Saturday, April 14, 2007

My Trip To Port Moresby....Chapter Three

Like well-behaved children, the nine of us “experts” in tourism met in the lobby at seven o’clock as instructed. We were duly herded into the main function room of “The Islander” by our self-appointed leader, the one with the bellowing voice and an air of arrogance, Graeme. In a rare moment of quietude, he told us our marketing programme would have to be squashed into one day as he had just found out that our last day was a public holiday in Papua New Guinea. The 23rd July is their “Remembrance Day”, similar to Australia’s Anzac Day. We arrived on the afternoon of 21st July and were to leave late afternoon of the 23rd after almost a full day’s business. No one bothered to mention this minor fact to the organizers of our expedition/exposition. If someone had thought to advise the organizers, the dates for our visit could have been changed. Now it was too late to do anything other than have a quiet complain amongst ourselves, move on and “grin and bear it”.

A special function was planned for us on our first evening in Moresby. A head table on a slightly raised dais held I had no idea who, but Graeme, our “leader of the pack” was centre stage, a position he obviously relished. To his left and to right were other “dignitaries”. I never did discover who they were, but throughout the evening each gave a “talk”, welcoming our little band of troupers. The remaining eight of us were placed at the same table, so we didn’t get to meet anyone else at the other tables spread throughout the room. However, we were treated royally. The “red carpet” definitely had been shaken, beaten and vacuumed for our appearance. Our wine glasses remained topped up magically throughout the dinner. We were looked after extremely well by the doting, courteous staff of the hotel.

Once seated at table covered by a starched white tablecloth with the rest of my traveling companions, our conversation flowed freely. We were old friends after our time spent together at Cairns airport while we’d waited for our delayed flight. Drink orders were taken. A little while after, dinner began being served. We talked among ourselves. I think we all felt a little out of place as we knew no one else at the other tables, and there were quite a number of other tables filled with Aussie ex-pats. Waiting staffed buzzed around the room, never still, it seemed, busily getting on with the jobs allocated to them.

The time arrived for the “head table” to begin the formal proceedings of the reason for the evening. At moments of seriousness, during meetings etc., I have the weird tendency to recognize, or find, (no matter how minute!) the humour in such situations, which, at times, can be little disconcerting and disastrous!

I couldn’t take my eyes off one of the waiters. In your minds, picture the image of “Manuel”, the Spanish waiter out of “Fawlty Towers”, but picture him as a Papua New Guinea National. This “Manuel” was also short in stature. His eyes darted from here to there, never still. His body moved in nervous accord. Scanning down his frame, he was dressed for his part in the night’s performance. White shirt, black bow tie, red cummerbund, black trousers were all correct dress, until one’s eyes reached where his slightly short long trousers met his ankles, then the shock was almost too much to contain…white socks under beige suede desert boots!

Fascinated and entertained I watched as “Manuel” whizzed up and down the head table, filling and refilling wine glasses. He didn’t miss a beat. He had been instructed well. “Manuel” was following his instructions to the letter!

Sitting opposite me at our table was the North Queensland Manager of one of the major bus/coach companies. We had been making small talk throughout our meal, nothing more, and nothing less. Our small talk ceased, when those at the main table began their welcome speeches. Unfortunately, as it turned out, my mate across the table had a similar sense of the ridiculous as I had or, should I say, still have! His eyes and mine met. Immediately, it was obvious to both of us we were “on the same page”. It was fatal. We were on the brink of saving our decorum. Both of us fell into a fit of the giggles, recognizing what each of us was thinking. Vainly, we attempted to, and did succeed, though with much difficulty, to hide our lack of control. It was very difficult and made even more difficult because we were both not of any help to the other in containing our respective, individual and combined hysteria! He was kicking me under the table and I, naturally retaliated! We tried not to look at each other because that only made us worse. The rest at our table seemed totally oblivious to our reasons for squirming. The crescendo reached unreachable, unbearable heights when it came time for Graeme to stand and deliver his speech, something he took very seriously. After all, he was our leader!

Graeme stood up. At the exact moment he began to speak, “Manuel” noticed that Graeme’s wine glass was empty. In a flurry, “Manuel” grabbed a bottle of white wine from the free-standing chrome ice bucket. He had, after all, been instructed to make sure that the guests’ wine glasses at all times were filled. “Manuel” scurried to Graeme’s side, wine bottle at the ready. He started to pour the amber liquid. Gruffly, Graeme shook his head, throwing “Manuel” a filthy look. “Manuel’s” eyes grew even larger, the whites stood out brilliantly. He halted mid-way, wine bottle still at half-mast. He didn’t know what to do next, or which way to turn. No one had instructed him what to do if somebody said, “No.”

Poor “Manuel”…his head spun around on his neck. He searched for the ice bucket. It had only been “there” a moment ago! Finally, he spotted it. With two quick steps to his left, he was beside the ice bucket, hoping to God, I think, that it wouldn’t move. With a flourish, he placed the wicked wine bottle in the bucket and then, throughout the rest of the speeches, he remained frozen to the spot, guarding that wine bottle and ice bucket with his life, not game to even move a finger. His eyes never flickered. It was so funny, but I did feel sorry for him, too, because he was only doing what he had been told to do by his superiors. He didn’t deserve the rude rebuff from Graeme. After all, we really were on a “goodwill” mission.

Once the speeches were completed, the atmosphere relaxed and so did “Manuel”, who once again commenced his frenetic pace, buzzing up, down and around the table. With the formalities at an end, my partner in mirth across the table and I were able to lift the lids off our laughter, much to our relief. Friendly conversations spread amicably around our table as we got to know each other further, discussing the respective roles each of us played in tourism. Towards the end of the evening, Graeme deemed to join our motley group to tell us he would be flying further up the coast and then to the Highlands the following morning and wouldn’t return until it was time for our flight back home. We were “on our own”, but I heard no complaints from any of my fellow conspirators!

The following day it was all business. With or without Graeme the show went on!

We were each allocated our own special section in which to handle our pre-set appointments. After lunch, each one of us had to make a solo presentation of our particular “product/s”, standing behind a podium, to the whole congregation of ex-pat business people. I was always thankful when a podium was supplied at such events, as I felt the podium hid my shaking knee. Yes, that’s right, “knee”. Only my right knee used to get the shakes! Once I got underway with my spiel after the initial couple of moments of sheer terror, I was fine. My knee behaved itself and no one was the wiser. I believed in the “product” I was marketing, and when that is the case, it’s easy to “sell” or educate others on the product. A full day of business had been planned for us all, plus I imagined, a bit extra was fitted in because we had lost a whole day of business because of the public holiday.

Lunchtime arrived. We were grateful for the break. The business of the day had kicked off at 8am and we broke for lunch at 12.30pm. It’d been an intense morning filled with non-stop talking. A long queue lined up in front of the small temporary bar that had been set up in the function room, the same room we’d occupied the previous evening. I realized then why the outside bar had so many staff manning it. Service was a bit like “manyana”. The barman that day was very methodical, and very slow. I was dying for a scotch, ice and soda. The person in front of me ordered a scotch and soda…and that was the beginning of an epic as long as “Gone with the Wind”!

“Manuel” was running around somewhere that day, but he wasn’t behind the bar. I saw him run into a swinging door at one stage. Nothing had changed for the poor guy!

I waited patiently for the person in front of me at the bar to get his scotch and soda The waiter, of the same persuasion as “Manuel”, stood his ground firmly behind the small counter. Looking about him, to his surprise, he discovered a bottle of Johnnie Walker Red. Reaching for it, he plonked it down in front of him staring at it as if daring it to move. Casting his eyes about, he located a glass. The next problem he faced was finding the ice. Ahh…there it was! Two cubes, no, three were placed gingerly into the glass. Now, where did that bottle of scotch get to? Okay…he found it. Off came the top, which became used as the nip measurer. Into the glass over the ice went the nip of scotch. Carefully, he screwed the cap back onto the bottle, and he carefully placed the bottle back in its spot. Now, we had a problem. Where the hell was the soda? His eyes, too, grew larger like “Manuel’s” had the previous night, until finally he found the soda, which, by the way, was right in front of him. Another problem raised its head. Where was the glass with the ice and the nip of scotch? Whew! It was still where he had placed it to his surprise. He unscrewed the top off the bottle of soda, not taking his eyes off the glass. Eventually, he proudly beamed the largest smile and handed his success to the gentleman in front of me. Then, it was my turn.

“Could I have a beer, please?” I asked with a smile. There was no way I was going to go through that performance again!

To Be Continued.....


  1. Anonymous8:00 AM

    Sounds like some good drinking took place on the trip. Smile.

  2. Well told Lee. You manage to see the humour in everything. Must have been a very long dinner.

  3. Hi, Steve...we certainly were well-catered to! :)

    It was a special function that had been put on in our honour, jmb, and everyone at the main table wanted to have their moment in the sun (or spotlight). :) It was a very pleasant evening and we were treated well.

  4. But oh so memorable!

  5. Good move with that beer Lee'

  6. It certainly was a memorable trip, Lee...nothing outlandish, but the memories remain.

    lol Yes, I was glad I changed my mind, Peter...or I'd still be there waiting for a scotch and soda! ;)

  7. lee,
    Yup, beer, beer please. ;-)
    I'm always impressed with how a group of strangers can build instant commeraderie in these situations. We should be able to capitalize on this tendancy on a larger scale, don't ya think?
    Always whit socks! ;-)

  8. I just love to read your stories. It inspires me either to travel, eat, or find some nice young man. :)) Waiting for the next chapter.

  9. I agree, Rel, about the camaraderie. Being "thrown" together in an area no one feels quite sure of their safety in helps. We felt we had to stick together and in a way, I guess we were forced to stick together, none of us wanting to go wandering of alone, which one can do in many other areas. Once we're back in our familiar surroundings things change...we regain our control and lose that dependency.

  10. Hi there popped in while I was busy replying to Remiman...sneaky! ;)

  11. deslily2:46 PM

    I'm not a beer drinker but..hey..after 1/2 a beer i would get to like it lol

    blogger won't let me on my blog so for now I am at these addresses for my last two posts

  12. Love it, Lee! What pretty stamps they have in PNG! Graeme sounds a right pain in the butt and I am still laughing at the description of the Manuel - type waiters! I admire your patience towards the end - I'd have so wanted that scotch [or, in my case, g&t!] Do post the next part soon!

  13. Oh! I did want that scotch and soda so much, Welsh...but our lunch break would have been over by the time I got it! lol

  14. Well done again. I've been in your place many times when I'm the only one laughing. My county board members often stare at me trying to tell what it is that's making me 'shake' like that.
    No bodies in your story so far. That's a good thing.

  15. It's a terrible state to get in sometimes, Cliff...and the more you try to control yourself, the worse you get! ;)

  16. Excellent account of a memorable event. You write such great stories.

  17. Thanks pleases me that you enjoy them. I'm a bit slack in writing Chapter Four, I'm trying (and the operable word is "trying") to get through transcribing some cassettes at the moment...but hopefully later today, I'll find a spare minute or three to write and post Chapter Four.

    Thanks for your comment. :)

  18. Too funny. I hate it when I get the giggles and can't stop. It is usually egged on by a cohort like you were. Great story.

  19. I reckon you and I put together in such a situation, Corn Dog would be absolutely hopeless and unstoppable! lol