Saturday, April 16, 2005

Puk Puk Races

We got home from the village with plenty of time to have a swim and a rest before heading out to the Country Club that night. It was the night of the annual Madang Puk Puk Races, and we knew Amanda (another AVI) as well as several VSOs (international volunteers) would be there.

Puk Puk means crocodile, and I was intrigued to see what exactly racing them would involve. Barbara and Sam had laughed when we said we would be going to it that night, and had tried to explain what it would involve, but we were mostly still a bit confused when we rocked up to the Country Club – the more so because we were picked up in a minibus by some Dutch VSOs Jeremy knew who were wearing rather unusual outfits – loud 70s style shirts, and ENORMOUS sunglasses, and looking very much like they were ready for a big night out on the town. Unfortunately I forgot to take my camera, but check out Jeremy’s blogsite for pictures and his take on the night – the link is in the sidebar, as PNG Life.

As a fundraising event, the entry fee was 10 Kina, with which we received 100 Madang Dollars and a form guide to the races. There were 9 scheduled races, each with 6 competing puk puks, sponsored and named by local companies. The names were fantastic, and mum especially got a kick out of reading them all in advance – her favourite was named “Disaster”, and jockeyed by “Sunk out of Sight” (sponsored by a local fishing company I think) – she kept the form guide, but I wish I could remember some of the other names.

The puk puks themselves were wooden, and attached to fishing lines. The jockeys lined up at one end, the puk puks at the end of the line at the other end – the race was to see which jockey could wind their puk puk over the finishing line first (using weird fishing-rod like contraptions with a handle and a spindle).

It was just such a funny night. We placed bets on the different puk puks with our Madang dollars (more could be purchased if we ran out), and although the odds were set fairly randomly, they ranged from 5 to 1 to 30 to 1. We tried different strategies for placing bets – based on how strong the jockey looked, who had won a race earlier, the names, and finally by the longest odds – but the only strategy which worked for me was in the final race when I encouraged mum to bet an equal amount on each puk puk, as that way we were bound to at least break even! I lost every Madang dollar I had, but Mum managed to pick several winners – including backing Jeremy in the race he entered as a jockey (he’d entered it based on its name which was something about a dragon [my tattoo buddy] but as it turned out he was booted off that puk puk and onto another one - lucky for mum as it turned out because the jockey who took over from him on the dragon puk puk managed to win her a couple of hundred Madang dollars!).

The Dutch guys, however, managed to back winner after winner, ending the night with about 33 000 Madang dollars (from an initial pooled 200!), meaning they definitely had the advantage when it came to the final activity of the night – a blind auction, where all the Madang dollars could be used to bid on a variety of wrapped boxes and parcels donated by the various sponsors. No one knew what they were bidding for – the only clues were if the auctioneer mentioned the name of the sponsor company – eg if it was a parcel from Brian Bell (a PNG Grace Bros) you could assume it would be household items, or if it was a canned food company, well it would probably be fish or something. Mum had ended up with about 12 000 Madang dollars (I think) and so we were being strategic about our bets – we decided to go for one of the softer looking parcels, hoping it would be a designed t-shirt or tablecloth or something. But after out-bidding several other contenders (and being allowed to win by our Dutch friends!) Mum ended up with an absolutely HIDEOUS huge yellow checked men’s shirt that looked like it came straight out of Kentucky! Oh well!

Unfortunately (?) we had to leave before the auction ended as our ride home (the manager from the Resort, who mum had batted her eyelashes at when we realised the guys who picked us up were walking home) wanted to leave after an hour or so of the auction, when it became clear there was still at least another hour’s play left. So we left our extra Madang dollars with a very happy national family, and headed on home to bed before we could win ourselves a slab of corned beef or curried duck (like our ebullient friends!)

Quite a night! I think they raised a lot of money, and it was so much fun for everyone – such a fantastic idea that I’m still wondering how exactly we could fashion the racing lines and get the puk puks to have our own races here at M’ville.


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