30 August 2013

Closing the book on MK Squared

Ours is a story about cross-cultural living, exploration and creativity. It's a story about keeping in touch with friends and family many timezones away. It's about new friends in our timezone becoming old friends. Whether in person or online, in Tonga, New Zealand, or anywhere else in the world, we love sharing it with you.

We've been thinking about this a lot. It feels right to close the book on MK Squared with our departure from Tonga and go forward to new media as we go on to new adventures.

So, instead of Blogger, we're moving to new ways of storytelling. We won't be posting on this blog anymore, but you can still stay in touch easily:

To sign up to receive occasional letters (just like this blog), sign up here
Elena's Tinyletter

To see Mark's photography, check out
Mark's 500PX

Friends and family, we've tried to make it as easy as possible so we've added you to the subscription list for Tinyletter (the link above). If you want to make sure you're on the list, please follow the link above and sign up. It should say your email has already been subscribed. If it doesn't, our apologies - in every move something gets lost. Go ahead and re-enter your email into Tinyletter, and you will ensure that you'll get all our updates from now on. As always, you can unsubscribe at any time.

And if you want to get in direct contact, send either of us an email or Follow @noyeselena on Twitter.

19 August 2013

We are in New Zealand.

Deep breath. We are now living in New Zealand.

Imagine how unsatisfying it would have been if I had written earlier: We’re on to our next adventure, but aren’t exactly sure what that will be… We’re going to New Zealand at the end of July, but don’t quite know if Mark will be able to go to school… Or even lately: Just arrived. Got a bad flu. Slept overnight in the Auckland Airport. Slept for 24 hours upon arriving in Wellington. So tired. Signing the lease on a flat. No furniture. No salt. Have no idea yet how the busses work.

I never thought I’d say this, but thank goodness for the insta-updates of Facebook.

23 June 2013

No eggs for festival season

We discovered on Saturday that the country is out of eggs.

If supplies start running out, it must be the Conference season in Tonga! Every year, June and July are jam packed with events: the opening of Parliament, the Heilala Festival, the Wesleyan Church Conference, and several others as well. It's a time when the Tongan community around the world returns to Tonga and celebrates, eats, cooks, donates, and gets their fill of Tonga. And because of the massive amounts of food prepared for all the events, shops inevitably run dry.

A friend at work told me this morning that a cousin of hers went all around town trying to find eggs for the last cake they needed to provide. All the shops were out, so after circling around town, she finally stopped at a little cafe, and ordered two eggs, raw. The barista asked her "are you sure you don't want me to fry them?" to which she replied that she'd just like him to bring her two raw eggs from the kitchen. He did, and they baked their cake! (This post says "posted by Mark Noyes," but it's Elena writing)

01 June 2013

Watching the sun rise with 10,000 people

I woke up at 5 on Thursday morning, and Wellington's streets were crowded. The dark roads and storefronts belied the busy groups of people streaming North toward New Zealand's Parliament complex, which includes the national archives, the courts, and - everyone's destination on Thursday - the war memorial. We were all there to commemorate ANZAC day.

27 May 2013

The Not-So-Secret Cove and The Resort on the Cliff

Imagine a place where the South Pacific Ocean violently lashes a huge rocky uplifted reef. And now imagine sitting in the serene water on the other side of the reef 10-20 meters away from the breakers. Channels carved into the coral form deeper pools in the shallow water that you can swim in, and otherwise you walk around in ankle to knee-deep water. And on the other side of this calm band of water that stretches as far as the eye can see in either direction, is a beach of soft, brilliantly-white sand. "Secret Cove" is a favourite destination for lazy weekend afternoon swims and picnics, as well as midnight bonfires, being sheltered from the wind, and completely hidden from sight from the farmer's access road up above on the cliffs.

07 April 2013

Ko e Hala Hangatonu: The Straight Path

After the Kermadec Exhibition, the ideas started multiplying.

Last year, NZ artist Dame Robin White worked with Tongan-NZ artist Ruha Fifita to create two huge works on tapa speaking to the trade of goods and ideas between Tonga and New Zealand.

Each stage in the process of making tapa the traditional way takes hours, days, and months of continual work; time that is filled talking, telling stories, and sometimes singing, and after the work was done, Robin and Ruha kept talking. It was time for the next project.

15 March 2013

Walking to an Island

Living in the South Pacific, one would expect to have white sand beaches a stone's throw away at all times, and to be a regular feature of the underwater local landscape. However, Tongatapu is a fairly rocky island with high barrier reefs, and the nice local beaches require that you either jump into a car or a boat to go find. That is, all but one...

Restaurant service on the beach, 10 minutes from downtown

17 February 2013

The only beach in town

Among the construction that has been going on around Nuku'alofa for the last few years, the project that I was really, truly glad - even excited - about was the walkway that stretches from the Royal Palace along the water west to the town of Sopu. This last week, we were a bit tired from several very hectic weeks, so we decided to stay closer to home, and visit one of the only beaches here in the capital city.

30 January 2013

Climbing Tsunami Rock

When I told friends and colleagues where we went this last weekend, the most common response was "huh?" Tsunami Rock, also known as Maka Sio'ata, is largely an unknown gem in Tongatapu. With its mysterious and forbidding name, the giant three-story boulder sits just off a tiny and beautiful beach on the western side of Tongatapu - and no one knows exactly how it got there.

The tree-sized boulder: Tsunami Rock

17 January 2013

Visit Hufangalupe: The Refuge of the Doves

Hufangalupe, the natural arch
For the last few months, we've been struggling with what to publish. You've already read about feasts, celebrations, funerals, our daily schedules, having fun, what Nuku'alofa sounds like. You've read about easy cultural faux pas, the top five pests in Tonga, cooking underground, and hierarchy in daily life. You've followed our holidays, our work transitions, our observations from globalization to chop suey

We wanted to talk about our experiences here and how they related to daily life and culture in Tonga, but surprisingly, after three years, we're largely out of material!

If there's one thing we've predictably been miserable at, it's that we've been very slow at visiting some of the must see sights in Tonga! It took us two years to visit a beautiful underwater cave pool on the island, and three to see a gorgeous natural archway, 30 minutes' drive away. So, we've set ourselves a new question: what is it like to visit Tonga, from our perspective, after having been here for a while?

This week, we'll talk about that gorgeous natural archway: Hufangalupe.

21 December 2012

Christmas, the third

This year's Christmas decorations are out of strips of coloured paper
Christmas has come around again, marked by a steady emptying out of the city as people visit family and friends around Tonga and abroad. Nuku'alofa in the middle of summer Christmas looks like any other time of year, but hotter and emptier. For us, Christmas here has always been a rather sad time. Most of our friends here have already gone abroad for the holidays, there are few decorations in the city, and not many Christmas events other than the occasional choir night. Even in most churches, the season is mostly just another day of normal service with occasional Christmas songs. It's just not as big of a deal here as in most other places I've been. That is why, this year, I wanted to make Christmas into a big deal - at least as much as I could with friends, decorations, and food. In part, all this is a celebration for making it through an incredibly difficult year.

08 December 2012

The Giant of the Pacific, Australia

Mid-last month, Elena and I departed on our first visit to Australia in the three years that we have lived in the South Pacific. We had a fantastic time, and tried to make the most of our time in the country, visiting a diverse range of visual and performing art shows, restaurants, markets, gardens, and a zoo, as well as spending time with good friends that we met during our work in Tonga. As it is difficult to share everything that we did, here are some snapshots and commentary of just some of the highlights of our visit.
Our first stop after getting off the plane

11 November 2012

The US elections in Tonga

Obama at a campaign event (AP Photo/John Raoux)(Credit: AP)
 I never thought the US presidential elections would be such a big deal in the middle of the Pacific. For weeks up until election day, I was asked "Who are you going to vote for?" and "What's the difference between the candidates?" and informed about the latest crazy election-related news that had come out that day. Never did I expect this in Tonga.

02 November 2012

Navigating with Sea and Stars

The Hine Moana
Last week, the Hine Moana majestically sailed up to the pier, the one just near the fish market, painted sails full to the waiting crowd. The vaka, or ship, is one of seven open-ocean voyaging canoes that have seen ports from Auckland, NZ to San Francisco, USA, and is manned by a crew that has been learning for the past year how to navigate the broad Pacific Ocean using the complex calculations based on stars, currents, sea creatures, and other methods that remain a mystery to most.

15 October 2012

Training, Trust and TBEC

TBEC's services are bilingually English and Tongan
When the training centre started, it was met with skepticism. "Will it really help to send my staff to these trainings? It might reflect badly on my ability as a manager if they need it." "Isn't that the centre that helps palangi (foreign) businesses?" people asked. "I'm doing alright right now. I don't want to risk meddling with some new idea," others said. At the time, I was working at Tonga Development Bank, and heard about it through the grapevine. The hope people had, like almost all hope for new projects in Tonga, was cautious. This was the humble beginning of TBEC, or Tonga Business Enterprise Centre.

07 October 2012

The True South Pacific

Clear water and sailing in Vava'u
The tourism industry in Tonga has always seemed to me like a two headed dog with each head eying warily and distrustfully at the other. You can take one look around downtown and see that Tonga is blissfully not a tourist trap - and that's why most tourists come here. Tourism numbers are generally low, but out of the major economic sectors, agriculture, fishing, manufacturing, and a few others, tourism is the only one showing a bit of growth as potential to support small businesses and families all around Tonga. On the other hand, it's viewed by some as a culture-eroder and as a blow to personal pride to work in customer service.

In my job, one of the major areas I look after is NZ's support to tourism in Tonga; a large and complex programme that is fraught with differences of opinion, politics, and barriers at every level - because in many ways, both heads of the beast have a good point.

14 September 2012

Farewell, Asa

Asa walking to an island through a tidal flat

We were very sad to say good-bye to Asa a week and a half ago, and he wrote a great reflection on his time here:

Three months have come and gone surprisingly quickly. As of the 4th of September, I’ll have been in Tonga for a total of 83 days since the 12th of June, and it’s been quite an adventure. I’m not sure if I could call it “There and Back Again; a Human’s tale” as I at no point traveled with dwarves and a wizard to slay a dragon and reclaim a mountain home, but it has been quite fun.

05 September 2012

Running through the ancient capital of Tonga

When I was in high school, it was some perverse joy of US gym teachers to round up the class full of awkward, sweaty teenagers, spend months teaching them how to throw a ball into a hoop or how to hold a hockey stick, and then with no endurance training, let them loose on a track and tell them they will be timed as they stumble their way through a mile. I could barely do it; even two years ago, I could barely run five miles (8 km).

And so it’s a wonderful thing that here in Tonga - where you walk a block to a meeting and when you arrive, you’re greeted with exclamations of “you walked all the way?” - I am proud to say I ran a half-marathon, through the ancient capital of Tonga.

27 August 2012

Whale-song in 'Eua

Yet again, last weekend I was reminded why 'Eua is such a deliciously amazing best-kept-secret place to have a holiday. We'd gone back to 'Eua several times since living there, but this was the first time we went entirely for fun. The island of 'Eua is a large (for Tonga), samosa-shaped island off the East coast of Tongatapu, and is geographically completely unlike the entire rest of Tonga. While other islands are tiny, flat beautiful atolls spread atop porous volcanic material and ancient coral, 'Eua is a small mountainous slab of continent, bursting with natural springs, high rocky cliffs, and massive networks of subterranean caves.

16 August 2012

The New Red Roof

Langafonua's fading red roof
Every day as I sit at my desk, I look out at the normally faded red roof of Langafonua Gallery and Handicraft Centre. Given to Langafonua by her Majesty Queen Salote, reigning monarch of Tonga from 1918 to 1965, the building is beautiful but in need of repair. And the past couple of days have seen Langafonua get a newly painted, shiny red roof. This is the start of what I hope will be some exciting developments for Langafonua and the handicraft sector in Tonga as a whole.

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