Auckland, New Zealand
Most major cities have long roads that serve as arterial routes connecting the Central Business District with the outlying suburbs. Even though they get clogged with traffic during rush hours, they still maintain little pockets of local shops. Dominion Road is one of those roads.
It is, for me a fairly rare event to park the car and go walkabout on such a road. When I was tripping around Spain and France last year I never thought twice about walking about and taking photos but in my hometown it seems such a strange thing to do on a Saturday morning. However, when the chance came to join some photographic enthusiasts on a snapper walkabout on Dominion Road I responded yes.
We met at Potters Park and arranged a rendezvous for a show and tell session a few hours later, then wandered off in haphazard groups. I headed west on Dominion Road with a small group. As we crossed the Balmoral Road intersection I felt as though I had walked through a door and emerged on the outskirts of Hong Kong. Only from memory the air was a smoggy, the buildings higher and air was a cacophony of voices and traffic noise punctuated with the silent staccato of flashing neon signs.
It is nearly twenty years since I was in Hong Kong however I still remember the day when my ex-husband Greg and I took the MTR to a small village near the China border. The plan was to visit a local temple. It all looked so simply in the guidebook. We disembarked from the MTR and emerged into a small shopping center that sat beneath high-rise apartment towers. To the left and right of us was a multi-layered expressway. Ahead of us the wayfaring and shop signs where written in Chinese characters. Looping around in my head was a story Greg had told me of his trip five years early to the Shanghai zoo; he had spent two hours looking for it only to find out he had been walking around in circles and had stood outside the entrance many times.
We headed for the nearest shop to regroup and eat. In the end my sense of foreignness and the feeling our presence was not welcomed saw us abandon our plans. Looking for something familiar I had spied a bus depot and buses with numerical signs. With the help of the guidebook we managed to work out which bus would give us a scenic ride back to the center of Hong Kong.
Back on Dominion Street the elegant Chinese characters accompanied by English signs lost their foreignness. We photographed shop windows, some of the group venturing inside the doorways although I was reluctant to venture into the Tekkoon Teashop. The porcelain teapots looked so fragile and I felt like a bulldozer with a DSLR camera in one hand and a bulky bag over my shoulder.
Walking allowed us to discover the diversity of Dominion Road. At Artrageous Tattoo and Body Piercing home to two award winning tattoo artists we were invited into take photos of the studio. A few doors down the front door of a second hand bookshop opened, the owner walked out with the street sign and invited us in to look at his photography books. I introduced myself, he reciprocated and together we looked at a book of black and white photos circa Andy Warhol factory period. In the corner of my eye I spied guitar stands holding two beautiful guitars, realising I was talking to the legendary Graham Brazier. The man who penned some of New Zealand’s most iconic songs, and to me embodies a very Lou Reed vibe. Given his photography books included French fashion photographer Guy Bourdin; I wanted to continue fossicking. This was overridden by desire to shot more photos before heading to the chemist to get two developed for the show and tell.
I caught up with the others in the next block taking photos of small fluorescent yellow and pink wrought iron tables made up of Mandala’s.Next I stopped to take photos of a table outside of the Big Beat Café.
The owner, Paul suggested I follow him and take photos of his courtyard garden. Inside the café the walls were lined with prints of late 60’s artists, Mick Jagger, Chrissie Hynde however, it is Johnny Cash’s mug shot placed next to the iron bar grille door, which inspires me and became my show and tell photo.
Paul’s garden is an oasis of sub-tropical plants; bright coloured bell-shaped umbrella’s emphasis the exotic theme. We chat about gardening and I get some great tips on Hibiscus trees. By this time I’m joined by another photographer, seeing our joy from the garden Paul tells us about a near-by garden, which is open on Saturday’s for public viewing. The walk to this garden leads us off Dominion Road, slightly changing the nature of the walkabout while still maintaining a sense of discovery.
The next time I’m stuck in traffic on an arterial route, listening to the radio and ignoring the local shops I will come back to this day. A day of surprises, fun and some really cool people who together with Asian immigrants have created a diverse and vibrant community.