After a joyous and delicious lunch with two of our Chinese friends to celebrate the Chinese New Year, we left China and flew south to New Zealand where I spent the next 10 days reminding myself to stay on the left side of the road as we drove about 3,000 kilometers over the North and South Islands. What a spectacular country with so many surprises. I think what surprised me most was the way New Zealand smells. With the exception of the sulfurous stench of some fascinating thermal spots, the air in New Zealand isn’t just clean and pure, but smells great. In many spots it was like getting free aroma therapy because the fragrances were so fresh, pleasant, and different. I was also struck by beauty of the landscapes (yes, much of Lord of the Rings was filmed there) and especially the grandeur of the vegetation.
While New Zealand is a perfect place to ponder the majesty of the Creation, it also compelled me to reflect upon the sorrows of destruction. We ended the trip with a visit to Christchurch, a city that many people now avoid because it still hasn’t recovered from the terrific earthquake that destroyed so much of the beautiful city in 2010. The last four photos are from that city. We didn’t think we would have time to go into the downtown and see the area. We only had a short while before sunset and an early morning flight, and it was too far to walk from the hotel we had just checked into (we returned our car in Greymouth and took a train across the Alps to Christchurch). We started walking anyway, wondering if we should just turn back and call it a day, and realizing that our only hope to see the downtown would be to find a taxi in a land where taxis seem to be rare, quite unlike Shanghai where they sometimes seem far too numerous.
Right as I contemplated our need for a cab, one came up the road and parked in front of some apartment buildings. We concluded it was waiting for a customer who had called, but decided to check anyway. We walked up to the taxi, interrupted the driver who was reading a book, and were delighted to find that he was free. He was the perfect one to give us a tour of downtown. He had lived there for many years and his wife’s entire business was lost in the earthquake. He was able to take us from one scene to another and describe what happened, how many died, and how much trouble the insurance companies have given the people seeking compensation. What a mess and a tragedy. What a blessing to be able to learn from a fine and passionate man who is on the brink of giving up and going somewhere else. The reality of sudden disaster in Christchurch was sobering. Such things can strike us anywhere, anytime. Be as prepared as you can be, with food storage, emergency provisions, and other preparations for change. And don’t set your heart on the material things of the world. They can be easily shaken from our grasp.