December 4, 2011
The team manager of the Samoan rugby team, Mathew Vaea, has been fined 100 pigs by his community after letting down the country's national team at the 2011 rugby world cup finals in New Zealand.
Community elders in Leauva decided that a substantial punishment was needed for Vaea, who was described by Samoan team players as acting like the world cup 'was a holiday'.
Many Samoans believe that had the team been professionally managed, there was every chance that they would have progressed at least as far as the quarter finals.
Wednesday, November 30
I have been back in Europe almost a week now, and it is fair to say that the happy-go-lucky me that left the Pacific no longer feels quite so sunny. It is grey, miserable, and Europe seems like a depressing place with the continent's economic woes seemingly impacting upon everybody.
I am trying to stay positive but the truth is I wish I was back in Fiji or Samoa. Hopefully, a weekend out with half a dozen of my mates will help me transition back to reality.
I've started adding links to all the blog text. This will enable readers to read more about the people, places and things mentioned in More Than a Game stories. Just click on the link and a new window will be opened with information about that topic.
I have also begun uploading dozens of photos. Many of these are now added to the Fiji pages. You can access previous pages by either clicking on the Archive months (you can find this on the right hand side of this page), or by clicking 'Previous', which you will find at the very bottom of this page on the left hand side.
Over the next few weeks I will continue to add photos, links, additional info about projects we like, as well as redeveloping the website.
With Michael, one of the biggest characters on my trip, still in New Zealand, I thought I would include this guest blog from him (which includes news of a bomb in NZ):
(Tuesday, November 29)
Wellington is pretty nice. By far the best city in New Zealand. Has some really good bars and cafes. But man what an eventful few days since you left. Find out I have job interview with yahoo for a six month contract to work on their client services team, spent some time with the occupy group in Auckland who are camping out against capitalism, and I get the train from Auckland to wellington:
is a really nice journey, amazing scenery, but just outside Hamilton, a girl in her 20's jumped in front of the train and killed herself! Was awful. Delayed for 3 hours while the police investigated and they had to clean all her body parts off the track. Could not get my head around how someone so young could do that, but then when I read about Gary Speed, was shocking sooooo sad.
Partying in Wellington is great fun some really decent bars and restaurants. Though on one of the main streets in wellington I witnessed a man blow up a car in the middle of pedestrianized road!
Nuts!!! One of the girls I know is dating a rugby player who is going to be an All Black one day, he was captain of the under 20 All Black team that won the under 20 world cup, he was actually one of the nicest and funniest people I met out in new Zealand. I stayed with the Irish girl I hooked up with during final weekend she is really awesome. took her to amazing restaurant last night supposed to be best in new Zealand, food was unreal! Had one of best four days in long time, funny how things happen like this. Anyway off to Sydney in few days’ time, if I get this job think I will stay as decent money I hope and also good company to work for and also means can take holidays to the South Pacific as well!!
How things with you back home ok, read your blog - decent journey home it seems. You join the mile high club?? Will let you know how job interview goes.
(Blog by Michael)
Please continue to check out the More Than A Game website in the three weeks leading up until Christmas. I will be uploading dozens of photos on to the Fiji and Samoa blog pages and writing my reflections on the past five months of travel and experiences.
I will also be making some big improvements to the functionality and content of the website...and will bring you news of More Than A Game's plans for 2012.
Many thanks to everybody who has taken time to read my blogs during the past weeks and months. I hope you will continue to follow More Than a Game during 2012.
Thursday, November 24 (Day 85)
Incheon, South Korea – Heathrow, London – Coventry Coach Station
Chimney smoke hangs lazily in the hazy early morning air, unable, because of the sub-zero cold, to escape to higher altitudes. From the tenth-floor window of my hotel I watch jumbo jets descend as they begin their final approach to Incheon international airport from the Yellow Sea. It is crazy to think that North Korea is less than 50 kilometres from here, and not far off shore the South Korean navy are in the midst of playing war games, one year on from the sinking of one of their vessels, allegedly by their northern neighbours.
Briefly, I take a coffee and stroll outside, leaving the warm, cosy confines of the Hyatt Regency. The freezing early morning air hits me with small daggers of pin point coldness. I always think that Korea has a touch of Russia about it. If you take the distinctly East Asian character of China and Japan, and then throw in the wintry grey of European Russia, you kind of have what I mean.
The Hyatt Regency Incheon Seoul gets my vote for the title of the world’s best breakfast. Hands down, I have never been anywhere that has served up such an extensive choice of quality breakfast food anywhere on this planet. There are a dozen different types of cereal and bread, and they even have four different kinds of milk. The décor and the service are also five-star. It was a good move getting up extra early this morning. Perusing the international press, I end up spending two hours in the breakfast room, trying everything from the mango yoghurt with pineapple and cashew nuts, to freshly made chocolate waffles with maple syrup. I reckon most of the weight I lost in the Pacific has just been put back on during my South Korean breakfast calorie fest.
We are an hour late taking off from Incheon thanks to the Chinese temporarily closing their international air space to incoming traffic. One in the air, our route takes us past Beijing, the Gobi desert, Ulan Bator, Lake Baikal and eastern Siberia. Down their below us everything is covered in a thick blanket of snow and ice. Fortunately, the flight is less than half full and I am able to get an entire row to myself to bed down, watch a couple more movies (the Welsh movie Submarine is hilarious), enjoy three more meals (that’s nine on the return leg from Auckland to London) and send myself off to sleep after half a dozen glasses of whisky.
As usually happens when flying long haul into London, my flight is forced to circle high above the capital for half an hour, before landing around an hour late. Two thousand metres down below, the M25 is completely stationary as far as the eye can see, as another 5 o’clock rush hour kicks in.
It is almost three hours later that I reach Victoria coach station after passport check queues (next week this could take 12 hours during the UK public sector strike), baggage control, walking miles through the strange downtrodden labyrinth of Heathrow, and then driving through central London traffic jams. National Express wants nearly 40 quid for a one-way coach journey to Coventry. Option B is Heathrow to Victoria for a fiver, and then Victoria to Coventry on Megabus for an absolutely ridiculous four pounds! With an hour to kill at Victoria coach station, a pint of Hobgoblin across the road at the local boozer costs the same amount of money as my two-hour coach trip. I have only been back in England for a couple of hours but I can see that this country now has both deflationary and inflationary prices kicking in.
If I meet another miserable, rude Polish person today I think I will scream. I would say that half of those working at Heathrow and at the aforementioned pub fit this description. Maybe you should go home if you don't like England.
In the Victoria station convenience shop a spot a very respectable looking middle-class English bloke 'chatting' to a sandwich. I will be back in a minute to buy you. Don't go away!
With jet lag kicking in, I doze off for most of the coach journey to Coventry. I left Samoa at 1pm on Monday and I am finally home at midnight on Thursday. It will be four nights in four different countries after being in Samoa on Monday, New Zealand on Tuesday, South Korea on Wednesday and finally England tonight. I can’t wait to give my mum a hug. There’s also huge relief when I discover that all of my family are safe and well. No time now for my reflections on the trip. I need to get myself to bed.
Wednesday, November 23 (Day 84)
Auckland, New Zealand – Seoul, South Korea
If you’d told me this time last year that on November 23, 2011 I’d be getting up from bed in an Auckland airport motel at 1am and driving to New Zealand’s main airport to meet a bloke called Michael, arriving on a flight from Tonga, I just wouldn’t have been able to work out how and why this would come to pass.
Back at the hostel we swap war stories about Tonga, Fiji and Samoa. Tonga sounds like it is very far removed from the modern world, with plenty of seemingly strange idiosyncrasies that make this Pacific kingdom just as special as Samoa when it comes to being ‘different’. Michael tells me he was evacuated from one remote island on a small speedboat after a hurricane warning was issued. I think that was the same storm that came through Samoa around a week ago. He is due to fly back to London on Friday but might change his flight and hang around to see if he can find a job in New Zealand. I’m laughing because a month of lying on beaches and having a silly amount of time to think has clearly left Michael with more questions than answers about what he wants to do and where he wants to be in life. We crash at around 4am and get three hours sleep before it’s time for me to head back to the airport.
Leg two of my journey back to Europe from the Pacific is a 12-hour flight from New Zealand to South Korea, which over-flies the east coast of Australia, the misty and mysterious mountains of Papua New Guinea and the vast open sea between the Philippines and Guam. It’s daylight all day and I don’t sleep a wink, but Korean Airlines is a quality airline. The stewardesses are absolutely charming and when it comes to politeness it is pretty difficult to beat the Koreans. The food is great, the drinks keep flowing and I manage to catch up with three movies that were released after I first left Europe for Argentina in June. Black Brown White (a road trip movie set in Morocco and Spain), and Wer Wenn Nicht Wir (a political drama set in 1970s Germany) are both well worth seeing.
I am spending the night in Incheon. My Korean Airlines ticket includes a complimentary stopover and hotel here tonight. After leaving South Korean customs and immigration and picking up my free hotel and meal vouchers I step out of the airport and into the open air. You’ve got to laugh. I’m wearing my beach flip flops, a T-shirt still caked in sand, three-quarter length jeans and the temperature is two degrees Celsius. I can’t tell you how cold 2C feels after weeks of it being 23-28 degrees at night in the Pacific. I spot a couple of Koreans, kitted out in long winter coats, scarves and gloves, pointing and giggling at me. You can hardly blame them.
I have to give a big shout to Korean Airlines. Basically, it is 24 hours of flying between New Zealand and London but instead of doing the journey in one long drag, with three or four hours between flights in Korea, I have a 20-hour stopover in Seoul. Not only does the airline provide complimentary dinner and breakfast during this lay-over, but they’ve also put me up at the 5-star Hyatt Regency Incheon.
I’ve got a gorgeous room with a huge double bed that I may well get lost in during the night. Time for my first hot bath in three months. Dinner is absolutely superb – a four-course buffet. I am extremely tired and struggling with jet lag but I’m going to try and stay awake so I can enjoy this luxury for a couple of hours.
Watching the huge LG TV from the comfort of my equally huge bed, I discover that the Occupy movement spread throughout the US and around the world during October and November. The press though are vilifying the movement as being a bunch of Trotskyite and Anarchist type individuals who just want to kick off with the police. They have no clear message apparently. It is convenient for the TV and newspaper morons to paint popular protest with this brush of one-dimensional negativity. Most of society is being depleted by the movement of capital from the bottom to the rich at the top. The capitalism model is clearly broken and democracy doesn’t really exist anymore. In my view the reason this movement looks like it doesn’t have a clear message is because, in some senses, it is not a group of people with one clear set of political ideals. Inequality and political nepotism are two of the many reasons ‘the 99 per cent’ are out on the streets. I think there is some similarity between ‘Occupy’ and Solidarnosc, the 1980s anti-Communism movement that helped topple the communist regime in Eastern Europe.
After sleeping on the ground for much of the past six weeks I’m almost inclined to leave the comfort of my huge bed and lie on the floor.
Tuesday, November 22 (Day 83 continued)
Auckland, New Zealand
It’s not looking good for me. I must apologise to my New Zealand friends for the following diatribe but if, after two hours back in New Zealand, I am finding this place infuriating, then what hope is there for me upon my return to the Un-united Kingdom? Immigration, customs, airport bio-security staff, and the Indian motel staff are all annoying the hell out of me. It is all rules, rules, rules and a thousand and one questions about where you have been, what you are doing and veiled attempts to extract cash out of you in the form of fines for inadvertently breaking New Zealand rules. One of the blokes at the bio-security unit threatens me with a 400 dollar fine for supposedly not declaring my tent. This after another bloke working for the same unit cleared me and told me I didn’t need to declare my tent (which I never managed to use on the tour and have been carrying around with me for 12 weeks!) The immigration officer, spotting on my new visa form that I am a journalist, tries to trick me into admitting I was working at the rugby world cup during my previous stay in NZ. He’s not going to have any joy with his mind games because I wasn’t working here, but being aware that he is pretending to be my mate and then trying to catch me out so I can be arrested for breaking visa rules is more than a little annoying.
At the motel I switch on the TV for the first time in weeks and the first thing I hear is that Iran is apparently a leading country for money laundering! I’m fuming at this shite. Iran?! Try Switzerland or the Cayman Islands perhaps. The news channels are quoting this crap like it’s bible, and just because the United States Secretary of Shite – the war mongering, bags-under-her-evil-eyes Hillary Clinton – claimed this yesterday in some US state department interview. Another war anybody? Want to kill a few hundred thousand Iranians?
The New Zealand news is so naff I can hardly believe it. It seems like a parody of itself. After being in Samoa and thinking that fine country was bonkers, now I’m back in NZ and am finding this country to be naff, clichéd, corporate and - when compared to the Pacific – relatively unfriendly. It is the NZ general election on Saturday and you should hear the rubbish they are spouting on national TV about the candidates. Latest stats, by the way, show that around 100 Kiwis are leaving New Zealand each and every day because of the economic crisis. Most of them, you won’t be surprised to hear, are setting off for the big bright lights of Sydney and Melbourne.
In other news, I hear that the Great Dictator has been ousted from power. Yes, Silvio Berlusconi has apparently resigned. The New Zealand press is also reporting that 133,000 foreign rugby fans attended the 2011 rugby world cup (around 40,000 more than original forecast numbers). 19,100 of these were from the UK and 11,100 from France. According to the NZ Herald, the tournament made 269 million dollars in ticket sales, with 81 million dollars of this coming from overseas visitors.
I’m cold, restless, in desperate need of alcohol, and irritated by pretty much everything around me. Like I said, apologies to my friends in NZ and the cool people I met during my seven weeks here. I had a fantastic time in New Zealand. It’s just that after spending the best part of six weeks in the Pacific, returning to a ‘western’ country is more than a bit of a disappointment and a head spin. This is the motel where I began this tour on September 4, and this is the place where I will spend my final night in the Southern Hemisphere. I want to go back to the Pacific islands.
I buy a bottle of wine and hide in my motel room. I must admit to shouting at the TV and mumbling to myself a lot.