I finally made it. There it is and here I am: New Zealand! It’s a place I had never really expected or even wanted to visit — never felt the burning urge. But my newly expatriated friends Steve and Tom beckoned me to visit them in Wellington. So I heeded the call and booked the flight.
I packed for weeks to get my life condensed down to one small carry-on bag for 4 months of travel through 1st, 2nd, and 3rd worlds in northern and southern hemispheres which means both winter and summer climates. (I plan to travel from here to Southeast Asia.) The months leading up to the trip seemed to drag on, time itself getting longer and longer as the departure date drew nearer. Finally the day came and I stepped into the portal called Air New Zealand…
The flight was great. Very luxurious jet with 3 empty seats next to me so I was able to lie down and eat Xanax in peace. When I emerged from the portal, here’s what I saw. My first glimpse of New Zealand. This is actually a color photograph:
The Monday I arrived brought torrential rains and winds. It felt like a hurricane, actually. Then we had an earthquake in the afternoon. I had heard that Wellington was notoriously windy but this was ridiculous. The wind was so strong it would actually stop me from walking. I could lean into it and stay standing. My first day walking around, my pants just stayed soaked through. Everyone assured me this was not typical NZ weather. Though it is naturally windy here, that day was something special.
Now, let me just get all the negative stuff out of the way first. So I arrived in a storm that wasn’t just climatic in nature. Sadly, Tom and Steve have decided to end their relationship of nearly 7 years. It is painful for both of them and painful for me to witness as their friend. I find myself trying to be small and not get caught in the crossfire, which of course is impossible for me being both a big personality and a sensitive person in a small apartment. The house is full of heartbreak with everyone trying to stay safe. I love them both and that’s all I will say publicly about their relationship. Here’s a picture of Tom I shot one morning that I think captures the mood at home.
Seeing this dissolution happen before my eyes has left me even more doubtful of human relations and believe me, after Sebastian left I was already pretty dubious of love. Can’t we ever get along? Can’t love ever last? I always thought that love was forever. Hah! We are all such complicated beings. What one day feels like love, the next day vaporizes and turns to contempt and hatred. Is love real or just some sort of volatile elixir that softens us one moment and then look out when it wears off? Is life better off just avoiding all such pain and disappointment entirely, never getting close enough to be burned? Or is the good stuff in life gleaned by reaching out knowing full well that you’re going to get hurt? My personal jury is out on that one.
Back to New Zealand and more specifically Wellington which is where I am currently roosting at Steve’s place.
Wellington looks and feels remarkably like San Francisco. After having lived 14 years in the Bay Area of California, coming to New Zealand feels like I’m am back in the windy green environs of Northern California. The architecture, the topography, the weather, the Bay — it feels like I just discovered a new neighborhood in SF where there are no homeless people and everyone speaks with a British accent. Oh, one other thing, it’s almost entirely white people with a sprinkling of Asian and Pacific Islanders. This is the wonderful Cuba Street — a pedestrian mall that is full of pubs, thrift stores, and restaurants. Just to make me seem like an idiot proclaiming there are no homeless people here, notice in the photo the guy on his knees. He was drunk and stumbled to the ground just as I shot the picture. OK, so no place is perfect. A woman did go over and offer assistance in a kind sort of Kiwi way.
Wellington is the café heart of the country. I hear Auckland is like Los Angeles and everyone says that Wellington is where the groovy, alternative, coffee house-going people gravitate to. How they sit outside in the cold and wind is a testament to the tough New Zealand stock. Women don’t wear much makeup or hose. High flying fashion is not a priority here. They often are seen in bare feet and shorts on a day when I’m wearing no less than 3 layers of wool and thermal underwear. It’s not just that I’m skinny because Kiwis are not fat. The country is vastly trim and healthy looking.
There’s a sweet vibe in the air, the cops don’t carry guns, and it doesn’t feel like a nation on the verge of a nervous breakdown like the one I left behind. This is a what a country with a safety net looks like. I don’t think the US is ever going to get the greater wisdom that a country can be sustainable and secure if it invests in its infrastructure and the people’s health, education, and welfare rather than wasting it on its military. The US doesn’t get that real security is obtained by enriching the lives of the people rather than arming them. In the US, everyone is left to his own to succeed or fail. Unfortunately this puts people under a lot of stress, making the country a bit greedy if they succeed, disaffected if they fail, and praying to some god to make it all better. Hey, it’s America’s 3G network: Guns, God and Greed.
And this dear friend, is the beauty of traveling. It gives you better perspective on your own life and country.