Tube diversions

For the longest time I’ve avoided public transport. Back in Wellington I harboured actual resentment towards the bus. The route my bus took went past the high school, so every morning I’d share my trip with 30-odd children. (I’m not sure what age you get where you start thinking of high-schoolers as children, but I’m definitely past the threshold.) These children would take up all of the seats, yelling across the aisle at their little friends, dropping the C-word like it was nothing. In my opinion you have to EARN the right to use the c-word. Be a British builder with bum-crack showing and some scary looking tattoos; be a feminist reclaiming the word; at the least be old enough to have dealt with puberty before you tackle that.

So I’d be standing on the bus, tipping from side to side as the driver took perverse pleasure in making 90 degree turns, while pre-pubescents without tattoos and without feminism called each other cunts and sluts. And it would cost me $3.50. This is why I walked to work and back. An hour goes pretty fast when you have podcast subscriptions.

It also meant you'd walk past art students' weird projects.

It also meant you’d walk past art students’ weird projects.

However, I’m in London now, which is quite large. Five times larger than Wellington. And when I started plugging postcodes into Google Maps then pressing the Walking button, it was clear that it was not going to be an option. Two hours there, two hours back: this is a daily physical proposition I am not ready to accept.

So I take the tube. And despite the reputation it has for being armpit-heavy (in smell and in physical proximity to), I LOVE the tube. Hold your card on the yellow reader. It beeps hello. Join a throng of people all going down an escalator, into the EARTH. Stand on the right if you want to stand, walk on the left if you want to walk. Sway into another’s aisle and face the wrath of a collection of passive-aggressive British tuts. Then a train arrives through a little tunnel, from underneath the EARTH, and you squish in to get a seat or find a bar to hold. Read the free metro paper or play Candy Crush on your phone, jostle jostle vroom vroom, then mind the gap on your way back out of the earth. The card reader beeps goodbye and you emerge. The buildings and the people are different. Sometimes the weather has changed. And you and your fellow tubers all disperse, like dandelion seeds, out into a new part of the world, as if by magic.

Sure, this might be the dictionary definition of "tuber", but dictionaries can be changed.

Sure, this might be the dictionary definition of “tuber”, but dictionaries can be changed.

One thing the bus doesn’t afford you is the chance to people watch. You all face the same direction, so you can look at the back of people’s heads and guess what their noses look like, but it’s not a particularly time-consuming game. Pointy, flat, squished, freckly, up-turned, wide. There are only so many nose options and once you’ve catalogued the bus you’re stuck looking out of the window. Not so on the tube. You all face each other in seated rows, forced to make eye contact when the girl across the aisle realises you’ve been looking at her intently. And you’re underground, which means you can’t get away with wearing sunglasses to hide your curious stares.

It’s not that I’m checking people out. I’m happily taken and get enough ogling at home. I just like making up stories for people. Take the girl in the peach dress, for example. I was on my way to a job interview and felt I looked extremely polished… until I saw her. She didn’t as much walk onto the train but glide. Her hair was shiny and perfectly in place – rows and rows of uniform chocolate brown strands. As soon as MY hair gets a whiff of rain it curls up at the sides, as if to welcome the drizzle, but I imagine her hair could be classed as ‘weather resistant’. It was her fingernails that caused me the most jealousy. She curled her hand around a beige designer handbag, each French manicured fingernail unchipped and all the same length. After six weeks of backpacking, my fingernails were torn, bitten, and were worringly sort of… grey.

So I gaped at her, wondering what she was doing. I imagined her name was something like Alexandra. Something full of syllables that she’d never shorten. I decided she was on her way to meet her boyfriend, who would have coiffed hair and an expensive hobby like archery or cocaine. They both loved each other and felt like this relationship was it, The One, but both were too proud to admit it, so they downplayed their emotions and pretended it was casual. She’d work in banking, because Daddy worked in banking. She hated poor people. She kicked dogs. Ugh. She was the worst.

How could you, Alexandra?

How could you, Alexandra?

I started to feel bad. I’d started spiralling Alexandra into a backstory of wealth and privilege and villainy, all because she dressed well and had nice fingernails. So I rewrote it, deciding instead she was the daughter of a welder and librarian. She’d studied hard and gained scholarships. She had natural financial savvy and had thrived in the stock market. And I got rid of the boyfriend, deciding instead she was living with a poor but kind teacher. No, she was single. No, she was a lesbian. With an Asian girlfriend. Take that, diversity.

Satisfied with Alexandra’s life story, I let my eyes wander around the rest of the compartment to a man in orange coveralls, napping on an overstuffed backpack. Immediately I decided he was a good person. In films, the men with grubby hands and workmen’s clothes are always good people. Salt of the earth types. Then I remembered back to my earlier snap judgement. It would be unfair to judge him so quickly too. So what if this man wasn’t named something nice like James, but something scary like… Victor?

Perhaps the bag wasn’t full of workman’s tools like I’d imagined, but… human… fingers. And he wasn’t sleeping from physical exhaustion, he was tired from being up so late, chopping off fingers. I frowned at him. If he’d stayed up so late chopping fingers off, why were his hands greasy instead of blood-stained? Maybe it wasn’t fingers at all, but instead he went around stealing little parts of children’s bicycles, so the children couldn’t ride them anymore?

Image by the Magnificent Octopus on Flickr.

A real dick move, Victor.

I shook my head at him, shocked at what a horrible person he was. Until I realised how crazy I was being. No! Victor wasn’t evil for no reason… it was probably all because Victor’s parents had never bought him a bicycle. Poor Victor. If he had access to therapy he might be able to work through those issues, but he can’t afford it. We reached my stop and I stepped off the train, leaving Alexandra and Victor alone in the carriage. As I climbed the stairs to the outside of the earth, I thought of little Victor, six years old, waking up on Christmas morning. He puts on his little orange’s workmen’s clothes and grubbies up his hands before running down the stairs to look under the tree. But there’s nothing there. His parents forgot Christmas, again. And his friends all laugh, and ride their bicycles around him in a circle, taunting him with their wheels and bells.

My heart broke for him. But then I thought about all the broken bikes across London. Pink bikes and blue bikes and little gender-neutral bikes with the training wheels still on. So I thought back to Alexandra and her Asian lesbian girlfriend. I decided she was a cop. And I planned that she would arrest Victor that evening, uncovering his bag full of little bike parts. And then she’d probably say something like how he wouldn’t take THIS department for a ride, then she’d smirk. God, she was cool.

The yellow card reader beeped goodbye, and I headed to my job interview, sad to leave them all behind.

Still. There would always be the trip home.

Why I would not recommend the overnight bus

Dear bus,

I suppose it wasn’t really your fault. You are a machine constructed of interlocking metal pieces, stuck with your place in the world, whether you asked for it or not. Maybe you could have been something nicer, like a toaster? I’m not familiar with the differences between toaster metal and bus metal but they can’t be THAT dissimilar. Silver in colour and cool to the touch, that’s the metal motto.

But you aren’t a toaster, are you. You are a bus. A bus that advertised a luxurious sleeping service, like it was some sort of royal treatment. You boasted of hammocks and bunks, of luxury linen. Sat at home in front of my laptop, my credit card in hand, I was excited. It seemed too good to be true, to pay the price of a night’s accommodation but get free travel to boot.

Maybe a bit of this is on me. Six weeks in Europe backpacking and I still haven’t learnt that if something seems too good to be true, it’s because it’s secretly terrible. It is worse than the thing that seems just ok enough to be true. It’s probably about as good as the thing that seems like a bad idea.

This was the view from a too-good-to-be-true hotel room.

This was the view from a too-good-to-be-true hotel room.

Avoiding giving customers allocated sleeping quarters – why not, because that would take someone an extra ten seconds and save a lot of hassle – resulted in fierce bus demand. Instead of schlumping around the coach station, we joined our fellow passengers in two queues to make sure we got a good bed. No, not one queue, but two. Why? Well, why not. It gave us the competitive challenge of aggressively merging together at the ticket collection, girls in ugg boots shoving elderly men out of the way to get to the front.

We boarded, eventually, and were directed to the bed at the end of the bus. Now, I just used the word ‘bed’, but only because you’ve got me on a technicality. It was technically long enough for a human person. It technically had linens (though I’d argue that a fleece blanket on a starched sheet isn’t “luxury”, unless you’re using third-world standards to describe your features). The small shoulder pad placed at the head of the bed was probably intended as a pillow, and it did technically raise my head slightly off the hard pallet. If you held a small focus group, participants would look at the arrangement and label it ‘bed’, but I would imagine most would add “but only technically”.

Due to the fact that my high water consumption has me scrambling up early for the bathroom, I picked the outside with TJ on the inside. I won’t lie, bus. Watching him fold himself into a tiny bottom bunk was a treat. One foot went up, one went down, and his body tried to follow both legs at once. He was mostly on the floor when a fellow passenger pointed out you could pull the barrier down to climb in.

My entrance was no more graceful than his, but at least no one was watching by that point. We lay down and tried to arrange the bags at our feet, with our feet. We were only able to bend our bodies at a very slight obtuse angle before our foreheads came into contact with the bed above, so dexterity of foot was required (as a note, maybe you should mention this in your ad?).

My view. Not quite the scenic experience I'd wagered on.

My view. Not quite the scenic experience I’d wagered on.

The bags shoved against the wall, we turned our attention to the blankets, attempting to wiggle them into the right place. Exhausted and sweaty from the worm-like manoeuvring, we were happy to find the refreshments arrive – a bottle of water labelled “special price 29p!”. The lights were turned off and we settled in to sleep.

I hadn’t quite considered that a bus with sixty passengers would be like being in a dorm room with sixty roommates. We heard every cough, phone beep and whispered chatter. It took ten minutes but I managed to kick the bag of earplugs out of my pack and get them up to my face. Now all I could hear were slightly muffed coughs, phone beeps and whispered chatter.

I lay back and closed my eyes as you wove your way throughout the dark city streets. Corners resulted in my bed moving sideways, causing me to smack into the barrier between TJ and myself. I tried lying flat on my back. This didn’t work either, as the provided sheet was tucked in tightly enough to create a smooth plane. When you went up a hill I slid with you. Luckily my head was there to break the momentum.

At some point I managed to assemble myself like a mangled paper clip in such a fashion that I remained still. And I fell asleep.

A human paper clip, a female figure of eight knot.

A human paper clip, a female figure of eight knot.

I only woke up ten or twelve times, something I’m sure is some sort of bus record (if you have an awards ceremony I would be delighted to attend). One time I woke up as the driver announced that the toilet was broken. Another time I woke up from a particularly bumpy jolt. But the most memorable wake-up was probably the driver announcing that you had broken down, and we were on a motorway, and help would be an hour away. We lay in our beds, on a bus, on the side of the motorway, feeling our teeth rattle everytime a large vehicle went past.

And that’s where our time together came to an end, bus. Your replacement arrived – a traditional chap, with seats and a working toilet. As we staggered towards it, passing a line of men urinating into a clump of trees, I did not look back. It wasn’t that I was mad at you, bus. It wasn’t really your fault. But next time? I’m definitely taking the train. And with the time I’ve got spare, I’ll make myself a lovely breakfast. Of toast.

Yours sincerely,

Kate

Forging friendship over a chicken noodle groin

Severe diarrhoea, ending in a horrible death. That’s what dysentery is, and it’s what most people died of on the Oregon trail, according to the video game.

Bit of a bummer.

Bit of a bummer.

In reality it was cholera that was the most prolific disease. Cholera was similar to its pal dysentery – except that as well as the explosive pooing, you also vomited your way to the grave.

Imagine being trapped in a wagon with your whole family as they slowly all crap themselves to death. You can understand why they took along a banjo or two to sing some songs. While Aunt Mildred is spraying from both ends it can’t hurt to drown out the sound with some folky hymns.

As well as covering up the sound of gastronomic problems, singing releases endorphins and lowers blood pressure. As your wagon bumps along the trail, familial vomit pooling on the floor, your relaxed and happy demeanour will help you through.

During our recent travels through Europe, TJ and I would often sing to alleviate stress. As we walked up hills in thirty degree heat, we’d hum familiar tunes, enjoying the camaraderie and bonding it would bring.

See how little we hate each other? All thanks to the music.

See how little we hate each other? All thanks to the music.

“Here I am!”, I would begin.
“I ain’t got a dick, I got a chicken noodle can”, TJ would follow.

Together, we’d continue:

“All my life
I’ve been putting this can inside my chicken noodle wife.”

(Sitting on seven-hour train journeys with nothing but a backlog of Harmontown podcasts had given us a unique set of songs to sit along to.)

It didn’t end with the chicken noodle man having unsatisfying sex with his chicken noodle wife. We also added Pringles Dick to our set list, a song with a similar theme of a man sporting a snack-based penis. The gist, if you aren’t familiar, is that a chap is stuck with the nickname “Pringles dick”, yet feels at a loss to explain the reasoning behind it.

Some people call me Pringles dick, but I never really found out why.

He goes on to examine the situation, explaining that he simply stores his organ inside a (presumably empty) Pringles can to ensure it stays free from water and remains secure.

I don’t really have a Pringles dick, I just keep my dick inside
I keep my dick inside a Pringles can, because it keeps my penis safe and dry.
Some people call me Pringles dick, but I never really found out (no, I never found out)
I never really found out why.

The first time we bought Pringles overseas was at the Vatican City. Despite the super-religious-and-very-serious vibe the place seemed to promote, we felt a duty to pay homage to one of our favourite tunes with a photo.

You'd never believe he was raised a Catholic.

You’d never believe he was raised a Catholic.

A few weeks later we were in York, and we ended up at a very small and terrifying pub. We walked in and were greeted with silent stares, the burly tattooed men suspicious of the new arrivals with their own teeth. We ended up out the back, sitting at a table with two men from Glasgow. One was young and cocky, the scar on his arm suggesting he wasn’t the type to run from a fight. The other was older, wiser, and far more drunk. He moved like his centre of gravity was being toyed with by opposing bored magnets, his nose a deep and angry red, with a transport map of purple veins. Our conversation began with him slurring with a heavy Scottish accent, me replying “what?”, so to make things easier, he put an arm around my shoulder and shouted everything into my ear.

After a few pints and some confusing shouting about building railroads in Australia, the men treated us to a song – a Scottish ditty their grandfathers might have sung. Stuck without remembering any traditional New Zealand songs – with no Pokarekare Ana at the ready, forgetting the verses to I’m an Utter Peanut Butter Nutter, we launched into Chicken Noodle Man.

Come on, Sanitarium. Bring the jingle back.

Come on, Sanitarium. Bring the jingle back.

Two lines in and our drunk friend hit the table hard with his palm.

“I love this song!” he shouted, continuing to hit the table with a rhythmic smack, keeping time with palm against wood.

As we sang about the chicken noodle god coming down from the mountain, he cackled to himself and to his younger friend. “Great song! Chicken noodle! I love those chicken noodles!”

Knowing that he probably wouldn’t have ever used a computer, let alone understood what a podcast was, we didn’t try to explain the song’s origin. We just taught him the words. Sure, we may not have had the glamour and excitement of an infectious intestinal disease. But we had friendship, we had beer, and we had songs about men with cylindrical genitals.

And with that, we didn’t need anything else.

Finding myself in Europe

Before we left for our European backpacking adventure, I looked forward to meeting the new Kate.

The new Kate was a seasoned traveller, one who would shrug her bronzed shoulders when problems cropped up, scraping together her last few coins for beer instead of a hostel. Nothing would faze her. She would try everything. She would leap off the high dives, she would ignore the safety warnings, she would sleep in parks instead of hotels. I had this great romantic idea that TJ & I would land at Heathrow and my new personality would be waiting for me at the gate, her arms already adorned with friendship bracelets gifted from Spanish girls with pierced noses. I figured that once we got there, everything would fall into place, and new Kate would take over.

She probably wears more than one necklace at once, too.

She probably wears more than one necklace at once, too.

It turns out that personality transplants are not as easily obtained as I thought. After a few days in London, after we’d seen the changing of the guard (interminably dull) and Camden (completely fantastic), I slowly realised that the new bohemian Kate hadn’t shown up, and regular Kate was going to have to be in charge. We decided to get Eurail passes – giving us ten days of travel within two months – ostensibly because they were cheaper than booking individual journeys. Realistically, it meant I still didn’t have to do any real planning. Eurail passes were a buffer between me and committing to countries and dates. Even still, spending the money – money I’d literally saved for only this purpose – required actual self-counselling in my journal. I wrote, “plans are fun, you like plans, just because it is committing to money spend does not make it bad – you will be happier if you do this.”

Our passes would take a few days to arrive, and TJ said we’d go to Ireland in the meantime. I was so grateful to have someone else make decisions for me, so I agreed, and we took a train and a ferry to get there. When we arrived I swung from ecstatic joy over how gorgeous Galway was, through to terror that we would die on a Parisian street in a week.

The Cliffs of Moher, where the sky and the sea bleed together in a striking tableau, but more importantly The Princess Bride was filmed there.

The Cliffs of Moher, where the sky and the sea bleed together in a striking tableau, but more importantly The Princess Bride was filmed there.

I chewed my nails down thinking about how we only had accommodation booked for a limited amount of time. And every time I worried about this stuff, I felt guilty. I was obviously travelling “wrong”. The European Kate from my fantasies – the one who carried only a backpack held together with pins – didn’t worry about this stuff. She skinny-dipped and hitch-hiked and haggled with street vendors.

I’d confess my worries to TJ, who’d hug me and tell me that the worst thing that could happen would be that everything would be fine. We had enough money. We had three sets of parents between us, all of which would bail us out if we ended up in a Prague prostitution ring.

I often thought about my mother’s itineraries. Three weeks before I visited her in Australia for the first time she sent me the itinerary. She had planned out every day, often down to the hour. She’d scheduled relaxation time. She’d included web addresses of theme parks and malls, should I wish to do some research prior to attending. I yearned for her to send me one. I didn’t like that we were adrift in a continent with so many options, with no plan.

Back in New Zealand before we’d left, when people asked what our plans were, I took great delight in announcing we’d be travelling “like leaves on the wind”. It took me a week in Ireland to come to understand that leaves are often blown across roads in front of passing cars, or swept into plastic bags. During a school camp when I was nine, my love of being bossy rewarded with the title of “Bunk Leader”. I got to round up my friends and organise them into a cohesive group, and I loved it. My To Do lists are colour-coded and organised into sub-headings. I have a hierarchy of favourite pens. I am baffled as to how I ever desired being a leaf, how I ever thought I’d be happy sleeping in a park.

Look at those socks. There's no way this girl was ever going to grow up to be a hippy.

Look at those socks. There’s no way this girl was ever going to grow up to be a hippy.

For our final night in Ireland, TJ had splurged on a four-star hotel room in Dublin. His nudges and winks made it clear he had designs on a shared bath, but I saw the hotel stationery and the free wifi and leapt on it. After an hour I’d made a document outlining a plan. The fear of making a decision was outweighed by the happiness a plan would bring, and so I picked dates at random, depending on what I’d seen of the countries in movies.

This earned Salzburg three full days.

This earned Salzburg three full days.

The casual yin to my anxious yang, TJ said if the plan made me happy it was fine with him. So with his help, I booked our first week of accommodation. We planned trains and looked up which platform we’d depart from. And I felt all the stress drain from my body. The weight that spontaneity had been pressing on me was lifted.

After that, travel was so much better. And better still when I stopped worrying I was travelling ‘wrong’ and became happier with my inner planning nerd. Around our early-booked trains and accommodation we let the days fill in themselves, discovering that maybe impulsiveness didn’t feel so scary when there was a bed to come home to.

People say you travel to find yourself. Before we left I was sure I’d find a different version of me, a laissez-faire gal who would sleep in a stranger’s tent. She never showed up. And although my inner organised nerd felt like a burden at first, a stick-in-the-mud with her reference numbers and carefully filed train reservations, I came to love having her around. I like having plans. I am not a leaf. And it’s ok.

Fiji Travel Journal Part Thirteen: Bras, Saw-rey Trav-lahs and Man Hostesses

Part One: Donuts, Margaritas and Waistcoats
Part Two: Airports, Adoption and the Kindness of Strangers
Part Three: Binkies, Babes and Bathtubs
Part Four: Carbs, Catamarans and Cast Away
Part Five: Baronesses, Orations and Foreign Gems
Part Six: Mushroom Brains, Front Naps and Tuna Smashing
Part Seven: Entree, Main Course and Dessert
Part Eight: Periodicals, Pool Hops and Australian Units
Part Nine: Prostitutes, Punking and Proposals
Part Ten: Balloons, Perverts and Tequila
Part Eleven: Bottoms, Bubbles and Definite Things
Part Twelve: The Wrong Towels, Sporting Challenges and Definite Things

**

We arrive at the airport and I shake Annie awake. She’s covered in potato chip crumbs, her bright green underwear visible through her see-through pants, one shoulder of her singlet top hanging down by her elbow. Her hat is crumpled from where she’s slept on it and her eyes are almost shut.

“Ok. I cannot check in without a bra. Hold on” she declares, and dumps her suitcase on the ground to unpack it. She tips out sneakers and books and sarongs onto the airport floor, and eventually locates a bra. I push her towards the ladies room. “Do you need help?” I ask, and she looks at the floor for a while before mumbling “no don’t think so” and stumbling towards the loos.

When she gets back, we join a queue of lazy tourists. Everyone’s on island time, with bare legs, braided hair and sloppy smiles. We stand in stark contrast to the check-in staff, who are all clearly sick of having to balance strict international law with drunk lethargic tourists. They want to call us ma’am and follow procedure, and we want to shout BULA! I am from WELLINGTON! Yes, that IS interesting! THANK you!

Reality is also waiting for us as the x-ray queue. Annie beeps on the way through, making her leap in the air with exaggerated horror. Meanwhile, her handbag is flagged for further checking, and ma’am is asked to step aside. Saw-rey, she says, over and over, as the woman behind the counter pulls out multiple cans of tuna and tubes and tubes of lipsticks and glosses and mascaras. “Do you have a ziploc bag, ma’am?” she is asked, but no, neither of us do. Annie shuffles back to the airport terminal to find one, leaving me to watch our stuff.

Next to me, there’s a woman who looks like she’s come straight from the pool, with a thin black dress on over her coral bikini. An array of bottles is piled up on the counter in front of her, and she is in despair about forgetting about the 100ml limit on liquids. The Fijian women behind the machine help her decide to what gets to stay, collectively deciding that the Kerastase is more important than the half-full hotel samples. They tip them into a bin so she can refill the bottles with her own French stuff, making the room smell like a hair salon.

Their advertising makes hair look like it might strangle you, probably best to respect it.

Their advertising makes hair look like it might strangle you, probably best to respect it.

I stand and watch them squirt the chemical beautifiers down the drain for what seems like ten minutes before I hear, “saw-rey, I’m the worst kind of trav-lah” behind me. Annie emerges with an ‘oops’ expression and a ziploc in her hand.

She dumps her lipsticks into the bag and we’re allowed through to the international departures lounge. After we eat some expensive but disgusting pies, Annie plonks down on a squishy chair and promptly falls asleep. I wander around duty free, trying to spend every last Fijian cent with the perfect combination of bad chocolates and tacky souvenirs.

Alongside the ‘BULA’ and ‘FIJI’ printed on everything, a surprisingly high number of items in the gift shop bear the words, ‘Forgive Me’. The little figurines are incredibly ugly, and I wonder if the plea for forgiveness is supposed to go with the gift itself. Sort of a combo deal. Here is a doll, which I am sorry for giving you. I remember Mr Murphy teaching us in third form maths that a positive and a negative cancel each other out. Is this doll the equivalent of the number zero?

Does it cancel itself out?

Is the doll even really there?!

I DID take a Philosophy paper at university, what makes you ask?

I DID take a Philosophy paper at university, what makes you ask?

The other option seems to be that someone is actually requesting forgiveness, via this doll, for some other slight. Surely, we can consider this a good service that Fiji is providing. If your boyfriend comes home and says he blew all the savings on strippers, but here’s this doll to say he’s sorry … it’s no longer a grey area. No. Flag. Get a new one. You can do better, sweetheart.

On the plane, Annie announces that she’s going to watch ten minutes of Captain America then go to sleep. The plane is half-empty and she manages to negotiate a free row of seats from the “air hostess, the man one” and leaves me to my diet coke, old episodes of Absolutely Fabulous and my travel journal.

Forty minutes later I’m startled out of my concentration when Annie appears at my elbow. “So. My life is amazing. I have had two glasses of bubbles, which is probs not a good idea, but whatevs. Can you SMELL that? I want two dinners. Are you the hungriest you’ve ever been?!”

Without giving me time to respond, she’s gone again.

And yes, I WAS looking forward to food, if only to get the memory of the airport pie out of my head.

And yes, I WAS looking forward to food, if only to get the memory of the airport pie out of my head.

Half an hour later she’s at my elbow again, with flushed cheeks and a bottle of bubbles. She’s thrilled that the attendant gave it to her instead of just pouring her a glass. She’s also aware that this marks the second time today that someone has told her to just take the rest of the bottle. The second time, in just one day, that a service worker has given up. She wonders again about her life choices then stops the air hostess, the man one, to ask for food, any food that’s free, chips or bread or lamb casserole, just free? Puh-lease? She speaks in a hushed tone and he takes in the sight before him before patting her on the shoulder and asking where she’s sitting.

“Oh, BNE, I’m back in 23, I’m going now” she says, and again, she disappears.

I consider taking a nap, but feel like that would be wasting the free entertainment and services. I sit through episodes of Parks and Recreation I’ve already seen, while sipping almost undrinkable coffee.

Annie’s back again. Twenty seven and a half glasses, she tells me, as she requests that I take a photo of her with her second bottle. She’s thrilled that the attendant gave her two bread rolls, two! And with BUTTER! Is butter a thing?!

**

Annie is most definitely drunk, and getting her through customs is like trying to wrangle a puppy. We scan our passports then queue at the smartgates. I’m lost in thought about how great my bed is going to be, but Annie’s got other priorities, as I hear her say behind me, “Where’s your girlfriend gone?”

A man responds, “her passport’s too old, she can’t use this”, and Annie laughs, “oh, you should just leave her here! Where do you live, anyway?”

**

We’re home. I’m carrying what I can only assume is at least ten kilos of new fat cells. Annie’s hauling impressive statistics on how much alcohol she can consume without vomming. We’ve come back poorer and sleepier and redder than when we left, but it was all worth it. We climb into a taxi, shouting “bula!” at our alarmed driver, before Annie says, “We should drive through Maccas, that’d be the BNE. I could smash some chicken right now, let me tell you”.

Our next holiday? It better be a thing.

Fiji Travel Journal Part Twelve: The Wrong Towels, Sporting Challenges and Missing Knickers

Part One: Donuts, Margaritas and Waistcoats
Part Two: Airports, Adoption and the Kindness of Strangers
Part Three: Binkies, Babes and Bathtubs
Part Four: Carbs, Catamarans and Cast Away
Part Five: Baronesses, Orations and Foreign Gems
Part Six: Mushroom Brains, Front Naps and Tuna Smashing
Part Seven: Entree, Main Course and Dessert
Part Eight: Periodicals, Pool Hops and Australian Units
Part Nine: Prostitutes, Punking and Proposals
Part Ten: Balloons, Perverts and Tequila
Part Eleven: Bottoms, Bubbles and Definite Things

**

We’re at reception waiting to check out, moving like we’re in quicksand. Annie’s fighting through layers of bubbles and Malibu to get words out, and my brain is marinated in lard and sugar. Attempting to sound formal and sober, Annie ends up complimenting the quality of the resort maybe twelve times, describing in detail the “lov-ee-lee pin-napples” in the garden. The woman behind the counter, whose passion is reading, nods politely and counts out our change.

In Annie's defense, the pinnapples WERE pretty loveeelee.

In Annie’s defense, the pinnapples WERE pretty loveeelee.

Our shuttle isn’t due to pick us up for another five hours, so we can store our bags at reception and wander out to the pool area. Annie scans the scene and declares that the men are fails and that we’re going to another resort. We go to the desk to get clean towels branded with our resort’s colours. All the resorts have this, a shack with hundreds of balled-up matching towels for guests. It saves you the effort of bringing your own while also ensuring a certain level of uniformity. We head along the path, Annie slugging from the bottle of Malibu.

By the time we get to the next resort Annie has finished the bottle. She’s looking dopey. We find some loungers, she declares that naps are definitely, actually, definitely a thing, and she goes to sleep.

I sit and read, enjoying the silence. It lasts for maybe fifteen minutes before we are politely asked to leave, from a man who deals with conflict as well as I do. “Ma’am, and hello, and I do hope you’re enjoying your holiday, and there is a procedure, and it means we look at the towels, and the towels here are brown, and management, and blue towels, and it is procedure, and…”. He continues stringing together words, misery in his eyes at having to talk to me at all, and I’m worried he might actually cry. I apologise as much as I can, managing to fit ‘sorry’ into a single sentence three times, and wake Annie up.

“Yep, let’s go” she says. “Are bubbles a thing?” she asks, following up with “WOW, I am hot! Is sunblock a thing?”

I worry she might ask if a thing is a thing and faint from the circular argument.

We head out, deciding to walk to the end of Denerau to visit the Hilton. We pad down onto the beach and look at the white buildings in the distance. We look at the buildings, and at the sand, and at each other, and we sigh, and turn around to trudge back to where we started.

We get some loungers with an ocean view, and soon, Alan joins us. Annie peers over her sunglasses at two men playing ping pong. “Oh, hello muscles” she mutters, and she’s gone.

Yes, I do still have my wristband on from our snorkelling trip. No, I haven't washed my hair. Sorry, Ma.

Yes, I do still have my wristband on from our snorkelling trip. No, I haven’t washed my hair. Sorry, Ma.

She’s back a minute later. “I challenged this like, father of 50, and said the winner can come get me, and I’ll be over there. Here, I mean. Oh. They better not come get me. I will vomit all over the table. Is that a thing?”

Without pausing she announces that she could smaaash a glass of bubbles. Right on cue, Alan sorts it out for us, two glasses of chilled fizziness arriving. Then two more. Then two more. Muscles appears to tell her that she can play his dad at ping pong, and she leaps out of her lounger to do it. She’s had seventeen glasses of bubbles today, with no food, and I’m flabbergasted that she’s managed to stand up, let alone play a competitive sport.

I go back to my book. Despite the fact that the ping pong table is on the other side of the pool, I can hear Annie’s “WOW, oh WOW” echoing all around me. When I turn around I see her scurrying after the ping pong ball, hands outstretched, grasping at air as the ball rolls away.

It appears that the bubbles have put her at a slight competitive disadvantage.

Alan, meanwhile, strikes up a conversation with the woman on the other side of us, who’s reading Fifty Shades of Grey. He opens with, “Oh, that’s that, um, chick porn is it?”, giving her no option but to admit to a stranger that she’s reading pornography or to try to defend herself. She picks the latter, struggling to make the case that there’s a plot. Now, I’ve read Fifty Shades of Grey, and there’s no plot. She knows it, and I’m sure she knows I know it, and she soon gives up and abandons the conversation.

Annie shuffles back over. I asked how it went, and she is oddly surprised that she was defeated. She tries to read but apparently her book is a fail. She puts it down and announces that we need to take some more photos. We have maybe fifty images of ourselves smiling in front of a Fijian background, but Annie’s suddenly panicked that we won’t have enough to fill the required Facebook album.

She hangs off me and we pose. We remember that for optimal results, I stand on the right and she stands on the left, that we angle our faces in, that we don’t put arms on shoulders, and that our chins go out, not in. Getting all of that right is a lot to manage, so it probably shouldn’t be surprising that we accidentally take all of the photos with the sun directly behind us, and that Annie has her eyes closed in most of them.

She also tried her hand at some self-portraits.

She also tried her hand at some self-portraits.

Our shuttle is due to pick us up at 5pm, and at 4.30pm, I tell her we have to go have a shower. It should only take ten minutes, but I remember back to what happened when we tried to pack, and I figure we can’t risk it.

It turns out this was a good plan, as it takes her fifteen minutes alone to negotiate her limbs out of the lounger and for us to reach the lobby bathroom. It’s only after she emerges from the shower that she realises she hasn’t brought any underwear with her, leaving her the option of wearing a wet bikini or going commando in see-through cotton pants.

She hikes the pants up and down, attempting to keep her modesty protected, declaring that she definitely doesn’t need all of Fiji seeing her freaking gyne.

“You can’t even tell” I assure her, which is technically true. Of course, we’re in a dimly lit bathroom, and I imagine it’ll be a different story in the light of day, but I don’t want to miss our shuttle.

When we get back to the lobby she declares the situation “just, unacceptable”, and rummages in her suitcase for knickers, scampering off to the ladies to put them on. “I’m just, just going to say bye to Alan, too” she yells, as the shuttle pulls up. I have a vision of us stranded in Fiji for another week, but our driver is clearly used to such delays, and doesn’t mind waiting, thrilled to hear that we’re from New Zealand and we’ve enjoyed Fiji and bula bula vinaka.

“Tearful? Emotional?” I ask when she arrives back and clambers into the van. She mutters “couldn’t find him” and pulls a bag of salt and vinegar chips from her handbag, managing to get half the contents on her lap and half into her face.

She wrenches open the little window and squeezes her face out, looking like a cat emerging from its tiny door. I’m worried she’s going to be sick, but no, she just wants to shout “bula!” at other cars, giggling when they honk back.

Our van crosses a bridge from Denerau into Nadi, and it’s like stepping into another world. We shuttle past colourful houses with brightly patterned clothes hanging from haphazard lines. Chickens roam about with no fences between them and the road. We pass a horse, tied to nothing, lazily chewing from a tree. The van manoeuvres around potholes and children in school uniforms, dodging groups of laughing women in floral dresses. It’s dusty and messy and I want to be out in it.

Meanwhile, Annie has decided that leaning her head on the window, to sleep? It is definitely a thing.

To be continued…

Fiji Travel Journal Part Eleven: Bottoms, Bubbles and Definite Things

Part One: Donuts, Margaritas and Waistcoats
Part Two: Airports, Adoption and the Kindness of Strangers
Part Three: Binkies, Babes and Bathtubs
Part Four: Carbs, Catamarans and Cast Away
Part Five: Baronesses, Orations and Foreign Gems
Part Six: Mushroom Brains, Front Naps and Tuna Smashing
Part Seven: Entree, Main Course and Dessert
Part Eight: Periodicals, Pool Hops and Australian Units
Part Nine: Prostitutes, Punking and Proposals
Part Ten: Balloons, Perverts and Tequila

**

We’ve spent the morning beside the pool, guzzling beer and knocking back tequila in the sun. Now that our hotel room is finally ready, we’re standing at reception in our wet togs with towels wrapped around our waists. Our shoulders are slumped, our eyelids are heavy and our feet are bare. For some reason our morning schedule of ‘sitting down and looking at people’ has sapped our energy.

Our mood picks back up when we’re a golf cart arrives to drive us to our room. Despite Annie’s loud and persuasive arguments, our porter doesn’t let her drive it, but he does hoon around corners and splash through puddles while we all squeal and scream with delight.

Who needs theme parks?

Who needs theme parks?

Our new room has a balcony with two chairs and a lounger, all topped with squishy fabric squabs. Feeling like we should start repaying some of Alan’s hospitality, we offer to fix him a rum and coke. Annie pours us all drinks, using her standard ratio of 1:1, and we sit outside, munching on potato chips. Our room has a pristine and tranquil ocean view, with no people for miles, and I’m immediately bored with it. I get out my travel journal and start listing all the things that I’ve diagnosed myself with since arriving in Fiji.

I’m halfway through listing what I assume are the symptoms for gluten intolerance when Annie grabs the book off me and turns to a blank page. She writes “penis”, “BNE” and “bitches”, each word in quote marks formed from perfect miniature sixes and nines. She hands the journal back and leans back in her chair with a smug, self-satisfied expression, as if her one chore for the day is over.

Guessing she’s bored too, I fetch the Bible from the desk, turning to random pages to see if it will tell our fortune. We get three passages that none of us understand and decide that today probably isn’t the day to turn to a higher power.

I pour us more drinks, trying to outdo Annie’s ratio by filling mugs with cheap rum then adding a dash of coke. We return to an earlier discussion about men, ignoring the fact that Alan is shifting awkwardly in his chair. Earlier this year Annie went on a few dates with a guy who had the most fascinating bottom, a truly feminine curved posterior, and I was lamenting the fact that they’d broken up before she’d seen it without clothes. For some reason this makes Alan think I’m a lesbian, but I explain that it’s not even that I liked the bottom, I just wanted to know everything about it. Was it really that convex, or was it his tailoring? Was it a different colour to the rest of him? Was it muscular? Squishy?

Life is starting to look a bit fuzzy around the edges. Our second drinks have quite a kick to them, my hand is chafed from squeezing it into the Pringles tube, and I’ve been talking animatedly about a stranger’s bottom for the past ten minutes.

I abandon bottoms and make a pitch in favour of back hair, which is immediately dismissed by Annie & Alan. Annie then leaves us speechless as she outlines her very specific preferences in regards to men’s personal, um, grooming.

Turns out, there are only so many times I can hear the word ‘nutsack’ before I need a lie down. Either that, or it’s the beer and the tequila and the rum and the entire tube of Pringles I’ve accidentally managed to consume. Regardless of the cause, all I can manage to do is crawl into my huge white bed and groan. All I can taste is artificial Pringle cheese curdled with the leftover yeastiness of the beer. The Pringles are threatening to file back up out of my throat, and I worry that once I pop I won’t be able to stop.

My nemesis.

My nemesis.

“Are you ok?” asks Annie, and I mumble “ice chips” at her, figuring that they give them to pregnant women, and with my distended belly and nausea, the only thing I’m really missing is the fetus.

The ice nuggets are comfort and medicine all in one, the cold pebbles cutting through my sweaty sickness. I chew through half a bucket of them and pass out.

Monday 24 September

I wake up, thrilled to be still alive after my Pringles nightmare, but horrified that I’ve slept through our last night in Fiji. Annie assures me she had a great night with room service steak and a book, but this hardly seems fitting for a send-off, and so I resolve to make our last day here a good one.

The breakfast buffet starts at 9.30am and we’re there on time. The spread is equally as impressive as our first resort, with endless tables of options. I take note of the bowl of hash browns immediately, while Annie spies a bucket of bottles of sparkling wine. “Bubbles? At breakfast? Is this a thing?” she asks.

Twenty minutes later and I have sampled a little bit of everything. Eggs fried and scrambled, sausages, bacon, the aforementioned hash browns, baked beans, pancakes, pastries, yoghurt, berries and cereals (plural). A waiter has brought an entire pot of coffee to our table. I sip it and consider what I want seconds of, while Annie inhales the free wine.

It takes me until this morning to realise that we’re both enabling each other. I’m fetching Annie multiple glasses of bubbles, she’s shrugging and saying “you can probably fit in another pancake stack”. It’s like the trope of the devil and an angel popping up on the shoulders of a hapless hero. The only problem is that we have no angel here to push us towards the light. On this holiday, and yes, probably back home, we are both each other’s bad influence devils.

Ok, but seriously, how great was Daria?!

Ok, but seriously, how great was Daria?!

An hour later, I’m reaching the bottom of the coffee pot – yes, an entire pot – and Annie is almost horizontal on her chair. Breakfasts closes in five minutes and we mutually agree that we have time for more – I’ve got my eye on some croissants and Annie wants more bubbles. I ask how many she’s had and she narrows her eyes at the glass, as if she’s waiting for it to tell her. After a moment she looks back at me and says “this is number … nine”.

We fetch our final courses. I get five mini almond croissants, making a big show of “saving some for later”, and Annie pretends that she believes me. She gets two more glasses of bubbles, planting one in front of me, and I pretend that I might drink it instead of handing it to her after she’s finished the first. A waiter walks past with a pile of plates in his arm and he calls out, “ma’am, would you just like the rest of the bottle?”

Annie does an exaggerated shrug in an poor attempt at looking sober and casual. “Um, ok! Wouldn’t want it to go to waste!”

Ten minutes later and my pot of coffee is drained, I can feel pastries clogging my throat, and Annie is very carefully pouring bubbles into her glass. “This is definitely going to be the best eleventh glass of bubbles I’ve ever had”, she announces.

The bubbles have filled her with energy and enthusiasm, and she repeatedly whips up and down in her chair with epiphanies and memories of our previous adventures that she desperately has to share. At one point she leans over so she’s resting on two legs of her chair, her mouth wide open and eyebrows furrowed. “What?!” I ask, convinced she’s seen a celebrity. “Oh, sorry. I thought, I might have just seen someone! But then, I didn’t!”

This is largely how the next hour goes. She’s moved on from saying everything is the BNE, and instead is questioning everything’s status as a ‘thing’. “It’s the chef! On a cellphone! Is he a thing?”

We pick up yesterday’s conversation about men. I wonder whether it’s more important to find someone who makes you laugh or one who you can make laugh, but Annie’s watching a man across the room like a hawk, mumbling into her wine glass about arm muscles and abs.

Here you go, Annie. You can't say I don't do anything for you.

Here you go, Annie. You can’t say I don’t do anything for you.

She turns to me with a memory, saying, “I had a… I think it was a dream? And we were in a sauna, and this guy comes in with his girlfriend, and I go, she’s totally into you. Totally. About you. Because you were.”

I tell her it was just a dream, but she doesn’t seem to believe me, looking at me suspiciously over the top of her glass.

On her twelfth pour some slops over the side, and she looks equally surprised and embarrassed. She lowers her head to the table, announces, “I am NOT going to do a table suck”, and without pausing, slurps the spilled drink off the varnished wood.

She abruptly pulls her head away from the table, complaining that her eyes are “fuzzy in the corners”, illustrating this with little octopus tentacle actions at the sides of her head.

Thirteen glasses in, and she’s yelling about how blinking is ridiculous, complaining that it’s such a “stupid, mundane activity”. She looks at me accusingly, like I have some power over the blinking situation. I nod, which seems to satisfy her, and she pours the last few dregs from the bottle into her glass and slurps it down.

We pass the clock in the lobby, and I’m surprised to discover that we’ve only got six minutes left to pack and check out. “Should we run? Is this a thing?” Annie asks, but the pastries and eggs and coffee are all sitting like a brick in my stomach, and I’m conscious of what might happen if we shake the thirteen and a half glasses of bubbles in hers.

Back at the room, packing should be quick, but Annie is finding fascination with objects in her handbag and marvelling at how amazing keycards are, because Kate, seriously, it’s a card, but it is also a key, and this one has a butterfly on it!

I’m feeling like I want to crawl away from my own digestive system and she’s barely upright, so we call reception to ask if they can come pick us up in a golf cart. We lug our bags downstairs to wait. Annie uses this time wisely, drinking straight from the bottle of Malibu, declaring repeatedly that thirteen and a half glasses of bubbles is most definitely a thing.

I use my time wisely too.

I use my time wisely too.

Thirty seconds later a van comes roaring around the corner. It’s piloted by two men in matching polos and is filled with clean sheets in sealed plastic. They put our suitcases in the back and gesture down the path towards reception, but Annie has already clambered in the back after the bags. “Oh, dear, oh dear” one of them says, “please Miss, get in the front!”

Annie refuses to budge. I climb in after her and we sit in the back, our drivers laughing uproariously at the silly girls sitting with laundry. They drive us to reception, all four of us attacked by giggles, Annie yelling “faster, faster!” and slugging from the bottle of Malibu.

We’re at reception at ten past noon to check out. Ten past noon, and Annie’s had thirteen and a half glasses of bubbles and a quarter of a bottle of Malibu. “Ok”, she says “alcohol? It is definitely a thing”.

To be continued…

Fiji Travel Journal Part Ten: Balloons, Perverts and Tequila

Part One: Donuts, Margaritas and Waistcoats
Part Two: Airports, Adoption and the Kindness of Strangers
Part Three: Binkies, Babes and Bathtubs
Part Four: Carbs, Catamarans and Cast Away
Part Five: Baronesses, Orations and Foreign Gems
Part Six: Mushroom Brains, Front Naps and Tuna Smashing
Part Seven: Entree, Main Course and Dessert
Part Eight: Periodicals, Pool Hops and Australian Units
Part Nine: Prostitutes, Punking and Proposals

**

We turn the room upside down, looking for the lost camera. It’s tense. There’s the worry about the physical property, of course, but there’s also concern about the content. Suddenly all those photos of me licking a bag of pineapple lumps seem regrettable, and Annie’s no longer finding it amusing that I took pictures of her nip-slip two days ago.

We’re starting to get snappy with each other when I find it under Annie’s bedside table, and she instantly remembers putting it there the night before.

This is the last day of having our accommodation paid for, and so we’re moving to a more moderately priced resort in an hour. This means it’s our final breakfast here, and while I woke up with good intentions about channelling Kate Moss and just eating fruit, it all falls apart when I sneak a bite of Annie’s toast. Toast. Toast! Where has this gluten-filled god been hiding? Annie can’t stomach it and pushes her plate away. She’s busy texting Alan, our new friend from the night before, and after she finishes her orange juice she goes to meet him outside. I finish her toast then make it through what is surely the equivalent of a loaf of bread, single-serve jam packets piled up next to my plate, plastic proof of my gluttony.

Joey gets it.

Joey gets it.

After my toast bender I meet them outside and they are drinking beer, empty bottles already at their feet, chatting about their evening. They ended up being taken to a nightclub by Freddie, the Fijian pianist in the band. They danced. They think. Their memories seem hazy at best, but the evening reminds Alan of the time his friend ended up in Thailand at a dodgy brothel and he had to pay two grand to get out, two grand mate, and you can bet his wife wasn’t happy.

I don’t want to ask what made him think of this story.

We go to check out, and it’s exhausting. Annie has had two beers on an empty stomach and I’ve eaten enough baked product for a small family. We’re dopey and lazy and we’re walking bellies first, jandal-clad feet shuffling across the marbled floor. We ask the concierge if they will take us to the next resort, for free? No, we are informed, but you can get a taxi for $5.

We look at each other, unwashed hair covering our eyes, and shrug. Ok. Fine. Let’s just commit to this. Our next resort is almost visible from where we’re standing, we could walk there easily. This is the probably the most indulgent thing we’ve done, and we snicker to ourselves about how naughty we’re being during our two-minute taxi trip.

We can’t check in for a few hours, but the front desk stores our bags and says we are welcome to use the pool. We’ve barely sat down in the loungers when a waiter arrives and asks if we’d like a drink. “Yes, beer” Annie announces. “But only if it’s cheap.”

I relax back in my chair with my Jilly Cooper, and Annie attempts to read her impulse buy—a book that bears the sticker “If you liked Fifty Shades, you’ll love this!” She’s reading a book that’s a knock off of a book that was fan-fiction of a book that was named Twilight. She’s about six steps removed from actual literature, and so it’s no surprise that she complains every few paragraphs about how terrible it is.

The waiter arrives with our beers and hands Annie a piece of paper to sign.

“Twenty one dollars? Are you SERIOUS?” she bellows, while our waiter stares back at her, confused.

“Ridiculous! This is ridiculous! Twenty one dollars? Seriously, would you pay that for a beer?”

It’s clear from his amused expression that no, he would not pay that for a beer. And that he probably wouldn’t be any good at poker.

Annie asks his name, and he replies “you can call me Bob”. His nametag says something else entirely, starting with V and peppered with Ks and Is, something I wouldn’t want to try to pronounce. It’s subtitled with “My passion is VOLLEYBALL”—obviously the ‘flair’ that staff at this resort are forced to display.

I'm sure it will make me unpopular, but I love workplace flair. Almost as much as this guy does.

I’m sure it will make me unpopular, but I love workplace flair. Almost as much as this guy does.

I ask if he likes playing volleyball or just watching it, and he says both. Annie pipes up and challenges him to a  competition later when he’s off work, winner gets the next round. Most people build a relationship like they might get into the ocean: testing the temperature with a toe, slowly walking in, looking for dangers. Annie prefers to run headfirst into the waves, screaming, arms waving, eyes squeezed shut.

Bob doesn’t know how to respond to her request. He looks at us for a moment and says “Um… I have to go now”. He turns to leave and Annie calls him back, yelling “WAIT”. He returns and asks, “yes, ma’am?”

Annie says “SERIOUSLY, would you pay $21 for a beer?!”

We sip our overpriced beers and Annie rummages in her handbag. I’m not sure what she’s searching for, but she seems delighted to find a black balloon. She blows it up and holds her balloon in one hand, beer in the other, and contemplates the horizon, the perfect picture of zen.

Soon Alan arrives, and Annie gives him the balloon. He’s baffled, and although this is an entirely appropriate response to being handed a balloon, we find it hysterically funny, and we’re set off giggling again. Alan says he says he will give the balloon to a little boy, because he doesn’t want to feel like a deviant. We convince him through our chortling that gender is irrelevant, and when a little girl in a pink jumpsuit walks past, he hands it to her.

The little girl walks to a nearby table and shows her mother and sister the balloon, pointing back at Alan. He yells, “Oh, hope it’s ok! Y’see, I wanted to give it to a little boy, so people wouldn’t think I was a pervert!” He ends his explanation with a hooting exclamation point of a laugh. The mother just stares at him, perhaps wondering how it came to pass that a bearded shirtless man is yelling “pervert!” at her at 11am on a Sunday.

Surely the day that perversion is supposed to be kept secret.

Surely the day that perversion is supposed to be kept secret.

The girl’s sister looks at us with bewilderment. Immediately I’m horrified—we’ve unintentionally shifted the balance of power in this family. “Quick, Annie, it’s not fair!” I say. “Do you have another balloon?” Annie fumbles in her bag but all she can produce is a pink clothes peg. Deciding that this would probably muddle the situation even more, we leave it.

Annie groans and says how ridiculous it would be if we did tequila, and instead of agreeing with her, Alan takes this as some sort of dare. Five minutes later we’re holding empty shot glasses, lemon squeezed between our teeth, Annie lamenting about needing to vom. The mother now has to explain to her children what the grownups are doing with the tiny glasses, and I feel like our little group has definitely removed some of the holiday from this woman’s vacation.

“Ok, maybs I’m going to vom”, Annie says. “Or maybs I’m just going to get naked and do weird stuff”.

Alan needs no further prompting. Another round of tequila and three bottles of beer arrive almost immediately.

We sit with our beers and people-watch. I frown at a little sadistic boy who’s throwing his friends into the pool, cackling with every shove, doing little victory dances. I wonder what kind of parent would have raised a demon like this, and then a bald man looms into view, wearing mirrored shades and a purple rash vest that he’s squeezed into like a sausage in its casing. “Nah, mate”, he says half-heartedly to the kid, who has been literally throwing crying girls in head first, and I despair for the future of the human race.

There was definitely a touch of this going on.

There was definitely a touch of this going on.

Alan points out a man with a really long beard, and we sit and stare at him, a creepy trio of voyeurs. After some consideration, I say “I think he’s a Bevan”. Annie announces he looks like a Susan, and starts giggling through her teeth. I start laughing how funny her Muttley laugh is, then she starts laughing at me laughing, and our laughs sustain themselves for a few minutes. Alan waits for us to stop before he says thoughtfully, with great gravitas, “He looks like a Geoff. A Geoff… Horn”.

All of a sudden there’s nothing funnier than the name Geoff Horn, and we cackle like witches. Alan’s baffled, and tries to wrangle back control of the conversation by saying, “well, there’s lots of bloody, um, ugly people in the world, but I’m really glad they get out there.” This just makes the situation worse, and Annie and I are falling off our chairs with laughter. “What?!” asks Alan. “It’s just… nice that you like… ugly people” I manage to get out, before Annie and I are shrieking with laughter again.

Neither of us know why we’re laughing, which makes it even funnier. “Geoff… Horn!” Annie says, and we’re off again. Alan is sipping beer and looking embarrassed, and considering he was the one yelling “pervert” at a woman not long ago, I feel like we probably have crossed a line somewhere.

We’re interrupted by Bob, here to tell us that our room is ready.

“Oh, BNE” says Annie, “we can get into the rest of that rum”.

To be continued…

Fiji Travel Journal Part Nine: Prostitutes, Punking and Proposals

Part One: Donuts, Margaritas and Waistcoats
Part Two: Airports, Adoption and the Kindness of Strangers
Part Three: Binkies, Babes and Bathtubs
Part Four: Carbs, Catamarans and Cast Away
Part Five: Baronesses, Orations and Foreign Gems
Part Six: Mushroom Brains, Front Naps and Tuna Smashing
Part Seven: Entree, Main Course and Dessert
Part Eight: Periodicals, Pool Hops and Australian Units

**

The restaurant we were at last night printed its menu on crisp thick card, using a delicate script font. White space was used effectively to set an elegant mood. The menu noted where the steak was raised, how the broccolini would be prepared, and what region the wine was from.

The restaurant we are sitting in now has laminated its menu, presumably so you can also use it as a placemat. It features pictures of the burgers and uses exclamation points liberally. If you don’t want tap beer you can select something from the cocktail menu, which must have been created with a google search of “genital synonyms”.

I love it.

Sadly, the tacky fun comes at a price. My beef burger is bad. I feel pretty confident in declaring this, because even though I’m drunk, I’m not enjoying it. During other nights out I have declared BK chicken burgers to be god’s greatest crowning achievement, I have made audible moaning noises into a kebab, and have directed a taxi driver to “keep going until we find a McDonalds that’s open, price is no issue, friend”. If I’m drunk, and eating a burger, and I don’t like the burger? It’s probably past a point that most people would deem ‘edible’.

This photo makes it look more appealing than it was, which is saying something.

This photo makes it look more appealing than it was, which is saying something.

Annie is keen for a big night out with table dancing and raucous adventures. We’re drunk, and sitting at a table, so this is a good start. However, the mood’s all wrong. We’re surrounded by families and sleepy looking couples, all content to eat their soggy nachos then go home. I can sense Annie’s frustration. Annie doesn’t like frustration, and I know she won’t wear this for long before she makes something happen.

During dinner, a group in the restaurant sing Happy Birthday to someone at their table, and everyone applauds. Annie looks at me, something flashing behind her eyes. It feels like she’s asking permission, but for what? Then she turns to the bartender and says, “Amazing! It’s my birthday too!”

Obviously yesterday’s celebrations were not enough.

Though I’m sure they’re skeptical about how likely her story is, the bar staff lavish her with attention. As soon as we’ve finished eating, out of nowhere, two fabulous gay boys with narrow hips and fitted black shirts appear to take her to the dance floor. It turns out they work here, but they aren’t waiters or bartenders… it seems their job is to just be charming and encourage people to spend more money. Annie is twirled around and dipped while I snap photos. I’m grateful that she changed into a longer skirt.

After the song is finished, Annie clambers up to sit on the bar, and we “share” a birthday sundae (Annie eats the cherry and I hoover down the rest) and then pay the bill. Then we’re sort of adrift. We need more people to have adventures with, and it’s slim pickings at this bar. Seeing some potential in the women next to us, I strike up a conversation. I’ve barely gotten their names when I’m interrupted by Annie, wanting to introduce me to her new friend David.

David is a short, middle-aged, bespectacled Asian man with two large moles on his nose. He’s tucked his shiny blue shirt into his khakis. He is basically the opposite of everything Annie looks for in a man, and so when he asks if we want to join him and his friends for drinks, I expect her to decline. But she looks at me, eyebrow raised. We don’t have any other offers. It’s sort of her birthday. Why not?

Annie follows him outside and I say goodbye to the women at the bar, joking “I think I have to go be a fancy prostitute now”. Their stunned expressions make me wonder if maybe they think I really am a fancy prostitute. I won’t lie, it makes me feel pretty.

When we get outside a waitress asks David if he would like to buy his new friends some drinks.

“Beer!” David says.

The waitress cocks her head to one side. “Are you sure? Maybe some cocktails? For the lovely girls?”

After a moment he nods, and the waitress looks at us, guessing on the first try what cocktails we’d like. I’m flabbergasted at how smooth this whole operation is, and wonder how often groups of rich businessmen end up with silly drunk white girls at this establishment.

Meanwhile, Annie’s talking solidly without breathing about her birthday and winning this trip and what we did yesterday and what we’re doing tomorrow and her job and snorkelling and what she thought about The Rum Diaries. When she leaves to go to the bathroom, she leaves us silent in a giant conversational black hole.

David breaks the silence, turning to me and asks, “are you sisters?” I want to make a joke about how Asian people think us Westerners all look the same, but I’m unsure if my new role as drunken geisha includes race-based humour. So I just say “no, we’re friends” and take a sip of my drink. He says, “you’re quiet. Not like your friend”.

It was as if Holly Golightly had left the cat in charge of hostessing.

It was as if Holly Golightly had left the cat in charge of hostessing.

I think David must want some sparkling repartee, so I ask where he’s from.

“Shanghai.”
“Oh, I’ve never been. What do you do, for work?”
“Lawyer.”
“Oh, wonderful, what sort?”
“Corporate.”
“That’s exciting… do you find it interesting?”
“No.”

I want to say “you’re quiet, not like your friends”, but his friends are smoking and passively staring at the band. So I ask what his friends do. This one, he’s the boss. From Korea. That one, assistant. From Japan.

I’m bewildered about how much geographic diversity they have in such a small group of people, and wonder if this is some sort of business punking, feeling like I’m going to be accidentally racist at any moment. When Annie returns I have never been happier to see her. She takes over the reins of the discussion and I slump in my chair.

At some point we’re joined by an Australian in tight black jeans and an open, loose white shirt. He sidles up to our table and seamlessly joins the conversation. I assume he knows David and David probably assumes he knows us, and I wonder how long it takes for everyone in the group to realise that we are all just a bunch of drunk strangers.

It turns out I’m rubbish with accents, and the Australian is actually a New Zealander. His name’s Alan, and he’s staying at the resort next to ours. Just like the new James Bond, Alan is a fan of Heineken, and he makes sure that there is a steady supply of green glass vessels at our table. Soon we’re feeling very happy about the world.

I know, I know. But there's no point fighting it.

I know, I know. But there’s no point fighting it.

The fabulous boys from earlier have joined us, talking the men into buying more drinks and telling Annie and I how delightful we are while twirling us around the dance floor. It’s fun, and weird, and I don’t know who is being exploited or if maybe we all are. Or am I overthinking it? Why do I overthink everything? I have to start living in the moment. How do I do that? Should I start like, yoga? Ellen does yoga, I should talk to her about it. Or maybe meditation? I should probably write this down.

The only thing that shuts up my inner monologue is talking, so I leave the dance floor and approach David. I try to chat with him about language, explaining that from what I know of Mandarin, the intonation is just as important as the pronunciation. He leans in and says your friend, Annie – she is perfect. Yes, I agree, but why? He says, the lyrics. She might not know them, but she moves, so naturally. He steps back to watch her appreciatively, and I think maybe I’m fighting a losing battle with this one.

I turn to his friend instead, who I still only know as ‘The Boss’. I introduce myself and he replies, “oh, Kate, will you marry me?” Tired and beginning to lose interest, I shrug. He says “Buy you diamond? Buy you BMW?” and then leans in to kiss me.

I manage to deflect it and his puckered lips hit my cheek. Worried he’ll try again, I keep talking.

“Where are you from?” I ask, and he replies “Korea”. Something in me clicks, and I say, “ooh, like Gangnam Style!” I say excitedly, and he looks at me, baffled.

I look around for Annie, and see her at the end of a table, hanging off Alan. I shout “heeeeeey, sexy lady” at her, and without missing a beat she immediately starts hopping from foot to foot, singing “whoop, whoop whoop”. Looking at The Boss, this is a delightful surprise, like when you mention your favourite weird 90s movie no one saw and someone pipes up with a quote from it. The gay boys start dancing too, and Alan’s attempting it, and The Boss is clapping his hands in glee.

The true definition of a global phenomenon.

The true definition of a global phenomenon.

A silly K-pop song has helped us cross a cultural divide, and I feel like the evening has peaked. I ask Annie if she wants to leave and she shakes her head, declaring that beer is the BNE and she’s staying out. I think about my Jilly Cooper book at the resort. It’s sitting on my bedside table, next to a bottle of water, and suddenly I can’t think of anything more delicious.

Five minutes later I’m in a cab, alone.

**

At 3am I wake up to room service at the door. Annie’s asleep on the couch and I have to shake her leg to get her to move. She hauls her eyelids open and points her eyes in my direction. Then she says, “I’m ok?” I say “yes, you are. Your food is here”. She just repeats “I’m ok” and closes her eyes again. Minutes later I hear the scraping of fork against plate and I go back to sleep.

In the morning I roll over and see she’s made it to bed. “Good night?” I ask.

She replies, “so, apparently biting is my new thing? And I think I’ve lost the camera.”

To be continued…

Fiji Travel Journal Part Eight: Periodicals, Pool Hops and Australian Units

Part One: Donuts, Margaritas and Waistcoats
Part Two: Airports, Adoption and the Kindness of Strangers
Part Three: Binkies, Babes and Bathtubs
Part Four: Carbs, Catamarans and Cast Away
Part Five: Baronesses, Orations and Foreign Gems
Part Six: Mushroom Brains, Front Naps and Tuna Smashing
Part Seven: Entree, Main Course and Dessert

Saturday 22 September

I hurt, everywhere. My patchy sunburn makes it impossible to lie on my back or my front or my side, and last night it took me a few hours to arrange myself into a pretzel configuration that didn’t send scritchy shivers down my back.

Of course, despite her seventeen beers yesterday, Annie springs out of bed without a hangover. I look like a tomato but her sunburn is already fading into a tan.

I think her body works differently to other people’s.

After our breakfast buffet (which I handle in a similar fashion to yesterday, except I also include two bowls of muesli) we plod back to the room to laze about on our balcony.

I flick through the literature available in our hotel room, starting with the newest issue of The Fiji Times. There’s been a prison breakout recently, and the paper mainly focuses on this, along with some surprisingly in-depth coverage about the Bollywood film industry. The Letters to the Editor page is amazing, with the local residents all offering up tips to police on how to catch the criminals. More than one literally cites a television show to back up their theories. The letter writers seem to truly believe the cops would have sorted this already, had they just watched Rookie Blue on Fiji One two nights ago.

The Bollywood coverage also includes some opinion pieces.

The Bollywood coverage also includes some opinion pieces.

After I get my fill of current affairs, there’s Denerau Magazine, a glossy publication pitched squarely at rich tourists. There are two-page spreads confirming that yes, golf is a great sport, and the undertone here is that you are a very smart executive for choosing Denerau to unwind, well done old chap! After reading it I feel like I’ve gained no knowledge but have vastly improved my self-esteem. I wonder if I can subscribe from New Zealand.

I’m radiating heat and the Fijian air makes me feel like I’m breathing into a hairdryer. My goal today is lie in a shaded area and to break the spine on my Jilly Cooper frothy holiday book. Annie wants to find some babes and sneakily sip rum from a plastic water bottle. Feeling like we’ve exhausted the babe-spotting possibilities at our current location, we decide to visit other resorts’ pools.

All the resorts in Denerau are right next to each other, sharing the beach area (though no one swims in the ocean—perhaps “sand” is considered a bit common?). You can wander five minutes along the beachfront then slide straight into a new pool. This behaviour is technically against the rules, so I spend the time peering around like a meerkat, watching for security. Of course, no one cares.

And this is worth a bit of rule-bending, surely.

And this is worth a bit of rule-bending, surely.

We spend a few hours getting wet (“swimming” implies some movement or physical activity, no, we just immerse ourselves in water then get out again), reading, and babe-spotting. Annie’s sad to discover that man drought situation is the same everywhere on Denerau, and so we walk back to our resort, grimacing at joggers for their stamina and complaining about the heat, but making sure to constantly reassure each other that we’d much rather be too hot in Fiji than in Wellington.

Happy hour is starting soon, and as we had such fun in the spa two nights ago, we return to the same spot to drink Fiji Golds and gossip about other guests. We wonder if he is single, and if her breasts are real, and how long those two have been dating. Two beers in and Annie’s laugh is reverberating around the pool, attracting attention from all directions.

I think her cackle was the bait that attracted a tall Australian man holding two plastic cups full of beer. He wanders over and says, “hey, can we join you?” and we shrug and say “sure”.

He puts the cups down and leaves, leaving us to wonder who the ‘we’ is that he referred to. Annie suggests excitedly that maybe it’s his single bearded chubby funny brother (she knows my type well) and maybe also they’re rich and want to take us out on jetskis? Feeling like this is sounding like a lot of work, I suggest we just steal the cocktails and run. I think Annie’s about to do it when he arrives back with a tiny and beautiful blonde. She’s got one of those character noses, the sort you wouldn’t specifically request from a plastic surgeon, but that makes her whole face make sense. She’s quiet and well-mannered and educated and you can just tell that his mother adores her.

He, on the other hand, is loud and animated, constantly leaping from story to story, pausing only to take swigs of beer. All of his stories involve drunken spewing or diarrhoea, and they are populated with people called “Bazza” and “Dave-o”, with minor characters referred to as drunk units, or horny units, or skinny units, or big c*nts. He’s so passionate about recounting his adventures that he waves his arms around and uses empty beer cups as props. At one point he even gets out of the pool so he can gesture down his legs to show how the cylinders of shit sprayed out when he was in China at his DJ mate’s gig.

Annie and I laugh until we hurt, declaring that we are now all the best of friends and they MUST come out to dinner with us. He’s obviously keen, as the sort of fellow who ends up pantsless in Beijing is not the sort to be scared of some kiwi girls, but I can tell his girlfriend is going to squash this plan as soon as we’re out of earshot. We go back to our room to get ready for dinner after they give us the soft-rejection of “We’ll call you!”

Now I know how Imogen felt when Nicky didn't write her back.

Now I know how Imogen felt when Nicky didn’t write her back.

We drink Malibu out of teacups, not bothered that the ice hasn’t frozen completely. We’re drinking it too fast for the delicate shells filled with water bubbles to melt, so why does it matter? I queue Britney onto my iPhone and we sing along to the choruses as we get dressed. Annie’s asking if her skirt is too short and, snickering, we discover that if she leans back you can see what colour her underwear is. As she changes into a longer dress, I try to apply eyeliner. For some reason the line’s got all these wibbly bumps in it, and it’s smudging everywhere, and my left eye is thicker than my right eye, and all of a sudden I realise that at some point I’ve definitely gotten quite drunk.

During the fifteen-minute cab ride to the restaurant, I decide it is my job to change our driver’s impression of tourists. I emphatically share my very strong opinions about the current situation with the escaped criminals, spouting all sorts of views on it, surprising even myself with my sudden political interest. I realise only after getting out of the taxi that people slurring about things they don’t understand are probably his entire client base, and I will have done nothing but confirm all opinions he has about ignorant white girls.

Despondent, I decide to make myself feel better in the most efficient way I know how. We head to the restaurant to order some carbs and alcohol.

To be continued…