2005/10/31

Happy Halloween!

Halloween is not celebrated in Japan. There are not enough Pagans and Christians around. Besides, they have their own monsters and demons to fear and celebrate with. Neverless, our front windows are decorated with a big paper bat, witch, jack o' lantern, and spider.

A small ceramic jack o' lantern sits on the shoe cupboard by the front door, filled with candy. We are only expecting one "Trick or Treater" this year, Momo, and she will surely shun the candy in favor of a pig's rib-bone. Her costume will be be perfect, however. She is coming as "Momo The Wonder Dog".


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"Trick or Treat, Trick or Treat, Give me a pig bone or I'll bite your feet!"

2005/10/30

The 7 Squared, Almost

Okay, I give in. Low aka Joshua of "THE 1979" tagged me for this baring of self and I've tried to dodge it, but no more. Here goes....

7 things I plan to do before I die
1. Build a home in Fiji
2. Own a sailboat - any size
3. Meet with my distant friends
4. Explore the South Pacific
5. Visit the children I sponsor in Tanzania and Sri Lanka
6. Finish reading all the books in my library and any new ones I acquire
7. Leave the world a little better for my having been here (this one is kind of cheating, as my two daughters have done that for me already)

7 things I can do
1. Fly airplanes/Sail boats (yes Captain, or aye-aye Skipper will suffice)
2. Argue pointlessly
3. Play trombone
4. Tell jokes
5. Teach
6. Paint with oils
7. Economic/Political analysis and forecasting

7 things I cannot do
1. Dance - I'd rather play in the band
2. Tolerate greed, cruelty, hate, or predjudice
3. Live in a cold climate
4. Scuba dive
5. Stay up late
6. Bookkeeping
7. Accept my failings - including my failure to accept them

7 things that attract me to another person
1. Sincerity
2. Depth
3. Integrity
4. Compassion
5. Openness
6. Sense of humor
7. Curiosity

7 things that I say the most
1. god damn it
2. Namu Amida Butsu
3. No
4. I love you
5. onegaishimasu
6. I'm sorry
7. Why?

7 people I want to do this

No one really, I'd rather get to find out about people from experiencing them.
Is that a sigh of relief I hear? You're welcome.

2005/10/20

Pandabonium?

I am sometimes asked where the name Pandabonium comes from. Obviously I'm supposed to be the panda bear and I play the trombone. But now you're going to read the rest of the story.

A few years back, someone said that I reminded them of a Panda bear. Not a flattering comment on my physique perhaps, but I like the animals and they are cute and calm and rare (hey, that's me), so I allowed it. At the time I was playing trombone in various groups - Maui Symphony Jazz Orchestra, Maui Brass Ensemble (at the time a quartet) and the newly founded Maui Community Band. I wanted to start a trombone group with two, three or four trombones to play some older popular and jazz tunes.

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Maui Brass Ensemble


I was interested in this project because of two trombone groups that I had listened to as a teenager. I listen to alot of trombonists of course, but there were two groups which exclusively used a small number of 'bones for their work. In the fifties (no I was not yet a teen in the 50's!), two of the greatest trombonists of the day formed an unusual team. Unusual in more than one respect. Musically, they were two of the very best trombonists around. The group was just the two trombones backed by piano bass and drums. Their trombonists were J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding. The other unique thing that made its own statement was that J.J. was a black man, and Kai was white. Ebony and Ivory. This was long before the civil rights movement of the 60's. Sure, lots of blacks and whites played jazz, but for a small group to be integrated and play white venues was rare. The most important thing was that their music was pure magic. Several albums are still available - now on CD. For a taste of just how good they were, do a search on Amazon.com for "Jay and Kai." and listen to the samples, I like "Yesterdays".

Another group called themselves "Trombones Ulimited" and they played arrangements of pop tunes of the 1960's. They used various musicians and even emphasized the difference between "West coast" and "East coast" musicians on one album. I had a good friend in high school, Ellen, who had perfect pitch. It was, perhaps, genetic as her dad played oboe for the LA Philharmonic and her mom arranged television show music written by the likes of Lalo Shiffrin, and Henry Mancini. Another friend, Larry, and I wanted to play trombone duets and Ellen sat down, listened to the record (music was on vinyl in those days), and wrote us arrangements of our favorite tunes off the album. Ellen was awesome. Our performance was less so, but we had a great time rehearsing.

A new group would require some fresh arrangements, but I certainly would not hesitate to borrow from the past to start. I had some interest from fellow trombonists on Maui, so I was encouraged at the prospects. We would need a name. It just came to me out of nowhere. A duet, trio or quartet of trombones playing some fast piece might get kind of crazy - a bit of chaos, of pandemonium. Panda, trombones, pandemonium. Of course. Pandabonium.

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An artist friend of mine, Andrew Shkolnik, was working with me at a Borders Bookstore at the time and created the logo for me. I liked it. The panda has claws, slightly learing eyes, and smile that give the character a kind of "edge" - not mean, but not your basic cuddly bear look either.

Well, my group never got off the ground and I left Maui for Japan, Fiji, and the vast Pacific. It was a fellow musician here in Japan, the Moody Minstrel, who's blog gave me the impetus to start my Pacific Islander blog, so I decided to use Pandabonium as my e-pen name.

And now you know the rest of the story.

2005/10/17

Momo's Walk - Talk of the Town

Momo (the wonder dog) has been here 6 months now and has made lots of friends in the neighborhood. On her walks, she sees other dogs as well as folks on bicycles or working in their fields, and kids walking to or from school. Most of them know her by name. As her house is just a few meters from the street, anyone passing can see her. So now, a number of people stop to say hello, pet her, or even bring her treats.

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Momo now has a welcome sign and a nameplate on her house, though strangers don't get a warm reception.


She likes lounging on her deck, especially in warm weather. Most of all she looks forward to her two daily walks. Here are some of the sights along the way. Which way should we go?

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migi? (right?)



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hidari? (left?)


We go to the right. One hundred meters down the street, past three homes and a small construction company office, we come to the local shrine, Tsubaki (camelia), set amoungst about an acre of cedars and oaks.

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The smaller of two buildings at Tsubaki Shrine
.

A bit further along the residential street is the local Buddhist temple of the Shingon sect. There is a swing, a slide, and a teeter-totter in the yard for children to play on. Perhaps the ghosts come out at night to play as well. Unlike temples in Hawaii and other parts of the Americas, which have services every Sunday, schools, Boy Scout Troops, etc. Temples in Japan, for the most part, are only active during Buddhist holidays and funerals.

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Then comes a small family run grocery store/gas station, Kurakawa's. The grandmother Kurakawa and her daughter-in-law take turns operating the store while her son delivers the kerosene for our tankless water heaters and LP gas for our stove. I buy things there whenever I can, as I want to support family businesses which are disappearing all too fast in developed countries, and maintain a good relationship with my neighbors. So what if it is a little more? It saves a trip to town and is only a couple of minutes from the house by bicycle.

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Some of the dry goods at Kurakawa's have been on the shelf so long that they are covered in a thick layer of dust which , when I make a purchase, the the elderly Mrs. Kurakawa wipes off with a cloth while offering her apologies. We laugh about it and then she rounds down the total a few percent to give me a discount. I once tried to purchase envelopes there. They had preprinted boxes for a five digit postal code. Japan has used seven digits since early in 1998, so they were at least seven years old. Although I was willing to pay, I was given them at no charge. Don't worry, though, the produce is fresh.

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Across from Kurakawa's is an old white warehouse for storing rice. It is crumbling a bit at the corners, revealing the structure of the walls, which are made of wood, sticks, straw and coated with earth. This type of building can be seen in older parts of towns all over Japan. Next to it is an old storefront, which used to have kimonos on display in days gone by. It has a new roof, as the back of the building is still someone's home. You can also see the local red post box in this photo.

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Off on a short side street is the community center. It is where every couple of weeks the neighborhood recycleables are collected. Meetings and activities for retirees are held here too. It is also where a veteranarian day was held earlier this year and we brought Momo down for a rabies vacination and to register her as our dog. On adjacent land is a croquet court - a game popular with retirees in Japan.

As we make our way through the streets, there are lots of vegetable gardens. Taro, sweetpotatoes, daikon radishes, beans, corn, lettuce, pumpkin, brocolli, you name it, it is here in season. Lots of flowers too including some surprises for me, such as gingers and hibiscus which are abundant in Hawaii and Fiji. Several people have a trellis of wisteria, which are a beautiful sight in spring. Fruit trees too, even kiwi. Every season is brightened by something in bloom.
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Always something in bloom and a butterfly here if you look close.


There are a lot of retirees in the area. It is not uncommon to have three or four generations living under one roof. So an everyday sight is an older person keeping active by walking or working in the garden. Sometimes just seated in a garden enjoying some sunshine and air, or talking to friends and neighbors. Momo always brings a smile to their faces as we pass and she is greeted with ohayogozaimasu (good morning), kawaii ne (she's cute!), or sanpo desu ka? (you are going for your walk?).

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On one of the routes we take, we always stop by to say hello to Goma. Goma is the Japanese word for sesame seed and is also the name of one of Momo's friends. Goma is an old dog with thick black fur that is grey in some places and missing in others. He is a bit overweight, so on a diet and exercise routine. I don't know his age. His left eye is clouded by cataract and he doesn't have many teeth left. But Goma and Momo get along even though Momo is hyperactive and Goma moves in slow motion. They visit each other on their walks. Goma's owner often brings treats and always takes time to pet and talk to Momo.

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Ol' Goma


Momo likes to tug on the leash. Not sure why. If I let go of it, she doesn't go anywhere, just waits until I pick it up and goes back to tugging. On a long walk she'll slow down as she tires, but otherwise it's "full speed ahead" until she finds something to sniff.

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the homestretch


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Had we gone to the left today, we would have gone by my barber's house and shop.


After 20 to 30 minutes, we arrive back home. Momo likes for me to turn her loose at the edge of the property so she can sprint the last few meters to her waterbowl. Sometimes she races around the house a couple of times running as fast as she can. Then she settles down to watch the world go by or take a nap. We hope you enjoyed the walk around the neighborhood and a glimpse at where we live. Momo and I sure did.

2005/10/13

Feeding The Bears

Thanks to Vitural Pus for this story.
From Reuters, Beijing (I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP)
China bear bile farmer eaten by own animals.

The man raised black bears in order to tap them for their bile (a Chinese folk remedy for fever and liver problems). When he went to clean their cage the other day, he was killed and eaten by six of his bears.

Some might say that the bears had a lot of gall, but it sounds to me like justice. Or dare I say "just desserts"?

When questioned by police, the bears could not agree on whether or not the man tasted like chicken.

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Tastes like chicken. No, Goldylocks. Chicken. Goldylocks...

2005/10/05

Bountiful Sea - Or - Fan Mail From Some Flounder?

A new 130 kph (80 mph) rail service from Tokyo (Akihabara) to Tsukuba has been opened, called the Tsukuba Express. Ibaraki Prefecture is expecting more English speaking tourists to visit the area who may stay in local hotels and ryokan (traditional Japanese inns). Tsukuba is in central Ibaraki and home to many science related industries and research facilities.

As a result of the anticipated wave of gaijins, K and I have been doing some work as a team translating brochures from Japanese to English for a group of hotels and ryokans. Of course, K does most of the work and especially the hard part of translating Japanese to English. (I'd have difficulty translating my way to a men's room here if they didn't have a blue diagram of a guy in pants on the door). But while K has spent a lot of years teaching English in schools and attended a school for interpreters, there is a big difference between conversational language and translating documents.

That's where I come in. I take her rough draft and polish it into American vernacular while honing it down to fit into the space available. I also try to use descriptions that would appeal to a native English speaker. There are certain words and phrases that have cultural significance to the Japanese that would be totally lost on a foreigner.

My part of the work also avoids mistakes such as those encountered from time to time (well, frequently) in Japan. For example, there is a sign in each room of one hotel that reads, "You are invited to take advantage of our chamber maid". Nice translation technically, but to the English speaking visitor reading it doesn't quite convey the message the hotel had in mind.

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When I hear the word "flounder" I can't help but remember my cartoon friend Bullwinkle asking, "fan mail from some flounder?"


Anyway, we'd been doing this for a few weeks, and the brochure jobs had led to others. One Friday morning a delivery truck stopped in front of the house and the driver brought a large styrofoam box to the door. The unexpected package was from an individual for whom we had also been doing some translation. We had no clue as to what was inside the box. When we opened it, we found (packed in ice) two full sets of fresh snow crab legs, four flounder filets, the head and skeleton of said flounder, and two live abalone! There was also a nice thank you note. Well, the pay's not great, but the perks are awesome!

We don't eat out often and our diet at home is pretty much vegetarian. We do like seafood, but only have it occasionally, so this box of goodies was a real treat. We boiled the crab legs for lunch and devoured them. K did take half of them plus two of the flounder filets and the rest of that fish to K's parents. That evening I prepared the remaining two flounder fillets with a ginger recipe. The quality and freshness of the fish was a major factor, but the recipe is a good one too, so they were "melt in your mouth" delicious. At the end of the post is the recipe I used which works well with any mild fish. Give it a try, you won't be disappointed.

The following day was my birthday. I am now feeling old enough to prove that the creationists are wrong in their determination of the age of the earth. Anyway, the abalone would have to wait because we went out to our favorite restaurant - Wordsworth (after the poet). Wordsworth serves seafood pastas. The kitchen is glassed in so you can see the chefs at work and everything is very fresh and delicious. Surprisingly, the bill won't kill you. In fact, if you are from Hawaii you'll find it a bargain. I tried spaghetti in sea urchin sauce and it was excellent. I try something different every time I go there and can't recommend one over another, they are all wonderful.

Sunday, I scoured the Internet for instructions on preparing abalone. I've only eaten it two or three times before and that was eons ago, and I've never had to get a live one out of the shell. It turned out to be less of a daunting task than I had feared - messy, but not that difficult. K had her own ideas on the cooking process so we compromised. The result was delicious, so I guess we were both right.

I was holding back on posting all this, as I had no pictures to go with it. That problem was solved this morning when the Kuroneko (black cat) delivery truck once again swung into our driveway and the driver came to the door with another cold box. This time it contained four sets of frozen snow crab legs (about a foot long) and a fresh lobster. K's parents will get half the crab legs, but the rest is ours.

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Forget Spam Musubi!


Last Sunday, there was a benefit concert for (an NGO, the name of which I have removed from this post), which was attended by the (name of country) Ambassador to Japan, (name withheld) and his wife. We were called upon to translate the welcoming address to him and devise the letter to the founder of the NGO and winner of a major award for their work) notifying the person of the donation. The ambassador would convey the letter to them. We felt very honored to have a hand in all this, if only in a small way.

Hopefully, I am not revealing too much about the event to anyone in Japan, as the person we consulted did not want anyone to know of our role. So if you have any knowledge of this event and the people involved, mum's the word. As a result, while we had the pleasure of working on this interesting project, we neither attended the concert nor got to meet the ambassador. That's OK, we'll settle for seafood and a check.

As the date grew closer there were many last minute emails and phone calls asking how to say or ask a particular thing. Anyway, if you happen to read in the news that Japanese - (country) relations take a nosedive this week, it may be our fault!

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^


Here's the recipe for Gingered Flounder (also works well for sole and other mild flavored fish). I've shown US measures, if you'd like it in metric, just send me an email.

2/3 cup coarsely grated peeled gingerroot
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons dry sherry
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons sugar
4 six-ounce flounder fillets or sole fillets
cooking spray or olive oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 scallion, green part sliced


Using damp cheesecloth or your hand, squeeze grated ginger over a small bowl gathering the ginger juice.

Combine 2 tablespoons ginger juice, soy sauce, sherry, lemon juice, and sugar or sugar substitute in a large food storage bag or bowl; add fish, turning or gently shaking to coat.

Marinate in refrigerator 20 minutes, turning fish occasionally.

Remove fish from marinade; discard marinade.

Place fish on broiler pan coated with cooking spray and broil 3 minutes (do not turn); brush oil over fish, and broil an additional minute or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Note: Alternatively, you can fry the fish in a little olive oil on a non-stick pan.

Place fish on individual serving plates, and drizzle remaining tablespoon ginger juice over fish; garnish with scallions.

I served our fish with a very small baked potato, one small scoop of rice (for clearing the palate), and steamed asparagus spears.

Cheers!

2005/10/04

"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.

To contact Robert Click Here

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!