Whenever you move to a new place, you expect to pick up new habits. If the move is more minor, say, switching neighborhoods in the same city, it might just be that your habits are re-wired–a new coffee shop to stop by in the morning, a different route to walk your dog. When I decided to spend 4 months living in Samoa, I figured I would pick up new habits that I probably wouldn’t be taking home with me. And that has definitely been true; I’ve become accustomed to cracking open young coconuts on a hot day, taking daily cold showers, drinking instant coffee, assuming all food is for sharing (well that one wasn’t much of a stretch for me)…to name a few things. However, I did not expect that I would get back into the habit of reading the paper.
Now, I will freely admit that I’m somewhat of a news junkie–probably, this started in childhood with the eager devouring of the daily comics nestled in the back of the Arts & Entertainment page, popping bagel bites into my mouth as I savored that glorious time of day known only to children: ‘afterschool’. But where most kids’ affinity for the paper would end at Calvin & Hobbes’ antics or Garfield’s inexhaustible laziness, mine continued with the introduction of “Current Events”, that mysterious subject that saw my older brother occasionally perusing the paper. When my time came, I happily took scissors to the San Jose Mercury, pasting whatever articles caught my 10-year-old mind as ‘big news’ onto my wide-ruled binder paper and practicing the art of ‘summary.’
My news consumption reached an all-time high shortly after I got to college. My God!, I realized. I can read the news online instead of writing papers, and consider it EDUCATIONAL. The transformation was simple: ‘productive’ activities used as procrastination = not procrastination! I gleefully devoured scores upon scores of CNN.com articles–once I discovered NYTimes.com, there was no stopping me. The 24-hour news cycle only viciously fueled my habit. Friends from college still remember the moment I discovered Patrick Swayze had pancreatic cancer, overhearing my dramatic gasps from the living room where I was ‘working’ on a paper (I stand by that grieved response, BTW).
But the practice of reading the paper was largely lost to me. Why carry around that large, awkwardly sized publication that leaves inky residue on your hands and can never be folded up to the same size it came in, when you can scroll through dozens of articles on your crystal clear iPhone? Well, it’s a lot easier to eat a sandwich and read the newspaper than your iPhone, but that may be the only argument in the newspaper’s favor. Upon arriving to Samoa, however, my 24-hour internet plug into the 24-hour news cycle was cruelly pulled. At first, I simply lived in ignorance, stealing peeks of the news on the internet. But after some time spent discreetly flipping through discarded papers or reading over coworkers’ shoulders, I’ve truly re-discovered the pleasure in reading the paper. I will gladly fork over my WST2.50 for a crack at the Samoan Observer, “Your Award Winning Newspaper” of Samoa.
Of course, it turns out that reading the paper here is a little different than reading it at home. For one, although I’m lucky that most of the articles are published in English, there is a sizable chunk in the middle of the paper that is written in Samoan (albeit they mostly the same articles) that is basically dead weight for me. I occasionally attempt to practice my Samoan by staring at these articles, but my mastery of Samoan particles (almost all single vowels) has definitely not gotten there yet, not to mention the vocabulary. The writing quality can definitely vary, but seeing as I’m just grateful to be reading in English, I try not to judge much. There are usually international news items included from other news sources, which I am also grateful for, although I occasionally question the choice of topic, which often includes the most sensational and/or gruesome of US crime stories.
There are also classifieds and ads aplenty–a good reminder that not so long ago, the newspaper was crucial for job searching, selling unwanted items, and even checking on your stocks. Two days ago, I saw an ad for a local coffee shop that said “It’s our daughter’s 2nd birthday! Come by tomorrow for a free cupcake.” Sure enough, the next day, another ad appeared “Today is our a daughter’s birthday! Come get your free cupcake!” The ad space occasionally reminds me of high school yearbooks–if you buy your space, you can put basically anything you want there. This includes Happy Birthday messages, menus, ferry schedules, and TV schedules, amongst more conventional ads.
My favorite parts of the paper, however, have come to be those news items that so clearly demonstrate the flavor of daily life, as well as the smallness of this country. I’m no journalist, but I get the feeling that some of these headlines wouldn’t have made it into other papers. Some favorites include “Stale Bread Anger” and “Daughter Makes Minister Father Proud”–a story about a young woman who recently graduated from the University of Otago in NZ after taking a couple years off, whose father is the Deputy PM and is very proud of her. Touching, sure, but news?? Only here.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the internet and the digital age. I’m even a recent convert to the Kindle, although I do still prefer serious reading on paper. But there is a feeling of completion and contentment from sitting down and reading the paper from cover to cover, that it’s not possible to achieve with online news outlets. No matter how many articles I read on my iPhone, there will always be more, breaking news or archived. Some habits I will be glad to break when I leave here (not blinking twice at a meal of deep-fried everything, remembering to smile when people don’t know/forget my name and figure “Ching-ching” will do just as well, sleeping under a mosquito net), but I hope that once I get home, I’ll remember to just sit down and read the newspaper every once in awhile.
After all, I might learn something–and be able to eat a sandwich while doing it.