"Paint Your Wagon" - Transplanted In The Islands Of Tonga

Second Special Guest Post by Robert Bryce in Tonga

That old musical tells the story of "moving west", to the new frontier. Back then it was California. Horace Greeley's "go west" advice still stands good, but the frontier has moved decidedly more west. These days, "Tonga or Bust" is the new call to freedom. Folks are painting their wagons (that would be shipping containers today) and heading to the Southern Hemisphere. Tonga is indeed the new and perhaps last frontier. To find it, you continue going west from California, and a little south, too. At about where you begin to go east again, stop there. That will be the South Pacific. The Kingdom of Tonga is right in the middle of the South Pacific. Here is where you will find what every pioneer is looking for, and more: freedom, opportunity, fresh air, pristine environment and good folks of similar mind - same ole frontier - different country.

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"Home is a place for coming from, with dreams of going to, which with any luck..., never will come true." A line from my theme song for many years, taken from Paint Your Wagon; "born under a Wandr'n Star." It is so true. I moved to the Kingdom of Tonga four years ago with my wife, our baby born here and even grandma flew in. There are a few wise grandmas out here. We chose this group of islands for a lot of reasons, one being they seem to still have an appetite for new-comers, a door that will be closing slowly as the turmoil in the Nordstrom Hemisphere drives more of the wary off-shore in ever increasing numbers.

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"What's it like to live there?" is the question most asked by those who have seen my ads in the Tonga real estate section of www.escapeartist.com. The answer is complex, but in short; it is like living in an earlier time, in an epic movie with soap operas every few minutes instead of commercials. Yes, it is paradise with the classic island backdrop, like the Microsoft screen display choice of "Azul." (Use that for temporary relief) Palm trees sticking out of islands, azure seas, blue skies and the white sand beaches. Throw in a bunch of fruit trees and we are back in Eden - complete with a new beginning and new apples. Now, people tend to repeat mistakes, it matters not what garden they are in. This article is about moving to paradise with a little peek inside.

For those who are dreaming about living outside the cubical, like an island castaway (with a new car and speedboat) in a safe and idyllic environment, it is actually a lot easier to accomplish than it might appear. Most people would never consider it; same as most cows wouldn't walk over a "cattle guard", even the ones just painted on the road. Conditioned, programmed or just plain stuck in a mindset that prevents the body from moving over the imaginary line can keep us in bondage. The same mind that, from dirt water and air, created cars, airplanes and spaceships (bombs and bullets too) can't seem to put it together to move out of harms way, even when we now know that the light at the end of the tunnel is a train coming straight for us. If it is only paint between us and where we want to be, know that you can get free with a little paint remover.

Where do you get that kind of paint remover? The answer is; same place you got the paint - in the mind. It is all in the mind. Just change your mind, paint your wagon and come along. Just do what your ancestors did, sell out and move out, if you are so inclined. If your life depended on it, you would find a way; something to ponder in light of the recent turmoil. In today's world, you are only 12 hours away from "home" (North America) by air. Twelve hours and $1,200.00 USD later you can be out here or back there, round trip either way. So it is not like you drop off the earth, flat as it is.

Living in these islands is physically much like how you see in photos of the south Pacific, movies and magazines. A beautiful setting of crystalline waters, emerald islands and white sand beaches, palms and native island culture, complete with outrigger canoes. The air is balmy, pure and healthy. The natives are friendly and the pace is slow and full of grace. In Tonga, everyone counts, everyone is important and has a say in what happens. Town meetings will take you back in time. When you come to these islands, you be transformed from a number to a person; you will become a larger being. For some, those with a deflated ego, that can be quite a boost, for others, hiding the larger personage, it is difficult. So, you don't come here to hide, to escape mayhem maybe, but to hide you will have to find an uninhabited island in this lovely little island group (we have them too). This phenomenon of becoming bigger, like the big fish in a little pond, is one of the potential pitfalls for both the newly arrived and the community that has endured.

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"Every refuge has its price; nothing is perfect; every story has two sides," are some of the sayings that apply to most everything, including living in paradise. It would be unfair to use the paint we removed that was holding you there to repaint you out here without hearing "the rest of the story."

We are here because we want to be... and because they let us stay. That's one point to consider; you could get booted out. It would take quite a bit of nonsense to provoke that, but it could happen. Speaking of nonsense, that larger being I mentioned makes for an interesting observation and study of human nature. When your integer drops from one in 250 million (US) to, one in 18,000 (Vava'u) and then to one in 100 (Expats here), you become a more significant percentage of the population of the group you are a part of. What you say suddenly has impact. This can be like being promoted from janitor to vice president in a single move. So one needs be a little careful about what one says and does with this new voice. The freedom to be your unrestricted self is certainly here, but you may be wearing it around for a while. The results can be amusing (sometimes annoying) and part of what makes the soap opera more interesting. Like in a movie, you don't introduce a character unless they are going to be significant in the film. Here, most everyone is playing a leading role and we do have some characters. Fortunately our mix of expatriates is a pretty good representation of largely kind and gentle folks from around the world. A scene from "Paint your Wagon" indeed.

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Alice in Wonderland noted that things got smaller in her world, but in Tonga, it is quite the opposite. The magnifying glass effect is what I call it. Everything is a bigger deal in a smaller place. If someone breaks their arm, we all know about it and are in some way drawn into dealing with it. Feuding between any two effects us all, but worse, the parties to it can suffer in more ways out here than back there. Imagine not getting along with the only electronics repair guy in town. There goes your TV and appliances. Anyway, the only TV we watch are DVD movies now and then. The prime time shows are the real life episodes. Reality TV is boring once you find this channel.

Movies and life are related, maybe more than what we think. As you pick your movie, you can pick your life. If a change is in order, you will feel it. If you feel it and don't get it taken care of, it may fester into an illness. Overcoming the resistance to seeing the doctor, breaking the ties and stepping over the barriers that are just painted seem to be necessary sometimes to live life more fully. I don't know what we paid to get in this life, but I want my money's worth. If islands, freedom, safety, healthy environment, adventure, funny people and situations turn you on, go for it.

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Not long ago Mr. Z was a nobody in his home country, today he owns a small resort on an island and is in heaven. He and his wife sold out, converting their house in the Northern Hemisphere into a few native style rental units. Now they can live happily ever after, entertaining their guests with stories of how they stepped over that painted barrier to freedom. You have to live somewhere, might as well be in paradise. Paint your wagon, and come along.

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Note from Pandabonium: Thank you for the fascinating, insightful post and the beautiful pics Robert! With Tonga just an hour and fifteen minutes flight time from Fiji, I will certainly be paying you a visit in the not too distant future!


The Moody Minstrel said...

I guess, in a way, I suddenly cleared a painted line in a single bound when I came over to the Land of the Rising Sun...and now it seems I may be behind an even bigger one.

Why am I suddenly finding myself staring at it and contemplating the cost of paint thinner?

Unfortunately, it would be a lot easier for me to blow and go than my family...

Pandabonium said...

Moody, I found Robert's post insightful, and your comment rather deep.

Perhaps - if I may be so presumptuous as to say so (who is going to stop me?, it's my blog) - the answer has to do with one's age and stage of life mixed a bit with the culture you are living in.

Such decisions are made at earlier and later stages of life, or perhaps I should say, acted upon at those times. When one, regardless of age, has no children or very young children, such a leap can be made with ease. Then one enters a period where it is very difficult. At some point later on - as in my parents case and my own case, when the kids are their own - a window may present itself to make another shift. Or not. One can act at any time of course, but perhaps at great expense to others and one's own peace of mind. Something I would not consider.

Between those times, some of us dream and scheme and ready ourselves mentally for the opportunity, hopefully shared with our loved ones, but sometimes not.

There is nothing wrong in evaluating, in dreaming. Nothing wrong in staying where one is. The key in my mind is to have been aware and considered the options and made a choice. Life is full of such decisions and full of compromises.

You are one of the few who have jumped the painted line. Not many have done that or have even considered it.

It is not a perfect world. In the end, we all settle for something, and somewhere, and if we are lucky, we are happy with that. But in any case - and maybe this is just the Buddhist in me - I think we should be satisfied that we made a concious choice.

daydreamer said...

Tonga! Damn. That is not a place one reads or hears about much, and that makes it all the more inviting. To find a place away from the din of bad news, economics, politics. Even if just for a little while. What a treasure. And the photos are sure inviting. I look forward to checking it out.