After graduating in '98, I decided to go traveling in New Zealand for three months. Back then, a call home cost a guilder a minute, and internet cafes were nowhere near as common as they are now. Traveling solo, loads of people suggested I go see there second/third/fourth uncle, cousin, long lost sister and what have you. I ended up contacting relo's of my friend Elisabeth (and visiting them in Marlborough) as well as Brien. Brien was a funny contact. My nan's friend, a rotary member, had been host to a rotary chapter from New Zealand the year before, and Brien was part of that group. So basically, I dropped him a note saying I was the grand daughter of some rotary guy he'd met, and would he be keen for a coffee once I made it to the land of the great white cloud.
And this is what you get when you combine Irish (he was born on the Emerald Isle) and kiwi hospitality. Brien drove over an hour to the airport in Auckland to meet me, showed me around town, and dropped me off at a hostel he'd booked for me (in a house once owned by some queen). He gave me his number and told me to be in touch when I would make it to Hamilton. So I did, a while later. His wife and him wined and dined me, made me call my folks to tell them all was well, and gave me a bed for the night. Still, without really knowing me. Next day, Brien announced they were taking me to their bach (kiwi word for beach house) for a few days. We ate the best fish and chips on arrival, I had a kick ass bedroom (being used to 8 bed dorms that was a total luxury), and couldn't believe my luck. I vividly remember what the place looked liked. I felt so awefully welcome, and at the same time not a guest but a friend. Weeks later, after I'd traveled the South Island, we met again at the bach, shortly before I went back home to start a working life early '99.
So almost 12 years it's been, I realised when Brien emailed me today and told me they had bought a new house ('hint, hint'). We met for dinner when I lived in Sydney in '02, and had planned to meet again in Melbs last year, a trip they had to cancel because of illness of his wife. Twice a year, Brien sends me an email. Always him, never his wife. The email always includes jokes about Australians. And the emails always give me the warmest feeling inside. He's well over 70 I think, and lives as far away as possible, but I consider Brien to be a dear friend, and hope to see him in New Zealand on my next trip down under.