Mohan Zhang

The places that made me are the places I love

Ruapuna

Canterbury, South Island, New Zealand

A road high in the mountains, somewhere in Otago, near Macetown.
(Another early 2010s cellphone camera’s attempt at panoramas)

It’s a bit of a stretch and somewhat disingenuous to claim this part of New Zealand as a home. Yet for the month I lived on a small homestead in Ruapuna, I felt a closeness to the land and locals that has stayed with me to this day.

I know I’m not imagining it because I’ve been to other parts of New Zealand that I’ve called home temporarily and I didn’t have anywhere near the same feeling.

In fact, after that month in rural Canterbury, I had written another travel letter recollecting the adventures and feelings during this time that I only found as I searched my records for the names of the various places I visited. Titled “Alpine Glory and Alluvial Gold”, I won’t reproduce the whole thing, but I did find this excerpt that I totally forgot about yet the conclusion for which stuck with me for well over the decade since.

Excerpt from “Alpine Glory and Alluvial Gold”

[..]

You see, after collecting all the flecks of gold I found at the bottom of my pan, I ended up with something like 50 cents’ worth. I literally had to use tweezers to pull these flecks out and then stick them onto black electrical tape so that I could still see them. Then someone packed the electrical tape away and I never saw my gold again. Oh well.

But I was glowing anyway and not aware of it at all. That’s what Barbara pointed out to me when she gave me a parting gift this past weekend: it was a piece of quartz from the Arrow River. In a bout of unawareness, I had missed out on the fact that I felt positively alive while everyone else felt beat down. Barbara remarked that I seemed to have gained energy from the desolate landscape and unfettered nature while everyone else complained of pain and lack of sleep. Even though I was sleeping on the ground without an air mattress like everyone else (I opted for this arrangement with gusto since I figured that I had the fewest active pain issues of everyone there), I slept through Bevan’s thunderous snores that seemed to have kept everyone else awake, yet awoke ready to greet the morning light while the others stretched and groaned. Barbara then concluded whimsically that perhaps this meant something.

Barbara remarked that I seemed to have gained energy from the desolate landscape and unfettered nature while everyone else complained of pain and lack of sleep.

At the end of my stay, I was and continue to be extremely grateful to Barbara and Bevan for an unforgettable experience. I could have never predicted the impact that our Macetown adventure would have had on me, nor would I have ever gotten the idea to do it myself (for starters, I’d need a 4WD vehicle!) And so, as it turns out, it is not vast quantities of alluvial gold that I leave with, but rather, it is a poetic dose of alpine glory.

[..]