Prior to my arrival in Tonga, I contacted Jasmine, who was one of the only few people on couchsurfing in the capital. Hence, we met up for dinner with her friend one night and we tried some local food. It was fun talking to an expat working in Tonga, since you get a different perspective of things. Jasmine was from New Zealand and she had been in Tonga for over five years as a pharmacist. She worked at one of the pharmacies near the Royal Tomb and thus, if you ever see her, say hi.
She actually fed a lot of information regarding Tonga to me. I would not have known these things if I had not spoken to her. In Tongan culture, family is the most important thing that they value. For example, if you take food to work, the custom is to share everything you have with your colleagues or others. It will be rude not to do so.
She told me about her experience bringing lunch to work. She would have to end up sharing the food with her colleagues. On the bright side, Tongans will do the same thing and will always share their food. The problem is that you can only take up so much carbs/starch per day. I would much rather be eating good whole healthy food, rather than carbs. This was the same case when I spoke to one of the JAICA volunteers. He would come back from Japan and bring some treats back, but the treats would be literally gone in about 2 minutes. The Tongans would come by and demolish the treats.
One thing I noticed in Tonga was that there were no mini markets owned by the Tongans. The Chinese dominated the mini market business and without them, the economy probably may not run properly. If a Tongan owned a supermarket, they will end up giving away all the food to their relatives for free or the relatives may show up with no money and they will have to give it to them anyhow. It may sound strange, but that is how it works.
Another unique thing about Tonga was that she-males were accepted by society. If a family had more boys than girls or not enough girls to help with women’s duties about the house, male children would be chosen to be raised to do household work. Thus, it was not strange to find the third-gender, similar to the Fa’afafine in Samoa.
Knowing an expat goes a long way in Tonga. On one Sunday, Jasmine took me to one of the secluded beaches in the southern part of the island. It was a jolly 45-minute bike ride from the capital, but it was definitely worth it. Once we got off the main road, we had to walk through bushes to get down to the beach. It was best not to leave our bicycles on the main road or in the bush, since someone may “borrow” our bike for a week or forever, so we took the bicycle down to the beach with us.
There was no one at the beach when we got there and only Tongan locals had a clue of the place. The beach was really pretty and we saw blow holes flying up and down. Another thing to note about Tonga was that women must be covered at all times, so don’t even think of wearing your bikini on a public beach. We stayed there for a few hours and only saw one other family there. Of course, the family was having a picnic and they came up to us to offer their food. How nice right? It was all about sharing in Tonga. Loved it.
On one night, I went out to the bar area (there really was only one of two places to go) for dinner and befriended an Aussie, Luke. He was there with his wife Sunnie and we had a few drinks together. It was still early in the night and only around 9pm when most of the expats started leaving the place. I was told that the place gets pretty rowdy and 95% Tongan only. I ended up staying there with Luke, while Sunnie went home. Luke introduced me to some locals and we were dancing our butts off to the usual Pacific and top 50 pop music. I noticed at some point that there were only a handful of foreigners out of the 100+ people there. It could be a bit overwhelming for a foreigner, since fights do occur, but that night it was fight free, so everything was ok.
On my way home, I could not find a taxi so this random guy in a truck told me that he will give me a ride home. I asked one of the other Tongans if it was safe and they nodded “yes” so I went on with the ride. I noticed after getting into the car that the Tongan was a cross dresser. He had a scarf covering his head (maybe he was bald?) and bright red lipstick on. It was really awkward being in the car and he kept asking me a lot of questions. “What are you doing here?” “How long are you here for?” I was a bit skeptical, but the ride back to the guesthouse was only 5 minutes and there was enough traffic on the street, in case I had to yell out for help. I was also ready to jump out of the truck at any time.
At the end, nothing happened. I got off about a block from where I was staying since I did not want some random dude following me, better yet, a cross dresser. I offered him money, but he did not accept. I waited for him to drive past and then headed back to the guesthouse for a much deserved sleep.
The next day, I went over to Luke and Sunnie’s place since they were having a barbecue. Luke had invited me the night before to come over to their place and thus, I went. They lived in a wonderful compound with a swimming pool, garden, and lots of room. I was actually quite embarrassed going to his place empty handed, since everything was closed on a Sunday in Tonga and I could not buy a single thing.
I had a great time at the barbeque, meeting expats and local Tongans. I was told that lots of Tongans leave the country for Australia or New Zealand, but happy to see that two of them had returned to the homeland running businesses of their own. Will has a backpacker’s place called Hafu’s House Backpackers’ Hostel (Taufa’ahau Road) and has recently opened a bar, while the other lad had his own beer company.
It was nice to eat home cooked meal for a change, after being on the road for so long. The last time I had home cooked meal was in Perth, almost 2 months ago. The guests all brought food with them, so I tried the veggie dips, salsa dips, grilled meats, and Tongan food.
Speaking of food from Tonga, one of my favorite dishes was the Ota Ika (raw fish marinated in lemon and coconut cream), which I ate almost every single day. At Luke and Sunnie’s place they did not have that, but they had some other options which I tried for the first time. One of the guests brought some meat dishes that were cooked in an umu (a traditional earth oven) and they were yummy. The meat was combined with some local vegetables like yam, taro, sweet potatoes, and cassava. I really enjoyed tasting the traditional food from Tonga as it was one day before leaving for Kiribati!
We played a few rounds of darts while we sipped our beers and ciders. I noticed how good some of these guys were, my assumption was that they played at least 2 or 3 times a week.
In all, it was really kind of Luke and Sunnie to invite me over to their place on my last night in Tonga and had a great time. Luke even connected me to some of his pals on the other islands, Micronesia and Kiribati, but I never had the chance to meet with them.
I would like to give a shout out to Luke, Sunnie, and Jasmine for their warm hospitality during my stay in Tonga. It would not have been the same without you guys
Visited in April 2017.