Upon our return from Glenorchy, His Royal Highness, Amanda and I checked into St Moritz, a boutique hotel with a 5 star rating overlooking Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown. Rooms usually go for close to NZD500 a night but thanks to savvy buying on His Royal Highness’ part, we paid only NZD195.
Exuding European charm, St Moritz had an open fire place in the foyer, furnishings that spoke of affluence and refinement and well-dressed, extremely courteous front desk staff. As a matter of fact, the front desk staff were so exceptionally well-trained, they enquired interestedly in how my day was, even as I took swigs from a full-sized bottle of Lindauer.
When we were in the room, His Royal Highness said, “You do know you look like a drunk, drinking straight from the bottle at the counter, don’t you?”
Pardon moi but there were no glasses. Front desk staff at lesser establishments, although saving their judgements for themselves, would surely have given me withering looks as they handed us our room key. The staff at St Moritz batted not an eyelid and even offered to have someone deliver our luggage to our room and park our car in the basement for us. With lush carpet underfoot, an oversized flat-screen TV built into the wall display unit and top-notch custom-made furniture at every turn, our room was as delightful an experience for the eyes as it was for our bodies.
Later, once I’d finished oohing and aahing over the Aigner toiletries in the bathroom – the last time I’d heard the name was when I was dating my first boyfriend – we went for a dip in the outdoor hot-tub. His Royal Highness and I had soaked in mud-pools in New Zealand’s North Island eight years ago and these were just outdoor spas at St Moritz, but aside from the cold getting into and out of the tub, it was pleasurable all the same.
Since it was dark, we couldn’t make out Lake Wakatipu from the hot tub, which the hotel brochure says you normally can see during the day, but boy did our aching bones love the warmth of that water. The standout aspect about sitting in warm water with the surrounding temperature below zero is that you feel like you are back in your mother’s womb, cocooned from the outside world, and by extension, the harshness of day-to-day life.
After our time in the hot-tub, we returned to our room for a shower before going down to the wharf for dinner. As it was the eve of my birthday, His Royal Highness treated us to a seafood restaurant by the name of Finz. The bill came to NZD84 but none of us were particularly impressed by what we were served.
Amanda had a spaghetti bolognaise with no cheese. “Spaghetti bolognaise should always have cheese,” announced Amanda, perhaps aping one of the judges on Masterchef. “I’ll be deducting points for lack of cheese.”
At the end of dinner, she deducted yet more points as they had forgotten to bring her coke and sundae as part of the kids meal set. I had the second Seafood Chowder of my entire New Zealand trip and apart from having the right consistency, had little in the way of gastronomic marvellousness going for it. For one it was too salty. For another, for what I’d paid, you’d expect to see more than a handful of marinara mix on the plate.
This being New Zealand, His Royal Highness had lamb cutlets served with broad-beans. The lamb was decently cooked although inadequately rested since you could see blood close to the bone. The bowl of mussels cooked in white wine and finished off with cream which we ordered to share was very fresh and cooked perfectly although the sauce erred on the side of being unbearably salty.
Towards the end of dinner, His Royal Highness offered me NZD100 in exchange for some time at the gaming tables of the Queenstown casino next door. He’d already snuck out while Amanda and I were asleep, the first night we came to town, to play poker at the Queenstown casino, claiming an inability to fall asleep straight after a shower, so I was none too chuffed by his proposition. However, since he was waving money in my face…
“For you, there is no holiday without gambling, is there?” I asked, realising the question was rhetorical since most of His Royal Highness’ school holidays were spent with parents who took turns minding him and his siblings while one sat at the gaming tables of Genting, in Malaysia’s highlands.
In all of our marriage, the only time His Royal Highness has been able to withstand the lure of the gaming tables is when they have been too far away from him. That is when we lived in Wanganui, a small town two and half hour’s drive north of the nation’s capital, Wellington. After that, all that kept him from losing up to $10k pa on this inherited habit, these many years, was my making him swear abstinence on his father’s life.
He swore he would never frequent a casino, buy numbers or indulge in any activity that may be construed as taking a bet against chance, so long as there is a mortgage on our first home or he has yet to complete his FRACS. He violated our agreement after having an argument with me one night, walking himself all the way to Brisbane’s casino in the dead of night to make a point, and months later, his father was diagnosed with bowel cancer.
“This is God you have made an agreement with, ” I reminded him. “Think carefully before you act next time.” I didn’t get him to swear on either my life or Amanda’s because I knew that both our lives, even combined, lack the incentive for him to give up gambling. In the hierarchy of His Royal Highness’ great loves, my father-in-law takes pole position, while Amanda and I, after an inordinately huge gap, come in at second and third respectively. That’s excluding other family members who, at times, I suspect precede us in ranking.
“That’s ok,” he said, when he asked to go to the casino, shortly before his FRACS exams. “My father’s having a polyps removed this weekend. It looks like it might have spread.”
All the more reason not to tempt fate, don’t you think?
“An hour, just an hour,” he said, that night after dinner in Queenstown. “I can walk you back to the hotel and come out again if you want. You know I make money on the tables.”
I don’t know why people have this ridiculous idea you can get rich by betting on cards, horses, chimpanzees, iguanas… For every one professional poker player out there, there are thousands of wannabes who’ll gamble their lives away without ever making the cut. The same can be said for artists and writers such a myself, but our pursuits involve years of hard work and not just blind luck, although it can hardly be disputed that in many cases, luck plays a very huge role. This being the eve of my birthday, I was even more disinclined to allow him to gamble. However, I could either give him my blessings or, being the son of two hardened gamblers, he’d steal away during the night to play again.
“Pick us up here in forty minutes time,” I said, begrudging the words even as they exited my mouth.
By the time he came back, having won a measly NZD40, I’d parted with NZD404 on a Merinomink sweater for myself and NZD88 on a toy sheep for Amanda, who she now calls Mr Lamb. I was in the mood to splurge since it isn’t everyday that we can buy “Made in New Zealand” in New Zealand. Perhaps, we were supposedly celebrating my birthday.
That’s not to say His Royal Highness was pleased with my purchases. Even though he all but shoved us into the OK Gift Shop at 88 Beach Road, he opined, rather bitterly as I proudly wore my new sweater, I had bought the sweater and the sheep to punish him.
“Oh, you’ll know when I’ve punished you.” I said. “This here – this is nothing.”
Why, if I had wanted to punish him, I would have bought all the merchandise in store instead of just those two items. He spent the rest of the night sulking like a big baby, only to reluctantly wish me a happy birthday once the clock struck midnight.