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Sharing a Coke with Fiji

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The “Share a Coke with (name)” ad campaign hit the US in 2013 and got to Fiji sometime in 2014 (I do remember seeing a “Share a Coke with Santa” last year). Not only is it still going here, I saw a new ad before a film last month that introduced a few different men name Raj (Rajesh, Rajendra, the Raj you know who is good at sports, etc) and suggest you should share soda with them, while showing the personalized Raj bottle. So I guess if the local Coke bottling factory is spending money on movie ads, these bottles will be sticking around a while.

Coke1 While I’ve seen some names that are specific to Fiji and/or the Pacific Islands (like “Mere”, the local spelling of “Mary”),  I do have to wonder if Anita and Gina are from a US or Australian name list. The US version of this campaign has a website for you to see if your name is on a bottle, but I haven’t found such a thing for other countries. I also have no idea how big the name list is in Fiji, but I’ve seen both iTaukei and Indo-Fijian names.

The thing I find more interesting is that many, if not most of the Coke bottles have the word for a type of family member (in both Fijian and Hindi) rather than a personal name.

If nothing else it’s a great way to learn new vocabulary words:

Coke 2Kaka (in the photo above) = Hindi for uncle

Bhaiya = Hindi for brother

Taciqu= Fijian for younger sibling (If you are a woman who says this word, you mean your younger sister; if you are a man, you mean your younger brother. There’s different words for siblings of the opposite gender from you).

Momo = Fijian for uncle

I’m assuming you can figure out “bro”, “mum”and “bestie”…

“Barewa” isn’t in my Fijian dictionary, but online sources suggest it refers to someone cute/pretty that you fancy. I keep meaning to ask someone at work about this one.

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NPR fans may think of Kai Ryssdal, but this actually just means “people”, so I guess “your kai” is like your gang or crew.

Kai

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Yaca” means your namesake, so depending on circumstances, this person could be an adult now, a child, or a recently-named infant (please do not share Cokes with babies, even if they are your namesake).

Yaca

I don’t have a photo of it, but I’ve also seen “your boso”, which is Fijian for “boss”. I’d be very curious to know if the US campaign had that one (I’m assuming they might have had “sister”, “brother”, “mom” and “dad”).

A field guide to the expats of Suva

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So, who are all these itinerant folks lurking about Suva for 1-3 years? While not an exhaustive list, here’s the major archetypes:

1) Peace Corps Volunteers: Usually these folks are fresh out of university, but there are occasionally middle aged to retirement-aged Americans who get accepted as well. They make crap wages (around Fj$16/day) and most of them live in villages far from Suva and only come to Suva for training, R&R leave, or medical treatment. They tend to prefer to hang out with each other or the people in their village communities rather than with other expats, but their lives are so different from most expats that I can’t really fault them for that. You can often spot them because they are dressed sorta like backpackers in clothes that look like they’ve been through hell, except that their clothes are super-modest. If you see a woman who hasn’t had a decent haircut in 6 months wearing a stretched out baggy t-shirt and an ankle length jersey-knit skirt with hiking sandals, 99% likely she’s Peace Corps. They have the second worst job in Fiji (even though most of them seem to love it), so buy them a beer or two if you run into one somehow.

2) AYADs/AVID volunteers – this is an Australian program that (unlike Peace Corps) lets you apply in a specific location for a specific job that uses your skills. Most assignments are a year long and range from health and education projects to doing public relations for local NGOs. While you see a lot of 20-something early career people in Fiji through AVID, there are plenty of people from other age ranges, too. They get a decent living allowance (especially compared to Peace Corps) so while these folks are volunteers, they generally aren’t counting their pennies. You will meet A LOT of these people and most of them are very friendly.

3)USP/ FNU staff – the two universities in Suva hire a lot of expat staff, especially for roles that require academic qualifications not offered in Fiji (thus resulting in a shortage of local candidates who have trained abroad and then returned). These people are often lecturers (aka what Americans would call a college professor/instructor) but there’s loads of expat support staff, curriculum developers, HR people, etc. You would think they would mostly be from Australia/NZ or other Commonwealth countries, but really anyone from anywhere (Africa, Eastern Europe, etc.) who is fluent in English can be hired. Word on the street is that salaries at USP are significantly higher than those of FNU. Beware: if you get too many of them together at a party, the conversation will turn to whose Dean/Head of School/Deputy Vice Chancellor is the worst and other gossip that is not interesting to non- academics.

4) The NGOs – Everyone from the Red Cross and several UN programs (UN women, UNDP, etc) to World Wildlife Fund and Habitat for Humanity has offices here with employees. Confusingly, there are both volunteers and employees at some of these places, and Australian Red Cross works in Fiji even though there’s also a Fiji Red Cross. All I can say about these folks is they generally are smart and know what’s up, many of them have had other expat jobs before this one and they tend to have a lot of work-related travel to exciting places like Kiribati and Nauru.

5) The Business Community – turns out that even a tiny nation like Fiji gets executives transferred from offices abroad. You see transfers mostly in banks, insurance, cellular phone companies, etc. but there are a lot of other Fiji-based industries (the airline now called Fiji Airways that was called Air Pathetic Air Pacific before) with a foreign CEO. These people are almost always male and around 50. If you ever go to any of the numerous charity functions or product launches that happen at the Grand Pacific Hotel, you’ll see these dudes. They make decent money but seem too busy working to actually relax and run away for weekends at the beach.

6) The regional intergovernmental organizations : Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Pacific Islands ForumSPREP, etc. – I’m not entirely sure what these organizations actually do. They seem to hire a lot of consultants and generate a lot of working papers and reports on various issues (energy, health, etc), but I have no idea who reads these reports and what actionable stuff happens afterwards. A few of these orgs seem to have really deep pockets and their employees make high salaries. When I meet these people at parties they seem nice and interesting enough, but  I have learned not to ask them about their jobs, because the explanation of what it is that they do is usually really complex, or really boring, or occasionally both. I’m sure it’s important work even if I can’t understand it. If you have the same experience at a party, don’t say you weren’t warned.

7) The Diplomatic staff – Embassies and High Commissions employ a bunch of people, some of whom make crazy high salaries. Career diplomats get living allowances that include importing all their furniture and a car, even if it’s a left-hand (American) drive vehicle. Tend to have really posh rental homes and probably throw good parties. You’ll meet them at Embassy/ High Comm events (if you can snag an invite). Ask them to tell you stories of where they were posted before, because you’ll probably never meet anyone else who’s lived in Malawi (unless you go there to visit, duh).

8) The Trailing Spouse -yes, everyone hates this term, but everyone understands it, so until “Lifestyle Scientist” catches on, we’re stuck with it. This is the person who uproots themselves to follow their partner to his/her new job/assignment abroad. This is the worst job in Fiji (okay, maybe Peace Corps is slightly worse with the boils and the giardia and all that) because the TS usually can’t find a job here (I know of only 3 that have) and will find Suva even more boring than their working spouse/partner does. While there’s more male TSs now ( I have even met TWO gay male Trailing Spouses here, which is very unusual) than there were even a few decades ago, it’s still largely women who are TSs. If you have kids with you the days are less boring, but there’s only so many opportunities for keeping oneself occupied; ironically, despite all the volunteers in Fiji, it is very difficult to find a volunteer opportunity after you arrive, and then you have to pay full-price for a work permit yourself just to volunteer a few hours a week!  Many  TSs gave up a “real job” back home to follow their partner to Suva, so be really careful before you assume a TS has always been a housewife/househusband. There are a bunch of women’s clubs with mostly TS members, so they tend to meet one another pretty soon after arriving.

Note that this is not a complete list: there are other somewhat plentiful expat types I’m leaving out (missionaries, retirees, investors) because I haven’t met enough of them to draw any conclusions, or because you are unlikely to meet them during your 1-3 years in Suva (I see Mormon missionaries in the grocery store fairly often, but shockingly they never seem to turn up at the coffee shop or GPH’s Happy Hour, so I guess we’ll never strike up a conversation). A large percentage of expats join the Rucksack Club upon arriving, which is a good way to meet other people you might have more in common with than your Fijian co-workers.

An aside: a thing about living in an expat community that makes sense when you think about it, but that I did not anticipate before moving here:  the chief big social get-together is the farewell party. Someone is always leaving, and it rarely seems to happen to two people at the same time (unless they’re a couple). Depending how strapped for time the person leaving is, farewells may be happy hour drinks, a proper house party, or even a weekend away at a resort with a group of friends…or all three. I’m pretty sure I’ve been to more farewell parties here than I have birthday parties. And even though it’s sad when people you’ve gotten to know go back home (or to their next expat assignment), there’s always a new batch of folks coming in a few weeks…..

Some Diwali photos, past and present

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I’ve written about Diwali before; it’s a Hindu holiday where you clean your house, settle your financial accounts, buy new clothes and light fireworks. I mean, there’s more to it than that, but that’s the gist of what everyone else is doing this week. Everyone is dressed up in gorgeous clothes,  celebrating the triumph of light over darkness, and making awesome food. Go read that post for more background.

Since I don’t have much new to add, here are some photos of Diwali celebrations, advertisements and decorations around Suva from 2012 to 2014:

IMG_1526IMG_1524You can buy fireworks at the supermarket here, and they are not terribly expensive. If you come from a place that severely restricts fireworks sales, Fiji during Diwali might be your ideal vacation spot.

Maybe I just watch too many old horror films, but I associate cane knives and pitchforks with angry villagers ganging up to kill Frankenstein’s monster (which makes the ad placement on a page about election result disputes unfortunate given this country’s history of coups). Though the ad is probably just encouraging you to clear the brush from your land when you do your Diwali housecleaning.

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Diwali is a fine time to stock up on god statues. The prices on these advertisments  are written on drawings of diyas, an oil lamp used during Diwali (and other times too, but you’ll see a bunch of them this time of year).

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Roman candles are a good “gateway firework” for the youngsters. Don’t worry, there is an adult (out of frame) supervising the pyrotechnics. There are also warnings in the newspaper reminding people to watch the hems of their clothes around fireworks and diyas.

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Rangoli  made of sand, rice, colored powders or drawn in chalk are often placed in doorways. It can take a while for some expat Americans and Europeans to adjust to the sight of swastikas being displayed as a holy symbol instead of..well, you know. The ones here often have those dots, which helps.

Anyway, happy Diwali to everyone reading this, and happy Deepawali to my favorite readers from South India (ya’ll know who you are.🙂 )

Election time (only a few years late)

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In about 6 weeks, Fiji will have the first national elections since the coup unpleasantness  in 2006. Registered voters will be electing all 50 seats in Parliament at once, on a non-district, at large basis. Every voter gets to choose only one person, and the seats will be awarded by a formula I don’t really understand. It’s not the top 50 vote-getters that get the 50 seats, because that would make sense.

Akbar and Jeff's voter registration hut

Akbar and Jeff’s voter registration hut

 

I’ll try not to get too Nate Silver when explaining this (as far as I understand it, which is not entirely); I get that it’s complex and can get a little boring when we crunch the numbers, but this is important. So try to keep up.

It will basically go by political party popularity contest: if your party’s candidates get at least 5% of the total votes cast, your party will go on to the bonus round (I am paraphrasing here). If you are an independent candidate (no party) who can’t attract 5% of the total vote, or your party gets a lot of candidates ranked in the top 50 but only 4% of the total, you get…nothing. There are at least 7 registered parties as of now.

So theoretically, you could have a split  like this:

Party A: 74%

Party B: 11%

Party C: 4.5%

Party D: 4.5%

Party E: 4.5%

Independents/other parties  1.5%

Where Party A and Party B get all the seats, and though Parties C, D, and E combined got more votes than Party B and thus could have formed some kind of “We disagree with Party B” coalition, they don’t get a single seat in Parliament. If beloved hometown Candidate X from a  tiny island (let’s call it Vermont, just for an analogy that only people who follow American politics will understand) got EVERY vote on Vermont Island,  but Vermont Island is 3% of the total voting population and nobody in Suva has ever heard of Candidate X and doesn’t vote for him/her, Candidate X will only get a seat if he/she belongs to a popular enough party that fields candidates that get enough votes to make the 5% threshold.

While Wikipedia assures me that stable Western democracies like Denmark, Austria  and Finland use  this type of proportional method for awarding seats, I’m not clear on if those places field candidates “at large” or by districts. Chances are none of them have elected an entire Parliament from scratch with no incumbents anytime recently. Since Fiji has 110 inhabited islands, candidates from places like tiny hypothetical Vermont Island will be at a big disadvantage compared to candidates from cities.

But considering the old method was also not district-based, but instead based on ethnic constituencies (ie 23 seats reserved for indigenous Fijians, 19 for Indo-Fijians, 1 for Rotumans, and 3 for minorities such as Caucasians and Chinese, and 25 open constituencies), who’s to say if this is more fair, or less fair. Like US politics, candidates who used to be incumbents or have name recognition will certainly have an advantage.

So since there’s been no Parliament since 2006,  and all the political parties have been dormant for a decade (since there’s been nothing to run for), who’s got the home field advantage?

Well, that would be Acting Prime Minister Frank. Frank was a military man when he assumed the office of Prime Minister, so he wasn’t really affiliated with a party when the coup unpleasantness happened in 2006. Fiji was supposed to have elections in 2009, but didn’t because… reasons. Now that Fiji is ready to have fair and above-board elections, Frank has formed a totally new party called FijiFirst and is running for election as Prime Minister.

Hypatia’s FijiFirst and 2014 Election FAQ

Q: What do FijiFirst advertisements look like?

A: There are a lot of them on cabs and mini-busses that look like this:

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Q: Wait, doesn’t that look a lot like a sign that’s by the Bau street roundabout promoting road safety that went up a month or two ago?

A: What, you mean this one?

millionseven

 

 

Q: Yeah, that one. Don’t you think it looks like a campaign ad?

A: Don’t be silly. He’s wearing a bula shirt on the campaign ad and a suit and a flag pin in the official government sign. Totally different.

Q: But isn’t “together we can save millions of lives” is a pretty dumb slogan considering there’s only about 903,000 people in Fiji and the government’s own statistics page says that there were only 15 fatal traffic accidents in 2009? How exactly are we to save millions of lives…will buckling up save lives in other countries? And why “Wear. Believe. Act”? Do you have to have faith in order for the seat belt to work?

A: Yeah, the sign is pretty dumb. But let’s go back to talking about FijiFirst. What else do you want to know?

Q: Don’t you think it’s weird that there’s a number 1 in the F1ji logo in the voter registration tent photo at the top of this post? Is that supposed to subliminally make people think of “Fiji 1st” when they register to vote?

A: Certainly not. The 1 is for one vote, since some people think they get to vote for more than one candidate since there’s 50 seats up for grabs. Only an idiot would confuse “one” and “first”.

Q:  Wait, didn’t the elections minister (who is also the current Attorney General and a member of the FijiFirst party) recently say that a new party called “One Fiji” could be confused with “FijiFirst” and try to keep them from registering as an official party?

A: Yeah, that happened. What’s your point?

Q: It’s just a little weird to see a 1 in the F1ji logo in an official voter registration booth that’s supposed to be non-partisan, especially if that same government’s elections minister who is also a candidate is claiming “one” and “first” are confusable.

A: There’s nothing weird about a party loyalist simultaneously being an elections official. I mean, Katharine Harris was in charge of running Florida’s election in 2000 while she was also the chair of Bush’s re-election campaign,and that election went totally smoothly and fairly with no legitimacy problems, right?

Q: Uh, let’s change the subject.  How will the ballots look for this election? I assume everyone’s name and party will be listed in some random order, since there could be over a hundred candidates to choose from?

A: Oh no, that’s too confusing for the average voter. Instead, the ballot paper will contain a total of 280 numbers, from 135 to 414,  and you’ll use a guide book to find the number of the candidate you want to vote for, and then mark their number on your ballot. Like this:

voteguide

 

Q: That seems a bit weird. Is that how they did it before?

A: No, in prior elections they listed the candidate’s names and party symbols. But I’m sure this will work just fine.

Q. Is the international community sending observers to make sure the election is actually fair?

A. Yep, Australia is confirmed…

Q. Okay, that’s good news.

A….and Indonesia will be the co-leader of the observation effort.

Q: Indonesia?! You’re talking about the same country from that recent documentary about how some of the people who were in the Suharto death squads in the 60s are now in semi-legitimized paramilitary organizations instead of in prison for genocidal crimes?

A: Well, I was thinking of it as the country that has Bali in it, but yeah, same place.

Q: Pardon my language, but isn’t this election going to be a total clusterfuck?

A: Welcome to the South Pacific.

How to live in Suva…22 years ago

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A friend passed along some interesting artefacts to me: the 1992 and 1996 editions of “Settling in Suva”, a publication for newcomers to the city. The 1992 ed says it’s a revised edition, so presumably there are some other even earlier ones out there. If anyone has ’em, I’d love copies/ scans.

Settling for Suva

The 1992 edition is published by the “United Nations Women’s Group”, which the book explains is a group of spouses, parents and/or working women associated with the United Nations, now expanded to include “friends” not directly affiliated with the UN.  They meet monthly and have a UN survival kit of linens and kitchen stuff they will rent you for FJ$5 per week ($50 deposit). They have a sewing and handicraft group on Friday mornings, which includes “macrame” and “patchwork” as sample group projects they’re up to, and Bridge groups (beginner and advanced) each week. They also have an annual Dinner Dance in October to celebrate the UN’s founding.

The 1996 edition is published by the International Women’s Association, which I guess is the new name for the UN Women’s group (the IWA isn’t listed as a club in the 1992 book), as the format and some of the text is the same, and they also rent out a survival kit of linens, though the cost in 1996 has doubled to $10/week with a $60 deposit) . A sticker on the back tells me this book cost F$5 at the USP Book Centre (ironically, USP Book Centre is NOT listed in the bookstore section of either edition).

Enough about that, let’s learn about our new town, time-travel style!

Orientation:

You can check one of the two daily newspapers, the Fiji Times, or the Daily Post, for info about cultural events and scheduled electricity and water shut offs. Both cost 40 cents (50c on Saturday). In 1996, these are listed again (no Fiji Sun yet).

Two radio stations are listed in the 1992 book as news sources: Radio Fiji and FM 96, as well as “TV1, the (temporary) Television station” (I guess this was when TV was just coming to town?). In 1996, “Fiji television” is listed, but it’s the only station; however there are now three English language radio stations: Radio Fiji Gold (100.2 Fm), Radio FM 104, and FM 96.

The 1996 book has added a “before you leave- what to bring” and “what to leave at home” (though they don’t explicitly mention  leathersection. Curiously, it suggests that since furnished houses only have the basics, you will probably need to bring “your own choice of electrical goods (240v), freezer, washing machine, microwave, etc”, though these items “are also available locally”. I can’t imagine wasting 10-20% of my allowed shipping space/weight on a freezer, even if I was coming from a country that sold appliances that would work in Fiji, but whatever.

Health, housing and safety:

Medical advice (p 13-14): There’s no rabies or malaria in Fiji, but there is dengue. You should wash fruits and vegetables carefully and search for small snails, because “the residue these snails leave on the leaves of lettuce and other vegetables can cause meningitis”. I had never heard this and was prepared to scoff, but the internet tells me that indeed, Achatina fulica is found in the Pacific islands and can cause meningitis. So people of 21st century Suva, it’s still a bad idea to eat snail slime. The 1996 edition has added sentences that you needn’t worry about HIV/Hep B in blood transfusions (because of screening/disposable needles), but that “lice and worms are a fact of life here” (generally among schoolchildren).

Housing: “The private housing market is quite tight. House and apartment rents tend to be relatively high, ranging from F$400 and up for an unfurnished apt . For houses with several bedrooms rents are $1000-$3000, furnished or unfurnished.” The 1996 ed has added the caveat to take someone with you when you go to view a rental flat, with an ominous boldface and all caps warning “WE RECOMMEND YOU DO NOT VIEW ALONE”.

Air conditioning – “is not usual in private housing but can normally be installed. Houses located so that they have good ventilation will not need air conditioning”. 1996 ed repeats the fiction about good ventilation not needing AC but  adds “Ceiling fans will make life more comfortable”.

Mold and mildew – “Cupboard warmers can be purchased from Morris Hedstrom to help keep cupboards warm and dry.” (???)

The 1992 edition has 3 sentences on security under the “alarm systems and/or burglar bars”, but the 1996 edition adds 8 sentences including that break-ins have become a very common problem in recent years and that dogs are the best crime deterrent. There’s also two condescending sentences about domestic help: “Keep doors locked when inside, and train your housegirl to do the same with her quarters too” and “Teach your housegirl to answer the phone correctly and not answer questions about your whereabouts from strangers”.

Housegirl/maid – pay is around F$25-$50 per week. Gardeners “are usually paid F$15 for an 8 hour day”. In 1996, housegirl pay has risen to F$40-60 per week, but gardeners are still at “F$15-$20  for an 8 hour day”. The 1996 ed also adds details on enrolling your housegirl in FNPF (a retirement/pension program similar to Social Security): minimum contribution is F$4 per week.

Transportation:

Cars/Petrol – “Officers with diplomatic privileges are entitled to a rebate of the duty component paid when they purchase petrol”. You have to save the gas receipts and submit them quarterly to Customs to get the rebate. Not sure if this is true in 2014 as I am not a diplomat- either way, this isn’t in the 1996 book.

The 1996 book says “only diesel and leaded super fuel are available here” (I remember leaded fuel being mostly gone from the US circa 1987: wikipedia says the US started phasing leaded gas out in 1973 and was banned by 1996) and that “Left hand drive vehicles are no longer allowed to be imported into Fiji” (obviously not the case anymore, as there’s a left hand drive Hummer H3 (!) that I see downtown a fair amount).

Buses- “Routes and bus numbers are printed on the reverse of the map of Suva City” (bus numbers? THE map?!) – repeated in 1996 ed., which adds that bus fares within Suva are “less than 50 cents” (70 cents to $1 in 2014) and that a bus from Suva to Nadi Airport is F$7.50 (now about F$18, or $22 if you take the TFL express)

In 1992: “Taxis cease operation at 12 midnight on Saturday and 10pm Sunday” ; this has been removed from the 1996 ed. 1996 adds this advice, still true in 2014: “Make sure that you have small change, taxi drivers often carry very little”

School and work:

Education: “Several locally run Schools of Nine operate in Suva, which are supposed to have only nine children, but often have many more”. (sounds like Fiji, alright) – omitted in 1996 book. The 1996 book adds “Whilst expatriates mostly patronize The International School you might wish to consider some of the ‘local’ schools, many of which have high academic standards”.

“Schooling is not compulsory in Fiji”. Government schools are free, but you have to pay for uniforms, transport, etc.

“Government schools have a policy for racial balance (40% Fijian, 40% Indian, and 20% other)” – the intro pages of both editions of this book don’t give the demographics of Fiji at the time, but I’d be surprised if  “other” was more than 12% of the population. I’d bet they had a hard time getting 20%, especially if all the  “other” expat kids are going to the International school.

Work permits are required for volunteer jobs. “Work permits are very difficult to obtain”. The 1992 book lists 25 possible leads for volunteer opportunities, including this one from Riding club for the Disabled: “Crippled, blind and retarded children develop physical and social skills”. The 1996 book has pared this down to three; the Fiji Museum and two agencies that “may be able to advise you on a use for your talents”.

Restaurants and nightlife:

Food- 1992 ed:  “There is a ban on Sunday trading, however licensed* restaurants re allowed to operate between 12-2pm and 7-10pm on Sundays” (*note for Americans and others unfamiliar- this means “having a liquor license”,)

Restaurants listed no longer around in 2014: Swiss Tavern, Disney Family Restaurant, Red Lion, Aberdeen Grill, Pizza Hut (apparently not affiliated with the US chain), YWCA Restaurant. 1996 book has this intriguing listing: “Berjaya Inn- Malaysian Food Thursday nights, Hawkers stall- reservation advised as this is very popular” – how the heck do you make a reservation for a hawker stall? Maybe they should have gotten one of those deli “take a number” machines.

Restaurants still around now listed then: Tiko’s floating, Old Mill Cottage, (Singh’s) Curry House, Scott’s (in 1996 but not 1992 ed), Great Wok of China, Wishbone. Bad Dog Cafe isn’t in the 1992 ed, but appears in the 1996 ed under “Coffee shops”.

Nightclubs- Traps has been around since at least 1992, and both books list “Rockefellers and Lucky Eddies (discos)” ;  it’s weird to see “disco” used in a non-1970’s context. One of the Carnavon Street spots was called “The Barn” and featured country & Western music.

Clubs and activities:

In 1992, 2 places have weekly Bingo, Fiji club offers Bridge 3 times a week, 2 clubs have mahjong,  the Classical guitar society offers “Listening to records and playing the guitar”, there’s a photographic society, shell-collecting club, and the “Fiji Morris Men”, which does Traditional Englishmen’s Morris Dancing.  In 1996, the Guitar Society and the Morris Men are MIA. You could learn Japanese at “Fiji Centre USP” in 1992, but not in 1996.

Also, sounds like the Fiji Arts Club/Playhouse was quite happening in 1992 : they have classes in painting, printmaking, modern dance and Scottish Country dancing, they stage plays (and musicals), have a collection of musical scores and instruments (presumably to loan to members) AND a costume rental scheme! In the last two years I’ve seen one art show at this building, but never heard that they still do any performances.

Cinema- 4 listed in the 1992 book (none of these are around today): Regal (now Ming Du Restaurant),  The Phoenix (boarded up but building still standing, near bus station), Lilac theatre on 110 Waimanu road (apparently near the CWM hospital) and the Raiwaqa Twin Cinema on Grantham (no address given). There’s actually a great photo album of ex-movie houses in Fiji on Facebook, courtesy of the Fiji Museum. The 1996 book just says “there are many cinemas in Suva, and a new cinema complex is under construction” (presumably Village 6).

Services and stuff to buy:

Telephones- local calls (assume this is landline and not payphone) cost 20 cents in 1992 and 13 cents in 1996. Postage: local letters are 12 cents in 1992/13 cents in 1996 (remember, the penny is still around), letters to NZ are 30c/31c, Australia 42c/44c, USA 59c/63c . A postcard (worldwide) is 22 cents (23 in 1996).

Banks in 1992  include the National Bank of Fiji, Merchant bank of Fiji, and Habib Bank, Ltd (as well as ANZ/Westpac/Baroda that are still around today). 1996 lists these as well as  “Bank of Hawaii”. 1996 has added information about “external accounts” (ie the type of bank accounts available to non-residents) and mentions EFTPOS services (not mentioned in 1992).

In the 1992  “non-food shopping” lists, there’s 8 different “duty free” listings (Prouds, Tappoo, Brijlal still around, though not as downtown duty free shops)- apparently downtown Suva used to have the same kind of tourist shopping that Port Vila, Vanuatu has now. There are 4 listings for “Jeans” and 8 for musical instruments, though no listings for records, cassettes or CDs.

The 1996 ed lists “The American Shop” near the CWM hospital, carrying Heinz, Nabisco, Hershey, etc. “The range is diverse and growing as demand grows”,  a phone number for “Fresh tofu delivered to your home”, and headings not in the 1992 book  for “computer supplies”,”Pool pump repairs” and “swimming pool maintenance” ,where I see the first (and only) occurrence of a mobile phone number (which is 6 digits, just like all the rest of the numbers listed).

Recycling-  in 1992 the bottle trucks* come around “most neighborhoods” and pay 50 cents per dozen. I have no idea what the current rate is, as I’m still half asleep or getting ready for work when they come around at OMG o’clock, so I  just leave them outside the gate for someone else to collect on. The 1996 book has a listing for “recycling” in the index but the page is wrong and it looks like they accidentally cut that section.

Videotapes- cost $1-$2 to hire. Presumably you have to bring them back instead of keeping them. You can also hire a VCR and a TV. Apparently video rental was thriving in Fiji even BEFORE broadcast television existed here: people had (or rented) TV sets just to watch videos. A good article on that (and the transition to purchasing copied DVDs) is here.

This concludes our look at moving to Suva 22 to 18 years ago. I’d be curious to know how long this publication survived before the  IWA either grew tired of compiling it, or decided all this info was more-or-less available online and there was no longer a need. Judging by all the questions I get about moving to Suva from people who find my google-bait post (and the follow ups on what to pack),  there’s still a need for a PDF or wiki with this type of info on relocating to Suva. Maybe in my copious spare time….

 

 

 

*Aside to my Suva readers: BOTTLEBOTTLEBOTTLEhonkhonkBOTTLEBOTTLEhonkBOTTLE, which I’m pretty sure will replace “Ni sa yadra” as the standard morning greeting in a few decades.

The halfway point: What have I learned?

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I realize I haven’t been posting as much as I did my first year, and I guess a lot of that is that I don’t have as many observations as I did when I first got here. Interesting things still happen, but I’m not as overwhelmed by life in a foreign country as I was in months 1 through 6.

 

view from sand dunes

I have a 3 year contract*, which ends in either July 2015 (when my work visa expires) or September 2015 (the technical end of the 3 years).  Either way, I’ve now been in Suva for 20 months, so I’m well past the point where a reflective post is de rigueur. So here it is:

What I have learned:

You will get used to the heat, and the rain, and maybe even the litter, but not the fact that there are really only 10 restaurants worth eating at more than once. I routinely gain 6 pounds on vacations to Western countries making up for lost time/cuisines I’ve missed (and then sweat them off when I get back to Suva).

The local pizza and the local/Australian cheese does not get better the longer you are away from American/European cheese. My first meal on last year’s visit home to the US was pizza.

Because of the ubiquity of American TV shows,  your co-workers will understand words like “ya’ll” or “okey-doke” that no one else uses here, but they will still laugh at you when you say them.

Learning the minimal amount of Fijian language I learned in a one semester class was very beneficial, and I wish I’d been able to do it sooner. Knowing phrases not in the Lonely Planet vocabulary section usually makes people light up when you attempt to converse (though they still won’t correct your middling grammar/pronunciation unless they know you well, because they’re too polite to do so). My two most useful phrases  thus far are “I live in Suva” (to assert that I am not a tourist to the hawkers in front of shops) and “I am not from the boat” (When a cruise ship is in town, releasing other pasty Caucasians into downtown Suva. See comment for “I live in Suva” for the reason this is useful).

You never truly appreciate all the diversions you had available at home until you’re away. In the US, I went bowling maybe once or twice a year, and to the symphony or the theatre even less than that, but that stuff was always available should I want it. In a place with two movie theatres and plays maybe twice a year, I now regret not taking better advantage of the cultural activities back home. And things where Seattle excels that I did take advantage of  (the excellent public libraries, the NPR station, KEXP, actual bookstores and music stores) I have missed terribly.

I can now identify 99% of the regional fruits and vegetables (wi, ivi, duruka, bele, etc) and have tried all of them, but I still haven’t embraced dalo (taro) enough to have ever bought any to cook at home. I’m okay with that.

I have learned that “boredom” is what you make it. While there’s way less to do here and more down time, I’ve managed to keep myself busy with reading, movies, writing, making friends, etc. And when something exciting and new (a performance, a festival, the opening of an upscale supermarket) does happen, it makes the week that much better.

Despite gorging on pizza whilst on holiday, you learn to do without and not mind. The first year, when other expats were travelling to the US or Australia, we had wish lists (decent coffee,  certain spices, current books) to bring back, but now, with an impending trip to the US over the (American) summer, I can’t think of anything I’m desperate to bring back for my final year. And I constantly whisper “First World Problems” to myself when I see someone on the Suva facebook group asking about where to get SodaStream or Keurig  refills.

As I was writing this post over the course of the week, a very similar post from a blog I subscribe to appeared in my inbox. She says “You can get pretty much everything you need in Suva” , and this is totally true. Not everything you WANT, but everything you NEED. Living here has taught me the difference between what I need versus what I want. 

But don’t get me wrong, I still get mildly excited when a local store (momentarily) stocks a luxury foodstuff  like Grape Nuts or Diet Dr. Pepper. If I ever see Grape Nuts again at the Cost U Less, I’m gonna buy two boxes.

Working here has been both amazing and frustrating, often during the same day. The Fijian easy-goingness and disinclination to speak up (about problems or to propose innovations) has only adapted so much to the Western model of Getting Things Done, and I continually struggle with my American expectations of work behavior(s). I know the problem is -my- expectations within this culture, and I’ve (mostly) come to terms with that. This will be very helpful when I return to the US, as far as being able to relate when a co-worker from another country has difficulty adapting to American work styles because they find OUR way of doing things unusual.

I have learned what a great partner I have in Hermes. Not that I didn’t think so before, but you really appreciate what you have when you go through crises or extreme stress together. He’s made many sacrifices for us to be able to come here for my job, and soon it will be my turn to return the favor (foreshadowing alert!).

I’ve learned more about what it means for a country to be “developing”, both for the people that live there and on the international stage.  In the US we never get news about tiny Pacific Island nations unless something bad (cyclone, flood, coup, etc.) happens there. Seeing what makes the newspapers in the region has been eye-opening.

While I will never truly fit into the culture here and will always be an outsider looking in, I have gotten to experience great things that most visitors don’t get to see (as well as a few not so great things). While it’s often not gone according to plan, overall, I have no regrets. Living far from home isn’ t for everyone, but I’m glad we did this, even if I will also be glad when it’s time to go home.

*Spoiler alert: I won’t be renewing it- I’ll be ready to come home at the expected time.

Meatless in Fiji

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One of the more common questions from vegan and vegetarian friends in the States since moving to the South Pacific is “how difficult is it to be veg in Fiji?”

The short answer is “not that tough at all,” but an accurate answer is probably a bit more nuanced than that.

 

Eating in?

Part of the reason I first visited Fiji in 2009 was because of the assumed ready availability of veg options due to the country’s large Indo-Fijian population. I wasn’t too far off in that assessment, as Indian food options are in almost every commerce center (on Viti Levu at least), and often even the smallest curry shack I’ve found has at least a few veg items on the menu beyond the requisite veggie samosas.

For the indigenous portions of the Fijian population, it’s more of a mixed bag. While there are some dishes like palusami that can frequently be entirely vegan, it seems like seafood, pork, or chicken find their way into most Fijian foods that I’ve seen and it’s rarely a surprise to learn that “safe” options like palusami often have some meat snuck into them somehow. Even in villages where fresh meat or seafood may be less common, tins of corned beef and tuna are as readily consumed as microwaved meals are in the US. A personal note on the taste front, probably 80+% of indigenous Fijian food somehow involves cooking in coconut milk so if you have a problem with that flavor–veg or not–you’re gonna have a bad time.

Being from the Northwest, the whole notion of “eating local” has kind of been drilled into my head for years. As has been mentioned on this blog more than a few times, there are probably at least 25 or more common locally-grown produce items at most markets that are usually quite cheap. Naturally there are local fruits and veggies that are seasonal (duruka season just wound down for example), but Dalo (taro) and its leaves (rourou), kumala (sweet potatoes), and local greens are pretty much year-round staples, and a similarly the almost year-round abundance of fresh ginger, citrus (moli), and very delicious fiery habanero peppers known locally as “bongo chillis” (that’s $3FJD from the market’s worth below) all provide some great compliments to these.

Bongo Bongo Bongo

But as cool as that is, it’s also important to remember that Fiji is an island and if it isn’t grown or produced here, it needs to be imported at an added expense that’ll often punch you right in the wallet. While there are a few often non-locally produced staples like potatoes and onions that are price-controlled or nearly so, and some others that are consumed frequently enough to sometimes not be entirely unaffordable (often apples and oranges), capsicum, grapes,  and other produce that is usually shipped in for smaller markets will normally be pricey and not found everywhere.

That same logic applies to “western” veg alternative options that are far less commonly sought here and often priced like rare commodities as a result. You will be able to find shelf-stable soya milk on the shelves of many mid-sized and larger supermarkets at roughly 50% more than the price of UHT milk, and as in the States there will be a few coincidentally vegan margarines at reasonable prices too. Rice/almond/oat milk is typically found at the Cost-U-Less in Suva, which also sometimes stocks a soya cheese or two and even a way-expensive vegan sour cream occasionally. While Fiji seems to consume more ice cream bars per capita than anywhere I’ve ever been, I’ve  never spotted any sort of frozen soy, coconut milk, or similar non-dairy freezer item.

Cost-U-More is also the only source I’m aware of in Fiji for something approximating a “Boca”-style burger (which at four patties for  $11US is not cheap), veggie sausages (about $8US for six), and my personal favorite (honestly) Sanitarium Nut Meat. The later tastes far better than its name implies, and if you don’t have wheat or nut allergies and can get over the tinned dogfood appearance it works really well for burritos, shepherd’s pie, or other veggie “mince” items. You can also spot the occasional imported tetra-pack of tofu, most commonly at the handful of Chinese grocers around. For a while I was able to find vital wheat gluten and even nutritional yeast at a local Adventist shop, but I haven’t seen either around in more than six months and my days of making my own seitan in Fiji are long over as a result. I’d rather not talk about my attempt to make tempeh.

Thankfully for there are more than just the expensive options available when looking for meat alternatives locally. There’s a decent fresh firm tofu produced in the Samabula neighborhood sold commonly in sealed tubs at a number of Suva supermarkets. It’s delicious, but not without problems of its own. The thin plastic on top of the tubs is sometimes poorly sealed or suffers from a tiny puncture or two in transit, tainting the tofu inside. For that reason I usually pick up the package and shake it to look for drips before buying. It’s also a good idea to look at the sell-by dates whenever you pick it up, as the limited demand for it in many local supermarkets can make some reluctant to pitch past-due stock and from my experience the tubs bought closest to expiration are far less palatable (do NOT smell the water) than the freshest batches. You’ll find block tofu for sale from some of the Chinese stalls at the market too, but I can’t speak to the quality of that stuff personally.

The large Indian community also means that Nutrella–or soya chunks/TVP–is readily available at most mid-sized and up supermarkets, though I’ve yet to see it served in any restaurant I’ve been to. It’s usually very cheap (like $2.50FJD or so) and is a completely unflavored dry TVP. It does require a bit of doctoring to make it more palatable before being chopped up for use in tacos or a vegan bolognese, and I’m a fan of using Australian-produced Massel stocks (which often aren’t too hard to find and are all vegan) to help do so.

As to vegan baked goods, they’re extremely rare finds. Though many of the packaged cookies in all of the big stores are vegan, usually that’s something to make at home as well. Other than margarine and nutrella, I’ve spotted soya mayonnaise in stores other than Cost-U as well (though I’m not a fan of the one brand I’ve seen most often).

Dining out?

Resorts will usually be quite accommodating to vegetarian guests, and even vegan guests can often do OK at all but the backpacker places … though both can expect a lot of pasta primavera/pizza/salads/fries/etc. After a couple of years here I’ve yet to see any resort or hotel that had a decent veg menu much beyond an Indian dish or two or an often overcooked “vegan lasagne” (usually mushy layers of pumpkin and sweet potato in a too sweet red sauce), though the high-end resorts that we could never afford to go to may be better.

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In Suva, Nadi, and other towns you’ll probably spot a veg item or two on most menus at sit-down restaurants, but with the exception of Indian and Chinese places few will be vegan and even fewer still will probably be something you’ll want to eat again and again. You can expect your veg options to often be comparable to visiting a small town in the rural American midwest, so fries/salad/pasta will be staples along with the occasional Asian dish or the once-in-a-blue-moon “veggie burger” that is always not too much more than a pile of vegetables smashed together and fried.

Probably the go-to for most veg folks here is Indian. Of course for vegans, that doesn’t ensure that menu items won’t have yoghurt or ghee, the clarified butter that’s in a bunch of Indian food. Since both ghee and yoghurt are pricey though, they are not very common at all in smaller shops/food stalls and probably only in sweets or really rich non-veg foods most frequently from what I’ve seen.

Asking “does this have ghee” doesn’t always yield the best results, and the old vegan trick of “I’m allergic to…” very rarely works either. From my experience in asking these, staff may assume that either you want it to have yoghurt/ghee (to make it more decadent since you’re a picky ex-pat), so they’ll say it does to save face or simply tell you it does just to err on the side of caution and again save face. My workaround for this problem is usually to stick to Indian menu choices that pretty rarely have dairy–such as bhindi masala (okra) or a jackfruit curry–though sometimes even items that you’d expect to be dairy-free such as channa masala (chick peas) may have a splash of yoghurt hidden in there that your dairy-sensitive stomach may notice about a half-hour after eating. There is a Krishna run chain of Indian shops throughout Viti Levu that are largely vegan, but frankly I’m not much of a fan of their food beyond having a few kick-ass bread pakoras from them.

So is it difficult?

No, but if you’re for some reason expecting daily life to contain the wealth of vegan goods in a Whole Foods or something, you may want to stock up on supplies before you get over here as it’s just not going to happen.