We decided to just wander around Wellington, both to orient ourselves as well as to just get a feel for the city and the country.
We wandered around our neighborhood of Thorndon, which is in the area of the Parliament and other government buildings. An interesting feature of Wellington, possibly all of New Zealand, is that government buildings and offices are labeled in both English and Maori. And many of these signs have symbols, emblems, logos that are reminiscent of Maori tattoo or carved designs – the interlaced curves and spirals that likely represent fish, animals, plants, weather patterns in abstract forms. It seems, from what we’ve read, that the Maori people are well-represented and well-respected within the New Zealand culture and society as a whole – that they aren’t marginalized nor disenfranchised, the way so many indigenous people have been in so many countries colonized by European nations. At the same time, the Maori culture hasn’t been absorbed or diluted by the Anglo-Saxon culture of the British Commonwealth; the Maori people have kept their culture and language alive and vibrant. This seems to be, on day one, a very pluralistic society. And I like that!
So we walked along the waterfront, the Customshouse Quay, and practiced our Britishisms. “Yield” signs are now “Give Way.” Napkins are serviettes. Sometimes we understand a comment or answer the first time round, sometimes we have to say “sorry?” a time or two before we our American ears decipher the language. There are Chinese accents, Indian or Pakistani or Sri Lankan accents, Asian accents, Maori accents, and the New Zealand accent which is more like Australian (or perhaps Cockney?) than anything else – our ears are adjusting. Hopefully they will soon become educated.
We also walked up and down Cuba Street, which has all kinds of little shops and places to eat – and wonderful people watching. We looked at signs (“adverts”) for the Guy Fawkes Day fireworks (Monday, Nov. 5). We crossed bridges, looked at Maori canoes covered in fabulous carvings, and sampled the ever-present meat pies.
We also are used to being the rebellious colonies - now we're in an area that is proudly part of the British Commonwealth!
And of course tea – choices of tea, served in a heated pot and with a small pitcher of milk, because this is part of the Commonwealth.
The Queen is on the twenty dollar bill, Sir Edmund Hillary is on the five, and a penguin is on the back. Well, the
karearea is on the back of the twenty, it seems to be some kind of bird of prey, I’m not sure what. I suspect “karearea” is the Maori name, since the penguin is labeled “hoiho” – and I know this is really a penguin.
It's a beautiful sunny day, although we think the breeze is chilly. But there are Wellingtonians out enjoying the early spring, full of sunshine and the promise of summer - runners, bikers, joggers, walkers, mothers with babies in strollers, mothers with toddlers on leashes, young couples, old tourists, groups of students, businessmen or politicians in suits - everyone is out and about, along the quay or on the quirky bridges, getting some bracingly fresh air during their lunch break.
It’s an adjustment. It’s only our first day, so we’re taking it slowly, and letting our minds and bodies adjust to this new place and new season.