Christchurch, New Zealand
Posted on January 28th, 2005
I’ll save you the time reading 1,088 words and tell you right at the
gun that this essay contains precious little information about the city of Christchurch.
I divided the bulk of my time in Christchurch finishing the Kaikoura
article, getting stupid drunk and watching the shows at the World Busking Festival
(for the American readers, “busking” is street performing). So,
if you’re looking for practical information on Christchurch, do yourself
a favor and go back to Google right now.
That said, here’s the other 992 words about what transpired in during
my time in Christchurch.
I frittered away my first two days in Christchurch laboring over the Final
Edit, the Final-Final Edit and the 263rd Read-Through Just for Luck Edit of
the Kaikoura article. Immediately after bagging that, I went out with yet another
Juggler’s Rest acquaintance and our agreed upon, shared, single bottle
of wine with dinner turned into a legless, gratuitous boozing display that would
have humbled the Green Day boys. It took a full 24 hours to find my brain afterward,
at which point I set out to see Christchurch.
My single day roaming Christchurch started out with a 10:00AM meeting with
a representative at Christchurch Tourism and Marketing, who represents several
businesses in Kaikoura. She and I had exchanged a few emails as I was bumbling
through my Kaikoura arrangements and she offered to meet with me to facilitate
my time in Christchurch. The meeting was supremely fruitful. I left with a full
Christchurch media kit, a ticket for the restored tram ride that circled the
city center and, best of all, a fairly competent itinerary for the remainder
of my time in NZ.
After absorbing much of the media kit, I wandered down to the Christchurch
Arts Center where I was promised free displays, artisans at work and, my favorite,
a tour through the kitchen of the fudge store. The letdown was cruel. Many of
the studios were closed on Mondays, the day of my visit, many more were simply
thinly veiled stores, with no artists in sight and the fudge tour only happened
once a day, in the middle of the afternoon and it cost $12. I was done with
the Arts Center in about 20 minutes.
I moved further down Worcester Street, admiring the stone buildings of the
former university grounds before I came to the Christchurch Botanic Gardens.
Christchurch is supposed to be the “garden city.” Although I hadn’t
yet seen a single flower anywhere in Christchurch, the huge botanic gardens
virtually redeemed the city’s claim. With the Avon River snaking through
the gardens in the shape of a big boot, lakes Victoria and Albert and the adjacent
North and South Hagley parks, the area is vast, varied, perfectly tended and
a joy to wander through. My favorite part was the Odor Garden, filled with rows
of plants giving off distinct and remarkable smells. Sadly, none were of the
chocolate or cider variety.
Next I climbed aboard the city’s restored tram. The ride is disappointingly
short, but the tram driver’s commentary was enthusiastic and entertaining.
It was a nice 15 minutes, but I think I would have been a bit disappointed if
I had paid the full $12 fare. I jumped off the tram at Cathedral Square and,
feeling that I’d done enough street beating for one day, I settled down
with the collected, backpacker/juggler misfits to scrutinize the talent at the
World Busking Festival. By pure chance, I had lurched into town on the second
day of the 10 day festival. Free street shows were going on all over town, including
right outside the front door of Base Backpackers - my reluctant hostel choice
- for five hours a day in Cathedral Square. It was supremely satisfying to just
walk out the front door and see a great show while sitting out on the grass
with a beef kebab and a liter of water. As with all festivals of this type,
there are some brilliant acts and some duds that made one wonder how they were
invited in the first place. My favorite act, by far, was a talented duo from
Japan called “Gamarjobat.” These two, mohawked, rose suited, middle-aged
guys did quite possibly the most universally pleasing and internationally hilarious
act I have ever seen. Their speechless show mixed mime, comedy, goofball magic,
audience interaction and edgy sexual innuendo (keeping in mind that 2/3 of the
audience was under the age of 10) with brilliant perfection. I was so close
to tears the whole time that I barely got it together to help them with a brief
gag that they forced on me.
I didn’t mention this before, but I had one very surreal, but wonderful
experience in Christchurch. I met and was fed by a women I had met 11 years
earlier, backpacking in Spain. She, a South African companion and I stuck together
for two of the biggest, cluster-f*cked weeks of drinking in four cities that
I have ever experienced, before or since. One memorable night in Granada, we
discovered that the hostel had a vending machine in the lobby that dispensed
single serving drink boxes of the worst red wine in the universe. I was not
a wine drinker at the time. In fact I loathed the stuff, but our budgets had
long since dropped below the level that would afford us sangria, so we had no
choice. In less than 24 hours, we emptied the vending machine of the wine. The
little boxes were piled up in the corner of our room, nearly burying the overflowing
wastebasket. Next to that disaster were two cheap bottles of vodka that we’d
found time for in the interim. Needless to say, it was a messy couple of weeks.
After only sporadic email contact during our years apart, Chris and I managed
to coordinate a meeting on my third night in Christchurch. She picked me up
and brought me to her home for a gut-busting home cooked meal and hours of catch-up
and reminiscing. It was oddly comforting being with her again, despite our fleeting
relationship and lengthy time apart. Unfortunately, it was a work night for
her and I was still reeling from the week of hysterical running around Kaikoura
and the worst hangover I’d subjected myself to in six months. The night
ended early and sweetly.
These festivals always bring out the weirdos.
I ended up devoting two full days to the buskers, before I boarded the eight
hour bus down to Queenstown, home of bungee-jumping and host to nearly every
ancillary extreme sport imaginable.