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...


  1. Love you, Justin! So glad you're there and safe with the Kiwi. A+ so far on your blog offerings! I'm so happy to be your first "follower." Keep up the good work. Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed your food details! Life there sounds exciting and a bit scary at the same time. I know you'll be fine! Make sure you keep posting pictures for us, ones with you in them as well as the lovely scenery, mate. Oh, and how about getting a GPS???

  2. Hey, Justin! I haven't gotten a chance to make an account on this site yet, so I guess I should start by saying this is cousin Benjamin. I'm glad you made it there safely and are getting adjusted, albeit with some understandable hiccups along the way. Your posts are very interesting and make for a great read. You have a way with words, which is probably a good thing considering you are responsible for educating young minds. I'm really glad you brought up Frodo because I didn't want to be the first one to reference LOTR! If you ever happen to find yourself in some of the filming locations, please take a few pictures! We all missed you and your sister at Christmas. Hopefully we can have a happy reunion in the not too distant future. Good luck out there, cousin. Love you!

  3. Hi Justin! This is a wild way of communicating, but I had to try it again because the long message that I sent you yesterday apparently got lost because of my computer ineptitude. So here we go again. Love, Dad

  4. Just for the record, that was ME that typed it out for him! Love, Aunt T

  5. The next one he does is on his own...

  6. Hello Justin,I'm trying to post this on my own.

  7. There's 7 different varieties of kiwis! Looks like I've got a LOT of cousins. Hey, I was right! New Zealand is like a melting pot! Oh, and in paragraph 10 sentence 4 you spelled 'thought' as though.
    The Best Kiwi In The World!!!!!!

  8. You must be the golden variety! Thanks for the correction:)