Personal Elsewhere

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NGA TRANG BY NIGHT: The long lonely sea

16 Apr 2023  |  2 min read

It happened in the coastal town of Nga Trang in southern Vietnam. It happened at a time before the place became awash with monied tourists and big hotels. And it happened the same night I had spent with Mama Thiu whose sad story I have told here. After I left her, I walked to the beach and in the absence of much ground light the sky was heavily dusted with stars and the moon shone... > Read more

WHEN STARS ALIGN: Fame is not contagious

9 Apr 2023  |  3 min read  |  1

Not to put tickets on myself, as the Australians say, but I've met Arnold Schwarzenegger twice. The first time was in Hollywood when he was in a round-table with a composed George Clooney, the beautiful Uma Thurman who had a hacking smoker's cough and the upcoming young star Chris O'Donnell. It was for the awful Batman and Robin movie. Also at the small table for the interview were... > Read more

STRANGE CUSTOMS: Yep, packed it myself sir

2 Apr 2023  |  4 min read

My father always used to say that, as far we know, we’re only here once so we might as well look around. And so I have -- with increasing urgency as I have become older. I call it cramming for my finals. You never know, there might be a God who could ask, “So, what did you enjoy most in the world I created for you?” So my passports have carried stamps from China and the... > Read more

LAUGH ACTUALLY: Chinese philosophy and me

26 Mar 2023  |  3 min read

When I studied Chinese Philosophy at the University of Auckland I was at a disadvantage. After a young European woman bailed in week two I was the only non-Chinese student in the small class – about a dozen of us – and the lovely professor (Chinese, of course) would sometime lapse into excited Mandarin for a few sentences which went straight past me. I also seemed to be... > Read more

GETTING HIGH IN CHINA: Don't look down

19 Mar 2023  |  2 min read

To be honest, I didn't know it at the time, all I knew was I was incredibly high. It was at the borders of Guizhou and Yunnan provinces in the western China and on the bridge spanned the Beipan River valley below. Way, way below. More than 550 metres below in fact, that's higher than the Empire State Building. Beipanjiang – sometimes called Duge Bridge – is the highest... > Read more

THE LOOK OF MEMORIES: India in the rearview mirror

12 Mar 2023  |  2 min read

In early 1970, when I was 18, my dad and I were flying back to New Zealand from a few weeks around England and Scotland. We stopped off for a few days in beautiful Beirut (this was just before the civil war destroyed large tracts of it) and then flew on to Calcutta (Kolkata these days). Just as we were descending the pilot pulled up and announced we couldn't land so were flying on to the... > Read more

Khwaab, by Niraj Chag

SHOTS FROM ALL SIDES: The art of sensible souveniring

5 Mar 2023  |  2 min read  |  2

Many decades ago when I was traveling in interesting places I would sometimes spend time in record stores. What a waste. When I could have been at odd museums, wonderful art galleries, interesting bars or simply seeing beguiling sights (and sites), I would be flicking through boxes thinking, “got it, got it, don't want it, hmmm but it's expensive, got it, wow but it's not... > Read more

LEAVING THE HERALD: Good-bye to all that

26 Feb 2023  |  4 min read

Aside from the speeches, a big card and drinks at the Shakespeare Tavern afterwards, I don't remember much about my last day at the Herald in late 2004. But I can certainly remember why I left after 17 years. The Herald was very good to me. When asked about it I would tell people that it was like going to university and studying a new course every week. You had to pick up a topic and... > Read more

WASHED AWAY WORLDS AND IMAGES: Saturated stories and wet words

23 Feb 2023  |  2 min read  |  1

Many months on and I am still coming to terms with not just what we lost in the January flooding but what is now still in the lock-ups and unavailable to us. Hundreds of records with relevant information, contemporary clippings and reference material are now in large plastic boxes, stacked randomly and quickly. And then there are the things I remember I just had to dump quickly into the... > Read more

THE TRUTH ABOUT TAIWAN: The room I might die in

19 Feb 2023  |  13 min read

In 2001 I traveled to Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, on serious Herald business. The background was interesting: the Kuomintang party (KMT) which was mired in corruption (“black gold” in the local parlance) had governed for 50 years but had recently lost the election to the DPP (Democratic Progressive Party). I suggested to my editor someone – me – should go up... > Read more

WINDOWS ON WORLDS: Just point and shoot

12 Feb 2023  |  2 min read

I can't remember when I started doing it, but certainly in 1995 when I first went to Vietnam – the year after it opened itself to foreign tourists – I was taking a photo out the window of every room I stayed in. On a few occasions there hasn't been a window – an underground backpackers in Stockholm, a death-trap dump in Taipei – and certainly there were some views... > Read more

WHEN THE RAIN COMES: Memory and loss

9 Feb 2023  |  4 min read

A lot of people lost some things. Some people lost a lot of things. A few lost everything. We were lucky in many ways, we survived the January floods with our lives and most of our possessions intact. But we lost a lot because my office of 20 years at ground level in our modest townhouse – with a lifetime of accumulated records, books, CDs, DVDs, travel journals and family... > Read more

Rain, The Beatles 1966 (original speed)

NO WAIT AROUND MY NECK: A lanyard in the works

5 Feb 2023  |  2 min read  |  1

I can't recall how it started but it probably happened like this: I came home from some event and hung it on a hook in the corner of a room. And the next time was probably much the same, a kind of unthinking action. The result of years of doing that means that in a corner of my office I have about 200 lanyards from various concerts, festivals, events, meetings, exclusive film screenings... > Read more


29 Jan 2023  |  3 min read  |  1

In mid-2009 as we were preparing to leave for a trip to London, Liverpool, Scotland and Ireland we got a distressing phone call. It came from Chris Knox's partner Barbara who told us Chris had had a stroke. As soon as he was in a state to see visitors – a couple of days later – we went to the hospital. Chris was paralyzed down the right side (he was right-handed) and had... > Read more

JAPAN 1999. Your man in the Land of the Rising Sun

21 Jan 2023  |  2 min read

At the tail end of the Nineties I approached what was then called the Asia 2000 Foundation for assistance to go to Japan to do . . . Well, in all honesty, whatever came up. I was a senior feature writer at the New Zealand Herald with a decent track record of serious journalism, some award-winning stories and had spent personal time in various parts of South East Asia (and maybe even... > Read more

PORTRAIT OF THE WRITER AS A YOUNG IDIOT: Teachers' College and Harrisongs

15 Jan 2023  |  2 min read

After I was denied re-entry to the University of Auckland for “failure to make satisfactory academic progress” – I only passed Zoology and Botany in two years, the latter on a D Restricted which means “we'll give you a pass but never come back to this subject” – I ended up at North Shore Teachers College. It was only going to be temporary until my papers... > Read more

ON THE ROAD: Notes in bars, coffee shops and cafes

4 Jan 2023  |  3 min read

In the many decades I have travelled I've rarely taken a laptop. My preferred companion has always been the cheap 1B5 exercise book that school kids use. There are many reasons for this: they're light and portable; there's little likelihood someone will steal you book but a laptop makes you a target; you can scribble randomly and draw self-help illustrations as reminders (no need for a... > Read more