Published: October 17th 2007September 23rd 2007
Why the long face?
These Kiwi's are scary looking people, let me tell you. Big wooden heads and enormous filtrums.
On a warm morning in Auckland we ventured out, through the Central Business District, by-passing the shopping Mecca that is Queen Street, past the Ferry Terminal to an area of poster plastered adult shops and fusty strip bars next to the docks. Our search for a place to call home for the next four months had brought us here. I have to say, that with the benefit of hindsight, it was an inauspicious beginning.
We stood outside the building frowning at the number above the door.
“Yup. This is it.”
“Are you sure?”
“I think so.”
In my text message contact with Jane, she had omitted mention of any distinguishing features of the building that might aid us in locating it. Other potential landlords or flatmates we had contacted had been clear in letting us know that their flat was number x
and that it was, for example, the large red house on the corner or the green flat above the grocers.
I was moderately surprised therefore, that “Jane” had overlooked the opportunity of pointing out that her flat was in fact easily identified by the large sign above the door that read “Massage” in both English and Chinese.
(At least that’s what I took the Chinese characters to mean - in retrospect, for all I knew, it could have read “Kinky Business Here” and I would have been none the wiser).
I was at first hesitant to climb the stairs, sure that there had been some sort of mistake, but I kept playing the advert over in my head: “flatmates required for large city centre flat; large double room with en-suite; couples OK”. It was a good price too. So I climbed the stairs, leaving a nervous looking Vik standing on the street looking about like a twitchy get away driver.
The doorbell managed less than half a note of Frère Jacques before the door was nervously half opened by a smiley-eyed Chinese girl. As she opened the door a little wider, she did that graceful arm movement thing that air stewards do to indicate emergency floor lighting, but she spoke in such a little whisper that I couldn’t tell whether she said “please come in” or “look at the length of my arms”.
I had hardly lifted my foot to step inside when an older Chinese woman appeared in the doorway out of nowhere.
6 Days Horizontal
For the first two days aboard the Hansa Rensburg I had my head in the toilet. Vik seemed to cope OK but got worse as time went by. Days three to six were spent on our backs watching the ships truly terrible collection of movies.
I can only assume that she’d been hidden on the other side of the door as the younger girl opened it. I could be wrong but I’m sure a frying pan passed quickly between the two women as Jane stepped forward to introduce herself.
“Lobbie?”, she asked. (It should be noted dear readers, that our stint in Asia has taught me to recognise the Asian pronunciation of my name without the slightest hint of hilarity; although I have to confess that it had been a while since I’d heard it that I was on the verge of saying “to be honest I’d describe it more as an entrance hall or vestibule”.)
With the identity of the place well and truly established, the coast was clear for me to summon Vik, so I poked my head out the door and beckoned her up. She didn’t look too keen. She gave me her “are you sure about this?” look - a look I hadn’t seen since I came up with my plan to get Malaria tablets from a Chinese hospital.
As we stood in the lobby exchanging the normal kind of pleasantries you do with a potential landlord and
her young, pretty gaggle of Chinese and Japanese female masseurs it was quite clear that Jane had something she wanted to get off her chest before we began the tour of her… flat/workplace:
“No sexual!” she said emphatically.
“My business is therapeutic - no sexual” she stated with plenty of vigorous hand waving.
“Massage” she went on, “has bad image in Auckland. My business is no sexual”.
Now, I’m not one for stereotyping - I’ll rue the day when I find myself lowered to writing blogs based on nothing more than my own sordid assumptions - but as I nodded my understanding I couldn’t help but wonder what sort of funding Jane would get from the Princes Trust if her business plan included locating her massage business in an area frequented by sailors and stag nights, with porn and sex toy retailers for neighbours.
I wanted to move in immediately. Admittedly, the group of staring Chinese businessmen loitering in the lounge area waiting for their oily rub down was a tad off putting. And the red walls and floor to ceiling mirrors were an… unnerving touch. Plus the narrow little kitchen with the sticky floors to be shared
Traveling Bob vs Working Bob
Note the large animal in the foreground. Items of clothing go in the front end and reappear, intact, at the other. He has recently upgraded to electrical goods.
between us and Jane’s petite, yet numerous employees was always going to result in polite congestion around the rice cooker and giant wok. However, having said all that, the room wasn’t bad - good size; a modicum of cleanliness - but above all, as we said our goodbye’s and found our way back to daylight all I could think about was the potential for the stories I could tell and the blogs I could write having spent four months living in a dockside Chinese massage parlour. The mind boggles!
However, I had a feeling that convincing Vik we could make Jane’s place feel just like home for our four months of traveling downtime was going to prove tricky. In the past Vik’s idea of home has involved light open social areas conducive to good conversation and relaxation rather than dingy, tired spaces for muscle manipulation and Triad meetings. And while traveling may have opened Vik’s mind to new ideas and opportunities, I was pretty sure that her principles of home décor hadn’t yet drifted into the realms of mirrored walls and dilapidated 70’s floral print carpets.
She said no. But to be fair, there were a few moments
Storm Troopers, Queen St, Auckland
Like all good law enforcement agencies, the Empire's Storm Troopers are to be found outside your local branch of Dunkin' Donuts.
of hesitation where it looked like a distinct possibility. It may not have been the most homely of environments but compared to the room in the “long term hostel” we looked at round the corner, Jane’s place suddenly looked more homely than a family Christmas with the Walton’s.
The Ocean Something or Other Hostel (not it’s actual name) had reasonably cheap rooms in a central location. However, that’s where the plus points ended. They had two categories of room for let: with windows or without windows. You don’t really get much more basic room categorization than that. We opted to view the “with window” room only to find that the term “with window” can be misleading unless your idea of a window is a glazed slit the size of a shoe box 7 ft above the floor. Other distinctive features included:
- bare brick walls tastefully painted custard yellow.
- two single beds previously used as stretchers during the Normandy landings.
- a “wardrobe” that looked suspiciously like they’d found it in the “seconds” bin at a coffin makers.
- a blue linoleum floor with more cigarette burns than a polystyrene ashtray.
And the pièce de résistance: room
The Sky Tower, Auckland
People attach theselves to cables and jump off that tower. Its actually quite distracting. I was sat in the offices of a recruitment agency having an interview. I was facing the window which looked out at the Sky Tower. As the phsycometric testing began someone walked to the edge of the ledge at the widest part of the tower.
"Tell me about a time when you've had to deal with disagreement or conflict. How did you deal with it?", asked the interviewer.
I didn't really hear the question as I watched the jumper getting airborne.
"Jump off the Sky Tower!!", I thought out loud.
I didn't get any job offers from that particular agency.
numbers written on each of the cell doors with a black marker pen by someone who had obviously never used a pen before and probably couldn’t write anyway.
I won’t even start on the bathrooms. Lets just say that for a place that boasted in its brochure about having “cleaners everyday”, I couldn’t help but think that the word’s “missed a bit” seemed less than adequate. The Dog House
A few weeks later and we can now look back on those crazy first days of flat hunting, throw our heads back in fits of hysterical giggles and, once the tears have dried, sigh with relief that we had the energy to dig that little but further into the Auckland property market.
We perused and pondered three other places - all of which were markedly different to those first two: they all had the standard bedroom, bathroom, living room and kitchen layout without the slightest hint of massage oils or tally marks etched into the walls.
We’re now living in Ponsonby, which is, I guess, the Notting Hill of Auckland. I read in a property guide that the type of people you’re likely to meet on
A Spanish BBQ in New Zealand
Joaquim and I were both gas barbecue virgins until the day we turned pork into leather and bread into hardboard. The Chorizo was amazing though.
a walk down Ponsonby Road are yummy mummies, gay couples and fashionista’s. Naturally we fit in perfectly.
We share our house with a lovely Kiwi girl who works as a flight attendant and is very rarely seen and her Canadian/Kiwi boyfriend who told us he’d murder us in our sleep. We both miss Jane.
We also have Max. He’s a huge labrador from Labrador who will fairly much eat anything. He ate a sock which reappeared the next day when he was taken for his constitutional. We’re waiting to see if the wiring for our portable speakers is going to appear from his innards after he attacked it while it was still plugged into the mains. I’m not quite sure how it offended him, but apparently high voltages don’t seem to hinder Max’s interest in chewing things.
Max has also taken to picking up his extremely heavy rubber toy and dropping it on his targets feet when they least expect it, and invariably, aren’t wearing shoes. Not only are they left with near fractured toes, but their feet are covered in thick doggy mucus. Luckily for me, young Max has taken a bit of a shine to
Vik. Changing Plans
Finally, I leave you with the sad news that we are without funds to complete our journey by land and sea. Other than lashing some logs together and hoping the Pacific currents will carry us in the right direction, we’re resigned to the fact that the sea bit is just too expensive.
But wipe those tears from your swollen red cheeks and fear ye not because, the show must go on and so, after much umming, arring and scratching of various itchy body parts, we’ve decided to head back to the UK, not through the Americas as was planned but along an alternative UK-Asia route. It means I won’t get to visit my most Holy of Holy’s: the CSI Vegas set. Which means I miss out on fulfilling a lifetime CSI ambition to hunt for semen in dark rooms with a blue light, but I guess we’ve got to save something for the next trip.
It also means that all our Canadian chums/family can breathe a sigh of relief and break out the champagne because our route nolonger takes us through their neighbourhood. But don’t get too comfy - we’ll get across there
Who says Auckland has no Historic Buildings?
Considerably less seedy than some of the places we considered living.
eventually and then you’ll see!… [cue evil laughter and thunder claps]
We’re going to leave New Zealand next August and fly to Bangkok by means of aeroplane. Apparently these forms of airborn transportation have been around for a number of years. Returning to Bangkok will be great and I might get quite emotional if we have the opportunity of getting scammed - just like old times… Then we’ll head up through southern Laos (we loved the north of the country so much we decided we wanted to spend a bit more time having a look round the south), then back into China where I will probably hug the borders guards as I’ve actually quite missed their country and get all teary when people even mention meat on a stick (and you’d be surprised just how often meat on a stick pops up in conversation in Auckland). Then its off to Tibet, then Nepal (with a side trip to Everest Base Camp - my second all time personal life ambition after the CSI blue light), into India, then Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and Dumbarton…
Of course, all of that is a long way off. We’ve still got to see something
Volcanoes are Dangerous?
Kiwi's will climb anything.
of New Zealand yet.
And so, having read our exciting episode on finding a place to live in New Zealand, join us next time when I’ll further educate you in the art of building a life in New Zealand by taking you on a thrilling ride through the worlds of getting a job and car buying. Travel writing never got so pant wettingly outlandish.
There are more photos below