“I’ll have a Soy Chai, please”

Hearing that I knew I was back in Auckland. The joys of Ponsonby Road are sometimes every bit as insubstantial as Wellingtonians love to suggest they might be, especially when sitting in Bambina, café de-choice of swathes of young (ish) wanna be designer types who have their designer shades firmly on their foreheads despite the fact that it’s grey and pissing down outside.

It’s easy to be smarmy and condescending about Auckland. There are the overdressed bright (and as I said above, often no longer, like myself) young things who wear overpriced clothes they can’t afford (unlike me, I wear live in jeans and some old t-shirt most of the time), live in houses they can’t possibly afford (but the bank is happy to lend them money to buy…been there, and perhaps will be again), and drive cars that not only can’t they afford, have no practical day to day use beyond impressing the other clientele at Prego or Blake (ditto). Then there is Metro. I asked myself a week or two back if Metro had improved. Ah, no it hasn’t sadly. If anything it’s worse, much worse, if that’s possible.

Fortunately, Auckland really is not the vapid, grasping, overly pretentious swamp that you would think it is if that was your only stick to judge the city by. The odd worthy arts and music review aside (and yes Auckland has some of all of that – just remember when Kane Massey’s DeepGrooves was inventing the NZ downbeat that Wellie boasts about, most of the rest of NZ, the capital included, was still producing post-Seattle cock rock), there is rarely anything between it’s cover that relates to Auckland in any fathomable way.

This period, nine months, is the longest I’ve spent away from the city of my birth since, I guess, 1985 when I returned after 2 ½ years in London. I didn’t quite know what to expect, it’s a funny little town but I love big slabs of it a lot. I so love its soul and the spirit and humour that I can find nowhere else in NZ. It’s the only town which doesn’t feel either dour and self-important, with no good reason, or like some redneck hick town. It has elements of both of that still and it is far too self-important (Fashion Week anyone?), but nothing on this planet feels as good as sitting with a bunch people I’ve known for twenty or thirty years, over coffee or wine at some hole in the wall café on Pons, or in a penthouse overlooking the urban inner west; or talking shit about obscure German techno, and reminiscing with Nick D until 5am. I did all that and could do it forever. There are lots of people I love in Auckland town.

So Ak07, some thoughts, from an Asian visitor:

· Damn, it’s expensive.

· There is no traffic, get over it. The roads, by any reasonable international standards (and I include the motorways at rush hour) are deserted. Auckland’s traffic problem is the same one that afflicts the nation as a whole – anger. Contact ball sports are my theory…

· Talking of which: moving the school terms for the rugby… that’s truly fucked up….

· I love the infrastructure – unlike much of the rest of the world, everything works. The roads, the taps, the power. I guess you pay for it with stupid sized property taxes and regulations, which brings me to…

· The rules, the regulations, the rules and more rules…there are so many. Everything is regulated and half the population, when they are not discussing a contact ball sport which encourages young men to do GBH to each other, are, face to face, on the airwaves, and in forums, discussing ways to increase the regulations. I hate the phrase nanny state, but driving along the waterfront seeing signs and lightings for over a kilometre warning me about a looming closed shoulder (which I didn’t notice when I got there) makes me wonder how much all this bullshit costs. There are so many fucking rules. Now, I understand, you need a seatbelt for your dog, otherwise your insurance is void. You could not make this stuff up – the number eight wire is now only sold in metre lengths with a permit.

· Auckland Airport: when you criticise the unfriendly, over (yes) regulated quagmire that is Auckland Airport people defensively compare it to LAX. When that’s the standard you compare yourself to, you are seriously in trouble. From the smartarse Immigration guy making derisive comments about Bali, to the – only in NZ – women who harass you about cabin bag weight on the way out (in my experience, nowhere else in the world) you feel like you are leaving Wanganui International. Sell it to the Arabs, they could not, and won’t, do a worse job.

· Where in gods name is the wi-fi. Y’know the sort of thing that any café, airport, food-hall, or mall in Asia offers as a free, or ludicrously cheap, service. Not in Auckland though. There is a clear and growing technology gap. Where are the IT stores and malls? And don’t tell me it’s population…

· Conch Records may well be the best record shop in the world.

· Ahh, the food. The good stuff is fantastic, and the good stuff is almost always at the bottom end of the scale price wise. Little KK in Greenlane offers the best Malaysian outside Malaysia, and indeed is very much better than much of the stuff you find there. And wonderful Indian, Dim Sim (we meet Chinese gourmets in Asia that rave about Grand Harbour), and all sorts of other things found in cheap and cheerfuls across the isthmus. It has to be the ingredients…despite moaning, the nation is so very clean and green, and its impossible not to taste that. New Zealand, however, does do high-end dining very, very badly. Let’s leave that to Metro.

· The Steak and Cheese Pies; the mussels and the scallops – and the chocolate and the ice cream…

· “Have you seen Sylvia Park??”..uh yes, and why would you bother. Bit sad innit. KL also has a cinema that claims the biggest screen in the (non-IMAX) world – somebody is not telling the truth.

· George and 95bFm are the best radio you’ll find anywhere.

· Damn, its expensive.

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