Posts tagged ‘family’


You can’t bank on the Wales (or, why I closed our Westpac account)

31.07.2020

At some point as a young man, my Dad worked at a bank. He had a formal understanding of finance—despite his schooling being interrupted by the Sino–Japanese War and then by the communist revolution, he managed to get himself a qualification in economics, and had some time working for a bank.
   I was taught all about promissory notes, bills of exchange, cheques, honourable accounts, balance of payments and foreign exchange as a teenager. He impressed on me why certain things were sacrosanct in banking, the correct way to draw a cheque, and why the Cheques Act 1993 in this country was a blight on how bills of exchange were supposed to work. Essentially, I grew up with what might have been a 1950s or 1960s idea of what banking is, things that were still mostly observed by New Zealand banks into the 1980s and the 1990s.
   Today [Wednesday, July 29] I opened a new business account at TSB, with whom I had banked personally since 2007, as had Jack Yan & Associates. I will be closing the account at Westpac, because it’s clear to me that they don’t believe in the fair dinkum banking values that my father taught me. By the time you read this, the closure should be a fait accompli, as I don’t wish them to put up more obstacles than they have already.
   Westpac held my mortgage on the old house, of which I had paid off 88 per cent before I sold it. I began my banking relationship with them in 2006, for reasons I won’t go into here. My parents had banked ‘on the Wales’ when they were new immigrants in 1976, and stayed with them for some time.
   Very early on, I noticed how confusing their statements were. You can contrast theirs to everyone else’s in Aotearoa, and believe me, I know: I’ve banked with a lot of people. Trust Bank, Countrywide, POSB, National, ANZ—all the usual suspects that a Kiwi growing up in the 1970s through to the 1990s will have encountered. No, in itself that’s not a reason to leave a bank, but they seem to exist in their own bubble.
   I got caught out once or twice on not getting a mortgage payment sorted because of the confusing statements. And there was one time that Westpac decided to be relentless about it, by setting a bot on me. The bot would call at various hours hounding me to sort this out, with a pre-recorded message, and if you hung up, it would call again. And again. And again. Never mind that you haven’t had a chance to enquire with the bank as to what was going on. This amounted to a breach of the Telecommunications Act, and I put this to them before the activity ceased. And no, in itself that’s not a reason to leave a bank.
   You are stuck with the buggers, and over the years I’d make the payments. As many of you know, some of our companies’ income comes from abroad, which I always regarded to be a good thing, since it helps with foreign exchange and this country’s balance of payments. Twice, I think, I needed a top-up because a client was slow to pay, and I would clear that within 30 days. As interest rates changed (the mortgage was floating), the bank would, from time to time, send a letter saying I could reduce my mortgage payments and still keep to the payment schedule, and in 2010 I took them up on it.
   As some of you know, in 2015 Dad was diagnosed formally with Alzheimer’s disease and eventually I became his full-time carer as his condition worsened, with predictable results on my work. But hey, Westpac has all these posters around their branches with Dementia New Zealand logos telling us how great they are, and how they can help. Since Dementia New Zealand won’t acknowledge or respond to my complaint about this (Dementia Wellington, on the other hand, had), let me publicly say that this is bollocks. My experience tells me that it appears to be a feel-good exercise that counts for nowt for a bunch of arrogant twats in Australia.
   My branch was great. They were decent, hard-working and friendly people, and many of them stayed for years—always a good sign. But outside of the branch is where you’ll find the rot.
   In 2019, my partner and I found a home we wanted to purchase. After Dad went into a home in July 2018 I had begun renovating the old place anyway. The new house was a step up, and by the time we factored in all the costs, we would need to borrow under 20 per cent of the total purchase price.
   Westpac wanted to see the balance sheets, as was their right to, and I’ll say now that they weren’t rosy. Of course not, not when you’ve been a caregiver. However, by this point I had got back in the saddle, and I could show them contracts that we had secured.
   Apparently this wasn’t good enough for that 20 per cent. The fact I had been a caregiver and had an account at a bank which had a Dementia New Zealand endorsement carried absolutely no weight.
   The mortgage officer said that according to the balance sheet, I couldn’t even afford the mortgage. Turns out he didn’t know how to read a balance sheet and the ‘Mortgage repayments’ line therein. And no, in itself that’s not a reason to leave a bank.
   Apparently, the fact my income was coming from abroad was a concern. Yet it was never a concern for Westpac in 13 years when I was paying the mortgage with that foreign income. Earning foreign exchange for your country and helping with its balance of payments are, seemingly for Westpac, a bad thing. I suppose it would be to greedy Australian bankers, who love to see a weakened New Zealand subservient to other nations. If you adopt this viewpoint when examining how Australian-owned publications here behaved (I’m looking at The Dominion Post from that era), then it actually all fits neatly, given their editorial bias. And no, in itself that’s not a reason to leave a bank.
   I know some of you in banking will be going, ‘But there are the anti-money-laundering requirements,’ which I get, but what about the idea of an honourable account? Other than what I outlined above, I was a good customer, and every other bank will tell you the same: I kept honourable accounts. But maybe honour isn’t a thing for Westpac.
   Never mind. We approached two mortgage experts who worked tirelessly for us, and whom I heartily endorse here. Lynne Russell, an old friend of mine, was the first I approached. And Stephanie Murray was referred to me by a good friend from school. Both ladies went to second-tier lenders, told us that the foreign income was the problem, and proceeded to get us the best deal possible. Stephanie won out because of the interest rate, and she noted that the lender, Avanti Finance, was quite happy because I had a good credit rating. But while most Kiwis were enjoying home loans at around the 4 per cent mark, ours was nearer 11 per cent (and this was the lower one). Stephanie, and later my own solicitor, noted that my problem was not unique, and they had clients who were also earning money from abroad who the banks shut out. This is a grand mistake in my book, because these are the very people we should be rewarding and encouraging. You’ve heard of export earners, right, banks? We usually talk about them in positive, glowing terms. Turn on the news. Get schooled.
   We still had renovations to do. At least Westpac would give me a top-up to get that sorted, surely. After all, we had already engaged a builder and he needed money for materials.
   Um, no. Westpac shut off that avenue completely. From memory they could give me a couple of grand, and that was it. This was despite my having a six-figure mortgage that I had whittled down to around a fifth, a relatively small five-figure sum. At all other times, it was fine, even when I enquired about purchasing a car. But not any more. And no, in itself that’s not a reason to leave a bank.
   Harmoney came to the rescue there and we were approved within 24 hours. Interest rate: 14·55 per cent.
   I had set up the direct debits with Avanti using my honourable (or so I thought) Westpac account.
   Except Westpac had one more trick up its sleeve. They seemed intent on making sure we would never move, so, without notice, they doubled my mortgage payments. They kept going on about how I was falling behind. No one at the branch could explain why, not even one of their most senior staff. If I hadn’t caught one of the debits, I would have defaulted on an early payment to Harmoney. Fortunately, I spotted it in time, and pulled some money from a TSB account to plug the gap.
   And no, in itself that’s not a reason to leave a bank.
   But all together, they were reasons.
   We sold the house, discharged that mortgage, and thanks to my very talented partner and her skills in money management and property investment, we managed to get our finances in order. I won’t elaborate on this since I regard this part as private, but let’s say Westpac should have had faith in us since we carried out what we proposed we do.
   It was only when the Westpac mortgage was discharged that the bank apologized for doubling my mortgage payments and gave a reason for doing so.
   Remember that letter in 2010 which said I could reduce my payments without affecting things? Turns out that affected things, and they wanted to grab what they could to make up for lost time. Not that they thought it was important to tell me any time between 2010 and 2019. They only played this at a customer’s most stressful point, and buying a house is one of the most stressful things you can do as an adult.
   So much for me being such a massive risk to Westpac. We told them our game plan to get to where we are today, and we carried it out to the letter. Two well educated, well qualified and intelligent people. Yet we were viewed with suspicion from the first moment we said we wanted a new home. So how do they treat people with less education or with a shorter history? If they are the Dementia New Zealand-friendly bank how do they treat those who haven’t had to deal with dementia? The branch was awesome and did right by us but as they’re not the ones approving things, then I can only expect that others are treated far, far worse.
   I felt they only apologized because they had thrown everything at us and realized we had a greater resolve.
   This experience teaches me that if you’ve kept up a decent history with Westpac, earned foreign exchange, and helped with your country’s balance of payments, then they will shit on you. Since sharing parts of this story on Twitter, I’ve heard of similar unreasonable treatment by Westpac toward hard-working New Zealanders. The moment they learn you need them, you’re on their radar, and they will block every avenue you normally would have—avenues that you exercised literally just months before, like the top-up. Because why have a customer who is freed of their grasp? That’s just not good for business. Better to keep them impoverished and not let them move to a nicer home. Better to let them know who’s really in charge. And, ladies and gentlemen, that explains a great deal about why foreign ownership can be troublesome in so many quarters—and why I’m happy to take this account to TSB. Thanks to Kerry Gribben and Panith Ear at TSB’s Wellington branch for sorting me out and making it totally painless. And Kerry was a total pro in not slagging off a competitor, especially given where he once worked (he didn’t tell me, but he knew a lot about Westpac’s processes!).

I had to choose a New Zealand bank on principle. The Cooperative Bank was on the radar, and they were really friendly, though I thought their charges were a little high and TSB looked better capitalized on the figures I could find. However, my respect goes to Brian Batchelor at the Wellington branch for being thoroughly professional. It would have been nice to have gone there, since Medinge Group banks with Coop in the UK, and a mate of mine who did some contract work for them says that our Cooperative (a different and unrelated entity) are genuine about their promises to customers.
   Kiwibank didn’t even reply to emails when we were trying to get a mortgage, and rejected all PDFs and ZIP files I sent their despite them saying their email systems could accept them. They just gave up all contact, so I figured they didn’t need the business. And I hear they don’t do foreign exchange anyway, which is just bizarre for a state-owned bank that should be encouraging foreign exchange in these economically tricky times. SBS had no nearby branches (technically, Blenheim isn’t that far but you can’t drive there without an amphibious car). Sometimes, you just go back to what you know.

Today (Friday), the day I am posting this. Westpac accounts shut (despite a massive queue at Lambton Quay). Really nice young chap behind the counter. Except I have 35 cheques on which I want the duty refunded. He didn’t know how to do that and wrote down the helpline number. I called that. Eighteen minutes later, the rep there didn’t know how to do that and referred it to my branch. I really need them to pay me back the NZ$1·75 on principle and then I will consider the matter closed.

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Going beyond a blacked-out image: thoughts on Black Lives Matter

04.06.2020

Usually I find it easier to express myself in written form. For once, Black Lives Matter and the protests in the US prompted me to record another podcast entry. I’m not sure where the flat as and the mid-Atlantic vowels come from when I listened to this again—maybe I was channelling some of the passion I was seeing in the US, and I had watched the news prior to recording this.

   My Anchor summary is: ‘Personal thoughts in solidarity with my black friends in the US. Yes, I posted a blackout image on my Instagram but it didn’t seem to be enough. This is my small contribution, inspired by a Facebook post written by my white American friend Eddie Uken where he reflects on his perspective and privilege.’ Eddie’s Facebook post, which is public, is here.

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Live from Level 3

03.05.2020

Finally, a podcast (or is it a blogcast, since it’s on my blog?) where I’m not “reacting” to something that Olivia St Redfern has put on her Leisure Lounge series. Here are some musings about where we’re at, now we are at Level 3.

   Some of my friends, especially my Natcoll students from 1999–2000, will tell you that I love doing impressions. They say Rory Bremner’s are shit hot and that mine are halfway there. It’s a regret that I haven’t been able to spring any of these on you. Don’t worry, I haven’t done any here. But one of these days …

Perhaps the funniest Tweet about the safe delivery of the British PM and his fiancée’s son, for those of us who are Clint Eastwood fans:

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Posted in China, culture, France, globalization, Hong Kong, humour, New Zealand, politics, publishing, Sweden, UK, USA, Wellington | No Comments »


Light humour, dark copy

24.04.2020

I really love Hong Kong 漫畫 or manhua, and found this in one of the boxes from the move.

   This was before the days of our having a computer scanner, and I had photocopied it out of a magazine or newspaper. There were years the copier was on the blink and everything would come out way darker than it should be—it was only with a bit of photo editing in a modern program that I got it looking better.
   I swear that copier had a psychic circuit like the Tardis. My father was a technician and knew his way around the machine but could never find anything wrong with it. It was fine when new but there were years everything came out too dark. After my mother passed away, the machine went dark instantly. After a period of mourning, without warning, it brightened again and all was back to normal. The computer monitor at the time did the same thing: I had to set it to its maximum setting to see the screen properly. And around the same time, it fixed itself, and I could turn it back to where it was. Gadgets in mourning.
   Usually you just hear stories of light bulbs frying but we were more high-tech.
   When Dad’s Imac gave up the ghost days after he died (actually, that was the first time we tried to switch it on after he passed away), I didn’t bother trying to get it fixed. I had a sense it wouldn’t be worth it.

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COVID-19 per capita update, April 4

04.04.2020

Finally found a page where you can order COVID-19 cases by different criteria, including total cases per million. Saves a lot of time trying to figure out where things are. There’s also an entry for the entire planet, which is very useful, as is updating the day at GMT +0. As expected, many small places (at the top are Vatican City, San Marino, Andorra, Luxembourg) have a higher per capita case figure.
   Selected countries again:

Spain 2,549
Switzerland 2,276
Italy 1,982
France 1,259
Germany 1,088
USA 838
Sweden 607
UK 562
Australia 218
South Korea 198
New Zealand 197
Singapore 190
The world 143
Hong Kong 113
Saudi Arabia 59
Mainland China 57
Japan 23
Taiwan 15
India 2

   You can also examine the graphs by both linear and logarithmic scales. I hadn’t seen the latter for a while in the media.


   I don’t plan on blogging too many more of these updates. The Worldometers site has a pretty good table that doesn’t need me to extract the figures out. I think most of us are doing what we need to do to stay safe and there comes a point where the numbers cease to have as much meaning. Real lives are being lost and people aren’t numbers.
   I have one colleague who has recovered from COVID-19, thankfully, and I am grateful that, unlike my first cousin once removed in New Haven, Conn., I do not know people who have been taken by this virus.

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Alone again, naturally

12.01.2020

Looking back over the years
And whatever else that appears,
I remember I cried when my mother died
Never wishing to hide the tears.
And at fifty-nine years old,
My father, God rest his soul,
Couldn’t understand why the only lass
He had ever loved had been taken,
Leaving him to start
With a heart so badly broken
Despite encouragement from me,
No words were ever spoken.
And when he passed away,
I cried and cried all day.
Alone again, naturally.

Considering Gilbert O’Sullivan was 21 when he wrote ‘Alone Again’, it’s a remarkably mature lyric, particularly as he didn’t know his father well, and his mother was alive when the song was penned.
   But it is my current earworm and with a slight change in the words, it reflects my mood.
   Of course I’m not “alone”: I have a partner and a network of friends, but there is an element of loneliness as part of the immigrant experience that hardly anyone talks about.
   When you emigrate to parts unknown with your parents, and you don’t have a say in it, you arguably have a different perspective on your new home country than someone who perhaps chose to go there, and you certainly have a different perspective to someone born and bred there.
   I’ve never blogged the full story though most of my friends know it.
   There is a photo somewhere of my family as I knew it at age two or so: my parents, my maternal grandmother, and me. At that age, I knew there were other family members—paternal grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins—but this was my immediate definition of family, and I held on to that for a long time. Certainly it was my definition during my formative years.
   I came with my parents and not my grandmother, landing here three days shy of my fourth birthday.
   When my grandmother arrived in March 1978 under the family reunion policy, my mother and I being her only living descendants, I felt ‘the family’ was complete again.
   Immigrants will probably tell you, more so if they are not of the majority race, that they have a sense that they need to face life in this new country together. That most of the people around you won’t be able to share the experience you’re having, because you’re making sense of it through a different lens. We spoke Cantonese at home, and we will have talked about the odd customs of the people here, from the stupidity of the colloquialism bring a plate to my parents needing to fight for the Wellington Hospital Board to give my mother her correct pay (something which ultimately required the intervention of former mayor Frank Kitts). Most of your peers wouldn’t know what it was like for a white person to tell your Mum and yourself to go back to where you came from. Or to be denied service at what is now Countdown on account of your race.
   Repeated experiences like that give you a sense of “the family versus the world”. Happy ones naturally outnumber negative ones—by and large, New Zealanders are a tolerant, embracing people—but it’s probably natural for humans to build up some sort of defence, a thicker skin to cope with a few of the added complications that the majority don’t have to think twice about. It’s why some of us will jump to “racism” as an explanation for an injustice even when the motives may not be that at all. It’s only come from experience and reinforcement, certainly at a time when overt racism was more commonplace in Aotearoa, and more subtle forms were at play (as they still are with decreasing frequency; hello, Dominion Post).
   As the family’s numbers dwindled, it impacts you. It certainly impacted my father in 1994, in the way O’Sullivan’s song says, and as “the last man standing” there is a sense of being alone. Never mind that my father had aphasia in his last years and couldn’t respond intelligibly when I spoke to him: the fact he could hear me and acknowledge me was of great comfort. He understood the context. And frankly, precious few others do.
   Other than aunts, uncles and cousins, the only time I really get to use Cantonese now is at shops where Cantonese speakers serve me. The notion of an ‘Asian’ invasion where you’re walking the streets not knowing what’s being spoken (I’m looking at you, Winston) is rot. You feel the loss of identity as well as your family because identity is relative: while you have a soul, a deeper purpose, that is arguably more absolute, you answer who you are in relation to those around you. I am proud of my heritage, my culture, my whakapapa. They identify me to the rest of you. Each of you holds a different impression, part of the full picture, just as in branding. The last person who understood part of my identity, the one relative to my immediate family who came with me to this new land, is now gone, and that cannot be reclaimed.
   Therefore, this isn’t solely about the passing of an elderly man and the natural cycle of life. This is about how a little bit of you goes as well. Wisdom tells you that you form another part of your identity—say how I relate to my partner, for instance—and in time you rebuild who you are and how you face the world. However, that takes time, and O’Sullivan might be an earworm for a little while longer.

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Thank you, Twitter whānau

16.12.2019

When Twitter is awesome. Thank you, everyone, tēnā rawa atu koutou.

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Posted in internet, New Zealand, technology, USA | 2 Comments »


Modern masculinity doesn’t involve reinventing the wheel

29.11.2019

When Douglas Bader recorded in his log book on the aeroplane accident that cost him his legs, he wrote, ‘Bad show’.
   It was men like Bader, Audie Murphy, Claire Lee Chennault and Douglas MacArthur that my father spoke of as heroes from his childhood.
   There were plenty more from our own culture but I’m using these ones given my largely occidental audience, and Dad really did cite them as well.
   None of these men, by the accounts I’ve read, were braggarts. Most were indeed very humble about their contributions to their countries.
   But even my late pacifist veteran grandfather (he served, but desperately hated war) would consider these men heroes, as my father did.
   I may have blogged at other times about my first years in New Zealand, but I won’t go into depth about it as it would be too much of a digression from the point I want to make.
   Perhaps it’s growing up in an immigrant household that what your father tells you a real man should be trumps what you witness at school from your classmates about what they think masculinity is.
   And you see your own father display the qualities of what he considered to be gentlemanly. Children are good mimics.
   A gentleman, he would say, has the ability to refrain. A lesser man might act out, or strike someone, but that is not a civilized man. Society runs best when people are civilized.
   Those ideas of what we call toxic masculinity today were never displayed in my household and are utterly foreign to me—and as an immigrant, ‘foreign’ has two meanings in that sentence. I may be the “foreigner” as far as others (such as certain Australian-owned newspapers) are concerned, even after living here for 43 years, but from your own perspective, you can more easily distance yourself from any undesirable behaviour, saying, ‘That’s not who I am.’
   In the early years at my first high school, I may have had some cause to doubt the fatherly advice because what I witnessed was an extreme and intellectually stunted form of hero worship that might was right. That the brute force of the rugby player was true masculinity and if you didn’t have it, then you were a ‘poofter’ or a ‘faggot’. Brag, brag, brag, be it about sports or sexual encounters.
   This, as any real rugby player knows, and I have met men who have represented our national side, is a wholly inaccurate perception of who they are.
   They will tell you that true men display values of camaraderie, teamwork, quiet achievement, tolerance and decency. No All Black I know talks himself up as anything other than one of the boys who happened to be lucky enough to be chosen.
   Indeed, some of the bigger blokes who wound up in the school rugby teams, especially the Polynesian and Māori lads, were generally gentle and protective fellows with strong family values.
   Yet that misplaced perception held by immature high school boys, I fear, informs many young men of how they are to conduct themselves in adult life.
   They think that being jerks toward women is the norm. ‘Treat ’em mean, keep ’em keen,’ is the familiar refrain.
   I’ve had comments over the years of, ‘Why didn’t you make a move on me?’ when I either could not read the signs or felt that forceful “masculine” behaviour was not particularly respectful. As a middle-aged man I wonder if the patriarchy, “just the way things are”, has warped expectations for heterosexual men and women. (I can’t obviously speak for our LGBTQI community.)
   However, what I do know is sending intimate pictures of yourself via a dating app or messaging service is disgusting (and, incidentally, has not worked for any man in the history of the planet), and that constant desperation is particularly unappealing.
   I remember a female friend showing me the sorts of messages she received from potential suitors on a dating website.
   ‘Holy crap,’ I said. ‘This is the calibre of men out there?’
   And when I talk to my partner today, she tells me that that was par for the course.
   But I have a quality relationship because I did listen to my father and behaved in a way that I thought he would approve of. Whatever he taught me wound up being hard-wired in me and I never aped the boys in my first high school. He was right after all, even if it took longer for me to be in a long-term relationship.
   No, I don’t have a massive list of “conquests” because it honestly isn’t about quantity and life is too short for empty encounters. And while my behaviour at uni age, and shortly after, wasn’t always exemplary, as I tried to figure out the norms, I’ve also come through this knowing that I didn’t have to lie to any woman, and not a single woman out there will be able to say I did anything physical without her consent.
   While I obviously told my other half of my career when we met (‘So what do you do?’), I never mentioned my mayoral bids till our fourth date, a month in to our courtship (she lived out of the country when I ran), and I admitted I didn’t always have an easy time in business during a period of my life, including the recession. I am human, after all. And if one can’t accept me for the bad as well as the good, then is the relationship founded on reality? Or simply fantasy?
   We’ve recently had a murder trial here in New Zealand with the accused a young man who is described as a serial liar, and accounts from women he had met were tragic: he would lie about his occupation, bigging himself and his family up, or pretend he had terminal cancer. Enough has been written on this creep.
   I had the misfortune to meet another young man who has since been exposed by the Fairfax Press as a con man, who also told constant lies about his life, thinking that talk of personal wealth would impress me and a co-director of one business we have.
   Mercifully, the latter case didn’t wind up with anyone physically hurt, and I know plenty of young people who would never behave like this. But it got me wondering whether the core of these cases tells us something about how certain young men feel inadequate, because of a misplaced hero worship of a warped form of masculinity that leaves them as outsiders.
   I’m by no means excusing the murderer because he frankly committed a heinous crime, in a premeditated fashion. I remain appalled at the victim-shaming that I saw reported as though the deceased, the one person who couldn’t answer, were on trial. I’m also not excusing the failed con-man who any viewer of Hustle would be able to spot a mile away: his actions, too, were his own. But I am pointing at society and how we men have shaped expectations.
   For I look at some male behaviour and they are entirely at odds with what a man should be.
   While examples like Douglas Bader might not resonate with young men today, because his example is too far back in history for them (the biopic is in black and white), surely we can find ones of humble men who accomplish great deeds and don’t have to go on social media to talk themselves up.
   Just tonight I was at a dinner for Merrill Fernando, the 89-year-old founder of Dilmah Tea, who was earlier today conferred an honorary doctorate by Massey University.
   When I asked if he was now Dr Fernando, he replied that he would still be Merrill Fernando, and that all the honours he had received—and they are plentiful—would never change who he was. His humility and his faith continue to inspire me.
   This is the mark of a decent and admirable man.
   And surely we can find examples where men aren’t being disrespectful to women and show us that that is the norm.
   Surely we don’t need to berate anyone who doesn’t fit the trogoldyte mould and use homophobic slurs against them.
   Because, chaps, I don’t believe what defines a man, a real man, a fair dinkum bloke, has actually changed, at its core, from what my Dad told me.
   There is room for the jocks, the geeks, the musos, the artists, the romantics, the extroverts and introverts, because we all have our strengths.
   One female friend of mine tells me that it’s safer for her to presume all men are jerks as her default position till proved otherwise, and I know fully why she would take that position. On social media she points to the ‘bros’, men who’ll gang up on women because they don’t like them for calling it as it is, or having a different viewpoint. In real life she has had unwanted attention, even after she tells them she’s queer.
   These men, the bros, the braggarts, the dick-pic senders, the liars, the bullies, the slanderers, are actually trying to change the definition of what a real man is—and that, to me, seems to be non-masculine, insecure and inadequate. We can do better—and history shows that we had done once.

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First night

16.09.2019

Forty-three years ago (September 16, 1976), we arrived in this country.
   As we flew from Sydney and into Wellington, my Dad pointed out the houses below to me. ‘See, those are the sorts of houses New Zealanders live in,’ he said. I thought it was odd they lived in two-storey homes and not apartment blocks. I was three at the time, so I had no clue about the population density of Aotearoa.
   I frequently point out just how cloudy and grey that day was. I don’t remember a summer of ’76–’77, just as no one here remembers a summer of ’16–’17. Only one other car, a Holden station wagon, went along Calabar Road in the opposite direction as we left Wellington Airport.
   Before we departed Hong Kong days earlier, my maternal grandmother—the person closest to me at that point and whom I would desperately miss for the next 18 months—gave me two very special Corgi models at the airport, large 1:36 scale Mercedes-Benz 240Ds. I said goodbye to her expecting to see her in weeks.
   As I was put to bed that night by my father—it wasn’t usually his role—he asked if I wanted to see the cars, since I had been so good on the flights. He got them out and showed me, and I was allowed to have a quick look before they were put back into his carry-on bag.
   None of us knew this was the trip where we’d wind up in Aotearoa. Mum had applied—I went with her to the New Zealand High Commission in Connaught Tower in Hong Kong to get the forms—but we had green cards to head to Tennessee. But, my mother, ever careful, didn’t want to put all her eggs into one basket. And like a lot of Hong Kongers at the time, they had no desire to hang around till 1997 and find themselves under communist rule.
   It was a decision that would change our lives.
   Whilst here, word got back home—and then out to us—that New Zealand immigration had approved our application. In the days when air travel cost a fortune, my parents considered our presence here serendipitous and decided to stay. What point was there to fly back if one’s only task was to pack?
   It’s hard not to reminisce on this anniversary, and consider this family with their lives ahead of them.
   I’ve had it good. Mum never wanted me to suffer as she had during the famine behind the Bamboo Curtain, and to many in the mid-1970s, getting to the Anglosphere was a dead cert to having a better life.
   I had a great education, built a career and a reputation, and met my partner here, so I can’t complain. And I couldn’t have asked for more love and support than I had from my immediate family.
   My grandmother eventually joined us under the family reunion policy in 1978. My mother and I were her only living descendants.
   Despite the happiness, you don’t think, on that night in 1976, that in 18 years my mother would die from cancer and that my widowed father, at 80, would develop Alzheimer’s disease, something of which there is no record in the family.
   Despite both parents having to make the decision to send a parent to a rest home, when it came time for me to do the same thing—and it was the right decision given the care Dad needed—it was very tough.
   A friend asked me how I felt, and I said I felt like ‘the meanest c*** on earth,’ even though I knew I would have made the same decision regardless of other factors as his disease progressed.
   Immigrant families stick together because we often have the sense of “us versus the world”. When Racist ’80s Man tells you to go back to where you came from, it’s not an experience you can easily share with others who aren’t immigrants and people of colour. So as our numbers diminished—my grandmother in 1990 and my mother in 1994—it was Dad and me versus the world, and that was how we saw things for the decades that followed.
   That first night he went to live in a home was the same night I flashed back to the evening of September 16, 1976—and how impossibly hard it would have been to foresee how things would turn out.
   He’s since changed homes twice and found himself in excellent care at Te Hopai, though he now needs to be fed and doesn’t detect as much to his right. The lights are going out.
   It’s a far cry from being the strong one looking after your three-year-old son and making sure he could fall asleep in this new country, where things were in such a state of flux.

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Posted in China, culture, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Wellington | 1 Comment »


The big move, after 36 years

20.05.2019

For reasons unknown to me, May seems to be a quiet month for my blogging. I looked back to 2010 and usually, this is the month I blog less. Maybe it’s the change in seasons, or I find other things to occupy my time.
   This year, it’s been far more eventful, as on the 10th inst., we moved. Thirty-six years at the same address, and I’m now in the northern suburbs of Wellington. The postal code has changed from a 6 to a 5 at the beginning, which gives you an idea of just how far north we went.
   As a middle-aged man I don’t need to be that close to town any more, and since I’ve always worked from home, all I really need is a stable and reliable internet connection. We need space for team members who work for me on-site, which we now have far more of. The internet connection is the one thing that really needs work in terms of my daily routine, since we are on multiple levels, and D-Link’s Powerline “mains modems” have not been that good here, while Vodafone’s Ultrahub also loses too much in terms of bandwidth in different parts of the property.



Above: There’s too great a loss of bandwidth through the D-link Powerline units. The top screen shot is a device plugged into the Vodafone Ultrahub near the Chorus ONT.

   It’s goodbye Evans Bay views (which have never been the same since the Indoor Sport Stadium was erected at great additional unnecessary expense to ratepayers; a clear reminder not to trust certain establishment politicians) and hello to rolling hills and native bush.
   It hasn’t all sunk in yet, as I’ve been working while the move has taken place, and haven’t had the time to enjoy the process. Rationally, I know we made the right decision, otherwise we’d never have done it, but other than the last half-hour at the old place, letting the memories of each room flood in as I walked through for the last time, I haven’t been particularly emotional. In fact, when the buyers of my old home signed, I was actually happier for them than I was for myself, since they had been searching for a while, and I felt they got a good deal. Here they were, third time lucky in this street, and getting the largest house on the largest section, and, with the greatest respect to my former neighbours, a more solid one, too. (Yes, I’ve knocked on your timber inside over the years.) They have a view which they never would have had in the other places.
   They additionally have a connection to a former resident on the street, which I won’t go into publicly; and one party’s father actually came from the street we moved into. Also in one of those “very New Zealand” coincidences, one dear friend who helped me move headed to Ōtaki that evening, and told a woman there that he had been helping us. It turns out that she was the sister of one half of the couple that previously owned our new home. These seem to be very “harmonious” events that appeal to my heritage, the sort of signs that to others might signal that “it’s all meant to be” if you were seeking something beyond the rational.
   In one year, in a street of 14 homes, four properties have changed hands; if you count the place on the corner of the street (which technically isn’t part of it), it’s five properties. If anyone were to write its history (not that anyone would), 2018–19 was the period of a sea change in terms of the people there.
   We’re still living among boxes, and there are still two storage units’ worth of stuff that we need to empty out, but we’ll just have to take things one step at a time. We filled a skip full of old stuff, and probably could have filled a second, once you added the miscellaneous trips our friends and I made to the tip. But on this end there are still a few things that need to go.
   For the last two years, the Mary Potter Hospice has been the principal beneficiary of the nicer items, which included new things that my parents and grandmother acquired but never used.
   One remarkable thing is how well the old furniture fits with the new place, and, interestingly, how comparatively poorly it fitted with the old. It’s as though my family bought for this house. When you look back over four decades, you get a sense of how things do intersect and come together, if you’re lucky, and we certainly regard ourselves as very lucky indeed. It makes me happy that things have worked out on many fronts, save for my Dad’s Alzheimer’s disease. Perhaps for him, too, there is a silver lining: we have wound up closer to him, so a drive north only takes 16 minutes (on a good day) rather than close to an hour.
   Yesterday, we visited the old street to collect the last bits and pieces out of the garage, and said hi to one of our former neighbours. We’ll visit others we didn’t have a chance to farewell, since the move out took longer than planned, and we had to dash off to get to the new place that day. That neighbour had been there for 60 years, and had seen everything from one couple having an argument where the woman chased the man with a shotgun round the grounds of Rongotai College, to the residents that had come and gone over the years. Interestingly, she didn’t remember a case of arson (to an old Humber car) in the 1980s, to which the fire brigade was called; but other tales remained as clear as day.
   I won’t go into the nitty-gritty as there are many tales to tell, and Kiwi motorway behaviour is pitiful in so many cases as we drive up north. And for privacy reasons, I won’t blog too much just yet about how we’re finding the new place, as we’re still adjusting to it ourselves. I will say the former owners were meticulous, filling up and painting over walls where things were once mounted (unless they used those 3M strips), and we are ever so grateful to them.

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Posted in internet, New Zealand, technology, Wellington | 2 Comments »