When I picture the South Pacific Islands, I see beaches and palm trees, hammocks and Piña Coladas. In the background, I hear the strumming of ukuleles and singing in an unknown language.
Why I still carry this illusion is a mystery. I would expect someone like me to know better, as I have been living in this “island paradise” for two years. Let me start again, this time with a more accurate picture of “hanging out in paradise.”
For me, a Saturday is rarely spent at the beach. This morning I did the same thing I would do on a Saturday in America; I went shopping. The sun, the dusty roads, and the inevitable sweat however, provided enough variation to exasperate even the most “adjusted foreigner.”
After I survived the walk home, I sought that illusion of the island paradise. Grabbing a book and a cold coke, I sat down in my hammock and prepared to relax. I turned on the radio hoping for some local music to complete the scene. “What’s wrong with this picture?” you may ask, “It sounds like paradise to me!”
And you’re right, it is picturesque. But the illusion is broken (as it always is,) by some piece of reality. That is, Tonga is not simply the island paradise that we foreigners want. In fact, some Tongans are searching for something in the other direction, reaching for the culture they find exotic. How do I know? On this particular Saturday, it’s the song on the radio.
Picture this: I am lying in a hammock, hot, sweaty, and dusty, drinking a coke and listening, not to ukuleles, but to a remix of the Macarena with a variety of pop Christmas carols.
I laugh to myself, realizing that once again, the illusion designed to beguile the tourist is broken. The people here do not lie on the beach in hammocks, listening to island music as the palm trees sway in the breeze. They go about their lives, playing mismatched songs from overseas, creating their own illusion of exotic pop culture.
I have come to like the remixes. They are a reminder that life here is a jumble of “exotic” cultures that in the end, make it unique; and I will always choose its surprising remixes over the illusion of paradise.