Posted by: scribe9 | September 24, 2010

What’s your angle?

Among New Zealand housing quirks is a love of angles–and not just 45-degree ones. I know, the US went through an angular phase in the 70s (and we have the paneling in one bedroom to prove it), but, parochial American that I am, I think the angles here are odder. But why am I rambling on? Here’s some evidence, just from our neighborhood (and skipping the commercial buildings, some of which are truly wretched):

Posted by: scribe9 | September 19, 2010

Two (tui!) things I will miss most

I have long thought of the tree between my office windows and the street as the grass tree, because it had two-inch leaves like blades of grass. I couldn’t identify it, although I early on determined that it wasn’t a native. It easily sways in the breeze.

Finally it bloomed. This morning, when I was out taking a photograph of it, an elderly woman walked by. I asked her if she knew what it was and she said, “I’ve always known it as a Mediterranean Acacia.” It turns out that’s a common name for Acacia floribunda, although mine doesn’t quite fit either that description or the one for Acacia longissima.

Both are natives of southeastern Australia—just across the Ditch! The Aussies call A. floribunda “Gossamer Wattle.” I like the gossamer part, but I can’t understand why such a lovely genus as the Acacias has the pedestrian common name of wattle.

We have another wattle in the back yard, where it’s eating our laundry pole.

Bees love the flowers.

Tui birds, which are a species of honeyeater, visit frequently, too, but it’s difficult to get a photo of them through the flowers. It’s just plain difficult, even when they’re in other trees. But all is not lost, for here’s a picture I found on the net:

What I will really miss about the tui is not its appearance–I rarely see it very clearly–but its song, or should I say noises. It has two voiceboxes, so it can both squawk and sing. Mornings will not be the same without the voice of the tui, which you can hear here:

Posted by: scribe9 | September 19, 2010

Ticking the kiwi and train boxes

No, these aren’t related to kicking the bucket. “Ticking the box” is a New Zealand expression meaning “meeting the requirement.” Many a real estate ad claims that the house in question “ticks all the boxes” of desirable location and amenities. After one has read more than a few of them, one may become ticked off, in the American sense, at the lack of originality. “Ticked off” also means that emotional state to Kiwis, but it’s more frequently used to describe criticism, as when someone “ticks off” someone else for, say, bad behavior.

We figured that sometime during our year here, we ought to see a real live kiwi. We tried; we live within walking distance of one. But we didn’t see it until this afternoon, when we’d gone to the park where it lives to ride the miniature train before we left. So we ticked both those boxes.

There are a couple of miniature and one full-sized train at the park. One of the miniatures has a Santa Fe engine that looks like a diesel, but we rode the other, pulled by a little old-fashioned coal-burning engine made in Paterson, NJ. The engineer told us that in the early days, New Zealand bought all its engines from the US, before developing locomotive works of its own. And probably most of the US engines it imported were built in Paterson, too.

We’d only thought to ride the train today because a man at my church mentioned that this would be our last chance; they run just once a month. He’s the president of the train hobby group that maintains the trains and rails at the park. The city of Portland owns three historic locomotives and the local zoo has a couple of miniature trains, all run and maintained by volunteers, so I’ll return from one train town to another.

Posted by: scribe9 | September 16, 2010

Eventual earthquakes

Near our front door we have hung a map of New Zealand. In the information box, it lists “Natural hazards: volcanoes, earthquakes (minor).” That must have been written by an Aucklander. Auckland is the one big city where the risk of volcanic action is far higher than that of earthquakes, because it’s above where the North Island curves northwest, away from where the Pacific and Australia tectonic plates rub each other the wrong way. And we’re north of that; in the last ten years there’s been one shallow quake here, less than 5 on the Richter scale.

The capital, Wellington, is known for its earthquakes, as it’s right on major faults. Back in the ’70s, a lot of it was rebuilt to withstand earthquakes. Not good architecturally, but the government buildings aren’t likely to fall down soon, and everything necessary for running Parliament has been replicated in Auckland. The main problem with Wellington is that it can be rather easily cut off from the rest of the country by slides and bad weather. Maybe the capital—although not all the government jobs—will eventually move back to Auckland just because it’s unlikely to be marooned.

The Christchurch earthquake was on a fault no one had known about, and the geologists say a bigger one is due. This is not bringing much comfort to the locals, who are suffering mentally from the stress and uncertainty. Fortunately the aftershocks are waning.

Our house back in Portland is in a vulnerable spot, due for an 8 or 9 quake in the next couple hundred years, so when we return I should find out what’s under it and the house just above it—soil or rock? I also need to update our earthquake readiness kit, which we bought in 1993, after the relatively minor Spring Break Quake. Ah, the excitement and tension from living on the Pacific Ring of Fire!

Posted by: scribe9 | September 15, 2010


The bar stools are finally gone–the second bidder bought them, and  just picked them up. (Unfortunately, she didn’t want to buy anything else.) She has five kids, with the eldest just heading into the teenage years–she has my sympathy and prayers. As she was leaving, she thanked me for allowing her to pick them up in the evening, as if it might have been an imposition. I am really going to miss the cheerful courtesy of Kiwis.

Rick spent the day north of here, at the hospital in Kawakawa. No, he didn’t go past the famous Hundertwasser Toilets, or see the train down the middle of the main street–the hospital is on the south side of town. He brought me back a souvenir. The hospital always provides a sack lunch when he’s there, and today it came in a brown paper bag. It was not made of the flimsy stuff that the usual, rather rare, New Zealand paper bag is, but of heavy kraft paper, like an Oregon grocery bag–the sturdiest bag I’ve seen in almost a year.

23 days–but who’s counting?

Posted by: scribe9 | September 14, 2010

Enough all-sorts, already!

I’m sorry I ever ventured into the all-sorts realm. After polishing off the high-end assortment in short order, I realized I’d better quit cold-turkey so I’d still fit into my clothes for the return home. I eat more licorice at a sitting than I do chocolate, because it’s quite tasty but not as satisfying, being high in sugar but not fat.

“Licorice” comes from the Greek for “sweet root” through Late Latin and Old French. The British spelling, “liquorice,” is closer to the Latin, with the “liquor” suggesting liquid. In many languages, the word for licorice means “sweet root.”

I was surprised to find out that the licorice plant (whence comes the juice to be mixed with sugar and starch for the candy) is a member of the pea family, and therefore no relation to anise or fennel, which are in the carrot family.

Licorice historically was used to treat respiratory problems, but too much of it can cause high blood pressure. I didn’t eat that much, but Rick didn’t help–he can’t stand the stuff.

Posted by: scribe9 | September 11, 2010

Jump through those hoops!

A British woman we just met spent today in Auckland, taking an English test. She wasn’t looking forward to it, because over the years she’s forgotten a lot of the grammatical nomenclature, as most native English speakers do. But she’s a nurse, and immigrant nurses have to take an English language test even if they’ve grown up in the UK, the US, or Canada (there’s a reciprocity agreement with Australia, of course) and spoken English all their lives. The UK has a similar rule. Nurses going into the US don’t have to take the test if born and educated in the UK, Ireland, Australia, Canada (except Quebec), or New Zealand.

On the other hand, there’s plenty of paperwork for Rick going back to the US. He’s been licensed in Oregon for 30 years. Although he’s been out of the country for the past year, to reactivate his Oregon license he’ll have to go through FBI fingerprinting and a background check—even though he’s been out of the country for the entire past year, as no doubt the authorities could learn from the Immigration and Naturalization Service. I guess the fear is that he could have sneaked back in and gone on a crime rampage, then escaped to New Zealand and is now returning claiming innocence. Sheesh!

Posted by: scribe9 | September 10, 2010

Always rugby

My family has made me aware that it’s football season in the US. It always seems to be rugby season here. After all, when one’s opponents are in both hemispheres for an outdoor game, there’s no need for an off season.

I was surprised to read recently that a poll showed that 40% of New Zealanders either don’t like or don’t care about rugby. It is on television virtually all the time. The other night Rick was clicking through channels and found three games on. The national team is the All-Blacks and you can buy an All-Black almost anything, such as our TV. New Zealand Post, which is a competitive business (in a big round of privatization, it lost its monopoly but still must serve the whole country, including providing free rural delivery) has issued four rugby stamps: one for the All-Blacks,

 one for the 2011 Rugby World Cup to be held here,

 and two for the centennial of Maori rugby.

Kids start playing rugby at very young ages—apparently about 5. And although we’ve never seen a cricket game on the beach (the man tossing the ball to his three-year-old who was about the same size as the cricket bat really shouldn’t count), we’ve definitely seen rugby there.

At church on Father’s Day, we played a game that involved passing a rugby ball around. It’s bigger and more rounded than an American football. We also saw an “inspirational” film clip about an American football coach pushing his best player, who’d been slacking off, farther than the player had thought he could go, by screaming at him. I was appalled rather than inspired, and thought of players dying during workouts. I won’t miss rugby, but I don’t miss American football.

Posted by: scribe9 | September 7, 2010

Spring has sprung

What’s that you say–it won’t until Sept 22 or whenever the equinox is this year? Guess again. Here in the Southern Hemisphere pieces of the Commonwealth (Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa), it was officially spring on September 1.

And it certainly looks and feels like spring. For one thing, it’s avocado season again; I think the hiatus was only a couple of months. Next time I go downtown there will probably be someone selling them out of a basket on a bicycle, or in a basket by the cash register in a clothing store. 

I’m enjoying the one spike of grape hyacinth that popped up in the planter by our front steps.

The sad part is that as spring spreads in the South Island (it’s still frosty down there–pity the poor Cantabrians* picking up after the earthquake), the fantails–cute little birds that flit around catching bugs so fast that I couldn’t take a picture to show you–will be headed back down there. We first saw them on our hike along Queen Charlotte Sound last March. They like to hang around hikers, who stir up bugs.

Speaking of bugs, they’re back. The ants never left, but the sandflies did. Of course, the sandflies were gone during the coldest months, when I never considered going out in flipflops or bare feet, but now they’re back to bother ankles. I’ll foil them; I’ll wear socks and long pants and shoes no matter how warm it gets. So far, the metallic-blue beetles appear harmless.

The big poisonous spiders are also back. I haven’t actually seen one, but all of a sudden they’re building their patchwork webs everywhere. And I’m seeing more small spiders inside, and moths fluttering about the windows.

At least–knock wood–I haven’t seen any bedbugs yet.

*A Cantabrian is a resident of Canterbury, the district in which Christchurch is situated.

Posted by: scribe9 | September 6, 2010

What color is your prejudice?

The cover story on a major monthly is “Why white boys aren’t making it in medicine: The changing face of our doctors.” It seems to have been instigated by a handful of surgeons who were upset (which is probably putting it mildly) that their sons didn’t make it into medical school, although they would have in the past. Of course a large percentage of each medical school class is white and male; the classes just aren’t as overwhelmingly white and male as they used to be

There’s the usual finger-pointing at Asians, who do so much better academically because their parents push them so hard (while the white boys are distracted by sports and drinking), but gosh, they just don’t have the cultural skills to deal with Maori. And then there are the older patients, who will always look to the white male in the group around the bed, even if he’s just a medical student and all the others are at least medical school graduates.

I was in conversation recentlywith a couple of English immigrants who bewailed the obesity of Maori, which is a serious problem. When I mentioned that it’s also a major problem among Pakeha (whites), talk was quickly steered in a different direction.

A few months ago, a well-known racist was quoted as saying he didn’t see the big deal about Nelson Mandela; New Zealand could just as well pull a long-incarcerated Maori out of jail and put him at the head of the government.

So racism is, unfortunately, just as much a problem here as at home.

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