‘Uta comes over to chat, and without any intention of giving offence, much less having any inkling that she is doing so, and right in my own living room calls my hometown "Frisco." I need your help, Herb Caen! Explain, with your tact and disarming wit, why that grates so much. I'm not quite sure why. After all, Angelenos themselves call Los Angeles "L.A." My father was born in L.A. It didn't discomfort me to say that. I went to college in L.A. See? That didn't hurt a bit. But I was born in San Francisco, so was my mother, so were both of her parents, and so was my mother's mother's mother. We say "San Francisco," and no one better say anything else. Well, I suppose "S.F." would be acceptable.
After explaining this lineage, I like to tell people that my son was born "back east," by which I mean Oakland. It is, after all, on the East Coast of San Francisco Bay.
Genealogy is very important in Tonga. I'd swear that everyone on Tongatapu knows the genealogy of the entire island. Certainly ‘Uta knows it. Just give her a name: "Oh, yes, he is...." or "Oh, yes, she is...." Meleline listens to all of this with her anthropologist hat on. Anyway, there are some hereditary lines of authority that run through the male line and some that run through the female line, which makes for a nice balance. But of course, primogeniture is still the rule. For instance, the position of ‘ulumotu'a, or head of the clan, is inherited through the eldest male line. Now, that got me to thinking. I'm an only child. My father was the elder son. My grandfather was the elder son. My great-grandfather was the eldest of four sons. And so it goes, as far as I have been able to trace, back to my fourth great-grandfather. As far as I know, I'm the capo of the Gangale from Cotronei, Caccuri, and Castelsilano. I can't think of a better argument than that against hereditary claims of authority.
From ‘Uta, Meleline and I have learned a little about the politics of xenophobia in Tonga. We have heard that most palangi are American, followed by Australians and New Zealanders, and I've often heard French spoken at Café Escape. The Tongans don't seem to be concerned so much with us white folks as they are with the Chinese. Before we came to Tonga, Meleline and I read about the various ill-conceived revenue-generating schemes of the previous king, George Tupou IV. One such scheme was to sell Tongan passports to Hong Kong subjects of the United Kingdom who didn't relish the prospect of becoming citizens of the People's Republic of China. That scheme made some money for the Tongan government, I suppose, but at the expense of the indigenous population's growing disquiet about there being so many Chinese in their midst. Actually, I haven't seen that many Chinese--I've seen far more round-eyes--but where one does find the Chinese is behind some counter, doing business. A lot of the falekaloa, the tiny cinderblock stands that dot the neighbourhoods--the Tongan analogue of the 7-Eleven--have Chinese proprietors. I needn't dwell on their legendary penchant for entrepreneurship. Rob Beck, a Peace Corps worker who is teaching economics at ‘Atenisi, remarked to me that he was worried that the concept of optimising the outcome of a transaction wasn't sinking in with his students. "It could be that the Tongans still consider transactions, even those involving money, as exchanges of gifts, and it would be ungracious to try to optimise an exchange of gifts," I ventured to theorize, based on what I had read of Tongan culture. Such a culture would be at a severe competitive disadvantage compared to a culture that retained its ancient understanding of commerce despite several decades of brutal Maoist attempts to eradicate it. From ‘Uta, we understand that a lot of Chinese businesses were burned out during the November 2006 riot, and a lot of Chinese subsequently left Tonga, which explains why there are few to be seen in Tonga today despite George Tupou IV's scheme. I wondered why Narattam, an enterprising Indian, had such a voluminous store, essentially in a warehouse, located in the boonies of the light industries area several kilometres east of downtown Nuku'alofa; his store used to be downtown, but it was burned out in the riot. In a few months, he planned to be back downtown; saffron is another of those colours that doesn't run.
It's a tired old story; when the tinderbox of discontent is sparked, take revenge on the disciplined and enterprising Other in one's midst. When white cops get away with beating an African-American motorist, burn out the Korean shops. When Arabs fly airliners into skyscrapers, shoot a South Asian in a convenience store. In May 1998, Indonesians rampaged against their Chinese minority and murdered thousands. Every night is Kristallnacht somewhere on this planet. Get with the pogrom.
In biking nearly every day for five weeks between home and campus, and sometimes downtown, my legs had become considerably stronger. I had stated out taking about five minutes to get to and from campus; now, if I kicked it into full AB (afterburner), I could get to or from campus in 2.5 minutes. Despite this, I was still unsteady on stairs, needing to grasp a handrail. The knees were just shot to hell, and the gout was no help. La vecchiaia... che farai? Old age... what are you gonna do? I had sort of expected to be dead by this age, having been given to doing more than a few dangerous things in my youth, as most youths do, so the gout and the worn out knees were the rewards of unexpected survival.
As it happened, Meleline and I didn't need to buy a clothes washing machine, no more than we needed to buy an automobile. ‘Uta volunteered herself and Mata to do our laundry, once again demonstrating the primacy of the social network in Tongan culture. Equipment such as washing machines and cars might be privately owned, but their owners made them available to family and to friends, along with their time and labour to operated them.
The concept of time itself was communal in Tonga; I don't know that they had an idea of "personal time." For this reason, Meleline and I had to adjust to the fact that ‘Uta would occasionally come to the door while we were watching a movie, and stay to chat for the rest of the evening. This was a bit irritating at first, but on further reflection, how were we inconvenienced? It wasn't as though the program was coming in on the airwaves and then was gone; we could resume at another time. Indeed, had we been absorbed instead in quaint and curious volumes of forgotten lore, we should not have objected to a tapping at our chamber door. The one immutable priority was that I had to have sufficient time for schoolwork, and nothing could encroach on that.
I had developed something of a taste for Tongan cuisine. In addition to tapioca root and breadfruit, which I had come to think of as South Pacific potatoes, ‘Uta occasionally brought us lu, roasted pork or chicken wrapped in talo leaves. Sometimes the local fauna found their way into Meleline's culinary triumphs. One morning I bit into something crunchy in the soup. It had a strange taste as well as an unusual texture. I decided to remove whatever it was from my mouth with my spoon and to inspect it. It was a cockroach, about 3 centimetres in length. It wasn't on the menu, it was the catch of the day. I took it as a good omen that nothing worse would happen to me that day, which turned out to be so.
Wasps had been a continuing problem on the ‘Atenisi campus. They had built a nest in the ceiling of the first story classroom in Lolo Masi Hall. Disposition of the nest had to be agendised for and discussed in a Faculty Senate meeting before action was decided upon. Marten Runquist, the biochemist, was tasked with removing the nest. There was some delay in accomplishing this, during which time he and his two children, Felix and Ines were stung. Marten removed the nest from the ceiling with not much further delay, but the wasp attack hadn't occurred in Lolo Masi Hall. The larger problem was that the wasps lived all over the campus, perhaps in the mangrove in particular. There were times when I shut all the windows in the computer lab on the second story of Lolo Masi Hall, despite the oppressive heat, to keep out the wasps and to work undisturbed. One day I was compelled to interrupt Rob Beck during his economics lecture and to alert him to the danger. "Be advised I have three targets, eleven, twelve, one o'clock high." I had managed to avoid being stung until the unavoidable happened. As I sped along the road onto the campus, I felt a sudden sting on my left temple, a couple of centimetres from my eye. I had taken a wasp strike. Compared to what a kilogram of highly kinetic flesh and feathers could do a cockpit canopy or a jet engine, I counted myself lucky. Nothing worse happened to me that day.
On 23 March, Tai returned from the New Zealand Immigration Office in tears. She had applied for a visitor's visa so that she could attend her daughter's high school graduation ceremony in Wellington, where she lived with her father. The clerk at the immigration office had harassed her with a lot of intimidating assertions and personal questions, on the one hand accusing Tai of attempting to enter New Zealand on a ruse with the intention of staying in the country permanently, whilst at other times questioning whether Tai were still married to her husband, given that neither had visited the other for several years. Being a Tongan herself, the clerk had to know that there was nothing unusual about this, given that more Tongan subjects lived outside the kingdom than within it. Meleline and I were outraged over this "insolence of office," as Hamlet termed it, and that evening Meleline addressed a stern letter of complaint to the clerk's supervisor. The next morning, armed with Meleline's letter, Tai and ‘Uta descended upon the New Zealand Immigration Office. They issued Tai her visa, and she was in the air that evening. Her daughter's graduation ceremony was the following day.
An issue that has come up regarding my international relations course was the amount of reading I was assigning; 60 pages per week was not a large increase over what my predecessor had assigned, and it was well below the 100 pages per week that I counted up in a Stateside syllabus, but at the same time it was well above what other instructors at ‘Atenisi assigned. Which led to a discussion between Maikolo and myself. My bottom line was, that if this university desired to be internationally respected, it must teach to an internationally respected standard. There was just no way around that. On the other hand, there was no K-12 public education in Tonga, and the private schools (nearly all, if not all, religious, I understood) didn't do the best job of preparing their students for a rigourous academic environment. Well, big deal; from what I had seen, neither did American K-12 these days. True, there was also a language barrier to deal with here; but roughly half of San Francisco State University's international relations students had been foreign, so I wasn't buying that argument, either. Now, throughout my life I had known that I was a slow reader, and after leaving SFSU I finally got around to having myself tested for learning disabilities at the College of Marin. My reading speed is 38th percentile. In other words, nearly two out of three American adults, regardless of education level, could read faster than I could. So, if I could read the readings that I assigned to the students (and most of the time they were new readings to me), they bloody well could, too! Especially since I had told them the secret to student survival: cooperate and graduate; form study groups, distribute the workload. After some discussion, Maikolo decided to sit back and watch my teaching experiment; if I got good results, other instructors might begin ramping up their courses as well. As I saw it, academic excellence was an indispensable leg in ‘Atenisi's strategic triad, along with independent governance and international funding. ‘Atenisi's star was on the rise. Student enrollment was up nearly fivefold from two years earlier, and funding was coming in from New Zealand, Australia, France, and Canada. Meanwhile, the only other university in the kingdom was crashing and burning; because of the odium of Fiji's military regime, overseas income streams were drying up for the University of the South Pacific, and its satellite campus on Tongatapu, which The World of Learning had downgraded to a college, was now reduced to offering only "distance learning" courses. ‘Atenisi was the only game in town, and we must carpe diem.
My student ‘Ana asked about career paths for international relations. I didn't discuss an academic career with her, given the horror stories I had heard, and sometimes seen. In his thesis and methods class at SFSU at the beginning of the Spring 2005 semester, Sanjoy Banerjee had asked his students what they were planning to do after earning their master's degrees. I stated that I might pursue a doctorate. He laughed, "You'll never work again!" That's how America deals with its intelligentsia. I did advise ‘Ana about possible careers in government and in nongovernmental organisations. Also, a knowledge of international political economy (IPE) certainly would serve well operating in the business sector in the South Pacific, given all of the small nations and their economic relationships with Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Japan, China, and the "Asian tiger" economies of Thailand, Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea. Not to mention the fact that I had used my knowledge of IPE to nearly double the value of my investment portfolio in the previous 12 months. Not that it was a particularly large portfolio; nevertheless, the fact was that I was sitting on the beach, earning 97 percent. Yippee ki yay. A damned good thing considering that according to Sanjoy I'd never work again.
Sometimes I sat in the rain, of course. On Wednesday we had light rain, on Thursday we had heavy rain. It rained all through Easter weekend, often torrentially. It really was the rainy season; I only thought it had been raining before. Sometimes it rained so hard that I just had to step outside and watch... and listen... in awe. It was so loud that it drowned out the church bells. The pigs, dogs, and roosters took cover under trees and houses and were silent. Roaches of all sizes silently invaded the house in force in the hope of escaping watery death and instead met their end on a chemical battlefield.
Thomas Gangale's Tales of Tonga