5 Years Ago Today: The Darfield Quake

We’d just returned from lunch with my parents in quiet suburban Chicago.  I’d left my iPhone at home because it was early in the morning in Christchurch, New Zealand, and I figured no one would call at that hour.

Checking my phone, I saw there were several missed calls from a few different people; something very strange was going on.

Read 5 Years Ago Today

Worlds Apart

By the time you read this, I’ll be jetlagged to here and back in Chicago on the first evening on our a six-week visit.  I honestly am excited beyond words.  Well, as excited as I can be with depersonalisation (although it does come ashore and retreat like the tide, and really depends on the day and how much stress I’ve had that day).

I was texting back-and-forth with my sister-in-law Darcie on Sunday, and the subject of living in New Zealand and visiting my stomping grounds in Chicago came up.  I have spoken about this before with other people, so the concept isn’t exactly new to me, but I thought it seemed timely to bring it up again.


The Best Photo I’ve Ever Taken… So Far

Derelict Cottage on Isle of PinesI took this photo on the Isle of Pines in New Caledonia on 31 December 2002.  To this day, I feel this is the best photograph I have ever taken, mainly because everyone who sees it says it’s such a great photo.  We have even had photography teachers want to use this photo in their lessons!

I keep saying that I’m not a photographer; I’m not.  But I do “see” things, if that makes sense.  This cottage and the foliage around it screamed, “Take a picture!” to me.  And more often than not, what I see in my mind’s eye when I see these things tends to translate pretty well onto film.  I just wish it’d been sunnier that day… (There was a cyclone / tropical storm in the area, which is why the weather was so grey…)

What do you think about this photo?  Should I try to change the sky on it?  Enhance the colours?  What does it say to you?

Coming Home for the First Time

Welcome to Mount Prospect Sign

“I’m kinda afraid.”

“Why?”  My dad’s voice was full of concern.

“I’m afraid that everything will have changed.  That nothing back home will be as I remember it.”

“Things don’t change too fast in Mount Prospect, Scott.  Everything’s pretty much the same as when you left.”

This was along the lines of the phone conversation I had with my Dad before Noel and I flew back to Chicago for the first time.  Noel had never been to the USA, and we’d been living together for 3 and a half years by that point in time.

I was nervous and scared and excited and apprehensive and longing to go back home to visit.  Before I’d left, I’d only come out to a few people, and here I was, returning home, pretty much out of the closet; something about being halfway around the world made it easier to come out.  (Something I would never suggest someone do, by the way; your friends and family deserve better.  My friends and family deserved better.)

My Dad was right; everything was the same.  And, I think, that’s more frightening.  It was very strange for me.  You see, I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.  A twister of my longing to explore the world snatched me away from Chicago and whisked me off to New Zealand, and the world as I knew it went from black and white and drab to green and blue and yellow, a rainbow of colours, and full of possibilities and adventures.

I was living in New Zealand, fighting for equal immigration rights for LGBT couples, working, meeting new people.  We were starting to become successful at work, with a growing roll and more recognition for our hard work from our peers and international governing bodies.  We had a home, a real home, with loving pets, and a wonderful back yard and living room we could crash in after a long day’s work, pop the cork on a bottle of wine, and shoot the shit.  I’d been to Australia and Bali (Indonesia) and explored parts of those rather foreign places, seeing some amazing sights in the process.  There was so much to tell, so much to share, about my journeys and my life.

And then I was home again.

The lawns and trees seemed a little greener, the flowers smelled stronger, the people friendlier; it was home as I’d never seen it before.  I imagine it was home through Noel’s eyes, much like I’d seen his lifelong home of Christchurch through fresh, eager eyes when I’d arrived.

But none of my friends and family seemed to have radically changed; it was almost as if time had frozen them, and I’d been away, and I’d grown so much, and they’d stayed… the same.

Back to the Dorothy analogy: I’d had the most wonderful adventure that’d taught me so much about myself, seeing colours and sights I’d never thought I’d see, hearing songs and happiness I’d never thought I’d hear, yet here I was, back again in that black and white, drab place I called home, struggling for words to express what I’d seen and done.  Yes, it was black and white and drab, but maybe not as black and white and drab as I remembered it.

Being away makes you appreciate where you come from more.  It defines you.  It gives you a place in the world.  It is the familiar in a crazy world of unfamiliar.  You long it, you crave it, you want to return there as soon as you can, but, after a while, you ache to return to your life of adventure, to the new place you call home, using it as a springboard to destinations your friends and family only ever dream of going.  And then you’re a bitch and send them post cards from places they’ve only dreamed of going — motherfreakin’ post cards! — just to rub a little salt into the wound.

But there’s a price for being away.  You don’t get to see your brothers grow up, or their first love blossom, or their kids grow up day-by-day.  You can’t watch your parents grow old, or hold their hands when they are suffering, or offer a shoulder to cry on when your grandparents are slowly slipping away, memory by memory, and the roles between your parents and your grandparents reversed.

I have thought about this a lot over the 17 years I have lived in New Zealand.  I’ve gone through bouts of homesickness and guilt for not being there when my family needs me most.  But I also understand I have my life to live (which my family and friends always remind me), and I can’t define the happiness in my life completely by making everyone else happy except me.

To be honest, I don’t think I would’ve appreciated home, my family, and my friends as much as I do now if I hadn’t left.  And that works both ways; when I’m in the US, I appreciate my friends and family in Christchurch, and I miss them, too.

Live in the moment, and enjoy it for what it’s worth, no matter where you are.

Mall Cops

One of Mount Prospect’s claims to fame is having the first air-conditioned indoor malls in the USA (and was one of the largest air-conditioned spaces in the USA when it was originally built): Randhurst Mall. Now, I’m not sure if that’s something to brag about, but I am sure if you found many people my age from Mount Prospect and spoke to them about Randhurst, they’d have (hopefully) at least one good memory of the place.
Read Mall Cops

And Now, On a Lighter Note…

During our stay at Auckland’s Prince’s Wharf Hilton (see mention last blog), Noel and I had a great time.  And now, on a lighter note than my last blog…

We stayed on the top floor of the hotel.  If you know the Hilton, it’s basically a long corridor with rooms spanning off each side.  At the harbour-end of the pier, there’s a large suite, but, to my knowledge, the remainder of the rooms are rooms, with some of them aiming out towards the water (with balconies) and a lovely view of a container wharf (soon to be a cruise ship passenger terminal… or so they keep saying) and the rooms opposite face into the narrow parking lot/lane running between the mirror-image of the Hilton on the other side of the wharf.

In the middle of the inner-side of the Hilton is where the elevators are.  Three elevators open onto a small lobby-like area on each floor, complete with chairs to wait for people, et cetera.  (Not anyone can go in the lift; you need a key to get in.)

We always get an outer-facing room, and I think we ran out of wine, so Noel and I decided to make a trek to the local Star Mart (kinda like a 7-11 for those non-New Zealanders reading this blog) which was at the city-end of the wharf.

The lift arrived, and we jumped into it.  Unfortunately, the elevator stopped on the next floor down, and two huge (as in muscular) guys got into the lift.  One of them was about 6′ 3″ (1.87m) and the other was about my height (5′ 10″ or 1.79m).  The tall one was still talking, going on about how he thought they were all “wank-a’s” and he was going to write that in his column.  Could he, he asked the shorter one, write that kind of stuff in his article?

After my mind wandered to, “Can this neadrathal write?”, then to, “Can I write it in my article, George? Please, George?”, I snapped back into the present and eavesdropped (as you have no choice to do when you are crammed in a lift with strangers).

The shorter guy just agreed because the taller one was having a good ol’ rant about something.  But then it struck me: they both had English accents.  They both looked like rugby (or American football) players.  And I really started thinking the guy doing all the talking was a bit of a “wank-a” himself.

We arrived at the ground floor and all spilled out into the lobby.  Other similar looking guys (you know, could knock-you-back-to-your-birth-with-one-punch kinda guys) were in the lobby and there was a symphony of various English accents.

Noel and I left the hotel to get our supplies, and en route I said, “Gee, I wonder if those guys are on some sort of team.”  (I did want to ask them, “Are you guys all on the same team or what?” but I didn’t fancy my chances of walking out of that one in one piece.)

Now, to totally justify myself, I have *no* idea who is playing what sport where.  I’m not sports-minded.  I never have been, and I probably never will be.  Images of my parents screaming at the TV during a Chicago Bears game (and me saying, “Uh, hello, they can’t HEAR you.  But the neighbours can!!!”) have totally put me off sport.

We didn’t think any more of it until we left our room once again to go get some dinner.  This time there was a really built guy sitting in one of the chairs.  Noel said jokingly to him, “You know, you don’t *have* to sit out here.  They give you rooms here,” and he laughed.  The lift arrived — the guy already hit the lift button — and we all piled in there.

Again, this guy was big.  Probably 6′ 2″ and very well built.  After he disembarked on the 1st floor (again, for some of you blog readers, in New Zealand, the 1st floor is above the ground floor), Noel turned to me and said, “Phaw. He must work out!”

We went to dinner, me still pondering who these guys were, and, once we got back to the hotel, I finally broke down and texted James and Jacqui to find out if, in fact, the English Rugby Team was in town for a match with the All Blacks.

No reply.

So I called them instead.  Jacqui sat laughing at me for about 5 minutes because I’d said “Football” instead of “rugby” (so bloody sue me) but said, yes, the English Rugby Team were staying in town because they were playing the All Blacks on Saturday.  I said to them, “Oh, I think they’re staying at our hotel because there’s all these huge guys with English accents staying here.”

This showed my naivety even further.  Jacqui was like, “Hello, that’s the WORST kept secret in the country!”

Hmph.  Again, I didn’t get the memo!

I think I would have caught on even if I hadn’t called Jacqui because the next morning, at breakfast in the White restaurant (on the 1st floor with a beautiful view of the harbour), the team were there, in a type of uniform, all saying “England” on them.

The Pulitzer-prize-winner wanna-be was there, scooping a large serving of eggs onto his plate, *still* spouting off about how so-and-so were a bunch of “wank-a’s” so I think the man must never shut up and have a great opinion of himself.

Anyway… it was interesting to see the difference.  Noel and I ran into the Canterbury team once in Whangarei, and they were really nice, down-to-earth guys.  Jillian and I ran into the All Blacks while taking the students for a tour of Champs-Elysees Day Spa at the Heritage in Christchurch, and they were also realy nice, down-to-earth guys.  But the English rugby team… wow, most of the ones we saw were really full of themselves and had little to no manners whatsoever.

They even had the cheek to act towards us and other guests as if we were a pain for being there, like we were going to all the sudden say, “Oooh!  Oooh!  Aren’t you so-and-so!  Oooh!  Can I get your autograph!  Please!”  As if I’d behave like that anyway!

Just as well Kiwis showed them good hospitality (if you’ve been following the media reports about some of the girls they met in an Auckland bar, I’d say some Kiwis showed them a better time than others!) and then handed their asses to them on a plate during their matches against the All Blacks.  Twice!