Sunday, July 23, 2000

192-Part Guide to the World: Fiji

192-Part Guide to the World: Fiji

By Jeremy Atiyah

Published: 23 July 2000

Official nameRepublic of the Fiji Islands
LocationThe 844 Melanesian and Polynesian islands that make up Fiji are in the South Pacific.
LanguageOfficially English, but there are some 300 regional variations of standard Fijian, and the large Indian minority speaks a unique variety of Hindi known, logically enough, as Fiji Hindi.
SizeAbout 18,300 square kilometres of land, so about two-thirds the size of Belgium (but if territorial waters are included, 1.3 million square kilometres, the size of western Europe).
PopulationAbout 800,000, of whom barely half are indigenous Fijians, the majority of the remainder being Fiji Indians, descendants of labourers brought in during the time of the British Empire.
National dishThe drinking of narcotic kava is fundamental to the culture.
Best monumentThe capital Suva contains colonial buildings dating back to the beginning of the 20th century, including the cathedral.
Most famous citizenRebel leader George Speight has become famous by taking the government hostage.
Best moment in historyOne of the finest assertions of Fijian rights over colonialist overlords occurred in 1867 when missionary Thomas Baker was killed and eaten - down to and including his shoes - by irritated villagers. Total independence from colonial rule only came in 1970.
Worst moment in historyProbably the current crisis, triggered by the actions of George Speight (see above).
Essential accessoryYour scuba-diving certificate: the diving is among the best.
What not to doTurn your back on kava bowl, or disattach the cord connecting the bowl to the cowry (don't ask why - these things matter).

Sunday, July 16, 2000

Ocean Dome

Ocean Dome: The best thing about this most perfect of beaches is that one visit is sufficient for a lifetime

By Jeremy Atiyah

Published: 16 July 2000

What could possibly be wrong with going to a beach where there was not the slightest risk of drowning in the surf, getting sunburnt, being stung by jellyfish, cutting your toes, standing in dog-poo, inhaling rotten fish or swallowing sewage?

Don't ask me. This is a question for the people of Japan. Because they are the only ones who have got a beach like that - and they don't seem to like it at all.

I, personally, have never been to their Ocean Dome indoor water park at the Seagaia resort in Miyazaki on Kyushu island - but this, unfortunately, is quite typical. The park cost pounds 1bn to build, and hardly anybody goes there any more.

Why would a place as modern as this be on the verge of bankruptcy? The Ocean Dome sounds as though it contains the safest, cleanest beach in the world. So pleasant is it, in fact, that this is where last week's summit of G8 foreign ministers took place - in the resort I mean, not in the water park (gone are the days when Russian and Scandinavian leaders got their best business done while cavorting naked in hot baths).

I remember being terribly impressed by the Ocean Dome when it opened in 1993. Sunbathing on the world's biggest artificial beach, lounging below an artificial sky, shone upon by an artificial sun, warmed to a constant 30C and lapped by artificial waves (adjustable up to 2.5 metres in height) always sounded pretty miraculous. As for a 140-metre beach made of ground marble (which glistened white without sticking to the body), decorated by designer palm trees, off-shore islands and an artificial tropical horizon - well, I could have used a bit of that in place of sunburn and dog-poo.
It doesn't sound so bad now, does it? During your cloudless days at the Ocean Dome you can go shopping for fancy goods in your bathing suit, dine in restaurants with names like Port-au-Prince or Key West, watch pavement lights come on as the sky turns red at the flick of a switch. You can clamber around a fake 18th-century Spanish castle, canoodle with your lover in a fake coconut g arden, visit fake mountains, fake waterfalls, fake valleys, fake bridges, fake caves and fake sanctuaries. Then you can watch fake Polynesian dancing girls and attend re-enactments of fake battles between ancient Roman and Japanese gods.

In other words, a day at the Ocean Dome must be a bit like visiting Hawaii, the Seychelles, Florida, Marbella and ancient Rome all in one day without the trouble of having to fly anywhere.

But do you want to know the best bit of all? The insight to which those sensible Japanese have already had access? It is this. That when you have seen the Ocean Dome once, you never, ever have to go there again. Instead, you can step outside and, hey!, that'll be the real world waiting for you, complete with smelly seaweed, jellyfish and lovely sticky sand.