“Where is Fiji?”
“What do they look like?”
“What do they speak?”
“How does it look like?”
These were the initial reaction of friends and family when we first told them that we were going to Fiji and occasionally, there would be well-meaning chimes of, “Oh, have fun in Japan!”
Sent on a mission to discover the answers to all the questions and (secretly) super proud to be the first 15 NUS Geography Majors to step foot on Fiji, we packed our bags and set off for a ten-day fieldtrip to the South Pacific island from the 15th to 26th of September.
Otherwise known as Big Fiji, the island of Viti Levu has an area that is slightly more than ten times the size of Singapore, but hosts ten times less the population. While there, we had the privilege to be part of a joint Geography expedition with the University of the South Pacific (USP). 70 Geography students accompanied Dr Mark Stephens from the School of Geography, Earth Science and Environment at USP. Our group of 15 Physical Geography students was led by Assoc Prof James Terry from FASS and Adjunct Prof at USP.
When we got there, we were greeted with friendly calls of “bula” (“hello” in Fijian) wherever we went. We probably did look queer to them, standing out as a conspicuous bunch on the streets with our fair skins and surprisingly fluent English. We were also mistaken as Japanese tourists so many times!
At our first stop in Nadi, Assoc Prof Terry was featured in a public lecture organised by USP’s Lautoka Campus. He shared about investigating a number of recent and historical tropical cyclones and the nature of their physical consequences for island environments in the South Pacific and beyond. Before joining the USP students on the 19th, we also had the chance to visit several key sights such as the Valley of the Sleeping Giant in Nadi and Lautoka town.
Upon joining up with the USP students, not only did we continue to be astounded and awestruck at the sheer beauty of the natural scenery (picture mountain after mountain amidst endless lush greenery), we were equally thrilled to be able to visit the Sigatoka Sand Dunes, fringing reefs at Coral Coast, geothermal springs at Waibasaga, Tatuba limestone cave complexes at Sawene and river terraces of the Sigatoka River. For many of us, it was our first time seeing waves break hundreds of metres away, at the edge of the fringing reefs; or stepping into a hotspring while measuring parameters like pH (a measure of acidity) and temperature; or collecting water samples from guano-filled (bat faeces) cave pools.
Textbooks came to life when we saw the intriguing calcite crystals, stalactites and stalagmites in the cave. All of the journeys to these sites consisted of hours of hiking through beautiful scenery, wading through rivers and battling an array of shrubbery but every ounce of sweat (and sometimes blood!) shed was well worth the effort. Armed with maps and equipment, we spent several meaningful days out in the field applying the methods we have learnt to collect measurements, plotting GPS coordinates and even stowing away little samples to bring home for analysis, to better understand the underlying processes at work. Our time in the field and interactions with the USP students really provided much insight into past and present human-environment interactions at the various sites visited.
Fiji was eye-opening for us all because of the wonderful landscapes it has to offer and the intriguing culture of the people, which we got to experience firsthand during our homestay at the Keiyasi village. Waking up to rooster calls and walking out to the village set against a backdrop of mountains with the morning mist lifting off, cold showers using multiple buckets, and thousands of stars and shooting stars painting the night sky- the homestay was a refreshing experience for city dwellers like us.
Initially, we had some minor culture shocks, but we got used to our surroundings soon enough with the help of the remarkable Fijian hospitality. Staying four days in the village, we were warmly welcomed by the local people and treated as family. Adopted as their daughters, sons, brothers and sisters, we quickly picked up local ways and fell in love with the quirky but meaningful customs like the Sevu-Sevu (a solemn ceremony performed before entering any village, which essentially asks for permission or to thank the paramount chief for granting visitors access to their land and welcoming them into village homes). Such a custom is representative of how these spaces hold special meaning to the people.
After ten adventure-filled days in Fiji, we reluctantly bade farewell to our homestay families, new islander friends, the land of friendly people,and the rolling mountains and clear rivers. Just like a popular saying we learnt during our time in Fiji, “Kiwis can’t fly, but Flying Fijians can”, having seen this part of the world, truly soaked in Fijian lifestyle, we got ready to go back over the Pacific Ocean, return home with stories and lessons to share, but all ready to fly out for the next adventure that might come our way.
– Article contributed by students from Module GE4220: Field Investigation in Physical Geography, Joanna Lim, Ang Zuo Jin, Ruth Soh, Nur Sufriena Bte Suhaini, Nicolette Ng Nur Azlyna Bte Mohamed Tahir, Shawna Low, Hannah Chiang, Rickson Tan, Mandy Song, Serene Ng, Michelle Fong, Joel Ho, Isaac Low and Lim Wanying