Day 1- Saturday 2nd Dec: Flights – are all Men Created Equal?
I am not sure how many hours it took from Komatsu, Japan to Christchurch, New Zealand, because of all the transit. We (Jeremy and I) flew from Komatsu to Haneda Airport in Tokyo, then from Haneda to Auckland, New Zealand’s biggest city. After that, it was another flight to Christchurch. It was a long journey down South.
While in this day and age, we seem to abhor that anyone should be descriminated against in terms of age, gender, race, sexuality, colour or creed, we seem to accept the reality of discrimination against nationality as well as economic status. At Auckland, the immigration queue was long by any standard but when you have a 4 year old who can’t stand still, it’s not an exaggeration to say it feels like the queue stretches to infinity. However the announcer came on to say that UK, US or Canadian residents could go to the fast track queue. Luckily, when those were cleared, we parents with young children were shepherded to that fast track queue so I guess all’s well that ends well?
We had like a 4 hour layover at Auckland so we had lunch at McDonald’s before proceeding to the domestic terminal. When we arrived at Christchurch, I couldn’t find an Uber to take us to the hotel. The other option was to take a cab – I had been warned that prices are expensive in NZ – or to take a bus. Google Maps said I could take the Purple Line at a bus stop 1 minute away. It was around 7pm but it was still light out and I didn’t have much luggage. So I took the bus and met this friendly bus driver. She had slightly purple hair and sang along to all the songs on the radio. The bus ride cost 8 NZD. Jeremy rides free because he’s 4. The paying age in NZ buses is from 5 onwards.. in Japan it’s from 6, even for trains.
Oh, before I forget, I cannot describe what it felt like seeing New Zealand from the air. So I’ll just leave a picture.
Day 2, Sunday 3rd Dec – The Christchurch Botanical Gardens, Christchurch Gondola
Okay I admit my choices of what to see and do in ChCh were heavily influenced by the search “Top 10 things to do in Christchurch” on TripAdvisor. But the gardens are really beautiful and worth spending a morning or afternoon. It’s a botanist’s dream I guess, with plants from all over the world. Jeremy and I had a guided tour, so that’s how I know. We saw trees, flowers including roses, there was a restaurant where we stopped to get snacks on our tour etc. The weather was just beautiful.. sunshine all over but it wasn’t that hot or humid, it was like 24 or 25deg Celsius. So when the driver of the “caterpillar” commented “this must be comfortable for you”, I was like, “yes, yes it really is.” (See previous posts about some people in Japan saying the same comment to me in 38deg Celsius, humid weather)
It rapidly got hotter as noon approached and it wasn’t so comfortable anymore. Luckily, there was a playground and a paddling pool. Unfortunately, I hadn’t carried J’s swimming shorts so I let him swim in his underwear – hey, there were plenty of fully clothed kids in there and some adults too.
The Uber Story
Uber in NZ really is uber expensive compared to say, Uber in Malaysia. I didn’t know that until I got impatient waiting for the bus to the Gondola base from the botanical gardens. It was hot, we were thirsty and hungry, but I wanted us to eat at the restaurant at the top of the hill (mountain). The main reason I couldn’t wait was because I was with Jeremy, and no one seemed to know the exact bus schedule so I decided, why not uber. This time I found a cab and uber just states the *price range* where the final price is calculated after arrival. It cost me 44 NZD instead of the 5 NZD it would have had I waited an extra 20 minutes.
Anyway, our driver turned to be an Ethiopian! He said he was there mainly for missionary work. There is this thing Africans in the diaspora do when they meet: comparing notes on the livability of our host countries. We all agreed NZ is beautiful and friendly (to visitors); but that’s the same of any country. He said living there wasn’t so easy though and advised me to go back to Kenya after my graduation. I nodded because.. Growth in Nairobi seems unstoppable if we judge by the skyscrapers coming up. I mean, look at Upperhill! It wasn’t like that when I left 3 years ago..
As is typical of the friendliness of many Africans, he invited me to his house to meet his family if I got the time. Sadly, I never did get the time because I would only be in NZ for 6 days.
Sorry for the digression. Where were we? Yes, Day 2. Went up Christchurch Gondola to beautiful views of the bay and of Christchurch city. Lunch up there was good too. Went a bit crazy at the shop, buying souvenirs for friends back in Japan. (By the way, for a moment there, I had a really hard time trying to remember the English word for souvenirs. Omiyage, the Japanese word, kept popping up in my head. My stay in Japan may be having a negative effect on my ability to think and write in English. I literally had to type into Google “omiyage in English”)
Below is a view of Lyttleton Harbour from the top of “Gondola” Hill.
Jeremy and I going up the hill in a gondola
Day 3, Monday 4th Dec – Chilling, Conference Registration, Beach
The main reason for going to New Zealand was to attend and present at a conference (ICCE2017). The actual conference wouldn’t start until Wednesday but I wanted to check out the venue, register for the conference and check out the room I would do my presentation in.
That day was particularly scorching and we went to the beach only much later in the evening. Luckily, the sun didn’t go down until around 10pm so we did enjoy some beach time.
Day 4 Tuesday, Dec 5th – Lunch, Shopping and the Container Mall
We stayed in the room all morning because I had to make some final changes to my presentation and also just to rest. In Japan, we’ve been relying on Weetabix cereal for a quick breakfast and I found an equivalent in a convenience store next to our hotel. Only, the name wasn’t Weetabix but Weetbix. Did the job though!
Later, we walked through the town admiring the street art, sampling the food (okay, I lie. We did no sampling. Except for the days we had lunch at the conference, we basically survived on burgers and fries. Ugh, if I never have another burger again, it will be too soon. Another lie, I am already back to eating burgers).
Day 5 Wednesday, Dec 6th – Conference and the drama at the Margaret Mahy Playground
Attending the conference with a young child is quite tricky especially if you didn’t bring along someone to mind him. But Jeremy has these moments when he’s focused on watching Cartoon where he is literally in that cartoon world. I took advantage of this to catch a few talks ( he was also plugged in during my presentation). After a free lunch at the conference, I decided to skip the afternoon talks – I can always read the papers online later – and took him to the famous Margaret Mahy playground. It was just a 5 minute walk away. Jeremy enjoyed running around, climbing up, sliding down, while I watched and tried to keep an eye on him.
So there is a tall slide, and a kid has to go up using climbing nets. I kept warning Jeremy not to go so high up because he’s kind of scared of heights. Of course he didn’t listen so up and up he went, until he was halfway through and got scared.. he didn’t want to go up nor come down. This lovely girl from Australia who was also visiting with her family offered to go help him (I was in a dress and it wasn’t really suitable for climbing). She thought it was easier to just get to the top and slide down rather than come down the same way he went up. Just as they got to the top, Jeremy refused to step into the slide and started crying.. he literally froze in place. I had to abandon all decorum and go up there and coax him down. Two days later when we went back to the playground, he wanted to go back up again! Kids forget so easily!
Day 6: Thursday, Dec 7th – Botanical Gardens (Again) and Christchurch Tram and a Missed Banquet
At the conference, I ran into friends from JAIST who had already gone back to their respective countries (Indonesia and Thailand). We had lunch together and talked a bit. I also ran into a Kenyan studying at Canterbury University. In the afternoon, I joined my supervisor and another alumnus from our lab in another tour of the botanical gardens, this time no guided tour but a lovely stroll around it. We combined the tour with a tram tour as well, just going round the must-see spots in the city center.
That night, probably from fatigue (trying running after a 4 year old around all day), I was feeling a bit under the weather. I ended up missing the conference banquet that I was really looking forward to attending (would probably have been my first banquet). I heard from reliable sources the following day that traditional dancers performed the haka. But my presentation was also on the following day so the more reason for me to take it easy and rest.
Day 7, Friday 8th Dec – Presentation and back to the Margaret Mahy Playground
I presented my paper at the conference. It really went well, the audience even asked me questions I couldn’t successfully respond to (that’s when you know it’s a good conference because it challenges you and gives you an opportunity to learn more).
That’s me doing my presentation at ICCE2017. Yes, there is an audience I promise, from the 2nd row backwards!
After lunch, I took J back to the playground, we had one last walk around the city, and then I packed our belongings. Our flight on Saturday morning was to depart at 6am(!) so we had to leave the hotel at 4am! I decided not to sleep (big mistake!) for fear of missing my alarm. I spent the night finishing Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom.
Day 7- Saturday Dec 9th: No Flight Out? Plus a Night at Auckland
At 3:30am, the alarm went off. I hadn’t slept a wink. I put a book in the book, rose up, washed my face, dressed Jeremy, got our luggage downstairs.. you get the picture. I got ready for the airport. Once at the airport, we checked in, got onto the airplane, slept through a 30 minute delay for some mechanical reason, taxied to the end of the runway ready for take off, only for the captain to announce that the engines weren’t turning on so we had to go back to the terminal and disembark.
I took that time to take a nap while jerking awake every few minutes to check on J. He managed to take this photo of me.
After a 3 hour delay, we arrived in Auckland to find our flight for Japan had long left. We were put up at a nearby hotel and given meal vouchers as well. The hotel was so lovely, I even wished we were staying longer. I slept for almost 12 hours!
Day 8, Sunday Dec 10th: Back to Japan
Finally, at 9:30am, we departed from Auckland and landed at Haneda in Tokyo that night. We went from 28 deg to -2deg in 24 hours. Took a few days to adjust but now that I have resigned to the cold, you will see me rejoicing whenever the weather is sunny at 6deg. I will even go outside without a jacket (for up to 5 minutes!).
Happy New Year Loyal Readers! It’s gonna be an exciting one for me (and you of course, by extension.)
Here’s to more travel adventures in 2018!