As I sat in the taxi, being driven through Shanghai to the train that would take me to Pudong Airport, I felt a tinge of sadness. As much as I had become frustrated at trying to understand the ways of the Chinese, I was going to miss this place, I thought.
As I watched through the glass, I noticed small things. The tangled mess of telephone wires and powerlines. The small stinking, mysterious alleyways. The mayhem of millions of discontented building bricks that made up the overbearing mass of skyscrapers. Small shacks cowering under the shadows of the ever reproducing highrise apartments.
Chaos has it’s appeal, I decided. And leaving it left a tension in my gut. Finally I had what I wanted. I was going home. But really, I mean, really…is this really what I want?
I felt the same way as I sat on the Maglev uber-super express train from Shanghai to the Pudong International Airport. The super high-tech German train has a top speed of 431km/h. No part of the train touches the platform above which it floats. At this speed, small things raced away into oblivion. I watched from the super expensive double glazed strengthened windows as development and progress spun by in a blur. Massive wide streets, some newly completed, some older ones under a half-hearted attack from weeds. The streets waited patiently for their coming glory. For now, they are alone in wastelands on the outskirts of Shanghai. Come back in less than 5 years, and those roads will be bustling. Highrise apartments will line the streets, and will stand at attention, crammed into the confines of the grid of those wide roads.
While I am finished with China for now, China will not stop. Progress there is not a grinding wheel. It is a floating super express train, equipped with bullbars and battering rams, charging towards the future at 431km/h.
I was early for my flight. NZ88 from Shanghai (China) to Auckland (New Zealand), departing at 2:15pm from Gate 87. I bought a mexican beef wrap at a waiting lounge cafe. It cost me a ridiculous 5 Euro, and I was dismayed at how light the takeaway package felt. Welcome to the ‘real world’ I thought as I glanced inside the paper bag at the pathetic flop of tortilla and beef. I sat down on the floor next to Gate 87 and chewed on my Mexican Beef Wrap that cost me the equivalent of five days travelling budget in China.
On the plane, I was instantly transported to a comfortable cabin environment where familiar sounds and sights began to ease their way into my psyche. A flight attendant speaking with a New Zealand accent. Burt Monroe and his Flying Indian was on the inflight movie selection. I had a glass of Marlborough white wine with my smoked salmon and potato salad at the inflight meal. Ready or not, I had begun my transition home.
The flight was direct to Aukland. 11 hours of tolerable airtime, made easier by plenty of films to choose from. I naturally gravitated to the New Zealand selection; Scarfies and The World’s Fastest Indian.
The flight was an overnighter, and we approached Auckland just after dawn. Looking out the plane window, my feeling was neutral. What I saw below me was not home. It was another big city. It was as unfamiliar as any of the multitude of cities that I have seen during my travels. I was about to arrive in New Zealand, but I was not yet arriving home.
Plane on the ground, I walked towards immigration. “Welcome to New Zealand…” the PA system spouted. Wow. I’m actually in New Zealand. I really am, I thought. I felt a surge of euphoria funnel up inside me. I was walking on air. Almost two and a half years, I had never been back. And here I am.
I proudly presented my worn and tattered passport to the immigration officer. “How long have you been away?” she asked.
“Two and a half years,” I said with satisfaction. “I’ve been traveling for that whole time.”
“You’ve worked a little here and there? How have you supported yourself?” she asked, to my great joy.
With suppressed pride I explained my self-chosen path of poverty for the best part of those two and a half years. She was not particularly impressed or un-impressed. “Welcome home,” se said blandly, and I was allowed through.
“Well would you believe it?” I muttered under my breath. “In New Zealand at last.”
I collected my luggage from the rack. My longboard and trailer were safely cocooned in layers of cardboard and cling wrap. I declared my tent and wooden longboard to customs, and they checked them carefully for any trace of biological threat to the New Zealand environment. I did not resent the 20 minutes it took to unpack and repack the longboards and tent. Stringent biosecurity measures are what keeps New Zealand the way it is; green, clean, and beautiful.
My parents and my cousin Rachel were there a the arrivals gate when I finally got through biosecurity. The emotion that I felt as I embraced my Mum and Dad took me by surprise. I sobbed into my parents’ shoulders, tears flowing. There were times during the journey when, in the back of my mind, I thought that there was a slight possibility that I would not make it to New Zealand alive. I was never fearful of my personal safety in regards to people or environment. The open roads however were a life-threatening hazard that I did not underestimate. Especially on the longboard, there was an inherent risk in what I had been doing. To finally feel the embrace of my parents meant that I was finally safe.
Thanks to my cousin Rach for being there and capturing the moment.
A national TV crew was also there to capture the moment, and you can see the story here:
My first meal after arriving home was lunch at a local canteen. Quite obviously catering for the labour working crowd, the food was quintessential New Zealand. Chips, bacon, eggs, roast chicken. Sweet custard squares and cream filled buns. Bread rolls with more salad and meat filling than bread. And of course MEAT PIES.
I naturally gravitated to the meat pies. Mince and cheese was my choice. “You’re just like Chris (my brother),” my Mum said. “When ever he comes back from Australia, he always has a pie and a custard square!”
Chris, you’re a legend. I would have forgotten about the custard square had it not been for you. So I got myself a custard square too. Such great New Zealand fast food wonder. It was bliss.
The afternoon was spent chatting about family. Went into central Auckland and all agreed how horrible it must be to have to commute into the city every day. Had takeaway curry for tea (dinner) and Rach and I shared a beer as we waited for the curry to arrive. It was good to ponder life together.