Arriving in Christchurch

At 3.30am I jumped in my car and drove to Tullamarine Airport. It wasn’t until I was checked in and through all the gates that I finally relaxed! As luck would have it however, as I’m lining up, friends from my soccer days joined the queue so the boring-waiting-in-line part of traveling became rather pleasant! After that, I ended up enjoying a croissant and long black at Brunetti’s no less!!! There I met a couple from Melbourne who were The flight was -well it was as perfect as it could be with Jet star- tiny seats all crammed in – except this time I actually fitted into one seat instead of edging across into two! The food, however was a treat and not overly expensive. Recently, having discovered Sumosalad, I was delighted to see that I could order a chicken pesto pasta salad – and it was delicious! In between sleeping and eating I snatched a few conversations with my neighbours. To my right, across the aisle, was a former Kiwi who was heading back to Christchurch to visit her grandson and celebrate his first birthday. Next to her was a lovely young couple from Ireland. Meantime next to me was a mother and daughter from Germany. For the mum this was the trip she had wanted to take since her son had traveled there some years ago. They were getting a van and driving around NZ for 2 weeks! What a worldly trip without leaving the plane! The funny thing is, reading this sounds like I did nothing but chat to people. In reality, they were snippets of conversations where people connected and for those brief moments I am grateful.

Shirleen was there to meet me at the airport. It was so wonderful to see her again. Of course we haven’t stopped talking! As we left the airport, Shirleen began to tell me all about Christchurch. If I had written this last night, I would have said between what I was seeing and what she was saying I was totally confused. However in the clarity that comes with rest, I realized that I had received an amazing sociological, historical and politcal narrative about Christchurch. We drove through the suburbs of the wealthy, passed by many schools and drove around the University of Canterbury. Did you know that because of the earthquake and as a means of encouraging students to come back here to study, the government started paying the first year of fees. Now apparently the Labor government are planning on rolling out no fees for all universities in New Zealand for their first three years of study. How fabulous is that for New Zealand students!

There is art galore in Christchurch! Where I am staying is right near a number of galleries and I mean, right behind me! Then there are the magnificent wall-art features throughout the city. Apparently, since the earthquake the city’s tagging community have become a bit of a collective and respond to requests for walls to become artwork. Shirleen also pointed out the places where the homeless gather particularly at night. She was telling me that there seems to be a lot more of that since the earthquake; people living on the street, living in cars and staying in houses were there are still no amenities since the earthquake. One of Shirleen’s daughters spent a couple of years volunteering with what we would call soup vans.

The magnificent cathedral that was destroyed in the quake now has weeds growing all over it. Apparently the powers-that-be, including church and governments are arguing about what to do with it and it the meantime it looks like any chance of rebuilding what is there is slipping away as what is left rots and erodes away. Shirleen spoke of how embarrassed she was at the inaction of people to rebuild. Apparently, local government allowed people to take their time deciding what to do, that if buildings were pulled down the ground was to be planted with grass while decisions about building again were made. At the same time, they allowed for people to open up business in their homes. While this may be something we are accustomed too in some parts of Australia this is a new phenomenon for Christchurch and as such has ended up contributing to the slow reconstruction of Christchurch. Another aspect of the quake I had not considered was the loss of paperwork. So many businesses lost all their files and recorded – mainly due to fire and water damage. Lawyers, doctors, accountants and other professionals along with people’s personal details and histories including wills have all been lost. Something we all value and yet so easily destroyed and lost. I know it’s not life threatening but it’s an impact that can have huge ramifications for society and the way we function. We spend so much time building systems yet they can be destroyed in seconds!

See what a fabulous time I’ve been having getting to hear, see and understand all this! How precious is it and privaleged that Shirleen is sharing all this with me!

Finally we ended up in Riccardo – at a Westfield shopping Centre where we finally sat down and enjoyed a lovely cup of coffee.

Why there? Shirleen’s neice Wendy was the marketing manager for a shoe shop that was having its grand opening. And there was a line-up! So we stood in the queue where by coincidence a friend or Shirleen’s arrived at the same time. As we entered, we received these beautiful goodie bags and yes they even included a great beach towel!

Then I met Shirleen’s sister Louise who was hosting the bar and where we also collected a glass of wine and a mini lemon meringue. There really were some fabulous shoes and hand bags in the store.

After that I was on my own and yes managed to catch a bus back into Christchurch back to the bus exchange. Thankfully I had some battery left on my phone because even though Shirleen had shown me around, I was still extremely disoriented. It was dark now and nothing looked familiar so I followed the dots on Google Maps and made my way passed Cathedral Square and down to the new Regent Terrace cafe area where I found Casa Publica.

What a lovely venue that was. The guy at the door made me feel very welcome and took me to a lovely quiet corner of the restaurant part – as opposed to the theatre or bar. There I sat and enjoyed a different yet lovely meal. The best thing was that when I told the waiter what I was thinking of eating – pork bellie with tunips and a pomegranate salsa – he recommended a pinot noir to go with it. Did you know that here in New Zealand you can order regular or large glasses of wine? Anyway given the prices I ordered a regular – and it was a match made in heaven. Love it when a waiter knows their food and wine combinations.

Having thoroughly enjoyed my meal I decided to treat myself to a liqueur and ordered a Cointreau on ice! It was the perfect way to finish my meal! As I was sitting there somehow I ended up talking to an Israeli family who were now living in Christchurch and they were out celebrating the wife’s success in having her first cooking book published. She has a tutoring business where her clientele are people who have disabilities and she teaches them how to cook. Their young son was in year 12 (with year 13 to go before uni) and the husband worked in IT.

All that said, I was done in and crashing fast. Mind you it didn’t stop me meeting briefly a lovely young couple from Argentina! After that, I walked back to my beautiful B&B and settled in for the night.

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