I met Ni in Rarotonga on my 1st morning back after 6 years since my 1st visit.
She was working on her thesis on Chinese backpackers for her doctorate paper.
She made quite an impression on me because of her topic of choice
We shared many a beautiful sunsets on this trip, like this one:
And this one (below) at my place,
which I invited her to stay with me feeling sorry for her because she got herself an out-of-place accommodation to stay at for 1~2 nights instead of remaining at the backpackers which was actually a really good place.
Ni is quite the combination of Pisces Moon and Aries.
I've nothing against Aries usually, Ni really got on my nerves sometimes.
She thinks out loud, which doesn't give you much peace and quiet,
she's also verbally indecisive, indecisive to a point of no return.
Her sentimentality is strong,
âwhich gives her a good appreciation for art, and a dreamy heart.
This is what perhaps bonded us initially,
I was fascinated by the topic of her study.
When I first met her, she was going through her PhD thesis,
which was on how different backpackers travel as 'learners' and non-learners.
But all of that romantic wonder comes out of her verbally, too.
This is something I really deplore in people -- overtalkativeness.
She loves people,
but she chose to stay in a place which ended up having zero other guest.
âI invited her to stay at my villa.
But I also encouraged her to stay at the Backpackers, where we met,
and at the backpackers, she would have more freedom of mobility,
staying with me at Muri means she'll have to stick with me the whole time,
as Muri is on the whole other side of the island.
She chose to stay with me at my villa.
So often she'd want to go do this and that,
and I didn't and I wanted to stay with our friends from the backpackers,
so she was reluctant to hang around, and went to work on her thesis far away from us.
Essentially she spent a lot of time waiting for me to finish hanging out with my friends,
because she chose to stay with me, she didn't get to go to Charlie's again - a place she raved about,
I didn't want to go to that 'cultural dance' performance at the Edgewater,
when she was really looking forward to it, so I let her go with Kasia, who wanted to go see it.
This is but one example of daily dilemmas she found herself in,
Towards the end of the trip, I had to tell her to try to conquer her indecisiveness,
because it is not a good trait to have as a person.
I'm not saying it's a fault,
but it is a flaw of character.
Ni is also unnecessarily scared of the littlest tide of water.
She isn't even able to step into the sea at a water level that goes slightly higher above her knees.
I had to try so many times to hold her hands, and gently led her in.
But she'd scream or say it's cold, and gave up on trying.
Yet she loves the sea...
What was really (... i don't even know how to describe it...) of her,
was how constantly she took selfies and snapped photos with her phone.
She had a selfie-stick, too, which she used daily.
I'd offer to take photos for her,
because selfie sticks don't necessarily provide the best shots.
âAnd she'd be posing like a pro blogger,
and the poses wouldn't stop,
i'd be snapping 20-30 photos of her already, and she'd still be posing...
I'd give the phone back to her, and she'd only then realise I was done taking photos already.
I really don't know how one could have so many photos for 1 place...
(I usually only take 2 pictures max to ensure quality...
âor am I the odd one out?)
Something I found quite inconsiderate of her was,
one night when I had stayed up quite late at the backpackers,
chatting away happily with people sitting all around the table on the deck,
it was well past midnight when I drove us back to the Passage Villas.
Ni struggled to get her contact lens out before bed.
She whimpered and called out and whispered and cried,
till way past 1 am,
and I was trying very hard to sleep.
She had the bathroom door wide open,
running the tap for water to help wash her eyes.
So the light was on, the tab constantly ran, Ni went on crying,
and I was dead-tired, really trying to sleep, and truly as pissed as she was upset about her contact lenses.
I invited her in, and here she was, torturing me with the noise and the light as I tried to sleep.
I've never met someone so conflicted before,
not that I don't know enough Pisces already,
but a sharp combo of Pisces and Aries could really drive me through my villa's roof...
Ni is too Chinese I find, Chinese not in a good way.
She also wears these leggings that are semi-see-through,
so that she won't get tanned.
She's got a strong Chinese accent,
but she uses her English very well.
What I do like about Ni is how much she had explored on her own,
all on foot, the whole island.
That is a very good quality as a traveler,
is the willingness to explore, even when alone.
She knows a lot of hotels and resorts because she had already explored them herself.
Wherever I drove past, or we walked past,
she'd say, "I'd been there!"
Even though she is doing a paper on 'learners' amongst travelers,
I feel that she has a lot of potential to become a great 'learner'-traveler.
she needs to shed her indecisiveness -
otherwise she may struggle to find a resolve in simple decisions like hanging out with people,
or doing things on her own, when she next solo-travels.
Izzy is cool.
She's not only gorgeous on the outside,
She is also beautiful and cool on the inside.
Izzy would reserve her judgments and be ready to listen to others talk.
She's unassuming and would be open to mingle.
Had the border been open, I reckon she would be traveling still,
before she begins her courses at the Police School for real.
I think traveling changes people,
it makes people better people if you travel for real,
and not be a tourist about it everywhere you go.
But to learn and listen, research, and explore off the typical trails.
Thinking about the shut borders,
I feel worried that those in their 20s may grow up being more bigotted, more shut-in,
less open-hearted and understanding like those that travel the world.
Meeting Izzy brings hope.
I do still pray for the borders to open soon,
so that those in their 20s can travel, and see other people and other ways of living;
so that they may come home, humbled and become more loving souls.
Izzy, I think, is the kinda traveler who is set to become a great one.
She's so chill, which is a typical trait of those well travelled.
She wants to become a police woman, which I know she'll do an amazing job of.
She's always ready to listen, and recognises the value in others and knows when to acknowledge them.
Izzy was just as calm as I was when we both saw the man who passed away on the beach.
Izzy I find is also very kiwi, she'll down that one extra gulp of drink to pump herself up for the dancefloor,
She'll also take leave early at night,
When Leila, Kasia and I were just beginning to settle down on the beach to stargaze for longer.
Izzy's gone to the jungles in Malaysia and lived abroad in Canada.
If the borders werent shut, she'd be one of those globetrotters that would change the world one trip at a time by changing themselves.
I feel sorry for those in their early 20s in NZ & Australia right now, they're missing out on so much grandeur out there in the world.
But I'm glad we got to meet Izzy.
Who's got a long way ta go on her journey which is yet to start for real .
My love for banyan trees definitely stemmed from that day Raffaele took me to meet the family of children that lived by that giant banyan tree in Efate 🇻🇺not far from our hostel.
Those children's loveliness and their joy instilled in me a sense of realness and bliss that changed me, an experience and afternoon I will never forget.
The love for the banyan was reenforced that same year, having seen these trees everywhere around Bali, with black and white checkered cloths wrapped around the base of the trunk.
The trees are revered as gods in Bali.
With the religion of Water, nature triumphs all and teaches us all things about the divinity of life itself.
And of course the Banyan trees would be worshipped as rightful maestros of the land.
Growing up in South China, there were also giant , absolutely massive banyan trees here and there, their aerial roots stretch so far the tree looked like a wall.
In Yang Shuo, there is one so old so huge it is a famous tourist destination.
I loved the one we hung out at in Vanuatu the most, that Banyan tree community can hide inside the trunk and the expansive network of roots of the banyan, when the cyclone hits.
The tree acts as safehouse.
You can live and cook inside the tree while hiding away from the storm.
The boy who was only 14 years old then and had the biggest most genuine smile , built a tree house at the top of the banyan.
He offered us to climb up the ladder to get there.
I went up with my gopro,
and was amazed by the work of this 14y.o.
Then 10 years younger than me, but much More capable of taking care of others.
I hope that little community of families are doing well ...
They really captured my heart.
And every time I encounter a banyan,
I think of them. 💚
This is 'Babe'. The pride and beloved son of Mangaia.
He came back after his time in NZ, Bringing back with him business that provided jobs for villagers and income for families.
Before I came to Mangaia, I had wanted to stay in the seaside villa.
But they were not operating to host guests,
Despite them being intact & literally right there...
The only place available was Babe's.
Babe's used to be the only bar on the island.
I guess, after Babe had passed,
the only place now for drinks is the fishing association or something rather at the port.
I had gone to Paul, at Rarotonga Backpackers & Holiday Homes, for help,
hoping to see if he has a way of getting a response from Babe's Place,
as I had called and emailed with no response.
Paul rung up Ura to check on the booking status for me,
to make sure I will have a place to sleep when I went.
After confirming the booking with Ura,
Paul told me how good the food the ladies made at Babe's was when he stayed there,
And that all he looked forward to everyday was lunch and dinner.
This was definitely true.
Mo'e & the ladies made yummy sandwiches that I gulped down on,
and dinner that I could easily finish a whole baking tray of.
I also said to Paul, I wasn't sure how to pronounce "Babe's" as I like to get people's names right,
was it like "Bahbeh...?"
"No it's Babe." Paul explained:
"He was gay.
On the outer islands, It's not very accepted there.
Not like here.
He poured petrol on himself and lit himself on fire..."
Paul continued, "So the lady I just called, is Ura, she was the best friend of Babe's,
After Babe died, Ura was left with that guest home,
While she still takes care of her shop,
So she's a bit short on staff."
This conversation actually happened during Pride Week in Rarotonga,
Pride flags could be seen flying here and there around the island.
To hear of this actually happening so close to home was really really sad...
Babe's grave and tombstone is placed directly in front of Babe's Guest House,
Right at the front door of the lounge, overseeing the guests that come and go.
So Babe's Place is now Babe's resting place.
I give my love to Babe and those that Babe had to leave behind.
No matter what,
I still hope for more understanding and love for all,
not antagony or putting shame, or hate...
Babe's Place continues to provide work and income for several on the island.
I believe Babe's legacy is one to be cherished.
I want to say as a stranger who could not be more unrelated to someone like him,
He had done so well for Mangaia,
and what he had left behind will continue to provide for many to come.
“Gender preference does not define you. Your spirit defines you.”
I originally posted the picture I took of Babe's tombstone on Instagram,
but locals and relatives didn't like what I shared in the caption about him.
So out of respect, I took the post down into Archive.
It's a shame that there is such a stigma still about his sexuality.
It doesn't take away all that he had done for his island,
it doesn't take away the fact that he was the most beloved son of Mangaia.
It just makes it seem as if that aspect of him made him any less than he was.
It shouldn't be that way, it shouldn't be a hush-hush thing.
He was loved, and that was everything.
I was in the water just to cool off from the sun,
post-snorkelling and relaxing with Izzy,
and the water was below-shoulder deep,
The water on The Rarotongan resort side is gorgeous.
In order to create that aquarium abundance of fish population here,
The locals had gone out to the open sea to catch a large variety of fish,
and let them breed here inside the lagoon.
Sure enough, the creatures we had seen around the corals were wondrous.
Some would change color and flash that different color at you as you get close.
I even got a massive fright from seeing a moray eel for the first time in my life.
It popped out of the coral unexpectedly,
and that face of pure evil look had a life-threatening quality.
I felt like I never wanted to see it again,
but at the same time was so fascinated that I yearned to see it again.
The same frightening encounter recurred just off the beach at my villa in Aitutaki,
I'd memorise the location of the coral that the moray eel resided in,
lined it up to 2 recognisable trees,
twice went back in the water at low tide,
and failed to find that coral again.
When I saw my 1st moray eel that day,
I was like a child when getting back on the beach,
calling out for Izzy, looking for her almost for comfort,
Eager to tell her all the different fishes I saw in the water.
ââIt was within that 10 minute window
of resting in the sun drying up,
and cooling down again in the water,
that I met my first - in the wild, and alive -
a long pointy spotted shell.
I had to google it to know its name,
it's called a âTerebra subulata.
It is gorrrrrrgeous...
So smooth and shiny with the water on its surface.
Black or dark brown spots dotted all over the spiralled columella.
I've never found one in my 10 years of traveling in tropical places,
let alone encountering one that I realised was fully alive as well.
Izzy asked to take a picture,
because it was just so special.
It was also within the 10 minute window after putting this Terebra Subulata back in the water,
to let it go on living the beautiful life in this beautiful water,
that Izzy and I got up to go back and return our fins and snorkel to the rental shop,
and we had lunch with Alex afterwards.
While going along the beach to head to the rental shop,
we came upon a small crowd.
The few people there hovered over an old man,
who was lying on the sand,
his chest all purple,
his body pale and limp.
A strong woman was trying her hardest performing CPR on this man...
I gasped internally and looked at Izzy,
Izzy was looking at this scene, quite calmly.
She is to be a future police woman,
her reaction was steady.
Neither of us had seen a dead person,
we confessed to each other,
but right then and there,
we knew we just saw one for the first time.
"I don't think he's going to make it..." I said,
and softly exclaimed,
"This is probably someone's grandfather...
"This was exactly where I had come out of the water..."
I told Izzy, I swam too far without realising,
and when I did, I almost panicked, because I was exhausted,
I had to pace my breathing to steady myself,
and kept peddling, looked up to see how far the beach was,
and just told myself, Keep swimming.
I made it back alive without drowning,
but this man didn't make it today.
People called for ambulance,
and we saw them waiting for it on the road.
"It'll be here in 10 minutes."
One of them said to us when we approached to ask.
I said to Izzy again though with my usual practical calm,
"I don't think he would make it...he was already purple...
I hope he would and perhaps the CPR would break some ribs but he'd be alive,
that'd be better..."
we got lunch at the bar at The Rarotongan like "life goes on",
we finally ran into Alex, who was meant to be here with us,
but we waited and waited at the Backpackers and he never turned up.
We saw him at the stairwell on our way back to the restaurant,
and there he was.
"Everybody remembers me here!
They saw me and said, 'Alex!'"
Because he got drunk and fell asleep in a hammock
during his stay here 2 years ago for a friend's wedding.
His presence in the dark out on a hammock must have frightened the local dogs,
and he got a terrible bite from the dogs,
the hotel staff had to help him.
So they all remembered him.
I asked the staff at the bar about whether the man on the beach made it or not,
if he was okay... hoping that he might be.
They didn't even know of the incidence from where they were.
They weren't shocked in their response,
when they heard about it from me.
It felt like to me that, here, death is a common thing.
I can't remember from where we found out, later on,
I think it was Alex,
who caught wind of a man had been taken into an ambulance,
and didn't make it...
So this was
our first encounter with death,
while we were on holiday...
I felt sorry for the family that he left behind,
for the sudden event in the middle of their trip here in the islands,
for the special flight they had to take to go home with his body...
for the tears they would shed...
the reaction to the news on his family's faces at home...
for this strange memory every time they were to return to Rarontonga...
I thought of death because of this.
Not of death itself,
but of what it indicates for us regarding life,
i.e. how we are to live life,
in order to make life count,
before death arrives.
When we crave the touch and the feel of an unfeigned world,
I guess I'd rather die in the Cook Islands
than to end my life anywhere else.
I'm sorry I thought of that, but it's true.
I'd like to die here, more than anywhere.
I'd like to be buried here if possible, more than I'd like to be buried anywhere else.
I just don't know if I'd be even allowed to have a plot of land for my burial here.
But I know in my heart this would be a good place to end my life's journey.
I think back on the shell I found,
how it was alive, and I had placed it back in the water...
If our life is the snail inside the body of the shell,
our life would be like the snail.
When the snail is dead and gone,
we leave behind something beautiful that is the shell for others to remember us by.
Whether or not they had known us,
hopefully we leave them a legacy which will bring them a little kind of delight.
Perhaps when we have ended all our roles in life,
it all comes down to that.
A little shell to commemorate our past presence.
We may like to combat disease or even want to cure death.
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