Saturday, November 19, 2011

Trans-national Auckland

The Ferry Building, Auckland
Meeting people speaks to the trans-national character of Auckland, the Pakeha - Polynesian metropolis of the south Pacific. On the way into town I share a shuttle with Jonathan, a wine merchant who represents New Zealand with the country's finely fermented grapes. Jonathan lives in a small city in the South Island's wine district but he travels widely in the Pacific world marketing New Zealand wines. Alberta, Canada is just beyond the bounds of his success in the western world, while Singapore and China in the east are his main markets. The Chinese have become keen wine buyers, though Jonathan noted their preference for wine's investment value. “They'll buy a complete shipment of really expensive stuff and sell on half of it to pay for the lot.” His work gives him insights into the world of the 1%.

On the Half Moon Ferry into downtown I meet Llangand, a young commerce student going to Auckland University, “its one of the world's top 50”, to write the last exam for his degree. He's lived in Auckland for the three years of his studies and complains that its “a boring town, there's nothing for young people to do, no festivals, no nothing.” When I ask Llangand where's he's from, he pauses. He finally says he grew up in South Africa but notes that means nothing. He then goes on to speak of his identity as a Portugeuse/Sri Lankan. His mother raised him in Singhalese and, in addition to English, he is fluent in Portuguese. But none of this seems to matter, he has relatives in the United States, in New Jersey. “That's the best country in the world. I will to go there.” As we leave the boat he attempts to slip by without paying his fare, but he falters at the exit and joins the line-up. Even global citizens have to pay the piper. I wonder if he will be banker.

On my return trip I chat with Ruby, a ruddy cheeked woman who grew up on the shores of a then rural Half Moon Bay in the early 1950s. As we pass down the developed shoreline of the estuary she provides an affectionate reminiscence of her youthful adventures, “it was all farms and wild lands then.” She points out the site of her house on top of a ridge now covered with bayview mini-mansions spreading like an invasive species. “And over there (pointing to the quays of the yacht club), we played on the beach, and that little knob, right there, that's Pigeon Mountain. It was completely bush in those days. I climbed it with my brothers once.” And we continued so until the ferry docked and Ruby went off to take photos of the old spots for her mother in Nelson.

My hosts in Farm Cove are relatively recent immigrants from northern England. Charlie and Candy arrived in Christchurch in the 1980s, an eager young couple. Charlie was the last of his family to abandon Britain for this new world, parents and siblings already well settled by the time he and his wife arrived. But when they came they worked hard at fitting in. Both attended Maori lessons for several years, gaining language skills, but more importantly developing a sense of the different cultures of New Zealand and the challenges of living in a place with multiple myths of origin and purpose. Their sensitivity to this has led them along living paths that weave between Maori and Pakeha ways of being.

Waiting for my last ferry trip, I stop at the shipping container coffee shop to get my latte. Waiting by the window are four Maori women; mother, grown daughter, auntie and friend. They've just ordered 14 expresso coffees and chocolate milk and are giggling with anxiety, hoping the drinks will be ready before the Waiheke Island ferry leaves. They have three cars packed with kids and Elders at the landing, everyone wants a treat before heading over to the island for a funeral. They're worried too that their order will cause me to miss the ferry. Did I have a ferry reservation? Was I coming to the funeral? I am swept into their world and as the expressos come through the window we all run to the dock in turn, each returning to our own world of myth and meaning. I smile with the pleasure of having touched, and been touched by, this other world.

Some worlds are large,
and some worlds are small.


  1. Looking forward to more stories from our favourite country on earth (so far, at least! :) ). We hope you have a wonderful trip. It's minus 29C as I write this...

  2. David, I have plowed your driveway 3 times in the last 10 days!
    -39 in MacPherson this morning. Carmacks and the Junction are sub -40
    More snow forecast for the rest of the week!

  3. Sorry to be missin g all the snow and cold. Yeah rite!