22 September 2012

Will the real Auckland please stand up?

I went into culture shock and to be quite frank, I became a bit anti-social because of it.  I felt out of place in this city despite the last 14 years of my life spent in the city of Los Angeles.  But I forced myself to get out and see Auckland so I took a free half day tour that brought me to the Auckland Bridge, to some of the locations of old military compounds from WWII, to a few volcanoes, and places with great views of the city.  Along with that, I did some nice self-guided walking tours as well.  I always believe the best way to see a new place is to walk it.  I like Auckland, but don’t love it.  It has great restaurants and beer, as well as a decent night scene which I didn’t discover until my last night there.  A few guys from the hostel who had been going to school there in Auckland had taken me out to a soul/funk/hip-hop club with locals (no backpackers, yay!!!) and I ended up having a really great time.  That’s when I finally saw and connected with the real Auckland and could appreciate it after my lack of connection with it.

During my self-guided walking tour, I went onto Auckland University’s campus where I was drawn to some really cool music.  I followed the sound and came across the campus’ student center where I discovered it was Maori week and there were lots of festivities to celebrate the Maori culture.  Included in the festivities was this young lady playing acoustic guitar and singing about Maori culture and her music was so beautiful, I stayed to listen to her play for about 45 minutes...  I would have shared the video that I took, but it lacked awesomeness.  And it wouldn't load.  I'm a crappy blogger.

I managed to get out to Waiheke island for a day that is just outside of the city with a gal from the dorm.  And let me tell ya, that's a lovely island.  It would have been nice to stay a night or two there and explore for at least two full days.  This kick-back, lazy island is filled with several walking trails, little towns, gorgeous coastline, great views of Auckland, wineries (!!!), restaurants, and beaches.  Fun adventures tend to happen when I go somewhere unprepared (though I rarely prepare), like finding out that the "walking trails" are more like real trails - full of mud (it is winter after all!) and no signs posted.  What was supposed to take three hours, took four.  I wore my waterproof boots, they're great for water, not for mud.  I managed to slip a few times and once nearly do a complete splits walking down a hill.  There was no end to the laughing as I was having an out of body experience watching me pull myself up while slipping on the super muddy trails and holding on to trees, grass, twigs, and leaves to hold myself up.  No pictures or video of that... thankfully.  It was a struggle and it's embarassing.  No need to publicly tar and feather myself too.  But I had so much fun and we topped the exhausting day with a few glasses of red wine and garlic bread at a local restaurant.  Perfect way to end the day.

Now, a big part of New Zealand fabric are the Maori people… well, I now know the experience when certain cultures see someone like myself, or a very Western person (tall Asian with dark skin), or even a very tall person, when it’s something they’ve never seen before, and they can’t help but stare.  I’ll never forget the first time I saw a Maori person.  I was a bit fascinated yet intimidated.  There was something very exotic and fierce looking about this person.  I was sitting at Burger King (yes, I really wanted a familiar American cheeseburger after the last 5.5 months in Asia!  Stop judging.) and he approached me asking if I was cop… (uh, what???  Hm.  No.).  Anyway, I realized that he had an accent that I was unfamiliar with (I’m assuming a Maori accent) and I found that I was instantly fascinated about this man, his ethnicity, and I had to know more.  After that encounter I saw more Maori on the streets and could see how different they appeared, especially the ones with tattoos on their faces, amongst all these white and undecorated, maybe like how I appeared when I went walking around Dublin and all the long stares that I got (I swear, you'd think some of the Irish had never turned on a television and seen an Asian before!).  You know when someone has a tattoo on their face and you can’t help but look a little longer because you can’t believe they got a tattoo on their face (like Mike Tyson)?  Well, many of the more traditional Maori have tattoos on their faces – and they’re beautiful designs but still shocking nonetheless.  It’s such a big and bold, beautiful statement of artwork… on their face.  I am permanently fascinated!  

Auckland Art Gallery exterior

Sculpture outside of the Auckland Art Gallery

Hello Waiheke!  You look gorgeous today!

I love you too.

Sunset on Waiheke.  Apologies on the quality - this was taken from inside a moving bus.


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