Thursday, February 07, 2008

I wanna be in Auckland toniiiighht........

Two weeks in Auckland town..thoughts from an expat….

1. "I find it hard to say, because when I was there it seemed to be shut."

That’s how Sir Clement Freud saw Auckland rather famously some thirty years back. In the interim Aucklanders love to feel their city has grown up somewhat. And indeed it has in many ways. There is nothing as breathtaking as sitting in a café in one of the city’s many beach side cafes looking out on the world’s most glorious harbour (Sydney eat yer heart don’t even come close) on a sunny day. Although that breath may be somewhat tempered by a) the inflated price one is charged for the privilege; and, b) the fact that the food served is more likely than not, shocking in places that have such views, or sit in other exulted inner city eating suburbs. To be honest, in my experience, good food is increasingly very hard to find in Auckland (four thumbnail sized, very chewy prawn cakes at Magnum for $10 anyone?) however the quality of the wine on offer rather tends to dull that disappointment, albeit once again at a silly price. And yet Manuel Bundy @ Turnaroundwith all that, when Auckland does do eating well, it does it exceptionally well. Like Il Buco’s pizza in Ponsonby Road, or the lovely Richmond Road Café. Or the wealth of hole in wall places a long way from the harbour or Ponsonby that get my preferred custom.

Or the music and parties like Turnaround.

Yep, much has changed but in 2008 sad to say there is a lot that hasn’t. Auckland is still closed. One tends to forget when you’ve been away for a while how much New Zealand is still at the end of the world..indeed, at the end of the known universe. That’s nailed home by the rotating DHL world map in Kuala Lumpur’s Airport which omits New Zealand. Or by the glaring absence of the swathes of luxury brand stores, the Amanis and the Guccis and the like, which fill the malls around the world, for better or worse. Or their mid priced equivalents like Top Shop. None have bothered. NZ gets Postie Plus instead. Or perhaps it’s because Auckland is still, three decades on, more or less, shut. I went shopping a couple of days after I arrived..looking for less tropical wear than I’d bought, and it took a moment or two before it hit me..everything was shuttered up. It was 6.30 on a Wednesday evening..a glorious one at that..and everything in Auckland was shut for the day. I’d forgotten, I really had, that in this wee country at the bottom of the world, everything shuts at 5.30 on the dot. So much so that I was told it was closing time and I had to leave a few days later as I browsed for a magazine. Sorry….

In any city of a similar size, or aspiringly cosmopolitan as AK, anywhere else on this earth, a shopping precinct like Newmarket or Ponsonby or Parnell would be happily open to 9 or 10, seven days a week. But not in Auckland….nope, as you finish work, we close! And then we have the multimillion dollar upgrade to Queen Street, which despite the whinging, is a clear and much needed improvement. But what the hell is the point if the place is closed. Queen Street should be open until 9 every night. The tourists must walk up and down there in absolute bemusement. Unless you want a plastic tiki, its shut.

2. Someone needs to tell the good men folk of inner city Auckland that facial hair, aside from a well groomed goatee, is never ever cool. The whole ‘mo-vember’ thing was a worthy thing but that’s all it was. Can we please say goodbye to the upper lip fuzz now. Mos are not and never have been attractive.

3. I’m continually amazed at how few Aucklanders, and I guess it’s even more pronounced once you leave the travelling big smoke (s) as their idea of OE is usually getting drunk in Earls Court and a bus trip around Europe, have any real knowledge of the world past Sydney or the Gold Coast, and even less of Asia. Seriously when the worldly TV channel owner asked me if life was good in Thailand….ahh, I live in Bali…isn’t that in Thailand?....are you over the tsunami yet..and so on, I’d had enough. And such was repeated over and over again over the past two weeks.

4. Both Brigid and I reeled from the dramas. How can such a little town have so many personal dramas, and, to be frank, totally messed up people..people who should, and have known better. It’s terrifying. At every turn you find people, often old friends, at each other, and others staggering from drama to drama, or worse, completely fried. And, overwhelmingly fucked up or recovering from being fucked up from excessive drug use (both legal and illegal…it’s not just the scourge of meth, the booze imbibed daily is both shocking and appalling and we both found ourselves slipping into it again). Once again, you have a false sense of nostalgia, soon shattered, and you forget, you really do, when you are away. The consumption gives the world a dark grey sheen that many seem to live under. Maybe its my age.

I leave Auckland this time really quite scared for a lot of people I care a lot for.


And just to, perhaps, lighten things a little again....found in KL

           Kuala Lumpur


Danielle said...

I dunno Simon. In order to have all the shops open for immensely long hours, you have to have iffy working conditions for retail staff. I'd rather put off my shopping until that one late night a week, so that the people behind the counter can have dinner at home with their peeps. I am clearly a crazy communist. :)

Timmy H said...

It just aint that cool to come home for a vist, then leave and slag it off like you are so much better. It IS the end of the world - end of story - and with that are some differences, most of them great IMHO. You can shop till you drop in some other shithole.

And maybe just your friends are messed up? I know people tyring to raise 2 kids in a bedsit in London and going INSANE...

Simon said...

Hi Timmy, don't get me wrong I love NZ big time, which is why I do rant and rave about these things. Maybe it us just my circle but I don't think so. P in particular has cut a gruesome swathe across Auckland society...its fairly hard to miss it. Quite a different thing from the pressures of raising kids anywhere surely.

D...ah, the joys of a very high employment rate I guess. In Asia most shops don't open until 11 or even 12 so the hours are not that long. Still, its hard to argue that there are many who'd be happy to work the extra hours...when I was in retail the late nights were the best part.

concerned_citizen said...

Testify, brother.

As a resident of this town I often fume at the shopping hours / s h i t e public transport and general podunk-ness of the place. It just feels like such a waste of potential.

Ex-expat said...

The problem with Auckland is that there is no life in the soul of the CBD as everything takes place in the suburbs.

Build more central-city apartments I say!

However you wander to upper Queen Street there is plenty of life in the Korean resturants around 9pm-10pm.

Jordan said...

Hmmm, this is interesting and makes me wonder what quite it is that I am moving back to, after six years in Wellington.

Woofer said...

Sorry Simon but this strikes me as dodgy in a few ways. If you know that many people who are damaged from alcohol and drugs, then they obviously have trouble dealing with reality anyway. I must be naive but amongst my friends, I don't know anyone who has used P (or heroin or even speed) cos they know its dangerous. On the Auckland being closed front, have to agree that it would sometimes be nice if the city hummed along a bit more after hours but we're still only just getting big enough to support that and Auckland is a work in progress. However, you have to ask yourself if late night shopping defines the character of a city. Perhaps it can be way cooler to have a city where the shops do close in time for people to spend time with their families and go to the beach after work, etc. Are you comparing to Bali which does have the incredibly low standards of living that you say we are mercifully free of in NZ (along with sex tours and blatant corruption, bombs in night clubs etc. etc.). And if you honestly have friends and associates who haven't travelled beyond Australia, and don't know the diff between Thailand and Bali, then get some new friends. Ones that aren't knocking themselves to pieces with artificial stimulants.
I mean all of this in a nicer tone that e-mail allows. Sorry.
I really liked your comments about Labour and Helen and how lucky we are. I'm praying Labour get back in this year.
Hugs to you and yours and hope life in Bali treats you well.

Simon said...

I'm sorry but argument that closing the shops allows people to spend more time on other leisure activities only holds true if you also close the bars, restaurants, cinemas and everything else after 6pm. Working in a shop is not a compulsory activity. Like every other job in NZ, you do it if you want, and of course working evenings gives one a free morning to sit in one of the countless rather good lazy coffee shops that Auckland has. There are many folk who would happily do it.

I wasn't thinking of Bali in particular, more the world in general. Major shopping precincts do tend to be open in key areas. Not everywhere but shopping in Queen St, Parnell and Ponsonby, opening later and closing later would give each area a massive boost.

But Bali for all its woes does have something that NZ could emulate..its serious crime rate, which, even allowing for under-reporting is only a fraction of NZ or Australia. Its nice to be in place that, with the odd aberration like that poor Australian girl (likely killed by a friend or lover it seems)you can still leave the door unlocked rather NZ used to be.

Simon said...

I should say.."Like NZ mythically used to be"

Blair said...

I know if I was living in the urban hellhole of the pacific I would probably smoke a lot of P too.
I think the good thing about new zealand is that we dont have as much of a massive 24 hour consumer driven society like a good amount of countries.

Joe Descartes said...

Hi Simon
Agree with most of your observations - and i live here. (not so much the numbers of people fucked up so badly but that may be the different circles...).

However, I can't help but feel that Auckland is growing into itself. As it moves to 2 million people and becomes a truly cosmopolitan city, THAT's when these things will become available.

I just hope that the narrow minded bigots and thugs that run the City Council at the moment don't screw things up over the next few years!
Mark Graham

Cactus Kate said...

#4 is too true.

Felix said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Felix said...

Yup... bang on Simon... I think you may just be observing NZ catching up to the rest of the world in some respects. (aside from the shop hours thing, and that will change to be sure)

In particular with reference to the "drug problem"... Melbourne had herion, LA had crack... NZ has P... whether or not you're readers think the problem is real, percieved or the creation of a hyperbolic media, it would appear you have friends that have problems and your concern for them is justified!

Perhaps some of the responses are not to your blog, but simply posted as a pavloic reacion to any "negative" thoughs about the city you and your responders love.

Just a thought...

Simon said...

Guys you wanna try living in Prague! Shops close early here too, and so do half the restaurants. Produce is terrible and there are no Asian restaurants to speak of, just a bunch of quite good (but not brilliant) pizzerias.
Case in point: I read recently that my local supermarket "now" had coconut milk!
Mind you, the beer's cheap and the architecture's amazing.
Guess every place has its strengths and weaknesses. Auckland has some pretty amazing strengths, I would have thought, and those weaknesses seem to be getting ironed out.

Stuart said...

Actually I feel like I'm on P just trying to read your blog, all that thin white type on a big blackground! (sic). It's a well known fact that it's much easier on the eye to read black text on a light background.

The problem with downtown Auckland is that we've lost all the private businesses and like the rest of the world's malls, succumbed to chain stores with generic Chinese manufactured items. One has to search hard to find a privately owned store selling NZ made. Also, Queen St is approximately 50% banks, insurance, finance, accommodation, there are actually very few retail stores. Most people now drive to the traffic free Sylvia Park experience, where generic global brands compete shoulder to shoulder staffed by underpaid young things many of whom cannot speak or understand English.

NZ started to dissolve way back in the '60s when we commenced lapping up the US fast food convenient lifestyle shown to us on TV. Over the last 40 years I've watched NZ form into a tiny offshore mall populated by obedient brand conscious consumers, against a backdrop of hardlit beautiful ancient landscapes.

The sooner we swallow our pride and allow ourselves to really enjoy the benefits of a pumping economy by joining up with the real country of Australia, the better. Someone once symbolically described NZ's economy akin to that of a dinghy drifting in the ocean.

mr spaceman said...

I blame the malls. They are open late but sadly add nothing of cultural value.