Thursday, February 24, 2011

Trying to Recover in Greymouth

The more coverage of the earthquake I review, the more sick to my stomach I feel. Being part of the incident gave me a very different  - very scary, very intense, but very narrow - perspective of the event than that of someone watching the news reports, which have a much broader focus. It wasn't until today that I saw my first close-up pictures of the collapsed CTV and Pyne Gould Guinness Buildings, and with a horrible jolt I realised I had commented on the beautiful coloured glass that once adorned the top of the CTV building as I drove past it with Malcolm and Illy on the way out to play field hockey on Valentine's Day. Knowing what it looked like before, and knowing that only a twisted pile of wreckage is left, now a mass grave for the one hundred bodies believed to still be trapped inside... I turn my eyes away. It is just too much to take in, and reminds me of how narrowly my parents and I escaped with our own lives. When I hear stories of emergency workers having to perform amputations to extract victims, of the sombre declaration that no one could have survived under the rubble in the cathedral, even my faith in the law of large numbers and random chance is of little comfort in helping me accept that I should not feel guilty for being unharmed when so many others are suffering horribly.

As a foreigner in New Zealand, I had the advantage of being able to leave the city of Christchurch: in two weeks I will board a plane and return home to Canada. I could close my eyes and try to forget Christchurch and its citizens, now trying to pick up the shattered pieces of their lives. Yet the reality is Christchurch has provided me with a violent wake-up call: Vancouver Island is also located along the same geological fault line known as the Pacific Ring of Fire, and it is only a matter of time before our region is  also rocked by a powerful earthquake. I have no desire to live my life in fear, but neither do I want to relive the horror I experienced and saw experienced by those around me. If any good can come out of the tragedy of the Christchurch earthquake, let it be the chance for the citizens of other communities such as Victoria to acknowledge and better prepare themselves for the unpredictable forces of nature.

One of my friends in Australia, Al, was floored by my blog entry about the earthquake, and showed it several of his colleagues at work and e-mailed it to several other people on the Mainline Steam tour with us this year... as such, my e-mail inbox has been busy today with people letting me know they are glad my parents and I are okay. Al was so impressed by my narrative he asked my permission to e-mail it to the Vancouver Sun, which he did, and I later replied to an e-mail from a Vancouver Sun editor seeking permission to publish portions of the blog entry online or in print.

When Al called to ask permission to e-mail my blog entry my mom and dad and I were inside The Warehouse (the NZ Wal-Mart) here in Greymouth buying a few articles of clothes for my parents, who have nothing other than their daybags, seeing as their luggage is still trapped on the third floor of the Copthorne Hotel in Christchurch. We had previously gone to the Countdown to buy food for lunch on the road today, and after receiving Al's phone call I went back and sat in the car and quickly uploaded photos to my blog of the earthquake using my vodafone mobile internet key; I knew we would likely be heading down the West Coast of the South Island today, which has notoriously spotty cell phone reception, and that I wouldn't get another chance to update the blog until this evening.

As it turns out, I was half-right; I didn't get a chance to update the blog, but not because we were driving down the West Coast; we were just leaving town when I mentioned we were passing by the turn-off to Shantytown, and my dad suddenly made the decision that he would rather take today and relax in Greymouth than try and drive all the way down to Queenstown. As such, we ended up spending the afternoon in Shantytown (which ultimately ended in me calling the hostel in Queenstown and thankfully getting out of paying for tonight, and also calling Noah's Ark Backpackers and getting us another night's accommodation here, despite a minor hiccough when we were originally booked into a dorm room with two other girls; now, to my mom's relief, the three of us are in the Penguin Room all by ourselves).

An afternoon in Shantytown was likely one of the best things we could have done; we were able to relax, walk through the woods, and keep our bodies in one place rather than frantically rushing down the coast. I was also able to catch up with Jeffrey, the engineer (who not only remembered my name, but also where I was from and where I work - good job, Jeffrey!) who gave my parents and I a cab ride back to the lower station in the locie Katie. I also got to introduce my parents to Ian Tibbles, who was glad I was able to make it out to Shantytown again, and when I thanked him again for letting me buy his Steam School Books, said, "Oh, I know, you raved about them for several days on your blog!" I think he took my enthusiasm as a compliment. :-)

It only took three visits, but now I feel I have seen all of Shantytown; today filled in the missing pieces of the gold mining set-up, particularly the sluicing nozzle demonstration. The same apparatus was used in Barkerville: a high-pressure jet of water is shot at the earth (on a slope, such as the sides of a river or hill), and the silt and water is directed into a sluicebox whose bottom is covered by a washboard-like surface that collects the heavier gold as it sinks. At the base of their sluicebox from their sluicing nozzle set-up Shantytown allows visitors to pan for gold in the sediment for $5. After the nozzle was turned off, I picked my way up the section of hillside that had been blasted by the jet of water, using my eyes to search carefully through the freshly-exposed silt. I spotted something bright gold and glittering out of the corner of my eye; I had found a small flake of gold! I put it carefully into the palm of my hand and carried it down the hill to show the gold panning operator; he was most impressed with my find (considering I had just used my naked eyes), and put the flake into a glass vial for me to take home. I guess it was somewhat cheating, because I didn't pay my $5 (my dad jokingly accused me of "claim jumping"), but the operator didn't seem to mind at all.

The rest of our time in Shantytown we spent wandering around the township (mom and dad licking kiwifruit-flavoured ice cream from the general store), including requisite stops at the schoolhouse and fire station, as well as the hospital, butcher, and church. On our way out my mom and I bought a t-shirt and a souvenir guide to Shantytown; part of me wishes I could stay in New Zealand longer and volunteer there for a week or two as both Ian and Jeffrey kindly offered (Jeffrey even said he could put me up at his house if I wanted). I do have a feeling, however, that NZ's Shantytown has not seen the last of me yet, especially seeing as I am learning from Ian's textbooks.

For dinner tonight my mom and I made chicken stir-fry with coconut curry sauce, and sweet corn as a side dish (my mom was quite delighted to see sweet corn on sale in the supermarket; it's her favourite vegetable). Our evening has not been terribly exciting (not that we're looking for excitement, believe you me!): we got ready for bed, my parents read my blog entry from last night (ironic, when you consider how many other people read it before they themselves had even seen it), and now they're both trying to sleep while I click-clack away here sitting on the floor, so I should likely stop typing. We're leaving early tomorrow morning to head down to Queenstown, and I had best go to sleep, too, as I'll likely be doing some of the driving tomorrow on those windy NZ West Coast highways, and will need to be awake and alert. Goodnight!


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