After a month in India, New Zealand feels like being at home again. It’s cool and green. Oh, there are still the challenges an American wrestles with down under: driving on the left-hand side of the road, stepping off the curb while looking in the wrong direction, exchanging currency that uses a $ sign but is worth only about ¾ of an American dollar. But the Kiwis do speak English. Almost.
That is, native-born New Zealanders do. But at least in our part of town, there seems to be a high percentage of foreigners like us. We meet and greet in English (but with Chinese or Korean or Thai or Russian or—yes—American accents), which make us almost able to communicate. I’ve never had an accent myself, yet these people here keep asking me to repeat myself. They seem to be hard of hearing. So I repeat myself, louder, and they nod politely and pretend to understand me. They have all learned, as we have, the value of a smile. So we go on blithely misunderstanding one another with a grin.
We’re in the Auckland suburb of Takapuna on New Zealand’s North Island. On past trips to New Zealand we concentrated on the South Island, which I think is more popular with tourists. That’s where you’ll find one of my favorite spots, Queenstown, just outside of which is the bridge where bungy jumping got its start (and where Joy was afraid I’d be finished). This time, though, we’re favoring the North Island with our presence, because Takapuna is where Joy is taking a five-day course in cold wax painting.
She’s studying with Rebecca Crowell, the same instructor she had in her Ireland class. From her nightly reports on her progress, it appears Joy has come a long way since she began with Rebecca in October. I have to take her word for it. I thought she was pretty great back then.
Anzac Court Motel on Anzac Street is our home this week. Interesting name, Anzac. The name is the acronym (“Australian and New Zealand Army Corps”) given the annual anniversary of the first campaign incurring the first major casualties for Australian and New Zealand forces in the First World War. I’m can’t think of two other countries that share the same war-related remembrance day (many do share religious holidays, of course). Certainly it’s the only one to include both countries in the name.
When war broke out in 1914, Australia and New Zealand had been dominions of the British Empire for thirteen and seven years respectively. Now each April 25 the two countries remember those “who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations” from WW I to the present.
We’re doing little sight-seeing here because of the demands of the class. I did spend a day in downtown Auckland while Joy worked. I liked what I saw.
I stumbled onto the campus of the University of Auckland (I wasn’t lost, just meandering), a beautifully clustered array of independent buildings and magnificent, well-protected trees. Mostly, though, I enjoyed being the little old man on the bench watching the young students strolling—or racing—on their way to or from class.
For the cynics among our readership, I can report that I got into the city and out of the city on the bus with no mishaps.
Oh, I might have asked directions once or twice, but that was just a way of being friendly with the natives. No sense being standoffish.
Here, as elsewhere we’ve visited, when our American accent is detected, we are accosted with questions about our new president. I have to say he’s not an easy one to explain. Neither is an electoral system that makes it possible for a majority candidate to lose to a minority one. but I try. These conversations, and the fear often expressed, are a forceful reminder that the President of the United States isn’t just Americans’ leader; he is also their leader as well, and the uncertainty projected these day from Washington is meticulously followed and reacted to around the world. It must be a fascinating time to be a TV or newspaper foreign correspondent.
As we left Anzac Motel this morning another guest came into the reception area. Like so many others we’ve met, he immediately took us Americans to task for supporting our new president. Joy put these pictures in here, not to make a political statement but a pictorial one. Wish we could have videoed him; he captivated us with his marvelously animated face! We had to share the moment with you.
For each country on our itinerary I’ve been trying to read at least one book to gain little historical perspective into the current situation. So as we headed toward New Zealand I checked out some titles, then selected the one I couldn’t ignore: Christina Thompson’s Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All: A New Zealand Story. Be honest—could you have turned a blind eye to this one?
Ms Thompson was an American grad student in Australia when she met Seven (creatively so name because he was his parents’ seventh child), a dark, large, laid-back working class Maori. A greater contrast between him and the small, blond, middle-class hard-driving intellectual would be harder to imagine. Still, there’s no accounting for affairs of the heart. Romance, partnering and then marriage ensued. And children. And financial struggles (barely addressed by her grants and scholarships and his occasional day-labor jobs). Their lives form the skeleton of the book, but they aren’t why I bought the book. I wanted to learn more about the Maoris, New Zealand’s aborigines of Polynesian descent, closely akin to Australia’s aborigines and America’s Hawaiians, and Samoans, Tongans and other South Pacific groups. I learned a lot in this well-told narrative that weaves in insights into the effect of cultural displacement through the ages, the invasion of Europeans in the South Pacific, and all the misperceptions and stereotypes that have colored and continue to affect relations between these very different groups. A good read–and a safe distance from which to reflect on the many ethnic and minority groups in America and the misperceptions and stereotypes that even today color and threaten our relations.
Altogether, it’s been a good week.
JOY’S PICK OF PICS