Sunday, October 01, 2006

And you think you’re so clever and classless and free

Returning to the nest is a funny thing. I haven’t been in Auckland for close to six months and I find it a little confusing to say the least. On the one hand I know it so well. I know every little nook and cranny, every shortcut, the easy way to do or achieve almost anything. I don’t have that knowledge anywhere else.

And like everything I see the good, the bad, and, unfortunately the damn ugly. We flew into Brisbane on the Garuda flight and an a kind of ugly presented itself on that flight. I don’t want to go back to Steve Irwin again, except to mention that many of those in Australia who derided the late Reptile baiter did so because they felt he misrepresented the modern urban Australian, with his swagger and his crikey strine.

Seriously, who in gods name are you trying to kid? The departed Pride of Gympie (or whatever Queensland backwater it was) always struck me as rather sophisticated when put next to the 98% of Australia’s population that hails itself as little Aussie battlers or some other garbage. And he (or rather she, I should say) knew how to manipulate that mass to line their own pockets rather well, as the raft of post-Stingray TV tributes, interviews and the kids on the covers of Women’s mags is indisputable evidence of.

But the to the ugly, well the mass of real ockers that felt that it was alright to travel in sweat infested singlets, or put their feet on the top of the seat in front were mostly generously described by Brigid as gruesome, and so they were. But before anyone accuses me of Ockerism or any such bigotry (you can save that for the post that was meant to go here and may still appear, on the current relationship between the Australian tourist and Bali), let me say that the bunch of New Zealanders who jumped on GA712 for the last leg to Auckland, were little better, and we, as a family shrank into our seats in case our passports should tie us to the Gold Coast massive returning to Hamilton for the holidays.

Forget the harbour, forget the vistas, forget everything else, the really good things about Auckland, are the people I know, or at least most of them. There are so many truly wonderful, truly good and truly….well, you know…people, both friends and the hundreds of loose acquaintances I have here that I both enjoy and miss terribly when I can’t see them that its almost overwhelming when I do. As I have these past few days. I went to the monthly Turnaround gig, with Manuel Bundy and Cian in full effect and saw literally dozens of people I know and have known for years. Not least of them was Roger Perry with whom I djed in the venue, downstairs in Nelson Street twenty years ago, and to he honest, although we’ve had our ups and downs over the years, love like a brother. I sat on a couch with Roger and, later, Manuel for an hour as we talked about which of the walls we painted and which bar we built as though it was last week, and it truly felt like it was. And then Cian played a bit of Mantronix flowing into Ruth Joy and the past and present knitted together.

I have to say, too, the other good, and often underrated aspect of Auckland town is the food. Not the try hard wannabe dumps that I’ll come to later, but the absolutely wonderful cheap and cheerful, or ethnic places that I crave when I’m not here. Places like Little India in Kingsland, which has the best Indian food I’ve had anywhere outside Asia, better than anything in Brick Lane; or Grand Harbour whose Dim Sim was described to Brigid by a Taiwanese friend as the best in the world, and so it may be; or KK Malaysian in Greenlane; or for that matter Mekong Neua, also in Kingsland. I dream of these places sometimes….

Which tidily leads to the bad: the ugly pretensions affected by so many in this city. The ostentatious wealth, often funded by loans and overdrafts, and pretentious verbiage you encounter everywhere. I read the Sunday Herald’s magazines, or Metro, I look at the garbage written about fashion week, I drive down Ponsonby Road and I cringe. Is it the often quoted cultural cringe? I guess it is and I guess I once was a part of the cause, although I hope I’m not anymore. Maybe I am, but this is not about assuaging my guilt.

And I wonder why this quiet pretty city isn’t more proud of what it is. It isn’t a big sophisticated hub, as much as it pretends to be. Its streets are, more often than not, fairly quiet, its leading restaurants and hotels, the likes of Euro or The Hilton, are rather provincial and parochial as are many of their more gossiped about patrons.

I hate that side of Auckland and I’m pleased to be nowhere near it anymore. To be honest, Auckland is probably closer to Taihape than Tokyo. And I quite like that….

This is a city that treats Nicky Watson as a celebrity and titters excitedly when some second level American actor comes to town. It’s quaint.

Not that I, for a moment, would live anywhere else in the country. I’d go nuts. And all the things I’ve just complained about in AK are magnified tenfold in Wellington, coupled with an offensive and smug self satisfaction.

So, to the ugly.

Well, it has to be the violence. The damning violence which plagues this country. I don’t know if its driven by alcohol or, as I said a long time back, by the contact ball sports, or the P epidemic that is a vicious plague everywhere I look but aggression and intolerance that I see on every street, from the abuse to the road rage, and the way it spills over into the random violence that fill the newspaper front pages daily, terrifies me. Yes I know I live in Indonesia, a country which has had terror related bombings and suffers government travel warnings but Indonesia, or at least Bali, doesn’t have the day to day senseless murders, assaults and attacks that are so much a part of New Zealand life. We have no road rage and Asian drivers must shake at the verbal assaults received daily simply because they drive with a little less aggression than their locally born compatriots. Not that birth helps, my fourth generation NZ born Chinese former neighbour receives daily taunts of “fucking chink” and the like on the road.

Oh, we are so sophisticated….