February 11, 2012
Before I left home I was told by many different people that the experience of studying abroad would change me. So far I can see that this is probably true. More real and relevant though is the fact that being abroad brings out positive traits that perhaps lay dormant in a familiar setting, for example, the ability to surrender. Every day I find myself surrendering to CHCH (popular abbreviation for Christchurch). Sometimes it is trying a new food: marmite on toast was pretty revolting, but the cranberry, brie, and chicken pizza was delicious! Sometimes it is giving up an afternoon to walk around the city without a map, allowing it to lead you.
I work NZ slang into my sentences so that it’s easier for people to understand what I’m talking about, I skip over the familiar brands at the supermarket, I assimilate and adapt.
Currently it is 3:57 pm on Saturday and I am sitting outside my flat enjoying the summer sun. I have had a mean week, really amazing. Gardens and dance clubs, oceans and mountains. It’s crazy to think that my adventure has only just begun.
The food here is really quite good. Kiwifruit and avocados are cheap, fish and chips are all over the place, and my flat mates like to cook (and cook healthy!). We’ve had several discussions about the difference in diet between here and the states. My friend Will refused to believe that there was such a thing as spreadable marshmallow (fluff), and there is general disbelief about the existence of aerosol cheese (ezcheese). I don’t miss ezcheese, but there are a couple food products that I will most definitely crave: goldfish and ramen. Neither of these things exists in New Zealand. Those who know me well know about my affinity for goldfish, now I will sadly have to go without for a few months.
About a week ago I ventured into the center of the city with a few friends from UWSP. The university is close to town enough so that it’s a short bus ride, but far enough away that it is a long walk. We figured out the bus system and I bought my first ever MetroCard! This was the point where I really started to feel like more of a local.
As soon as we got off of that first bus downtown the aftermath of the devastating earthquake was apparent. I hear people talk about “pre” and “post” quake CHCH, and now I understand really what they mean. The city is destroyed. Not completely, but still on every street it is visible. I think I’ll dedicate a whole post later on about preservation and architecture in post-disaster CHCH, but for now I will suffice to say that the way a city can rebuild itself after such an event is beautiful. The resilience of people in the aftermath of crisis is a thing to be greatly admired. One of the things we saw in our walk was the RE:Start crate mall. The spirit of CHCH industry lives on in these brightly painted shipping crates seemingly haphazardly stacked around a central square. This marketplace is all temporary, but the effect is so sweet as that I think it will stay standing even when the whole city is rebuilt.
It is still pretty sad seeing what once was soaring cathedral reduced to ruin, or empty small cafés with broken glass windows still advertising the special of the day on an abandoned chalkboard. Part of our walk brought us to “The Peterborough”, which is some sort of manor or hotel which is set for demolition. Skirting around a fence I found myself in a place so beautiful in ruin that I don’t think it could have been as wonderful any other way.
After wandering around the downtown sector we visited the Botanic Gardens. I didn’t see everything there because I wanted to save some for later, but what I did see was enough to justify CHCH’s nickname: “The Garden City”. Soaring old gnarly trees, fragile rose gardens, sunny paths, and secret pools. It was stunning. Although similar to the states in some ways it was still foreign in an indescribable way. It was also untouched by the quake destruction of the surrounding city, how lucky. Buildings can be rebuilt, but trees such as these are truly unique.
A few days ago Mackenzie took me along to the bay with a group of her friends from church. While we were in the car she held out a bag of Twix snack size candy, one of her friends asked what Twix was and Mackenzie said, “It’s sort of a wee biscuit!” Biscuit? I don’t know…I would say candy. Actually now I would say lolly, no one in NZ says candy.
Going to the bay was my first big excursion out of CHCH. Once we left the city the road started to wind its perilous way into the surrounding Port Hills. I was glued to the window. Seeing the craggy or grass covered hills descend sharply into the ocean is unique from anything I have seen before.
Even though the sun was intermittently behind clouds, the water in the bay was so blue that I could hardly believe it was real. That afternoon was spent largely on the shell covered beach and slightly in the water. Then tired from being out in the sun we returned to Ilam.
A couple days later was SPARKS IN THE PARK, a classical music event in Hagley Park (downtown) a crowd of 10,000 was expected to be in attendance. I went down with a couple Kiwis, a few pointers, and a PhD student from Switzerland. We had a total group of seven: Me, Katie, Erica, Alec, Robbie, Edward, and Ben. Sitting in the park as the sun set was wonderful, but pretty soon the group got anxious and we took off to find a cool reggae music gig going on at bar close-by. The rest of the night was spent dancing and drinking wine on rooftops.
So ended my first week in New Zealand! Now of course I have been here for 10 days, but I spent the last few tramping in Arthurs sound…more on that adventure soon!
Lots of NZ lovin’ from me to you!