31 March 2012

The royal funeral of King George Tupou 5 in pictures

Sports day, weddings, and all sorts of events were cancelled because of the funeral. Bilboards advertising events got a makeover just outside of town, complete with purple draping.

Kids prepared for the royal casket's procession from the airport by sitting on the side of the streets for up to 5 hours before the actual passing of the late King.

25 March 2012

The path of the Royal Casket

At 8:20 PM last night, Sunday 26 March (Hong Kong time), His (Late) Majesty King George Tupou V departed on a Chinese aircraft, bound for Tonga. Accompanying the casket is his brother, the new King Tupou VI, his sister, HRH Princess Salote Pilolevu, his customarily adopted daughter, HRH Princess Angelika Latufuipeka Halaevalu Mata'aho (who is the daughter of the new King), and his neice, Hon Salote Maumautaimi Tuku'aho, as well as a retinue of government officials.
Royal bier carriers practice for the funeral tomorrow. Photo courtesy of Ministry of Communications.
Meanwhile, in Tonga, schools have been lining up since early morning to line the (only) road from the airport to the palace in preparation for the funeral party's arrival at 12:30 pm. In the words of the official funeral schedule, "The royal cortege departs from Fua'amotu International Airport through an unbroken line of school children seated on either sides (sic) of Tuku'aho and Taufa'ahau roads, in silent homage to their Beloved Late Monarch."

22 March 2012

So long King George Tupou V

HM King George Tupou V
(photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

We heard the news in the taxi as it sped through the rain to our respective offices. "Did you hear the news on the radio this morning?" the driver asks us. We gave him two blank stares and a "no..." Convinced we had understood the question but simply didn't know, or perhaps too excited to share the biggest news of the year, he continued on, "Tupou V died last night. He was in Korea. His brother is now the new King!"

10 March 2012

How to fix an $80 million hole

Tonga's biggest export is its people. It manufactures them (in large numbers), refines them in government and church schools, and adds value by encouraging them to pursue postgrad degrees. An oft-quoted fact which may be urban legend but does have some truth to it is that Tonga has the highest per-capita rate of PhDs in the world. Tonga's exports go to work in a range of jobs at every level, and send back money from primarily the US, New Zealand, and Australia to their families in Tonga. And so, unlike most economies that are affected by the business cycle and market forces, the economy here is heavily affected by the employment rate elsewhere.

This money sent by overseas families, or remittances, are the greatest single contributor to the economy. Topping most other Pacific island countries, Tongan families overseas send money back totalling around 30% of its GDP. So when those families aren't making as much- when unemployment in the US remains high or when prices in NZ go up, the Tongan economy goes down.

05 March 2012

The most well-travelled dish in Tonga

Sapasui: it generally tastes better than it looks
Pop quiz: where does Tongan chop suey come from? Ask where sapasui gets its origins, and some people might say, "That delicious mix of glass noodles, kapa pulu (corned beef), veggies, and soy sauce? It's Tongan, of course." And they would be absolutely right about this global dish, in a way. It's usually a side dish that always shows up at feasts, to be eaten ostensibly with the huge pile of fluffy baked yams and roast suckling pig, and something I thought had come from the influence of the large handful of Chinese immigrants who have made their lives in Tonga.

And so when I offered to make sapasui for a welcoming party that On the Spot held last night for some incoming volunteers, I expected to find a similar dish's Chinese equivalent. In hind sight, it is hard to believe the exact magnitude of my sapasui naivite.
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