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!