Vancouver: Walking “The Drive”

Eavesdropping is such an insightful experience in a foreign city.

Overheard at a bar on Commercial Drive in Vancouver: “I want to relate everything to a material reality.”

I wish I could convey how earnestly the long-haired yuppie said that.

The view from our apartment in Yaletown

“The Drive” is one of the city’s oldest and best-known business districts. Formerly “Little Italy”, it’s the place to go for Southern Europe cuisine and coffee.

Being outside the main tourist areas, it has a counter-culture vibe and diverse community.

Rather tellingly, its main festivals include:  Illuminares, the Dyke March, Italian Day, the Vancouver Poetry Festival, the Parade of Lost Souls, East Side Pride, and Car-Free Day.

From where we’re staying in Yaletown, it’s a few stops eastwards on the SkyTrain.

Blossoms on Commercial Drive hinting at spring, despite the cold temperatures

I guess it’s like a combination of Auckland’s Karangahape Road and Wellington’s Cuba Street. But longer. And more Italian.

The first few blocks were fairly sparse and the air carried a waft of boiled eggs.

It got more interesting and pleasant-smelling after East 7th Avenue.

On your right: Italian restaurant, thrift shop, espresso bar, Turkish restaurant, Mexican restaurant. On your left: hippie emporium, gelato parlour, delicatessen, craft beer bar, a man carving pieces of wood.

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A colourful cafe on Commercial Drive

To take a break from the rain, I ducked into a second-hand store. A young woman was trying on a wedding dress.

“That is a thing of beauty, uh huh, that is,” the store owner said, as she circled the woman with her iPhone.

Another shopper asked: “Are you getting married?”

From under the veil the woman shook her head: “Nope. Maybe one day.”

At the end of Commercial Drive

I continued beyond Commercial Drive, towards the waterfront, where shops and eateries were replaced with concrete apartments and car parks.

On my phone I searched for things to do in this part of town and Google autocompleted: “Drugs.”


I headed back to Commercial Drive for my drug of choice: caffeine.

The biggest sandwich ever, from Cafe Calabria

I’d read about Cafe Calabria, the city’s “oldest Italian coffee-house”, which plays Italian opera and boasts a ceiling replica of Michelangelo’s in the Sistine Chapel.

Sitting next to an indoor water fountain I tucked into a sandwich far too large for one person but also too tasty to not finish, and allowed myself to feel at home; the sign of a good cafe.

I ordered another coffee, and continued with the eavesdropping.

Recap: Faces of Innocents

New Zealand remains one of the most dangerous countries in the developed world in which to grow up, despite efforts from successive governments.

Thirteen Kiwi kids have died in suspicious circumstances so far this year – one of the worst years on record and much higher than the annual average of nine.

The project began years before it was published. The notes, which landed on my desk at the end of 2013, languished for months in my locker.

Whenever it was reported a child had died in suspicious circumstances, I added another line to the spreadsheet.

There was little real progress until Blair Ensor got involved. Management then shoulder-tapped other top journalists around the country and it was all go from July 2015.

Every second day, a child is admitted to hospital suffering from inflicted injuries, including burns, broken bones and head wounds – with Starship children’s hospital in Auckland seeing more cases of serious abuse than ever before.

It was one of the project’s original aims to assemble the first and only known database of each child to have died because of neglect, abuse, or maltreatment in New Zealand since 1992.

Many people older, smarter, and more experienced than I, said the task was simply too complex.

One source told me: “There is no one who is going to be able to help you. You are basically creating something that no one has succeeded in creating.”

Most commonly, they died at the hands of men. Almost three quarters of the killers were family members.

The killers were almost equally likely to be mothers or fathers, accounting for 31 per cent and 29 per cent of cases respectively, where the victim’s relationship with the killer was known. 

The benefit of collaboration, aside from engaging a diverse skill set and geographic spread, is that people outdo themselves to keep up with and push each other.

Digital tools and platforms have made it easier than ever for staff to work across newsrooms. It didn’t matter we were never in the same room. We kept in touch over Slack, Google Hangouts, Facebook, and, of course, phone and email.

Over the years, Stuff and Fairfax newspapers have covered almost all cases of child homicide in New Zealand. These stories are the most comprehensive source of information on the subject.

Police, victims’ families and friends, children’s advocates, the courts, academics, researchers, and other reporters, all contributed additional knowledge, for which we are very grateful.

We were stoked to see other media pick up on the content, Radio New Zealand in particular gave it a good run.

With the help of Fairfax journalists around the country, the project is ongoing.

Faces of Innocents is led by reporters Katie Kenny, Blair Ensor and project editor John Hartevelt. The team also featured developer John Harford, reporters Talia Shadwell, Florence Kerr, Sam Boyer, Stacey Kirk, and Andy Fyers, and visual journalists Mike Scott, Lawrence Smith and David Walker.

New Caledonia (briefly)

Spotting a mosquito bite on my leg the day we arrived in New Caledonia, I feared the worst.

Could it be dengue fever, Zika virus, perhaps chikungunya?

Having only just returned from the United States, I’d done little research on our next destination.

But that’s the benefit of Airbnb: Staying with locals who can answer all your questions, including those you forgot to ask.

“The tap water is safe.”

Sunset strolling. The beach is never far away.
Sunset strolling. The beach is never far away


Killing time before we could check in... Luckily Noumea is a friendly, safe city. We were wandering with our bags for nearly six hours.
Killing time before we could check in… Luckily Noumea is a friendly, safe place – we were wandering with our bags for nearly six hours

For the first four nights, we were in the heart of Noumea. Used to walking, we’d set out each day on foot, and then catch a bus if we wanted to head to outlying areas.

The view from Fort Tereka near Kuendu Bay
The view from Fort Tereka near Kuendu Bay


It didn’t feel like a tourist destination, but we did feel like tourists. It was easy to blend in in the United States, but here, not only did we look different, but as soon as we spoke a word of French, it was obvious we were foreigners.

The combination of cultures creates an unusual aesthetic; French flags flutter atop high-walled barracks, while exotic fabrics flow from shopfronts down narrow streets.

There’s a lot of concrete – sun-bleached and covered in graffiti and bright flowers.



I would have liked to spend more time with locals. From those we encountered, it seemed they’re a laid-back bunch.

Waiting at a bus stop on Sunday night, a low car pumping sounds pulled up beside us. A dark head appeared from the window.

“No bus, c’est Dimanche, hey.”

Bugger. It was a long walk back.

“Jump in.”

The men introduced themselves as Charles and George. Great guys.

Something about churches... I loved that the doors here were always open.
Something about churches… I loved that the doors here were always open


The surrounding islands provided a different setting altogether. Classic postcard scenes – but substitute swaying palm trees for swaying pines, in the case of Ile des Pins (just as beautiful, I assure you.)

On Ile Des Pins
The fabric signifies this is a sacred place for the indigenous (Kanak) people
The fabric signifies this is a sacred place for the indigenous (Kanak) people


On the flight home, just before the plane began its descent through the cloud covering Wellington, William leaned over and said: “Do you think we could just stay up here?”

I looked down at the grey beneath us. Then, I imagined a life of clear skies, cassava chips and limited leg room.


On packing

You can never have too many plastic bottles... Ideally smaller then 200ml but larger than 30ml. Actually, 100ml, the limit; that's ideal. Ideal, but hard to find.
Try to buy bottles which are smaller than 200ml but larger than 30ml. Actually, 100ml, the limit; that’s ideal. Ideal, but hard to find.

Between leaving for New York on May 11 and returning from Noumea on June 22, I’ve stayed at 12 different locations.

For someone who dislikes packing this has been…yet another, learning experience.

Hence, 12 suitcase tips for the travelling journalist:

1) Pack light. By the time I got to Philadelphia, my bag was far too heavy. Tell you what – I was regretting those extra purchases as my luggage literally pulled me backwards down an escalator at the train station. I survived, obviously, but only thanks to two quick-thinking and stronger-than-me strangers

2) You won’t need that many pairs of pants in America in springtime. Black jeans are the answer to every occasion

3) Roll your clothes when packing. (More space, fewer wrinkles)

4) Pack carry-on contents with care, so when airport security staff take your satchel for bomb testing, they’ll think: “Wow, this person is very organised and probably not a felon. We should let her through.”

5) You can never have enough clear plastic snaplock bags

6) You can never have enough small plastic bottles. Particularly when you need to repackage expensive shampoo

7) Pack light because it’s not always a good idea to accept help with your suitcase, especially in the United States where you’re expected to tip. (Don’t ask me when it’s appropriate to tip – I don’t know. That’s why I never accepted help)

8) If you’re flying with carry-on only, train your upper body so you can effortlessly carry your 12kg bag so it appears to be only 7kg

9) Pack light, so you’re not one of those travellers shamefully repacking their suitcase in the check-in lounge at the airport

10) Bring a few empty shopping bags for when your sink-washed t-shirts don’t dry in time for your next flight

11) Pack light, so you don’t have to spend the last of your local currency on a backpack to carry all those books you probably should have bought as digital copies

12) Just pack light. That’s pretty much it.

Philadelphia in an afternoon

I saw very little of Philadelphia during IRE.

As for the content of the conference… Just give me a day or two to process that.

Most of our time was spent indoors, with the occasional dash to Terminal Market for coffee. Evenings provided a chance to explore local bars and restaurants.

But after the last session on Sunday, I had 18 hours of freedom (including seven hours of sunshine).

Rather conveniently, there was an Indego stand right outside the hotel. Despite the fact I have no sense of direction and still make an “L” with my left hand to distinguish it from my right, I survived an afternoon cruising the streets of Philadelphia.

Independence Hall: Where the United States Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were debated and adopted
Independence Hall: Where the United States Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were debated and adopted
Replica of the Liberty Bell's inscription
Replica of the Liberty Bell’s inscription
Don't ask me which bridge this is.
Don’t ask me which bridge this is

With a free evening ahead, my first thought was to return to New York.

Factoring in travel time, this plan would have meant missing my flights home. Still, I considered it for longer than I should have.

Now, I’m in Los Angeles. I’ve made two flights, and I’ve got two to go.

Entering Tom Bradley International Terminal, you’re faced with rows of check-in desks belonging to different airlines.

I must have looked lost.

“Swiss?” An official asked me.

Hmm, that would be nice.

“Yeah, nah,” I said. “I’m going to New Zealand.”

Discovering DC

After New York, Washington DC left me wondering where all the people were.

A large number appeared to have been turned into statues and monuments. The short time I was there provided a crash-course in American political history.

The schoolgirl next to me at the fence said:
The schoolgirl next to me at the fence said: “It’s not as big as I was expecting.”

After my meeting with Jim, I headed to the National Mall and visited The National Archives Building for the Big Three (the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence).

Apparently a 20-minute wait to see the Rotunda at 4pm on a week day is “usual”. Blimey, these people are patriotic.

The National Archives Building
The National Archives Building

It was interesting to note a bunch of spelling mistakes particularly in the Constitution. Then again, considering it was written hastily following the Convention, and by hand, it’s no wonder Jacob Shallus dropped a few letters and added an extra apostrophe. He was essentially breaking news, right?

Speaking of news, I spent two afternoons at the Newseum and seriously thought about returning for a third day.

Located on historic Pennsylvania Avenue, it also provided the best view I had of the city. (No, I was not organised enough to book Washington Monument tickets six months ahead).

View from the Newseum
View from the Newseum

Given that the United States was the first country in the history of the world to acknowledge the right to press freedom in its constitution (following the ratification of the Bill of Rights in 1791), there was a focus on watchdog journalism.

It chartered the dramatic changes in not only the format of news coverage but also the public’s relationship with the industry. During the Vietnam War, for example, television news was one of the country’s most trusted institutions. Oh, how times have changed.

I’d heard of William “Bill” Biggart, the freelance photojournalist who died while photographing the collapse of the World Trade Center’s North Tower on September 11, 2001. It was rather eerie seeing the gear he was carrying, along with artifacts from other victims, on display behind glass.

I managed to get around other local attractions: The White House, Lincoln Memorial, and so on. (Thanks to a friend of importance, I also had a personal tour of the Pentagon.)


Looking down the National Mall from Washington Monument
Looking down the National Mall from Washington Monument

As well as some not-so-local sights: Andrews Air Force base, a Baltimore Orioles game at Camden Yards, Manassas National Battlefield Park, and Annapolis.

Howitzers placed in the position which they held during the Battle of First Bull Run at Manassas
Howitzers placed in the position which they held during the Battle of First Bull Run at Manassas

On my final afternoon, while exploring the quirky cafes and clothing boutiques of Georgetown, with a coffee in one hand and an ice cream sandwich in the other, I conceded although this wasn’t New York… I could quite happily live in the nation’s capital.

The streets of Georgetown
Streets of Georgetown
Farewell, DC
Farewell, DC

Multi-: More than one; many

Hello, Washington DC
Hello, Washington DC

It’s fair to say my week peaked by hump day after meeting Oh Land in New York on Monday and James Hamblin in Washington DC on Wednesday.

Jim (as if you haven’t heard of him) ditched his medical career in 2012 for a health editor position at His main focus is an online series called “If Our Bodies Could Talk”

He’s the first to point out his work isn’t conventional journalism; if it can be classed as journalism at all.

While in town I also stopped by National Geographic, where I met a bunch of people who specialise in everything from photography to cartography to data analysis to infographics to clay modelling (I’m not even kidding – I met Fernando Baptista).

I came away with renewed appreciation for the benefits of newsroom collaboration, especially in this time of transition.

Vox is an altogether different scene, but also with collaboration / integration at its core. Owing to reporters, designers, and developers working in the same newsroom, skills are shared organically as well as through in-house training. Plenty of company projects are conceived at lunchtime discussions, Yuri Victor told me.

Jessica Lima took a job at Buzzfeed for a similar sense of creative freedom: “At other organisations there are like 20 people stopping you from being creative.”

I’ve learnt that, perhaps owing to all this heightened collaboration, no one does just one job anymore.

“Journalists are being asked to do much more than ever before, with fewer resources,” Duy Linh Tu said in his book.

“These days, journalists are required to write, shoot photos, analyze data, create graphics, and produce video as regular functions of their jobs.”

This was clearly on show at GeoJourNews, where each presenter boasted a range of abilities relating to half a dozen professions.

Michael Keller is a perfect (if rare) example. The guy does everything: Reports, designs, and programs interactive projects.

Another journalist I met in New York, Justin Silverman, is both a “senior feature writer” and “video producer”.

And Jim, well, Jim is a doctor who writes articles and hosts comedic videos.

What even is journalism.

Goodbye Columbia, Goodbye New York

They didn’t call it a “multimedia bootcamp” for nothing.

My time at Columbia Journalism School was one of my best experiences so far. Having learnt so much in just a week, I can understand why people travel from around the world to study there (and pay the big bucks to do so).

In five days our small class used professional production tools to plan, shoot, and edit a local story.

Duy Linh Tu is an absolute master.

Columbia University
Setting up for Commencement Week at Columbia University






Throughout my time in New York, despite being a nobody from nowhere (someone – not a journalist – actually asked if New Zealand was a Scandinavian country), I’ve found people at the highest level willing to pause to answer my questions, and teach me what they know.

Then, they’ll introduce me to someone else who’s helpful.

From the people to the pizza, this city is the best.

Times Square - I can't imagine how much busier it could be at New Year's
Times Square – I can’t imagine how much busier it could be at New Year’s
The Cathedral of St John the Divine
The Cathedral of St John the Divine
At "The Whitney" - Whitney Museum of American Art
At “The Whitney” – Whitney Museum of American Art
Subway station entertainment
Subway station entertainment
Fifth Avenue
Fifth Avenue
Central Park
Central Park
View from Top of the Rock
View from Top of the Rock
Looking uptown...
Looking uptown…


Videojournalism, the subway, and bare bottoms: Just another day in NY

I didn’t take even one photo on Wednesday, because I was filming.

This meant lugging a video camera around all day. Oh, and a tripod.

(I’ve got a whole new appreciation for video journalists.)

The story I was shooting was waaaay out in Brooklyn, and coming from Upper West Side it took more than an hour each way on the subway. But that was okay, because I kind of like the subway. This trip involved two line changes – that’s positively intrepid.

I saw women applying make up, parents with babies strapped to their front, there was even a service dog on board.

I’ve already mentioned I’ve found Americans to be very polite. Part of that involves respecting others’ privacy.

Even when two strangers are pressed together in a confined space such as a subway carriage, neither of them will say anything.

In the same situation in New Zealand, without doubt, there’d be some kind of conversation.

As a tourist in New York I find myself craving interaction.

The poor doorman has endured my chit-chat most evenings.

It’s a fine balance; being friendly towards someone without bothering them.

If the subway was your daily commute, if a packed cafe was your daily coffee, if jogging around Central Park was your daily workout, I’m sure you’d quickly learn how to ignore people for sanity’s sake.

There are nine levels in this apartment building… Imagine if everyone said hello to the doorman. He’d be hoarse by the end of his shift.

When I remarked to a local how everyone was so polite, she said: “You haven’t been to a sample sale.”

I’d heard of sample sales, and how they turn proper ladies into bargain-hunting she-devils. A few days later I spotted one at some designer store I’d never heard of; it was too tempting to pass by.

The place was far from packed – scrapping didn’t feature.

I grabbed a few items, and headed towards the changing rooms.

The assistant lifted a curtain, and I found myself in a small room with between 15 and 20 near-naked women.

Don’t get the wrong idea – I’m no prude. I’m all for #FreeingTheNipple and wearing pajamas in common areas of the flat.

But this wasn’t high-school swimming class, where girls wrap a towel around their waist before pulling down their skirt.

This was, well, this was…

I guess one of the allures of living in a city of 8.4 million people is that, unless you’re Taylor Swift, chances are, your bare bottom, proudly on display in the sample sale changing room, means nothing to anyone.

When I finally returned to Columbia to edit my footage, the computer lab was locked. Dammit. Exhausted, I let myself collapse against the wall, my bags sliding off my shoulders.

Then: A strange sound, like a click.

Then: A strange smell, like disinfectant.

I pulled back from the wall.

Evidently, I’d rested my head immediately below an automatic foam hand sanitiser dispenser.

I had alcohol soap in my hair, and down my back.

There would be no chit-chat with the doorman tonight.

Moral of the story: It’s not always appropriate to be friendly in New York.

Introducing: Harlem

I didn’t have the best introduction to Harlem.

My evening started at 7pm at the tour bus line in Midtown, in the rain. No matter: There were ponchos, and I had my Billingham.

Despite the deluge, I managed to sneak my camera out for a few snaps of the neon-lit city, but for most of the time I was too busy paying attention to the commentary.

(Even if you’re from New York, I bet you’d learn something on that tour.)

View of the (wet) city from the Manhattan Bridge
View of the (wet) city from the Manhattan Bridge
View of the (wet) city from the Manhattan Bridge
The Manhattan Bridge

Following the ride, I searched for the subway entrance. Searched and searched. Finally found one, only to realise it was heading downtown.

By the time I boarded the uptown train I was drenched, but the man next to me didn’t appear to mind as he leaned against my arm.

“Sorry, I’m drunk,” he said. Ah.

At every stop that flashed by, he asked me where we were.

Honestly, I had no idea; we were already ten blocks past my place.

I got off as soon as I could, and found myself in the heart of Harlem.

Some subway station
Some subway station

It was now 11pm on Saturday night, so chances of hailing a cab were slim.

Setting out on foot, I headed in the wrong direction for one block, and then in a different but still wrong direction for another block (damn those diagonal avenues).

Keep in mind: It’s still raining.

Of course, I made it home. Eventually. But I vowed to return to Harlem; the burb that got the better of me that night.

Near Harlem's edge
Near Harlem’s edge

I’d read of the Harlem Renaissance, and the stars it produced. I’d already seen Jacob Lawrence’s exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, and was keen to see more.

Making a beeline for the Studio Museum on Sunday morning, I was distracted along the way by the African markets, hawkers, and preachers. The place was pulsing.

When Studio Museum opened in 1968, it was the first black fine-arts museum in America. Today, it provides a historical insight into African-American art and the art of the African diaspora.

The main exhibit was Trenton Doyle Hancock’s Skin and Bones, 20 Years of Drawing.

The exhibition is the first in-depth examination of the artist’s body of drawings, collages and works on paper
The exhibition is the first in-depth examination of the artist’s body of drawings, collages and works on paper

Upstairs, human hair and nails featured in Salon Style – a collection of works exploring how beauty routines can portray one’s identity and personhood, however temporarily.

Downstairs, walls of deconstructed old encyclopedias and textbooks constituted Unbound, by Samuel Levi Jones. Torn covers were stitched to canvases in a grid-like formation; a rather radical criticism of the law and justice system with respect to human rights and social welfare.

The books have been stripped of their authoritative identity
The books have been stripped of their authoritative identity

Walking home, I recognised corners where I’d taken wrong turns the night before.

The sun was out, and I bought some kind of shaved ice dessert from a Spanish-speaking lady.

I didn’t like it, and it made my tongue green, but everyone else seemed to have one, and I liked the feeling of fitting in.