October, 2002

Unfortunately shares in The Shanghai Forever Bicycle Company hit a pothole and slipped off the saddle. Inevitably the crossbar saved them from crashing, but the pain will take sometime to go away.

We, on the other hand, flew from the land of the rising sun to the land of the long white cloud, although these days New Zealand is more often covered by long whites, short blacks, cappuccinos, lattes and hot chocolate, such is the continuing rise of the cafe culture.

But allow me to digress, last you heard from us we were fighting tonsillitis in Tokyo and the chills in Chiba. We recovered (as you knew we would), but sickness put a dent in our travels. We made it to Tokyo and walked to Akihabra in the rain, but we didn’t buy anything, instead preferring to pay 20% more for our Sony digital camera at the airport when we had 7 minutes to decide what to buy before boarding our flight. Such are the effects of illness and jetlag.

Japan is still a fascination for us. Any country where a first-class sushi knife can be bought for 50p but the bus fare for 2.5 people to ride 15 minutes there and back to the shop to buy it costs 12 pounds has to be interesting. Likewise a good quality track-suit can be purchased for 10 pounds from Uni Qlo but a 20 minute taxi ride to get your goods back to the hotel will run to 150 pounds. Still, we love it, the people are kindly, polite and warm, but you learn not to take anything at face value, the owls are definitely not what they seem in Japan.

Auckland on the other hand, is increasingly cosmopolitan and sophisticated. Today we spent the day at Viaduct Harbour – the base for the current America’s cup challenge, visiting all the teams and admiring the technology involved in getting these huge racing machines into a competitive position. At 151 years of age this is the only sport that puts the cost of running a Formula One team firmly in the shade. We had to follow that with some decent Belgian beers and food – well you would wouldn’t you?

Still, we love it, the people are kindly, polite and warm (haven’t I said that before) the difference is in New Zealand they are genuinely interested in you. Why is that a problem I hear you ask? Well, it isn’t really, but it takes some time to get used to. Let me give you an example; you amble down to the corner store in the morning to buy apples/milk/papers or whatever and the shopkeeper asks you how you are. Nothing unusual in that, but here in NZ, by the time you have discussed your dyspepsia, dyslexia and diarrhoea your apples are sauce, your milk is mush, your paper is out-of-date. your dyslexia is dire and your diarrhoea has dried up. You return to base exhausted only to find your family moved on days ago having given you up for lost and your hotel bill has doubled because you failed to check out a week last Tuesday. It’s a different pace of life down here.

Last night we went to a firework display in Devonport. Very pleasant, low key and not nearly freezing cold as we have grown used to in the Northern Hemisphere. However, there was no Guy, no bonfire and the youngsters I talked to had not a clue as to why they were there – other than to party and watch fireworks. Of the adults I talked to, only one could conjure the reference to Guy Fawkes. And these were Kiwis of European ancestry. I wish I had asked some of the immigrants from India, Samoa, Pakistan, Tonga or Taiwan why we were all gathered in the Navy’s sports ground waiting for dark (doesn’t happen until about 2030 at this time of year) just to watch a few rockets travel sideways in the evening breeze. I can’t for a second believe that any of them would have any better idea about it all than the kids I talked to. Does it matter – nope I don’t think it does, but it strikes me that we are such creatures of habit and tradition that we do just go along with the flow. Speaking of flow, William has discovered that water does indeed flow down the drain the opposite way to the Northern Hemisphere. Unfortunately, that has given him another reason to avoid showers.

Gruntle

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