Sometimes, while riding the bus to work, I would open the calendar on my phone. If there was something important to remember I would create an “event”; if not, I’d start counting backwards. It was something of a meditative ritual for me, counting the number of weeks Barret and I had been in Korea.
That morning was a Tuesday, my busiest day of the week, so I should have been thinking about my Sponge Time activity. Instead, I was scrolling back from February 22nd, 2011. 26 weeks! I felt like I had accomplished something meaningful, but I wasn’t sure if it was because I had completed my little task or if it was because I was living in Asia. By the way, I still couldn’t believe I was living in Asia.
My memory of that day is hazy, but I must have been stepping off the bus when the earthquake struck; according to Wikipedia that was around 8:51AM.
The ground rumbled, buildings tumbled, soil liquefied, and 185 people died. Not that I’d noticed though, I was actually 6,286 miles away. Like most natural disasters, the Christchurch earthquake didn’t mean much more to me than another depressing video clip on the news. And even that began fading out of memory once I closed my browser.
It wasn’t until I visited Christchurch that I finally realized the severity of the quake. I mean, the central business district still looked like it was destroyed by a bomb a year and a half later! Although many buildings along this periphery remain abandoned, new businesses have opened up and visitors are allowed to walk around the cordoned off “red zone”. The only way to access the city center is on a Red Zone Tour, which is what we did.
Of all the things the guide pointed out (and there were a lot of information), the thing that struck me the most were the signs of resilience. Set against a backdrop of demolished buildings were temporary art projects, gardens, and even book exchanges- all thanks to organizations like Gapfiller. The community wasn’t the only sector being revitalized too, there was also Re:Start- a lively café and shopping district housed in temporary shipping containers.
Everywhere we looked we saw impromptu art installations, commissioned graffiti, miniature golf, sculptures made with shipping pallets, ect. There was no end to the creativity. The citizens of Christchurch had been given a clean slate and they were running with it. It was inspiring and cool and reminded me of art school (The poor GRA building was always covered with some undergrads art project). I could tell the city had been beautiful, but if the present was any indicator, then the best has yet to come.
How to get to the Red Zone Tours: Tickets can be purchased online, by phone, or in person at the i-Site visitor center on Rolleston Avenue (next to the Canterbury Museum). Buses depart on Rolleston Avenue.