December 2004, A Year In NZ

As nomenclature goes, The Shanghai Forever Bicycle Company was a delight to discover.

Regular readers will recall I stumbled across that name whilst laid low with a bug, (kindly shared by William during our visit to Tokyo en route to NZ a mere two years ago). Since then I haven’t been specifically looking out for unusual names, but recently the TV news mentioned that one Pooja Chittenpecker (a New Zealand schoolgirl) had made it as far as runner-up in the recent Miss India competition and I have been chuckling at that one ever since, (which has been a source of general embarrassment for Jane and William when we are out shopping). However, I have more names to share with you. This one is not particularly amusing but the fact he is an 11 year old New Zealand boy from the North Auckland town of Kaukapakapa, (now there’s an interesting name) and has been identified as an important spiritual figure in Tibetan Buddhism, makes him worthy of a mention. The Kiwi Buddha is believed to be a reincarnation of a revered lama from Eastern Tibet who died in 1955.

This Southern Hemisphere’s first High Incarnate Tibetan lama is called Venerable Karma Kunsang Thubten Dorje Lungtok Nyime Pal Sang Po Pong Rinpoche. I don’t know which part of that name I like the best. “Thubten” has a certain appeal but so too does the (somewhat) alliterative “Pal Sang Po Pong” I can just see his Dad, Lama Shedrup (it gets better doesn’t it?) popping down to the Registrar’s office in his saffron robes to register the birth of his new pride and joy and being confronted by a bemused official who probably wondered why they didn’t just call the kid Tasman Thubten to save him future embarrassment at Kaukapakapa Primary School. Today, he, (the Kiwi Buddha) is attending some special ceremonies at Mount Cook and Lake Tekapo which are auspicious locations for a faith which places particular importance on water and mountain peaks. The scary thing about it is that these ceremonies include a fire pooja. Chittenpecker stand clear!

The previous examples highlight the fact that New Zealand is now a broad-based multi-national society and continues to change rapidly. Even the quiet urbanity of Christchurch is now enjoyed by many not of the traditional European or Maori descent. A good example of this is my current educational establishment Lincoln University, seen here in what is now our Spring. (A bit of it is behind the trees)


Once the preserve of white kids bent on learning more about multiple births in Suffolk ewes, advanced tractor maintenance or Cow Hydraulics 101, (it was the first agricultural college in the Southern Hemisphere), it is now 46% inhabited by mainland Chinese studying Commerce, Accounting, Management, International Trade and Finance, International Tourism, Computing and Macro Economics.

I especially like the student car park at Lincoln. The students from Asia, (or what we used to call the Far East) traditionally spend at least 4 or 5 years here, firstly doing foundation studies and then their degrees. On arrival in New Zealand they go shopping for a decent set of wheels. Being young punks away from home for the first time, (a long way from home) their favourite choices are the fast Japanese cars like the Nissan Skyline, Honda S2000, Mazda RZ whatever, Toyota totty tuggers and many marvellous magic Mitsubishi monster machines. Not a Vauxhall Nova in sight.

The car park is rather fun to walk around with it’s acres of glistening Japanese super cars and a smattering of new BMW’s, Mercedes and even the odd Ferrari. But whatever car they choose it has to be modified to their individual taste, In other words the entire car must be turned into Snoopy, Scooby-Doo, Tweetie-Pie, Garfield, Bart Simpson or whichever their favourite cartoon character might be. A “conversion” requires full bumper kits, steering wheel, seat covers, gear shift, mirrors, sunshades, carpets and aerials. The back window shelf must be completely covered with soft toys and fuzzy creatures clinging to the glass. In fact any part of the car that can be modified to portray the chosen one’s face, expressions, colours or trademarks is appropriated.

On the other hand, most Kiwi students turn up in more modest forms of transport like battered utilities held-together with fencing wire and parking tickets, old Ford Sierras and even the odd camper van. I tend to park the van in a corner of the Kiwi yard which looks like this:


The Second Semester of year 2 is now all finished except for the final exams which I am studying hard for. (Now what subjects did I take this Semester??).

Last Semester we grew some grapes in between studying 4 subjects and actually made a wine which has had a wee rest and is ready for assessment in a few days. Given the compressed time scale, the challenge of making something drinkable is quite considerable and in that kind of environment chemistry is rather more important than viticultural or oenological skills.


So, I thought about calling it De Chem. However, we were lucky enough to be assigned a row of Merlot, conditions were such that we harvested good fruit – and here is an actual picture of our actual grapes.

We had the compulsory wine tasting at school this week and got our Microvin assignments back. I managed to scrape an A+ or rather Marilyn did. I just wrote up her life and times.

We had a few visitors last year and those of you who haven’t yet visited well, you know who you are! We enjoyed some great weather, in fact here’s a sunset shot from our backyard:


clip_image018We haven’t had such good weather as yet this year, so there’s no shortage of water in the hydro lakes, mind you there are a few rivers that are suffering from a shortage of bridges… But there were some beach days – witness this view from our favourite cafe/bar on the beach at Sumner.

I’ve been writing this communication for weeks now. No. I lie. To be truthful its months, no its nearly years. Never mind. It is time to move on. Before I do that I’d like to share with you a (mental) image of this fair land. As the anniversary (last year) of arrival loomed, Jane and I had to secure New Zealand driving licences. I used to have one. I remember it well, a little hardcover book in a fetching shade of blue that had little stickers in it to prove that you were licensed to drive one or more of: A car, a truck, a tractor, a self-propelled gun turret, a bulldozer, an invalid carriage, an omnibus, a motorcycle (engine size not to exceed 12 litres), a self-laying tracked vehicle with amphibious intentions etc. Well, to cut a short story long I have long since lost mine. In fact I think I may have eaten it whilst waiting for the self-laying tracked vehicle I was driving to re-emerge from an amphibious expedition. Frankly, I don’t remember. Nor did I care much because the New Zealand licensing authorities would have a record surely? Surely! I’m talking to you!

Long drawn-out communications with various bodies governmental ensued. You know the kind of thing, The Waitemata City Council had evolved into The Waitakere Greater Regional All Encompassing Power and driving licences was now the responsibility of a central government department. Any old licence data that the Council had left over from the transition was long ago moved to The New Zealand Government Department of Disease Control, Dog Registration, Chicken Soup Manufacturing Regulations, Unmarried Mothers’ Welfare and Two Boxes Of Old Licences that No-One Remembers Anything About Since Fred Retired. I guess I never thought old Fred would actually retire, but he did, and no-one had a record of my ever having driven in this country. So I had to start from scratch and possibly sit a new test. I protested, I withdrew my support for old Fred’s retirement fund, I claimed I was 1/98th Polynesian and was therefore exempt from being tested because my feet were bigger than the wheels, but, to no avail. (I guess I should have claimed to be Moslem – then it would have been to know a veil).

I’m cutting a short story long here aren’t I? Both Jane and I had to sit the theory test to convert our pink (don’t ask me why) UK licences into green NZ licences. Wanting to be chivalrous (and practising cowardice), I let Jane go first. Appointments were made and Jane passed her test, pausing only to observe an Egyptian gentleman who didn’t understand why he had failed, until it was pointed out that his chances of success would have been better had the fire brigade not been called to cut him and the examiner free from the remains of his car.

I sat and passed and sure enough no physical driving test was required because we were only planning on cruising the roads and footpaths in a car or tractor rather than an omnibus, a self-propelled gun turret etc. etc. But let me tell you, not all of the questions were easy.

For example:

If your Ute breaks down on a Motorway, do you a) Pull over to the left and stay with your vehicle until assistance arrives? b) Do you rev your engine and sound your horn? c) Do you let your sheep graze the central reservation?

When approaching a pedestrian crossing do you a) Stop and allow pedestrians to cross the road safely? b) Do you rev your engine and sound your horn? c) Do you let your sheep graze the kerb?

If you’re driving in the country and you approach a herd of sheep blocking the road, do you? a) Slow down and wait until they pass? b) Do you rev your engine and sound your horn? c) Do you get out of your vehicle and apply your own brand mark to as many passing sheep as possible?

If you are driving and visibility is suddenly reduced by bright light or heavy rain, do you? a) Stop on the roadside until visibility improves? b) Do you rev your engine and sound your horn? c) Do you stop and barbecue your own sheep or, d) someone else’s sheep.

That last question threw me because it was different to all the others – it had four choices and for a time I assumed it to be either a printing error or they were pulling the wool over my eyes. I know, jokes like that have certain ramifications.

So time passes or fugit or whatever and we are now nudging the 2nd anniversary of our arrival. Jane is continuing with her ceramics and now has a wheel and a kiln, not that we have set them up yet – but we will. Jane also continues her brave work with fatties for Weight Watchers. So I guess you could say she is potting and de-potting.

clip_image020We finally secured the necessary educational help for William and he is enjoying his life very much. All in all, he’d rather be fishing. Not necessarily catching fish, more likely fishing traffic cones and signs out of the river than going to school, but he manages to combine both activities without undue stress. He is still a challenge and a delight, a pleasure and a fright, he is a wee hoot and a teenager to boot. He works several part-time jobs and is in demand for his character and personality. For those of you that are unfamiliar with our current lifestyle, this is where we live in Christchurch with the river Avon all tree-lined and duck-lined at the end of our street.

clip_image022Weekends are spent hanging out in Hanmer Springs 150km North East of Christchurch where we hope to develop this piece of bare land into some kind of Horticultural heaven. We may grow wonderful wine, hoary hazelnuts, a dynamite dwelling or a combination thereof. William may just grow padlocks, gates and entry control systems.

clip_image024When we are not housebound we are camper-bound and this is how we lumber around this fair land trying to see and enjoy as much of it as possible. Unfortunately school and work requirements restrict the amount of time we can spend on the road but hey ho, – I’ll just keep revving my engine and sounding my horn.



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5 Responses to December 2004, A Year In NZ

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