Wednesday June 20th 2012
Today we would finally get to see our little brother Max, who was studying abroad in Christchurch, NZ. Christchurch is, sadly, most famous for a crippling earthquake endured in June 2011 (just one year before we would make our way down). Max was not even sure he would be able to complete his study abroad program at one point. Luckily, he has been fine and has thoroughly enjoyed his time on the South Island.
You learn something new everyday
One thing that is remarkable about New Zealand is the ease and economy of air travel. Our flight was close to 70 USD and the airport security wasn’t a tad bit invasive or time-consuming. The plane was new, stewardesses were friendly. Definitely reinforces my earlier diatribe on the hassle of US air travel. The US has numerous challenges that New Zealand does not face but it was still noteworthy how pleasant the experience was. It also didn’t hurt to have these views of the Southern Alps on the way in.
Ladies and gentlemen, The Southern Alps
After arriving in Christchurch, we headed over to the Foundry, a student pub on the University of Canterbury’s campus. We had the unique experience of catching the end of an NBA finals game live. This immediately brought me back to similar evenings at Mabee Dining Hall, on the campus of Trinity University. I started to notice the announcers talk about the game and, specifically, their generous use of strong adjectives. “Pivotal, crucial, important, momentous.” After spending just a few days in New Zealand, this struck me as pretty comical. There is so much going on and so much to see in the world while these sporting events are occurring. That’s not to say that I didn’t get wrapped up in the game at all. Similar to my earlier post on the recent Houston Rockets playoff game I went to, the idea reinforced was that sports are an entertainment outlet. Placing more importance or weight on sports than your other entertainment outlets could turn you into a buffoon losing a shouting match with a thirteen year old.
We spent the evening walking around town until we found a seemingly ramshackle Chinese restaurant that was immensely popular with the UC students. The building was cramped and the accommodations were modest but the atmosphere was inviting. There were large tables of college students sharing bottles of wine and loudly chattering. The warmth and happiness of the students was palpable. This place reminded me of Main Street Pizza in San Antonio, Texas. Main Street had legendary $3 personal pizzas and the famously corny free “Trini-Tea”, offered for Trinity University students. I can remember so many nights spent there having loud, inappropriate and carefree conversations with friends.
Main Street Pizza San Antonio, TX
6/17/2012 4:30 AM (NZ Time)
I successfully boarded the flight to New Zealand after a tumultuous connecting flight. The flight from Houston to LA touched down at 8:45 PM and I needed to board the 10:30 PM flight to Auckland. Seemed like a realistic task…After the typical jostling and waiting characterizing the de-boarding process, I finally escaped the congested, claustrophobic aircraft around 9 pm. I exited the security area and made the poor choice of hopping on an inefficient bus shuttle headed for the international terminal. After crawling at a speed close to a slow walk and a few panicked phone calls/texts with my older brother/travel partner, I made it to the security checkpoint at 10 pm. Yes, you read that right, 10 pm. The bus ride, over which we traveled a little more than half a mile, took an hour! Luckily, I was able to quickly slide through security and barely make the flight. Houston Bush Intercontinental>LAX.
The plane flight was long, but not uncomfortable. It’s rare to be free to think about, watch, read, or listen to anything you want. Thousands of feet above the vast Pacific Ocean is about as close to untouchable as one can get. This is solely in the metaphorical sense, as you’re never less than a few inches away from the next passenger. The near cuddling with a complete stranger juxtaposed by the complete mental separation is a unique experience. Thoughts are completely one’s own and other passengers’ thoughts are inaccessible. Comforting. Makes you wonder if people move to large cities in order to replicate this crowded solitude…Flight attendant says it’s time for our final descent into Auckland—excited.
The journey begins
Friday June 15th 6:17 PM Houston Time
Travel has officially begun with the endless maze of security checkpoints, boarding passes, and mediocre food. Friday is a popular travel day, I notice painfully long lines. This has been the norm for over a decade now The airport has transformed from an exciting and mildly stressful place (pre 9-11) to a regimented, un-enjoyable ritual. I can remember being excited to travel by plane as a child. I do not think my children will share the same passion for air travel.
The first leg of our travels is from Houston to LAX. I’m interested to observe what kind of people travel through LAX. Without a doubt, the most interesting airport populace belongs to Portland, Oregon. Passengers range from eccentric, intellectual types (usually wearing tighter fitting jeans, black rimmed glasses, and the women usually sporting a colorful, non-traditionally patterned bag—completing the look with a book dealing with abstract yet socially relevant themes) to fiercely independent, rebellious beings covered in tattoos, piercings, and dyed hair. It’s interesting that such an ethnically homogeneous place contains such a wide tapestry of people. A stark contrast with Houston Bush Intercontinental Airport. The airport terminals teem with ethnicities of every type. Despite this undeniable ethnic diversity, most people dress in the pragmatic, casual fashion that characterizes Houston as a city. Time to board.