070130 – Tuesday – New Zealand Friends

I said I was going to write a piece and summarize some of my experiences here in New Zealand before I fly back to the US – here it is.

Well, there are so many many impressions. I could say a lot about the city of Christchurch. About how beautiful it is, about how it is truly a walking scale city. And that I haven’t missed having a car in the two and half months I’ve been here. The English influence is everywhere. The river across the street is called the Avon and you can see punters going up and down it. Many of the buildings are are done in the English stone style. It is clean and vibrant.

And there would be much to say about the country itself and the weather. I really could go on and on for a long time on all of these topics. But, I’d be missing one of the major points if I did. And that about the people here and how welcoming and friendly they are.

I’ve been keeping a daily calendar for the final three weeks leading up to February 3rd when I fly back to the US. Mainly I’ve kept it so I could see at a glance how much time I still have left and coordinate that information with how much I still have to get done.

But the story the calendar really tells is how many social engagements I’ve been having. Invitations to lunch, invitations to dinner, walks about town, tennis, walks in the park and hikes in the Port Hills.

When I came here on November 16th, I knew one fellow and his wife whom I’d met on the Internet because we have shared interests. Now, as I’m preparing to leave, I have a long list of people I will be calling, visiting or E-mailing to say my goodbyes to. It’s been an amazing experience. In two months, I feel like I have a community of friends here. Frankly, I’ve lived places in the US (Los Angeles, for example) where I was surrounded by millions and millions of people and never seemed to meet a soul.

I don’t normally think of myself as a gregarious outgoing friendly person who finds it easy to strike up new acquaintances. No, I think the difference is in the people I’m meeting here. And by that I mean both the native Kiwis and the American expatriates I’ve met.

The American expatriates, by the very fact that they are here as immigants to a new country half way around the world, are interesting. They’ve chosen to leave the “American dream” for another dream. It’s a selection filter, I think. By the time folks have manifested the courage, intelligence and drive to get themselves here, they’ve been winnowed down into a group of people who are fascinating, to say the least.

But, then there are the Kiwis who are an amazing and friendly lot in their own way. I’ve met neighbors here at the apartment building where Sharon and I own our apartment. I’ve met couples at the small movie theater at the Christchurch Art Center. I talked with a bus driver as I rode the bus to the other side of downtown and before it was done, we’d exchanged phone numbers and then later he and his wife took me on a hike in the Port Hills above Christchurch. The friend I met earlier via the Internet before I’d ever even come to Christchurch has has me to his house for dinner half a dozen times while I’ve been here. I’ve met his family, shared in stories of his dreams and ambitions, traded books and enjoyed reading to and playing games with his two young daughters.

The realtor we bought our place through became my landlord for a month while I took his place as I waited for the real estate deal to close on our apartment. And he and another realtor, who we also worked with back in August, have both kept up the connection we’ve shared lunches together.

With the expatriates, we’ve shared our stories; information about how things work here; taxes, immigration, insurance, medical, auctions, whatever. We’ve had parties and brought 20 of us together, we’ve met for lunch, we’ve gone out and ate, we’ve drank beer and told the stories of our lives until late in the evening, they’ve slept on my couch, they’ve loaned me DVDs, they’ve introduced me to their friends and they’ve taken me along to conferences. They’ve driven me across town to feed me dinner and they’ve come and sat on my couch and talked and turned a new apartment into a home with memories.

The Kiwis have had me to dinner, invited me to tennis, explained a thousand things to me, have opened their hearts and their homes to me in spite of the fact that I’m a foreigner. They’ve talked with me about politics and kidded me very good naturedly about being an American and, in short, have made me feel very honored and welcome.

Today, I had lunch with Keith, a Kiwi and the manager of the apartment building I’m in. This afternoon, the manager Keith, Peter. an American airline pilot and expatriate, and Graham, a Kiwi who lives here in the apartments with his wife, Judy, invited me to join them and we played three sets of tennis. Tonight, Graham and Judy had me to dinner at their place along with Keith and a couple, Ron and Marsha, who are an American couple from New Jersey who’ve spent two to three months here in New Zealand every southern summer for the last six years and rent a unit in this building. Judy cooked an excellent meal for all of us and Marsha brought a scrumcious cake and the conversation and kidding around made for a relaxed and fun evening.

Tomorrow, Wednesday the 31st, I ride the Trans-Alpine train from Christchurch across the Southern Alps over to Greymouth on the West Coast and back (8:15 Am to 6:05 PM – roundtrip). I’ll be going with two of my favorite expatriates, Alex and Tobi. And, when we arrive for an hour’s layover in Greymouth, there’s an excellent chance that another expatriate, Bryan, who lives there will come and see us at the station and stroll about with us.

Thursday, I’ll be deep into preparing to vacate here on Saturday but that evening, I’ll ride the bus out to Harewood to Robert’s house and join him, his wife, Cynthia and their two beautiful little girls for what will be our last get-together this visit.

Then, on Friday, I’ll be cleaning the apartment and packing things up to take home or store here. And that evening, Keith is having a barbeque here at the apartments along with Graham, Judy, Ron and Marsha and I’ve been invited to that.

It is all quite amazing to me how I’ve been enfolded into so many lives in such a short time. I’ve been very blessed.

With regard to New Zealand, two and half months here have only served to confirm and deepen my feelings about the country. It is a beautiful place and it truly is one of the world’s best kept secrets.

Saturday, I’ll begin the 12 to 14 hour trek home from Christchurch to Auckland to Los Angeles to Seattle where I am so looking forward to seeing my wife and giving her a big long hug. It’s not easy to leave New Zealand but I know I’ll be coming back again next November 13th and that will give me something special to look forward to this year.

And to any of the many people I’ve met here in Aotearoa, thank you so very much for your hospitality and your friendships.

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