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.