The PNG Experience

I’m sitting here at Duffy Cafe trying to make out the last couple of days I’ve had coming back here to the place I used to, or rather still call home. Duffy is a cafe that has gotten really popular over the last couple of years and is owned and run by the Chue brothers whose family owned a couple of businesses here in PNG. Their sons ended up taking on the business as well they’ve been very successful thus far.
My travel started with a decision that was discussed over the course of 3 weeks which really only took effect after a few tears were shed, words of frustration, annoyance and anger exchanged, that feeling of uncertainty; my nephew and niece needed to come back to Port Moresby to start school and they needed someone to take them there.
Suddenly, I had a tiny suitcase packed, two kids in tow and a return trip ticket just to drop them off back to their dad.
We anticipated Red (my nephew) to throw tantrums if he was taken away from his mum, which was the reason why they needed someone he knew to take him. But he kept calm the whole time and clung onto me and held my hand during the 5-hour rugged plane ride. The aircraft was a disappointment with no in-flight movies or even entertainment. I would later find out that Philippine Airlines couldn’t give their passengers a better flight experience (that included providing a larger plane) because they had to give way to Air Niugini flights.
We arrived in PNG 2 hours later than the original ETA to a hot and dry Port Moresby. We breezed through customs and the kids were greeted by their dad at the exit. I knew I only had a couple of days in the country and so I tried to take in as much as I could. Now sitting here at the departure lounge waiting to board my flight back to Manila, I feel like I’ve missed out on so much and that I could’ve taken more photos, or seen more places and people.
So just to enumerate the things that you must do in PNG:
  1. meat-pieEat a meat pie: although this didn’t originate from PNG, this place had a lot of Australian influences and selling meat pies was one of them. Growing up in PNG, meat pies were our go-to food when we didn’t have packed lunches. Back in the day when my metabolism was still good, two meat pies and I was done for the entire day.
  2. Eat at Asia Aromas: this restaurant used to just be a crammy place inside a rundown Steamships building in town. While growing up, the Chinese restaurants we frequently visited such as Marco Polo, Kwantung and this other one at the old Papuan Yacht Club became hard to visit because of its location and the danger it came with. We ordered the same dishes we used to order when we were kids (except for the chow kway teow).
  3. Experience a hold-up: we had already started planning a small get together over coffee and planned to meet at Duffy at the Harbourfront. Just my luck though, after deciding to wait for Telitah and Kiri outside the cafe, a rascal standing outside the door stopped me from opening the door, was shaking his head and showing me a gun stuffed in his shorts. He then opened the door and pushed me back into the cafe and that’s when I thought, “I shit… ok.” While walking towards the end of the room, I was mouthing to the ladies at the counter that the place was being held up. Before reaching the end of the room, another rascal came out of the back room and pushed me aside as he made his way to the counter. I saw the manager and whispered out loud that the place was being robbed. He looked at me with fear in his eyes as though he already knew and he watched everything happen. It was a surprisingly calm and quiet robbery. The other customers in the cafe had no idea what was going on. A table of people who what seemed to be having a business meeting was seated right behind the 2nd rascal were clueless of what was happening until a caucasian man in the table next to where I was standing sounded what looked like a personal alarm. The rascals calmly walked out of the cafe with the morning’s takings and that were out of sight when everyone else in the cafe realized what was going on. My hands were shaking as I looked for my mum’s number on the mobile phone she let me use. I couldn’t decide whether to call her or to call Telitah or Kiri cause I knew that my mum and brother were probably just about to get in the car. It had barely been 5 minutes since they left me at Duffy when all of this happened. Mum came back to see if I was ok and eventually, I told her that she could go and that I was fine staying and waiting. While waiting for Telitah to come, I spoke with the Chue brothers about what happened with random people approaching me asking me if I was alright. Apparently, I was the only person in the cafe that the rascals had interacted with but thankfully nothing was taken from me.
  4. wantoksMeet up with wantoks: after all the ruckus, Telitah even came and met me. The last time we had seen each other was when she lived in Palmerston North and my flatmates and I dropped by on our way back from Rotorua after attending the Raggamuffin festival. Ashlon Chue ended up shouting us coffee because of what happened and Telitah and I happily just caught up with each other. We went to Vision City, the only mall in the city and bumped into Joanna, an old classmate of ours.
  5. big-roosterEat Big Rooster: no one leaves PNG without eating Big Rooster. As a child growing up in PNG, Big Rooster was the McDonald’s and Jollibee of Port Moresby. Mum knew how much we loved Big Rooster’s soggy chips and so she bought some for dinner.
  6. Visit my first school: St. Joseph’s: this place was the first school that made growing up in PNG unique. Its ugly brown and yellow uniform had changed although it is still brown with yellow hats. I remember using a Mac for the first time at Joey’s and looking after a pre-schooler with down-syndrome and spending a lot of time in the library reading books to her. This was where I also first started learning how to play the piano and I remember witnessing a girl from Bougainville fall into a steel rod that was exposed from the ground and piercing a hole under her chin.
  7. lamingtonEat a lamington: again, lamingtons aren’t from PNG but because of Aussie influences, lamingtons became a big thing while growing up as they were always selling lamingtons at the tuckshop for snacks. There was something about the spongey, chocolate and coconut-filled cakes that made them really addictive.
  8. tauramaGo for a swim at Taurama pool: this place used to just have an olympic-sized pool and fibre glass seats and a couple of playground equipment on the side. During swimming carnivals and swimming practice, we would have to lay down our towels onto the seats because the fibre glass seats would cause the back of our thighs to just itch and matching it with the hot, glaring sun didn’t make it feel any better. The establishment now has a 25m pool aside from the 50m pool, a fun pool area for kids, a gym and basketball courts. They’ve gotten rid of the fibre glass seats and have replaced it with cement steps which is now covered. They’ve changed the water from chlorine and now use salt water. A massive improvement to a place we used to spend so much of our PE days in.
  9. fish-n-chipsEat fish ’n chips: yes, you can eat this in the Philippines, but there’s something about eating fish ’n chips that you know was prepared the way Aussies and Kiwis would want to eat it.
  10. gaytimeHave a Gaytime: and no, I’m not talking about having a “happy” time. For some reason, this ice cream is only being sold in PNG.

One week later…

I’ve held off finishing this entry because I was going through a bout of separation anxiety. As I sat in the Uber I booked on my way home from the airport, I had this yearning to go back to PNG and be with my nephew and niece. It wasn’t entirely impossible for me to live there but I knew I didn’t want to be in that Uber and that it didn’t feel right being back here in Manila.

I don’t know if it’ll ever feel right being here in Manila again.

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