Tag Archives: Brian D. Smith

‘LAND OF THE UNEXPECTED’ BY BRIAN D. SMITH

‘Land of the Unexpected’ is a memoir penned by Brian D. Smith. It recounts the author’s experiences in Papua New Guinea as an expatriate in the early 1980s.

LAND OF THE UNEXPECTED

Summary

After seeing a recruitment advertisement in The Daily Telegraph newspaper, Brian decides to apply for a post as a supervising architect with the government of Papua New Guinea. When he is offered a contract, he takes his wife, daughter, and son and begins a new South Pacific adventure.

In the land of the unexpected Brian travels from province to province helping upgrade the local healthcare facilities. During his three-year-long stay he not only learns what it means to work in the biggest Melanesian country, but also gets a chance to familiarize himself with the local culture.

Review

If I were to sum this book up in just two words, I would say it is interesting and unusual. And because of that, it won’t be to everyone’s liking.

Let me ask you something. Are you interested in the hotels of Papua New Guinea? Do you want to know what your accommodation options are? Do you need information on the views from a particular room? Or the reception hall measurements? Or the door handle colour? Yes? Then this is a perfect read for you.

Few pages in and you can already sense that the book was written by an architect. Brian D. Smith describes all the buildings he visited – hotels, houses, hospitals – in meticulous detail. Everything – from layout to size to the surroundings – is expounded on. Which, on the one hand, is great, because you can really picture all the places in your head. But on the other hand, it makes the account slightly boring and lacking in substance. After all, this is a memoir, not a travel guide. Sure, we want to know what a certain hotel looks like, but we don’t necessarily need all the particulars, do we?

On a brighter note, Brian D. Smith’s book also provides some insights on Papua New Guinea’s history and culture. Although the author doesn’t focus on the local ways of being, he mentions a few custom and practices that you will surely find intriguing. He writes quite a bit about Papuan traditional clothing, and I must say that those parts are indeed very captivating. Just as are those that treat on the country’s past or language. Yes, Brian D. Smith introduces readers to Tok Pisin – he shares different phrases and words, occasionally explaining their origin. It’s a pity – a real pity – that such gems are so sparse throughout the book.

The memoir reads very well. It’s written in simple yet elegant language, with an occasional dose of subtle humour. The descriptions are vivid, and despite being rather lengthy, you don’t feel overwhelmed by the author’s words.

“Land of the Unexpected” is a book you should read if you are going to travel to Papua New Guinea and are in search of a good guide. However, if you simply want to enjoy a good piece of travel literature, this title may not be for you.

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A BIT OF HISTORY (PART 1)

‘”Does anyone still call this Savage Island?”

Hafe’s face reddened. “Cook called Tonga the Friendly Isles, probably because he had so many girls there. Tahiti he called the Society Islands, same reason. The Cook Islands were named after him. Nice names. But because we throw a few stones and spears, we’re savages.” He stubbed out his cigarette. “No one likes Cook much in Niue.”’

Tony Horwitz, ‘Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before’


‘”Here is where your Herman Melville stayed. They were very kind to him, but he writes about them like they were all cannibals.”

Um, weren’t they?

She smiled. “Well, okay, a little bit. But you’d think all we did was kill people and eat them every day. We eat fruit and fish too, you know. Eating people was for special occasions, like your holiday. What do you call it? Thanksgiving.”’

J. Maarten Troost, ‘Headhunters on my Doorstep: A True Treasure Island Ghost Story’


‘Queen Salote (Tongan for Charlotte) had more or less upstaged Queen Elizabeth at her own coronation in 1953. It rained hard that day. Tongan custom insists that in order to show respect you must demonstrate humility, and you cannot imitate the actions of the person you are honoring. At the first sign of rain, Queen Elizabeth’s footmen put up the hood on her carriage as it rolled toward Westminster Abbey. Hoods were raised on the rest of the carriages in the procession — all but one, that of the Queen of Tonga. She sat, vast and saturated and majestic, her hair streaming with rain, in a carriage that was awash; and from that moment she earned the love and affection of every person in Britain.’

Paul Theroux, ‘The Happy Isles of Oceania’


‘The island of Buka had been named by the explorer Louis de Bougainville after he had come across the natives in their canoes and who no doubt at the astonishment of seeing his superior sailing ship, had greeted him with the cries of “Buka, Buka” which actually meant “Who” or “What?” The island had been occupied by the Japanese from 1942 during World War Two and had been a strategic base for their fighter aircraft. Fortunately for the allied forces “Coastwatchers” had monitored and warned them of impending  air strikes which had saved Guadacanal and turned the tide of the war in the South Pacific.’

Brian D. Smith, ‘Land of the Unexpected’


‘Was he not aware that nearly every colony in the world achieved independence, I don’t know, sixty years ago, and yet Tahiti remained as French as Bordeaux?’

J. Maarten Troost, ‘Headhunters on my Doorstep: A True Treasure Island Ghost Story’

IDYLLIC MELANESIA

‘Thick dense cloud cover obscured the central mountain ranges of the mainland, but once out over the Solomon Sea visibility was excellent and I was enthralled at the beautiful turquoise colour of the shallow waters surrounding small islands and coral atolls which appeared to be floating in the deep blue ocean.’

Brian D. Smith, ‘Land Of The Unexpected’


‘With the morning sun, Savusavu revealed itself to be located in one of the most extraordinarily beautiful settings I had ever encountered in the islands. The town overlooked Savusavu Bay, an alluring expanse of blue water hemmed in by verdant peaks.’

J. Maarten Troost, ‘Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu’


‘The Île de Pins, touted by guidebooks to be the South Pacific’s most beautiful island even though used by Napoleon III as another Devil’s Island to incarcerate French convicts of a political nature, lies within extensive reefs at the lagoon’s eastern boundary. Like all the islands raped by loggers and sandalwood traders of the nineteenth century, its forests are gone, though a scattering of pines remains to illustrate its name. Hidden within is the landlocked lagoon of Upi, several square miles of pristine water broken only by coral mushroom islands dotted here and there and a single pirogue with rickety outrigger and ancient pointy sail to riffle the surface.’

Andrew Rayner, ‘Reach For Paradise’


‘Vanuatu is misty mountains cloaked with lush tropical rainforests dotted with quaint thatch villages next to cold bubbling springs.’

Bryan Webb, ‘The Sons Of Cannibals’


‘We now returned to the other islands in the group Vanikoro (Vanikolo) and Utupua, Vanikoro particularly impressing me with its isolated beauty. A sheer-sided mountain plunged into the fjord like inlet where the ship anchored, while in contrast a narrow strip pf land at its base housed lush meadows and the peace and tranquility of the mission school. The sun set, completing the picture; a blazing red sky setting the mountain on fire, then almost before the magnificent show had disappeared, stars showed through the evening dark and the sky was a mass of delicate lights.’

Roger Webber, ‘Solomoni: Times and Tales from Solomon Islands’