After a period of serous business, I really needed a break from it all. So my wife and I booked seven days at a resort on Fiji’s Coral Coast. We took our three young boys which severely limited the relaxation potential of the jaunt, but given how fast they are growing up, we decided to err on the side of family memories.
As a New Zealander, this is somewhat shameful to admit, but we are not well-travelled. For various reasons, it’s just something we didn’t get to do. The last time I was out of the country was 2002 and why wife hadn’t been abroad since 1988 or so. Neither of us even had passports.
This very un-Kiwi trait almost led us to disaster.
After arriving in Auckland we had a six-hour wait before flying to Nadi. After checking out bags in as soon as we could we just kind of hung around international departures drawing pictures and reading books. Why didn’t we go through straight away? Well, we just didn’t understand.
When it seemed time to go, we packed up our stuff and I realised I had misplaced the travel wallet I had insisted on having on my person (you know, to ensure it wouldn’t be misplaced). A moment of pure terror. As luck would have it, it had been handed in without a single Fijian dollar having been out of place.
Unfortunately, the time this absorbed did not leave much left to get to the gate.
And that turned out to be a real problem because we soon learned we hadn’t left enough time as it was. First, we didn’t realise quite how long it would take to get through security. Second, we were not alive to the fact that there would be more than a few duty-free outlets to pass through after that point.
It turns out that between security and Gate 9 was an area approximately the size of Disneyland.
As officials were pawing through my backpack and scrutinising my asthma inhaler, the airline called to say they were about to close the doors. So the second I got my stuff back, I was sprinting around corners, down stairs and up escalators. Bystanders cheered me on as I rounded each corner while staff radioed in to confirm my progress. Behind me, the rest of the family followed with the help of airline staff holding hands and helping with carry-on bags.
We made it. Just. We were red-faced from exhaustion and embarrassment. But we made it.
As bad as all that was, the goodwill that we and understanding that we benefited from as family in transit made a real difference. There's a certain type of wonderful person who will cut you a lot of slack when you’re struggling with small kids. Something to be thankful for on a stress filled afternoon.
The resort was a good hour and a half from Nadi. It was not, I expect, the flashiest of places but it was filled with families, which suited us down to the ground. Most of them seemed to be from Queensland, however, and getting used to “Shay-ane, what’s the room number?” took some adjustment.
The resort workers were obliging to a fault. They went out of their way to talk to joke around with the kids and make them laugh. Looking back, the Fijian people really did make the trip for us.
In fact, I felt uncomfortable lounging around the pool while the staff smilingly attended to the guests and their detritus. There’s just something a bit off about seeing a tall and dignified local stretch to pick up the discarded glasses while the out-of-shape visitors don’t bother rousing themselves to hand them over.
I’m not a puritan or anything but shouldn’t you at least force your kids to collect them up to make it at least a little bit easier?
Small things like that bothered me during our stay. Guests would finish a drink and, no matter where they were, they just set their vessel down. Kids lined up at the kitchen for ice-cream and wordlessly received service without a please or thank-you. The same went with some of the adults at the buffet.
I am sure I am overthinking this but for me, it really highlighted the imperfections of capitalism.
Free enterprise is the best system for generalising prosperity. I know that. But the uneven manner in which it distributes the wealth it generates creates new hierarchies which are not always attractive to behold.
Fiji is not a rich country and the government provides only a limited safety net. Obviously, the workers are better off with the jobs than they would be without. But it’s hard to swallow the thought of such gracious people catering to the whims of spoilt Australians and Kiwis for a few bucks an hour before returning to their (by our standards) ramshackle homes.
If we are not very Kiwi in our lack to intrepidness, does that feeling of guilt make up some of the deficit?
One day, for reasons we don’t need to get into, I had to make a brief trip to Sigatoka Hospital. The people working there were professional, courteous and knew what they were doing. Compared to what New Zealanders expect, however, they were just so appallingly resourced. Sometimes it’s good to remember just how lucky we are to live where we live and have what we have.
Sigatoka itself is known as “Rugby Town” given the prowess of its local teams. I spent the afternoon there just wandering around. It was a charming place filled with charming people.
Is that a patronising thing to say? If so, I’ll just note in my defence that when I was talking to a local doctor, he asked me where I was from. “Palmerston North,” I approximated. “Ahh,” he replied, “I know it – a quaint place...”