Wednesday, 13 July 2011

First Impressions of Christchurch

"Welcome to Christchurch!"   These were the words said by several colleagues in Paul's office right after he felt his first earthquake aftershock (a relatively mild but noticeable 4.3 event on Monday July 11th that shook the building for a few seconds).  Paul is now considered semi-native to the computer scientists, as he quickly added GeoNet (a New Zealand earthquake event information web site - ) to his web bookmarks.  We've only felt one aftershock so far, though this site shows that there have been thousands since the largest earthquake in February of this year.

Though this is an English-speaking country, there are a number of initially disorienting facets of life.  First is that traffic proceeds on the left in New Zealand, so you have to look right first when crossing the street - we don't want to cause an accident, at least not in our first week here.  Second, the sun rises and sets across the north instead of across the south, and the wind patterns are backwards - north winds mean warmth, south winds mean cold.  Third is the seasonal switch - after coming from 90 degree temperatures in Eau Claire, the days get up to 50 or 55 F if it's nice, and down near freezing on the colder nights.  You'll notice in the photos that we're generally wearing lots of layers (Paul had five on top this morning, including two layers of polartec), and we generally put on an extra layer inside our flat.

Almost everyone we've met so far has been very kind and helpful, which is all the more impressive in light of the difficulties they've had with the earthquakes.  We were told that most people in the city know someone who died (181 people are believed to have died in the February earthquake), but people are cheerful and ready to move on.  Still, the earthquake is a central topic of conversation - morning tea time talk at the Computer Science department usually starts elsewhere but soon comes back to the earthquake.  There's a dry wit used by many people we talked to that seems helpful in lightening the burden of the recent events - witness the name of the cafe on the first floor of the Computer Science building.

We always like checking out grocery stores to see what's different, and we've done that here as well.  Some products just have different names (e.g. the British names are used for eggplants (aubergines) and zucchini (courgettes), but there are new vegetables we haven't seen, such as kumara (a sweet potato).  What they call a yam looks like a bright red knobby new potato.  There's also a huge wine selection in the local supermarket, as New Zealand has a strong and growing wine industry, especially in white wines.  (We received a bottle of New Zealand wine as a housewarming gift, and it's been fun to try several of the local wines.)  The beer selection is smaller, but there are some craft breweries in Christchurch, Dunedin, and other South Island cities, so Paul will have some tasting to do.

Today we took the bus across the city to the local food co-op.  Piko Market is a worker-owned co-op that had to relocate because they lost their old brick building (and all contents) in the earthquake.  They found a new building, and the woman we talked to said that business is picking up.  Cindy and our new friend discussed issues relating to worked-owned food collectives.  Piko is fairly small, but still retains the feel of older co-ops with an emphasis on bulk foods and friendly, enthusiastic staff.  We liked the store, and will definitely take the time to go back.  A major bus route used to go about 6 blocks away from their new location, but even the bus routes have changed because of the earthquake, and a temporary route detour now takes a bus right to their front door.

It's great to be walking around the city in the middle of winter and seeing blooming rhododendrons, bright ivy, a host of blooming plants we don't know, and green grass.  There are rivers, creeks and streams running right through town, which makes it even more charming.  Anyone who has lived in the Pacific west or northwest would feel at home here - bright and green in winter, drier in summer.  We're looking forward to learning more about the plants, and maybe even doing some gardening at the places we live.

So, we are starting to feel somewhat at home - we're settling in where we live, Paul's teaching and work schedule is somewhat set, we've found the neighborhood grocery store, and we have visited the local cooperative food store,   Life is quite good so far.

Cheers from two temporary kiwis!

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