My Christchurch Memories

Summary: In wake of the terrorist attack in Christchurch, I recall my fond memories of that wonderful city and its inhabitants.

I write this article with the recent tragedy in Christchurch in mind, a city where I lived for three and a half years. Now, several years after I moved away reluctantly from that amazing city, I write with my own experiences. I've had the fairly rare perspective of living and working in four different countries on three continents over the last decade. I've gained a doctorate in engineering, and I've worked both in industry and academia. As someone who closely follows geopolitics and history and often imagines scary scenarios for writing fiction, I could not have imagined the terror that took 50 lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

I came to Christchurch about a year after the fateful 22 February earthquake. I moved from the northern hemisphere, so I had two winters that year. Even still, the New Zealanders I met during that time were some of the friendliest, most polite people I've met, before or since. While rich in natural beauty, Christchurch was in the midst of trying to build itself back after the earthquake. I biked to my lab each morning, and my route took me close to where one of the mosques was.

Grad school in a foreign country was an interesting experience. I went out of my way to avoid the places dominated by tourists, but I had my share of adventures and experiences off the beaten path. I'll say the New Zealanders I encountered were among the most open minded, adventurous people I met. I met some racist and ignorant kiwis, but I would say those traits were far worse in the unpleasant Australians, British, Canadians, Europeans, and Americans I dealt with. Nevertheless, as an international student, I lived with other international students.

I organized events for international students stuck in their dorms, while New Zealanders went home to family for the holidays. I was involved with a few clubs around campus, which tried martial arts, archery, fencing, and target shooting. Since I was one of the few internationals left on campus, I invited my fellow foreigners and kiwi friends to come with me. I told them to bring their friends, since the more the merrier. Whenever we'd go out, I'd ensure we all got back.

There was a very peculiar outing we all did once a month. There is a target sport called smallbore shooting, with ranges across the Commonwealth, and a handful left today. It took place in indoor target range, where the participant would try to use a single shot .22 rifle to hit 13 targets on a placard. We were racing the clock, so we had to manage the tradeoff of accuracy against speed. I'd always did average, perhaps above average on it, on account of my crooked glasses, but one of my guests got a perfect score.

Nevertheless, our crew of competitors was very cosmopolitan. We had New Zealanders, Americans, Koreans, Russians, Germans, Thais, Malaysians, Indians, Chinese, Dutch, Persians, and others. We had men, women, and a few people with less care for regular gender identity. Sport and peaceful competition was a key part of that. We all had fun, and we made our selves at home at that forlorn rifle range at the edge of Christchurch.

It was an old wooden building with no insulation. It stood, half forgotten, at the end of a road. It was patronized by a handful of target shooters with single shot .22 rifles and air rifles tuned like a master surgeon's tools. The range itself pulled double duty as an archery range on some days of the week. The shooting club was staffed by a handful of old folks, who were always welcome to us. They showed us how to use the ancient wood burning stove to warm ourselves, while we waited for the different groups to take their turns on the range. There was a billiards table and dart board to similarly keep us occupied. Nevertheless, it was part of a dying tradition. I am glad I was able to experience it, and show it to a handful of international students in my time in that country.

I had some other experiences in New Zealand. I visited Dunedin multiple times, enduring the six-hour bus ride in each direction to visit that city's Gothic architecture by the bay. I visited the first, and perhaps only, cryptocurrency conference in Queenstown. I developed a unique forensic technique. I attempted to patent a cyborg body and life support system, a full-body prosthetic. I self-published a shitty cyberpunk thriller and a worse fantasy novel. I learned haka with the Maori student club. I visited natural vistas, museums large and small, and battlefields of the Maori Land Wars. I had a fateful Easter trip, where I genuinely feared for my safety. I had to climb back into my fourth-floor dorm on Christmas through the window, since the office was closed. I built a collection of antique militaria, roleplaying books, sci-fi novels, and interesting things from dumpster-diving.

I matured a lot, even if it was painful. Maturity is directly proportional to your ability to endure humiliation and hardship, and then reflect on it. In my last few months, my funding ran out. I was driven to pull food out of trash cans for two months, as I went through rounds of revisions on my thesis. During that time, it was a handful of New Zealanders that supported me, even at my personal nadir. As soon as I finished my thesis, I had news that sent me back home. My grandmother died, and I had to return for the funeral.

So began the most trying period of my life. I'd left New Zealand, and I returned to a dour reality of student loans, petty people I'd known since childhood, the place I tried to flee, and no job prospects. While I managed to get a job after a long month, it was my friends from New Zealand that helped me through. I still keep in contact with them today, and I've visited New Zealand twice since then. Without the experiences I had in New Zealand, I say I'd be a lot less mature and unready to face the challenges from the rest of my life.

Thankfully, all of my friends are alright. The same cannot be said for the 50 that lost their lives in the attack. I will not use this essay for politics. I will not regurgitate soundbites, nor use this to start hatemongering or fearmongering. I've had enough of that already. I want to offer my support to New Zealand, the country that saved my life. Christchurch survived an earthquake. It survived the evil done to it. To any kiwis out there, I look forward to my next visit. My time in Christchurch made me a better person, and proved how people from around the world could bond. I hope to visit you soon.