If the truth be told, my real first impression of Auckland was how loud the noise of the local cicadas was outside my room … and in the domain where I run … and Albert Park where the local Chinese population are preparing a latern festival to celebrate their New Year tonight. High pitched and annoying at first, this sound has gradually become the background music of my time here and I have grown to like the constancy it provides me whilst away from familiar surroundings.
For those used to London’s extensive public transport system, Auckland’s mass transit system is fairly rudimentary considering that a quarter of the country’s population is based in and around the city. However, as is often the way with these things, what is lacking in quantity is more than made up for by the quality. Take the bus service I have been using. Called ‘The Link’, it is the Auckland street equivalent to London’s Circle tube line, encircling all the major parts of the Central Business District and it’s surrounding neighbourhoods with buses that run both clockwise and anti-clockwise at 10 minute intervals. The drivers are friendly and seem to be real characters, flirting with the staff who get on at the City Hospital and keeping a stern yet fatherly eye on the grammar school kids who use the bus. I’m sure that the fact that the drivers are not encased in the armoured glass that is sadly necessary in London is partly the reason folks seem to go out of their way to smile and thank the driver when the leave the bus. Yesterday, when I jumped aboard his bus for the third time that day to head back into the CBD after a dash back to the motel for papers, the walrus-moustached Maori driver looked over his mirror shades at me, raised an eyebrow and said ‘Forget something, mate?’ before cracking a wide smile.
Apart from taking the odd bus and running each day, I have walked pretty much everywhere and it has been an excellent way to really get a feel for the layout and make up of the city. At first glance, the individual lapboard houses and the wide smooth asphalt streets lined with trees are reminiscent of small town America but the tall palms and pohutukawa trees, the voices of the locals and the cars driving on the left are all indicators that make it clear that New Zealand is very different and very not-anywhere-else. The hot and humid weather with brief tropical showers is very pleasant when not wearing a suit and tie and the sun is deceptively strong, as my pink forehead proves. It would seem that, other than a few backpacking Brits I saw yesterday, I am the only person in this city who doesn’t have a tan and perspires as soon as I step outside the door; that said, it’s better than being in the snow back home right now. The weather seems to engender the easygoing relaxed demeanour that I have found in almost every person I have met. This attitude and behaviour is all the more beguiling because it seems more mellow/less brash than the ‘no worries, mate’ directness of the neighbouring Aussies. Observing folks on the streets, in stores and in bars and restaurants, I notice that society here seems to be a little more balanced than elsewhere, with young and old, European settler and Maori mixing without the class-ridden self-consciousness of the Brits or the status symbol awareness of the Americans. Office workers happily sit alongside street cleaners on a shady bench to eat their lunch snacks and exchange a few words before returning to their respective labours.
Meanwhile, back on the emigration front, I have spent much of the last two days meeting with recruiters, filling out forms and talking over my employment prospects here in NZ. Apart from the friendliness of the folks, the process is much the same as back home and has meant a couple of hours on the computer and phone each day following up meetings and planning next moves. Luckily, I seem to have weathered the worst of the jet lag and have managed to present a bright and relatively sparky ‘me’ to the folks I have seen. In between these meetings, I visited a lovely person called Brenda at the WestPac Bank in Queen Street. Brenda had called SWMBO some months back after getting our contact details when we visited an NZ expo in the UK last year and has proved to be a very helpful contact to have. Unlike the UK, where one needs their grandmother’s birth certificate, a gas bill and the cat’s inside leg measurement, opening a bank account in NZ is simplicity itself – so much so that I somehow managed to acquire one whilst chatting to Brenda about immigration and money matters.
Whilst nothing concrete has emerged yet, a couple of leads have cropped up and, for this reason, I have decided to stay in Auckland over the weekend and for a few days next week in order to follow these up. As I am only booked into my current room until tomorrow, I have taken the opportunity to book a room in a motel just up the road for the next few days. The room I have is fine if a little basic but the 14k Internet connection is absolutely awful and I have been unable reliably connect to my mail, my FTP or blog servers let alone upload my pictures to Flickr. If SWMBO is reading, the fact that the motel has a bar and seafood restaurant had nothing to do with my booking a room there so if these turn up on my bill, it’ll be an admin error. Honest.
Note: The Wallabies fans out there might like to know that the spellchecker of Blogjet (the app I use to post these articles) offers the word ‘Pussies’ as an alternative for ‘Aussies’. I pass this on without comment for information only.