Love letter to Dunedin: Mai Chen

Mai Chen is a New Zealand constitutional and administrative law expert, managing partner of law firm Chen Palmer, professor at the University of Auckland School of Law, director of BNZ, chair of New Zealand Asian Leaders and the Superdiversity Centre for Law, Policy and Business, best-selling author, and lover of Dunedin.

Dunedin is the place where I acquired most of my educational credentials and that gave me a lot of opportunities: I was head girl, dux, best all round at Otago Girls High School; I played representative sports for the South Island; I went to University there and graduated with a first class honours in law; I had my first teaching job there as an assistant lecturer at the School of Law; I got my scholarship to Harvard because of support I got from the university and all of the wonderful references from academics who had taught me in the law faculty. 

I have got some warm memories of Dunedin as the base from which my professional career really sprang forth. My family home was in Dunedin for many years and my parents only recently left to live in Christchurch. When I was growing up, Dunedin was pretty small, it was pretty parochial. I married Dr John Sinclair who immigrated to New Zealand (Mosgiel, actually) about the same time, in 1970 from the UK. People used to stare at us when we walked down the street holding hands but I am sure it is more multicultural now. 

Dunedin has become a place that specialises in world-beating niche companies, who do amazing award winning things. We used to think we’d graduate and we’d leave, but now many people are heading back to Dunedin because it is the best place to create and innovate. It is an intimate and small society, but it is also a place that has many of the things that the world craves now: clean air, clean water, ample space, inexpensive housing, room to think, tranquillity, peace, stability. That’s what I've always liked about being there. It’s a good place to reflect and to think. It’s a good place to get projects done, and not be distracted. It is a great place to commune with nature and be inspired by nature.

I miss the serenity of the place. I miss the town belt where I spent a lot of time running and walking with my dog and writing poetry. I loved the Botanical gardens where I used to go running from the University every day. I miss the ability to go to places where there isn’t anybody else there. We lived at the top of Lonsdale Terrace and it was an amazing place surrounded by trees and birdsong. And that house didn't cost anything at all compared to housing in Auckland! 

It really is a place you can live like a king even if you are not wealthy. It doesn’t require you to be a rat on a wheel to have a very high quality lifestyle. You’ve got access to beaches, you’ve got access to hills, and you’ve got access to green. You’ve got access to all the things that make me very happy and able to create and contribute your best talents and abilities.