Here's my theory. You know all that time you lost, stuck in traffic, reading magazines in doctors' waiting rooms, and in supermarket checkout lines? Well, it's all bottled up and sent to Samoa, a country where buses and inter-island ferries work to their own flexible schedules, where there is no such thing as haste, and time stretches out to accommodate you.

Lunch with my wife's extended family has sometimes been so pleasingly protracted, people go off and have a sleep - then come back to prepare the table others are still sitting at for that night's dinner in an hour or so.

Time is something Samoa seems to enjoy in abundance and the leisurely pace is seductive.

If you are there on holiday it gives you back all those lost minutes and hours, but of course it isn't like that for everyone - as I learned while lolling in an ocean-side freshwater pool on Savaii one lazy afternoon.

I was joined by a handsome man in his late 20s.

He came from a nearby village but had done so well in school he'd been sent to New Zealand for further education and now had a good job with plenty of prospects in a government department in Wellington. He sent money every week to the family which had supported him through the years.

However, he was now back in Samoa, for how long he wasn't quite sure, because his father - a matai - had died.

He'd taken leave, come home and was helping supervise the occasion. He might be able to get back to Wellington in a fortnight.

Because of his family's social position they were also having to pay for the extended feasting and ceremonies - he said it might cost him something like $15,000 - but that wasn't his main concern. It was that he had only limited time off work. And it had been the second time in a year he'd had to come home for an important family occasion.

Then he would have to return later for the laying of the headstone, and more costly feasting, and if - as he expected - he was appointed the matai, he might have to give up the life he had made in Wellington and return to his village.

But he also said that he couldn't see how his employer would be keeping him on anyway; he was having to take so much time off.

Time - at least the conflict of two different concepts of time - was his irreconcilable problem.

We shook hands as he left and I lolled in the pool some more.

Time was something I had plenty of right then.

As I was drying off in the warm breeze a car pulled up and three German guys got out. They admired the clear waters of the quiet pool beneath the palms and asked if they could swim there. I told them all they had to do was pay a few tala to the lady in that fale and they could enjoy it for as long as they liked.

"No," one of them said crisply to the others, "we are on a tight timetable."

They drove off, probably wondering about the sun-dried white guy in the lava lava who seemed to find something very amusing in what he had just said.