The Central Business District of Auckland is very familiar to me. It was the place where I had my first full-time job in 2001. Just like those childhood years where one year counts as ten years of memories, that time feels long despite only being three years at most. I can tell you all the shops that were not there 15 years ago and all those that lasted. Sometimes it's surprising.
Walking down it though always elicits two distinctly different sighs, one of joy and one of disappointment. The disappointment is that there is so much obvious poverty in Auckland, more than in the past. I pass as many as five people in the early morning rush on Queen Street, looking miserable, with hat before them to collect money, some with that clear, unfakeable smell of not having bathed. I blogged previously about the Beggars of Jiangnan Xi but it is sad that the same is true in the heart of the city.
There were beggars and street performer in different guises 15 years ago, some with a lot of character. There was the Tin Man who rhythmically beat his tin, evenly timed but without a touch of melody; there were the Sound System Dudes who, though possessing even less talent than the Tin Man, would have a hat out for their provision of played music. There was the One Armed Statue, one dollar a move; two dollars a smile. There have always been the Ride Money beggars, those that ask you for change around the bus stops, but there are plenty of those up Dominion Road these days as well. (In one cute moment last time we came back to New Zealand, we were asked for money by a passerby; I said I didn't have any changed and he bid us farewell politely; a curious shock for my wife who'd never had that kind of walk-by begging nor that politeness in refusal.) These days there's a lot less character. It's sad of course that people cannot make their way financially in life. I presume the difference in character might come from a different kind of poverty, that which comes from psychological issues or from substances, a resigned kind of begging.
The joy is being back in my cultural element walking on the street and the hallways of buildings. Strangers don't mind making eye contact and smiling. Walking on the street, people notice cars wanting to turn in or out and spontaneously slow down en masse and stop to let them proceed. People allow other people to flow the other way. In New Zealand it sounds like simple common sense but it hasn't been the common sense that I've known for the last six years.