A Wedding in Christchuch: Week 162

On a vinyeard just outside of Christchurch

“Is that all your luggage?” the customs official had asked with a skeptical glance.

“Yes.” We only had two small backpacks and a canvas bag with my dress and heels.

“We just jumped over for a wedding.” I felt like a jet-setter, but in reality we had caught a cheap red-eye flight to Christchurch. It was only three hours away.

It was after midnight by the time we reached our motel, the door to our room left unlocked. We ate an airport dinner on the bed and turned on the TV. There’s something about watching the news in a hotel room that elicits an inexplicable excitement in me.

Maybe it began back in ’94 with the promise of a new start in the Sunshine State, my mom turning on the news while my dad sat outside smoking the day’s first cigarette. Pack the last few items in the U-Haul and stop at the McDonalds on the way out of town. A long, long road lay ahead and the sun was just rising.

***

Barret and I have had an odd relationship with Christchurch. It’s a city still working to overcome a crippling earthquake that destroyed its entire downtown. Because of this, out of all the possible cities to visit in New Zealand, Christchurch would not currently be at the top of our list.

However we keep going back: once on our own, twice with Barret’s mom, and once again when my sister stopped there on her way to Antarctica.

I hadn’t planned on returning, but there we were the following morning in the only taxi that didn’t use GPS. The driver, an elderly guy who liked to talk about LPG tanks, handed Barret a thick book of maps. “Don’t worry,” he announced, “you have that discount coupon.”

Five minutes later we were back on track and pulling into a gravel parking lot outside a vineyard on the city’s outskirts. The wooden pavilions at the entrance were draped in pastel bunting and the soft autumnal light was filtering through a row of oak trees.

A Maori prayer was sung, then Bahá’í vows (a faith which originated in 19th century Persia), then traditional Christian vows. I tossed my sachet of oak leaves on the newlywed couple and tried to discretely wipe my tears away.

I’m not quite sure what impels me towards movement, to crossing oceans and mountains and state lines and doorsteps. However moments like these, when I’m seated at candlelit table decorated with gnarled driftwood and surrounded by good friends, I’m reminded of how important it is to sometimes stop. Or, at the very least, slow down long enough to be invited to awesome weddings in Christchurch.

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Antarctic Centre: Week 89

Polaroid of The Antarctic Cenre

“How about Tanks for Everything?” Barret asked one evening while we were making dinner. “That sounds rad.”

It was our third visit to Christchurch and I was beginning to feel like we were living in the North South Holiday Park. Every night, while we cooked dinner in the shared kitchen, we picked up a few tourist pamphlets from the rack near the door and read them.

“Well- this still looks cool. How about the Adrenalin Forest?!”

“No.”

My modus operandi, at least since I picked up the brochure, had been to see a kiwi bird. Having achieved that, I wanted to save my money.

“The Antarctic Centre? You CAN’T say no to that.

I had previously nixed this idea as being dorky, but he was right. I couldn’t say no to that. Truth be told, I’d just found out that my sister Nan was chosen to go to Antarctica as a contract fire-fighter. I was pretty proud and somehow unsurprised that her first home-away-from-home would be an isolated, frozen tundra.

She was due to arrive in Christchuch in two days time for orientation and to pick up her cold weather gear. Only after she had forwarded me her contact details did I realize that the touristy Antarctic Centre was actually attached to the US Antarctic Program. In fact, the flights to Mc Murdo Station were the planes that flew over our tent and woke us up at midnight.

Suddenly attractions like the 4D EXTREME Theatre and Beyond the Frozen Sunset felt very relevant; I had to visit the Antarctic Centre.

Polaroid of the Hagglunds outside the Antarctic Centre

The tickets weren’t cheap, but Barret and I weren’t skimping on anything. We wanted to know as much as we could about what Nan might experience. If she was going to ride on a Hagglund, I wanted to as well. If she was going to fly on the Hercules cargo plane, I had to watch the whole informational video loop. If she got frostbite, then I was determined to simulate that by touching the ice slide with bare hands.

We browsed through Mc Murdo photo feeds far longer than the average visitor and shot each other knowing glances when there was firefighter equipment on display. Nan told me she was thinking of spending a winter season their too, so I watched an entire video about ‘life at the station’.

Spoiler alert- there were a lot of hippies and guitars.

I also gave anyone unfortunate enough to linger in my vicinity a short biography on my sister- employees included.

It was a new experience going to a museum with an agenda and I liked conducting research on behalf of my sister and my family. It felt a little bit stealthy, a little bit exciting, and I couldn’t wait to report back to Nan about Antarctica. She was going to love it!

How to get to the Antarctic Centre: 38 Orchard Road, Christchurch Airport, Christchurch 8544, New Zealand

Red Zone Tour: Week 86

Polaroid of Christchurh street art

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.

Polaroid of Gapfiller book exchange

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.

About: Gapfiller

About: Re:START

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.

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