HBTV’s Simon Nixon (left) interviews Brown Girls author John Wesley Ireland during the taping of an episode of Chatroom. (Photo: Warren Buckland/Napier Courier)

The last time I wore makeup was when two small children decided to dress me up as a woman. I only held still because I was trying to impress their mother. Considering their mother and I have now been together for 20 years, it would appear enduring the assault on my manliness worked a charm.

My most recent brush with cosmetics came when the lovely Vania applied powder to my face in an effort to make it appear less full-moonish. Needless to say, the procedure used up an alarmingly large amount of her supply.

The reason Vania was doing her utmost to make me look presentable was my first TV appearance since I hosted a news magazine programme for Cook Islands TV. This time, however, I would be answering questions instead of asking them.

The occasion was the taping of an episode of Chatroom for Television Hawke’s Bay. Going into the studio, I still wasn’t sure why anyone would be remotely interested in anything I had to say. But, apparently, station director Judith Sawyer is a fan of this column and thought her viewing audience might be entertained by a veteran journalist with a novel to promote.

While I awaited my turn on the brown couch, I watched host Simon Nixon on the monitor as he interviewed a lady about her anti-fracking stance. She was well-spoken, well-informed and well-dressed. That’s when the nerves kicked in and, for a brief, terrifying moment, I was positive I’d start sweating through my makeup to the point where it would look as if my face was melting.

“Please buy my book before my forehead sloughs into my lap” is probably not the ideal marketing campaign.

As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. Simon and I hit it off right away and were soon nattering away like two old friends meeting in a cafe. If cafes came equipped with really bright lights and three large cameras and a microphone cord shoved down your shirt.

I told him about my journalism career and how I came to write my novel, Brown Girls, and why I’ve decided to market and sell it as an ebook through my own website.

The interview was divided into three segments, each consisting of eight minutes (commercials will fill out the rest of the 30-minute time slot), and my original fear of not being able to fill even one segment was quickly replaced by a fear of not having time to say everything I wanted to.

In the end, we never did talk about the Cook Islands photography book I hope to publish in an effort to raise money for the Red Cross.

Neither did I have the opportunity to mention the “A-ha!” moment.

This, of course, is not to be confused with the “Eureka!” moment or the “Woo-hoo!” moment. “A-ha!” is the noise I make when, while reading about a wildly-successful person, I come across the exact moment when they caught their big break. The hungry fashion photographer who drops into a fast-food outlet, only to stumble across the beautiful girl working behind the counter. Chris Klein charging around a corner in his high school and bowling over a talent scout looking to fill out the cast of American Pie.

We’ve all experienced such moments, the times where, for no good reason we can explain, we turned left when we had every intention of going right, and so met a future partner or the person who hired us for our dream job or somehow changed our lives.

Serendipity? Dumb luck? Good timing? Karma gods smiling? Best not to attempt to label it. Best to just sit back, hold on tight and enjoy the rocket ride to fame/success/riches/wild women.

I didn’t get to talk to Simon Nixon about “A-ha!” moments. Maybe because I’m meant to talk to him about that during our next interview. The one where, after this column is published, Brown Girls goes on to sell a million copies.

Someone should warn Vania she’s going to need a fresh supply of powder.

* The Chatroom interview featuring John Ireland will air Friday, May 11, 7.30pm on TVHB, UHF 51, and be re-broadcast the next day at 7.30am and 12.30pm. It will also be available for viewing at http://www.tvhb.co.nz

* For more information on Brown Girls, visit http://www.johnireland.co.nz

I make a habit of avoiding trouble. Always have.

I hung out with the neighbourhood kids only until they started being stupid and then I wandered on home. During my first year of high school, I quickly identified the Neanderthals who picked on the short and the pudgy and made studiously stayed out of their orbits.

My home life was more of the same, and I’m sure my parents were eternally grateful. When you have six kids to keep track of, knowing that one of them is reading copies of The Hockey News in the basement must have brought immeasurable peace of mind.

Which brings me to my recent family outing to Las Vegas and the return of Simon to my life.

Those of you who followed my Cook Islands blog (www.backtothebeach.wordpress.com) will remember Simon as one half of the duo I dubbed The Welsh. Simon and his girlfriend, Silent Sam, rented the bungalow one over from mine at Mount View Lodges and for several months we kept each other from becoming too homesick.

Simon and Sam eventually continued their journey – one that would take them to such places as New Zealand, Australia, China and Cambodia – before heading home to Cardiff.

While we remained Facebook friends, I really never expected to see Simon again.

And then he flies into Las Vegas to meet up with me. Heartbroken that his relationship with Sam had ended, he’d hit the road again, this time to America.

The plan was to fly to San Francisco, come see me in Las Vegas, check in with another friend in Atlanta, and then make his way to New York City before heading home.

But planning was never Simon’s (nor Sam’s, for that matter) strong suit and so a chance encounter with the Occupy San Francisco camp put a serious kink in his itinerary.

I have to admit to not fully understanding what, exactly, the assorted Occupy movements were demanding. “Share the wealth” was, I believe, one of the mantras. Personally, I would have gone for “Please help me find a job so I, too, can accumulate wealth,” but that’s just me.

But Simon is 28 and an impressionable young lad – as opposed to me, now far too old for revolution – and so the Occupy SF people fascinated him. Which is why he wanted to visit the Occupy Las Vegas location. With me.

Which is how I – Mr. Avoid Confrontation At All Cost Lest It Lead To Trouble – ended up at the camp.

Did that make me party to the demonstration? Hardly. Considering there were maybe 10 people present, and they all pretty much ignored me, I was consigned to the role of curious bystander.

Simon was right into it, as I suspected he might be. Plus, he had stories to share about the San Francisco movement. While he chatted, I hovered on the edges, trying not to look bored or, worse yet, content with my lot in life.

A policeman drove in at one point and, after eyeballing me as I snapped his photo, he drove away again, satisfied his services weren’t required. There was talk about conspiracy theories, how someone was spreading Chinese whispers about militia members infiltrating the ranks and wreaking havoc.

There were tents and signs and food and portable toilets – even a rudimentary antenna to provide access to the Internet. For the most part, people simply wandered about. No angry slogans, no pumping fists, no anarchy.

Simon and I parted ways soon after.

I went back to my family, to laugh loudly and eat too much and stare too long into the bright lights of commercialism.

Simon went back to San Francisco where he was beaten by the police and tear-gassed and only avoided being arrested by sheer luck and good timing.

He never did make it to Atlanta. He arrived in New York City mere hours before his flight departed for Cardiff and so never did mingle with the Occupy Wall Street people who initiated the entire protest.

He’s back in Wales now, looking at his photos, reviewing his video. He has a million stories to tell. Some day, if the universe is kind, he and I will sit down once more over coffee and he will tell them all to me.

If the universe is even kinder, Silent Sam will join us. She won’t say anything but, if only for a couple of hours, The Welsh and I will be reunited and life will feel right again.

My Cook Islands photos displayed in gallery.

I look at the photos — the girl shrieking with laughter; the youngster clutching at her face as her brain cramps from ice cream eaten too quickly; the trio peering mischievously from a market stall — and the walls of the Photographers’ Gallery Hawke’s Bay melt away.

I’m transported back to Rarotonga. The air is suddenly redolent of frangipani; the sun is hot on my neck. There is sand between my toes.

It’s all my imagination of course, but that’s the feeling I hope to evoke in all those who view my exhibit of Cook Islands photographs in the gallery. If someone smiles at the children’s antics or sighs in frustration at not being able to slide into the teal depths of Muri Lagoon, or recalls their own fond memories of the Cooks, then my job here is done and I can count the showing a success.

I landed on Raro the day after Cyclone Pat chewed up the sister island of Aitutaki. I left shortly after the general election. It was my sixth visit to the island in 10 years, and the third time I actually lived and worked there.

Between the two major events that bookended my year in paradise, I compiled a lifetime of adventures, experiences and memories.

As a reporter/ photographer for the Cook Islands Herald, I was the first member of the print media to land on Aitutaki, courtesy of a Royal New Zealand Air Force Hercules, to record the devastation wrought by the cyclone. My job took me into the National Auditorium for cultural performances, to the retirement gala held for Catholic Bishop Stuart O’Connell.

I attended Christmas carnivals and was on the dock when the police boat returned rescued fishermen to the arms of their loved ones.

School children visiting cultural landmarks, the Vaka Eiva paddling competitions, a huge gathering of Zumba enthusiasts, a day spent on the island of Atiu in the company of sunburned travel agents — I attended all these events, camera in hand.

I worked on the 2011 Miss Cook Islands calendar and photographed models for the Herald covers. I wandered the weekly Saturday market, capturing the faces and expressions of these beautiful Polynesian people, committing split seconds of their lives to my camera’s memory.

It was a time of wonder. A time of magic and delight. It was a time of golden days and purple nights. A time of laughter and friendships. It was, in the end, a time gone too soon.

I returned to New Zealand with some 15,000 photographs — and a new tattoo — as a reminder the Garden of Eden really does exist. The plan was always to share my images and, thanks to Shayne Jeffares and the Photographers’ Gallery Hawke’s Bay, that goal has been achieved.

The exhibit is my love letter to the Cook Islands and its people. It’s also a promise to myself to return once more to their warm embraces.

* The Photographers’ Gallery Hawke’s Bay is located at 138 Tennyson Street in Napier. For information: 06 835 8142 or http://www.pghb.co.nz

4 a.m. September 11, 2001

September 11, 2011

The Rarotonga night was hot and sticky. Viking Woman and I had long since kicked the thin sheet aside when the phone rang.

I stumbled out of bed, glancing at my watch as I made my way to the kitchen. 4 a.m. September 11.

Jeane Matenga was on the line. She was my boss at the Pitt Media Group, which runs the lone TV station in the Cook Islands. CITV does not broadcast 24 hours a day but someone from overseas had contacted Jeane and, after receiving that call, she’d driven into the office to fire up the station’s computers. Then she phoned us.

“Turn on your TV,” she said.

The television in our lounge was small and analogue. The reception was iffy at best and all the images had an orange tint because I was never able to figure out how to adjust the colour control.

But none of that mattered to Viking Woman and I that morning. As roosters crowed and stray dogs howled in the humid darkness, we watched in stunned silence as the north tower of the World Trade Center collapsed.

This isn’t real, we said to each other later. This can’t be happening. This is Hollywood special effects. This is science fiction. This happens in other countries, in those barbaric places where strife and human misery and deadly attacks are a tragic way of life.

But this was not a movie. This was real life. This was real people dying in front of us as we stared, transfixed, at an orange screen while the tropical island stirred awake around us to greet a world that had just been changed forever.

We are West Coast Canadians and this was happening on the East Coast of America and yet I still felt rage at those who would let loose a bloodbath of this proportion in what I considered to be my backyard.

This was my way of life and my corner of civilization under attack and I was furious. President Bush, whom I’d always considered a buffoon, made a lot of loud noises about hunting down and punishing the perpetrators and I admit to pumping my first in the air and shouting the equivalent of “F**k, yeah!”

The ripple effect of those attacks reverberated across the world, even to our tiny hidey-hole in the South Pacific. With everyone suddenly very nervous to fly, and the Cook Islands economy based nearly 100 per cent on tourism, the government panicked at the prospect of lost revenue and ordered all departments to slash their budgets by 20 per cent.

That’s how Viking Woman lost her housing allowance. That’s how we were forced to return home.

But home no longer looked the same. We flew into LAX in late October to be met by squads of stone-cold soldiers carrying large weapons and eyeballing all of us as if we were potential enemies. We brought a small dog back from Rarotonga but, judging by the hassle that entailed, you would have thought we’d secreted Osama bin Laden himself up the poor thing’s arse.

I am not terribly worldly. I’m a simple man, content to maintain a tight focus. I have my family and my hockey and my movies and my photography and that’s all I need. I treat others with respect and expect the same in return.

I do not know, nor do I understand, what inflames people to kill each other. For what? To prove your god is better than my god? Does a god who would condone such mindless savagery deserve to be worshipped? We could debate this point for hours but I have better things to do with my time.

I, like all of you, will not be here long. Eighty years, give or take, if I’m lucky. I just want to live in peace, have some fun, be a good person, and then leave behind a better world for my children and my children’s children.

That seemed like an achievable goal until September 11, 2001. Now, I’m not so sure.

As much as I hate to keep harping on about the year I just spent in the Cook Islands – “Yes, John, you are a lucky dog. And, yes, we are all soooo envious.” – the time Viking Woman and I spent apart did open my eyes to one very crucial aspect of our married life. After nearly 18 years together, we are – in small bursts, at least – actually quite incompatible.

As you can well imagine, it is rather a shock to the system to discover that we are not, after all these years, a perfect match. In fact, we disagree on several things. And by things I mean the TV shows we prefer to watch. For instance, I enjoy reality shows. Viking Woman, on the other hand, would rather stare into the sun than tally the votes.

See what I mean? Totally not made for each other.

I could have saved myself 18 Christmas presents and thousands of faked hugs if I’d only known this from the very beginning.

In the event I ever find myself single again – which might be sooner than later at this rate – and so as to avoid enduring another bout of abject heartbreak, I’ve put together a short list of questions to pose to prospective dates.

The idea is cut to the chase, to verify immediately whether I’d be wasting our time and my money trying to impress someone I will later want to convince to sail on an oil tanker off the coast of Somalia.

Men, feel free to adapt this quiz to your own studly personalities and cute little quirks.

1. Name all 30 NHL teams. (Hint: The response of “What’s an NHL?” will be judged an automatic fail. We are done here. Bye-bye.)

2. Which of the following NHL teams’ logos would look best tattooed on your lower back?

a) Detroit Red Wings; b) Detroit Red Wings; c) Detroit Red Wings.

3. If I’m trying to pull your sweater over your head, what am I doing? (Hint: “Initiating foreplay,” is not the answer. Sorry. The door is that way; you can let yourself out.)

4. List the following reality shows in order of preference:

a) Survivor; b) Survivor; c) Survivor.

5. What do you see when you look at a back yard?

a) lawns and flowerbeds; b) asphalt and ball hockey; c) a Jacuzzi and all your hot girlfriends indulging in European-style tanning.

6. If a man fall asleep after sex, do you think:

a) I wore him out because I’m pretty much an insatiable mink; b) he’s just recharging his batteries for our next bout of lovemaking; c) he’s bored, I should go, and, uh, how do I get my knickers off his head without waking him?

7. Which of the following would you print on your T-shirt?

a) “Disco sucks!”; b) “Rap sucks!”; c) “Country music sucks!”; d) “Rock’n’roll rules! (Hint: This might be a trick question. I said might.)

8. If a man’s snoring disturbs your sleep, do you:

a) smile in the knowledge he is instinctively reverting to the caveman’s sure-fire method for defending his family; b) shove your icy feet against the small of his back and hiss into his ear, “Wake up, dildo breath. Sabretooth tigers have been extinct for a million years.”

9. Is Meat Loaf:

a) the greatest rock opera singer in the history of the universe; b) a sneaky and devious method for disposing of leftovers.

10. Which Bruce Springsteen song is your all-time favourite?

a) all of them, in which case I am going to marry you right now, this very instant; b) none of them, in which case I’m going to need you to hand over your share of the cab fare right now, this very instant.

 And there you have it. Ten simple questions. Ten simple answers. Pure genius, right? Because we all know, when it comes to men, it’s all about being simple.

The beauty of being a section editor at a community newspaper is that the senior editor is usually too busy working on the front pages to worry about anything else. That meant I was pretty much left to my own devices when it came to producing the Sports section.

I appreciated the independence this lack of interference afforded me (although there was that one editor who complained about “goddamn roundball” during the entire high school basketball season).

Flying solo also allowed me the opportunity to experiment and, on at least one occasion, nudge the boundaries of good taste.

In writing about the numerous injuries suffered by the players on one high school girls soccer team, I referred to them as “a chiropractor’s wet dream.” Mentioning nocturnal emissions in a story about teenage girls? Yeah, probably not what you’d call a shining moment in my journalism career.

I recently had occasion to recall that bit of cheekiness when I read this headline in the March 29, 2011 edition of The (NZ) Dominion Post: Kapiti police to take hard line on sex in the sand.

“Hard” and “sex” in the same headline? Brilliant. The fact a copy editor actually got away with that kind of double entendre? Priceless.

The story? Oh, yeah, it concerned police making plans to “start targeting exhibitionist nudists at a Kapiti Coast beach” because residents were complaining about “offensive sexual behaviour.” No word on whether the complaints were based on jealousy. Considering that the majority of the offenders were gay men, I’m guessing no.

The part of the story that caught my attention was this: “Nudity is allowed on beaches unless it is deemed offensive.”

Nudity is allowed on New Zealand beaches? Oh. Really.

The thing is, I’ve visited several beaches in New Zealand – hell, both cities I’ve lived in have bordered the ocean – and I have yet to witness a single incidence of nudity.

Maybe there are secret beaches only sun worshippers know about, their locations carefully guarded by those who prefer their pink bits to be baked to a golden-brown. A Fight Club for hedonists that no one else knows about because, well, no one talks about Fight Club.

I’ve never had much luck when it comes to catching a sandy eyeful. When I was a young man growing up in the Fraser Valley, the place everyone giggled about was Wreck Beach, but it was located in Vancouver and I simply had no way of transporting my horny teenage self to that fleshy Shangri-La.

Besides, I’d heard the beach was located at the foot of steep bluffs and I had this vision of abseiling all the way to the bottom, arriving breathless and covered in deep scratches from the underbrush, only to find myself surrounded by naked people from my parents’ generation who could best be described as, well, “saggy.” Or “lumpy.” Hardly worth the chunks of skin I’d just left behind on every bramble and thorn.

I recently spent a year in the Cook Islands where the locals swim in their clothes and those businesses who sell bathing suits must weep into their empty cash registers. I attended one company’s Christmas pool party where a young girl leaped into the water wearing a white dress that would not have looked out of place at her First Communion.

There was the occasional report – invariably uttered in a tone of moral outrage – about European tourists sunning themselves in the nude, flaunting both themselves and the Christian values of the locals, but that always seemed to occur on a beach situated exactly opposite wherever I happened to be located at the time.

I’ve always maintained that a man can never see enough boobies in his life but, for some strange reason, I seem to have already achieved my allotted quota. If I’d known I was approaching my designated cut-off point, I would have paid more attention. Or at least taken photos.

Reality checks come in many guises. This week, for instance, it was the kid manning the cash register at the nearby Caltex petrol station.

I’d stopped in to buy a newspaper and, noticing a photo of reigning Miss South Pacific Joyana Meyer on the front page – clad in a coconut bra and grass skirt as she attended the Pasifika Festival in Auckland – I blurted out that I knew her.

(Full disclosure: I actually consider Joyana a friend. I took her photo on several occasions when I worked for the Cook Islands Herald. I also shot her for the 2011 Miss Cook Islands calendar, only to have her father insist he had the better shot. Yes, his sunset was more colourful than mine. But I couldn’t help but notice that Joyana is wearing more clothes in Daddy’s photo.)

The kid was impressed. He asked me how I knew her.

I told him I’m a journalist, that I’d just spent a year working on Rarotonga.

“A journalist,” he said, his eyes lighting up at the sheer glamour of it all. “How do you become a journalist?”

I very nearly told him the truth: being in the right place at the right time, lucky breaks, knowing people. Instead, I put on my Mature Adult Hat and said, “I went to school.”

That was not a lie. I did attend Kwantlen University College for a year. Even scored a Certificate in Communications. Says so right there, on my CV. Not sure I remember anything I learned in class. Not sure anything I learned in class ever helped me get a newspaper job. But, hey, like I said, it does look impressive on a CV.

“I’d like to do something like that,” said the kid. “I’m 23 years old, working in a petrol station, and I don’t know what to do with my life.”

Oh. Really?

I very nearly told him another truth: That faint light I see at the end of the tunnel? It’s a birthday cake with 60 candles on it. I very nearly told him that, even with 23 well and truly in the rearview mirror, I, too, have no idea what the hell to do with my life.

The kid was impressed that I was a journalist. I didn’t spoil the moment by saying I was an unemployed journalist. That I’d just spent the previous week sending off job applications to newspaper editors I am reasonably confidant will never bother contacting me. That I have e-mailed all my media mates in town and none of them has even bothered to expend the energy it takes to hit Reply and type “Go away.”

That, right after I bought the paper, I was heading to a seniors’ residence where I would spend the day in the laundry room, praying to the Baby Jesus that I would not have a close encounter of the fecal kind.

Twenty-three and no direction? Ah, my friends, those were the days.

They say that time moves at a different pace in the tropics. That the temperature is too hot, the air itself too languid for anyone to entertain thoughts of travelling any faster than a moderate shuffle.

Despite that dearth of forward momentum, my one-year contract in the Cook Islands somehow managed to come to an end, resulting in my return to New Zealand in mid-February.

Where did that time go? How could 365 days possibly zoom by so fast? If it wasn’t for the 25,000 photos bunging up my computer’s memory, I might be tempted to think my time on Rarotonga was merely a dream.

The white sand, the cobalt sea, the brown girls: surely I did not just spend an entire year in their enchanting company.

Apparently so.

Back in New Zealand, I’m forced to walk faster, think faster, react faster, hell even talk faster.

The adjustment period has now stretched into its third week and I still feel like Adam, standing outside the garden gates, talking around a mouthful of apple, saying, “Uh . . . Eve? I gotta bad feeling about this.”

For starters, there are a lot of white people in this country. I’m used to being in the minority – the token white boy in the office. I liked that feeling. It made me feel special. Here, I’m just another old guy with a funny accent who could stand to lose 30 pounds and probably should shave every day just to be on the safe side.

Other adjustments:

* I haven’t driven a car for a year.

* I haven’t eaten much in the way of vegetables for a year. I’ve barely eaten meat in that time. There are brightly-coloured packages in the pantry and none of them say ‘Instant Noodles.’

* There is hot water in the shower. There is water in the shower.

* There are no lizards scuttling across the walls. There are no ants in the kitchen scouting for crumbs.

* Complete strangers not only do not greet me on the sidewalk, they make a determined effort to avoid eye contact.

* I no longer have the bed to myself. I no longer have sole rights to all the covers and pillows. I can no longer snore or fart without comment.

* I have to share. Bathroom time. Computer time. The toothpaste.

* There is a TV in the house. And a DVD player. I have forgotten how to operate the remotes and I don’t really care.

* I am no longer a working journalist. I am no longer working as anything.

* I am a former Island Boy. An ex-Island Boy. And I don’t like the feeling. Not at all.

***

I spent a large portion of that time on Rarotonga with a camera jammed into my face. Between the beautiful scenery and the even more beautiful people, it’s a wonder I didn’t burn out my Nikon’s motor drive.

Since returning to New Zealand, the camera has hardly been out of its bag. My inspiration well has run dry. Where’s a fair maiden in a coconut bra when you need one?

The camera might have gathered dust for several more months had Geon Art Deco Week not been held in Napier shortly after my return.

I’d missed this event in 2010 and so was pleased to have the hoopla to distract me from my post-tropical trauma. I’ve included a small collection of my photos with this blog posting.

Art Deco Week celebrates the 1930s and highlights the fashion and architecture and modes of transportation that were in vogue when Napier was being rebuilt after being levelled by the 1931 earthquake.

And then, mere days after Napier residents parked their Model Ts for another year, Christchurch is devastated by the second earthquake to strike the Canterbury area in five months. Lives are lost, historic buildings crumble to dust and an entire country mourns.

I wonder which architectural style will rise, phoenix-like, from this shattered cityscape? And will anyone be celebrating it 80 years from now?

No dress code required.

I set myself a challenge for the new year and I named that challenge the Daily Photo Project.

The plan was simplicity personified: post a new photo on this blog site each and every day of 2010. What I didn’t know at the time is this: simplicity is a bitch.

For instance, do I take a new photo every day, or post a new photo every day?

It quickly became obvious that weather conditions would play a factor in this project. As would the availability of free time on a workday.

And so the parameters shifted. If I managed to capture several excellent images on one day, I gave myself permission to archive some of them for later. Just not too much later.

One problem solved. Leaving this question: What do I take photos of?

I may not know a lot about depth of field or F-stops, but I know what I like. And so I just kept my eyes open for anything that struck me as interesting or oddball or colourful.

People shots tend to be eye-catching and, because it’s summer here in New Zealand, I didn’t have to look far to find the good and kind folk of Napier out and about in the sun. Armed with a telephoto lens — because no one appreciates a total stranger sticking a camera in their face — I walked to the nearest beach.

I tried to be judicious in my subject matter, because even in a public place, people deserve some privacy. I hesitated for a long time over posting the photo of the naked toddler frolicking on the beach (Jan. 20). In the steely, pursed-lipped, unwavering eye of the law, would this somehow make me a child pornographer?

I finally did decide to download the photo to my blog because a) there are no visible genitalia (I may have taken the photo but even I have no idea of the kid’s gender; b) there is an obvious sense of freedom in the action, the sort we all enjoyed before the responsibilities of adulthood drained such golden-hued fun right out of us; and, c) it’s just a bum, for crying out loud.

Not that bums can’t get you in trouble.

An example: Viking Woman and I have just hiked to the highest point on the island of Aitutaki. I snap off several photos, including one of my beloved framed by the perfect cobalt blue of the ocean. Later, the photo is one of several used in a travel story, published in the Langley Times, about our visit to the Cook Islands. Forty thousand copies; 40,000 households looking at . . .

“My ass!”

“What’s that, honey?”

“There’s a picture of my ass in the paper.”

I clear my throat. “Actually, that’s a very nice photo of you looking out over the jungle and the water,” I say. “Readers will look at the scenery.”

“Readers will look at my ass.”

“I—”

She cuts me off: “Here’s a news flash for you, Mr. I Paint With Light. You never — and I mean never-ever — take a picture of a woman from behind. Are we clear on that, or would you like me to have that tattooed on your forehead?”

“Yes, dear,” I say, nodding maybe a little too vigorously. “Love you!”

And that’s how I learned that cameras are dangerous tools and you really do need to be careful where you point them.

I have a friend whom I’m going to call Carl, to protect his privacy from being violated, and my ass from being kicked.

I haven’t seen Carl for many years, not since Viking Woman and I embarked on our Damn The Pension World Tour, but he was once a valued member of our social circle. That’s because Carl was the Mr. Fix-It Friend. As opposed to the Pickup Truck Owning Friend or the Computer Tech Friend.

We’d often phone Carl and say something like, “Hey, buddy, why don’t you come over for dinner Thursday night. And bring your tool belt.”

Other than hearing through the grapevine that he was now divorced, I’d lost track of Carl until he sent me an e-mail this week, asking how we were doing, where we were doing it, and, oh yeah, did we want to attend his wedding. In Thailand.

Yeah, right. What?

Apparently the story goes something like this: one of Carl’s workmates won big bucks in a lottery a few years back and now either lives in Thailand or spends a lot of time there. This lucky friend recently invited Carl to visit him. He might even have paid for Carl’s ticket for all I know. But, while Carl was playing tourist, he met a Thai woman. They got along, as they say, like a house on fire. In fact, Carl was so consumed by the flames of love that he proposed.

I know, I hear the alarm bells as well.

Look, I know this is going to sound absolutely terrible, and I do wish Carl all the best in the world — he did, after all, once refinish our bathroom after a steak dinner  — but whenever I hear about a man becoming blindly enamoured with a woman while visiting a foreign country, my first reaction is to ask this question: “Does her pet name for you translate into ‘Mr. Green Card’?”

Yes, she is probably a very nice person. And, yes, Carl does deserve some happiness in his life, as we all do. After all, he did build that closet in our spare bedroom after we served up a very yummy barbecued salmon with all the trimmings.

So why am I humming a song from Miss Saigon? Why am I hearing the dialogue from every bad movie made about the Vietnam War: “Only five dollah, mister, and me love you long time.”?

What is the attraction non-Asian men have for Asian women?

I suppose it starts with that whole “geisha” fantasy. That she — all four-foot-nine of her — is going to massage your back by walking over it. That her sole purpose in life is to worship and obey you. That she is the perfect blend of exotic and erotic and mysterious, and has obviously been trained from an early age in the art of pleasuring a man. Which includes making allowances for the only two things he wants to do after sex: watch the sports highlights and fall asleep.

This attraction cuts both ways of course. When Viking Woman and I lived in the Cook Islands, we saw a lot of local women married to papa’a (white) men. These guys were often less than pristine examples of manhood, making up for an over-abundance of body hair with an under-abundance of teeth.

And yet they were somehow considered a catch. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe the women just wanted something different on the menu than the smorgasbord of fellow Cookies surrounding them. Maybe snagging a white man represented prestige of some kind. Maybe white skin somehow equated to opportunity or more money or, at the very least, a different passport and the possibility, however remote, of moving from a small island out into the Great Big World.

You read horror stories about some of the women you can encounter in Southeast Asia. About how, under that mini-skirt, they’re packing the same meat and two veg as you. About how, once the ring is on their finger, they turn into dominating shrews. How, once the stamp hits the immigration papers, they simply disappear one day into that Great Big World, leaving behind an empty closet and an emptier heart.

I hope none of this happens to Carl. I hope he and his Thai bride have a long and happy life together. I hope they make plans to see as much of the Great Big World together as possible.

And, if those plans include stopping in New Zealand to see us, we will welcome them with open arms. Because that’s the kind of friends we are.

And because we’re thinking about taking down one of the walls in the lounge to make an archway. After dinner, of course.