Aotearoa: Wellington, Continued
Having been in Wellington for a week, I came to the following observation: At 32, I'm a bit old for staying in hostels. Not that hostels have an age limit - not most of them, anyway. But they do cater to the young and penniless crowd, who are rather more numerous than the older and penniless crowd, and so there are, generally speaking, more partiers than researchers at any given hostel.
Now, I'm not saying that's a bad thing. A decade ago I probably annoyed my share of hostel dormmates by coming in and making noise late at night, and everyone should have the ability to do that. I just wish that I had the money not to stay in hostels at age 32, when my response to my neighbors' nightly pot-smoking party is not envy, but earplugs.
It's probably not even so much my age as it is the purpose of my visit. I'm not here to see the clubs or sample the nightlife. (I did go out two nights last week, but both I and the librarian I was with didn't make it much past 9:30 pm at the latest. And before you roll your eyes, hey, he's a FUN librarian! No, really, that's not a contradiction in terms...) I'm not even primarily here in Wellington to see the sights. I'm here to research. And to get the most out of my time here, I need to be at the library and archives much of the time they're open. Which is 9 am to 5 pm, more or less.
So I get up early, and unless I want to spend the day staring at my notebook in a wholly unfocused manner, which I can ill afford with only two weeks at the library, I have to be in bed early, while my neighbors are still playing music and visitors keep drifting by to knock on their door and join the fun.
The bonus, of course, is that when I get up at 8, the kitchen is almost completely empty and there's never a wait for the showers. I don't begrudge my neighbors their party, especially as the hostel has thick walls and earplugs muffle the sound pretty thoroughly. (And before I left I made sure to buy a travel alarm clock that I can hear through my earplugs.)
Nevertheless, when I got an e-mail from the daughter of friends of my parents - not H-FOMP, a different set of friends - who lives in Wellington and said I could stay with her, I was pretty thrilled. Not having endless supplies of money (the primary source of travel funds for this trip is a small research grant, and I want to stretch it as far as I can before I have to use my own, er, credit cards...), hostels are by far the economic choice, particularly when you're on your own, but staying with someone in a real home beats that hands down. And jeez, how nice is it of a perfect stranger to offer me her home? That's fantastic.
(And best of all, the room I'm now sleeping in has a small but very effective heater!!! Yesterday I walked in to go to bed and thought it was swelteringly hot at 65 degrees - ah, how frames of reference change. Back home in Texas, I swear I'll freeze to death if the thermostat is set to lower than 68 degrees.)
But in spite of not primarily being here to see the sights, I did get to do some touristy things today, because it's Sunday, and the archives are closed and I can't actually go do research. (Yay!) First order of business was to buy some warm clothes; only two sweaters and a sweatshirt will not get you through a New Zealand winter, not if you're planning to go to the South Island. So I meandered around central Wellington and sort of looked for warm tops, and sort of just looked.
Then I walked into the Civic Centre, which I'd walked past every day so far, but had not yet explored. It's a funky place, with some great architecture and sculptures. Wellington has some pretty funky architecture, on the whole, especially where public buildings and public art are concerned.
I walked around the plaza and took in the waterfront, where hundreds of Wellingtonians and tourists were enjoying the warm weather. (And, unlike most times I've gone near the waterfront, it wasn't deadly windy, either.) The waterfront offers impressive views of mountains in the distance and Wellington close by, and seems to appeal to just about all age groups.
Taking the path along the waterfront, I headed to Te Papa, the National Museum of New Zealand. I'd heard it described rather vaguely as being "innovative architecture," and as I approached the building, not knowing whether it was indeed the museum, I thought, "Now, if I was Te Papa, that is what I would want to look like." Apparently I'm not the only one with that opinion, as it was, of course, Te Papa.
Te Papa is a funky building; I really like its lines and colors, its very distinctive look. Inside, it's about as modern as museums get, with a lot of multimedia displays (some of which are annoying - I'm not sure why I'd want to hear various children read me information about the country's plant life - and some of which are really good, like the movie on Maori ties to the land). What's impressive is the museum's scope; unlike many national museums, it's not just about the majority culture. There's a quite substantial component of the museum devoted to Maori culture, and judging by the way that the word "we" is used in the exhibits, Maori iwi (tribes) and individuals have played a substantial role in developing these displays. There is a very clear sense of respect for the sacred, of understanding and respecting the boundaries that tradition may impose on what is displayed in a museum, and the iwis tell their own stories, rather than - as in so many anthropologically-oriented museums - some "experts" telling their story for them. There's also an interesting critique of Maori imagery in souvenirs and the tourist industry, which does a fine job of pointing out what is offensive and why.
The one thing I didn't see - and I was sensitive to this because the day before, I'd gone to an exhibit at the National Library on the poll tax, a £100 tax on Chinese immigrants imposed until 1944 - was much on Asian immigration to New Zealand. That may well have been because Te Papa is vast, and I couldn't get through all of the exhibits; but judging by the National Library's exhibit, that's also a history that's only now beginning to come under scrutiny (the National Library exhibit was part of the government's official apology (in 2002) for the poll tax as a racist measure), so it may not be fully represented at Te Papa yet. I'll have to look around some more when I go there a second time; one visit is just not enough.
Well, that's about it for now; it's back to the library tomorrow, and I also need to start planning the next portion of the visit, a slow, leisurely drive from here to Auckland with my friend, The Lawyer Formerly Known As Sarah, who arrives Friday.
13. July 2003
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