The next leg of my year around the world was a long-planned stop in Dunedin, New Zealand, where my cousin was attending teacher’s college and his girlfriend was working for a year. Usually when visiting relatives, I stay four days or less. After all, no one wants to impose. However, we were all aware at the time that in the 18 months that they would be in Dunedin, I might be one of the only relatives to come visit. In fact, I was one of only two overseas visitors, the other being his girlfriend’s Nana.
I had joked that I was planning to stay at least a month. We laughed at the time, but I stayed for three weeks and tasted a slice of international student/expat living in New Zealand.
I would get up and leave their 2 bedroom flat, flanked by halfway houses and group homes, and go exploring. I would walk through the Oval where kids played cricket for eight hours on Saturdays and shop in a grocery store where toddlers wore Spiderman and Dora the Explorer costumes for no reason. I would flag down the bus to St Kilda Beach with a 50-50 success/fail rate, and watch seals playing in the waves.
I would go to see movies in a cinema where they assign your seat. I would try to help with the cooking, which went very well (breakfast) and very disastrously (pot roast… with corned beef). I would walk past the Loose Hair Salon in the afternoons, trying to spot a customer in the seemingly-always-empty spa where the lone employee was usually brushing her teeth.
I would get swept up in rugby fever and jeer the Canterbury Crusaders along with the blue and yellow sea of Otago Hilanders fans, chanting “you f—ed up, you f—ed up!” in unison , despite not actually knowing what was happening in the game. I would learn trivia that I may never need again, such as the origins of the expression “‘O’ is for Awesome”.**
I would tour the Cadbury Chocolate Factory, which was NOT just like the Wonka Factory despite having an impressive Chocolate Fall where 1 tonne of liquid chocolate drops the length of a 750 tonne silo. I would sample many, many beers from Speight’s Brewery. I would help my cousin break into the apartment when we were locked out by helping to hoist him in through a second story window.
I would walk home with him and his girlfriend from a night at the pub. On the way up our beloved dodgy Maitland Street, we would be serenaded by four drunk guys fumbling with a guitar on their front lawn who would catcall us.
“And a very good night to you cuties!” they would holler as we passed.
To which my cousin would turn and remind them, “Um, I’m a guy.”
And we would wave to them again the next morning, when we left to shop at the farmers’ market by the train station, as they were still drinking on their front porch.
**Heavyweight boxing champ David Tua appeared on NZ’s version of Wheel of Fortune in the mid 1990s. When asked for a consonant, he requested “‘O’ for ‘Awesome'”, which became a legendary moment of New Zealand’s modern history. Indeed, Kiwis pronounce ‘awesome’ as ‘o-some’.