Christchurch Week 1 - Differently familiar
Sep 6, 2003
|We've been in Christchurch now for a week and we're quite settled now. It is quite a relaxed town and we're getting to know our way about. Although Christchurch has a reputation of being the "English City", we were surprised at the huge Asian presence in the centre - every other cafée or restaurant was Chinese, Korean, Japanese or Thai - and apparently the local population of Asians has swelled in recent years.
On Sunday we took a walk along the Poplar lined river Avon into town and on through Hagley Park. It was a lovely sunny day so the town was looking really good and gave us both a positive feeling about being here. We stopped off for lunch at Sticky Fingers and had a quick walk around the botanical gardens, looking at the various trees and plants (including a fantastic huge and twisted eucalyptus). You have to hand to the Victorians who really thought ahead when it came to planning these civic spaces.
We hung around the Arts Centre for while - it was the old heart of Canterbury University before it moved out to a campus in Ilam, so most of the buildings are in the neo-gothic style that is typical in the centre of town. It certainly looked like a cool place to hang out and so I vowed to come back later during the week.
Kate started her job on Monday, commuting 45 mins on a bus from just outside the flat. The initial keenness to catch the 7.40 has since lapsed to the 9.10 now that she realises she's the boss of her own time. One the other hand, I have become "house husband", trying on most days to pack her a lunch to take with her and do the domestic chores - I knew there was a reason why I'm here... Anyway, her colleagues are all nice apparently and she's getting on with starting to write her papers (the raison d'être for the sabbatical).
I, however, spent much of the week polishing my geek credentials by hanging out in a variety of internet cafes, partly to see if I had any work and partly to get this website underway. For a small town there's an awful lot of them, populated mostly by backpackers. Anyway, I think I've (ge)eked out the ones that have the best deals for my stay.
Actually, I think I reached the height of geekiness on Thursday, when I found myself in a model shop in my anorak looking excitedly at the model aeroplanes. Perhaps I should stop resisting my destiny.
The apparent dearth of fresh fruit and vegetables in the town occupied my house-husband role for much of the week. None of the grocery shops that I found had anything, even the one supermarket I was pointed towards. How can this town not have a scurvy epidemic, I thought? However, it wasn't until Friday that I discovered the Aladdin's cave of Pak'n'Save. I ran into the food hall crying at the bounteous wealth of fresh produce before me, hungrily clutching as many apples, potatoes, and peppers as my arms could carry, like some demented contestant on Supermarket Sweep.
On Friday I made my promised return to the Arts Centre to have a good look around and see if I could sign up for any courses while I'm here. As I arrived, I was just in time to catch a lunchtime concert in the Great Hall, a very Oxbridge style concert hall with wood panelling and a high vaulted ceiling. The Ben Morrison Quartet were a group of extremely talented teenagers - double bass, piano, drums and violin. They played a selection of Gershwin numbers and some other pieces I hadn't heard of, but they were really good. I suppressed my jealousy of their prodigious talent and just enjoyed the music, vowing to make this a regular fixture on my Fridays here.
Looking around the Arts Centre afterwards I found a fancy dress shop with loads of Lord of the Rings costumes, only costing about 10 pounds for a week's hire. In my mind I was already plotting a trip around various locations dressed in my Gandalf costume... I moved on quickly and found the artist workshops including an artist giving lessons - I'll have a think about that. In the meantime I decided to sign up for singing lessons. Why not I thought? I'm far enough away from anyone I know to embarrass myself and who knows, it might help my breathing. Lessons start on Wednesday.
During the evenings we mostly cooked at home (with the occasional takeout), venturing out on Friday to My Thai Monkey to meet up with a contact Kate had through her UCL friends. Mike works for a rival organisation to Landcare called NIWA, so much of the evening was spent comparing notes. However, he was fun guy and he was telling us how even he, as an Australian, found it quite hard to break into the Kiwi community even though he had been here for nearly two years. His impression was that the Christchurch people can be quite insular and it was very hard to break through some barriers and really make good friends. We later moved onto Dux de Lux at the Arts Centre later and shivered beneath the burners on the terrace drinking the bar's homebrew (which made me hiccup a lot).
We bumped into Mike by chance the following day as we checked out one of his recommendations for coffee at the funky C1 café on the High Street (again, it seems to be that if you want the action in an NZ town, you need to look for the High Street). He was out with his daughter buying his weeks supply of coffee, but we didn't meet her as she was in the video shop. While we there we managed to figure out where to see bands in Christchurch and vowed to do something next week, as I was itching for another musical fix.
On Saturday evening we decided to immerse ourselves into the rugby culture and went along to the Holy Grail sports bar to watch the big match between Otago and the Canterbury Crusaders (after a while we worked out that they were the ones in black and red stripes). The bar was cavernous with huge screens everywhere and seats and bars on lots of different levels. It was only afterwards that I twigged that it was a converted cinema because of the way the some of the seating sloped back. Anyway, I think that this was certainly the place to watch the upcoming rugby World Cup to get a bit of atmosphere.
We went back soon after to make sure that we got some sleep. We had two busy days ahead of us: Skiing on Sunday at Mt Hutt and a field trip with some of Kate's colleagues on Monday.