Getting to Down Under. Hong Kong to New Zealand

The only “luxury” item that I’ve brought. How heavy can a Pu’er tea brick be?

Monday, Feb 23rd. Hong Kong, Bangkok

Day one of our big bicycle holiday got off to a concerning start. I picked up a newspaper, thinking there would finally be time to relax and read. On page two was a tragic article about an Italian, who at the end of a 5 year bicycle tour of each continent, had been run over and killed in Thailand. Note to chase the dream with an abundance of caution.

The first clue that we over-packed was when we checked in at the airport. Our luggage was overweight and it would cost us an additional $1400 USD. After 20 minutes of being held hostage, our sweet-talking, begging for mercy and grovelling got the price lowered to $1100 which, though still outrageous, saved us $150 each. Moral of the story is, don’t fly Thai airways with a bicycle or maybe pack lighter.

Two hour layover in Bangkok. The plane was full of university students and a few lone, middle-aged men returning from holidays in Thailand. They avoided eye contact with the other passengers.

Tuesday, Feb 24th. Auckland, Dunedin, New Zealand

Another layover, this one in Auckland, then an uncanny resemblance. The body double for my friend Rita (not real name) stepped off the plane. I tried to take a photo to let her know what her future holds. A Maori rugby player and pregnancy. There are worse fates.

After dropping off our luggage we walked to the center of Dunedin looking for food. The first business we passed was the Salvation Army followed by Stilettos Strip Club, a dodgy massage parlor and the Dunedin sex toy shop. The Salvation Army has quick access to souls needing salvaging and we aren’t staying in the posh part of town.

A good omen, sun shining on the cathedral steeple with a rainbow  overhead welcoming us.

First impressions:  Everyone is nicer than in Hong Kong. Victorian storefronts and churches line the streets.  A few glossy-eyed guys staring straight ahead wandered by barefoot. It’s cold. Most everyone is sporty. Half look like they just finished rugby practice or mountain biking. Others need to go shoe shopping. Food portions are huge.

Wednesday, February 25th. Dunedin, New Zealand

Spent a sleepless night thinking of all the things that we don’t really need that could be send home.

I was told that Larry Ellison is roundly disliked in New Zealand for the way he won the America’s Cup sailing race. I volunteered that most everyone in San Francisco seems to feel the same for various reasons.

We met up with a charming new friend Annabel (thanks Lynda) who gave us a driving tour of the sights, funniest of which deserves mention; the University of Otago party student housing, with couches littering the brown yards, presumably to make vomiting outdoors more pleasant.

Thursday, February 26th. Dunedin, NZ

Perfect weather this morning we were told after waking up at noon. We left the bikes at a repair shop rather later than planned for a quick tuneup and then went exploring Dunedin’s used bookstores and coffee shops that seem to be on every corner (highly recommended).

I spent an hour trying to get ahold of and then raising my voice with the Chase Visa people who cut off my credit card because obviously anyone who travels outside of America is a terrorist who hates his country and capitalism and doesn’t deserve the privilege of spending hours on The phone dealing with incompetence. Despite having perhaps had a bit too much coffee, I can feel the stress from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong fade. New Zealand life seems relaxed and organic by comparison.

Observations: Pages of articles in the paper about Chinese drivers on the wrong side of the road causing carnage. Concerned citizens demand that something must be done. I suppose Rupert Murdoch owns all the papers in New Zealand as well. I just checked, he does. 74% of the newspaper circulation.

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