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From South Pole:

The Quiet Earth

Monday, Nov. 7 2011 UTC

2011/11/8 05:01 AM NZDT Christchurch

Spring in Christchurch

Woke up a few minutes ago and started thinking about a blog post. I would have happily slept more but my body tells me that’s not going to happen. It’s quiet here, with the only sound the faint snoring noises coming from the next room over.

I’m at a hotel in an area of Christchurch called Papanui whose distinguishing feature seems to be a shopping district with a mall and a number of smaller stores and eateries. The shops include several Asian restaurants, a comic store, and a small model train store. It’s not bad area, but it feels like it could be anywhere in New Zealand. I’m a bit sad not to stay at the Devon B&B, not to hear the trolleys rattle by every so often, not to wander down to the Arts Center or stroll down to the shops near Cathedral Square.

After my arrival yesterday, I tried to get out see a bit of what could be seen. There is a rail line nearby with a path alongside it leading to Hagley Park, which is close to the center of town near where I used to stay. I went for a run down this path, perhaps a few miles, until I reached the far side of the park. But I was out of water and energy, so I didn’t go further.

Perhaps I’ll make it farther today or some other time. But, truth be told, I’m not sure I have the stomach to see it. When we arrived at the airport yesterday, we were met by a young woman who briefed us on the conditions here. She made sure we kept our emergency information cards on us at all times. She told me that, though she was from Christchurch, she had yet to get the nerve up to go downtown and look around. The cordon around the entire downtown area was apparently just opened up a week or two ago — she said that the area is mostly a write-off, with most buildings needing to be torn down and rebuilt. Most of the Christchurch I have come to know over the years is apparently gone. The newer parts around here seem mostly fine (aside from a few fenced-off buildings), but the main reception area of our hotel is closed off, with a rather lovely, elegantly-designed shipping container structure serving as temporary office.

Ice People checking in at temporary reception container

The young woman described what it was like when the big earthquake hit on February 22. She said that, out by the airport, it was eerily silent just after the big shakes stopped. I was reminded of the 1980’s New Zealand film, The Quiet Earth, in which most of humanity is suddenly spirited away. She said they could tell by the number and intensity of the sirens which gradually filled that silence that it was very bad for the downtown area.

Fenced-off buildings in Papanui

My trip to Christchurch was pleasant. I asked for, and got, an exit row window seat from Chicago to LAX. It even looked as though our row’s middle seat would be empty (even more room!), but at the last minute a large, Middle Eastern man got on and sat there. As we taxied he pulled out a small book in Arabic, which I guessed was the Koran until I noticed the picture of Jesus on the cover. We conversed a bit and he told me he was a Copt, Copts being Egyptian Christians who, according to Wikipedia, were the dominant religion there before the Muslim conquest in the seventh century. He told me of recent atrocities against Christians in Egypt by the majority Muslims, and said that despite the Arab Spring things were not good now in Egypt for Christians; in fact, he had won the Green Card lottery in the States and went back to Egypt to settle some affairs before moving to LA permanently. Nice guy.

At LAX, I managed to recharge my laptop and iPhone batteries at a charging station and get my boarding pass for the Qantas flight to Auckland. I asked if there was any choice of seats, and the guy at the gate said, “no, but I got you an aisle seat.” Fair enough, I thought, and went back to the charging station to do some work. When they started calling my flight, I looked at my boarding pass and did a double-take: they had upgraded me to Business Class! I was pretty excited about this — the difference between Business and Economy for me is 1-2 hours of sleep versus 5-7 hours, due to the extra space and the fact that Business seats recline almost fully. I marched right on the plane and sat down in the first row of seats and was happily chatting on the phone and sipping orange juice in minutes. The flight was very smooth; I really enjoyed the conversations with the guy next to me, a lawyer from New York, and managed to both catch some sleep and get some work done (there was a regular electrical power outlet under my seat, another major bonus).

Electrical power and leg room are interesting to me; possibly less so to potential readers. What does one write during one’s tenth trip to the South Pole? I have written a journal of sorts during most or all of my previous trips, usually some kind of blog. You can go back and read a lot of that writing on this site. What can I say that hasn’t already been said?

One answer that comes to mind is to work with difference — with what has changed for me, or in external circumstances. Christchurch is certainly different; we shall see how the Ice is different, if at all. And I am different… older, certainly. Wiser? Perhaps. I plan to explore some of these external and internal changes in future posts.

If you are interested in reading shorter updates (say, < 140 characters), I’ll be posting those to my Twitter feed. And, as I did in January, I’m posting the pictures to Flickr.

Hotel fire alarm just went off. False alarm, but so much for the Quiet Earth. Time to hunt down some breakfast. We get our cold-weather gear at 1 PM.