The people you meet

8 Feb

Travelling through a new land is a mysterious business.    What on earth is scroggin?  Where can you buy a bottle of wine if not in a supermarket?  Why does nobody understand what you mean when you say dongle?

Guidebooks can be quite useful in working stuff out, but it’s the people you meet who really give you an insight into a place.  The one dimensional experience of visiting the tourist highlights of a country is rounded and sharpened by the conversations you have with the natives.  Not sharpened in the spear sense I hasten to add, they only use sharpened mangoes these days in the colonies.

We’ve been given lunch in Sydney, whilst learning about New Zealand history from a descendent of the key players, before being taken to the most lovely beach, which we wouldn’t have found by ourselves.

We’ve stayed with a Hawaiian surf instructor and his nursery school teacher wife, who told me about her homebirth and the school system in America as our children played together.  They also introduced our children to the wonder of smores.

Even a fleeting encounter can be enlightening and interesting. There was the Tasmanian farmer who told us about his childhood memories of carrying hay on a horse-pulled sled.  And the cigarette-puffing liquorice seller who was run off her feet before Christmas making deliveries and viewed her night in a chilly Dunedin holiday park as a welcome break from packaging the popular local sweet.

We’ve spent time with very old friends, discussing the no blame accident system in New Zealand, how to weave flax like a Maori, and the sad demise of the original Jandal company.

There were the Hawaiian policemen who warned me about my dangerous driving, but thankfully didn’t charge me, before asking for gossip about William and Kate.

The driver of the steepest train in the world was tickled that we were real Londoners and asked us what was happening to Battersea power station.  Then told us that the reason the Blue Mountains are entirely populated by croc-wearing, enormous-lens-toting Chinese, is that they descend en masse on Australia for Chinese New Year.

We learnt about hula from the bickering pupils in the Hilo class, who couldn’t agree on the best way to represent lava flow in dance.  To be fair, it did seem quite tricky.

We’ve met friends of friends and distant cousins who told us that you can’t turn your airconditioning on after 10pm in Sydney and paua fritters are a real treat.  We tried them, I’m not convinced.

On Christmas day we met a lady who’d lived in Opunake, on the edge of New Zealand, for over 50 years.  She told us what it was like growing up in grimy pre-war Battersea, then emigrating to the other side of the world for a new life in an impossibly green land of milk and honey.

Our trip is like a vast patchwork quilt.  Each experience, whether fascinating, moving or downright strange, adds another square to the whole.  The people we meet and the things we learn from them connect these squares together, making them meaningful, adding colour and contrast.  Without them, these strange lands we are travelling through would be strangely one dimensional.  And I now know what scroggin is.

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8 Responses to “The people you meet”

  1. Sharon 08/02/2011 at 11:53 am #

    That made me cry, I don ‘t know why it must be my age! Just thinking of all those people living their lives so far away.

    • itsasmallworldafterallfamily 09/02/2011 at 10:54 pm #

      I do know what you mean, I love the fact that travelling makes the world seem much more real, precisely because you meet these people and the places become homes, not just destinations.

  2. Pants With Names 08/02/2011 at 8:41 pm #

    It is amazing, such a range of people out there.

    One of the best things about travelling with kids is that they are far more likely to talk to you. I love travelling with children for that reason. x

    • itsasmallworldafterallfamily 09/02/2011 at 10:55 pm #

      You are absolutely right. The Tasmanian farmer actually approached us with the words “I’ve been listening to your kids talking, and I just wanted to come and say what a lovely sound it is.”

  3. If I Could Escape . . . 11/02/2011 at 4:15 pm #

    Wow, just amazed at all these people who have touched your lives. Wishing you many more happy travels, my friend.

  4. JallieDaddy 15/02/2011 at 8:49 pm #

    How can you not like paua fritters?! They’re delish!

    Great post 🙂

  5. mummylimited 01/03/2011 at 8:39 pm #

    I love this post. It really gets across a flavour of what you’re doing, apart from the usual days out/museum stuff and totally shows the reason you’ve gone. Loving all the posts, but obviously can’t comment on them all as I’m far too busy and important and don’t want you to get a big head xx

    • itsasmallworldafterallfamily 02/03/2011 at 11:56 am #

      It really is the best bit of the trip for me. We’ve met so many more people than I talked about, and it’s always interesting.

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