Thursday, April 26, 2007

It's just a problem

As one travels, certain things become emblematic of the trip. That small part of your back that hurts after lugging your backpack around for a day. The throb in your left foot that makes itself known in the afternoon. And, very often, the things that you or others say. The mantra for this trip has definitely been, "It's just a problem!"

When ordering some lunch in Vienna's market area I stumbled on what little German I can remember. I asked the waiter if he spoke English. He replied (in English) that he only spoke a little English. I reassured him that was fine as I only spoke a little German. He grinned, shrugged his shoulders and said quite simply, "It's just a problem!" No doubt he was aiming for "It's not a problem" but he didn't quite get there. No matter. Food and drink was ordered, consumed and all was good.

As is common when travelling, little things go wrong. Buses are late. Trains are delayed. Items are misplaced and cross-language communication can lead to bizarre results. This trip has had it's fair share (such as riad bookings not being honoured in Marrakech). But in all cases we've reminded ourselves that "it's just a problem". And all problems can be (and thus far have been) solved. That one phrase has preserved sanity a couple of times and definitely kept our senses of humour buoyant.

As the trip continues (three days of the ATP music festival starting tonight) I fully anticipate something else to go wrong. But it'll be fine. After all, "it's just a problem."

Friday, April 20, 2007


In 1982 UNESCO declared the entire centre of the city a World Heritage Site and it's easy to see why. Florence is amazing. Cobblestone streets wind through the city, small side streets branching off in all directions. A plethora of amazing buildings catch one's eye. The Ponte Vecchio spanning the Arno river. The Sante Croce which houses the tombs of Galileo, Michelangelo, Machiavelli and Dante. The Accademia, home to Michelangelo's David. And towering above them all, the astonishing Duomo, designed by Brunelleschi. It is truly staggering. Luckily I had an excellent vantage point of the Duomo, as the picture from my hotel room (above) shows. Leaning out of the other window afforded a view of the actual dome itself but this was a better picture. Even so, wow!

Early one morning I took the long climb up the Duomo dome itself (some 500 or so steps) to enjoy a fantastic view of Florence and the surrounding Tuscan hills. Just beautiful. Walking through the streets of the city was incredible enough but to see it all from such a vantage point was fantastic. And such great weather for it too.

I didn't bother spending four hours in line to see Michelangelo's David but did enjoy seeing the replica in situ in the piazza where David originally stood. I visited the library of the Medici family where a great exhibition on fantastic animals (unicorns, sirens, etc.) in literature, etc., was held and bought and ate great food from the Florence food markets.

More photos and stories will come as I find the time, though I suspect a lot of that will happen once my trip is over. I'm in Barcelona now and tomorrow I head to Morocco. Who knew that being on holiday could be so much hard work. ;)

Sunday, April 15, 2007


I've just enjoyed two glorious days in Vienna. The city was at its best with crystal clear blue skies and warm weather. A very beautiful place indeed.

Some of the architecture is astonishing. The Museum Quarter off Maria Hilfer Strasse is particularly stunning with many very grand buildings. Sadly the computer I'm using at the moment disallows me to grab a coupel of photos off my camera. I'll fix that later but for now trust me; it's brilliant.

One of the highlights for me however was one of the transport options available within the city. A project called City Bike Wien (see their home page) is just fantastic. Fifty bike stations are located across the city and after a quick and cheap registration of just €1 you can hire a bicycle and ride across the city. The first hour of usage is free and additional hours begin at €1. With bike lanes everywhere and so many bike stations, it's a very attractive mode of transportation. Even better, you don't have to return your bike to where you hired it. Simply return it to any station and you're done. Sydney isn't nearly as bike friendly (geographically if for no other reason) but I'd love to see something like this there.

The other big highlight for me was without a doubt the food markets. I was in heaven, seeing and smelling the vast array of fresh fruit, vegetables, meats, cheeses and more on offer. Being a Saturday the markets were bustling with activity as well. A quick stop for a local beer and some freshly made hummus and flatbread recharged the batteries and allowed for some people watching. Again, when the opportunity arises I will definitely post some pictures.

Two days is, of course, never enough time to see any place but I do feel like I had a chance to begin to see the heart of Vienna. I was greatly impressed.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Have lavalava, will travel

It's with great delight that I note that Mr Lavalava will shortly be holidaying across Europe. Whilst the weather will be decidedly colder than that in Samoa, rest assured that at least one lavalava will be packed in the luggage. I will endeavour to update the blog with pics as is possible.

In other news, by sheer chance I stumbled across a Sydney Samoan radio station the other day. It airs every Saturday morning from 9am to 11am. If you want to hear the latest Samoan tunes and find out what's happening with the Sydney Samoan community, I suggest you tune in to Nu'u Samoa next Saturday morning.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

News from Samoa

One of the harder challenges since leaving Samoa has been that of keeping up with the local news. It's easy enough to pick up the phone and call friends but one only learns so much. The focus of those calls is, understandably, much more personal.

Imagine my delight then at discovering that the Samoa Observer has recently decided to resume online publication. As a source of news about Samoa it far outstrips the efforts of ABC's Pacific Beat and Radio New Zealand International. Those sites have - necessarily - a broader focus on the entire Pacific and with the troubles in countries like Fiji and the Solomon Islands, reports from Samoa tend to be a little thin on the ground.

Not all of the Observer is online but enough of it is to make me very happy. Best of all, their Street Talk section is updated daily. Street Talk is the Observer's vox populi page and whilst in Samoa it was arguably my favourite part of the paper (for a whole lot of reasons).

Looking over the last month's headlines it's easy to spot some recurring stories. The issue of doctors' pay has flared up again, more than a year after I was first aware of it. More village banishments have occurred, one in particular catching my eye. A family has been banished from their village of Gagaifolevao, Lefaga after it was discovered that a tourist currently facing charges of sex offences had stayed with them. On a happier note, Manu Samoa won its first Rugby 7s tournament, claiming top spot in the Wellington round.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Rioting in the Pacific

The recent news of the rioting, looting and destruction in Tonga's capital Nuku'alofa is quite sad. With eight deaths and the rebuilding cost already estimated at $75 million USD it's a heavy blow to the country. The healing process will no doubt take many years.

A short news story on the Radio New Zealand International website caught my eye this morning. Apparently some palagis have suggested that Samoa will be the next country in the region to "have the same troubles as Tonga". Samoan Prime Minister, Tuila’epa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, responded by stating that "the strength of the Samoan cultural ties and the people’s respect for its traditional leaders and traditional avenues in resolving dispute will always prevail". But isn't all of this missing the mark?

Tonga is a constitutional monarchy and the Tongan monarchy plays a very strong role in the country's political process. The Tongan Cabinet currently consists of 14 members, 10 appointed by the monarch for life; 4 appointed from among the elected members of the Legislative Assembly, including 2 each from the nobles and peoples representatives serving three year terms. There are no elections; the prime minister and deputy prime minister are appointed by the monarchy.

For several years a strong pro-democracy movement has been growing in Tonga. It "emphasises reforms including better representation in the Parliament for the majority commoners, and better accountability in matters of state" (Wikipedia entry). Recently, a Constitutional Commission has been considering suggestions as to how Tonga's constitution might be reformed.

With the September succession to the throne by Siaosi Tupou V, it was believed by many that there would be advances in the reform process sooner rather than later. The rioting is said to have been triggered when it seemed that the parliament would adjourn for the year without having made any advances in increasing democracy in government.

By contrast, Samoa is a mix of parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy. The Samoan monarchy, generally speaking, plays little role in the political process. There are elections held every five years and the government has been very open to political, judicial and legislative reform, driven particularly by cooperative foreign aid/development projects.

In short, Samoans have democracy where Tongans do not. It's certainly not perfect and does have its fair share of problems but by and large it works. As such, Tuila’epa's comments about the strong ties within Samoan culture, the respect for traditional leaders and traditional disputation processes are valid but in my eyes don't really strike at the heart of the matter. Furthermore, as the legal challenges following the March 2005 elections illustrate (see here, here and here), there is a growing tension between the traditional power structures and the newer judicial and legislative structures. Since I left Samoa in September, I have heard of two more cases held in the Land & Titles Court challenging village rulings over banishments.

Nonetheless, I agree completely with Tuila'epa's refutation of the claim that Samoa will be the next Pacific nation to endure mass civil disobedience and rioting. I simply cannot imagine it happening. I hope Tonga can solve the problems it faces and wish the very best for my friends in Tonga and my friends elsewhere with family in Tonga.

Mau nofo a e.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Something a little off topic

I've just been watching Foreign Correspondent on Australia's ABC. It contained a story about the hazards of living with elephants in Sri Lanka. An elephant trainer interviewed for the story said, "There's no point to a country if it doesn't have elephants." I couldn't agree more.