New Zealand 2010 Notes

19 June 2010

I arrived in Auckland after marathon flights from China to Greece and then to New Zealand. Luckily, the jetlag is not too bad, as the time zone here is not too different from Shanghai, and I wasn’t in Athens long enough to re-adjust to European time. I am staying with family in the quaint village of Howick.

One of my discoveries in Howick was a quaint coffee shop called Cafe Paris. How would I describe it … eclectic! The walls are crammed with an odd, colourful collections of paintings and art – flying pigs, lavender fields, a family at the beach, a musical trio (tuber, whistle and violin) and a Rembrandt/Renoir. Also little ornaments on the sills: tortoises, cats, mice, a hippopotamus, a penguin, a pig, a pelican, horses and a fat lady in a swimming costume. From where I am sitting, I can see 4 mirrors (2 heart-shaped) and 6 clocks! I could go on and on. Very quaint.

I went to a wonderful classical concert the night before leaving for Wellington, featuring the Sibelius violin concerto and Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite, which was simply divine. Before that we drove up to the top of Mount Eden, which is a volcano crater on the edge of Auckland city – you will have seen it on one of the photos; it is all grassed now. In the morning, we took the ferry to Waiheki island, where we walked around the craft markets. It has a real village / hippie feel about it. We also managed to squeeze in a visit to the tranquil Fo Guang Shan Buddhist temple.

At the airport, I found some New Zealand music – a soprano called Kiri Te Kanawa and a modern Maori singer called Maisey Rika, who reminds me a bit of Freshly Ground and Nora Jones.

22 June 2010

I am sitting in the cafe in Te Papa (The People), which is the museum in Wellington. It is an impressive space with some stunning exhibitions, especially of the Maori and islander history, culture and art. Most remarkable of all (for me) are the wood carvings. I think the detail and quality surpass anything I have seen anywhere else, except perhaps Thailand.

Interestingly, the carvings, which are mainly masks, draw a lot of their inspiration and beauty from the tattoo art of the tribes, which is also exquisite. Apart from traditional culture, the museum also tells the story of colonialism. I will copy some of the treaty ‘Her Majesty’ entered into with the Confederation of Tribes. It is so blatantly exploitative as to almost seem like a joke.

25 June 2010

I have had a good day in Christchurch. This morning, I met with Jye Lu, a PhD student in CSR. We found a coffee shop for breakfast, then she showed me around the city, including the Canterbury University campus and the beach. The weather was perfect for sea-photos – overcast but with bright sun reflecting on the waves and shoreline. I managed to get a few photos of the seagulls in flight and reflected on the sand. Jye then took me to a discount store that sells outdoor clothing, so I could buy gloves, a scarf and a beanie, plus a fleece. Now I’m all geared up to face the South American winter!

As I write this diary, I am in Annie’s restaurant, at the Christchurch Arts Centre, sitting next to a log fire. I just had a delicious winter vegetable soup with home-made bread, and now I am sipping a port and scribbling away. The Arts Centre here is quite lovely. It used to be the university campus and all the buildings have an English abbey kind of feel to them. There are numerous galleries and also studios where you can watch the artists at work. One of the most interesting is someone who does ‘stone kinetics’ – essentially photography of male models in various poses with stone sculptures.

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