The research and innovation office at AUT is on the top floor of a building in Wakefield St. It offers a commanding view of the Auckland skyline out one side, and glimpses of the harbour and the slopes of Rangitoto Island from another. (There are of course two other sides, but one of them is occupied by a group doing animation, games and VR, and the other has a commanding view into the dishevelled living rooms of student apartments next door, which is a much less compelling way to open a paragraph.)
In the leadup to my first day, the office did their best via email to make me feel welcome.
I asked whose job it was to change the numbers but they wouldn’t say.
My first day itself was like most first days – signing a lot of things, trying to remember a lot of names, getting your photo taken, finding out where the toilets are, before eventually sitting down at your desk thinking ‘now what?’ as everyone else scurries around busily while you feel a bit useless and out of place. While being shuttled around and being introduced to people I adopted what I hoped was an open expression of thoughtful curiosity and concern, while mostly being preoccupied about how sweaty I was from walking up Wakefield St and wearing one layer too many.
One layer too many...
My favourite part of the office is the tea room, which is light, bright and can comfortably contain multitudes. It gets used for all sorts of things, and many people understandably prefer to have meetings in here than in the meeting rooms. There’s a little sofa by the window which is perfect for having the little one-to-one chats that are so important to moving things along in this kind of work.
Auckland is an amusing place, but it’s growing on me. Like Brisbane, it sits in the slightly awkward position of being big enough to have a lot of amenities and a distinct culture, but not quite big or significant enough to have a lot of other amenities, while being reasonably close to other cities that do. Like Brisbane, a lot of its distinct culture seems to arise from the tensions, insecurities and opportunities of having that status. For some reason, I enjoy this aspect – perhaps it appeals to my insider/outsider vibe.
It is a genuinely welcoming place. When we first arrived, Doug passed a homeless man who asked for spare change. Doug said he didn’t have any because he’d just arrived in the country. The man broke into a huge smile, said ‘welcome, bro!’ and started reeling off a list of things to see and do. (Somewhere in our shipping container there is a rolled-up poster from Peter Drew’s brilliant ‘Real Australians Say Welcome’ project. I’m looking forward to finding it and putting it up somewhere.)
I adore the New Zealand manner of speech and its kiwi-isms, which include saying ‘ay?’ on the end of sentences in a tone of hopeful consensus, and – the epitome of politeness – my favourite kiwi swear word: ‘flip!’
Kiwi accents remain a source of private joy. (As Tony Martin puts it, wouldn’t it be great if all racism was as mutually fun as that between Australians and New Zealanders?) When the real estate agent for our new place leaned in and told us solemnly that we might need to watch out for a bit of damage to the Mitsubishi fridge, my heart did cartwheels. My face registered thoughtful curiosity and concern, though maybe he thought I was worried about sweating.
Unfortunately, by the end of the first week at work I got sick. The combination of winter, a new country with new bugs, the heightened energy of eight weeks of relocation stress (Juanita’s efforts notwithstanding), and flying in a confined metal disease tube meant it was probably inevitable. Doug caught it first and I spent most of the first week trying not to. But by Friday I had to call in sick, which is of course a great look for Week 1.
But, no-one seemed to mind. In fact, quite the opposite. When I came back on Monday feeling better but still sounding like Lachy Hulme, it was gently suggested that I go rest up at home. They were so British about the way they suggested this that at first it caught me off guard and I foolishly assured them I’d be ok. Then it was suggested – still gently but more firmly – that I nick off until everyone could be sure I was no longer a plague carrier.
I said I didn’t have the sick leave and they said oh no we mean just work from home. In Australian workplace culture, a not untypical view is that having a sick day makes you a wuss (unless it’s after a big night on the piss or the 1983 America’s Cup). Working from home means you’ll be bludging, and the best thing to do is have a teaspoon of concrete, harden up and soldier on. I must’ve communicated all this cultural nuance through a Look and a small tilt of the head, because then they said don’t worry, we trust you. So I staggered off home to lie on the couch with my email, recovering not just from a viral infection but also from my first real bit of culture shock.
Speaking of soldiering on, we made the unwelcome discovery that you can’t buy over the counter Codral here. I mean the real pseudoephedrine stuff where you have to present your license, show the pharmacist your runny nose and watery eyes and give them your best ‘I’m not going to go straight home and brew meth with this’ face. You can still get the bullshit phenylephrine stuff (no better than placebo) and you can still get the real stuff but you need a prescription from a GP. On the flip (haha) side, all the meds seem to be heavily subsidised so they’re only $5. In any case we’re both all better now except for the inevitable cough that, like a Telstra account, seems to linger on for ages even after you’re sure you’ve got rid of it.
I’m coming to the end of week two at work and already feeling suitably settled in (my days are mostly meeting people and reading things for the time being.) Tomorrow we get the keys to our new place and have our stuff moved in, and it will be great to have our own space at last, though it will be many weeks still until we have it all set up the way we want it.
I’m looking forward to discovering more that is uniquely Auckland – I’ve seen glimpses (yesterday we went to a swanky foodcourt for dinner that's a converted stables underneath a fancy hotel), but so far our movements have been limited to a few blocks around the hotel and the office. But as I said earlier, the place is growing on me – how can you not love a country where it’s possible to see the entire navy from the tea room?