#57: My Inquisitive Cuz’n: Australia cracked a joke, and all I heard was a cough.

My 11 year old cousin is quite inquisitive, and to that end she quizzes me about issues that I would otherwise glance over if ever it was in the newspapers.

That afternoon I made the mistake of flicking through the newspaper in front of her, so she began fishing for a conversation. 

“Wai na Australia sa’ les lo China?” (Why does Australia resent China?)

She must have been drawn to the article in the newspaper about China putting more AID money into PNG. I should have guessed she’d had read the paper before me.

Enquiring after her response, I asked “Husait tok o’sem?” (who said that?)

“Nogat. O’sem, China kam wokim road yah…”, she trailed off. I knew she was referencing the new road works. “…and those bridges. Australia doesn’t do that.”

I guessed she was drawing from a conversation we had several days earlier when I mentioned that Australia “woklo kisim was stap” in being very cautious about the Chinese presence in the Pacific. Again a conversation that she started after we watched a program on the ABC about the backlash over the new Chinese buying up Australia. 

She is way too inquisitive for my own sanity.

How do you explain to a 11 year old, the tedious tensions in a bedlam bar titled South Pacific Regional Geopolitics where the regular crowd is a bit weary of the return of the China Man. 

I guess I would explain it somewhat just like that. 

I’d say, cuz listen:

Tru o’sem bipo – maybe hundred years ago, yes. Ol lain bin les tru lo ol China Man. Planti hap bin les lo ol na rausim ol lo kantri blo ol. Australia, New Zealand, USA, Indonesia, Malaysia, olgeta yet bin les tru lo ol China Man na rausim ol.

But let’s keep this story simple.

I want you to think of a bar. And we’ll name that bar the South Pacific Regional Geopolitics. 

Australia and New Zealand managed to kick out the China Man from this bar a long time ago.

And for that while, Australia was the centre of attention and the life of the party. New Zealand was too small to really do anything but follow Australia’s lead so we’ll just leave them aside. 

Ok skelim, Australia was kind of significant because the USA had put them in charge of the region after a huge scrap up. So they would usually drinks for everyone. Anyone who came to the bar would have to say hello to Australia first, before seeing anyone else in the bar. 

Australia felt really important. They got comfortable thinking this was the way things would always be. That they would be the centre of attention in this bar for ever.

So they moved to the VIP room that had the only VoIP line so they could call their cousins in Europe, and they locked the door and forgot all about their so called ‘friends’, including Papua New Guinea, sitting outside.

While Australia was in the VIP room, the China Man returned to the bar and thought “Geezus what an awfully quiet bar”. China Man was now bigger, tougher, richer, and smarter. If history wanted to try repeat itself, it’d be equally matched.

But you know what China Man saw when he stepped into the bar?  

It was a sad sight. 

A lonely table, with a lonelier looking Papua New Guinea, sitting by himself nursing his beer.

The party was really dead.

So what does China Man do?

He goes to the bar, opens a tab then goes to Papua New Guinea to shout him a round of beer. 

China Man then notices that he could do the same for the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, and all the others in the room. And so, like any one new trying to impress, he walks up to the stage, takes a mic and calls for an open bar with drinks on him. 

After a while, the room is rowdy as heck.  

The ruckus, growing louder, drags Australia out from the VIP room.

China Man is now the life of the party.

Australia marches straight over to the table with the Melanesians and starts pummelling them with questions as to why they had let China Man into the bar. 

Murmurs start erupting from the patrons, “Ah it’s a free pub and anyone can come in, plus he’s buying us drinks, something you don’t do any more”.

Australia tries to reason with the intoxicated crowd saying he is still giving a lot to everyone, but they don’t seem moved at all.

Ah you Boomerang Aid!“, they shout back. 

Australia walks to the front of the room, takes the mic, turns down the music and begins to tell one of his classic Croc Dundee jokes that always seems to work, hoping that this would win the crowd back.

It’s a gutter of an effort.

At the top of punch line, not a sound is heard. As quiet as the bar was before, a loud cough echoes from the back. 

China Man clears his throat and let’s out a loud “Anyway….”, to which the party starts up again.

You see cuz, it’s not that Australia doesn’t want China in the region, Australia is just afraid that China would take away it’s friends. Because Australia doesn’t really have any friends here. 

And no one likes to be the death of the party and it’s getting to the point where Australia is starting to sound like a scratched disc, or in this case, someone with no new jokes.

Does that make sense?

I think my cousin would find that explanation a bit more understandable. I mean, she is only 11. It’s probably easier for her imagination to think of a bar then a bunch of highbrow diplomats talking in high language that plays over months and years.

But it must be something in the water too because I find myself appreciating the Chinese way of tackling the world. 

I am finding Australia to be just a bit too overbearing to the point where I am encouraging my cousin to look away from Australia if they ever wanted to pursue studies overseas. For one, it is dearly expensive with the added pain of the unjust ignorance of some of their Southerners; ol planti blo ol em ol racist, citing the experiences of our tambu who happens to be Aboriginal. 

They can’t even treat their own blackfellas right, what’s to say they won’t treat you any better? 

I flick the paper again to see a report on the verbal tirade on an unsuspecting Chinese-Australian in Sydney.


I use this as an opportunity to save her the story about the bar.

Instead, I tell my cousin of the race riots in Sydney and Melbourne. I point out the growing xenophobia that lies under the surface of White Australia, but without the adequate vocabulary in Tok Pisin to capture that feeling I want to pass onto her, my words have no weight.

I retreat to offering her simple options. If you want to go study overseas, I’d say go to Auckland, Suva, Manilla. Go to Shenzhen if you want to see the world in one place! You’ll spend less and get a better experience.

My cousin is inquisitive. I can see that she takes it on board and mulls over it, not saying a word.


-Hans Lee

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