervasive, rather than specific, hating Fiji, not a specific event, disliking the humidity rather than the humid weather in Lautoka this afternoon, disliking the people and culture rather than a particular person, being bored all the time rather than today.  Pessimists also see adversities as permanent rather than temporary, i.e. it’s impossible to assimilate or I never want to return.  Pessimistic thoughts lead to anger, sadness, sense of hopelessness, and a willingness to quit or flee.  Kids learn pessimistic thinking from their parents saying pervasive statements like “you never do any work, you’re hopeless, and you’re always in the way.” Being aware of your pessimistic thinking, disputing it, and reframing beliefs optimistically is the way to a happier lifestyle.

 

Thursday 1 May   Flight to Los Angeles

 

The last day prior to leaving is a day of packing, planning and anticipation.  After our morning buffet, I spent three hours near the pool. At 1.00, Richard and I decided to drive the highway east of Lautoka.  The road is less well maintained than the Lautoka-Suva link and after thirty minutes of potholes, we turned back, and reached the hotel at 2.30.  As we drove into the hotel, he grew angry because his friend Saki, the security guard, turned his back to Richard.  This was odd behaviour in a luxury resort where staff is obsequious; Richard explained the behaviour in a vitriolic diatribe.  “You can’t trust Asians. When they think they can’t use you up any more, they stab you in the back.  They are the most racist people on earth.”  I saw the irony of Richard’s explanation, and noted its fit into the pessimistic model of attribution by being both pervasive and permanent. Many of Richards’s explanations of adversities, I was finding, were pessimistic in nature.  Apparently, Richard had encouraged Saki to bring some girls back to the resort and Saki had taken umbrage.

 

I rested two hours, settled by hotel bill, and as sunset coloured the South Pacific waters, we headed off to Nadi airport.  The rental car was refuelled at $1.30 a litre and returned to Thrifty Rentals by 7.00 PM.  Baggage was checked and we waited three hours in a crowded gate for the 10.45 PM flight to Los Angeles, witnessing a little girl vomit copiously into a waste bin, then scream for twenty minutes.  I was pleased to get on the Air New Zealand Boeing 767-300 flight. For long flights I guard against pressure sores by sitting on my $700.00 roho pressure relief cushion, which I always use on my wheelchair.  The four centimetre height of this rubberised air filled cushion, combined with my nearly two metre hight causes my head to be well above the seat, forcing me to sit upright and stay awake all night, while others slept.  I was exhausted by morning.

 

Friday 1 May Los Angeles

 

Having crossed the International Dateline, we had added a day.  Reaching the Los Angeles Airport after a ten hour flight at 2.30 PM, I was lifted into my wheelchair at the Air Bridge and abandoned by the airport staff.  Richard commented, “This seems to be the American capitalist approach, save as much money as possible by minimal service, a sink or swim policy.  I’ve heard of Polish refugees arriving in the United States, where they shook the refugees hand in welcome, then abandoned them to take care of themselves.”  In most countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada airport staff assists disabled clients to get their baggage and expedite their transit rapidly through customs and immigration to the front door of arrivals.  This did not occur in Los Angeles or Las Vegas.  We found a lift down to baggage, and then joined queues, like everyone else. Being last off the plane made us last in the queues, requiring an hour wait.  I pushed my wheelchair with laptop and hand luggage, my transfer board hanging from the back of the chair.  Richard dragged two suitcases on wheels with extended handles. 

 

I remembered my last experience getting a taxi at Los Angeles airport in 1999, when I was with Lily Auld.  Taxi drivers, seeing the wheelchair, refused to carry us. They said, “Get a wheelchair cab.  We don’t do wheelchairs.”  Eventually, we offered a $20.00 US tip and got a cab.

 

Emerging, at last, from the airport, I ordered a wheelchair cab, through the cab manager, which to our relief arrived promptly, and within ten minutes we reached the Quality Hotel on Century Blvd.  I had chosen this hotel for its low Internet rate at $116.00 Australian per night, booked via Lastminute.com, a discount hotel service.  I was pleased that my rate was $60.00 below the posted rate, but was sad to see an unusable bathroom.  We wandered near the hotel, noting window bars and security cameras on some of these American homes.  By 7.00 PM I turned in, skipping supper, an early night to get up at 5.00 AM tomorrow to catch the 11.50 AM Las Vegas flight. 

 

Saturday 2 May Las Vegas Adventure

 

As Richard pessimistically commented, “Airline flights are both boring and exhausting.  I see why personalities quickly weary of air travel.” BTs used two hours, from 5.30 to 7.30 AM without the benefit of a shower, since the bathroom only contained a tub, not wheel-in shower.  By 8.00 AM we checked out, and caught a taxi to the airport. After ticketing our bags, we experienced the American security check procedure.  United States was once slack in its security, but after four planes were hijacked and crashed into the World Trade Centre and Pentagon simultaneously on September 11th, 2001, it is now one of the most thorough security checks in the world. “Look,” Richard said, “Everyone is being checked, even airline captains.” After x-raying, in a gigantic machine, which spits suitcases out as if they were weightless, my bag was comprehensively searched by hand and chemical tests were performed on swabs by some complex looking machine.  This operation consumed half an hour, or more while we waited anxiously.  Then, passing through personal security, my shoes were taken off and checked for concealed explosives.  Security checks held us up an hour. By 10.00 AM we reached the departure room to catch the forty-five minute United Airlines Boeing 737 flight to Las Vegas.

 

The flight was packed.  We noted the proximity of Los Angeles to the snow capped Rocky Mountains, and then experienced turbulence as we approached Las Vegas, population of four million people.  We arrived at 2.30 PM. United Airlines abandoned us to find our way to a lift to fetch our luggage, down another lift, and then to catch a rapid transit train to the main airport, where we got a taxi to our hotel. The ride on six and eight lane roads illustrated the large size of Las Vegas resorts, each occupying an entire city block.  “You can spend an entire week exploring one theme hotel, without needing to go outside,” our cab driver told us, “And there are hundreds of hotels with different themes, Egyptian, Roman, Star-trek and so on.”   We saw that it’s not easy to walk from one resort to another because of their immense size and we observed that a rapid transit skyway system was provided.  Our hotel was Circus Circus.  I had booked a theme Las Vegas hotel through Lastminute.com for $200.00 with two buffet dinners thrown in.  The list price, posted on our room door, for the room was Circus Circus Las Vegas a door sign asking a whopping $1400.00 per night, for a comfortable but standard room with wheel-in shower, on the sixteenth floor.  Lastminute.com was giving me excellent hotel rates with the downside being payment in full at the time of booking.

 

[OVERALL PHOTOS HERE]

 

I spoke to a bellhop, following a quick registration, notable for a hotel with 4,000 rooms, the fifth largest ion the world.  “This hotel is the second largest in Vegas,” he told me. “MGM with 6,000 rooms is larger, but next year Excalibur with 8,000 rooms will be largest in the world after they complete construction.  There’s competition here to be the biggest hotel.”  Richard and I relaxed with a polar bear in our comfortable room done out in a circus theme.  Then we explored Adventure Dome, a complete amusement park in a twenty-storey high red tinted glass enclosure, which even included a roller coaster, the only indoor one on earth.  There was every type of ride, normally found in a fair, from water slides to merry-go-round.  Most interesting was an interactive virtual reality game, which had participants shouting, waving their arms and laughing.

 

Leaving the Adventure Dome, we walked for ten minutes to the free circus display offered by the hotel.  It occurs for ten or fifteen minutes every hour and features some of the earth’s best and most skilled performers.  We watched a skipping rope routine in which performers, balancing three high, on each other’s shoulders, were jumping a rope.  In another balancing routine, an acrobat on a narrow board held by two muscular men on their shoulders, was thrown five metres into the air, completed numerous flips and landed again agilely on the board.  We wandered through the immense casino, one of a number in the building.  The buffet hall was immense, with colour coded waitresses and radios used to guide us to our section.  Richard with his usual lack of directional sense lost the location of the table, after going to fetch food.  “It’s over here, somewhere, I think.”  The meal offered a large range of basic American foods, ham, beef, turkey, salads, large drinks counter and comprehensive sweets.  Overwhelming really.  Stuffed, I retired to our room to relax at 10.00 PM.

 

Sunday 3 May Vancouver

 

Our flight from Las Vegas to Los Angeles left at 10.30 AM, requiring a 5.00 AM start. Richard showered me, and packed, and we checked out quickly by 7.15 AM, reaching the airport by 8.00 AM after a pleasant early morning taxi ride. I find I transfer easily into American taxis because of their larger size, and from driving myself in Australia; I’m good at right hand transfers.  With baggage checked through to Vancouver, we then took the fast transit trip to another terminal, and then spent an ten minutes in hand baggage and personal security procedures, including the shoe explosive check.  We had time for a Starbuck Coffee and Apple Danish, before boarding the United Airlines to Los Angeles.  The forty-five minute flight to Los Angeles was full and uneventful and we arrived by 12.00 AM.  United abandoned us on the air bridge, to find our way down a lift, down a long departure hall, and down another lift to get a wheelchair cab to terminal two, international departures.  “The secret,” Richard found, “is to be vocal with questions, to find our way around.”  Fortunately, we had nearly four hours until Air Canada flight 777; a Boeing 757 to Vancouver was to depart.

 

We waited two hours for the flight, allowing time to pick up a bottle of duty free Canadian Club, purchase a paperback, and lunch at Burger King.  The transfer from my wheelchair to the aisle chair was difficult, simply because the male attendant was very weak and was unable to access any assistance.  “There’s nobody but me,” he groaned.  “I got to do this.”  In the aircraft, a high lift over the airline seat was required.  The lift nearly killed him, was uncomfortable and anxiety provoking for me, and required Richard, for the first time on this trip, to risk his back and genuinely lift my heavy legs.  In most transfers, two airport personnel lifted both my legs and under my arms.  I slept the three-hour Air Canada flight to Vancouver, but enjoyed hearing the Canadian bilingual airline instructions. Richard noted, “Look, there’s a group of high school kids from Australia taking part in a Canadian Science Exhibition. Listen to them joking about wallabies in the backpacks.”

 

As we flew into Vancouver, I noticed the cloudy skies and drop in temperature to ten degrees Celsius.  At the airport, the attendant called for assistance, making the lift into the aisle and wheelchair straightforward.  Canadian airport assistance aided us down the lift to baggage and asked politely if he could help us further.  What a contrast to the US airports.

 

Dr George Pugh, my brother and his wife Pat and three children live in Vancouver.  After graduating with a Masters Degree in Electrical Engineering from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, George moved to Vancouver to study medicine.  Steven and Trevor, two of George’s three boys volunteered to pick us up as George was working.  We were dropped off in George’s old Plymouth van at Accent Inn, which Lily and I had utilised in 1999 because of its wheel-in shower and reasonable cost of $80.00 per night.  Richard and I turned in by 9.00 PM after Richard sampled my rye and ginger for the first time in his life.  “Hmm smooth, very nice, I can hardly taste the alcohol,” he evaluated.

 

End of Chapter 3