30 March 2013


This week we traveled to the land of the Village People to see the home of Paul’s new airplane and experience what life might be like in Papua New Guinea. Though we weren’t able to obtain a completely accurate opinion in three days, I can tell you that Paul will be fine living there and I will be fine not living in PNG.

Since PNG is, to my friends and family members, more foreign than Singapore, I know the typical questions. What was it like? Did you see where you are going to live? Were you OK? I will get to that, I promise. But first, I will start at the beginning.

When Paul accepted his new position a few weeks ago, he was advised that the company should be able to arrange a visit so that we could see the area and take a look at where we would live. We had both done our research – Paul on message boards, I surfing the blogs – and we decided PNG wouldn’t be as bad as we had originally anticipated. Neither of us, however, was absolutely sold on the idea of moving.

Last week we confirmed that we would be scheduled to fly over the weekend and spend a few days in the capital, Port Moresby. We received confirmation that we would be flying out Saturday evening on the overnight flight, so we did what we needed to do during the day and then we each packed a bag. By 9 p.m. we still had not received our tickets. At 10 p.m. we just decided that we would not be flying out that night, since our flight was scheduled to depart in just over an hour.

We had received approval for the flight but we didn’t receive the tickets, which meant that we would try again for the next flight, in two days’ time. We left our mostly-packed bags mostly packed and Monday afternoon, we received our tickets for the evening flight.

I have to say that Air Niugini had the most economy leg room I have ever experienced and Paul and I were seated in a two-seat section so we were quite happy. Uncomfortable seats, announcements on the intercom and flight staff waking us twice on our 6.5-hour flight for food prevented us from getting much sleep, so we were pretty thankful when our expat friend greeted us at the airport and told us to take it easy that first day.

Our first view of Papua New Guinea was blue waters that rested upon shallow sands. Then we saw varying colors of green rolling at first easily and then more robustly across the land that was covered in trees. Unlike most places I have been, this land was mostly untouched.

As we approached the airport, a few buildings and places that appeared to be home sites appeared. The capital city is compact, meaning the city is clustered in one general area, but the buildings and neighborhoods are quite spread out. In my drive around the city, there did not appear to be a town center or shopping district; buildings just stood where they stood.

We stayed in a hotel that was certainly luxurious for its surroundings. The walls were white, the floors were dark wood and all of the public doors were glass. There were separate lounges and separate wings for like guests – standard rooms, executive rooms and suites. There were two restaurants and two cafés. One café and one restaurant had such limited menus that I think we would quickly get tired of our options but the food was good. Another café did not have a set menu – items like croissants, cupcakes and cookies filled the trays as they were made throughout the day. The coffee was not awful but it did make me miss Starbucks (Starbucks being the lowest standard – I do love the small cafés because their coffee is typically better quality).

Our room was large and beautiful; we each had our own beds and the bathroom had more square footage than our living room.

Named The Airways Hotel, nearly every decoration had an aircraft theme – the check in desk was a wing, the fans were shaped like propellers and a giant airplane hung outdoors.

If you look closely, you will see one of the security guard's carrying a shot gun at the hotel entrance

This decoration hangs just underneath one of the restaurants' patio

We slept most of the first day and we were grateful to have had the ability to do so; Paul was advised that the work could wait until the next morning. We had a late lunch post-morning nap in one of the cafés. Paul was eager to dive into his chicken parm sandwich, a favorite of his that just happened to be the daily lunch feature, until the sandwich arrived with mayonnaise on both ends of the bun. Poor Paul. I can’t say we’re not used to it – people put mayo on almost everything on this side of the world, even when it doesn’t make sense. I had a chicken pesto sandwich on honey oat bread and it was really good. The chicken had the flavor of the grill and it was tender – no mayonnaise, I checked.

Pesto tastes great. I love it on sandwiches, in pasta and as a sidekick to bread at an evening meal. My problem, however, is that I never seem to have an instance when a piece of the basil doesn’t get stuck in my teeth. Paul thought it was hilarious.

After we ate, we went back to the hotel room and I brushed my teeth before our second nap. We went back up to the restaurant later that evening to meet a fellow blogger I had e-mailed after Paul accepted the job offer. Moments before she was to arrive, Paul informed me that the infamous pesto was still stuck between my two front teeth. Awesome. I was conscious of the little fleck throughout our conversation but I tried my best to not let it get to me.

Rebecca was a nice girl. She turns 30 in a few days and works in PR so I knew we had a couple things in common. She was a beautiful woman who seemed to live a posh lifestyle. She was well dressed and carried herself confidently. We were interrupted by passersby three times in the hour so it was clear that she was friendly and well-liked.

She told us that it was her job, not her boyfriend’s, that brought the couple to PNG nearly two years ago and that she had actually been begging to move to PNG for years before her company gave her the opportunity. She likes the area and enjoys the friends that she has made. She likes living in the hotel’s residences and compared her current life to the style of life in her hometown of Melbourne, Australia.

One of the perks of working for a global corporation is her ability to have a car service whenever she needs a ride somewhere. Instead of owning a car and being potentially liable for accidents or inconveniences, her company provides a car service to take her wherever she needs to go. While it is convenient, she stated it can be a hassle; if she needs to go to the grocery or run some errands, so does everyone else who also needs the service.

She also happened to mention an outing with some ladies from work and I latched onto the line, “it’s the only place I am allowed to walk by myself,” when describing a lunch location just across the street from her office. Though she has been afforded a luxury condo in a close-knit community within the hotel compound, she seems to have been taken prisoner by her company’s regulations. She is not allowed to drive and she is not allowed to walk alone, save one pre-approved location across the street from her office. PNG life was not sounding all that amazing to me.

We were supposed to meet one of Paul’s colleagues for dinner but, just before we met Rebecca, we were advised that something had come up and that the dinner would be cancelled. Paul was later advised that his colleague had been on a drive in a mountainous area and, as they attempted to exit the park, they were carjacked by some nervous looking locals, one with a knife and one with a gun. The men left with a Nikon camera, an iPhone, some money and the Lexus SUV, among other things.

The colleague and his wife, who was in the car with him at the time, were unharmed but a bit shaken up by the event. We met this man’s wife the next evening and let me just say that my money would have been on her – she is fit and she said her adrenaline was in full force but she and her husband knew that taking action could have caused more harm than submission, so they walked on and filed a police report.

When Paul told me what had happened, my first reaction was for their safety. My second was to thank God that we were protected and were not in the vehicle at the time. If we were, I would have been on the next plane off the island. We were told that the colleague considered taking us that afternoon but ultimately decided against the idea. I feel confident that the communion that Paul and I took for our trip and our prayers for safety and protection covered us in that instant. My third reaction went something like this: “REALLY?! REALLY?! On our FIRST day? Our FIRST DAY here and this happens? REALLY?!” From then on I was very conscious of my surroundings and my guard was up in full force.

Paul left the hotel Wednesday morning to head into the office with a coworker so that he could sign some paperwork and start putting through the documents required to obtain his work permit. While out, he and his colleague ran a few errands and Paul got a feel for Port Moresby expat life.

I went off property for the first time that afternoon, on a drive with Paul and his colleague. As we drove we learned that the previously-stolen vehicle had been located and that a private security firm would be charging 1500 PGK (710 USD / 893 SGD) to return the vehicle. Within a half hour, that number had doubled. Get the picture?

As we drove around the area, it was clear to me that Port Moresby was a cross between Youngstown, Ohio, and Indonesia. Graffiti and garbage were everywhere, people flooded the streets and sat by the road side. In a few lots, tables and tents were set up for street markets where the locals buy, sell and barter their goods.

Buildings where money is exchanged (bank properties, retail outlets) are surrounded by thick gates and security guards. Barbed wire is prevalent around the city. Once off the hotel property, it was evident that I was not in Kansas anymore – not that I have ever been to Kansas.

The roads were a mixture of asphalt and dirt. None of the buildings looked new. Not even the beach looked like a place I would want to visit. Truth be told, I was nervous about being anywhere and one of the reasons I didn’t leave the hotel when Paul was away was because I did not feel safe to be on my own. When in the car, I made sure all the doors were locked while we were driving – just in case.

We were advised that there is no “nice area” of Port Moresby – it just is what it is. The surrounding areas, however, looked beautiful in the distance. Smaller islands and rolling hills covered in trees and farmlands. Only the city looked distressed.

Am I glad we went? I don’t know. My views had definitely changed after this visit. Would I like to go back someday? I don’t know. I know there are nicer areas of PNG and some beautiful, untouched lands that are perfect for hiking, diving and exploring but we didn't see any of those this trip. Paul says that he would be fine living in Moresby and going anywhere he needed to go on his own. I confessed that I did not feel the same way.

If I would stay with Paul for any length of time, I think it would take me a long time to feel comfortable. I would not be able to go anywhere without Paul and I would certainly not be exploring the area. I feel that I would be stuck – stuck in the residence, wandering the same grounds for several weeks, wondering when if I would feel comfortable in Moresby.

We have decided that after Paul’s training in the U.S., we will come back to Singapore. I will find a place here and maintain residency. While Paul will be based in PNG, he will fly to Singapore when he has time available and I plan to spend some time in PNG with him over the next three years. We know that we have been blessed with the opportunity and we are confident that we will be able to make the best this new opportunity.

For now, I have seven days left in this condo; Paul is leaving in four days. We still have to call moving companies, curtain cleaners, air con service people, banks, every Singaporean account that takes our money and I still have to sort out what stays in Singapore and what goes to America for two months. To that I say, let the madness begin!


Flatlander said...

Wow... PNG kinda looks and sounds like Colombia ha
I can't wait to see you both soon hopefully!

Devendra Singh said...

Wow! excellent, Thanks for posting such a interesting and informative post. Moving To Singapore