Posts tagged ‘Tāmaki Makaurau’


Trade not supplied

17.02.2011

In November 1993, while my mother was dying of cancer, I went and bought 12 cans of Wattie’s baked beans from Woolworth’s in Kilbirnie. She said it would be an easy breakfast to prepare for her, so I should go and get some. There was a limit of six, but there was a misunderstanding about which type the limit applied to, and a disagreement at the counter.
   That’s not much of a problem, but it was very rudely done, and I complained to Richard Olliver, the duty manager, about the attitude I got.
   He defended his colleague, saying that he did not approve of my tactics because the policy was that trade was not supplied.
   I am not sure since when typeface design or publishing was considered ‘trade’ as far as Woolworth’s went, but his reasoning was clear enough: I am Chinese, all Chinese are greengrocers, convenience store operators or restaurateurs, and, therefore, all Chinese are trade.
   I, as a member of this supposed trade, was not welcome at Woolworth’s Kilbirnie, and that I should consider myself warned.
   Since 1993, I have not set foot in there or any branch of Woolworth’s as a customer (I visited Countdown a few times in the 1990s till I learned it was the same group, I visited Woolworth’s in Newmarket with a friend in 2002 as she had to do her shopping, and I made a delivery to Woolworth’s in 2006). I have heeded Mr Olliver’s warning.
   This was one case that angered me that when my father applied for a One Card in 2003, I called Woolworth’s. I never drag others into my bans but I was upset they had our family home details.
   I asked that his application be taken out of the pile, and the staff member at Woolworth’s Kilbirnie said she would oblige.
   Two weeks later, his One Card arrived. So much for the word of a Woolworth’s employee. I proceeded to cut it into pieces and sent it back to the company, explaining what had happened a decade before. I said that if they were willing to apologize for the 1993 incident, I was prepared to listen. I also demanded that our details be removed from the database. And I wanted the apology in writing.
   I never received it.
   I received a phone call within the week but there was still no apology. The closest Woolworth’s got on this occasion was, ‘I hope you will change your mind about Woolworth’s some day.’ Those were the last words from their representative.
   Not bloody likely.
   Three incidents in a decade, all negative. The brand is tarnished, at least for my lifetime, to the point where I associate Woolworth’s with racism—helpfully cemented by its own staff only eight years ago. It’s hard to undo when each encounter reinforces the last negative one.
   As we approach the 20th anniversary of my Woolworth’s ban, of a company seemingly still wishing to stand by prejudice, I hear of another incident from my friend Andy in Auckland.
   He experienced the same, at Pak ’n’ Save, Albany.
   Like a lot of young guys, Andy decided to throw a party. And he was questioned at the check-out: ‘Are you going to resell these goods?’
   Andy is an Indian New Zealander.
   For goodness’ sake, as unlikely as it was in 1993 for a suited New Zealander of Chinese descent—yes, I remember what I was wearing that day—to be running this mythical grocery store in the Kilbirnie region, I find it equally unlikely that this mythical Asian reseller of beer and chips exists in Albany.
   Your booze prices aren’t that good, Pak ’n’ Save. Not till the expiry date nears.
   Of course this reselling exists. I’m not naïve. But I also know it is confined to certain individuals (and who gives a toss about what ethnicity they are), who are usually known to the supermarkets.
   I believe this is what is called ‘racial profiling’ and it’s this sort of behaviour that gets dickheads like Paul Henry questioning whether an Auckland-accented Governor-General ‘sounds like a New Zealander’.
   I thought my case was confined as an anomaly of the 1990s, which is why I have not waged the sort of anti-Woolworth’s campaign that I have against, say, Google. It happened to me, it was personal, and I trot the story out occasionally.
   But to hear it happens in the 2010s makes me wonder whether we have taken two steps forward—then two steps back.
   This nation’s history is one of migrants, regardless of what race we are. Just that some of us got here first, and then another mob came, and supposedly these two have joint sovereignty.
   We all came from somewhere, and just as I was appalled at the treatment when it was metered out to me, I’m appalled that someone else experienced it. It would not have mattered if Andy was Caucasian, or Native American, or whatever: he should not have been asked. Andy is Andy—and I’ve asked that he write to Pak ’n’ Save and see if they are capable of apologizing.
   Woolworth’s isn’t.

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Posted in branding, business, culture, New Zealand, Wellington | 4 Comments »


Be vigilant and don’t look

13.02.2011

This most recent trip to Auckland was marked by plenty of drama. The first experience was getting a virus the second I hooked up to the internet. The second was, having accidentally bumped the light into beam in my rent-a-Falcon on Ponsonby Road, a very interesting gentleman in a Toyota Picnic in the next lane flipped the bird, shouted, ‘You f***ing idiot, you’ve got your f***ing beam on,’ and proceeded to swerve his car into mine, then cut me off in my lane, before running a red light. The dude was angry. Running red lights seems to be commonplace there, having witnessed an average of one incident per diem, and once again, I seemed to receive confirmation that the page on intersection block is missing from the Auckland edition of the Road Code. (This last one has haunted me for years: every time I leave the gap in the intersection, my Auckland passengers consistently say, ‘I can tell you’re not from here.’)
   I know the strange motoring habits of Auckland I report are isolated examples as I have not really seen too much of this extreme behaviour on my previous trips. There are some oddities such as the inefficient motorway, where no lane is the quickest one, or the fact that travelling at 10 km/h above the speed limit is de rigueur, but then, you find quirks here in Wellington with our one-way system and less than clever signposting (which has, in our defence, improved).
   The reason I make these remarks is a concern where it will all lead. An Auckland friend, who was a witness to the Toyota Picnic’s driver’s extreme sense of drama (I wonder: what more does he do when something bad actually happens?), once said to me that he was surprised that in Wellington, a person spotting a friend on the opposite side of the road would shout out to him.
   Apparently, this does not happen in Auckland.
   So if the everyday gesture of friendship in society is now deemed inappropriate in our largest city, what is next? Could it be this?

London Underground, no eye contact

   These signs were not around last time I visited London, and I had to head to Duck Duck Go to search whether it was just a joke. A few people have reported them, so either they are connected by prima facie unrelated individuals who are coordinating a clever marketing campaign, or they are genuine.
   If genuine, then this is a sign that civilization has left Great Britain faster than the gold reserves under Gordon Brown’s watch.
   I’ve made eye contact with strangers before on the Tube in a friendly fashion, given up my seat for ladies and insisted they take it (they usually react as though it is a prank), and joked with friends and noticed Londoners chuckle at our conversation.
   (Female New Yorkers, incidentally, are still flattered that a gentleman gives up his seat on the Subway, and the elderly are always grateful. In Paris, meanwhile, giving up your seat to the elderly is expected, as well as to members of the armed forces.)
   The latest Underground sign makes me wonder if London has descended into the world of Harry Brown, where making eye contact with someone will lead to a fight. I suspect such signs have been put up after incidents of eye contact leading to violence. And that means the most basic aspect of human civilization—the ability to refrain—is now lost on an increasing number of citizens in the occident.
   It seems to run counter to the expectation that people stay vigilant, on the look-out for suspected terrorists, after years of the Troubles and, more recently, July 7, 2005. If you don’t look, how do you know?
   ‘I’m sorry, guv, I never got a look at his face. I can tell you he was wearing Doc Martens. Shoes with Martin Clunes’s image transferred on to them.’
   I think it’s a cautionary warning that if we don’t teach our own lot to get some perspective on life—a high beam on a car is not the end of the world, Mr Picnic—we’re looking at cities that are going to reflect the lack of civility that this sign suggests.
   What an appalling advertisement for modern Britain, undoing anything that the Tourist Authority might wish to do. It’s as bad as Britain’s apartheid policy.

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Posted in culture, France, New Zealand, UK | 6 Comments »