return, re-exile

February 13th, 2008

Found via an unusually relevant post at Public Address’ Hard News, The Opinionated Diner returns to Auckland and is left with a rather sour taste in his mouth. First up, he’s shocked by the general state of Auckland and its people. My reactions to that, of course, were quite different from Hard News’ Russell Brown’s. Here’s the bit that stood out for me:

 3. I’m continually amazed at how few Aucklanders, and I guess it’s even more pronounced once you leave the travelling big smoke (s) as their idea of OE is usually getting drunk in Earls Court and a bus trip around Europe, have any real knowledge of the world past Sydney or the Gold Coast, and even less of Asia. Seriously when the worldly TV channel owner asked me if life was good in Thailand….ahh, I live in Bali…isn’t that in Thailand?….are you over the tsunami yet..and so on, I’d had enough. And such was repeated over and over again over the past two weeks.

Alright, so he could use a week or two in one of my writing classes, I mean, that did take a bit of deciphering, but he’s got a good point, and it’s something I experienced last time I was in Wellington about five years ago: The sheer ignorance of the big, wide world and the complacent insularity of modern Kiwi mindsets.  It’s something I never noticed until I went back, but that may say more about myself and the friends I had before I left than anything about Kiwi society or how I’ve developed since leaving.

And the second bit that struck me was one of the comments, left by one Timmy H:

It just aint that cool to come home for a vist, then leave and slag it off like you are so much better. It IS the end of the world – end of story – and with that are some differences, most of them great IMHO. You can shop till you drop in some other shithole.

And maybe just your friends are messed up? I know people tyring to raise 2 kids in a bedsit in London and going INSANE…

Ah, yes, the good old fashioned Kiwi knee-jerk, favourite debating tactic of almost four million people (almost, because there is a significant minority that somehow manages, despite the odds, to learn how to hold a rational, mature discussion, or even debate). The  Kiwi knee-jerk suggests far more insecurity and fear of the outside world than a rational understanding of the questions being debated.

On to the politics: This time the Opinionated Diner paints a much rosier picture of New Zealand, and says he can’t understand why New Zealanders seem to what to change all that by getting rid of Helen Clark’s government in favour of John Key’s National Party (presumably leading a coalition- I don’t think recent polls rating National over 50% will carry through to the election- and I certainly hope not). He makes some very good, if somewhat selective, points about the histories of the Labour and National parties in government, and yes, it does seem to be stupid and irrational to want Clark and Labour out, especially when, as he says, nobody can really come up with any real reason why.

But here’s the thing (and remember that barring visa runs to Hong Kong and a holiday in Yunnan, I’ve been in the north of China for pretty much all of the five years since I last set foot in New Zealand, so take this with a hefty grain of salt): There’s a growing impression that Clark in particular and Labour in general are getting too arrogant and need to be taken down a peg or two.

You can see it, for example, in the response of generally conservative middle New Zealand to such things as civil unions and the repeal of Section 59 (the stupidly nicknamed “Anti-Smacking Bill”). Loud-mouthed conservative commentators, with whom average Kiwis are more likely than not to agree on many issues, and who seem to have spent the last six years with their knees almost reflexively moving rapidly upward any time a Labour or Green MP opens their mouth, have been making a lot of noise about Labour’s social engineering (yes, I know, the Anti-Smacking thing wasn’t even a Labour initiative, but remember, these are not rational people we’re dealing with) and government intrusions into areas that should properly be kept within families (family being the idealised 1950s mum, dad and 2.4 kids, of course). The bill to repeal of Section 59, as I’ve said, was rather stupidly nicknamed the “Anti-Smacking Bill” precisely to create the impression that the Police we’re going to be kicking in doors and dragging good, law-abiding parents off to 50 years of hard labour in some sub-Antarctic gulag should they dare to reasonably and lovingly discipline their children. No rational debate was allowed, and pointing out that it has always been illegal to hit a child, anyway, and that it was simply a repeal of that section of the law that allowed child abusers to get off scot free was quickly shouted down.

A similar approach was taken to civil unions, with that bill being labelled “gay marriage” despite the fact that it was establishing a non-religious alternative for all couples, gay or straight, to obtain equal rights with traditionally married couples. And of course, there was the usual non-sensical rhetoric about it being an attack on families. If anything, it was pro-family, giving  couples who don’t fit the traditional model a legal status and the security to match. Sounds fair to me.

Also, although New Zealanders have always had some deep need for strong leaders (that’s why Muldoon, Shipley and Clark have all been so successful), they also have a need to change them every so often, lest they get too arrogant or go too far. This is not necessarily a bad thing- although the current situation leaves me in despair for New Zealand’s short-term future- as it is one traditional method of “keeping the bastard’s honest” and preventing New Zealand from sliding into a one-party Police state. And given your average Kiwi’s sheep-like blind trust in state and Police authority and automatic, visceral fear of anybody who “rocks the boat” (lives a different lifestyle, expresses an opinion every so slightly different from the very, very narrow mainstream, etc), a tradition of kicking these strong leaders out every few years is a damn good thing.

Heh, non-Kiwi Westerners I’ve met here in China have been surprised to talk about the narrow-minded, complacent insularity of the Kiwi mindset. You have to remember: Those Kiwis you meet in places like China, or anywhere else in Asia (barring tourists in Bali and Thailand, of course), Africa, or the world outside of New Zealand, Australia, and Earl’s Court, are, by definition, not average or normal. I don’t know if it’s something different in us that compels us to travel to these strange, exotic lands, or something that changes in us as we live in these places, or both, or something completely different, but you can’t form an accurate picture of our compatriots back home based on us.

Oh, and when I refer to a post at Public Address as “unusually relevant”, it’s because despite all its pretence and closed-off, blog by invitation only elitism, I don’t normally find much there worth reading. Do a random search of blogspot and you’ll find plenty of blogging of an equivalent quality.

Alright, that’s about as much as I can manage before 10am after a night riddled, like every night for the last week at least, with dreams of a vividity that is disturbing. Not nightmares, just regular dreams, but so vivid its scary. Back to my tieguanyin (must go tea shopping sometime today….)

2 Responses to “return, re-exile”

  1. Peter Plumley-Walker Says:

    Hideously vain? Much bitterness? Fail at home and run overseas?

    Could I dare suggest the others you meet are similarly arrogant, insular people who have difficulty relating to people due to the fact they hold themselves in such high regard.

  2. wangbo Says:

    Try none of the above. And feel free to suggest whatever you like, but don’t expect any of your suggestions to bear any resemblance to reality.