I’m writing this post in the business class (!) lounge at Singapore airport, and will schedule it to be published while we’re at 10,000 metres over Central Asia on our way back to the UK.
I’m almost two weeks behind with my posts thanks to a surfeit of stuff to write about and some flaky internet connections in parts of rural New Zealand. When I’m back in the UK I’ll need to take a few days off from the blog to recover from jet lag and get myself sorted for Christmas.
But I’m determined to report back on the rest of our trip, and hope to start posting again around the middle of December. I’ll aim to wrap things up in early to mid-January.
There’s lots of good stuff on the way, including more fabulous scenery and some enormous sea lions, as well as penguins, parrots, albatrosses, Maori culture, crazy modern art … and, finally, some glorious weather. Don’t you wish you were here?
You know what it’s like: you’re concentrating so hard on the driving that you don’t see interesting stuff by the side of the road until it’s too late. And although you catch a glimpse of something intriguing as you sail on by, you can’t stop and turn around because there’s an idiotic speed junkie in a 4×4 on your tail, threatening to ram you into the nearest ditch if you drop even slightly below the speed limit.
That, dear reader, is how come I didn’t break yesterday’s journey from Moeraki to Queenstown to examine all the ladies’ underwear hanging on a fence line somewhere just outside Cardrona.
Let me clarify “underwear”: it wasn’t knickers you’ll be relieved to know, only bras, but there were hundreds of them. Yes, that’s right, hundreds of bras blowing in the wind for no apparent reason whatsoever. Now that’s not a sight you see every day.
When we got to our destination I told Mrs P what I thought I’d seen and asked if she thought I was going mad.
“No madder than usual, dearest,” she replied, which I took to mean that I was on to something. We agreed that there was nothing else for it, we’d have to re-trace our journey to check it out.
There they are, all those bras. I was right: there are hundreds of them. I’ve never seen so many bras in my life, and am baffled. What a waste of good underwear; has New Zealand gone crazy?
But then we read the pink sign, and all becomes clear: this is an innovative way to raise money for the New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation. What a brilliant idea, a fun way to raise awareness and give folk a chance to show solidarity.
Mrs P is pleased to get into the spirit of this initiative by dropping some cash into the collection, and then donating her own bra to the fence, singing a few lines from Chris de Burgh’s Patricia the Stripper as she does so.
I’m very proud of her: we’ve lost friends and family to the disease, and parting with some cash and (in Mrs P’s case) clothing is the least we can do in their memory. Well done, Mrs P, for letting it all hang out for a good cause.
After a 13 hours flight from London we stumble out of the airport terminal into the manicured madness that is Singapore.
“Stumble” sums it up nicely. The terminal is air-conditioned to within an inch of its life, as cool as a winter igloo. But as we pass through the sliding doors Singapore slaps us round the face. The air is steaming hot, so thick with moisture you could cut it with a butter knife. Within seconds our glasses are coated with a thick layer of condensation, and we blunder around blindly for a minute or two, waiting for the fog to clear.
At last we catch a glimpse of the Singapore we know and love: colourful, efficient and welcoming. And we spot the cameras too, watching me, watching you, watching everyone and everything.
Singapore is the cleanest, safest city I’ve ever visited, and also one of the most characterful. I’m pleased to be back. But it’s also a bit of a basket case, where the most apparently innocent of activities – like eating certain tropical fruits in public places – can get you arrested.
However this place is an economic miracle, and I guess a ban on eating durian fruit in public is a small price to pay for Singapore’s prosperity. Fifty years ago it was all but invisible on the world stage, Asia’s mad woman locked in the attic.
But today Singapore is a financial and trading superstar, the poster boy for Asian capitalism. This place may have been a bit of a joke in the years immediately after World War 2, but nobody’s laughing now. And, on top of all its other successes, Singapore has transformed itself into a must-see stop-off point for visitors to south-east Asia and Australasia.
Our plan of campaign for this visit is to pick up some of the key sights that we missed out on last time. That will have to wait for another post, but for now it’s worth saying that Mrs P has taken 426 photos in her first 36 hours here!
Our trip coincides with a significant anniversary for New Zealand and its people. Exactly 250 years ago this month, Captain James Cook landed from his ship, the Endeavour, on the east side of the Turanganui River, near present-day Gisborne on North Island. In doing so he began a process that led to European colonisation, and the creation of the state we now call New Zealand.
Whether this anniversary is something to be celebrated or lamented is, however, a matter of fierce debate.
The point, of course, is that New Zealand was already occupied. The Maori, who called it Aotearoa – the Land of the Long White Cloud – had been there for hundreds of years. They had arrived from Polynesia between 1200 and 1300 AD, and made themselves at home while developing a distinctive material culture and way of life.
From the Maori perspective, therefore, Captain Cook did not discover New Zealand – as text books have tended to suggest – but rather he was the first of the European invaders, invaders who would soon dispossess the historical owners of the land.
To fully appreciate what Cook’s arrival has meant for Māoridom, one must consider their status before the arrival of Cook. Māori were an independent, self-governing people. Their territories were abundant with life … Today, 250 years later, Māori are no longer self-governing, their waterways are severely degraded, and for an unacceptably high number of Māori, the risk of dying an early death, or becoming homeless, or being incarcerated, is an all too likely reality.
First contact was a brutal experience, one that left up to eight Maori dead. The encounter marked a turning point, the ending of one world and the beginning of another.
He [Cook] was a barbarian. Wherever he went, like most people of the time of imperial expansion, there were murders, there were abductions, there were rapes, and just a lot of bad outcomes for the indigenous people.
Feelings are clearly running high right now, as the quotations above demonstrate. Unsurprisingly, therefore, there is vocal opposition in some quarters to the government-funded commemorative events planned to mark the anniversary of Cook’s landing.
History is a complicated business, and we do a dis-service to those who have gone before us if we reduce it to a few snappy, emotionally-charged soundbites. It is not my place – as a soon-to-be guest of New Zealand – to express a view on this contentious issue based on just a couple of articles in the Guardian newspaper, but I look forward to finding out more during the course of our visit.
Tina Ngata’s article, and the words of Anahera Herbert-Graves remind me that I’m profoundly ignorant about New Zealand’s history (which is particularly shameful for a history graduate, don’t you think?) It’s high time I put that right.
It can happen anywhere, I suppose. Ordinary citizens who are quietly minding their own business, living decent lives and doing no harm to man nor beast, go to bed one evening and when they get up next day discover they’re being ruled by a goat.
As I sit at my laptop writing this I can think of at least two great nations with proud histories that are currently each led by someone whose demeanour and behaviour compare unfavourably with your average goat. I’ll leave the identity of the nations and individuals in question to your imagination!
But it’s not just the big boys that make unconventional political choices. Mrs P was telling me the other day that while we’re in New Zealand we’ll be passing close to the tiny Republic of Whangamomona.
Heard of it? Probably not. You could check it out on a BIG map of New Zealand, but take care not to drop any biscuit crumbs or you’ll never find it.
In 1988 the citizens of this unremarkable little town on New Zealand’s North Island showed their contempt for the local council by declaring Whangamomona a republic. Eleven years later, Whangamomonans plainly decided that a further protest was required, at which point local goat Billy the Kid was elected the town’s first non-human president.
Billy was followed in office by Tai the Poodle and Murtle the Turtle, although when the latter died in 2015 Whangamomona seemed to suffer a crisis of confidence and elected one Vicki Pratt as president, albeit against her will.
I can’t help admiring free spirits, individuals and communities that don’t take themselves – or life in general – too seriously. For this reason we’ll be sure to take a side-trip to Whangamomona in a couple of weeks, and drop in at the local hotel for lunch and to get our passports stamped.
Stunts like this are harmless fun, and also good for business if they encourage people like us to visit and spend money there. Across the world communities are always on the look out for the big idea, something that will make them stand out from the crowd and get them on tourists’ itineraries. In Whangamomona it’s all about republicanism in general, and goats in particular.
By way of contrast, as we discovered to our amusement a couple of years ago, one small town in Newfoundland, Canada, has banked everything on calling itself Dildo to bring in crowds of curious punters all hoping to feel earth move.
Makes Whangamomona seem almost normal, doesn’t it?
As if to mark our forthcoming trip to Aotearoa, the New Zealand government is tightening its controls on people visiting the country. Being Brits we don’t need a visa, but we are nevertheless required to apply online for a NZeTA (New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority). This is presumably a screening programme that detects and rejects any bad eggs who would otherwise gain entry under the visa waiver scheme.
Mrs P and I sit down at the PC to work through the NZeTA process. It’s dead easy, and within a few minutes both
applications have been submitted. There’s
a cost, of course, around £6.35 each, added to which we both have to pay an International
Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy of £18.55. But a total charge of just under £25 each
seems reasonable, and is in any case peanuts when you think of the king’s
ransom we’re spending on the trip as a whole.
As soon as we’ve submitted the applications we log out of
the NZeTA site and Mrs P checks her email.
There it is, a message from the New Zealand government: she’s been
approved for entry. It’s only taken a
few minutes, so they must really like the sound of her.
I rush to check my emails.
There’s an acknowledgement, but that’s all. I guess the lady who checks the applications
is having a cup of tea, so I wait a few minutes, then try again. Nothing.
I shrug disconsolately, and decide we also need a cuppa.
Half an hour later I check again. Still nothing. Now I’m getting a bit fed up. What’s so good about Mrs P but so bad about
me? Well, rather a lot actually, so let’s
quietly park that one.
I log on to my email several more times during the afternoon, but there’s still no news from the guys at NZeTA. It starts to dawn on me that we could have a problem here. Maybe some ne’er-do-well has stolen my identity and done despicable things in my name? Or perhaps I’ve been doing a werewolf, living a normal life by day and then, under the cover of darkness, become an international gangster who commits heinous crimes which he promptly forgets as soon as the sun comes up?
Bloody hell, if they don’t let me in Mrs P will go to New
Zealand by herself and leave me with an enormous list of jobs to do while she’s
away. It’s just too painful to think
about it, so I try not to. But I spend a
restless night anyway, worrying about what’s gone wrong. Has Jacinda’s crew found a skeleton lurking
in my cupboard, one that I know nothing about?
The next morning I rush to check my inbox again, even before
making a cuppa. Praise the lord, there’s
an email from NZeTA. I’VE PASSED! My
closet is officially free from skeletons, so Jacinda’s agreed to let me in to
spend my hard-earned pension on Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.
Watch out, you kiwis, the Platypus Man’s on his way.