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March 5, 2013 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

Absolutely Positvely Wellington?

Reflections on living in the windy city

My sister was recently driven down to Otago for the first time by my parents and, in preparation for house-sitting, I was there to say goodbye.  I waved them off in the chilly early hours wearing nothing but my underwear and a duvet clamped around my head, weeping and feeling like an elderly babushka mourning the loss of her children to the revolution.

Leaving home to study in another city is a big deal and it’s not something that I would otherwise have had any experience with. after living in wellington almost my entire life I didn’t really want to leave when I had the option to. I stayed here ostensibly because I really like the city, but more truthfully because I’m chronically lazy and if I could study and spend another year at home eating my parents’ food then I wasn’t going to give it up. I wanted to study, and Wellington was as good a place as any to do it.

I have often wondered, however, why other people end up here.

Presumably people want to study at Victoria in particular – but the city itself must be a pull, at least for some. The main difficulty I have is that I’ve never been totally sure of what our city means to non-natives. So I’ve asked some people who, a few years ago, made the decision to give over at least a few years of their lives to Wellington why they came here and what they think of living here. If you’re a new arrival then you could be looking at yourself in three years.

All of the respondents represented here are either recent graduates or in the last year of their undergraduate degrees.

Originally from Picton, our first interviewee says that she always knew she’d end up in Wellington. In her case, university was only really a pretext to get here. Born in Brighton, she says that visiting friends there was often testing because they were “living these cool, cosmopolitan lives that I didn’t get to have. Wellington seemed like the closest thing to it at the time. They’d go to gigs and stuff and it’d bum me out because I knew that I’d never ever get to do the same.” She notes that her younger sister is “totally an Auckland girl”, who finds Wellington “repulsive and scummy”, so she doesn’t believe that the city is for everyone. “I think that Wellington can be aesthetically disappointing for some people who come from the country. Like, it’s this metropolitan city but it has these old, run-down buildings everywhere that most of us love but I guess that if you’ve never really been exposed to it over a long period of time you might feel let down. I don’t think Cuba st is the universally loved place people here might assume it is.” That’s a truth most of us who have lived here for a long time have probably never considered. “The reason I’ve always been turned off Auckland is that it feels a little bit heartless. Like there’s this unique thing you get in Wellington where everything is collapsed or collided – like everything
is very concentrated and people and traffic for instance feel like they sit very close to each other.” How, then, does life in a small-ish town compare? “Picton is a conservative place. well, I mean it’s not like crazy-conservative but it felt nice not to have to hide or squash parts of my personality just to make people feel comfortable. a lot of my friends moved to Christchurch and every time I meet them and they start complaining about their lives I’m like everything that makes you
miserable there would be so easily fixed if you only came here.”

A second says that it took him a year before he found that he could stomach the city at all: “I was in a hall feeling sorry for myself all first year. I think part of it was the wind. It gets you so down sometimes. It wasn’t until I spent some time in a
flat and stuff that I started to dig it, really. that said, I felt like it was okay for me to not know what I was doing here because Wellington is filled with people who are freaking out about the future. It’s a good place to be insecure in.”

The first year as a sort of karmic journey, described as being “like that Julia Roberts movie where she has sex in bali and eats pasta”, came up as a common thread in these interviews – most people spent a year miserable before things began
to change. one man recalls how, two years ago, he was entirely depressed by his situation, and how strangely it made him behave; he would sleep until seven in the evening and then venture out into the streets, walking for hours and quietly hoping that he’d get into fights ‘til four or five in the morning while resolutely not going to classes. while that’s less of an indictment of wellington and more one of feeling uprooted in general, this man did say that in a way his own melancholy was matched by the city’s. Wellington is pretty damn moody.

There are others who, quite simply, have a less generous view of Wellington. in particular, some people take umbrage with the assertion that Wellington is New Zealand’s deepest and most rewarding well of culture. One student from Auckland, currently wading through a Law degree and busily drinking her way through the summer, opined that “Wellington is shit and it doesn’t know it. Every other day I get an invitation from someone I barely know on Facebook for their ambient rock band or their fringe show and I never go because I can just get the same experience by putting my face in a blender.” After delivering that parcel of nuanced insight she returned to her family-sized bottle of budget
cider. Her objection, it seems, is not that Wellington is lacking in any of these things, merely that there’s nothing you get here that you can’t get in any other number of places. another interviewee deflected any substantive questioning by offering that “there’s nothing charming about hills. Wellingtonians have talked themselves into thinking that there is. i don’t get it.” there might be something in that.
Many responses were designed to make me feel like an idiot. “What? Is that even interesting?” one Psychology major asked, “It’s just a city. Wellington isn’t New York.” another bluntly stated that “Wellington is just a shit Melbourne.” Another refused outright to answer the question because “Salient is for gay white ladies,” which was both disheartening and worryingly specific.

One respondent, a Political Science and International Relations major originally hailing from Hamilton, gave me cause to be hopeful. “I think the thing is that if you find like-minded people anywhere you’ll have at least an okay time and i think that Wellington attracts the sort of people that I can have that with in a way that I’d never get at home, and for that I have fallen in love with it in a way I don’t think I could anywhere else in the country” which is nice, but we’re left with a mixed bag: a bunch of people love Wellington to pieces and never want to leave, while a similarly-sized bunch are completely uninterested and also don’t like Salient very much. I suppose all we can do is hope that, if you’re new, you end up in that first group.


Patrick Hunn


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