Tuesday, February 27, 2007

We come from a land downunder

Alright, it’s been a year since the Hat Trick Of Senseless Tragedy (the deaths, they do come in threes) and, in honor of that, I shall populate the blog so the recent entries aren’t all year-old eulogies.

Last week, I was prepping for a big prostitution trial that ultimately got continued, so I was sent at the very last minute to Auckland, New Zealand, for a conference on avian influenza and the International Health Regulations. Last minute as in twenty-four hours’ notice without a clean pair of underwear in sight. Cue frenzied laundry-making and frantic packing.

The trip there was like any other trip off of Gilligan’s Island. Long and annoying and usually routed through second and third world airports where bribery is not only encouraged, but sometimes required. Yeah, I’m looking at you, Manila. I will say this: There is no problem that cannot be solved in Manila with a carefully placed bill; however, there is no way to get through Manila without encountering some sort of problem.

To top it all off, I arrived in Auckland filthy, after twenty-four hours of travel, only to find that I had no hotel reservation because my trip was so last minute. So, there I was in Auckland, where I know no one and nothing about the city, wearing dirty, matted pigtails, carrying 50 pounds worth of luggage and trying to find a place to shower. Naturally, my conference just so happened to coincide with about a billion other conferences, as well as two cricket tournaments, so there was not a room to be had for under $300NZD. Thus commenced a frenetic flurry of email searching and telephone calls that may or may not have involved a teensy bit of crying. Shut up, I was tired.

Ultimately, I was able to locate an old-fashioned pub stay called the Shakespeare Tavern, which was just as awesome as it sounds. For the uninitiated, a “pub stay” is just what you would think – a pub with hotel rooms above it. Now, if you know me at all, you know that there could be no place more perfect for me to stay, particularly for an extended period. Before I left Palau, I said the main thing I was looking forward to was walking into a bar where nobody knew me. Obviously, that lasted only one night. By night two, they were greeting me when I walked in the door; by night three, I was family.

With respect to the room, naturally I expected the worst. Perhaps some fold-up mattress in a room with stained carpet, reeking vaguely of beer. In fact, it was immaculate. No, really. The bed even had fancy bedclothes. Now, it was teeny, don’t get me wrong. There was only a tiny swath of walking space around the bed to the bathroom or the lone window that also did double duty as the “exit” to the “balcony.” I think had I not lost all of the weight, it might have been unnavigable, it was that small.

The staff was what you’d expect from a local pub stay. Everyone did double duty. The manager was also the bell boy, as well as the bartender on odd nights and occasionally ran food for the kitchen and cleaned the rooms. It’s odd to have the person who cleans your room serve you beers at night. There are a lot of personal things in your hotel room that you don’t think about until you start seeing the man who cleans it every night. I found myself “pre-cleaning” the room to rid it of the embarrassing things you know you keep in your hotel room, too.

The conference itself was enjoyable, if a little terrifying. The prospect of bird flu hitting a tiny island nation without a lot of resources is daunting, to say the least. But it’s always refreshing to meet with the other Pacific Islanders. Our respective countries have, literally, nothing in common except that we’re all in the Pacific and we eat taro. Different languages, different histories, different perspectives. And Palau is the tiniest of them all. It’s kind of neat to be the tiny, underdog nation of only 24,000. Of course, any benefit I get from being the underdog is set off by the fact that I’m still seen as the ugly American there to take charge. Oh well. You can eat the taro and the mangrove clam, but you just can’t make yourself an islander in the end, which is probably as it should be.

Now, of course, I’m back in Palau, having survived a particularly hairy luggage snafu that left me in Manila once again searching for a palm to grease. Still, it was a wonderful trip. In the sunset of my current contract, I’ve got to start seriously thinking about my next step. After the trip, I’m this close to becoming a transplant Kiwi, for a million reasons, a couple of them actually legitimate. Either that, or I’m looking into Canada, Hawaii or perhaps the Caribbean. I simply cannot come back to the mainland until that man is gone from the White House and replaced with someone sensible.

Aw, come on, y’all didn't think I was ready to give up being interrupted yet, did you?