New Zealand Is Exactly Like San Francisco...10 Years Ago

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This article is more than 9 years old.

Photo: Emmanuel Hapsis
Photo: Emmanuel Hapsis

Post by contributor Kate Getty

I land in Auckland on a Saturday at 4:30am with swirly bedhead, smelling like recycled air. Like bad breath. After claiming bags and customs, I arrive at my hotel at about 6:15am, only to hear I can’t check in until two in the arvo. (Arvo means afternoon.)

So I need to kill some time. I saunter down my street, Hobson, and notice that it’s a mix between our downtown and the Tenderloin, scattered homeless near their city’s Mission, some clubs, eateries featuring fried goods available very late. I see a sign across from the space-needle-thing (Sky Tower) that says: 24 hour bar. The Albion Hotel.

Outside, there's a crowd of people still going from the night before. Dreamy faces, their hair kinda looks like my greasy mess, so I go inside. Not sure exactly what to do at not-even-seven-in-the-morning, I order a lager and sit by the fire near a pinball machine. Twilight Zone. The same pinball machine they have at Route 66, a dive bar on Van Ness.

tzAnd that’s when I start to notice. This Bay Area is really similar to our Bay Area … but really different, too. It’s an island on the other side of the world and all that surrounding ocean means the almighty internet is sometimes temporary, and therefore not as important. How could it be, if you never know from one second to the next if you’ll even pick up a signal? People here are just starting to get addicted to their screens and apps and blocking other people out in public with their little digital bubbles; they’re just not where we are yet.


A few locals invite me to play pool, and that's when I notice the music. “That’s my jam,” one of them says, just as TLC’s “Waterfalls” starts blaring. But it’s not her jam in a throw-back old-school-type way; this is her jam right now. Aaliyah comes on right after and the local girl says the same thing. I wonder if maybe she just has a thing for dead female singers? (R.I.P., you two.)

I kid some people here that “New Zealand Fashion Week” is a bit of an oxymoron (until I saw Zambesi, I love Zambesi) and one coworker joked back, “Our music arrives once every 12 years via a steamship direct from your homeland. Fashion is on the same boat.”

But they do have hipsters here. And their hipsters look like our hipsters. Mainly because everyone is wearing something with a California team on it. Every flat-brimmed hat is SF or LA, so my Giants hat that I brought to “rep my home” doesn’t stand out at all. Its orange letters blend right in with the sea of Kiwis wearing the same exact hat. Didn’t expect that.

On the television, we’ve got seven channels. But somehow, every time I’ve sat down with the intention of watching something, I’ve found something I like (enough). Except for weekend afternoons when four of those seven channels is rugby. Then, well, I watch rugby. Everyone does.

So far I have enjoyed: Back to the Future III, Men in Black III (Did you know the villain with the weird eyes is a Kiwi?), Horrible Bosses, Interview with the Vampire, Our Idiot Brother, and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. People in the states have cable and spend most of their time flipping through bad television on channels they never watch. Here, they give you what they want to give you. And frankly, they nail it nightly.

evvFlipping through channels, I see an infomercial for Pearl Jam. (Pearl Jam!) Not a new album, this ad was promoting a ten-year-old album. Weird. But it’s sure nice to see Eddie Vedder again. I head out to eat and Prince’s “Purple Rain” plays. While eating, a Jennifer Lopez song comes on, and she is still “J-Lo.” It’s one of her first songs and it’s all about her ass. I start to remember – it did used to be all about her ass. Remember?

Ten years ago.

In another pub, Daughtry (you know, the bald dude from American Idol in 2005?) starts playing on the screen, and a few blokes stop to sing along. Down the street, more California garb is on sale than outside our ballpark. Further down the street, boy bands play shamelessly, and Justin hasn’t gone solo yet. Destiny’s Child still exists. And not just for the Super Bowl comeback.

mdIt’s like everything here has another chance to be known. The old is new again. Dead stars are still alive. American Idol fifth-placers are stars that stop you mid-sip of your cider. And Mountain Dew is still THE drink of anyone under 25. Things are different here.

But you can’t really blame them. Look at a globe. Pop culture has to travel ALLLLLLLL the way around the world to get here. And in that distance, stuff gets filtered out. (Thank God, too, I’ve only heard the Robin Thicke tune once while over here.) The closer I looked at the media and culture that makes it here, the more I’m in awe of just how sacred a world can be, naïve almost, without the rapid quick-turn of an internet-obsessed culture. They just don’t seem to do that here.

Or not yet. Today I did see a two-year-old on an iPad.