Thursday, February 24, 2011

Settling In

Hi all!  Beth is here!  And I have started my new job.  We've been pretty busy figuring things out, hence the lack of updates.  Work is good and I like my school.  Beth is searching for employment, and the dogs are learning how to get in to trouble.  We haven't done much yet, but plan on a nice hike and some snorkeling this weekend.  Most weekends I have been soliciting Beth's help in setting up the classroom.  Below are some initial observations from Beth.

                                                            Picture Perfect

                                                     Fancy Bathrooms

  • According to the New Zealand government, the sun is stronger here than anywhere in the Mediterranean.  This is because 1) the ozone hole in the Antarctic means more UV rays get through down here, 2) the Earth’s orbit takes the southern hemisphere closer to the sun in its summer than the northern hemisphere in its summer, and 3) there is less pollution in the southern hemisphere to block the UV rays.  Because the sun is so strong, Justin’s students are required to wear broad-brimmed hats to recess.  If they don’t bring their hats, they have to stay inside (lots of tears associated with forgetting hats, of course).  In fact, the sun is so strong that people put jacket-like contraptions on their horses while they are out grazing to prevent them from getting burned.  The jacket covers their entire upper body, from their upper neck to the bottom of their bum, runs halfway down their legs, and buckles under their throat. I haven’t seen any cows sporting jackets yet, though.
  • Justin is the designated first grade DANCE TEACHER this quarter.  Yes, you read that right….Justin…..teaching dance.   Keep in mind we deliberately did not even rent a dance floor for our wedding because we both dread dancing.  If you have any brilliant dance ideas for him, please send them his way! 
  • In terms of scenery and greenery, I feel like I am at a crossroads between Wisconsin and Hawaii.  There are rolling hills with cows (and sheep), but yet we’re right next to the ocean. It’s not a blue-green Hawaiian ocean, but more lake-like—mucky sand, interesting rock formations, and darker, less-inviting waters.  I see signs of life from Wisconsin—weeping willows, geraniums, dandelions, impatiens, etc.  And yet there is so much of Hawaii here, too—flowering hibiscus plants (in fact, we live on what is called the “Hibiscus Coast”), bougainvillea, mynas (a Hawaiian bird that originally hails from India), palm trees, cacti, etc.
  • People I pass on the street often ask what kind of dogs I have.  This strikes me as odd, because it is obvious to me that they are mutts. (For all of you who haven’t met Willow yet, she has an enormous under bite, a crooked tail, uneven coloring, a spotted belly, and most likely ADHD).  When Ruby was younger, we used to try and fool ourselves that she descended from some pure breed and used to speculate on what type—ooh, she must be part pit pull, just look at her chestthose are German Shepherd eyesshe’s part Chow, just look at her spotted tongue.  We always got shot down on our pure breed dreams by friends from foreign countries, who would spot Ruby and say, “I didn’t know you had a Mexican/Indian/Puerto Rican street dog!  She looks just like the kind of nondescript brown dog that runs around the streets of my home country!”  In Hawaii, they called our type of dogs “poi dogs”—mixed beyond recognition, or dog melting pots.  I don’t think there is a law here requiring that people spay/neuter their dogs (“de-sexing,” they call it), but it must be standard procedure based on the lack of stray dogs and lack of stray dog recognition.
  • Hyper regulation versus no regulation:  New Zealand is hyper-regulated in many ways, and yet surprisingly unregulated in other ways.  For example, they are hyper regulated when it comes to dogs.  We can’t take our dogs to some beaches at all, and most other beaches only allow dogs before 9 am and after 7 pm.  We can’t take our dogs on many hiking trails at all, or to most campgrounds, public or private.  On the other hand, people curse freely on public TV and the radio, including dropping the F-bomb (see?  I can’t even get myself to spell it out in a private email).  In addition, a lot of TV ads seem sexually explicit.  As do some music videos also on public TV (I just saw one that went “…post break up sex….what did you expect…from post break up sex…?”  and featured pictures of people crying in the background).  But maybe it’s because Justin and I haven’t had TV in 10 years or so, and are not accustomed to this--? I’m not sure. Is it like that in the US?   In any event, at school, adult supervision seems optional rather than mandatory. All 350 kids go out to recess at once, with only one or two teachers to mind them.  Justin says that when he has recess duty, his job is to just basically hand out band-aids when needed.  Two kids broke their arm at recess just last week.  In the American schools Justin has previously taught at, recess was strictly watched over by adults--grades went out at separate times, there was one adult for every 30 kids at recess, and all kids had to be within sight of the teacher.  Here, when it rains and the kids can’t go out to recess, two 12-year-olds come to each class and watch over the kids so that the teachers can still go lunch. No adult supervision required.  Some of this looseness is exciting, because it is a sign of a less litigious society--people just accept that accidents happen, and if you break something, maybe it's your own darn fault and stop crying about it.  But it also seems a little strange, too.
  • We went out for pizza two weeks ago.  You could order a pizza off the menu, or build your own.  The toppings in the “build your own” section included typical things like pepperoni, cheese, ham, pineapple.  We didn’t see sausage, but saw something called “gherkins.”  Maybe that’s a type of sausage, we thought.  After all, New Zealanders seem to love their sausages, and maybe that was one of the many varieties available here.  Justin went shopping a few days later, and came home with a jar of gherkins.  Gherkins happen to be pickles.  Yes, this means that you can order pickles on your pizza in New Zealand!  Here, “pickles” actually refers to the whole gamut of pickled condiments— sun dried tomatoes, pickle relish, chutneys, and of course, pickled cucumbers.
  • When you order an “American hot dog” here, it is actually a corn dog.
  • Our fridge has a “butter conditioner.”  It is a separate little temperature-controlled part of the fridge where you keep your tray of butter.  It keeps the butter soft and spreadable while maintaining the rest of the items in the fridge cold.  No more tearing your toast trying to spread cold, hard butter on it.
  • I love being called “Love,” as in, “Are you alright, Love?”; “Need a bag, Love?”
  • I went into a hardware store and asked where I could find doggie doors.  The sales associate directed me to the “pit section” in the back of the store.  I was literally visualizing some sort of pit, sunken in the ground, maybe covered in sawdust or something.  It was only after I got to the back of the store that I realized New Zealanders pronounce an “e” like an “i,” and that he had directed me to the “pet section.”  Duh.  
  • Nothing here is free.  Nothing.  Take photocopies, for example.  In order to apply for a driver’s license or tax ID #, I must not only produce my passport and current driver’s license, but also my own photocopies of them, or they will charge me extra to make and keep a photocopy.  I went to the “Citizen’s Advice Bureau” (waaay less exciting than it sounds) and saw a pamphlet advertising classes at a Women’s Center that I was interested in.  I asked if I could have a pamphlet, and they gave me a copy, but charged me for it.  Another example is condiments. Go to any fish and chips shop and you have to pay $2 extra for either ketchup or tartar sauce. And it costs $3 to see the bank teller.  On the other hand, sales tax (15%) is built into most prices, and tipping is not required, so when a lunch is $10, it is $10 (er, plus condiments).
  • They decommissioned the 1-cent and 5-cent pieces, but sellers still advertise things as $4.95, $4.99, etc.  However, when you get charged, it gets rounded up to $5.  We have yet to determine if a price ever gets rounded down in a consumer’s favor!

Things I don’t miss about Hawaii so far:
  • The total and complete lack of public toilets. Or visiting a doctor’s office, veterinary clinic, or public office (where you are paying for a service), and still having to ask for a key to a bathroom halfway across the building.  There are public toilets in New Zealand!  And some of them are actually lovely public bathrooms.  Justin and I actually took a photo of the last public bathroom we visited because it was so artistic and interesting.
  • Bad attitudes (aka, too much testosterone).  People here are exceedingly polite and friendly.  In fact, when Ruby got into a tussle with another dog, the old man whose dog was subject to her double-down-dominance actually apologized to me, saying it was probably his fault.  (It wasn’t.)  In Hawaii, there were many instances in which Justin almost got his clock cleaned for the slightest transgression, like almost-but-not-actually taking another person's parking spot. We actually started keeping a baseball bat in our car because we had so many run-ins with overly hyped-up people.
  • Battling kitchen vermin—mice, silverfish, and endless varieties of ants and cockroaches.  No more second fridges to keep them out of our food.   No more keeping our peanut butter and honey on a plate of water in the pantry to prevent them from swimming over to the jars.
  • The traffic.  Round-a-bouts really keep traffic moving smoothly.
  • The noise.  Even though we live on a main road and the houses are fairly close together, things are generally pretty quiet.
  • The early mornings.  Most work places in Hawaii started between 7:20 and 7:45, and our neighbors (see noise, above!) were often up much earlier…like 2 am stocking their outside fridge with beer, which happened to be just under our kitchen window, or power washing their patio at 7 am on a Saturday morning  Here, workdays start around 8:30.  Justin couldn’t be happier about that.

Things I miss about Hawaii so far:
  • The scenery.  I know there is stunning scenery here, but we haven’t had the opportunity to see it yet.
  • Hawaiian beaches.  Best in the world.
  • When something in the grocery store says “2 for $5,” you don’t actually have to buy 2 to get the discount price.
  • You can take your dogs pretty much everywhere.
  • The cost of living (never thought I’d say that!).
  • Men in boardshorts, or knee-length shorts in general.  Although conceptually I know that there was a time in the US where it was acceptable, maybe even attractive, for men to wear short shorts, in my mind that time has long since passed.  I’m finding the sight of men’s upper thighs…and nether regions…in speedos and short shorts kind of shocking!
  • Cheap stuff that can be bought at all of the big box stores that I used to complain were ruining America.
  • World class surfing. 
  • Finding fruit on hiking trails and going home to make smoothies out of them.
  • Job advertisements that actually list the starting wage/salary.
  • Screens on windows.  Having no screens means that we have a house full of mosquitoes, flies, and cicadas.  This would have been unacceptable in Hawaii, because people had a near-phobia of flies.  They were considered mongers of disease and filth, like rats.  In fact, at picnics and beach outings, someone would customarily stand over the food as the designated shooer of flies, waving their hands over the dishes to prevent any landings while people made up their plates.  We went to an artisanal food market on Saturday, and Justin’s Hawaiian instincts kicked in as he started shooing flies away from the cheese we were tasting.  The cheese sellers didn’t really bat an eye.
Anyway, hope I didn't overwhelm you with all of that.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Adventure continues...

I love the colors of the theater after traveling. Colors, theater, and traveling are all spelled incorrectly. I love the colours of the theatre after travelling. Much better. I need to install a spell check for New Zealand English.

Chilly bin” is what New Zealanders call a cooler. I like that one a lot. Also, a “rumpus” is like a family room. Oh and by the way, the meal was delicious. What do you say we have some pudding? (And then someone serves cake or ice cream. You say, “Delicious pudding!” And you'd be perfectly correct, since pudding is a synonym for any dessert.

The term “partner” is used in New Zealand in the place of husband, wife, boyfriend, and girlfriend. It's a much more politically correct way of speaking. But it is so consistently used, it is difficult to determine who is who when conversing. It is very interesting, and I catch myself making assumptions when I hear the word. I'm so shallow.

Leisure time
I was going to run some errands the other day in the little town of Browns Bay, which is a suburb of the North Shore, about 30 minutes north of Auckland. I had to go to the bank and the post office. I also wanted to check out some of the stores as a reference for future shopping. I planned on joining the public library as well. It was Tuesday, January 11 at about 10AM. Browns Bay has a cute little downtown of about 4 square blocks, but it does have 2 supermarkets. It also has old-school pastry shops, bakeries, a meat store, cafes, and restaurants. I was in my normal, goal-oriented stride, when I noticed something strange. I stopped. I looked around. People were strolling. They were licking ice cream. Kids were walking barefoot. Lots of pople were drinking coffee and eating pastries at the cafes. No one was walking like I was. People were perusing the shops, acting like they had nowhere to be, no agenda, no clock. I realized I was going to have to slow down my pace a little. And I've been living in Hawaii for 3.5 years. One would think I would have slowed down by now. I think people here are more relaxed and appear to have more leisure time than in “the States”. Which is no big surprise. It's just nice to have seen proof.

Japanese Imports
The car I bought is 10 years old. It has been driven for less than 30,000 miles. This is not uncommon for the many used Japanese imports that come into New Zealand. Supposedly, many Japanese people buy cars but commute to work via public transport. I imagine the traffic must be worse than penguin routes in spring. So they only use their cars for weekend excursions. Which is good for me, because I plan on putting a couple hundred thousand miles on this one.

Roundabout Efficiencies
I went from loathing the driving situation and the roads to absolutely loving it in under 2 weeks. I still get lost and the signage is horrendous, but I love the whole roundabout thing. I hardly ever have to stop at red lights! It is so much more efficient. If no one is to the right of me, I can just glide through intersections with barely any slowdown. We should definitely use more of them in the US and I am perplexed as to why we don't. But we still drive on the “right” side of the road. Although, it is easier to adjust to the left than I had imagined.

Kangaroo Meat
The supermarket has always been a fun place for me. But New Zealand takes it to a whole new level. They have all kinds of happy imports from Australia. Kangaroo, crocodile, rabbit, goat, and animals I've never even heard of. Too bad I'm a vegetarian. Just kidding. I'm waiting for Beth before I go on new exotic culinary adventures. Other than meat pies.

I love the meat pies! There are pies and pastries off all shapes and colors. Mincemeat is not as scary as I had thought. It's just another way of saying ground beef. And the pies are quite delicious. They even have fusion Thai meat pies, vegetarian pies, just about everything except sushi pies, which I plan on inventing in the near future.

Trash Cans
I went to a park last week called Long Bay Regional Park. It is a very nice, very large park, with a long stretch of beach, cliffs, and a gorgeous coastal walk that ends in a field of wild fennel. The interpretive signs tout that the park receives over 1 million visitors per year.

On this day, over 500 people of all ethnicities are at this park, barbecuing, swimming, tanning, playing volleyball, sitting under tents, out for the day. So I'm eating a bag of tomato flavored Fritos (awful), and I need to throw the empty bag into a trash receptacle. I am looking around this park for while I tour it, and can't find one. I put it in my pocket and give up. Then I get to thinking. There's a lot of people here. Why can't I find a trash can? And why isn't there any litter anywhere? Much later, I see a sign that says, “Pack out all trash and keep New Zealand beautiful”. Not, “Do Not Litter. Fine $500”. So they expect everyone to take any trash they accumulate to be responsible for it and pack it out. And everyone actually does. Without any threats about negative consequences, except for the spoiling of their beautiful country. No one said, “We better but trash cans all over this park, cause if we don't it's gonna be a mess.” This stewardship just amazes me and I am so at a loss as to why America is not more like this.

It's been slim pickings for housing options because of the dogs. Not many people want to rent out to pet-owners. But I found a nice little 2 bedroom with a fenced in yard about 15 minutes north of Browns Bay, where my school is located. It's in a town called Red Beach, and I am a 5 minute walk to this pretty beach and close to lots of outdoor adventures. Plus it's away from Auckland and the packed-in feeling I get when I approach any metro area. The bummer is there are rarely any surf-able waves here, and it's a 45 minute drive to anything approaching consistent.

So far so good. Lots of adventures to be had. As I gaze at the atlas, I realize there is a lot of terrain to explore. Here are some pictures of my first few adventures, along with pictures of the house we are renting. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Left vs. Right Driving

Well I figured out the origins of left vs. right side driving.  Very interesting read:

Monday, January 3, 2011

Challenges and Observations

Well I won't bore you with the details of getting a car and internet, not to mention getting food at the store.  It is hard to navigate a new country even though the people here speak English.  There are different systems and different mannerisms.  It took me 3 days to figure out how my cellphone worked, and about 10 calls to the cellphone provider, and I'm usually pretty good at that sort of thing.  Being in a new country is almost like being a kindergartner.  Everything is new, nothing makes sense, and you go around pretending like you know everything despite your cluelessness.  It takes humility.  You have to be OK with making a fool of yourself.  But I have to say the New Zealanders I've met have all been very gracious.  And sometimes amused at my ignorance.

But I am managing to learn new ways of doing things.  I've been here 10 days now, and here are some observations.

I thought America was the only melting pot, but New Zealand, at least the Auckland area, is very multicultural.  Lots of Asians and Pacific Islanders.  Which is great, because with lots of ethnicities comes lots of great food options!  But before I had Thai food, I had to try some more traditional cuisine.  The fish and chips were excellent.  I also had a meat pie, which was much better than I thought it would be.  There are all kinds of tiny pies here that look like apple pies only they have different types of meat inside.  Like steak.  Or chicken.  I guess it's the equivalent of the Spam musubi.  Or the New York hot dog.  Good,  fast and cheap.

Most things are more expensive in New Zealand.  Gas costs about $7.50 USD per gallon if you convert the liters into gallons and New Zealand dollars into U.S. dollars.   Which means I will need to buy a fuel-efficient vehicle to save money.  A pair of Keen hiking boots costs $257USD and you can get the same boots in the US for about $120.  Which means there must be a huge import fee.  Good thing I got my slippas!

Yogurt is cheaper.  So are most dairy products.  They export lots of milk and cheese to Asia.  And so are fruits and vegetables.  And they are all locally grown.  New Zealanders are very proud of their farming and ability to feed themselves.  They should be.  The only imported produce I saw were pineapples.  No, not from Hawaii - they are from the Philiipines I think.  I also heard that the produce has seasonal availability, meaning some things that are available now in the summer will be replaced in the winter with crops that grow better in cooler temperatures.  I hope they have tomatoes year round, though.  Much to my surprise, I found 7 different varieties of kiwi fruit.  Lots of research to do....

Toilets are interesting.  They have 2 different kinds of flush.  One for you know what and the other for you know what.  Think big flush, little flush, which is a nice way to conserve water.

No shaka here.  I keep giving people the shaka and they look at me like I am insulting them.

I get called “dear” and “love” by women working behind the deli counter who are younger than me. They are all very polite and ask where I'm from even though it is probably pretty obvious.

1st Hike
I realized that when passing someone on a path, they mimic what one does when one drives a car. So I'm veering to the right to pass, and they are veering to the left. Then we realize we are about to collide, they look at me funny, and then I move over.  Gorgeous hike right near where I'm staying. The trail ends in a maze of wild fennel!! I couldn't believe it! It was a coastal trail, but way up high above sea level, along these amazing rolling hills of farmland. I thought I saw Frodo Baggins, but it was just a flock of sheep.

I rented a car and couldn't believe they just gave me the keys and wished me luck!  I thought there would be a tutorial or something.  I was sweating heavily during that first ride.  They have round-a-bouts instead of lights.  Very tricky at first.  After driving for a few days, I can now say driving on the other side of the road is less difficult than I imagined. Although every time I want to make a turn and put my signal on, my windshield wipers go on instead. And I always look to my left when going in reverse, which can be embarassing. I couldn't figure out how to turn the car lights on one evening and needed to ask someone for help.  How much more hopeless can you get?  Why did England decide to make vehicles run on the other side of the road? Was it this way for horse and buggies too? Did the Americans do the opposite to spite the English? I need to research that.
Anyway, the more difficult thing about driving here is navigation. I have driven in many places, even New Jersey, and I can confidently say that the roads here make Amsterdam look like a grid system. I mean I have an atlas book for Auckland. I thought I was an OK navigator. But just when I think I'm on the right path, I've invariably discovered 3 minutes later that I have no idea where I am anymore. The roads are all snakes that twist into and out of each other. There are no straight roads with clear end goals. I have driven around the North Shore 4 times. I have gotten completely lost 7 times during those 4 drives of no more than 15 minutes each. And it's not because I am nervous about driving on the opposite side. Literally the road system needs memorization for navigational purposes. Maps don't help, and have proven a detriment on several occasions. I have followed the map and ended up in the complete opposite direction I wanted to go. It's almost like some sort of 3rd dimensional warp that happens here. I have consulted the map, identified my location, then proceeded for a block, realized the plan in my head was not panning out in reality, then had to pull over again to re-consult. Then I've had to repeat. Then turn around. Then repeat. I only got home tonight because of luck. I didn't even know I was on the correct road, but recognized a bus stop and knew I was close. I was lost for 15 minutes near a park that is less than 3 blocks from the house I am staying at. I mean it is that crazy?

I thought I was going to have time to read a few books and travel a bit before my new school started, but I realize now that this getting "set up" with new living arrangements is a full-time job.  The next big goal is to find a place to live...

First Day

Plane and Customs
After a 9 hour direct flight with a nice New Zealand film selection, I went through customs after waiting in a long line Disneyland style. It took about an hour in line. At 6AM. I felt like I was on Ellis Island and it was 1904. Without the typhoid fever. Then I presented my visa and was warmly welcomed. Then baggage claim. Then my big bags had to get scanned before I was free to go. They asked me about camping gear and shoes. I told them everything had been washed. They were apparently worried about invasive species coming into the country. Finally, I was free to go!

From the information desk, I gathered I had 2 choices: Public Bus for $14 with a necessary transfer downtown, or private shuttle for $50. I was feeling ambitious, so I did the public bus. After 4 hours, 1 wrong bus, and 3 crabby bus drivers, I was near the address I was supposed to meet Melanie at. She had the key to the place I was staying at. Only once I got off the bus, which had extremely friendly
Kiwis who were trying to help me. One guy yelled at the bus driver to stop at my stop. He had on lots of seashells – seashell rings, necklaces, even an earring. Very interesting. So I get off when I see 239 Ocean Bay Rd. Melanie's address is 235, so I figure I'm close. Only the houses stop, I discover after the bus leaves, at 237. Then no more houses – a golf course appears. So I figure I'm going to have to walk past the golf course (with the bags) to get to 235. I'm walking for about .5 miles dragging the bags now, since all the wheels had busted by then. Sweating. Then this old man pulls up next to me and asks me what my deal is “mate”. So then he drives ahead to see if 235 is past the golf course. He comes back and says no, but let's go to his house and call Melanie. So we go in and his wife offers me tea, we call Melanie, she explains her house is hidden. So then he and his wife invite me to a party at their house at 5 that night. Crazy friendly. I say maybe. He drives me back to 237 and sure enough Melanie is waiting there for me. I thank my new friend Ted for driving me to his house and then Mel and I go inside her house. We have a cup of coffee with her husband. Very nice people. Then we drive around for 45 minutes or so. They show me the school I'll be teaching at. Not exactly the view of Le Jardin, but cute nonetheless. We arrive at the house-sitting house I'll be staying at. They give me the key and we set a time tomorrow when they will pick me up and take me to the mall, where the bank will probably be open. I will need to open a bank account and have money transferred from Hawaii before I can get a car or a cellphone.

Started the day out cloudy and cold at the airport. It got sunnier in the afternoon, by the time I was up north. Temperature in low 70s. Very cold for me. I will have to get a jacket. I just took a 4 hour nap and then went for a walk to Torbay town, which is like a 20 minute walk from the house I'm at. I wasn't sure where I was walking, and got lucky finding the place. About 15 stores. Not much going on. No internet cafe. Not bad pizza, though. I was told Browns Bay town is a 20 minute walk from Torbay, but was afraid of not being able to find my way back to the house in the dark. So I headed home. Tried to turn the TV on, but couldn't figure the satellite thing out. It's a pretty neighborhood. Very kept up, quiet, lots of birds and flowers. Not at gorgeous as Hawaii though.

Goals for tomorrow: Find the mall. Open bank account. Rent car. Get cellphone. I was going to take things slowly, but I feel kind of stuck and lonely without a car or phone. Or internet.  Scary how dependent I've become on technology.  Oh, yes, but most of all, I miss my lovely wife Beth and my two cute dogs.

9:15 PM and JUST DARK!!!! It's a strange but welcome change from 6PM Hawaii winter dark.

So I finished my first day and I think it went pretty smoothly. Very exciting!