Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Three months after

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  • Megan Wegan,

    There was one very small tremor. I felt the wave ripple underneath me and a ceiling beam complained. I looked over at Emma. She nodded.

    When I was down there, there was one of the bigger aftershocks, as I was about to finish work on a Saturday night. I was so touched by all the Chch people (including Emma) who messaged to ask if I was OK. I was fine, already thinking I was going to have to work for the rest of the night, and all I could think was “really? You’re asking if I’m ok? I’m here for two weeks, you guys LIVE this.”

    I worked in that Holiday Inn you passed, right through university. It is one of the many places that made me cry.

    Welly • Since Jul 2008 • 1273 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Megan Wegan,

    I worked in that Holiday Inn you passed, right through university. It is one of the many places that made me cry.

    I hope you won't be offended if I say it was perhaps the only place that made me smile, with its ersatz columns all skew-whiff. The abandoned houses a little further around, they did make me feel like crying.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18957 posts Report Reply

  • Megan Wegan, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Not at all. It was the Catholic Cathedral that really broke me.

    Welly • Since Jul 2008 • 1273 posts Report Reply

  • Robyn Gallagher,

    This makes me wish I could ride a bike. And for the first time since the quake, it's made me want to return to Christchurch. Not for earthquake tourism, but because despite the shit, it's still a lovely city.

    Raglan • Since Nov 2006 • 1861 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart, in reply to Megan Wegan,

    Not at all. It was the Catholic Cathedral that really broke me.

    I cried when I saw pictues of the main Cathedral, but what really gutted me - and this doesn't make any sense, but there you go - was seeing a picture of Shades Arcade, off Cashel Mall, just gone. I used to nip in to Dumplings every time I was in the CBD for a pork bun or some wontons. I'd mused when I left that the next time I came back, I was definitely dropping by. That...does not seem likely to ever occur again, or not in the same way.

    Another Christchurch student who came over at the same time as me made it back for Christmas. She says she was really glad she saw the city when it was a bit munted, before February, to get used to the idea it wasn't going to be the same. I wish I'd been able to.

    Amherst, MA • Since Nov 2006 • 2093 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Robyn Gallagher,

    This makes me wish I could ride a bike.

    Bikes rule.

    And for the first time since the quake, it’s made me want to return to Christchurch. Not for earthquake tourism, but because despite the shit, it’s still a lovely city.

    I felt less bothered by the earthquake tourism thing than I expected -- without the people coming to the fenceline to look, the south side would be much bleaker.

    On the Sunday, I got the impression that many of the people there were actually locals -- we tend to forget that many Christchurch people still haven't seen their desolate city centre up close. On the Monday, it looked more like inbound tourists, with their cameras.

    It didn't feel right taking photographs of damaged houses though, whether or not they were abandoned. That was just too sad.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18957 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to Russell Brown,

    On the Sunday, I got the impression that many of the people there were actually locals -- we tend to forget that many Christchurch people still haven't seen their desolate city centre up close.

    Oh yes. And I think the need to go and look is made stronger by feeling so much that we just don't know what's going on.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4369 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Robyn Gallagher,

    despite the shit, it’s still a lovely city

    Thanks Robyn, I think so too. But as Russell observes, there’s a mind-boggling amount of work to be done. It may be decades before everything’s been put back together, rebuilt, replaced. I’ve struggled since the quake to even comprehend the scale of the damage; I’ve lived in Chch all my life, and the beautiful, undamaged city is so embedded in my mind that I keep being shocked by the same sights, over and over. The ruined city contradicts my memories at every turn; I have the crazy feeling that the devastation is less real than my memories. I keep expecting to wake up and find the earthquake and its aftermath was all a dream.

    In more normal times, when a notable building is demolished, when a water main bursts, when there’s a rockfall from a cliff, when there’s a power cut, or a minor tremor, when someone is tragically killed in an accident, people talk about it for days or weeks, sharing their shock and dismay, or their story of cheating death.

    In the last few months, everyone in the city has lived through so many exceptional experiences, even if they haven’t lost a loved one or their home. And the mental and emotional effects are hard to explain to people who haven’t been here.

    While I was writing this, my flatmate ran in, shouting with incoherent joy. We’ve just received the longed-for flyer from the council, informing us we can now use our toilet. Hallelujah. :-)

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3466 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole,

    I was down there for a couple of days early last month to visit a client, and my main point of contact lives in the Red Zone. He said he's found it hard to sleep, because he's an ex-Londoner and the lack of street noise doesn't sit well with him.

    The pit from whence crawl… • Since Mar 2007 • 3909 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    It seems a preposterously small victory -- but what do you do?

    Celebrating those things are important. They're things that one can do, rather than feeling hopeless about the huge task ahead.

    While I was writing this, my flatmate ran in, shouting with incoherent joy. We’ve just received the longed-for flyer from the council, informing us we can now use our toilet. Hallelujah. :-)

    And things like that.

    I have the crazy feeling that the devastation is less real than my memories.

    Nicely put, and how awful.

    And I think the need to go and look is made stronger by feeling so much that we just don't know what's going on.

    That, at least, is something the government could and should address at very little cost.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8584 posts Report Reply

  • Megan Wegan, in reply to Emma Hart,

    Oh yes. And I think the need to go and look is made stronger by feeling so much that we just don’t know what’s going on.

    I have seen and heard more than I really wanted to. Because I feel like an outsider from Christchurch now (which as an issue itself), the telling of earthquake stories wasn't therapeutic sharing, for me. And it was work. Which isn't to say I begrudged hearing the stories at all, but it reinforced the already helpless feeling I had, constantly.

    As for the buildings, and seeing the damage...I'd rather not have. The bits of the red zone I saw were heartbreaking.

    ETA: Having said that, I am very pleased, as Lucy points out, that I got to see it when I did. Because every time I go down from now, the city will look more and more different.

    Welly • Since Jul 2008 • 1273 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

    I have the crazy feeling that the devastation is less real than my memories.

    Yes. It’s also weird how you can virtually stroll through the central city in google streetview- and the buildings are still there (I can’t get a link to streetview to work, but in streeview’s world, on a rather gloomy grey day, the RC cathedral still overlooks Barbadoes St traffic…)

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 1574 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Rob Stowell,

    you can virtually stroll through the central city in google streetview- and the buildings are still there

    Yes. I downloaded an overlay of part of the city taken on the Thursday after the quake, and looked at my stricken neighbourhood, wondering where I was when the shots were taken...and I scrolled in towards town, and suddenly I went over the edge of the overlay, and saw the beautiful city, intact again.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3466 posts Report Reply

  • Leopold, in reply to Rob Stowell,

    I can only hope that the present google streetviews are archived before they are replaced by more up to date ones

    Since Jan 2007 • 147 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

    I can only hope that the present google streetviews are archived before they are replaced by more up to date ones

    I tried to suggest this (in a couple of ways) but google can be very impenetrable. OTOH they've also helped out in practical ways where they could- very handy, especially for people who have 'MAG' (mates at google)

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 1574 posts Report Reply

  • Raymond A Francis,

    We drove past Chch just after the quake (checking my sisters who live both sides of town) on our way home
    There was short debate on taking a good look around rather than taking the bye-pass and apart from what we would tell out grandchildren about the Quake damage no positives and that wasn't enough
    So thank-you Russell for doing the dirty work for us

    45' South • Since Nov 2006 • 543 posts Report Reply

  • Gregor Ronald,

    Our house is still (only just) standing across the river from David and Jen's, past the twisty bridge that nobody finds cute any more. We had to leave after the September quake caused parts of the house to collapse, and I really admire the people who've got the fortitude to stay. Luckily our mortgage was recently paid off, so paying rent isn't too onerous, but people with large mortgages really have no choice but to stay put.

    We hear rumours (lots of them) that the geotech reports are done, and everyone is waiting for CERA/CCC/EQC, insurers, and the Government, to make announcements about whether we can rebuild on our riverbank sections. land remediation works, we know that from small sites along the river and the new Pegasus Town, built on a swamp north of Chch. They just need the courage to swallow the large bill and get on with it, so we can put down David's clever foundations and start building.

    Then the Avon suburbs can again be a showcase for the city, and we'll all feel better.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 72 posts Report Reply

  • SteveH, in reply to Leopold,

    I can only hope that the present google streetviews are archived before they are replaced by more up to date ones

    Google being Google, I'm sure they keep everything. The question is whether we can access it. There is already historic imagery in Google Earth so they seem to have an interest.

    Since Sep 2009 • 399 posts Report Reply

  • Isabel Hitchings,

    It's the timescale of the rebuild that hits me. I can cope with things being six months or a year away but when people start saying we'll still be getting over this in a decade or more my brain just can't manage.

    Unpredictablilty is hard too. We might be able to flush tomorrow or it could still be months. Ditto for getting our logburner replaced. These things make planning ahead near impossible.

    Christchurch • Since Jul 2007 • 706 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood,

    Thanks for a great post, Russell (not to mention a lovely visit). Yes, I should have written something like this myself, but it's just so damned depressing that I couldn't even bring myself to think about it.

    I did enjoy your description of our house as "okay". The damage runs to more than $200,000 -- but you're dead right! Compared with many of our neighbours (particularly those with houses built in the last 30 years), our house is both livable and ultimately repairable. We could be in a much worse situation.

    The other reason I didn't want to write about this (except tucked away as a comment on your post) is that I'd have felt compelled to mention how defeatist the mood is at the moment. The vast majority of people I talk to around here have already accepted that CERA will be a disaster and that CHCH will never recover. As a neighbour put it: "Brownlee is gonna fuck us all over, and Christchurch is gonna be a permanent fucking disaster. When I get the insurance money I'm moving to Australia -- and the quicker people realize that's the smart move, the happier they'll be."

    I suspect that we will have to fight for a lot of things -- but that this sort of defeatist attitude will only make things worse. And, in fact, could be the thing that does ultimately produce failure. (Although I know that some of my neighbours think I'm quite out-of-touch with reality to be cheerful in any way.)

    For this reason, I must say that I was greatly heartened by Gregor Ronald's comment above. Nice to see some optimism -- even if you and I may be the only ones in the neighbourhood.

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 988 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    Dear David H – among the ‘munted’ (jeez I hate that word with it’ s S.African nasty origins) family houses, are ones that include heavily mortgaged family groups.
    Who’ve moved away.
    And, sibling investment houses – and those siblings are never going to come home again to CHCH.
    Th 2 sibling owned houses that your words have inspired people to continue living in CHCH/Avonside Drive are the exceptions.
    I’ll be shifting over to the East Coast quite soon- Oamaru/ Moeraki/Otepoti…

    never ever CHCH ever again (I still cant cancel out Margaret Quigley’s Y2000
    stupidities apropos CHCH writers. I was rejected then – despite being born & reared & educated in CHCH – and will not ever forgive that slight.)

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Clarke,

    The appointment of Roger Sutton to lead CERA seems a good sign, but I would like to be convinced of the vision of those with political responsibility for the task.

    I grew up in Christchurch and can’t face going back yet, with so much of the city changed forever.

    I had this vision in my head that the earthquake would result in this huge outpouring of construction effort and energy to rebuild the city and people’s lives, like some Bob The Builder episode turned up to 11. Yet reading Russell’s post is just so depressing – 3 months later and there seems to be so little happening. My Christchurch family affected by the earthquake say that that there’s just no momentum in the recovery.

    So given it’s the country’s biggest disaster in our (admittedly short) history, I am left wondering what it would take before the Bob The Builder scenario actually played out … what would have to be destroyed and lost before we did put every digger and truck and tradesperson in the country to work to make it whole again, and stopped leaving the reconstruction of this beautiful city and the homes of the people who live there to the invisible and utterly uncaring hand of the market?

    At what point do market forces stop being a political philosophy and turn into simple callousness?

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 78 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

    what would have to be destroyed and lost before we did put every digger and truck and tradesperson in the country to work to make it whole again

    Thanks for the sentiment- it does help! But it's a hard question to answer. Japan doesn't appear to suffer from this paralysis.

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 1574 posts Report Reply

  • Geoff Lealand,

    Thank you, Russell for a sad story well told. How fares the Broadcasting School? I know from Ruth that is has been hard getting the students settled and back on track.

    My wife Josephine will be down in Christchurch all next week but is a little nervous about returning--not just because her 89 year old dad Peter is having chemo treatment (there are services still supporting the rest of NZ) but in anticipation of the changes she will see since we were last there in January.

    Screen & Media Studies, U… • Since Oct 2007 • 2316 posts Report Reply

  • Islander, in reply to Clarke,

    At what point do market forces stop being a political philosophy and turn into simple callousness?

    Report

    Very good question: one of my brothers (CHCH-born&raised, & still with 2 houses in the city) is *blocked* from doing restoration work - except on his own properties- because he lives outside of Canterbury-

    for myself, market forces are ALWAYS simple callousnesses- they do not factor in human compassion/aroha/kindness-

    and, for me, that - and our creative abilities- are what makes us worthwhile life-forms.

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

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