Monday, September 28, 2009

There was this night that I sat along the tip of the continent with two people I loved dearly. Bright reds, greens, blues, and whites exploded overhead and I heard far more American accents than I had for the past 4 months. We couldn't have planned a celebration abroad any better, and yet we found ourselves missing home.

Almost 3 months later, I miss our alternate home nearly as much.

I think more than anything, I simply miss parts of that way of life. Waking up at 8 am to a quiet apartment, making tea and eating toast, parmesan, kiwi, or whatever struck us at the moment. Trips to Cotton On, buying $9.99 t-shirts and sweaters. Wandering through Central Station, which we grew to know so well. Beautiful Bondi Market. Lingering in the bookshop, scouting for $7 classics. Taking the Opera House for granted. Singing "Forever Reign" and being utterly swept away by God. Seeing Brooke Ligertwood at city campus in a uber long t-shirt and leggings. Sitting around with Dave and Bec, watching Master Chef. Stunt driving with Russia. Those early, early days in Sydney where we spent 75% of our time at the beach.

This era has past, for even if I return, it will be so different. I look back at that life with a controlled longing, and an attitude of gratitude that can overwhelm.

It was the best of times, even during the hardest moments.

Monday, August 10, 2009

I woke up this morning and I had 3 emails that each contained a little slice of heaven. I laughed over comments on pictures and according to Mel, it was like we took happy pills. I wish every one of you woke up on Monday as happy as I did today.

I arrived back in the States roughly 10 days ago, and there are times that I’ve had difficulty adjusting. Those difficulties tend to revolve around the extremely opposite mindsets of Australia and America. I’ve grown to cherish the Aussie mindset, so mind you, being back in this rushing, busy, competitive society has effectively rattled my mind.

But I find that these frustrations and limitations have taken a backseat to the utter pleasure I have found in the people for which I returned to this city. Some of those people left this city during my absence, and others left long before my departure. I haven’t seen everyone that I want to see by any means yet, but I have absolutely been lavished with the brilliance of my friends’ company.

And so, life is good.

Here are a few things I’ve learned or remembered about the States or myself or random things in the past 10 days:

Everything is bigger in the States. Everyone says it, everyone laughs at it, but it’s true. Macca’s small in Australia is the size of a kiddie drink in America and the large is equivalent to the States Medium. There is no such thing as a 32 oz drink in Australia - it might as well be labeled a bucket.
American internet is freaking fast! And unlimited!
We waste a ton of condiments. Only Macca’s gives you free ketchup in Australia, and even then it’s like trying to pry a steak from a Pitt Bull’s mouth to get more than 2.
America has the best shopping, hands down. Cheap, trendy clothing or high quality expensive clothing. Options, options, options! I struggle with hating infinite options in many categories (see: career path), but too many stores is not one of them.
Walmart, Target, and Payless are actually CHEAP.
$2.50 movie theatres exist. And they are the bomb! Even normal movies, at $10, seem cheap.
Zoolander is my favorite Ben Stiller movie.
People respond positively to politeness laden with happiness and laced with genuine interest in what they have to say. Obviously. I love it. This is true in America AND Australia.
Leslie can go an entire day at work without turning left. She is not always an ambi-turner.
Random calls from Hillsong on a phone number I got 24 hours before (meaning that they had to work to get my digits) make my day!
Jet lag from Fiji is horrific. I think I finally adjusted in the last 3 days or so. Maybe part of it is not getting enough sleep in general. Heh.
Nashville is in the central time zone. If you tell your Nashville friends that you are leaving at 9:30am, they assume central time, even if you meant eastern. And none of you think about it until you’re 70 miles south of Chattanooga and they are 200 miles north.
Going through boxes you packed 4 months ago is a bit like Christmas. Old clothes become new!
Shiatsu massage by Sonny is the best. Better than Swedish or Deep Tissue. For reals.
DO NOT drive down the left side of a street. And if you do, in the middle of downtown Orlando on a Friday night, be certain that your best friend is NOT following you. Else you might both get a ticket/die. And remind Mel frequently that Orange Ave is a one way street heading south. Thank God for frantically waving pedestrians who care.
Top Gun rocks.
Gary owns Gigli. Wait, I think he sold it. Point is, he paid for it.
Pizza + Red Wine + Kate’s Porch + Awesome people = best Sunday night back in America yet.
God’s wisdom is something mysterious that goes deep into the interior of his purposes. You won’t find it lying around on the surface. 1Cor2:7
If you’re away from Status for 5 months, you won’t recognize people before the service. It’s because everyone you know knows that nobody shows up early. Right on time, or late. We should change this!
Chickfila is just as good, just as tasty, and just as unhealthy as I remembered. My arch nemesis.
Myers Briggs and superhero talk are bound to resurface at least once on Kate’s porch.
Apparently, I never get to survive a movie on my own. This is crap. “I’m not jealous.”
The Lodge has an 80s night. And nobody but us dances. Apparently, I am a fake-80s fan.
The Greek Corner is delish. Now, they just need hummus.
Vintage sales by Kate + Dana + Jamie + etc. I don’t even need to add an adjective to this sentence; it stands alone.
I’m on the search for a quality cappy in the States. So far, no good. Starbucks and Seattle’s best taste a bit burnt. Who knows of a good mom & pop coffee shop?

Mel’s dad told me, the day that we flew back into Orlando, that these blogs are kind of like Seinfeld - writing about things that are utterly pointless to everyone not involved. The sad thing is that his tone indicated that it was no where as entertaining as Seinfeld.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

136 days

Our life for the past five months.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Almost Home

Tuesday, 28/7/09, 10pm: our Air Pacific flight departs from Nadi, Fiji. Sadly, it is not empty, like the 747 we flew to Fiji back in March. We are rather cramped in row 47. Happily, there is a very cute guy sitting across the aisle. Think Jake Gyllenhall meets Adam Levine from Maroon 5. Mel tells me later, as we’re in customs at LAX, that he might be a celebrity, but she’s not sure. But back on the plane, she is ‘extraverted sensing’ and she gleans all sorts of information 3rd handedly. He’s from Seattle, he’s eating candy (we nickname him Chunky, Pudge’s soulmate), he’s reading a thin book, he’s very friendly (he instigates conversation with both the elderly couple to his right and the girl between him and Mel), and he’s a vegetarian. And I wish he was in 47C.

We finally have dinner (a chicken sandwich) around midnight Fiji time, and we pop sleeping pills. I cover my eyes with the sleeping mask Air Pac kindly provided me with, and don’t wake up until they serve breakfast roughly 6 hours later. I watch an episode of Flight of the Conchords, Season I, and we get ready to meet America.

I told Nathan a while back that I thought I’d have culture shock when we landed in America, after 4+ months abroad.

And culture shock we had.

We prance off the plane just in front of Chunky (gentleman that he appears to be, he insists we exit first), and are immediately greeted by the chaos that is labeled LAX. It’s 1pm PST, but our brains are thinking it’s something more like 8am. The loudspeaker is positively screaming our flight/baggage information and the noise pollution is overwhelming. Nobody greets us with a “Bula” or a “G’day” or even a smile. We get on the walking sidewalk, momentarily forgetting to stay right, instead of our now learned left tendency. We hear the American accent everywhere. We keep talking in the Aussie accent, because we miss it so, so, so much.

We stand in line for passport control, and I’m fantastically pleased with the speedy and efficient passport service. What took 30 minutes in Fiji takes 10-15 in LA. People in line chat a bit, but for the most part are quiet and keeping to themselves. We make it through customs successfully, losing Chunky as his single, but stuffed, backpack arrives far before our massive 4 tanks/suitcases arrive.

We re-check our bags, and head to United to check in. We hike about half a mile around to another terminal. Along the way, we wander through a cloud of cigarette smoke, and I’m caught off guard. I had forgotten about this American/Euro custom. Surely, some Aussies smoke, but I haven’t walked into cigarette smoke once the entire 4 months I’ve been there, because it’s not as prevalent. I believe the reason for its rarity is the extremely graphic advertising the National Government shows everywhere. I step off the lift and notice a man talking to himself, and I’m reminded of America’s need to constantly be on the phone, to be hands-free, etc. I also haven’t seen a single bluetooth since I’ve been in Australia. I’m sure they are there, but I’ve not witnessed even one. Only in America do we look like we’re talking to ourselves. I stifle a giggle and wander on.
I think of our friend Christian’s perspective of America, based on TV, people, the world: “It’s dangerous and Americans are fat.” During our time in Australia, I rarely found myself being extremely aware, because its not necessary there. Crime rates are fairly low, at least in the areas we spent time in. However, these stereotypes of America from the Aussies have rubbed off on me, because I find myself being ultra aware of my surroundings, people, and my passport/money.

Mel and I find ourselves lunching at a restaurant in the International Terminal after we’ve checked in for our domestic flight, which is a mere 7 hours away (ugh.) We are thrilled to drink unsweetened tea (brewed tea is fantastic!) as we leisurely feast on spaghetti and a caesar salad. As we’re figuring out the bill separations, we almost walk out without tipping - oops. We are so used to the tip being included as part of the bill that we trip over our old habit.

I also notice that I keep trying to figure out the exchange rate, another old habit, even though I’m using American money now. Mel hands me a $20 and two quarters, and the quarters feel like play money, compared to the heavy Australian and Fijian coins. I see a Bank of America ATM, and it seems oddly out of place.

Things are measured in inches again, distances denoted by miles. The date format is different, and I find myself still using the Euro/Aussie format. The domestic terminal houses flights to cities I haven’t thought of in months. Mel’s old American cell phone works, while our Aussie phones are rendered useless at least for a while. Hulu now works again (I celebrate with a tweet of happiness) since our connection is from an American server. We watch some SNL, the Alice in Wonderland trailer, and a few other brilliant bits online.

Along the shuttle ride back to our terminal, Mel and I quietly notice and chat about the difference in people. It seems that LA is almost the polar opposite of Australia in so many ways, but primarily the mindset. In this city, people are reserved with each other, mostly avoiding eye contact, keeping their iPods on, and ultimately being focused on the internal rather than what is happening around them. This is far different from Australia and Fiji, where everyone along your path throws a quick witty comment or a smile followed by a big hello.

Just as we notice this, a man who works for the airport boards the back of the bus as if he’s inspecting or surveying the driver as he works. He greets us, “Hello girls!” and offers us gum. We chat with him a bit, and then Mel nudges me as a new passenger arrives with Swiss luggage that matches mine. I engage him in conversation with this bit of shared experience, and we end up talking for about 15 minutes until he reaches his terminal. He’s going to Melbourne in December, we are happy to hear. These two people have made us realize that WE need to be the change that we want to see in America. We can’t react to people and how people are, but rather we must engage with people if we want to have those conversations.

After making it back to our terminal and through security for the second time, we head to our gate. Mel takes a quick nap as I ramble on and listen to a few friends online. I soon need to charge my computer, so I shake Mel awake and I tell her where I’m going as I give her the rest of her bags.

I walk away from her, only to turn around as I near a power outlet because my cord still has the Aussie adapter on it. As I near her, she opens her eyes and says, “I knew you were coming for the power adapter. I’ve been hearing Prabaker’s (one of the Indians from Shantaram, which I’ve given her to read) voice in my head saying random phrases in an Indian accent, and all of the sudden, he said, ‘Your friend, she very very much needs your power cord.‘ and then you walked up.”

I swear to you, this has been happening to us very frequently the past few days. I have a theory that we are both so used to being around each other, that we’re now able to read each other’s phermones and sometimes know what the other person is thinking before she says it. It’s creepy, and kind of cool.

I think about our next flight, and I’m struck by the oddity of it. We left Fiji at 10pm on Tuesday night. We arrived into LA at 1pm on Tuesday afternoon, ‘time-traveling’ 9 hours backwards. Our flight to Orlando leaves at exactly the same time we left Fiji - 10pm on Tuesday night. It’s kind of cool. We lost our St. Patty’s day back in March, when we flew from LA to Fiji, so we’re having a very, very long and complicatedly-timed Tuesday. I’ve never been so disoriented about what time it is, particularly since my computer clock is still on Fijian time. Hopefully when we go 3 hours further into the future, it will be less confusing.

Finally, we are only about 6 hours away from home. I told Mel that part of coming back wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. I’m very happy to be home. But I still believe that part of my heart is back in Sydney, and one day, I’m gonna get it back for good.

And thus ends yet another era of my life. It’s odd, how my mind divides my life into different sections: college, New York, Florida with Brad, Florida after Brad, traveling in Australia w/ MJW, living in Australia with Mel, and now, back to Orlando.

The future is so blurry and I don’t know what it looks like. I am welcoming back Orlando with open arms, hoping to find and/or stay within contentment while I am led to be in this city. It’s a challenge, leaving a country and a people you’ve grown to love without truly knowing if you’ll make it back. It matters not how much I plan, for plans often turn out far different than originally arranged.

Welcome Home.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Things I learnt whilst in Fiji

Bula means hello. All Fijians will greet you with this word, and it’s a two-way greeting. It sounds like BU-Lahhhh.

Matamanoa is a couples-only island. If you are part of a same-sex friendship, visiting this island is certain to cause gossip amongst the staff.

Kava is a traditional drink to the Fiji islands. It makes your tongue numb, even upon drinking one coconut-half-cup full. It tastes a bit like muddy water. It’s technically a painkiller, as well as anesthetic.

Green coconuts are simply ‘immature’ coconuts. Brown ones are more mature. Coconut milk is actually clear. It can substitute for water if you are without it, in the Fijian bush, apparently. The interior of a green coconut is sweet and a bit slimy, though not in a gross way. The interior of a brown coconut is what is included in candy, cakes, pies, etc in American, though it’s far more sweet in our desserts. The brown coconut is a workout for the jaws.

Ben is a commonly adopted English name for men on Fijian islands. We met at least 5 on the small Matamanoa Island.

Losing your Einstein Bobblehead doll from your suitcase on the boat taking you to your remote island is likely to result in hilarity. See Mel’s blog.

Apparently, Sundays result in more fish being on the reef. Or so says Ben #2 of Matamanoa Island, aka Bobblehead, due to his involvement in the previous statement.

If a Fijian asks you if someone is pissed, it means drunk, not angry.

Jellyfish still bite, even in Fiji.

Matamanoa is apparently the island that all Italian couples come to when booking holidays in Fiji. “Italy versus the world!”`

Denarau is beautiful, when it comes to the resorts and the rooms. But you must, absolutely MUST, go to an island to experience Fiji.

Staying on Matamanoa is a bit like Adult Camp. There is an activities board. Everyone knows your name (not only the people working at the camp, but also the other guests). There is no privacy, at least when it comes to your name, where you’re from, etc. There are set times for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The #2 choir in all of Fiji is composed of the staff of Matamanoa. And they have beautiful voices. I love the “goodbye” song, but I hate the “goodbye”. Oh, life.

Kayaking in the ocean is entirely different than Kayaking in a lake.

The Milky Way is best seen from the dark, dark side of the island. We’ve seen stars in Bermagui, the Outback, and here, and I’m tempted to denote this island as the best. Shooting stars are rather frequent from this location, since the surroundings are so dark that you cannot be biased by unnatural light.

If 3 Fijians pull ashore to your island in utter darkness, they are likely picking up one or more of the staff from their long workday. They already know the path by heart, so light is apparently unnecessary.

If you are staying on Matamanoa Island, mail only goes out once a week, and by helicopter.

The helipad is a dock, right on the ocean. We thought it was a lost Dharma station.

If the boat you are taking back to the mainland is running late due to choppy water, you will make up lost time by bounding across the waves, frequently going airborne.

Life in Fiji can often feel like a musical, particularly at dinner time when the men serenade you with songs.

Shantaram is fantastic.

The infinity pool is infinitely cold.

When the parasailing instructors say they will ‘dip’ you in the water, they mean they will dunk you, at least to the waist, in the ocean. Beautiful.

New Zealanders find America to be ‘vibrant’. We think it’s a nice way of saying busy and loud. Ha!

Fijians and Aussies know flashlights as torches.

Bon fires on the beach, protected by the rocks from the raging ocean, in Fiji are unparalleled.

No tipping is allowed at resorts in Fiji. Instead, you can contribute to their Staff Christmas Fund. We figure their Christmas parties are massive, because they are so nice that you want to throw money at them.

The massive size of our luggage is irrelevant here because the porters insist on retrieving your luggage anywhere you stay.

Melissa has eaten so much seafood she might turn into a Squid. I told her I’d still be her friend, but I wouldn’t hang out with her as much. She said she wouldn’t eat ME if I turned into chocolate (well, maybe a nibblie or two...), but I don’t know if I believe it.

The forecast of “rain” means there may or may not be a few white clouds in the sky. It might also mean that a small rain cloud will drop a few sprinkles on you before blowing completely over the tiny island you are staying on.

Fiji hospitality is unmatched, at least in the places I have been. I wish everyone was able to seemingly appreciate their work as much as they do.

It’s creepy to hear scary stories about Fijian spiritual beliefs when you are surrounded by crashing waves, a dying bonfire, and what appear to be stone altars.

Finding Our Island

"Do you think we should call someone to bring our luggage down? It's almost 11," I ask Jeanne. It's our second day in Fiji and we are leaving the Radisson at the main hotel for one of the smaller islands to the west. One thing I love about Fiji: all the men eagerly carry your bags and absolutely refuse tips. Apparently you can contribute if you feel strongly enough, but all contributions go directly into the staff Christmas fund.

Like the efficiency-disciple that I am under Jeanne's keen tutelage, I have helped her formulate a plan for the day: Check out is at 11, and we've scheduled pedicures at noon before our boat departs at 3:15 to take us to one of the Manamuca islands. We forego breakfast and decide to just eat lunch somewhere between 11 and noon.

"Sure, do you mind calling the concierge? Concieeeerge." Jeanne has this endearing habit of saying things either in French or with a French accent every now and then.

"Nope." I phone the front desk. "Do you mind sending someone to help with our bags? Thanks."

Two minutes later, we hear a tentative knocking and a "Bula!" outside of our door. That was fast.

I open the door and a large, smiling Fijian man greets me with "Bula! Do you need help with your bags?"

He confidently piles all of our bags together on the trolley, and cheerfully strolls us down into the elevator. He gestures us to go in before him into the elevator. I thought he would follow us in with the trolley and our suitcases, but then the elevator door begins to slide shut. "Wait! Wait!" Jeanne and I fumble around with the elevator doors, as there is no clear arrow or "Open Door" button. The doors slides back home and he is looking at us with a puzzled look on his face.

"Do you want to come in with us?" Jeanne asks him.

He hesitates. "Are you sure? Is there room?"

"Yes, yes, plenty of room!" His face brightens.

We ride down the elevator together, and he begins to lead us to the lobby in a cheerful, casual stroll. He introduces himself as Livai. He tells us that we need to go to Samoa, where his wife is from. He stops in the middle of the hallway. He says that in Samoa, there is this a crazy place where you spit down into this long dark hole and, then your spit explodes when it hits the bottom.

"Wow, that sounds crazy."

"Yes. Crazy thing," agrees Livai. "Which island are you going to?"


"Ahh, Matamanoa. You must try the coconut there. Best coconut in the world."

He takes our baggage to storage and our laptop bags to reception. "It's safer there," Livai assures us. "I will give you my address later, that way you can come visit me."

We say goodbye to Livai, and he tells us he will see us in a little bit, when we return to pick up our luggage. Next objective: lunch.

We take the long, winding path around the pools and restaurants by the beach. "I like how they call the rooms here 'garden views.' In the States, I'm pretty sure it's a euphemism for a standard room," I say to Jeanne. "You might as well call them 'landscape views."

Jeanne laughs. "Yeah, it's to make the people without a "beach-view" or a "pool view" feel better." This is probably true, but I'm starting to think I prefer to think of it as simply drawing attention to what's actually around us, rather than lamenting what's not there.

We approach the buffet. It's closed. We check the pizza place. Closed. We picked a grand time to eat lunch. Finally, one of the waiters directs us to the one menu in the whole resort that actually serves food between 11 a.m. and noon.

We sit down to lunch, a club sandwich with fries, then decide to kill some time by sitting by the water and read more of our books, Shantaram and The Idiot.

"If you could travel anywhere in the world next, where would you go?" I ask Jeanne. Terrible. We have just spent four months in Australia, are currently in Fiji and are still planning our next getaway. We joked earlier about how we are not going to be able to get a job anywhere, not when we have huge three or four-month chunks of time each year that we spend traveling.

"Honestly, Australia is still at the top of my list!"

With a pang, I know what she means. "Mine, too."

"Good thing we're going next year," she smiles. "But no, seriously, Egypt is still at the top of my list. What about you?"

"Maybe parts of Europe? There's still so much I haven't seen," I say, thinking of Italy and Greece. "I definitely want to see Greece. And New Zealand. But I'm not sure."

We discuss the Caribbean. How despite living in Florida, neither of us has actually been there, and how it's so close that because we COULD go there anytime we want. South America. Costa Rica. Brazil. I see a South American/Central American trip in our future. I wish I could take Jeanne to Africa, particularly Tanzania. Jeanne remarks how Australia feels like a second home, and she wishes she could simply pick up all of our friends and move them to Sydney.

After some more plotting, it's almost noon. Pedicure time.

We arrive at Harmony Retreat, a shaded oasis in the middle of the resort. After checking in, we are soon ushered into an thatched hut, where two smiling ladies greet us with tubs of hot, soapy water for our feet. "Bula!"

By now, we are used to this greeting and we say "Bula!" in return.

This is exactly what you think getting a pedicure in Fiji would be like: you're in a hut, surrounded by flowers and foliage, and calm, soothing music that sounds like a movie soundtrack but with panflutes is playing from the background.

Jeanne chooses a bright, classy reddish pink color. I opt for something different than my usual light pink or purple. "I want the color of Fijian waters in my feet," I tell Jeanne, picking a bluish green.

One pedicure and a few chapters of Shantaram/The Idiot later, we find ourselves at Port Denarau, the main departure point on the main island to the outer lying islands.

We check in with the boarding crew and soon board our ship. We climb all the way to the top deck. Nobody is up here.

"Look, we're following Yella." I see where Jeanne is pointing as our ship pulls away from the dock. Our ship follows closely behind another large yellow ship. When Jeanne says "Yellow" it sounds like "Yella." I comment how it's lucky for us, in case Yella hits a rock and sinks, we can avoid danger and sail around them.

"You're ridiculous," Jeanne tells me. She tells me that a lot.

Soon we are out in open ocean, streaming away from Port Denarau and toward the first island, Matamanoa.

We are no longer following the yellow boat. Our path diverges when Port Denarau is far behind us.

"Goodbye, Yella!" Jeanne yells at the boat.

It's only an hour or so ride, so Jeanne pulls out Shantaram once more. I want to listen to my iPod. I think about turning on Hillsong, but since we've been binging on Hillsong music, I decide to give them a rest, and instead opt for shuffling my playlist.

First, Josh Pyke serenades me with his "New Year's Song":

And there are many ones that one can divide a life and I've got mine
I was flying home and I saw the sunset from the sky
I saw the dark come spinning down upon the land
And I thought about the distance we all cover and it made me sad

And as the old year took a bow and joined the setting sun
It comes around like a refrain
And we all sing along and think of things we should have done
til one year when the new year never came

Little comfort, little comfort I'm afraid you're not enough
I've had some learning, but unwelcome and unkind
And it's seems there's but one story told then reworked all throughout time...

Phil Wickham comes on. I've never paid much attention to this song before, but out here, in the remote middle of the Pacific Ocean, on a ship, sailing to a remote island, the song suddenly makes a bit more sense: Your love is deeper than any ocean/Higher than the heavens reach/Beyond the stars in the sky/Jesus Your love has no bounds.

Then, Ben Folds with his lilting piano and soft, insistent lyrics: I must give the impression that I have the answers to everything/You were so disappointed to see me unravel so easily/But it's only changed only everything I know/Even if the things that seem still are still changing... La da la da la da da da da da la da la da

Jeanne must have thought that I was sleeping, because I move slightly and she immediately asks me if I am awake. She promptly asks me for some of the sour rainbow licorice I have tucked away in my purse. We think about busting out some Tim Tams. Jeanne has a good point though: "It kind of seems like a waste to have a Tim Tam without the Slam."

It's okay though, because our ship is pulling offshore from the first island. It's a small stretch of white sandy beach lined with palm trees. There is one wooden building surrounded by large white umbrellas. It looks like a resort. "Is that our island?" I ask Jeanne. "This is OUR island," I growl at Jeanne, like Mr. Friendly from LOST.

"It must be."

I realize the first obvious thing: they're no dock, no pier. I see a tiny boat motoring toward us from the island. Oh. So THAT's how we're getting to the island.

We step into the tiny boat, where they've already loaded our ginormous luggage. Jeanne at first sits next to our luggage and I am sitting across from her. Then she realizes it might be better to evenly distribute the weight so as not to tip the boat. She sits next to me. Prays that our boat doesn't tip over, an account of our epic-sized baggage. Our luggages are so large, we've nicknamed them. Jeanne's is "The Tank" since I'm pretty sure it's a retired military vehicle. And mine is "the Pumpkin," on account of its large, orange qualities. I often wish it would transform into a carriage so we wouldn't have to pay to take all of this public transportation.

"Good-bye! Good-bye," our boathand shouts cheerfully as we pull away from our cruise ship in our tiny boat. He is holding a small plastic Einstein bobblehead. The ones that come in the McDonalds Happy Meals. And Einstein is waving good-bye to the cruise ship passengers. Huh, I think. I've got one of those too. How cute.

"Good-bye!" Tiny Einstein shouts.

The boathand is waving Einstein around, as if it's the Fiji flag and it's Independence Day. He mumbles something about Einstein having fallen from one of the suitcases.

"Oh, it's Einy!" Jeanne laughs.

A shot of recognition through me. "No, it's Albi!."

While we were visiting Bondi Beach, Jeanne's mom bought each of us tiny Einstein bobbleheads from McDonald's (Macca's, as the Aussies say), since we both were tickled at how darn cute these little guys were in the Night at the Museum 2 movie. Jeanne named hers Einy, and I named mine Albi.

Of all the things to fall out of my suitcase.

I sheepishly laugh, stuff Albi back into The Pumpkin.

As we pull onshore, we are instructed to take our shoes off. No problem.

We jump off of the boat and are greeted by a smiling Fiji lady with a guitar strapped to her back. "Bula!" she smiles.


She gracefully lays a seashell necklace on each of our necks and says, "Follow me." We notice a handful of other tourists sitting on the pool deck, watching both us and our boat interestedly, as if this is the most exciting thing that's happened to them all day. She tells us to enjoy our welcome drinks--tall glasses of pink and white sweet frostiness, topped with fresh pineapple--and that she will brief us as soon as we are checked in.

Soon, we are surrounded by a half dozen Fijians that are singing a welcome song, something lovely about how happy they are that we are here, and that hopefully this is an island where all our wishes come true. I hope they've pre-ordered a Joel and a Sawyer, for Jeanne's and my sake.

After we settle into our little bungalow villa, we realize the sun is almost setting so we stroll around the beach, seeing if we can walk around the perimeter of the island before the sun sets in 10 minutes. It's that small.

"You know the best thing about this island?" Jeanne asks me, grinning. "No shoes."

We make our way onto the beach, stepping over pieces of coral and rocks. We sit on a rock, and look out toward the sun.

Somehow, we got on the topic of honeymoons. "My poor husband. The more traveling I do, the more picky I'll be," laughs Jeanne. "I don't know where my husband is going to take me that I haven't already been."

"Yeah, I mean, Fiji might have been one of those places I would've liked to go on my honeymoon. But now I've already been here. Scratch that off the list."

"Now Tahiti sounds exotic."

"Or Samoa."

"You know you're spoiled when Fiji no longer sounds exotic," we laugh.

Although it's true what my mom said," interjects Jeanne. "When you're on your honeymoon, the most important thing is that you're with your husband. The place doesn't matter so much."

As if on cue, a couple walks down the stone steps leading down toward the beach, greets us and asked us if we just arrived to the island today. This island is so small, the other resort guests know when you're new. Ethan Rom from Lost wouldn't have lasted a day.

We watch the sunset over Fiji. I try to dwell on how surreal this moment is, trying to stare at the water and the sun.

Maybe I shouldn't have stared too hard at the sun, because now I feel like I can't see.

"The sun burned my eyes out," Jeanne says.

We walk back and promptly get lost trying to find our bungalow. Guess the island isn't THAT small. I feel like we should send Sayid up the mountain with his transceiver to triangulate our position so we can go back to our room to change into jeans (with the sun gone, the air feels much cooler) before we head to dinner.

After a grand total of a minute of being lost, we find our room and get dressed and stop at the bar first, ordering half a carafe of white wine. The bartender smiles and pours us each half a glass of white wine. We stare, puzzled at the glasses. "I thought we ordered half a carafe of wine." Jeanne looks at me and shrugs and we take our glasses to to the deck to enjoy the view of the darkened water and sand before us.

After a few moments of silence, Jeanne remarks. "Where's Walter when you need him? We need him to talk about how we would, I don't know, escape this island if we needed to."

"Well, how would you escape the island?" We attempt to hold a candle to Walter's imaginative and random musings, but fail slightly. Or at least long enough for each of us to drink a glass of wine, the sand in our Fijian hourglass.

"I wish we had more wine."

"I thought a half carafe came with more than just two glasses."

"Well, we can always order more wine."

We trudge back to the bar, sad that we got scammed on our half carafe of wine. We are stopped by one of the waitresses who asks us if we are having dinner yet. It's 7 o'clock.

"I think we are going to order some more wine first." We head to the bar, trying to figure out what the next drink will be.

We see the bartender and she smiles at us. "Laaaadies," her voice rings out in a singsongy voice as she holds our gleaming carafe half-full of white wine. It's enough for a glass and a half each.

White wine, it is.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

MJ, Meet Fiji. Fiji, get ready for MJ.

Wake up: 8am. Shower, repack, put the Tim Tams (yes, all 5 boxes) into a paper bag to smuggle into Fiji. Check, double-check, and triple-check the apartment before we leave, before we officially lock ourselves out.

Stop and get gas for the rental. Drive to the pump on the wrong side of the car. Drive to the wrong pump on the right side of the car. Pull up, aligning the correct pump with the correct side and the gas tank. "3rd time's a charm!", Mel laughs at me.

Turn in the rental car. Check in all 4 bags, carry on 5 more. You'd think, after mailing 4 boxes to the States, that we'd have less luggage. The lady who checks us in chides us for not printing out our e-ticket itineraries, saying she cannot let us check in until we do. "I have it on my laptop, will that work?" "Yes, I suppose so." We both thank God, once again, that we brought our brilliant Macs along.

We go talk to Elizabeth, the nice Air Pacific lady, who promises to seat us together. "You wanna meet two nice boys? I just sat two boys together in row 64. I asked them, 'why do you want to sit together? You should be sitting with two pretty girls!' You two check them out and re-arrange seats." We laugh and certainly agree to do so.

Go through border control/customs. Next, security. So many steps to get out of Sydney!

Of course, Mel gets "randomly searched". Right. She tries to hide from me, but hears my loud laugh as I see her behind the glass partition. She always gets 'randomly searched.' It's only happened to me once. It's because I'm white. They've forgotten the Irish are just as dangerous.

We head down to the gate, gate 32. We're early, despite the 3 checkpoints we had to maneuver. We sit down for a minute and watch "What Happens on Tour" from the "I Heart Revolution" Hillsong DVD that Mel bought at our last church service. We laugh and laugh at the goofiness of Jad, JD, Joel, Phil and the other people on the United We Stand tour. I tell Mel that if we were famous, people would definitely think we are as funny as these guys - basically, they are just video blogging like we always do, being silly. I find them entertaining. We laugh and make comments for a good 15 minutes. As we leave to walk around, Mel whispers, "That guy over there has been laughing at us for the past 15 minutes." "He probably knows these guys, and is thinking we're ridiculous." "Maybe they will be on our flight." "Maybe they'll be in row 64. I already know what line I'll use. Excuse me, but you're in my seat, Jad. Yours is right here (as I hand him my own boarding pass.)"

Mel rolls her eyes at me - a common occurrence.

But alas, as we board the plane a bit later, no Hillsong boys. The boys in 64 are a bit young for us, I think. We settle in and sit on the plane for another hour. "We've had to load an extra 1000 litres of fuel, because there are thunderstorms in Fiji. We're all set to jet, but we've just got to recalculate the balance of the plane."

Mel falls asleep, and "In the Skin of a Lion" falls out of her hand, jerking her awake. I, reading Shantaram, laugh at the sequence of events I see out of the corner of my eye. "Fall asleep?" "Yeah. The book woke me up, just like Salvatore Dali's keys." "Did you have any dreams?" "Um, I think so? I thought we'd have been in the air by now."

Sooner or later, we take off. I have found myself lately more engrossed with watching people and thinking about them instead of reading or being in my own mind. The guy next to me, across the aisle, is an Indian man. I later peer across the aisle to see his customs form, and find out he's actually a resident of Australia. He's got a hat on with the American flag and an eagle, and it says USA on the back. I catch him looking at me every now and then, but I never talk to him. I wish I had.

There are also two kids in the row behind him, who have apparently never been on a flight. There are a TON of kids on this flight! Anyway, as we take off, the little girl is chanting "I'm scared, I'm scared!" as her mom replies "Hold my finger." Both the little boy and the little girl have massive grips on their mom and dad's fingers. "How cute", I say to Mel.

We eat dinner, have bourbon and cokes, and then they come around with tea. I look at Mel. "Tim Tam Slams". She holds my entire tray of food, balancing her own tray and both of our tea cups as well, as I scoot out of my seat and retrieve the half-finished tray of Caramel Tim Tams from the luggage compartment above. We celebrate our imminent arrival in Fiji with 3 Tim Tam Slams each, and we marvel over the fact that they are far better with tea than hot chocolate.

As we land, it seems as if every Fijian who works at the airport lines the outdoor walkway to the inside. "I feel like a celebrity", I say to Mel. She nods her agreement. We hit our first queue of the Fijian Airport: the passport control queue. It takes forever. Luckily, 'the tank' and 'the pumpkin' and all of our other checked bags arrive quickly thereafter. We hit our second queue: the customs declaration line. We successfully make it through, and a man sends us to our taxi, to bring us to the Radisson at Denerau on the main island of Fiji.

The lady in the customs line had told me to make sure that the taxi driver charges us per the meter, instead of a flat rate. The taxi driver refuses, saying that the hotel is outside of the meter zone. Our bags are already neatly packed in the back, so what can we do? I mumble a few comments under my breath (I so hate feeling like I'm being taken advantage of), and then simmer down once I realize he's charging us only $25 in Fijian dollars - a mere $12.50 USD. It reminds me of part of the book I'm reading (Shantaram) where he says that he pays $6 a day for the hotel when he knows he can get it for $4, because it helps the deskman to feed his family. If he only paid $4, the hotel owner would be the only one who made money, and the deskman barely survives on his salary. I'm a spoiled American.

We are heading towards our hotel, down a dark road. I look out the window, entranced by the beautiful stars. It's very, very dark, and I can see them well. It reminds me of being along the southern coast of Australia (between Sydney and Melbourne) in Bermagui and also of being in the Outback. I love it. Suddenly, we make a sharp right turn down a deserted dirt road. My cautious side is a bit suspicious, and I think of a book I read by Jeffery Deaver about a serial killer/taxi driver who removed all the locks on his door before killing his airport victims in Hell's Kitchen. I instinctively look to check the locks, but I can't see anything. I shake off this ridiculous notion and feel easier when I see a sign on the side of the road with the word "Denerau" written on it.

We pass a car only about every two minutes, and we keep passing Denerau signs. We are in the middle of nowhere, on a remote island in the middle of the Pacific. We pass farms of banana trees on both sides. There is a small wooden structure that looks like a bus stop. Suddenly, we pass a black man in a bright white shirt, standing at the end of this driveway, looking for someone or something. I think to myself, "Good thing he's wearing white, or nobody would see him.", and we pass another car.

We get to the gates of Denerau - I had no idea it was a gated resort area - and we pass through easily because we're in a taxi. Mel and I laugh out loud as we drive past 3 native Fijian men who yell through the cracked windows, "BULA! ULA-ULA-ULA!" which means welcome (and maybe goodbye, also). The taxi driver laughs, too.

We pass the Westin, The Sofitel, and other random hotels. Mel says later she was thinking, "I hope the Radisson is as nice as these." We pull into our hotel, which seems pretty rad from the driveway. The lobby is all open-air (just like Hawaii) and they greet us warmly as we check in. The man who insisted on pulling our luggage out of the car and up the stairs rejoins us with a smile to accompany us to our room. "Is this the first Fijian face you've seen?" He asks. I have to ask him to repeat it at least twice because his voice is soft, his accent lilting, and he's a bit far from me. "Yes, I think it is." But Mel corrects me and tells him that our flight attendants were Fijian. He smiles. "On holiday? Done with school? Finished working?", he fires questions at us. "Kind of", I say. Mel replies, "We've been on holiday in Australia for quite a while now. We're taking a last holiday before we head back to the States." "You'll love Fiji!" He exclaims.

He leaves our luggage on the second floor as he escorts us up the stairs to our hotel room. He pulls out the key, opens the door with a flourish and insists we hurry in. "If anything is not perfect, if anything is missing, please tell me." He says, as he rushes back down the stairs to bring up our luggage. "Oh my gosh. LOOK at the SIZE of that bed!" I say to Mel. "Look at the bathroom!" "The Chaise! "The balcony!" "The TV!" We go back and forth for a while. You'd think we've never seen a nice hotel before. We stayed at the Novatel in Cairns with my mom when she came to Australia, and we thought we hit the lottery back then. But we had no idea.

Our concierge smiles at us as we beam towards him, "This place is lovely!" "Thank you. Now, come on, I want to show you the restaurants. You must be sure to see the entertainment - it is starting now. It's only on Tuesday and Friday, and you will not be here on Friday." He takes us to one of the five pools and says, "Follow the footpath." We almost walk right into the show itself, then backtrack to the far side to avoid disturbing such beauty. We order a Margharita pizza and go to watch men twirl fire. They are all between the ages of 18 and 24, I'd guess, and they are fantastic. We stand there a while, forgetting entirely about our pizza. Eventually we wind back to pick it up and head back to our glorious balcony to eat it. Somewhere near the fourth pool, I look at Mel and joke, "Australia-who?" She laughs, in reference to a joke I made about America the first time we were in Cairns.

We eventually locate the ice machine for our Cokes - it simply must be here for Americans - and gorge ourselves on lovely $10 pizza.

After we finish, we head back into our room and I say "How the heck do you turn this fan off? It sounds like it's about to lift off our room!" Mel and I play with all of the buttons, but no luck. I keep trying to forget it, but it's driving me crazy.

I ring the front desk and ask the receptionist this question.

"Do you see the switch to the left of your bed? What room number are you in?" He asks, as if he's going to come personally show me. "Oh, never mind, I see what button you mean!" I laugh loudly into the receiver and he chuckles back. I can sense this is not the first time he's gotten this question from a tourist.

"If you want to turn of the light, just give us a call back. Haha! Good night ma'am."