Sunday, January 31, 2010

Day 5 (Tuesday 6th May 2009) – Close encounters

It was still dark when I woke up that morning. No more delirious about seeing sunrise, I left the apartment just to see the morning light. I was somehow obsessed about seeing the first light of the morning. Dark cloud loomed overhead. The street was deserted. I could lie down in the middle of the road if I wanted to. Soon it started to drizzle. Not wanting to get sick, I quickly return to the warmth of the apartment.

Realizing the busy day ahead of us, we cooked a heavy breakfast – fried rice, frankfurter, hash brown, omelets, and instant curry puff. We finished the rice and packed the rest of the food for lunch. The previous night, we had decided to start the day early. Ma Hen, AD and I had bought our passes from an agent in Malaysia. We had the option of picking up the passes at the any of the attraction’s entrance. D on the other hand, hadn’t got any passes.

D had tried to call the agent earlier to book her passes. Unfortunately, the number listed on our itinerary wasn’t the right number. I was the first to drive that day. I have to admit, after a ‘horrifying’ drive in town to search for the tourist information counter, it was decided that I shouldn’t be driving in town. At the information counter, D found out that she couldn’t get any special rate and would have to purchase the passes at each of the entrances.

We decided to go to the local travel agent to try to arrange for an additional person. We punched in the address into the Samseng, and off we went. Some turns, and stops later, we drove into a housing area, complete with school kids in uniforms going to school that morning. I was surprised to spot some kids were wearing only sandals in this cold weather!

Anyway, the Samseng took us to an ordinary looking house. The door was closed. We pondered. Should we just go knocking the door and ask? Not to alarm the house owner if the four of us went barging the door, we decided that D and Ma Hen should go first. It turned out to be the right address. The man in his 50s conducted his business mostly online and in wholesale. We were probably the first customers to arrive in front of his door.

We punched in the destination into the Samseng, and drove off. Our first stop: Te Puia. We parked our car at the deserted car park. We made our way on foot to the main entrance, passing a lot of wood carving along the way. After about five to ten minutes walk (plus photo taking), we finally reached the entrance. To our disbelief, there, opposite the ticket booth, was another parking lot. We exchanged our passes at the ticket counter. We decided to go for the cultural show for additional NZ$10. I was glad we made that decision.

As told by the ladies at the ticket counter, we waited at the meeting point. There we were joined by fellow tourists. There were a bunch of guys from UK, some ladies assumed to be from Australia, a bunch of people assumed to be from China, and an old mother-daughter pair from Malaysia. Not long after the mother-daughter pair were ushered into a building in front of us, a lady dressed in traditional Maori clothes - complete with fur cloaked over her shoulder and three of what looked like hawk’s feathers slid in her hair - came. She briefed us the dos and don’ts. She asked for a guy to volunteer to be our impromptu chief. We were all considered as a visiting clan.

Soon after the ‘safety’ briefing, the lady who in everyway looked like a chief daughter, stood by our clan chief. Everyone else stood behind our chief. Then came an angry looking Maori man, running towards us, all the while screaming on top of his lung. He stood a few feet from us, still screaming and making menacing faces, and waved his wooden weapon. While the Maori man was doing the “karanga” - the screaming and the waving of his wooden weapon - no one from the visiting clan was allowed to make noise. Making noise would mean that we were answering the Maori man’s cries for war.

He then placed a leave in front of our chief, who picked it up as a sign that we came in peace. For health reason (it was the beginning of H1N1 pandemic), they had to forgo the traditional ‘rub-nose’ greeting. We then proceed to walk slowly and quietly behind our chief to the building where the mother-daughter had earlier disappeared into. The building is a traditional meetinghouse. Traditionally it is the centre of the community – meeting and decisions were made in the house. So the meetinghouse or “Marae”, is considered as somewhat sacred. We had to take off our shoes.

The door opened to a huge hall. There was a stage at the end of the hall with plastic chairs lined up in rows upon rows. The ‘chief daughter’ explained that traditionally, guests were expected to sit on the floor. However, since some guests have knee problems and can’t sit on floor, they put in the chairs. The walls were covered with what looked like weaved bamboo or leaves. The ceilings and beams are covered with carved panels. They were beautiful.

The ‘chief daughter’ went up the stage with a bunch of Maori ladies. They sang some songs in Maori language. Though I couldn’t understand a word of it, they were beautiful. I could almost see river flowing, trees swayed and flowers blew by the wind, in my head. Then the ladies brought out a pair of string with cotton balls attached to it. They performed a traditional dance, which involved swinging the cotton balls around. They even invited the female audiences to try. Ma Hen and D grabbed the opportunity and tried. They now can proudly claim that they had become an international dancer and had performed in front of an international crowd!

Next, some Maori men went up the stage and joined the Maori ladies. They sang a love song. They all looked peace-loving and gentle singing these beautiful songs. But mind you, the minute they performed the famous Hakka dance, all the serene and gentle look went out of the window. Their sweet voice instantly changed to war cries. Even the all-smile and fragile looking ladies transformed into monsters with tongues sticking out and big wide eyes staring down upon you! They then invited the male audiences to join the Hakka dance.

Another love song followed and before we knew it, the 45 minutes show was over.

After the cultural performance, we went along a guided tour of Te Puia. The guide did say her extremely long Maori name, which she simplified for us as Te. Te, half Maori half Scottish, was born and grew up in Te Puia.

Before Te Puia was turned into some sort of cultural complex, it was actually some sort of a village. People actually live and play there. As we walked around passing geysers, mud pools, hot springs, and streams, Te told us stories of her growing up in the area. They used to catch Cray fish from the warm streams then dipped and cooked it in the hot spring near by. They also used to jump up and down next to the geyser.

We sat on “hot rocks” facing the Prince of Wales Geyser. In the cold temperature, the "hot rock" warmed our gluteus maximus. Te told us about how, growing up, she used to think everyone was like her and experiences what she experienced. She admitted that she was more Maori than she was Scottish. She dislike the uptight structure of her Scottish side. She told us how she and her siblings had to sit straight and be ‘prim and proper’ when she was in her Scottish Gram’s house. The minute they left Gram’s house, they would all run wild! It was very intimate sharing. I could see the sparkle in her eyes as she told these stories.

We continued walking towards Maori Arts & Crafts Institute. Located within the compound of Te Puia, this institute was founded to ensure the Maori arts and crafts continued to be passed on to younger generation. There is a foundation giving scholarship to deserving Maoris to study arts and crafts in the institute. Upon entering the wood carving workshop, the first thing that caught my eyes were the hot tattoos on a Maori's arm. Next was the carving that he was working on.

Te was quick to explain that the carvings and the idols we saw around the complex compound are not totems. They are merely panel carvings. Maoris believe God is too great to be portrayed as carvings. And human is not worthy to portray his or her Creators in any way. The carvings are mostly portrayal of their ancestors. The carvings on the boat on the other hand, tell the story of the whole clan. The boat was carved out of a single tree and traditionally each clan has its own boat.

We stopped by the weaving workshop next door. These ladies weaved the leaves into among others, the skirts worn by the female Maoris performers earlier. They use a kind of screw-pines (‘mengkuang’) leaves that grew in swampy area there.

We thanked Te for her insightful stories and left Te Puia. We headed back to our motel for lunch and to pick up some things.