#52: Rats in the Mall

Something I noticed leaves me feeling uneasy.

Vision City Food Court

So I find a seat in the food court on one of those seats around the communal table. The one with the fake plants in the middle and high seats that make you realise you are really short. 

I purposefully avoid the tables meant for groups despite it still bring too early for groups. 

I sink into a seat and offer a friendly nod across to the family also sat catching their breath behind the fake hedge of flowers on the table. 

I wonder if they noticed it too, but they – two parents harbouring their rowdy platoon of two toddlers – look exhausted, unable to pull their soldiers in line. 

I am witnessing a calculated mutiny unfold. The kids terms of settlement is to have all the toys TODAY! This is the mall and there are several toy stores before they reach the exit; a sheer mind field. 

Kids world
Vision City Toy Shop Near the Exit

The dad sends me an embarrassed smile over his visible distress, and I swear I hear a yelp leap toward me. 

The mom and dad sit shell-shocked for a while before they gather the courage to negotiate with the soldiers and quell the uprising. Mom and dad would never have negotiated with me, but then again we never had shopping malls growing up.

After a moment, they leave as I see more families with young children trickle into the food court taking over the vacant tables. Perhaps this is the compromise, or the beginnings of a coordinated mass mutiny.

But all this happens in what feels like a moment. I still feel something bugging me, perhaps even bothering me.

Something I noticed earlier but couldn’t quite pick it.

Then I see them again, entering the foodcourt.

Swooped hair bunched and tied up in a handle to the side. Not the back. To the top left, just above her ear. Eye liner. Pink lipstick and I catch a vague scent of something sweet. 

White headphone strings rustle into the smart phone jack held in one hand wrangling over bangles on her wrist. In the other hand, an orange takeaway juice cup with a sucking straw pokes through. The content, half empty sloshing around. A rucksack hangs on her back looking tired from the day.

A checkered unbuttoned shirt drapes over a T-Shirt with the words “I Love PNG” printed on it, tucked into skinny jeans terminating just below the knees. White socks bury into All Star Converse’s from her shin.

The fashion sense screams teenage angst.

Around her are boys her age who obviously got the fashion memo with an emphasis on hair-do’s minus the lipstick and eyeliner. 

One has a bleached fro-hawk. The other with pleated dreads tied to one side. Both have their smart phones armed and at the ready in one hand.

The one with the pleated dread lifts his hand into that familiar selfie pose. 

-Really kids?! In the foodcourt?

I cringe.

Perhaps her fan group, I wonder. 

Fro-hawk boy seems eager to grab the juice off of her. Giggling, she jerks away with a sharp ‘wshhh ’, the universal Papua New Guinean sign of annoyance.

She pouts. 

He appears gleeful for soliciting the reaction and says something in that vastly complex language that teenagers use to discover the intricacies of life. 

– Maybe he wants to be more than a fan.

I’ve seen this before. Many times before in foreign shopping malls. I remember hair dos, checkered shirts, jeans, and phones, and teenage chatter. It all comes trickling back like that 1995 Kevin Smith movie Mallrats!

I know this scene too well.

But this time it catches me off guard. Betel nut stained teeth. The sweet scent of brus.

This is a rendition that I have no context of. This version of the movie looks foreign to me. This cast of Papua New Guinean teenagers would give Kevin Smith a better plot twist.

A feeling of dread begins to rise. That movie was a complete pop cultural flop.

But I cringe at the realisation that I am seeing rats in Vision City.


-by Hans Lee
Saturday lunchtime observations at Vision City, May 2018


There is definitely a social transformation happening in Papua New Guinea that’s starting with the younger generation. One thing I was unable to put into words was the juxtaposition that was quite evident between these three and the other Papua New Guineans.

They drew attention to themselves from everyone in the mall but they were not the only ones doing so. There were many teenagers there that day who behaved similarly. As an observer, I was quite aware of where they were coming from. I was also aware of the other people who were there staring at them. They were the show and the entertainment, if the mall is the zoo, they were the display and I too was an eager observer.

The mall is offering a space for new cultures to form and take shape in Port Moresby’s urban life so this is a string that will form part of an interesting tapestry in the modernisation of the ‘new’ Papua New Guinea.


#51: Prose- Empty Steel Drums Make A Lot Of Noise

In my more contemplative years, I learned of the phrase “empty drums made a lot of noise”. Deaf, I was at the time, a bit too young to understand but I still hear it now.

Those solemn words still echo through the chambers of my memory. Sometimes they’d take the voice of Mr Manjawi, our music teacher, or Mr Mbuge our Deputy Principle. Other times it was Mrs Panapan or Ms Moghara. Never Mr Topal or Mr Nonu though, Rest In Peace.

As teachers, they must have heard those drums louder then I did though. Or maybe just another sound. I hope it was the latter.

Because I imagined the beating of a 40 gallon steel drum sounding like a room full of hormonal horny teenagers after recess on Friday when we knew senior sports was just around the corner. A caucophonous percussion ensemble with no regard for time or tempo.

That was until I ‘escaped’ from sports to seek refuge in the cool air conditioning of our library. Bidding to look busy, I opened up of the Britannica Encyclopedia book number 18. They stood regal on the back shelf lining the back wall of the extension to the library that was built over the old hall. We watched The Lion King on VCR in the old Library, we did. That was in Prep with Mrs Roai. Rest In Peace.

That, is a trivial piece of historical fact that I remember to place me in a time before the pink buildings, the massive quad, the waterpiece and the rotunda.

But, it was in the back of that small library when I first heard the percussion symphony of steelpan drums leaping loudly off of thin pages, I slammed the book shut coaxing Ms Rose, the assistant librarian, to peer over in annoyance. She would have to start her minesweep game again.

She kicked me out. But not before I learned that empty drums could be made into steelpan drums. And they came from Trinidad and Tobago and those people make time to find the tempo: to craft noise into music. And I heard words tell that to me in a symphony written out in Arial .5 font on too many pages.

Still I ponder what that phrase means today. But not because of the noise it made to their ears- but of the sounds it could have made if they only knew what to make of empty steel drums.

– Hans Lee

#50 Feature Article: The Roaming Empire

This article was originally published in the economists 1843Magazine website in April 2018 by Jonathan Beckman. Warning: It is a long but compelling read.

As buying a house becomes harder and remote working simpler, should we remain wedded to the idea of settling down? Jonathan Beckman meets the people who hope to find a home wherever they wander


Continue reading “#50 Feature Article: The Roaming Empire”

#48 – Music- Homebrew Crew Sundae Sessions

I first came across  the members of the Homebrew Crew jamming at some random bar in Auckland’s Queen Street many (many) moons ago when they had another concept ensemble called @peace (seriously dope sound). Naturally, the music and their flow appealed to me and has left an impression ever since. Close to a decade later, I still find myself scavenging through the halls of Youtube to pick out their sounds.

This is one particular session I come back to time and time again. A live recording at the Red Bull Studios in Auckland called the ‘Sundae Sessions’. The lyrics are loaded but it goes well hand in hand with a beer on a Sunday afternoon.

Enjoy the listening.


Just for the record – I highly rate underground Kiwi Hip Hop. I don’t rate underground Australian Hip Hop sound though, I’ve always found the annoyingly too accent heavy. Not that there is anything wrong with that, it’s just a personal preference.



#47- Missing pieces of home

In the end,
we all come back
In search
of our missing pieces

– It taunts us every day.

Our bedroom mirrors
Take peace from us.
Reminding us,
That there is another world 

-Inside of us 

We are still looking.

Never quite seen.
Scattered shards
Across foreign lands.

– We are hidden,

In distant lands,
Between what you want to see
And what we let you see.

We see what we remember,
But we forget too. 

So I carry a bilas bilum
And she wears a meri blouse.
Seeking approval from the mirror
Before we head to the day:

 Maski, yu wait meri pinis.
Maski, yu wait man pinis.

Our bedroom mirrors
Are missing pieces.
Reflecting what’s missing
Inside of us.

It takes the peace from us,
Leaving us anxious
For home.

– Hans Lee

Where I wrote this….

Continue reading “#47- Missing pieces of home”