Coco and Daisy in the South Pacific

Saturday August 20, 2016 Written by Published in Weekend
Daisy and Coco (left) pose for a photo with deputy prime minister Teariki Heather on Constitution Day. 16081914 Daisy and Coco (left) pose for a photo with deputy prime minister Teariki Heather on Constitution Day. 16081914

Xinling Gao (Coco), is a journalist with the Shanghai Morning Post in Shanghai, China. Recently she and her friend Daisy embarked on an adventure to follow their dreams, spending a year and a half travelling to Fiji, Kiribati, Samoa, New Zealand, the Cook Islands, and Australia. In the days following their visit to Rarotonga and Aitutaki, Coco wrote a story about their trip, which she kindly gave to CI News.

The beautifully written story, which has been left in Coco’s own words, provides an interesting insight into how Chinese travellers perceive the Pacific Islands and their people. “We really appreciated getting to know some Cook Islanders who treated us as part of their families,” she says. “It is a pleasure to be able to share our experiences with more people.”

 

THE COOK ISLANDS, Samoa, Kiribati…these Pacific country names are rarely known by Chinese. For these islands, China is like a giant rooster.

Most Chinese have no idea about them. Fortunately, because of a special relationship with the South Pacific, Daisy and I, two Chinese girls, were able to give up our good jobs and regular life in Shanghai and set out on a journey of the South Pacific for a year and a half.

 We even gave our journey a name and set up a Facebook account “DaisyCoco PacifiGo!” Now, here we are in the Cook Islands; our fifth stop.

So, why would we do this? Our story can be traced back to six years ago.

At the 2010 Shanghai EXPO, hundreds of counties and regions converged in Shanghai where there was a huge exhibition displaying contemporary life in countries all over the world. One exhibition, the South Pacific Pavilion, displayed a magical wonderland that was deeply attractive to visitors.

At this time Daisy, who was my classmate in junior middle school in Shanghai, worked at the South Pacific Pavilion. During the year she worked there, not only was she working with South Pacific people, but she learnt lots about their culture and stories.

 

Their lives seemed totally different from our city experiences, especially when she showed me the pictures of the ocean and sky surrounding these islands. They were stunning, unbelievable. Compared to our city jungle, which suffers from air pollution, these islands seemed like paradise.

Every time, when I saw Daisy’s eyes and listened to her sharing, I could feel her deep love for these islands and for the Pacific people. Over time our curiosity and interest in these islands continued to grow.

After EXPO, Daisy worked as an English teacher in one of the top Shanghai language institutions. I was a journalist in the Shanghai Morning Post, the most popular local daily newspaper.

During that time, five years after Expo, we still thought that those enchanted islands were too far away, and could only dream and chat that one day we might be able to visit them.

Last year things changed. One night we were talking about taking a “gap year,” an idea that is popular and normal for youth in western countries. However, we had seldom heard of our friends or youth from our culture having this kind of experience.

Our friends were always striving in their work, in order to own a house and a car; things they needed to find a wife or a husband.

To some extent, when our friends get married, they pay attention to their family and let go of personal ideals and dreams. Also, Daisy often shared that her adult students often seemed to have no ideas for their life and future, and just played online games and chatted on social media.

Was this to be our future? Was this the future of a younger generation? No! We should make some changes. After this passionate talking, we quickly made a common decision, “Just do it! Let’s make our South Pacific travel dreams come true!”

On March 26, 2016 we flew from Shanghai to Nadi, Fiji and started our “DaisyCoco PacifiGo!” journey. We had made plans to visit over six South Pacific countries including Fiji, Kiribati, Samoa, New Zealand, Cook Islands, and Australia. We had deliberately only booked flights to most of these countries, without any detailed itineraries. The chance to experience the unexpected was greatly appealing to us.

 So far, we have been travelling for over five months. Our trip has provided us with so many surprises, ideas and thoughts.

In Kiribati, we were inspired that local people had stopped burning fossil fuel to help their homelands from sinking under sea. We were inspired to start a mangrove plantation action programme. The mangrove is one of best safeguards for islands, helping to protect them from flooding and tsunami. We shared our project online on a Chinese social website; telling people, “If you want to plant a mangrove in Kiribati you can donate one which would have your name and your blessing.”

In just three days we had received donations of over $1000. Thousands of Chinese people became involved in this project, including Kiribati businessmen. We are proud to have been able to get many Chinese people to pay more attention to the global issue of climate change.

In Fiji, we were challenged by our religious experience. My cell phone was stolen during a service in a church. Before that, we had been touched by the people’s loyalty and love for God. This was different from the Chinese, who do not attend a church but who would use meditation and prayer to focus and calm their mind.

The Fijian Assembly of God church congregation yelled out their feelings, some people even cried and fell to their knees. The atmosphere we experienced was very intense.

At the end the service we took photos for the ladies in the church using my phone camera. I passed the phone around so they could look at the photos.

Later, I realised I had forgotten to get the camera back. When I looked for it, it had mysteriously disappeared. Nobody was willing to provide any clues to where the phone was. The police asked us why we shared the phone. I didn’t know how to answer the question. Maybe, as the police said, for some people religion is just an idea and their beliefs and behavior are not well connected. 

 

In the Cook Islands we were lucky to catch the 51st Constitution Celebration. This was a great opportunity for us to experience, see and feel the local traditions and culture. We saw fantastic costumes and fabulous dances, some that had been never been seen before in the national auditorium. The power of the men and the tenderness of women were displayed through their bodies and voices in different performances: choir, dancing and short plays, which were touching and passionate.

We felt grateful to have stayed with an interesting local, global family, a couple from the Cook islands and Germany, Joe and Odette, they were not only our hosts but they also took us to meet their families, friends, colleagues who were very friendly and intelligent. By being with them we got a new and deeper perspective of the island and culture.

We had heard it said that island people were lazy, that they preferred staying at home to work. How untrue this was! We saw in Rarotonga many people are doing two and more jobs, and working many hours. In the morning, someone works in the office. The same person can be found making and selling food at the night market in Muri. It seemed to us Cook Islanders were the hardest-working and most diligent people in the South Pacific.

There are less than nine thousand people in Rarotonga. Walking on the street it seems there are more western people than locals, and they have become a larger group of residents living in the Cook Islands. Many cultures blend together, creating a multi-ethic society.

Thanks to our hosts, we met more local and overseas friends, who showed us aspects of their life, which couldn’t be experienced as part of a travel group. We particularly enjoyed visiting local schools and media organisations.

Over recent years the Chinese have been growing into one of the biggest tourist groups in the world. However, up to now, most Chinese people usually like to shop and prefer to stay in resorts or hotels when traveling and on holiday. However, there is an increasing number among a younger generation, who are interested in exploring new travel destinations and trying ways to experience more of the local life.

As my host Odette said, “Travel is not only shopping, drinking and gambling. It is also a kind of cultural exchange, discovering the world and promoting yourself.”

I think she is right. This is the reason we have enjoyed our trip so much. We hope to let more Chinese know about these wonderlands and to be able to share more news and stories about the pacific islands as we continue our journey.

Thank you for your hospitality, your warmth, your smiles and your beautiful culture. 

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