Home Again

A question for the New Zealanders among us:

I've recently decided to move back to New Zealand after almost a decade living abroad in Canada and Costa Rica.  And I wonder how much New Zealand has changed socially, culturally, economically since I left.  What differences (large and small) will I notice after 10 years away?

My New Zealand is frozen back in January 1999.  When I left, Jenny Shipley was the prime minister, 91 octane petrol was 80 cents a litre, and the average house cost about 50% less than it does now.  My home town, Dunedin, was a fairly sleepy, but funky, place with some good restaurants and great clothing stores and a good (although declining) live music scene.  It was a safe enough place that I could accidentally leave my back door not only unlocked but wide-open for a whole day with no ill-effects. 

I've heard that going home is in some ways more of a culture shock than moving away.  When you emigrate, you expect everything to be strange, but when you go home you expect to be home which makes any unfamiliarity harder to deal with.  After such a long time away I think it's likely that I'm in for some surprises.  What do you think?

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9 Responses to Home Again

  1. Jack Yan says:

    Here’s the funny thing: I returned to Hong Kong with a 30-year gap (1976–2006). In that time the Brits had left town on HMY Britannia and the communists came in. Apart from the accent (most Hong Kongers speak with a weird accent now) and massive changes in the construction, on street level, in the way people behave, in the culture, nothing had changed. I would say you will find a few landmarks will have changed, and statistics do show crime and the rich–poor gap have worsened, but the fundamental things are identical: the overall culture, the chats you’ll have with cab drivers and people in the hospitality industry, stuff like that. I thought Dunedin music was still funky, but I just heard from some young people there who think it sucks. And leaving your door unlocked would be a bad idea in most cities now as home invasions are more commonplace than they were in 1999. You could still get away with that in Dunedin but not all areas. Clothing in Dunedin is still great, though: the great labels like Nom D and Mild Red are still there, plus there are some good new ones down that way.

  2. Janette says:

    Thanks for the reply!It's interesting that you'd notice a shift in the Hong Kong accent in such a short time – and funny that that would be the main change when Hong Kong went through such a huge political upheaval.I've been away long enough that I can hear the NZ accent with its squeezed up vowels and even pick out subtle regional differences (he's from Auckland, she's from the South Island – that kind of thing). My accent's changed (I have more "r" sounds in my words and flatter Canadian vowels these days) but I'm sure I'll be New Zillunding away with the best of them after a few months at home.Ah, Nom D – I just hope I'm rich enough to afford some of their stuff. I'm still wearing Nom D jerseys I bought 10 years ago. They're great for the vagaries of a Dunedin winter. I've not heard about Mild Red – I'll have to check them out.

  3. Janette says:

    Posting on the weekend probably didn't help me attract readers….Anticipating the handover in Hong Kong must have been pretty scary for people – luckily the communist party has liberalised a bit since the 70's.Thanks for the Mild Red link – I'll check them out. All this talk about NZ is feeding my excitement about going home – I'm looking forward to being a Dunedinite again.

  4. Jack Yan says:

    Yes, I imagine a weekend posting in the northern hemisphere summer might have meant fewer readers, but I had hoped a few more locals here would have been by their PCs during the winter. But you never know with blogs: the most unexpected posts can get a heap of comments. We left HK because of 1997—just that we did it 21 years early. A lot of Mum’s friends at a nurses’ reunion they all had in 1989 said she was remarkable to have had the foresight, since by then a lot of places (including NZ) were putting up extra barriers fearing an influx of Hong Kong people. Like we’d have really bludged off the system.

  5. muntedkowhai says:

    I returned to NZ after a 8 year absence although I left Auckland, went to the states and headed back to Dunedin. I was amazed at how new things were to me and yet so comfortingly familiar. In the two years I was in Dunedin, I was surprised at the amount of violence that existed for a wee city. Alas that may be due to the student majority population there which can get tiresome but Dunedin is only a few hours drive away from the mountains and with such close proximity to the beaches, it redeems itself!

  6. Janette says:

    I'm looking forward to the sea and white sand beaches! I'd heard that Dunedin has gotten more violent – that's a shame. It won't be anything like here though where the big gap between rich and poor makes property crimes and muggings common and where guns are everywhere.

  7. Jack Yan says:

    That rich–poor gap is something we need to be very mindful of here, too: it will have gotten bigger since 1999, Janette, but hopefully still manageable.

  8. Janette says:

    Yes, the poverty gap has a huge impact on social cohesion. How didn't realise how egalitarian NZ was until I left. Even somewhere like Vancouver has a much bigger gap than NZ, with lots of homeless or otherwise marginal people alongside the posh cars and multi-million dollar homes. It makes for lots of property crime and beggars. Vancouver also has a big problem with crack and heroin, which means more people living on the streets. When I left hard drugs weren't that much of a problem in Dunedin. I wonder if that's changed.

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