2006.11.21: November 21, 2006: Headlines: COS - Tonga: Blogs - Tonga: Safety: Asian American Issues: Personal Web Site: Peace Corps Volunteer William writes: What I do see is that government officials and foreign businesses are caught in the middle of this ravaged war zone

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Tonga: Peace Corps Tonga : Peace Corps Tonga: New Stories: 2006.11.21: November 21, 2006: Headlines: COS - Tonga: Blogs - Tonga: Safety: Asian American Issues: Personal Web Site: Peace Corps Volunteer William writes: What I do see is that government officials and foreign businesses are caught in the middle of this ravaged war zone

By Admin1 (admin) (ppp-70-249-83-39.dsl.okcyok.swbell.net - 70.249.83.39) on Saturday, March 03, 2007 - 10:55 am: Edit Post

Peace Corps Volunteer William writes: What I do see is that government officials and foreign businesses are caught in the middle of this ravaged war zone

Peace Corps Volunteer William writes: What I do see is that government officials and foreign businesses are caught in the middle of this ravaged war zone

The abhorrence of foreign business by a select few was apparent when foreign shopkeepers were dragged out of their stores and beat during the riot. The effects of that are now shown as hundreds of Chinese stand crowded about the embassy, desperately waiting for the next available international flight. Currently, all international flights are closed. Even in the outer islands, the Chinese stores were robbed, which is a much more dangerous situation here because some people live in their Ďstoresí. If thereís an angry anti-Chinese mob, will they care that Iím operating at just enough to keep the place running? Will they care that Iím actually an American carrying a Peace Corps identification card or a California driverís license? I doubt any of it would make a difference and I doubt I can explain who I am to an angry mob if they so happened to look for me. Explaining to them probably wouldnít do me much good anyways because theyíd probably be heavily intoxicated. Even when sober, certain people here canít differentiate between a Korean and Japanese; much less grasp the concept of what a Chinese-American is.

Peace Corps Volunteer William writes: What I do see is that government officials and foreign businesses are caught in the middle of this ravaged war zone

Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Let's start a friggin riot, woot!!!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Caption: This handout picture released by the Defence Department shows Australian soldier Scott Brown surveying the damage to the commercial centre of Nuku'alofa. New Zealand and Australia stepped up their security presence in Tonga, with armed soldiers patrolling the streets amid warnings of a possible flare-up of last week's deadly riots.(AFP/HO)

At first glance, it might look like a Tsunami ravaged the countryís capital. Reports indicate that approximately 80% of the downtown area is destroyed, though it doesnít require statistics for anyone living in Tongatapu to know that the destruction of their home is quite rampant. The old Nukuíalofa has risen in smoke and the remaining buildings struggle to uphold the faint image of their former selves.

The current images are harrowing and almost surreal; one moment youíre walking near white sanded beaches with a florid green landscape, then in another step youíre standing in what looks and feels like a war zone.

To add to the battlefield feel, thereís a joint military force from New Zealand and Australia surrounding the downtown area. Just the simple idea that there is a military in Tonga is a far stretch of the imagination. To give you a sense of how the countryís security force operates, police vehicles are mainly used to clear pigs off the dirt road and jails are nothing more than a two feet sheet of metal Ďgateí.

Currently forensic teams are digging through the damaged remains for hints as to what exactly happened. Despite the professional experience and expertise of the forensic teams, theyíre limited to puzzling together the events that unfolded only during the past few days of the riot. What sparked the riot is still up to much speculation, whether it was the history of political dissatisfaction or if it was a pent up reaction to the thriving foreign businesses in Tonga.

There are usually many layers of reasoning and thought behind public displays of violence of this scale, many of which I can only guess. I cannot understand the way an entire culture thinks or come close to comprehending what a country has experienced just by being here for a few months or a few years. Nor will I pretend to understand this culture in its entirety.

What I do see is that government officials and foreign businesses are caught in the middle of this ravaged war zone. To give a little background, Tonga is a constitutional monarchy teetering on the brink of democracy. As with any struggle for power, violence is always quick to ensue. No one simply hands down the political power they wield unless they absolutely have to. This helps explain the tipping of vehicles wearing the license plates that begin with PM (Prime Minister Ė symbolizing a government automobile).

Now that makes me wonder, how did the idea of democracy get instilled into an island group in the South Pacific?

I think itís in part due to the sweet tasting Coca-Colaís. Itís the classic blue jeans. Itís the Hollywood movies starring absurdly paid actors. Theyíre all signs of the American society permeating into a developing country thousands of miles away. Youíll find these random bits and pieces of America everywhere you go. Even when escaping to the remotest outer islands in the South Pacific, youíll find posters of the latest hit releases appearing on the windows of stores accessible only through boat and dirt trails. It seems like American democracy and capitalism has reached the furthest ends of this globe. Upon closer inspection, if you glance past the fancy marketing labels, it makes you wonder if people see it as tangible evidence supporting the prosperity of democracy and capitalism.

The push for democracy is loud, albeit there are more suitable manners than a full scale riot. But the riot wasnít just about a change of government. Apparently the Tongan rioters didnít want to emulate America in all aspects, especially the idea of capitalism. Foreign businesses were targeted as well, mainly the Chinese community.

Here, we have to go into more history that involves the Tongan government, much of which I cannot get into if I still want to keep my job as a volunteer. Letís just say that the Chinese community established numerous stores and through shrewd business ventures, became identified in Tonga as the place to shop for their cheap prices and consequently, their even cheaper quality products.

The abhorrence of foreign business by a select few was apparent when foreign shopkeepers were dragged out of their stores and beat during the riot. The effects of that are now shown as hundreds of Chinese stand crowded about the embassy, desperately waiting for the next available international flight. Currently, all international flights are closed. Even in the outer islands, the Chinese stores were robbed, which is a much more dangerous situation here because some people live in their Ďstoresí.

That led me to wonder about the grim reality of the situation. My jog yesterday was down an ideal road towards my old home stay. For miles, I had run into familiar and even unfamiliar people who greeted me with friendly smiles and waves. Now that the jog is over, Iím left wondering what happens if I (or someone I know) strays from the ideal situation and comes across the same blatant racism. Where will it lead us then?

Itís funny in a sad kind of way on how certain people react to a different skin tone or to some other minor racial feature such as squinty eyes. So far my encounters have been that if I help people out, people assume Iím Japanese. If I donít help people out, Iím assumed to be Chinese. Every other Asian race is sadly nonexistent in many of the peopleís minds here.

My computer center is doing quite well. Now what if it does too well? Do I fall under the same fate as the foreign businesses? If they find out that my computer center is the place to go for their technological needs, does that endanger me in any way? If thereís an angry anti-Chinese mob, will they care that Iím operating at just enough to keep the place running? Will they care that Iím actually an American carrying a Peace Corps identification card or a California driverís license?

I doubt any of it would make a difference and I doubt I can explain who I am to an angry mob if they so happened to look for me. Explaining to them probably wouldnít do me much good anyways because theyíd probably be heavily intoxicated. Even when sober, certain people here canít differentiate between a Korean and Japanese; much less grasp the concept of what a Chinese-American is.

Whatever happens, Iím willing to take that kind of risk to help dispel a bit of the racism, as seems to be the general mindset of all the volunteers here. I just hope my friends are ok, especially the ones in the larger cities.

I feel safe in Haíapai, where the community is just small enough for people to know who I am and what I do. For the other volunteers that were placed in the city, theyíre the ones who will have to endure the majority of the racism. Nukuíalofa is just big enough so that the majority of the host country nationals donít know who you are or what youíre doing there. It takes guts and courage to be a volunteer in Nukuíalofa at a time like now. Just when I thought I couldnít respect them anymore than I possibly could, they take it to a whole new level.




Links to Related Topics (Tags):

Headlines: November, 2006; Peace Corps Tonga; Directory of Tonga RPCVs; Messages and Announcements for Tonga RPCVs; Blogs - Tonga; Safety and Security of Volunteers; Asian American Issues





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