Thursday, 27 December 2012

ESSAY: New Year, new home

Living alone … fighting off boredom, APH amuses himself with a self-help snap on Christmas Day 2012.


NEW Year, new home.

It’s déjà vu nineteen years ago this month.

When I first arrived in Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, it was Christmas of 1993, December 5 to be exact. And I was 45 years old.

The time was 5.30am. It was just a while ago when my aircraft – Air Niugini Boeing 767 -- touched down on the tarmac at the Jackson International Airport.

From Jackson, I was brought straight to my accommodation – my very first home in the city – Unit No. 6 of a brand-new six-unit apartment building put up by my employers for pioneering expatriate staff, mostly Malaysians.

It’s an ordinary furnished apartment with three bedrooms – a master’s bedroom, a single bed room and another smaller single bed room. The apartment building was enclosed by a security fence with a medium-size, three stroke dipping pool next to it.

Our company, the Pacific Star, was a very young organization which had just launched a daily newspaper called The National and I was one of the pioneering journalists. It published its maiden edition on November 12, 1993.

I was supposed to arrive just before the launching, but my travel papers got screwed up at the PNG embassy in Manila and wouldn’t be released for a few more days.

During my first day here, and the days that came next, I could hear the banging and sawing noise coming from the next-door apartments as carpenters were still at work on two or three apartment units for finishing touches.

The supposed Malaysian occupants were to move in a few weeks’ time.

It’s December, I was alone but it’s not Christmas in Port Moresby.

When I left Manila on the night of December 4, 1993, Christmas raged all over the place – blinking-blinding Christmas lights in exploding colors and designs, Yule carols streaming from the overhead PA speakers at the airport terminal, firecrackers big and small exploding somewhere. Vehicles were in tight grid locks all over Metro Manila; Pinoys greeting one another unmindful of the stress the season had brought; Santa Clauses roaming around, either giving away presents or begging for some coins. It was the usual Christmas buzz back home, with all the trappings that usually came with it.

Merry Xmas, Freddie!

In my new home here in Port Moresby 19 years ago, I did not see Christmas, did not feel it, did not hear it. It was nowhere except in my heart. Christmas what?

December 24, on the night of Christmas Eve, I drank myself to death, with only Johnny Walker and crispy chicken wings that I fried myself giving me a warm Christmassy company.

Then in 1996, I left my very first home for a new one, also within the city.

A cyber-click to the present: On Saturday, December 15, 2012, I moved in to my new flat – courtesy of my employers.

Again, it’s a brand-new apartment; I immediately called it first-class/upscale accommodation.

It’s Unit No 7 of an eight-unit brand-new apartment building – four doors below and four doors above – built by an Australian contractor. All made from hardwood timber.

Just like 19 years ago, there’s was nobody here yet to make the place a living one. Save for me.

Those who are supposed to move in – the senior Papua New Guinean staff at The National newspaper – will just do it maybe after Christmas or New Year. They had gone home to their villages -- a long drive from the city (in PNG, a village is no more, no less a village, which could be in the middle of a farm or jungle, or one at the foot of a mountain, or one along the shoreline … in M Manila, a village is something like well … the Dasma, the Ayala  the Corinthian, that one in the Global City, etc, etc…)

I am alone – again, naturally. And it’s Christmas Day tomorrow (I wrote this on Christmas Eve out of boredom.)

Fact is, I did not want to live in this new accommodation located at an upcoming housing-light industries subdivision outside Port Moresby, about 15 minutes away from my work place in the city.

I preferred to stay put at the flat which the company had rented for me in the city for about two years before I moved in here a few days ago; it’s just eight minutes drive from my work place and another eight minutes going home. Eight minutes flat either way.

It’s near supermarkets and shops where I can buy load for my cell phone. It’s near the city’s high-tech movie house within the city’s so-called mega mall.

Now, from this new home outside the city, I would have to drive for at least 20 minutes at the max to reach office, factoring in traffic jams along the way.

To tell you the truth, my reasons for not being so enthusiastic in coming here are plenty:

1) I would have to pay more for my gasoline as I would have to stay longer on the road going to the office and driving back home – at midnight;

2) The midnight five-minute drive from the edge of the city at Erima to my new house is quite worrisome. I usually finish work by midnight – from Sunday to Thursday. Fridays and Saturdays are rest days.

At night, midnight at that, the three-kilometer drive to my house from the edge of the city, which is the last place where there are streetlights, is really scary.

At night, the highway is pitch dark you couldn’t drive more than 60kph as you might jump off the bend, which could not be seen at once 50 meters ahead.

If I missed the big billboard at the corner of the road leading to the subdivision because all of the highway power posts are unlit, then I would be lost.

It’s the only landmark to tell me that I am near home and that it’s time to make the right turn to enter the subdivision area’s asphalted road.

3) My car is a piece of junk – 20-year old Mazda 323 station wagon which I bought when I first came here 19 years ago. It’s a “curse” among late-model cars whizzing and flying along the city roads – driven by both locals and expatriates. And yet, I can’t help loving my car, you know!

Of late, it has been acting up – I can’t turn on the AC because the engine would cut off. So, no car cooling this time and just to think that the heat wave in PNG is a killer.

The main issue is that this car could stall along this five-minute-drive highway at night. And you wouldn’t know what would happen next, with raskols (local criminals) lurking in the dark, eyeing every vehicle traveling this road that could bog down or have a flat tire.

“Have an open mind, Freddie …” my boss, the biggest in the company, told me one day when I confronted him about my being exiled to the 8 Mile accommodation (it’s called 8 Mile accom because this rising subdivision project is located exactly at 8 Mile post area).

“The place is nice … it is the future housing area for expatriates like us … you will like the place … it’s breezy in late afternoon, quiet and your new home is super … you could watch the sun set from your verandah … fully furnished … it’s a brand-new flat … (I watched the sunset yesterday and couldn’t help snapping it with my camera.)

Am I also provided with a new wife?

At any rate, I move in, because my rent on my old apartment lapsed last December 14 and the company told me it was tired of paying for my rent. I had to move out the next day.

The pick-up truck hauled off 13 big boxes of personal stuff that I have put up with over the past 19 years (I am a hoarder, you know!), including old pots and old towels and all. It’s also one reason why I was not keen on moving to a new place – packing up my junks.

Last December 15, a Saturday, I opened Unit No. 7’s door for the first time.

I was a bit stunned to see something I had never expected: A 52” flat screen TV set (!) sitting on the corner of the living room, waiting to be switched on. Unbelieving that I have one, I immediately cell-phoned Dennis, our Filipino financial comptroller (chief accountant) and asked about it.

“Pinalagyan ni Boss … wag mo nang sabihin sa mga locals dahil ikaw lang ang meron niyan … sabihin mo personal mo ’yung flatscreen …”

Ha! I knew it… my Big Boss has really wanted me to stay here and to entice me on it, gave me this little perk (to replace my junk TV).

I remember that incident when I first confronted him about my not liking to live here.

Having told him about my objections owing to my concern over my personal safety, I left his office, my face smelling of vinegar.

About 30 minutes later, he came up to the editorial floor, exchanged some pleasantries with the local staff and came straight up to me.

“Freddie … as I have told you a while ago … try to have an open mind about moving in there …if you got problems with your gasoline just let me know how much extra you have to spend and I will cover it.

“Your flat is cool … brand-new, nicely crafted by the Australian contractor … it’s upscale accom … two bedrooms – one master, one single -- all things new … the mattresses, living room and bedroom furniture, gas-electric cooking range, auto-cooking exhaust, large fridge, washing machine, glass shower cubicle … hot and cold shower … bedrooms and living room are air-conditioned split-type with backup ceiling fans … the window designs are superb unlike those you see in the new houses being built next to yours … and you also have a laundry dryer.

“And your flat would be watched by three security guards 7/24 while the gate in front of your stairs is locked electronically. And only you could open it.”


My Malaysian Big Boss – the company chairman, himself a former journalist who resides permanently in Sydney with his family -- did not mention about the 52” flat screen. He had not thought about it yet when I first talked to him.

Cooking LPG and electricity are also paid by my employer.

But there’s one drawback: I have to buy new sets of heavy pots – non-stick all – towels, dining plates, placemats, hot water jug, cutlery and more, “kasi hindi na bagay yung mga luma kong gamit sa aking brand-new flat … and I was also thinking of buying a new computer table to complement the set up.”

And I would have to subscribe to the local 100-channel cable TV service to make use of the flat screen, which costs a little fortune, although I no longer have that time to watch TV nowadays as I am busy doing MWBuzz stories.

The package doesn’t include the six Filipino channels that included TFC, which I don’t intend to watch, anyway. Haaayyy …

Over the past few years, the cost of housing in Port Moresby has gone up outrageously, targeting expatriates, especially those working in the LNG, oil and mining projects.

The Australian contractor who built our apartment building said my unit would cost K3,000 (Php55,000) a WEEK in the market. My former accommodation cost the company K1,400 (Php25,900) a week.

What’s more, he said that among the upscale houses-accommodation to rise in Glory Garden, ours is the most beautifully designed. I went around the subdivision to confirm. He’s telling the truth.

SO, TONIGHT -- Christmas Eve -- at Media Noche, I will join a group of 20 Pinoys who also live at Glory Garden subdivision – our subdivision.

They recently moved in to a huge, new house built to accommodate 40 Filipino expatriates working for our sister companies owned by RH (PNG) Group, one of the biggest employers in PNG.

The rest of the newly-hired Pinoys are expected to arrive in the next few weeks.

Their house is just across a small but still vacant block. From my terrace, I could see if there’s any-one moving around the compound.

I promised them that I would cook “pancit bijon” and bake a nice cake for tonight’s Media Noche (or is it Noche Buena? … anyway).

Happily, I won’t be alone this time.

But on this Christmas Eve, I wouldn’t mind being alone.

My new home is just heaven of a place to be.

Thank you my Lord for looking after me all these years.

HAPPY NEW YEAR to MWBuzz readers worldwide!

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The façade of an eight-flat upscale accommodation – four units below and four above. APH’s flat is at Unit No.7 upstairs.

The flat at the center is APH’s new home.

Dining-kitchen …

   The bedroom …

 The bathroom …

Laundry facilities…

The Pinoy House ... a 40-bed accommodation house for Filipinos recently hired by RH (PNG) Group, one of the biggest employers in Papua New Guinea. Each of the 20 rooms with T/B is shared by two employees; there’s a common mess hall where meals – breakfast and dinner -- are prepared by a Filipino cook. The building is about 200 meters from APH’s flat. Notice three bungalow-type homes in progress; there are many of this in adjacent blocks – all for sale from K250,000 (Php4 million) up. The housing/light industries subdivision is owned by PNG Forest, subsidiary of Rimbunan Hijao (PNG) Group of Companies with head office in Kuala Lumpur. Pacific Star, publisher of The National newspaper where APH works is one of the subsidiary companies.

Sunset from my verandah … It’s past 6pm here at Glory Garden subdivision and sunset is at its glorious fiery red. Foreground shows new structures rising, including warehouses and new bungalow-type homes.

Hand-me-downs ... A newly-found friend-security guard appreciates several pieces of hand-me-downs I gave him shortly after I moved into my new home. He called it “my Xmas presents”.

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