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Piquen' your interest

A Postcard from Middle Earth

Have you ever bought a particular car and then realized how many of them just like it are on the road? It’s always like that for me. Prior to owning the Ford Econoline, the Nissan Pulsar Japanese import and the Matchbox-size Diahatsu-Charade I had hardly even seen these vehicles. But now I see them parked in malls, driving down the highways, cutting me off at intersections and going through drive-thrus.

Moving back to New Zealand after two full years in Canada has been exactly the same. Maybe Canadians have always been a regular part of Down Under life and I had never noticed it. Or maybe the maple leaf carriers have developed an affinity for the silver fern clan in recent years. Whatever the reason, you Canadians are everywhere.

It all started when I got off the plane. The Canadian flag was not only flying at the airport, it was also hanging down over my local multi-lane swimming pool in Wellington, fluttering in the downtown tourist mecca of Rotorua and wrapped around a ski-lift pole on Mount Ruapehu – our answer to Whistler. Nearby was another sign suggesting you drink Jagermeister to warm up. You could swear you were in the Northern Hemisphere if it wasn’t for the five-minute burn time.

Coming home after years away brings certain traditions. Such as "get a haircut and get a real job," so soon I was back on the airwaves of Radio New Zealand. However being away nearly six years in total meant I was out of touch. We are talking about missing three changes of government and god knows how many rugby games.

Re-familiarization was needed with all things Kiwi – i.e. cheap vegemite, rugby league and the All Blacks, fish & chips, the world’s best ice-cream, the café scene, that Kiwi humour, beers and barbecues, the list goes on. Travelling on the local buses really brought home that I was back in New Zealand. Big posters tell kids to give their seats up for adults, and everyone says "thank you" to the bus driver when they get off. It’s nice.

As part of my re-familiarization tour, I checked out my new suburb, Lyall Bay. It’s famous and infamous for its surf break. It has the nickname "Lake Lyall," given that good surf days are few and far between. On an average day around 40 surfers will be bobbing up and down on their boards hoping the big one ‚ will come in.

I ventured into the town centre, where taking pride of place is a large piece of metal machinery-come-art. I‚m not sure exactly what it is but it bears the proud stamp of its designers – J. Bertram Sons and Co. of Canada. I continued the walk through town and popped into a jewelry store. Serving behind the counter was a friendly Canadian rugby-playing girl who is soon to marry her NZ rugby-playing boyfriend. She complains of our habit of calling our other halves "partners." Says it sounds like cowboy talk – howdy partner.

It was time to head home so I started climbing up one of the killer steep hills this city is famous for. Two mountain-bikers passed me, calling out a cheerful "nice day, eh" as they went by. More Canadians. We talked at the top. One is heading back to Ontario but plans to settle in New Zealand.

A weekend in the bastion of western commercialism, at the America’s Cup in Auckland, also yielded more Canadians. Attracted by the sight of my Sleemans beer baseball hat, a tall Canadian wandered over to say hi. He seemed disappointed that I am a Kiwi in Canuck clothing.

At work the following Monday I was invited to a welcoming ceremony for new and returning staff. The new Canadian employee entertained the group by singing a traditional Newfoundland song about hating the work of gutting fish and getting covered in scales. Is that why she moved here? I spared the group my singing and instead told my stupid gringo story about swimming with alligators in Bolivia. At home that evening we all relaxed in front of the TV, watching Michael J. Fox act it up in Spin City before flicking on the video, The Frighteners, which he also stars in.

For those who don’t know it, The Frighteners is one of the earlier movies put out by this country’s flip-flop wearing guru of modern cinema, Peter Jackson. The launch last month of his latest epic film, The Two Towers, caused a huge upwelling of patriotic pride and parades, with little hobbits and fairies running through Wellington’s streets for days. As a media accredited person I can confirm that "real" hobbits are as short as they look on screen but their feet are smaller and, one hopes, less hairy.

And for the record, this country is as beautiful as it looks in the Lord of the Rings movies, but we don’t have millions of those ugly creatures with bad teeth. That’s England. Just kidding!

The global launch of the final movie in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Return of the King, will take place in Wellington this December and it will be huge. How’s this for a global launch run up: first London, second New York and third Wellington. Middle Earth is a good place to be.

Given that though, I do miss Canada. In fact I like it so much that I even took a local back with me. John is enjoying it down here so long as he doesn’t see those Whistler Mountain Web cams getting buried by the fluffy white stuff. So think of us hitting the beaches and surf in the New Year while you guys rip it up on the slopes.

Best wishes for 2003 from an ex-Whistlerite and the many Canadians roaming New Zealand. Do a Fresh Tracks for us.