Tag Archives: Philip Ells

THE ISLANDS OF MANY DELIGHTS (PART 1)

‘To picture Kiribati, imagine that the continental U.S. were to conveniently disappear leaving only Baltimore and a vast swath of very blue ocean in its place. Now chop up Baltimore into thirty-three pieces, place a neighborhood were Maine used to be, another where California once was, and so on until you have thirty-three pieces of Baltimore dispersed in such a way so as to ensure that 32/33 of Baltimorians will never attend an Orioles game again. Now take away electricity, running water, toilets, television, restaurants, buildings, and airplanes (except for two very old prop planes, tended by people who have no word for “maintenance”). Replace with thatch. Flatten all land into a uniform two feet above sea level. Toy with islands by melting polar ice caps. Add palm trees. Sprinkle with hepatitis A, B, and C. Stir in dengue fever and intestinal parasites. Take away doctors. Isolate and bake at a constant temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The result is the Republic of Kiribati.’

J. Maarten Troost, ‘The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific’


‘Fongafale (pronounced “Fō-gah-fah-lay”) was the major islet of the capital island of Funafuti. It seemed extremely green from the air, with tin shed houses partially hidden by coconut palms one side of the short runway. As we straightened up for our descent I could see in the distance an array of romantic-looking islets in a large lagoon comprising the entirety of Funafuti. My briefing pack noted that here the population was 5,000 and rising, home of the nation’s parliament, High Court, the Princess Margaret Hospital, Tuvalu Maritime School, daytime secondary school, government offices, civil servants’ homes – and the office and home of the People’s Lawyer of Tuvalu.’

Philip Ells, ‘Where the hell is Tuvalu?’


‘Fatu Hiva seems magical, a sort of Narnia in summer. We run up the valleys under the coconut and breadfruit trees, flowering plants everywhere. A tall waterfall an hour’s rocky climb up a goat track through old forest provides a shower and a shampoo. A boulder pool in the streambed serves as a first bath for weeks. The valley appears to have been cultivated from time to time since nature reclaimed it after nearly two thousand years of man, though no great effort is now made to gather fallen coconuts for copra. The hedges round a few paddocks are of hibiscus, grown for rope woven from its bark. The Fatu-Hivans pick for us lemons, bananas and pamplemousses, pomelo relations of grapefruit, perhaps the world’s most delicious citrus. The owner of the single tiny store asks for cartridges as barter for a chicken.’

Andrew Rayner, ‘Reach for Paradise’


‘I now understood on a visceral level why this region of the Pacific was called Micronesia, which means “small islands”. In the United States, there might well be parking lots bigger than Ujae. In the Marshalls, Ujae was unusually large at a third of a square mile. This was a country of 1,225 islands totaling only seventy square miles of land – it was Washington, DC, shattered into a thousand pieces over an area the size of Mexico. Ujae was five times larger than the average Marshallese islet, most of which were uninhabited.’

Peter Rudiak-Gould, ‘Surviving Paradise: One Year on a Disappearing Island’


‘My first impression of Tonga’s landscape, viewed through the bus’s smudged windows, was as dismal as Cook’s had been admiring. Pigs snuffled in the garbage that littered roadside fields. We passed graffiti-covered billboards for cigarettes, a vegetable stall named Prison Market, and a battered sign arcing over the road, emblazoned with the words “Long Live Your Majesty.” Sweeping under this arch, we entered downtown Nuku’alofa, the Tongan capital, which seemed at first glance a dreary expanse of ferroconcrete boxes.’

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

Advertisements

GREAT SUMMER READS (2015)

‘The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific’ by Paul Theroux

Having just separated from his wife and facing the possibility of being diagnosed with cancer, Paul comes to the conclusion that the best way to forget his problems is to set out on a journey. So he quickly agrees to go on a book tour in Australia and New Zealand and whilst there, he decides that it would actually be fun to travel across the Pacific using an inflatable canoe.

As he paddles the vast ocean, he visits the black islands of Melanesia; the grand archipelagos and tiny atolls of Polynesia; and the one and only, heavenly Paradise. The farther he goes, the merrier he gets. Because in the Blue Continent, everyone finds their bliss.

This is one of the greatest travel books ever written and a perfect summer read. Paul Theroux’s words will transport you to the most alluring exotic lands, introduce you to the most incredible societies, and let you discover the most fascinating cultures you can encounter. This is the great Pacific as seen through the eyes of a cynical Westerner.

‘Gallivanting on Guam’ by Dave Slagle

After being offered a job on Guam, Dave moves to the tiny Micronesian country, not really sure what to expect.

As he lands on the island, he finds himself in a world very different from anything he has experienced so far. Although Guam seems quite surreal, Dave realizes he needs to adapt to the new surroundings in order to fully enjoy his little sojourn. So he does exactly what the natives do: he visits local bars, sings karaoke, and flirts with beautiful girls. And when he thinks that his life could not be any better, everything starts to fall apart.

Despite being somewhat controversial, Dave Slagle’s account is a page-turner that entertains and educates at the same time. It’s a light, often hilariously funny, read that will show you Guam like you haven’t seen it before.

‘The Miss Tutti Frutti Contest: Travel Tales of the South Pacific’ by Graeme Lay

For Graeme Lay, the South Pacific is unquestionably the most appealing corner of our globe. Travelling from island to island, he absorbs the enchanting atmosphere of Polynesia, learning what it really means to spend time in paradise.

Whenever he goes, he meets intriguing locals and even more intriguing foreigners. He familiarizes himself with the unique cultures of the region and does everything possible to get to know the many secrets it hides.

This book is like a sweet, tasty summer cocktail. The perfectly mixed collection of stories and tales will take you to the fabulous places not many people have had a chance to see. You will have fun, and you will laugh whenever you take this refreshing title in your hands.

‘Where the hell is Tuvalu?’ by Philip Ells

Looking to escape the office treadmill, Philip agrees to become the People’s Lawyer of the fourth-smallest country in the world.

Tuvalu, his new adopted home, turns out to be quite a challenging place to live and work. As he learns to deal with everyday obstacles, he tries to perform his legal duties as best he can. Which is not an easy thing to do taking into account that he is forced to handle a wide variety of criminal offenses, from a slightly amusing pig theft to extremely difficult and heartbreaking domestic violence.

If the author of a book is British, you may assume that the publication will be laugh-out-loud funny. And this personal memoir certainly is funny. Funny, witty, and thought-provoking. Although it’s written in a light-hearted manner, it touches on a few sensitive subjects. Well, no one has ever said that a summer read can’t make you ponder important issues, right?

‘Reach for Paradise’ by Andrew Rayner

Motivated by his dream of visiting the Blue Continent, Andrew buys an old steel ketch and without hesitation starts his voyage through the Pacific Ocean.

What he discovers along the way amazes him. The breathtaking beauty and the irresistible charm of each country, archipelago, and atoll attract him with an almost magnetic force. With every nautical mile he sails, his desire to get to know the serene places grows stronger.

Andrew Rayner’s memoir will make you crave Pasifika. Literally. It is a beautiful book that perfectly conveys the beauty of the region, making you want to leave everything behind and travel to the islands of tranquil delights.

BEST LAUGH-OUT-LOUD BOOKS (PART 2)

‘Where the hell is Tuvalu?’ by Philip Ells

When a young lawyer from the City of London suddenly ends up in one of the smallest countries on the planet Earth, where literally everything is new and different, you can be sure that’s a promise of great fun. Philip Ells’s memoir certainly doesn’t disappoint. His unforgettable experiences are depicted in a candid, casual, and very jovial manner, which is both engaging and extremely pleasurable to read. What can I say… No one does humour quite like the Brits!

‘Gallivanting on Guam’ by Dave Slagle

Although somewhat controversial among Chamorro communities, this is an interesting book. It’s not only very insightful in terms of providing valuable information regarding Guam, its history, culture, and traditions but also highly amusing and – this may come as a surprise to many – really well paced and plotted. And even the fact that the travelogue has some flaws cannot ruin your reading enjoyment.

‘Micronesian Blues’ by Bryan Vila, Cynthia Morris

Bryan Vila’s memoir is the most hilarious account of a cross-cultural adventure you can find. It has absolutely everything a good travel book should have: entertaining story (it’s a page-turner that reads like a novel), vivid descriptions (yes, you can almost feel the tropical breeze), fascinating insights (it teaches, informs, enlightens), fantastic sense of humour (oh, see for yourself). This chronicle of one cop’s experiences in a foreign land captures attention, making readers roar with laughter.

‘Solomon Time: Adventures in the South Pacific’ by Will Randall

Will Randall’s book is an odyssey well worth your time. This rather improbable yet true story of an English teacher who travels to the Solomon Islands with the object of fulfilling a dying man’s wish could not be any more delightful. A wonderfully constructed narrative is embellished with humorous anecdotes and amusing scenes that are simply too funny not to be read.

‘Up Pohnpei: Leading the ultimate football underdogs to glory’ by Paul Watson

This is a book with so many layers to it. It takes readers to the magical island of Pohnpei to show them how passion, determination, and belief can make the impossible possible. It embodies the true spirit of sport, letting people discover the sheer joy it brings. But most of all, it makes everyone laugh. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable, inspirational (beyond words), heart-warming, richly comic travelogue written for love of the game. Beautiful and entertaining!

‘WHERE THE HELL IS TUVALU?’ BY PHILIP ELLS

‘Where The Hell Is Tuvalu?’ tells the story of Philip Ells, who spent three years (1993 – 1996) working as the People’s Lawyer in one of the smallest countries in the world. The book is an honest account of his experiences in the South Pacific region.

WHERE THE HELL IS TUVALU

Summary

Philip, a young English lawyer, decides to leave everything behind and seek a new purpose in life. So he quits his job and applies to VOS, the UK-based charity that places volunteers in developing countries so they can share their skills and knowledge with local people. What sounds like a great adventure, turns out to be an even greater challenge.

Soon upon his arrival in Tuvalu, Philip discovers a completely different world. A tiny island with an even tinier population plus hot and humid weather can be quite a shock for someone who has just come from densely populated, foggy Britain. But with a little help from his newly met friends, Philip learns how to cope with the demands of everyday life. He starts to understand people’s attitudes and behaviours, gets used to the largely unvaried diet with lots of canned food, and adjusts to sharing one room with dozen of ants. As the only law man in the country, he deals with a wide variety of criminal offenses, ranging from a pig theft to incest and murders. Every single day brings him something new: a new beginning, a new chance, a new joy, or a new sorrow.

Review

The book is hilarious and will make you laugh out loud from the very first page. The thoroughly compelling story is embellished with the author’s fine, sophisticated sense of humour that reveals his intelligence and sparkling wit. Being British, Philip Ells is not afraid of poking fun at himself. Whether it’s his cultural incompetence or yet another faux pas that he makes, he doesn’t mind writing about it with a healthy dose of self-deprecation.

Of course, not every chapter of this memoir will bring a smile to your face. The book gets a little more serious in its second half, as it broaches the subjects of domestic violence and women’s rights. These parts give readers fascinating insights into Tuvaluan lifestyle and traditions. What’s admirable about Ells is that he doesn’t judge – he describes, he shares his opinions, but he does not criticize. Even though some cases leave him filled with anger, he tries to accept the fact that different cultures have different moral codes, and sometimes a change for the better can take a long time.

The book is written in a casual and mostly light-hearted manner that is engaging and very appealing. Ells, as a narrator, is completely honest and quite straightforward – he shows everything and hides practically nothing. Just read the description of his first date with a lovely Tuvaluan girl and you will know what I mean.

The only thing you should not expect from this account is action. Yes, the pace is rather slow. However, this is a travelogue-cum-memoir, so such ‘laziness’ is perfectly acceptable. Besides, it’s the island time! You should just sit, relax, and enjoy your life.

‘Where The Hell Is Tuvalu?’ is a great read. It is actually the only non-fiction book (apart from travel guides) about this South Pacific country. Certain Tuvaluan customs and practices have obviously changed since the 1990s, but still, you can get the picture.