Friday, May 3, 2013

The Myth of Paradise


A few days ago I tweeted " I love you Tahiti but I gotta say that coming back to a sunny Portland is no bummer." I instantly lost around 15 followers. I'm not too concerned about losing that many Twitter fans but this made me think about something that I've encountered since I chose to move from Tahiti to Portland, Oregon about three years ago: people want me to live in (or at least revere) "Paradise" because it helps them believe in a better place. 

The chance of any of these people ever packing up their lives and living on an island or even visiting that island on vacation is small at best, but when I say that I currently prefer a US city to their image of vacation land, it's like telling a child there's no such thing as Santa Claus. That tropical island is like Dr Seuss's Solla Saloo "where there never are troubles, at least very few," but like the place in that story, one set of troubles is only replaced by another. This is life, this is planet Earth and I hate to be the one to burst people's bubble but after the glow of first love fades nowhere is perfect unless you have personally achieved some kind of Nirvana.

Here's the thing: wherever you go you will probably have to work to survive and if you grew up in the US, Europe or anywhere else brimming with action it will be hard for you to slow down to the point where gazing at the sea (or road or palm trees in the wind) for a few hours will fulfill your activity needs. Not to say I don't love doing this in theory. Right now as I sit on my deck writing to deadline to the sound of traffic, hanging out and watching hermit crabs make trails in the sand sounds awfully nice but years of this with little else going on? Not at this period of my life, thanks. 

It takes approximately 3.5 hours to drive around Tahiti. Think about that for a minute. Nearly every inch is surrounded by a gorgeous, tepid lagoon and the mountains hold lush plantations of bananas and papayas, as well as tall cascades gushing into crystal clear pools. I love all these places and really I don't tire of them, but over the 15 years I lived there I have been just about everywhere, dozens of times. As much as I enjoy swimming and hiking I am too complicated a person to be able to be happy doing only that, in the same places, over and over again in my free moments in between work (because wherever you go you still need money to survive). Life here in Portland means pubs, restaurant, skiing, beaches, berry picking, varied live music any night of the week and, most importantly, the ability to drive for hours to get to a multitude of other places. Right now this is what I want. Maybe as I get older I'll tire of this and want to settle back down to slow island life but I'm not done with the continent-based lifestyle yet.

Also, your shit is your shit and no matter how balmy the temperatures or blue the lagoon, it will be with you, always. Other people have their shit too and you will have to deal with it anywhere there are other humans. 

Example: Last week I returned to my village, Teahupoo for the first time in 2.5 years. A few years before I left, one of the area's biggest families put up a gate blocking the area's other biggest family from being able to access their homes, land and fishing grounds without paying the first, road-owning family around $375 a piece for gate access. The whole town is in turmoil about this and guess what? After all the time I've been gone nothing has changed other than a few fists have swung. 

On a more personal level, half the village comes into my yard and steals my lemons, a "friend" went in my house when we were gone and stole my kid's bunk bed and a local woman threatened to go in my house and "break everything" because we fired her as a house cleaner when she began working hours we never asked her to and then demanded money from us. None of these things are a big deal on a grand scale but to me they equal out the lonely anonymity of city life. Island problems are more personal and they'll get to you if you don't adopt a very Zen state of mind. Are you ready for your house and property to be communal areas? Do you mind having things you do meld into conversations that get warped into gossip via the "coconut radio?" If so, go try living in Polynesia.

At the end of the day for me, I'm taking a break from both the intensity and calm of island life. It's something I'm not sure anyone who has never lived on an island can understand. Tahiti is a wonderful place that I love with all my heart but for now I need more. If that works against your faith in a perfect world I'm sorry, but I suggest you try meditation.


  1. Excellent!
    This is why I live in Honolulu, not Molokai or the big Island. I need my polynesia with some nordstroms! :)

    Friendly ALOHA
    from Waikiki
    Comfort Spiral
    ~ > < } } ( ° > <3

  2. Good post.

    Some people believe that living abroad, especially in the tropics will solve all their problems and offer them a better, purer life.

    And a lot (not all by any means) of expat bloggers only cover the positives.

  3. I get it. I get you. I didn't live in a tropical paradise - far from it - but, and I don't know a more eloquent way to say this, I GET it.

  4. I loved this post - my partner and I are planning a 1 year trip to South America. This reminds me of how there will be both good times and bad times on the trip. I have this ideal in my head, but the reality will be something a little muddier. Thanks!

  5. Thanks for this enlightening post. It really thrust some reality into my island life fantasies. I was thinking of making a move to Polynesia. Now, I will give it a big second thought.

  6. I personally traded steel mills for tuna fish canneries and ore boats for tuna boats. After that everything stayed mostly the same. Including my new neighbors chain across the road.

    Given that Pago Pago is a U. S. Territory, I'm still glad I made the choice. Kids had a great growing up. Cheerios and slurpees included.

    From Pago Pago, Wadychovskaya

  7. Such an insightful, honest post--I have felt this same thing since returning to the States after some time in England. Yes, much of the UK is like a storybook, but at times it never felt like real life. All was good and well with my life there, but in many ways, it lacked the depth I had with life in MN.

    Anyways, I'm *loving* your posts! Please keep them coming!




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