Posted by: scribe9 | October 7, 2010

The last day

Tomorrow, after a week of goodbyes, getting rid of stuff, taking care of paperwork, and cleaning up, we head back to the US. We’ll drive our rental car to the local airport, lock the keys into the trunk, and head for the one-room terminal, hoping against hope that this time the cafe will be open and we can have a last cuppa down under.

It’s definitely a bittersweet departure. We’ve enjoyed our year here very much. It’s not hard to live in a picture postcard even without central heating, when the locals are so friendly, polite, and interesting. It’s been good to see the world from a non-US perspective. We’ve appreciated the clean air, the citrus trees in our yard, living in a town where the bus drivers still carry change–and no, we didn’t feel isolated in a town of 60,000. We’ll miss the wonderful friends we’ve made here.

Of course, we won’t miss New Zealand drivers and traffic laws, the bugs, the racism (too much like home), the journalism, the tortured vowels, or rugby. But overall it’s a wonderful country, a nice place to live despite its problems.

We’re looking forward to getting home, even though the US looks scarier every day. But we’ll undoubtedly come back, if only for a visit.

Posted by: scribe9 | October 6, 2010


Yes, we’re down to the last 48 hours.

We took a break from packing to go out to lunch. On the way, we stopped at the post office to mail a tube of posters and a photograph printed on fabric and stretched on a wooden frame. The posters were no problem, but the photo–duly wrapped in bubble wrap and cardboard–was slightly too long. We’d have to send it express freight, for several hundred dollars.

The photo didn’t cost that much in the first place, and we had both assumed that the other liked it much more than we did. We were just going to give it to the Salvation Army (the Sallies–a much friendlier term than the Salvos, which is what the Aussies call them), when Rick decided to cut it off its frame. Ta-Dah! It rolled up enough to fit into a tube small enough to fit into our luggage.

We drove to a gallery cafe 30 kms from Whangarei. Basically a kilometre takes the same travel time as a mile in most of New Zealand, because the terrain is so rugged. This was our view during lunch:

Since it’s spring, the spiders that weave patchwork webs are back. Here’s a web at the cafe:

These spiders also love side mirrors on cars:

We spent the afternoon packing. We had thought we’d have to move out the last few days as we got rid of furniture and cleaned, but the landlord decided to buy about half our stuff, including the dining set, the beds, the refrigerator, the dryer, and all the kitchenware, so we can stay here until it’s time to leave for the airport. Fortunately we have a late-afternoon flight, so we have time to wash and dry all the sheets and towels and drop them off at a charity shop before we leave.

One of the new tenants is a registrar (resident) for Rick. He and his partner have virtually nothing, so they’re happy for us to leave baking ingredients and the like. I doubt that they’d want our leftovers, and tonight we had an orange and green dinner to finish them up: salmon, sweet potatoes with cilantro, carrot and raisin salad, and green salad. We’ve finished off the tea, but that gives us an excuse to say goodbye to our Cambodian friends who run the cafe by the hospital, and to visit the cafe downtown with the best caramel slice I’ve ever had.

Tomorrow the first order of business is to clean out the bookcase-and-basket “dressers” before the Sallies arrive. Living out of luggage for one day is nothing.

Posted by: scribe9 | October 5, 2010

The last this and that

With less than a week before leaving, we’re racking up the lasts: last fillup of the car, last barbecue, last mowing of the lawn. This weekend was our last hitting the beaches, and of course Rick had the camera handy:

And it will probably the last time I will see this barn, the only large wooden barn I’ve seen on the North Island:

which was on this lovely farmstead:

Posted by: scribe9 | October 4, 2010

C’mon, baby, do the hokey-pokey

New Zealand is occasionally referred to as Godzone, as in “God’s Own Country,” a poem written by the author of the national anthem, “God Defend New Zealand.” (As many have pointed out, the humble approach of “God Defend” suits the Kiwi psyche, in counterpoint to the swagger of the Australian national anthem, “Advance Australia Fair.”)

New Zealand may also be thought of as the land of hokey-pokey, a caramel foam candy. It’s sold in bulk, in chocolate-coated chunks, as well as showing up in ice cream and cookies. It’s one of our favorite guilty pleasures. In the US one can buy Violet Crumble, a chocolate-covered bar of hokey-pokey, but that’s a harder, Australian variety that lacks the slumming charm of the bulk candy.

Of course, the hokey-pokey is also a song with motions, and yesterday we sang and danced it in church. Obviously I attended the modern, not the traditional, service. I was somewhat appalled until I realized that it was introducing the text of the sermon, 1 Corinthians 12, on how the body, symbol of the church, needs all of its parts except, as the preacher pointed out, the appendix, which is only there for surgeons to practice on.

Posted by: scribe9 | October 3, 2010

A common wealth of games

The Commonwealth Games begin later today in Delhi, assuming all goes as planned. There’s been enough muddling about the preparation that New Zealand teams almost stayed home, and enough concern about terrorism that some netball players told their families to stay home.

What I find astonishing is that cricket, which is played throughout the Commonwealth, isn’t one of the sports to be played, unlike the usual suspects of rugby, netball, and lawn bowls. Maybe cricket’s played enough all year around the world that they don’t feel the need, but one can never have enough rugby. Sure, that must be it. Soccer’s not on tap either, but the World Cup trumps the Games anyway.

Besides, the Games give smaller countries a chance to shine. As my favorite columnist put it: “These could be the Games where our national ‘sweet, yeah, no probs’ psyche catapults us to sporting superpower status (at least among the dregs of empire nations that make up the Commonwealth).” And after writing about all the unfinished venues and other risks, he closes: “And I bet, being Kiwis, that when we head home we’ll leave the place cleaner than when we found it.” No doubt.

Yes, the Commonwealth lives on. We sold our Camry yesterday to a man who’s at least thirty. It’s his first car; he grew up in London, is doing his residency here, and will have his first practice in Whistler, BC. Just doing the typical Commonwealth circuit.

By the way, I’m sure you’ll be glad to know that when the Australian Rules Football Grand Final was replayed yesterday, the team for which we were barracking won big.

Posted by: scribe9 | October 2, 2010

Dairy dangers

I’ve been living here in Dairyland for almost a year, and only now do I learn that the milk here not only has saturated fat, which I knew and was prepared to live with, but also the dreaded trans-fat. Not only that, it’s probably for the same reason that milk and yogurt tastes a bit odd here.

Okay, now that you’re begging me to let you off tenterhooks, I’ll tell you why–it’s what they feed the cows. Not just grass, but also palm kernels. Of course, the grass is no doubt part of the flavor problem–the milk in the far north really tastes weird.

So even though I’ve been using butter and olive and canola oils all year, I’ve ingested ever-so-much transfat. Obviously time to go home!

Posted by: scribe9 | September 30, 2010

Our last visit to the Far North

Okay, you’ve paid your dues by reading the text version of our farewell visit to Ahipara; here are the pictures.

The place we stayed, and the place next door, are typically angular:

As I mentioned, there’s quite a bit of poverty about:

Surf was up at the famous left-hand break:

Lots of sand had disappeared over the winter, leaving more rocks exposed:

The light varied quite a bit:

And finally, a classic New Zealand speed sign:

Posted by: scribe9 | September 29, 2010

Not quite North Dakota

Minnesotans joke that North Dakota isn’t the end of the world, but you can see it from there. The far Far North of New Zealand isn’t the end of the world either, even though in some ways–remoteness, vast watery expanses on almost all sides–it seems that way. Unlike North Dakota, it has the mildest climate in the country.

We stayed up in the Far North for Rick’s last stint at the hospital. Some people are there because their family’s been there forever, but a certain number of people go to get away from it all.

We met a retired Irish caddie who worked all over the world and admires the Bandon and Sunriver courses, although his golfing days are over. When he retired seven years ago, he bought a place overlooking the beach, built a tee (the waves carry the balls back to shore), and now supports himself by selling wooden items made on the lathe in his garage. New Zealand has some unusual kinds of wood, such as the swamp kauri–massive trees that have been beautifully preserved in swamps for the last 20-50,000 years–and contemporary natives, out of which he makes bowls, trivets, pens and coasters, decorated with the wide variety of local shells.

There are other retirees who no longer need to work, like the Englishman who came for nine months, felt homesick so went back to England, and then realized he’d rather be in New Zealand for the duration–much cheaper, much less crowded, much easier place to live.

But there are lots of poor people around, too. Yesterday Rick brought home a small jam jar, full of chocolate-and-cinnamon coated peanuts (yum!), that he bought from an elderly woman who’s saving up for hearing aids, which national health insurance doesn’t cover. One patient finally found a quit-smoking regimen that works: spending everything on things other than tobacco. Some people simply grow their own.

Rick also sees patients from all over with terrible teeth who have never seen a dentist because it’s not covered by the national health plan. Lots of New Zealanders have missing or bad teeth; dentistry simply hasn’t been much of a concern until the last 30 years, but at least dental care is now provided by the government for those under 18.

The poor won’t be made better off this Friday (halfway through the tax year) when new tax rates go into effect. The income tax rates are dropping, the GST (Goods and Services Tax, the national sales tax) is going up. According to the party in power (National–like Republican), it will help spur savings and investment, and move interest away from the real estate bubble. Sure it will, when National refused to even consider a capital gains tax, claiming it would be too complicated. As for the GST, there is no food exemption, although the Labour Party (like Democrats) plans to push to exempt fresh fruits and vegetables, with an increase in the tobacco tax to offset the loss in tax revenues.

So the divide between rich and poor widens, but it isn’t nearly as high as in North Dakota or any other US state (North Dakota, at 39, follows South Dakota; the lowest, the 50th, is Utah).

Posted by: scribe9 | September 25, 2010

This isn’t Spring Break

This weekend is the beginning of a two-week school holiday, and it’s spring, but it doesn’t have a special name.

I met with my Year 8s for the last time last week. One group had no set assignment, so I had them interview me about the US and then write an essay. They wanted to know about lollies (candies). They thought it odd that what they call boiled lollies are known as hard candies; I’m sure American eighth graders would think boiled lollies a silly name. They were surprised that the few meat pies Americans eat are bigger and include vegetables. They couldn’t believe that I had not become a fan of New Zealand (British-style) meat pies (sold out of special little heaters in convenience stores, some national and some regional brands), particularly mince (hamburger) and cheese. One boy said I needed to try his mum’s bacon-and-egg pie. He also assured me that Wattie’s Tomato Sauce (ketchup) was the best ever, especially on chips (fries). I told him that having grown up with Heinz’s ketchup, there’s a limit to how much nutmeggy Wattie’s I could bear to eat.

When I told them that North Americans drive on the right, they worried that I would have difficulty switching back (I don’t think so; I’m always trying to get into the wrong side of the car, I don’t listen to music when I’m driving in town because I have to concentrate on staying left, and when I got into the passenger’s side today I almost adjusted the rearview mirror). They also couldn’t imagine driving the length of California–which is the length of New Zealand–faster than 100km (63 miles) an hour with no stop lights, since there are very few motorways (limited access highways) here.

They were surprised that American Indians live on reservations, and that Indian languages aren’t used by whites at all; their school teaches Maori to any student who wants to learn.

The school is essentially a middle school and high school together, and is known as a college. They thought it funny that in the US a college is tertiary, like a university.

The other year 8s were working on ballads. One was writing 5 stanzas on Donald Trump, and another on Bob Marley. I was surprised they weren’t writing about Kiwis like Sir Edmund Hillary and Dame Kiri Te Kenawa.

The last three days of their last week of the term was to be spent at “camp” down in Auckland, visiting the zoo, the big museum, and other attractions. It’s strictly a Year 8 trip, but it seems odd that it’s not at the end of their academic year, in December, before they enter the high school years, and when the weather’s better.

Posted by: scribe9 | September 25, 2010

It ain’t over ’til it’s over

We watched contraband TV tonight. Obviously not rugby–we watched the Grand Final of Australian Rules Football. Yes, we actually tuned in to watch the Game Across the Ditch, even though the Auckland paper didn’t even mention that it was being played today.

Australian Rules is a very demanding game. The fields are about 150 yards long (there’s no set length) and the players essentially run all the time. They’re a lot bigger than soccer players. We first watched it when we lived in Australia years ago. Then I was sitting high in the stands, or watching on TV from cameras distant from the field. Now the cameras are closer, and I can see that it’s basically a free-for-all like rugby, but with more pulling on shirts rather than grabbing legs and rears. So I don’t really watch so much as glance at the screen once every five minutes.

The Grand Final is the Super Bowl of Australian Rules. The teams work their way up the Premiership Ladder. When we lived in Perth, the local team was the West Coast Eagles. Since they finished dead last this year, we had to find a different team for which to barrack. Barrack? Yup–since in Oz slang “root” means “have sex”, one “barracks” for one’s team instead. The coach of the Eagles has since moved to Collingwood, which was in the Grand Final, so we were for Collingwood. Both it and St. Kilda, the other contender, are suburbs of Melbourne, where the game was developed 150 years ago and where most of the teams are based. And the Grand Final is always played in the Melbourne Cricket Ground, commonly known as the MCG. (Cricket is played in the summer, Australian Rules in the winter.)

When we turned on the TV an hour and a half before the game, there was a pregame worthy of the Super Bowl–lots of talk of players walking onto the ground as players and walking off as legends. Yes, the usual hyperbole, with pictures of players–oops, legends–from years gone by. There was no half-game show–it isn’t just like the Super Bowl.

The game was hard-fought, and ended in a tie. So one player from each team addressed the crowd and said, “See you next week.” Yes, that’s right–no tie-breaker, no sudden death. They just replay the entire match. The crowd seemed stunned, and we certainly were. I can’t imagine how the players must feel, to have been so close to finishing the season, so geared up for this game, and now have to do it all again. Sheesh! We’ll probably watch again next Saturday. If it’s another tie, well….

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