first impressions

My earliest memory of Aotearoa/New Zealand is tied to an old yellow milk powder tin with a picture of a red cow on it. In retrospect, I am not sure if it was produced in New Zealand and the tin by then held sugar, not milk powder. Somehow, though, the memory of that tin in Apu’s (Mizo affectionate for grandfather) house in Shillong is strongly linked to my earliest thoughts of NZ. A little strange, then, to be writing this in the middle of dairy country in Hamilton, New Zealand!

Over the years, there were often reminders of NZ. I remember Apu saying once, over dinner, that if there were one place he would like to visit, it was NZ. Then there was the (old) news of how the French government had bombed the Greenpeace ship, The Rainbow Warrior, in Auckland harbour. Then came the filming of The Lord of the Rings. There was also the matter of how bungy jumping had been popularised by New Zealand; rugby and the Haka; the beautiful Maori facial tattoos and a gift of a paua shell ring I got from a dear friend. It seems like this country has always lived under my skin!

Deepthi wasn’t so easy to convince, though. She thought it was too far to go study or live. Till, that is, she saw a programme that spoke of how New Zealand had banned all nuclear vessels from its territorial waters. Since the US would not declare which of its ships and subs were nuclear powered or armed, that effectively meant all of the US fleet was banned from NZ territorial waters. This nuclear-free status of New Zealand is now part of legislation. The spunk of this little country converted Deepthi, and we finally started the research that would bring us here.

We were greeted at Auckland airport by well trained sniffer dogs and their polite but firm handlers who ran through the baggage looking for organic matter. As an island nation, NZ is very protective of its ecology, and are very particular that all food and other organic matter be declared, and sometimes destroyed. Even muddy shoes could bring in exotic species of plants that could decimate native populations. Failing to declare even a pack of spices is treated as a serious crime.

A two hour drive through rolling green country and we were in Hamilton. We quickly changed and bathed and hit town, only to get a shock-the town was deserted! This was just about six in the evening, but all the shops were closed, even the two malls we found! We found, later, that most shops and offices close by five or half past. People have their friends and family to get back to! Considering sunset that day was around half past nine, this left us with quite a lot of time to wander! I have slowly gotten used to how few people there actually are in NZ. A 2009 estimate has NZ total population at 4 million. Compare that to Hyderabad’s 8 million!

It’s been three months now, and I think I am finally ready to start writing about this place. I have always found it hard to form an impression of a place when speeding through it, and hope to write and think about this intriguing country at a slower pace than a travelogue. May the spirits of Ibn Battuta and Huen Tsang keep me going!


Eric and Marilyn said...

What a nice read, Baruk! Looking forward to reading more! Keep it coming!

feddabonn said...

thanks! will try to keep it as real as i know how!

mesjay said...

Interesting, being introduced to a country by an empty milk can. Fantastic photo.

Joe Pinto said...

My dear baruk,

Thank you, baruk. Keep the descriptions strictly personal and subjective. I want to see NZ through baruk's eyes and listen to NZ through baruk's ears. As I said on FB, use your five senses to transmit to us your perception.

Best of luck. Enjoy yourselves. Regards to Deepthi. Give my love to the Greenpeace guys and my salute to the Rainbow Warrior.

And look the racist in the eye.

Peace and love,
- Joe.

feddabonn said...

@mejay: thanks! and interestingly, arul and amos also remember the red cow can, though with different associations. nice basis for a story, hey?

@joe: thanks! i'll remember the senses-a very good idea for post edits/tags. a little miffed at greenpeace because they refused me a job, :D. hope to visit the place where the rainbow warrior sunk, though. and deepthi waves back too!

Bruce Clark said...

hi - love your blog and all your stuff - my names bruce Clark - welcome to HAmilton - I'm working here at the Universtiy library in the law library. Would love you to join our local Amnesty group - no pressure -come along sometime and say hello if you like. My email is - I write the odd song and funny poem - heres my MySpace site , if you're interested

All the best
ps come and say hello

feddabonn said...

thanks, thanks and thanks, bruce! will give you work a look at too. thanks for dropping by!

Anonymous said...

I remember one show on Discovery channel about how the NZealand military kinda have a routine where they make faces with grunts and stuff, possibly originated from the islands surrounding the country.
I love the pic, post some more. Its quite a change from seeings dirty, congested roads 25/7 here in India!!

feddabonn said...

thanks blackest!

you're probably referring to the 'haka'. . while often identified as maori in origin, i've seen other pacific islanders (samoans for one) do similar dances, especially before a rugby match. one of the many things i hope to learn while here! [grin]

Peer Gynt said...

Kia Ora!

I think I was destined to reach your blog.

Just as I'm destined to come to Aotearoa (I can feel it in my bones).

And just as I was destined to make friends with the Maoris I met when I went to Mumbai (of all the places).

Call it prejudgemental over-excitement or what you will, but these people were different. They had a certain bearing and dignity. And while they looked to everyone like they’d come from a place far away, it seemed to me as though they’d come from another age altogether...from long ago. And perhaps, in a way they did.

I hope i don't sound too ridiculous when I say that they brought the earth and the wind with them. Yes as ‘m sure you can tell, I fell hopelessly in love with all of them...but more because they belonged to that magical place and this mystical air they had. And how I flushed with pride and embarrassment when they did me the greatest honour I’ve ever received...they danced the Haka for me, with their magnificent cloaks and OH my hair stood on end and I’d an attack of the Biggest goosebumps ‘ve Ever had in my life. Not a pretty sight at all.

I’ve been inside a few churches and met not a few religious people who by and large congratulate themselves as being highly ‘spiritual’. But with the Maoris there was no contest...they were somehow connected to everything that mattered. I’ve always believed that there’s a place and time that’s meant for you, and most people are lucky enough to find it ‘at home’...but i guess this hobo's still searching for home.

Hopefully I too shall one day (not too far ahead) set foot on Aotearoa soil. I’ve even dreamt of the bloody place. And with any luck what I’ve read of stones and dreams and their age old relationship of coming true will...well, come true for me too :)

Thanks very much and curse you too...i’m now glued to your stories of the land:( You strike a near perfect balance between Pico and Maugham.

feddabonn said...

kia ora peer,

that was the nicest curse i've ever had! definitely hope to see you here soon-maybe we could start a half-mizo association. am very glad to have you reading these stories, thanks!