I’ve got nothing but time right now, and it’s a beautiful thing. Work doesn’t start until Tuesday as today and Monday are national holidays. Amber and Andy are off at Easter Camp for the weekend with about three thousand Christchurch youth and I won’t see Arron until tomorrow night. And as an additional consequent of the holiday weekend, the libraries are closed – my usual source of free Wifi – and the buses are running on a sporadic schedule, leaving me more or less stranded for the time being.
So I’ve escaped to the beach, only a ten-minute walk from Amber and Andy’s. It is incredible living this close to the ocean. There’s a lovely chunk of driftwood for a seat; the tide is coming in; the sun is warm and the breeze is cool. I am at rest for the moment. The occasional blond surfer jogging by doesn’t hurt the scene either. Perhaps as a result of watching too many crime scene shows and thriller movies, I am deathly afraid of staying in houses alone overnight, as I am doing this weekend before moving into my flat on Monday. In apartments or flats four floors up, I am fine, assured by the fact that there is only one way in. But put me in a house with three entrances and innumerable windows and I’m a wreck. I kept the TV on the whole evening and played music while I read in bed, all in an attempt to block out what I can’t handle – the silence. I fell asleep alright, but awoke at 3.20am to the sound of screeching tires – that didn’t help my imagination. It wasn’t until the sun came up that I could sleep soundly, and of course I did so until noon!
But on to the matter at hand – life in Christchurch, or Chch as it’s abbreviated by native Kiwis. I’ve got things relatively settled into place the past two weeks. For a while there, I didn’t know if I’d find work, staring at the computer screen, scrolling down the same postings I’d poured through the day before…and the day before that. One of Arron’s friends, Laura, gave me the names of two temp agency recruiters to contact. On Tuesday, I had an interview with one of them and, just like that, I had a job! It’s amazing, one day you feel like there’s this big wall up, separating you from the world of the employed, and then the next second, you’re in. The recruiter said I had the fastest typing speed she’d ever seen – “You’re a machine!” The post she has for me is a two week assignment with Statistics New Zealand doing basic data entry work on a recent census – not my life calling, for sure, but it’s a job and for that I am grateful. Hopefully it’ll get me through until I hear from some of the other more permanent positions I applied for.
The same thing could be said for finding a flat – I’d just about memorized all the search results on Trade Me (a popular NZ classifieds site) every time I looked for a flat in the City Centre – and nothing really caught my eye. It’s one thing to move somewhere with friends and have the chance to make a place your own, another thing when you come alone and have to hope you’ll be a good fit with the existing flatmates you find. And I definitely was aware of that as I decided to come to New Zealand, it’s just a bit hard once you’re here and start to see the flats in person. But I thought I’d found “the one” after the first place I saw – a one-bedroom flat right on the Avon River lined with willow trees, a beautiful garden, and charm like I’d only seen in the movies. It was perfect…until I had to deal with the agent, who seemed to overcomplicate the affair by not showing up for the viewing and then contradicting much of the information given to me by the owner. So I kept looking, viewing at least five other places, but it was hard to be happy with any of them after my Cambridge Terrace dreamhouse. But at the end of my first week, I just needed to find something.
I finally met Rob, a guy I found through Trade Me who owns eight properties around Christchurch. He’s currently fixing up a loft in the City Centre, but until it’s ready we worked out for me to stay in one of his townhouses for a few weeks. It’s located right outside the center of town in an area called St. Albans. Much like my job, it’s not my dream flat, but for now it’ll do. Thankfully the lease isn’t for a set number of months, so if I come across something better later on, I can take that. Throughout the whole mission of finding a place, I kept wanting someone else’s opinion (not my usual way of doing things!) This may be a fun adventure at times, doing this on my own, but it’s crazy hard too.
The whole process of sorting out a job and flat has fit in with my initial impressions of New Zealand as a whole. One of the main reasons I chose NZ over Ireland as my next destination for a working holiday was for something different. I was told Ireland was just like England, only with different accents. I told myself I was done with Europe for the moment and wanted something raw and new. But when I landed in Auckland, it began to feel like just another state. There was a downtown area that spawned out to suburb after suburb via the highway – much like home. The only immediately striking difference was the names, many of which are of Maori origin and entirely unpronounceable on my part! One of my friends from London, Ryan, kindly picked me up from the airport and, after a tour of his house, took me to a mall, of all places, where I saw a Kmart, Target, Office Max, and several other American-owned companies and restaurant chains. The mall was eerily reminiscent of home. I could’ve been anywhere, malls having that ability of transcending cultural or regional specificity.
I woke up the next day in Auckland feeling strange and out-of-sorts, with one question on my mind I was scared to admit:
What in the world am I doing here?
And there were two words on the tip of my tongue I didn’t want to say out loud: disappointed and homesick. I could instantly tell it was going to take some adjusting after living in London. There, you feel like you are in the center of the world. You watch on the news as the G20 summit gathers, bringing together the world’s twenty most powerful leaders, protesters flooding the streets, and news stations around the world sending their correspondents to your city. Here, it’s almost the opposite feeling, that you really are out of it, away from it all. Moreover, I was initially shocked by how Americanized the country is – in addition to the stores I mentioned above, much of the television lineup is straight from the States. I keep saying, “Oh, you have that here, too?” every time I see another product, show, or store from home.
Homesickness isn’t a feeling I’m normally used to dealing with, certainly not while living in London and traveling throughout Europe. But while thinking about it some more here, I think I’ve pinned it down. Those places were all so different from what I’d always known that the difference was distracting. It kept my mind off thoughts of home. But Auckland was so similar it caught me off guard and had me admitting to feelings I never thought I’d experience. Christchurch, however, is a bit different, thanks to its strong English influence. The City Centre is lovely, with the Cathedral, the Botanic Gardens, and the Avon River winding through it – complete with punting boats, just like Oxford. Christchurch is known as the Garden City, after all, so I’m looking forward to spending next summer here with the parks in full bloom.
What I’ve come to realize so far is that my time here will be different from my experience in London – and that’s okay. It’s okay I’m not as instantly starstruck with my flat or job. My friends did warn me that the pace of life here would be slower and it’ll just take some getting used to. I know I am in a place of incredibly majestic beauty and I really can’t wait to get out of the cities and explore it. Until then, I will keep my chin up and look for reasons to smile in the small things all around me.