Anis Ibrahim, the Five Foot Traveller, writes about the dérive, a French term meaning drift. We do it when we stroll about a new town, often lost and hoping to be found again, seeing the streets with the fresh eyes of a tourist.
I'm delighted to have a word for the way I wander around a new place and enjoy chance encounters. I recall the tiny elderly woman in Vietnam who, almost buried under a bamboo frame festooned with fluorescent pink and green toys for sale, beckoned to me and helped me cross a death defying road in Ho Chi Minh city, and another who waved me into her restaurant and sat me down on a child-sized plastic stool in front of a plate of fish, seafood and salad. In Vietnam, Bali or Nepal life fills the streets and the wanderer can see barbers cutting hair, bamboo goods being woven, strange metal objects being welded, old men playing dominoes and all shapes and sizes of people exercising, chatting, eating and generally going about their day.
But Anis also suggests viewing our home town in the same way, perhaps using a formula to gain some randomness: first left, second right and so on.
I set out for my usual evening walk and instead of going down the steps to the waterfront, where I would normally iPod my way briskly to the fishing platform while gazing away from the traffic, out to sea, I head up the new Goat Track steps to the first street above my home. Winding along the ridges, the first thing I notice is how quiet and empty the streets are. A car passes me, heading uphill, a young woman smiles at me from her iPod trance, and for the next 20 minutes, I see no other person, not even in a front garden or on a verandah.
It makes me think of the line in Krishnan's Dairy when Krishnan's mother, random dialling to India to assuage her loneliness, advises the woman she has called to tell her son not to emigrate to New Zealand: 'It's too cold and nobody lives here.'
Come on New Zealand, get out of your houses and cars. Meet the neighbours. Stroll, chat, show off your babies and your front gardens. Connect with each other and this lovely place we are so lucky to live in.