New Zealand performed its best Olympic medal outcome at the 2016 Rio Games. It was an exceptional event for us with 18 medals won; 4 gold, 9 silver and 5 bronze. The maths nerd in me worked out the stats compared to the top three medal earners of the USA, China and Great Britain. The US has a population of roughly 320 million people and won 120 medals, or 1 medal per 2.7 million people. China’s population of 1.4 billion will always challenge the stats as their 70 medals equated to 1 per 20 million people. Great Britain has 64 million people and won 67 medals, or 1 per 955 000.
The population of New Zealand is just under 2.5 million so our 18 medals gives us an admirable 1 per 250 000 proud Kiwis. What many people won’t realise is how those statistics reflect the challenge athletes face in gaining funding to participate in Olympic games. The smaller the ratio of medals to population, the greater the financial burden per head. As well, many of our participants were members of teams, not individual events; men and women’s hockey and rugby sevens, equestrian and sculls.
What I love about the Olympics is how athletes represent so much about the culture of their home countries. For New Zealand, water sports such as sailing and rowing reflect our ties to the waters that flow through and around our island nation. Hockey, rugby and equestrian events reflect strong participation in team sports and the outdoors.
Perhaps our proudest moment and one that touched the world was the behaviour of runners Nikki Hamblin (NZ) and Abbey D’Agostino (US). Both tumbled to the ground after colliding in the Women’s 5000 meter race. D’Agostino encouraged Hamblin to get up with her and finish the race. While both continued running, Hamblin regularly stopped and supported an injured D’Agostino to finish the race even though it meant neither would qualify for the final. She has been presented with the International Fair Play Committee Award for Rio 2016 and is being considered for the Pierre de Coubertin award for sportsmanship, awarded only 17 times in the whole of Olympic history.
The hashtag for these Olympic Games is #betheinspiration and I can think of no athlete who deserves it more than Nikki Hamblin. And I have no doubt that she and our other athletes will inspire the fair but competitive next generation of New Zealand Olympians.
I thought briefly about posting my mowing outfit but then realised many of you wouldn’t recognise me outside of my usual glamorous apparel. It has been nearly two months since the ground has dried out enough to mow the lawns. Winters may be mild here in the Far North, but they are wet and with clay soil it gets very squishy underfoot.
Starting with the push mower I tackled inside the pool fence. It became very apparent that the ground was still soft enough to register my footprints and the tyre tracks from the mower. I couldn’t do anything about the boot prints but made a point of trying to keep the tyre tracks even since we’ll probably be looking at them for another month.
I have to admit I love the ride-on mower. It is just so fast and I was embarrassingly happy watching the fountain of grass clippings shoot out from underneath the blades as I tackled the larger yard. The grass yesterday was so long and wet underneath that I had to think carefully about how to throw the clippings so they didn’t wind up in soggy piles around the place. While the chickens love scratching through them, there are only so many piles 16 chickens can get through on 5 acres of lawn.
Today I’m hoping the last two sections around the citrus trees and front driveway are suitably dry. A friend came by last month to add to our burn pile (note photo #1 between the palms) and got stuck, even with his 4-wheel drive.
However, it is mid-August and spring is definitely here. The days are getting longer and I put my first washing on the outside line to dry. It won’t be long before having to mow the lawns twice a week takes the edge of the fun of using the ride-on. At least over summer the pool provides a welcome reward when the job is done.
I live in a town that is small enough to always run into someone you know but not so small you know everyone you run into. It’s a handy way to catch up with friends I used to see regularly at school events. Nowadays I rely on chats over a shopping trolley at the grocery store.
My youngest will be celebrating her 21st birthday in January. We’re already organising invites as the summer weekends will fill quickly with other 21st celebrations. When my son turned 21 there were eight other parties within weeks of each other.
In New Zealand your 21st birthday is a big deal. Not because you can drink like in the US (the drinking age here is 18), but as an opportunity to recognise an important transition point in young people’s lives.
Growing up in a small town is filled with mixed blessings. Kids are surrounded by adults who love and care about them like second parents. Birthdays, school assemblies, performances, camping at the beach and sports days, we’re there, cheering them on. We’re also there as they navigate their way to adulthood; from temper tantrums and negotiating friendships to first loves, alcohol and possibly drugs. While it’s a supportive environment it can also feel like a fishbowl where everyone knows your business.
By the time many kids reach 21 the balance on these feelings shifts. Many have moved away for work or to attend university in one of our larger cities. They quickly learn that looking after yourself is harder on your own. Coming home for a regular dose of cuddles, meals that take longer than 2 minutes to cook and long chats over a hot drink become a priority. They are also welcomed around town with delighted hugs and questions about how life is going for them away from home.
There is an old saying, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ A 21st birthday celebration is a chance for a young person to recognise the village that has helped raise them. A slideshow of photos makes visible those moments of joy and laughter shared with others in the room. Speeches are given by family and friends, many with humour but all with love. The birthday girl/boy gets to bask in and be grateful for the love and support that has nurtured them and will continue to do so for the rest of their lives.
It’s an important and I would argue critical step for young people. We live in a world that offers endless opportunities alongside many challenges. At 21, what greater gift can we give young people than a reminder of all that they have in their lives, the qualities they hold personally and faith that with both they will succeed in their dreams?
Helene Wong is a writer, actor, director and film critic who was born in New Zealand from Chinese immigrant parents. Her recent book, “Being Chinese: A New Zealander’s Story” made her a natural choice to present the Michael King Memorial Lecture at the Auckland Writer’s Festival. She discussed the dichotomy of being both part of this place but also set apart.
New Zealand is considered a multi-cultural society whose core identity is a bi-cultural mix of Maori and Pakeha (British, Irish and Scottish colonial ancestry). Our location in the South Pacific accounts for the large numbers of Pacific Island, Indian, Indonesian, SE Asian, Chinese, Korean and Japanese immigrant populations. Colonial ties also explain the large numbers of immigrants from the United Kingdom (UK) and South Africa,
The core of Helene Wong’s talk focused on how we look on the outside as opposed to who we are on the inside. As a Chinese woman she has dealt regularly with other people’s stereotypes. She played a funny but cringe-worthy film clip on the experiences of three actresses applying for t.v. roles. Each was from a different Asian country but all were seen simply as “Asian” and expected to either know martial arts or to react unemotionally (‘Asian’?!) in stressful situations.
Helene’s parents set aside their Chinese heritage in order to ensure their children grew up identifying as Kiwis. They succeeded in their goal but only to a certain point. There was no getting around the fact that they still looked Chinese on the outside even if they felt like Kiwis on the inside. It was only as an adult that she began to reconnect with her Chinese heritage. She shared a moving story of visiting her father’s birthplace in China where she was told, “This is your home,” by villagers.
Helene helped organise the ‘Banana’ Conference with other Chinese New Zealanders who were interested in reconnecting with their cultural heritage. It was their humorous way of identifying the sense of being yellow on the outside and white on the inside.
She also discussed the rising levels of xenophobia not only in New Zealand but globally. It is not a new phenomena. Historically, large movements of immigrants have resulted from the need for cheap labour, wars, famine or simply to maintain stable population numbers as a balance to emigration. While most people enjoy cultural diversity, there can be a fear of cultural invasion, otherwise referred to as ‘inv-Asian’.
The session resonated with me on many levels. I immigrated to Zealand almost 22 years ago. I look Pakeha but as soon as I speak my accent gives me away as American. My friends and colleagues tend to overlook or downplay this fact. I’ve lost track of the number of conversations about the US or Americans that have been halted mid-sentence with the comment, “But we don’t mean you, you’re not really American.”
It is a challenge facing millions of people today. As an immigrant, how do you retain those parts of your past that reflect your values today? Each year, my family hosts a Thanksgiving party that has grown in excess of 100 family members and friends. They have fully embraced this holiday that values the universal theme of giving thanks for all that we have in our lives. I cook American recipes handed down by family members, and at Christmas I am renowned for my over the top tree and lights that are a little out of place in what is now a summer holiday.
I attend Waitangi and Anzac Day services, have learned to cook scones and pavlova, and understand and support our national rugby and cricket teams. Every year we dress up for an afternoon tea to celebrate the Queen’s birthday. Cucumber sandwiches, scones with jam and cream, and other treats are washed down with cups of tea on the good china. That is not a typical Kiwi tradition, but it is ours.
If it was a question of getting used to new foods, clothing and celebrations it would be simple. However, today immigration poses huge challenges. How do you tackle the differences in values and morals of immigrant groups that might view women’s rights, sexual orientation or protecting the environment in significantly different ways to the culture where they settle? This is of particular concern in practicing democracies where citizens elect their politicians. It is sensible to question what impact voters with different values could have on government decision-making and legislation.
Helene Wong finished by challenging the audience to speak up rather than remain silent when witnessing the hate speech of xenophobia. Kiwis are traditionally non-confrontational but she questioned, “Is this who we are? Who we want to be?” She pointed out the rise of Donald Trump in the U.S. as symptomatic of the frustration and fear that can result from unchallenged bigotry. When there is no more room for discussion or differences of opinion democracy falters.
Yesterday, after almost a month of dithering, I finally chose new glasses. I have been using reading glasses for almost a decade, and six years ago bought my first pair every day glasses. Meg was with me when I picked them up and my exclamations of “Wow! Look at those leaves!” were met with head-shaking laughter.
My eyes aren’t too bad. I can see well enough in the distance to recognise anything for what it is; a tree, road sign, person. The problem began when I couldn’t read the name on the road signs and, worse, when I would stare at people at the supermarket because although they looked familiar, I had to be pretty close to see the details of their faces to be sure I was right. It made for some uncomfortable moments.
My new glasses were a wonder. Not only could I read signs or recognise people from a distance, the world was in sharper focus. I hadn’t realised that my world had taken on soft edges. This can be a useful technique depending on what you’re viewing. I’m not sure I need to see how much ear hair the check out guy is sprouting, but when it comes to nature sharper is definitely better. However, within a year I went from wearing them all the time to dragging them out once or twice a month for movies or driving at night.
We had family visiting this weekend and took them for a walk to the Stone Store Basin. Our area is historical for Maori and early European settlements. The Stone Store is New Zealand’s oldest European building and behind it sits Kemp House, a former missionary station. About eight years ago a new bypass was constructed further up the river towards town to divert vehicle traffic away from the basin. While drivers enjoyed passing the beautiful setting, tourists didn’t appreciate cars whizzing past while they posed for photos, and the vibrations from vehicles were slowly undermining the stone and mortar construction of the building. Also, frequent threats of flooding occurred when seasonal rains carried fallen trees down river, were trapped against the bridge and acted as a dam.
There was huge controversy over the removal of the old bridge. It was considered ‘historic’ and a petition was started to save it as a footbridge across the river. Quite frankly it was an ugly bridge, made up of old concrete and steel with no aesthetic appeal. Most importantly, it was poorly designed to withstand flooding and so it was removed. A new, beautifully arching foot bridge was built a short distance up river to link both sides and provide a stunning view over the basin. Within six months of the removal of the old bridge not a whisper has been said against the removal of the old bridge. The area is beautiful, peaceful and used extensively by locals and tourists for picnics, playing, swimming and simply hanging out.
Back to my glasses. You see, I realised on Sunday as I stood overlooking this gorgeous heritage site that I too had to let go of the past and get used to a new and improved future. I don’t like how I look with glasses. Over the last month I’ve tested the patience of my friends as I’ve made them act as mirrors while I’ve vacillated over countless design options. The truth is that with glasses on I look different, not better, not worse, just different. I’ve ordered two pairs that are pretty and feel comfortable to wear.
In ten days time I will embrace the clarity my new glasses will provide and my eyes (and friends) will no longer be tired from my indecision. Oh, and I’ll focus on the leaves instead of the ear hair.
P.S. Here are my new glasses. They are very comfortable and I’m enjoying clarity every day!
The day of our BIG WALK arrived, sunny and calm with just enough autumn coolness to keep us comfortable over the 5-6 hours we set aside to achieve our goal. We arrived in Paihia in high spirits, hats and sunblock on, snacks and water packed and grins worthy of a Lewis Carroll story.
We expected to see stunning views. Living in the Bay of Islands it’s impossible to get away from countless vistas encompassing water and hills but this walk is special. The first 6 kms encompasses a waterfront path that includes a wooden walkway through mangroves and ends at the Opua wharf. In New Zealand we have what is called the Queen’s Chain, which establishes a 20 metre strip of public pathway along the shoreline, even on private property. The path led us through several secluded coves where it was easy to be respectful of the privacy of the 2-3 houses as our gazes were drawn to the view and not their windows.
The wait at Opua allowed Barb and I to grab a quick coffee to wash down the oatmeal biscuits/cookies I’d made. Ten minutes and $1 each later we were at Okiata Point. It never ceases to amaze me how different the bush walks are in such a small catchment. The track was very steep, with both natural and reinforced steps cut into the hillsides. Nikau palms were everywhere and my friends waited patiently while I photographed countless mushrooms and fungi.
The steep track soon gave way to a boardwalk where high tide masked the distinctive sulfur smell of mangrove roots. We spotted commercial oyster beds sitting in the bay and the brilliant autumn colours of a lone liquid amber tree in the distant hills. Several blue herons crisscrossed the estuary, one kind enough to pose at the end of a stretch of walkway.
A kaleidoscope of hibiscus colours greeted us on our arrival in Russell, five hours after the start of our adventure. Well-deserved ice cream cones and a return ferry trip to Paihia finished the trip perfectly.
It’s so easy to fall into the same routines and I do love my daily walks with great friends but I finished this walk inspired to keep finding the hidden treasures in this special place I call home.