I left the little sleepy town a decade ago. Since then, they seemed to have figure out the mass amount of trees in the area and decided to brand the town accordingly. Ain’t to shabby.
I left the town right after the graduation luncheon. Liberation day, I’d say. Boarding schools tend to give you that sense of entrapment no matter how beautiful and well run those places tend to be. Dwi, with his new insurance paid car, promised to give me a ride up to Auckland. His previous car was stolen in front of his rental house. Apparently he got more money from the insurance than what the car was worth. Win-win thievery? He ended up taking along two of my dorm-mates for the ride up north. We sang all the way to some poppy tunes from the radio.
I remember the day clearly as I had told myself not to ever set foot back in the estate, they had a horse stable, so I’m calling it an estate, until I’ve finished travelling the rest of the world and there’s no other place left to visit but Cambridge of New Zealand. Pretty much never.
But as I now see that my burning discontentment was simply due to my own inability to understand the deep complexities that adolescents could conjure to one another, I am compelled to recall all the great things that came out of Cambridge of New Zealand.
Now, most people would blink through Cambridge on their way from Hamilton to the southern part of the North Island. Pretty as it may be, back then the main street consisted of a strip of fifteen shops at most on each side and a big warehouse-like grocery store on one end. There was a quaint coffee shops that you’d expect from a town who has a much more famous British cousin, a book store where I’d run my fingers along the spine of the books at and a Chinese take away shop that we’d satiate our monthly monosodium glutamate fix at. There was also the sweet smelling bakery that witnessed me falling in love haplessly with the wonderfully baked breads, thus marking the beginning my highly abusive, passive aggressive relationship with food. All in all, the few hours that we, the students in uniforms, got to troll around town was spent mainly to eat and stock up on lollies.
So yes, there would be no reason to stop longer than a blink of an eye in Cambridge.
Well of course if not for the peace and the hospitality that the little town seemed to charm me over.
Some of the more open minded students, the teachers and the residents have opened their homes and families to us, the international students. There was the visit to Mrs. Steele house where I completely zoned out of the conversation and just devoured this huge bowl of jumbo glistening strawberries dusted in fine sugar. First time ever realizing that strawberries can be that big and that sweet. There was the homestay visits where I found little Tom running around being chased by grandma who’s trying to feed him this killer homemade cheese-tomato-toast. There was the visit to a friend’s farm where we woke up before the sun rise and got down and dirty with the herd until come breakfast time. There was the silence of a huge open plain with no one in sight but the sound of your own breathing. There was the road that seemed to go well into the horizon and not a single automobile in sight. The mom and pop corner shop dolloping cones of rocky road ice cream made with fresh squeezed milk. The simplicity of beauty.
The estate now I heard have a full blown 50m heated swimming pool and a golf course. I won’t be surprised if in a decade or so they’d be flying their first sheep to the moon. Or cows. Though all is well and great, I hope the school had finally figured out a way to deal with the discrepancy between their need of higher tuition money from international students while making the very same international students feel unwelcomed by most of the student body at the same time. But then, we didn’t have much internet access back then. It wasn’t cool to be culturally aware. It wasn’t cool to talk to people who don’t speak your accent. And it was certainly not cool to play nice. But I heard things are changing. For the better. And by God I hope they do.
Cambridge of New Zealand brings this bittersweet twinge in my mouth, even ten years after Dwi dropped me at my friend’s place up in Auckland. But should you happen to find yourself driving past Hamilton toward Rotorua or Lake Taupo, keep an eye to your right hand side right before your GPS says that you’re entering Cambridge. Don’t be surprised if you see a uniformed kid hiding in the bush trying to hitch a ride into town. That is boarding school for you my friend. Give the kid a ride and let them amuse you with stories beyond your wildest imaginations.