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Tuesday, May 25, 2004

A View From Afar 

I used to buy the Sunday-Star Times all the time when I was at university, and I still can't for the life of me figure out why. It had an atrocious lay out, the articles were sloppy and hit-and-miss, and the Arts and Entertainment section was something that you may expect from the school paper of a primary school in Taihape. Probably the best thing about it was the letters section, because it enabled you to keep up-to-date with the crackpot fraternity of New Zealand.

I have only been in New Zealand 9 weeks of the last three years, so obviously I am not the best judge of the current mood or status of my country. But going back once a year does provide a clear little snap-shot of what's going on that residents may be to immune to to appreciate. I went back to NZ for 6 weeks in July/August 2003, and I was surprised at just how whiny and petty some New Zealanders were. I remember sitting down to the Saturday edition of the NZ Herald, and reading the letters page with absolute horror and shame: there was a guy bemoaning the influx of Asians because eventually they would get into positions of political power and turn New Zealand into a dictator state "just like all the Asian countries" (I assume he was the Press Officer for New Zealand First or something). Another guy who had moved to NZ from England was complaining bitterly about the Government - which, in and of itself, is hardly a bad thing - claiming that it was too compassionate and soft, and that it should stop trying to improve things like Social Welfare or minority rights; that the prostitution law (which had only just passed at the time) was a sign of the Government's lack of morality....and so on.

(As a sideline, during the height of the debate about the legalizing of prostitution, many of the detractors argued that legalizing the world's oldest profession was only going to entice gangs into the "business". I wondered, and continue to wonder, who the hell the detractors thought were running massage parlors before the bill was passed)

It stunned me to see that New Zealand had such a propensity for an Us vs. Them mindset, that people were so willing to blame everyone else but themselves. So it comes as no surprise that National os surging in the polls with their narrow, divisive policies: it's what many of our countrymen have been looking for, a line in the sand to stand behind. A team to play for, with all the other bogeymen (Asians, Maori, environmentalists, poor people etc) on the other side. Suddenly there's a political vessel through which people can stand and point their finger at others, and it's a sad sight to see. Hopefully Brash has some actual ideas about what to do for the country if and when he becomes Prime Minister, rather than his current raft of things he's not going to do.

I love my country, but I don't love some of the people I share that country with. When I go back to New Zealand in July (for only a week!), it'll be interesting to resample the vibe and guage exactly where our country - full of potential, full of vitriol - is heading.

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You've got that right ... the standard of public discourse in New Zealand is atrocious. A while back when Yamis was in NZ he emailed me regarding a real beauty in the NZ Herald letters to the editor (no doubt personally selected by Garth George):

One letter claims uni grads were leaving in droves because of all the Chinese in NZ. I am almost speechless at that one. Most NZers abroad aren't even from Auckland you fuckhead. And the ones from Auckland hardly sat on Queen Street every day counting the Asians before deciding, that's 103 asians in 20 minutes, thats it damn it, I'm going to live in London where I can see 158 asians in 17 seconds!!!!!
Yeah, it appears that New Zealand takes Winston Peters more seriously than common intellgence would suggest, because one of the worst trends back home has been the rise in anti-Asian sentiment based on...well, you got me....Let's see:

The fact that most of them are rich? Doesn't that help the economy?

That they take our jobs? Not from the attitudes displayed in our country, I'm surprised that they get with a sniff of any job interviews.

That there are so many of them, and thus they are going to crowd us out? South Korea is half as big as NZ in land area and 12 times as populous. We would have to have an influx of roughly 92 million people to reach that density.

Or is it that they just look and speak differently to us? The sad truth is, I think this is the sole reason.

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