I have nothing against UKish people. In fact I have lots of UKish friends. Hi there, friends in the UK!
But there I was at the bus stop, waiting for the airport bus in a doomed attempt to pick up @thelittlepakeha from the airport (a whole nother story), and there was this tourist dude from the UK, white, probably 30ish, with a backpack, and he asked (after enquiries about the bus) "There isn't really anything around here, is there?"
And me and this other woman looked at each other and said, approximately, "In the Christchurch CBD? No. No, not really."
I mean there's the Re:Start Mall, but he'd already been there. (Oh, btw I just discovered there today, if you need a quick lunch ignore the queues at the cafes and go into the bread place: they have filled rolls for $5.) And there are restaurants again around the Art Centre area, but he'd already eaten. There used to be the temporary library, but it's being torn down today. I forgot to mention the museum and the Pallet Pavilion and the Transitional Cathedral and Alice's and so forth, but the thing was he wanted to buy things. We suggested the suburban malls but he'd already been there and they didn't have anything he couldn't find in Australia for cheaper.
He was starting to get oddly complainy, so I said something with a pointed emphasis on "post-quake Christchurch". And then he said in very nearly these words: "How come you haven't fixed it yet?"
I got mad. I told him I was mad and he shouldn't dare diss what we've achieved in three years. I attempted to give him an idea of the scope of what we're talking about here, but he didn't get it. He reckoned that if the centre of London was levelled it'd all be rebuilt within a couple of years. I told him I hope that never happens. He said sure, but still.
At one point I stepped back and let the other woman talk to him about the weather for a bit. When we were settled on the bus I thought of just getting out my laptop and writing. But then I was looking out the window at our Rubin vase of a city:
And I just... went over to him and said, "Look, if you want, I'll tell you about the things you're not seeing."
And he agreed, so I pointed out the artwork on fences, and the art gallery that housed Civil Defense, and yeah timber houses did pretty well but office buildings not so much.
And repairing all this, I said, well, first you've got to check— And I remembered right back to the start. First they had to check for survivors. He asked how many died; I told him; he said wow; there was a pause. And then you've got to check for structural integrity. You've got to decide what level of structural integrity you want. You've got to bring it down without damaging the buildings next door. And then you can start thinking about rebuilding.
And behold: a half-built apartment block, and Hinemoana Baker's poetry, and Knox Church which is just now starting a rebuild, and there've been 450,000 claims to the Earthquake Commission and tens of thousands of repairs done already but so many more to go and that's just residential.
And there's where the temporary bus exchange was - one of them, connected by a shuttle to the other at Hagley Park, where they used tarps and a spare bus as shelter from the elements. And that building back at the current temporary Bus Exchange that was being torn down today? That was the temporary central library; just like in my suburb the library was damaged and had to be rehoused temporarily and now has a permanent location in the mall and it's just fantastic.
And I talked about when getting up in the morning to find that a newspaper's been delivered is like a goddamn miracle. And how when you've been without electricity for four days you're pretty damn grateful to the electricity company for getting it back on, and likewise when you no longer have to trek to the Sallies for your water, and when you can stop boiling all your water, and when you don't have to use your chemical toilet anymore.
And how the University of Canterbury had taught in tents, and Lincoln University lost 40% of its teaching space, and funny story: I was video conferencing the other day with an Aussie working out of her laundry, and later I heard that she was mortified to learn that we'd realised that, and I blinked because I'd forgotten that it wasn't completely normal for people to be working out of borrowed spaces like that.
But to this guy, everything here was strange, and not just in an "unfamiliar to me" sense. Not just because of the quakes. The fact that the airport was so far (20 whole minutes) away from the centre of town. Strange, even when I explained that in New Zealand (as opposed I guess to more built up areas where you have no choice, though in retrospect I think he was just full of it because no-one has an airport next to the CBD) we get to have quiet and peaceful houses so don't want to spoil it with planes flying overhead. Totally strange.
So I tried to explain, "Strange is just what you're not used to," and this struck him as a revelation, though not one that sunk in very far. He just couldn't understand why everything was so much more expensive here than in Australia. I tried to explain that things have to travel further, and petrol costs money; in fact even within New Zealand the farther south you come the more expensive petrol is because you have to transport that too.
But he couldn't get it. He just kept saying that everything's cheaper in Australia, cheaper in the UK. Okay, he admitted, the economy's not great here but in Greece where the economy's crashed everything's dirt cheap.
And it was just on and on like this. There were these moments where he'd say something particularly clueless: When he'd visited the US they'd tidied up after the Twin Towers! (He honestly couldn't see the difference in scale.) Australia never has disasters! (He grudgingly admitted to bushfires but I don't think he actually gets the scale of those either.) He was startled when I had to tell him no, no it's not possible to predict when an earthquake is going to strike, in fact we didn't even know there was a fault under Christchurch, we thought if a quake did strike it'd be Wellington or the Alpine Fault.
When we got out to the airport he mentioned having five hours to wait for his flight. I suggested at least giving the Antarctic Centre a visit, since that's nearby, but I don't know if he took me up on it. It felt like he was just going to sit in his little box with the lid pulled safely down, thinking about how strange it is that he can't see anything anywhere around him.
- In which she meets the proverbial whinging Pom