Weekly photo [111]

This weekend I'm flying to California to visit this person. See you in two weeks!

Weekly photo [uh oh]

I've completely lost track of how many weekly photos I've missed. Here's a deliberately rushed attempt at catching up.

The cardboard cathedral is coming along nicely.

Some large gnomes appeared outside my apartment building.

Christchurch looks nice from high up.

The company I work for listed on the New Zealand stock exchange.

Trains are used to transport coal.

I spent some time on a log.

The Dalai Lama is a wonderful man.

There was a Microsoft Paint competition at work.

I went skiing.

No more Red Zone

Christchurch was hit by two powerful earthquakes in September 2010 and February 2011. The first measured 7.1 on the Richter scale and caused massive damage but no deaths. The second measured 6.3 and killed 185 people. Most of the extreme damage look place in the city centre, where many of Christchurch's historic buildings are located, including the famous cathedral. After the February quake, a cordon was established surrounding the worst affected parts of the city. The area inside the cordon became known as the "Red Zone", named after the colour of paint used by surveyors to mark buildings too dangerous to enter. Public access was forbidden and access to business owners with properties inside the cordon (such as my employer) was carefully controlled. As the months and years passed, the Red Zone gradually shrunk as, block by block, the streets were deemed safe to enter. A couple of weeks ago, the cordon was removed altogether. No more Red Zone!

The Red Zone, August 2011

As much as I wish I did, I never saw Christchurch before the earthquakes. The Red Zone was therefore a constant source of mystery to me because I had no idea what was hidden inside. It was also a constant source of frustration. Like a sleeping Snorlax, the Red Zone was carefully positioned to ensure getting from one side of the city to the other was a complete pain in the arse. I join everyone else in Christchurch in celebrating the fall of the Red Zone.

Finally being granted access to the heart of a city I've lived in for almost a year was very strange. Quake damage is apparent pretty much everywhere you go in Christchurch, but this is something else. Rows and rows of shops sit vacant and boarded up. Former hotels and office buildings are just concrete shells. Noisy demolition vehicles patrol the dead streets, crushing and mangling and twisting whatever is left to crush, mangle and twist.

Creepiest of all are the things that haven't changed since the day of the earthquake. Thousands of dollars worth of unclaimed stock sits trapped behind shop windows. Piles of rotting books here, racks of yester-yesteryear's fashion there. A February 22nd 2011 edition of The Press sits on the table of a cafĂ© whose soup of the day (and every other day since February 22nd 2011) is pumpkin. A sign that reads "Come in, we're open!" invites me towards a door labelled "EXTREME DANGER: DO NOT ENTER." It's really, really sad.

Most intriguingly though, I've finally been able to get a sense of how amazing the city must have been before the quakes. I've been told constantly by locals it was a beautiful place to live before everything happened, but it's always been so hard to imagine without seeing it for myself. But now I get it. Once upon a time Christchurch was beautiful, and it probably will be beautiful again one day.

Taking photos felt a bit weird and exploitative, like photographing an injured animal, but I did so anyway because I wanted to blog about it.

If you enjoyed this post and would like to look at more ruined things, you might want to check out my post about the Buckner Building in Alaska.

"You're never coming back, are you?"

...is a question I'm sometimes asked. It's a fair question. This trip was meant to last a year (look at the URL) but clearly it hasn't. It's been over two. Writing my very first post, back in April 2011, I explained my reasons for choosing a year away:
I really like the idea of being away for a whole year and will strive to make it happen because to me, one year is the goldilocks of travel durations: not too short and not too long. Much shorter and I risk not properly fulfilling my travel fix. Much longer and my friends at home will probably have doubts about me ever returning and start deleting me from their phone books, burning photos containing me, circulating rumours of my imprisonment, and so on.
So what's going on? What changed? Am I ever coming back?

The answer is: of course I'm coming back. The only thing that's changed is the time frame. Namely, it doesn't exist anymore. When I left England, it felt important to announce when I was going to return. It meant I could draw a nice, neat line separating my time abroad from the rest of my life, which would probably take place in England. I didn't really know what "the rest of my life" would actually consist of, but it felt important to make the distinction. It helped that I had quite precise travel plans and pre-booked flights and everything was carefully thought-out and budgeted and perfect.

Since then I've completely changed my mind. I've realised the imaginary line doesn't have to be so neat. It should be blurry because my time abroad should help define "the rest of my life", not be completely isolated from it. I've also realised travel is less about planning and more about having the freedom to adapt when circumstances change or when new opportunities arise. Finally, I've realised the more one travels, and the more travellers one meets along the way, the longer one's list of desirable travel destinations becomes. I now want to visit pretty much everywhere.

I've been cryptic about where I'm planning to go after New Zealand, and when I'm planning to do it, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I didn't want my boss finding out I was leaving from something I'd posted online, because that's not very professional. Secondly, and more crucially, I keep changing my mind. If you'd have asked me where I was likely to spend next Christmas Day back in March, I would have told you Antarctica (I'm not joking. I applied for and was painfully close to being offered a summer job at Scott Base surveying penguin colonies. This is still a sore topic). About two months ago I would have told you California. More recently I'm leaning towards Australia. Perhaps next month it will be Indonesia or Guam or Brazil or Syria. The only thing I can say right now with any degree of confidence is that it probably won't be New Zealand. Sorry boss...

Hopefully that clears things up anyway. Weekly photos to resume next week!


Oh god, I had intended to write about this much, much sooner. Now it seems so distant it's irrelevant. But I promised to write about it, so here goes.

Lawrence planted the idea of returning to England last September when I was grumbling to him about missing the latest in an endless stream of social gatherings I'd seen on facebook. The idea quickly germinated and sprouted from the earth to form an idea sapling and the metaphor stopped making any sense. But anyway, I didn't need much convincing: I'd toyed with the idea of returning home several times before but it had never seemed worthwhile while I still believed the travel thing to be temporary (remember that?!) because I'd be heading home soon anyway. Times changed and I decided to go for it. Lawrence and I (almost) share birthdays in April so we agreed that would be the best time for it. I booked the flights, and that was that.

Much closer to the time, we started talking about logistics. We decided to keep the whole thing hush hush to maximise the surprise/confusion factor. I told my direct family, my friends in New Zealand and elsewhere abroad, a select few friends in England I knew wouldn't be around for the reveal, and no one else. This was a trade off because keeping the whole thing secret meant we couldn't really plan anything or even guarantee people would be around to enjoy my brief stay, but in reality this wasn't a problem at all. I managed to see everyone I wanted to see, with the sad and notable exception of Owen, one of the few remaining people who still reads this blog. Here is a photograph of Owen by means of apology:

Being home was as wonderful and as surreal as I had spent months imagining it would be. Seeing my friends and family after such a long time was great. It was lovely to discover that, despite my two-year desertion, everyone was still happy to see me and eager to chauffeur me about, entertain me, feed me and offer me places to stay. Thanks, everyone!

I could spend ages yapping away about what I did each day, but that would be tedious, so I'll just skip to the photos. Unfortunately, being in my own country affected the way I usually obsess over documenting everything that happens to me, and I ended up hardly taking any pictures. The following is therefore a very poor representation of my two weeks in England, but it's all I've got.

Me and the Ipswich gang soon after crashing my own joint birthday party at Mark's house. I arrived before everyone else and hid upstairs with a laptop. When everyone had shown up, Lawrence suggested they Skype me from the computer downstairs. We connected and I pretended to be in New Zealand for a while, then Lawrence excused himself and snuck upstairs to appear beside me and blow everyone's mind with his incredible feat of teleportation. It worked pretty well. The rest of the night I have very little recollection of.

My cat, Bruce, inside the greenhouse he damaged just weeks before. Dad had bought the greenhouse cheap off eBay and was in the process of fitting the glass panels to the frame when he accidentally trod on Bruce, whose speciality is getting in the way of humans during such procedures. This startled Bruce, who ran towards what he believed to be an exit, but was actually a glass panel. Further panicked, he began ricocheting from the walls like a pinball, accelerating with every bounce, until finally he gained enough momentum to break free from his glass prison. SMASH. He was unharmed but dad was quite annoyed.

Mother and I being as English as we possibly could in a tea room in Flatford. We spent two lovely days visiting quaint, typically East Anglian towns, the likes of which I was unlikely to find anywhere else in the world. I'm starting to think you have to leave the country for a while before you can really appreciate how beautiful and special these places are. Or it might just be that I'm getting older and therefore subconsciously scoping out good places to retire and die.

Places like Dedham in Essex, for example. Look at Dedham. Lovely!

My dad owns a field near Copdock and wasn't going to turn down the offer of free labour. We planted about twenty hazel trees together for the local rabbit population to slowly dismantle over the coming weeks.

Spitalfields Market has changed quite a bit since we visited on a geography trip the year before a student got attacked by a man with an iron bar and the school cancelled future trips. I had an absolutely fantastic weekend in London thanks to the kind hospitality of Rosey, Flips, and everyone else who made an appearance along the way. I've been lucky enough to visit a few cities on my travels and London remains one of my favourites.

For the past three or four months, a couple of guys at work have been slowly chipping away at a ridiculously hard Mensa jigsaw puzzle. Just before I was due to leave for the UK, someone suggested I steal a crucial piece, take it with me across the globe, and photograph it somewhere iconic. I did so and emailed them the result. They printed it off with the caption: "LOOKING FOR SOMETHING???" and stuck it to one of the jigsaw guys' door. It was quite a cruel joke but a funny one.

Just quickly before I go: I've updated Where's Josh Been? with a few new locations from my trip home.


Last week I was offered the chance to permanently switch my hours at work from the usual Monday to Friday 8am to 5pm, to the less usual Tuesday to Saturday 4am to midday. This seemed like a great idea at the time and I accepted the offer. They're paying me a bit more now and I didn't have to start until Tuesday, so I thought I'd treat myself to an impromptu trip to Kaikoura for the long weekend.

Kaikoura is a small coastal town 150km north of Christchurch, sandwiched between the Kaikoura Mountain Range and the Pacific Ocean. Its name literally means "eat crayfish" in Maori, something I completely failed to achieve during my time there. It should mean "have a great time" which I did manage. 

Against all the odds, the weather was absolutely stunning (reminder: July is the Southern Hemispherical equivalent of January) and I spent most of the weekend outdoors, exploring this idyllic little place with a handful of lovely folk I met at the hostel. The whole experience reminded me how much I missed the backpacking lifestyle and how excited I am to be returning to it soon (more on that later (maybe)).