Friday, February 08, 2008

As I walk away from you / as I walk away from you

I can’t leave Auckland behind without commenting on what is an increasingly bizarre and irrational political situation. On my not infrequent trips back to New Zealand I’m always hit with how overwhelmingly wealthy the place seems to have become. Not stinkingly, offensively wealthy with extremes next to grinding poverty as you find in much of the world, across Europe, Asia and much of the Americas. No, there is no real wealth in global terms in New Zealand despite some having aspirations, but neither is there much real poverty as found elsewhere. Poor but not no drinking water poverty.

No, what always hits me, from Ponsonby to Mangere is a rough equity, across a range of course. New Zealand, especially when you consider its lack of natural resources al la Australia, and lack of population, has done rather well for itself in recent years. The populace is well fed, largely healthy, well educated, and has, with obvious exceptions, an economic stability it’s never seen before, at least in my lifetime. It’s as close to a real democracy with all the freedoms that requires as any society has ever been in history. It’s a happy, largely peaceful, clean country with an excellent infrastructure. The economy has boomed over the past decade and everyone who wants a job has one, and one which pays, despite the banging-on about trans Tasman inequity, as well if not better in real quality of life terms than virtually everywhere else on this planet. People take pleasure in whinging about all those things but seriously, get on a plane, look, get a life for god’s sake.

It’s a very different place to what it was ten years back.

Which brings me to the bizarre. Everybody, seemingly, wants to change all that. You rarely hear a good word about either Helen Clark or the Labour government, and the word seems to be its time to go.

And no-one really, if you ask, seems to know why.

From my perspective, quite some miles away, but still very interested, the glaringly obvious question seems to be are you all barking mad? Forget the policy vacuum that John Key seems to be…oh that’s right you’ll get small “tax cuts”, and despite National’s shocking historical track record, they are ‘business friendly’…forget any personal feelings that you may have towards the current PM (although whenever one mentions NZ in this part of the world the listener inevitably says, with thumb up, “Helen Clark”..she’s given the country an aura of respect it didn’t have before in Asia)…forget everything else and think back.

I know that a large part of the electorate is too young to really remember but it is worth reminding them and everyone else what it used to be like under a National government. The grey, divided, depressed and depressing place that Labour inherited in 1999.

And what it would have been like under a National government just a few years back when National shadow ministers were urging NZ to follow, without question, the US into Iraq.

But think further back to what National governments meant to NZ. Under National governments we had dawn raids; Bastion Point; Springbok tours, with hugely divisive and violent riots up and down the country; troops dying in Vietnam; crippling think big projects that NZ paid for, for decades, with no real gain; team policing units that rampaged through inner city Auckland batoning and beating all and sundry with little provocation (I saw it many times); gross economic mismanagement that was handled, ludicrously, by artificial price and wage freezes and Stalinistic controls; the IRD was told to take the gloves off by minister Bill Birch which led to suicides and ruthless bankrupting regardless of the human cost and viability of the business attacked; a tax system that taxed top earners at 66%; an arts sector that was grossly underfunded; and slashes in benefits that threw many onto the dust heap and has caused social problems to this day. Couple all that with an unnecessary and quite depilating national torpor and I certainly have no desire to go back to those dank old days.

How soon we forget….

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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

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

We thought that we had the answers / It was the questions we had wrong

Am I the only person who can see the blatant hypocrisy in Paul McGuiness ‘ Cannes comments, as I look at the U2 flavoured iPod, and recall those omnipresent TVCs. I guess not…

What exactly did he think was going to go on to those, as he puts it “burglary kits”??

And to say, as he does…

Those were the days when iTunes was being talked about as penicillin for the recorded music industry.

In 2004? When talk of Mp3 piracy was as rampant as it is now…seriously Paul, are you that ignorant or simply willfully trying to cover your arse.

How are those $200 ticket sales for U2 going? Or that remastered CD set of a twenty year old album for US$30 list price…?

And a question Paul...if we say no to your ideas, will Bono go away.......

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