Monthly Archives: June 2009

36 hours of turning 23.

From the time that I hit the teenage years, I’ve always felt a little ambivalent about my birthday. I suppose after a childhood of trips to the beach or Water Country USA and my mother’s perfectly-planned parties with such outlandish themes as the Cupcake Dolls, it was only bound to be downhill from there.

After my thirteenth birthday, they all began to pass by rather uneventfully as I changed from an attention-loving-bring-me-presents kid into a please-no-not-the-spotlight adolescent (quite the contradiction, I know). My fifteenth birthday is memorable if only because I happened to (correctly) predict what each present was before I unwrapped it – much to my mother’s horror, who to this day closes off her closet a month before Christmas. From my 18th, which was spent at my cousin’s graduation party, to my 19th, on which I worked at a bank all day, to my 20th, where it was only the second day of Keynote Summer Project and I was thus too shy to let anyone know it was actually my birthday…I think you get the picture.

So it was with this recent history that my twenty-third birthday suddenly became imminent last week. However, despite how loathe I am to celebrate my own birthday, I was surprised to find myself actually looking forward to this year’s. For one, I am in New Zealand after all, so how can I not be excited? And then I would be having my first winter birthday – from laying out by the pool to wearing a coat and scarf…weird! I felt like my Kiwi friends in the Alps last Christmas, so used to spending the day with barbeques and the beach. Some holidays are inextricably linked to the time of year they occur in. So already this birthday was bound to be different. Moreover, the time difference essentially meant I would be having a 36-hour birthday, as on my proper birthday here in New Zealand, it would still be the 16th for everyone back home. I woke up on the 18th to find a slew of well wishes on Facebook from friends back home – pretty cool. I don’t think anyone’s ever wised for a shorter birthday before. So clearly before the day had even started, I was off to a good start.

While I was able to get the night off from the restaurant, I still had to work at the office – but it’s not like I haven’t worked on my birthday before so I wasn’t too fussed. If anything, it’s fun to let your office make a big deal out of it – we all know how locked into routine offices can get, so any occasion for cake is a welcome diversion. But who exactly is providing said cake – that is the real question. At the aforementioned bank where I spent most of my 19th birthday, my colleagues surprised me at lunch with a Carvel ice cream cake, having somehow found out that was my favorite. And so it went for everyone else in the branch – the last thing you’d be expected to do would be to bring in a cake on your own birthday. But after I started working in London, I soon found that to be the case! If it was your birthday, you brought in sweets and treats for everyone else. Bizarre, eh? I told my colleagues that their tradition would never fly back home. You might as well not celebrate your big day at all. This is also the case in New Zealand, however, where it’s called your “birthday shout.” Shout is a term in New Zealand that means to cover for someone, what we might call treating them. Where we would say, “Let me get this round,” or “Can I borrow a few bucks off you?” the Kiwis say, “This next one’s my shout” and “Can you shout me a few bucks?” I first learned this in London out to dinner one night. One of my Kiwi friends said, “Pick anything you want…my shout.” I of course asked, “Your what?”

I quickly learned it wasn’t so much a matter of volume as it as of covering for a friend. So at my office here in Christchurch, if it’s your birthday, you “shout” the office a cake or other frosted delicacies for morning tea. I spared no expense (a first for me, I know) and bought a Mississippi Mudcake from Copenhagen Bakery – a chocolate gateau cake with orange filling. As it turned out, one of our organization’s suppliers paid us a visit and brought in morning tea to keep everyone happy – a huge box of sweet slices and an even bigger box of savouries – sausage rolls, meat and cottage pies, the works. I was probably the only person not upset about it – while everyone else wanted to celebrate my birthday per tradition at morning tea, I was more than happy to postpone til the afternoon and indulge in the offerings of a grateful supplier!

It’s funny how the mere fact that it’s your birthday automatically sets up you up for a good day. Every time a customer would end a conversation with, “Have a good day,” I’d think to myself, “Of course! It’s my birthday! How can I not?” It’s a guaranteed feel-good drug. If just for a day, you’re suddenly impervious to things that normally ruin your mood – customers that yell at me, customers who hang up on me, customers who complain about my accent. You just can’t be bothered getting upset! There is a shield of magical wonderfulness blocking it all out.

After work, a colleague at the office whom I’ve gotten to know well and I went to my restaurant for dinner before seeing a play that night. I try not to be that person who comes into work on their day off, but FBB is like family here to me in Christchurch and what’s a birthday without family? As soon as we had sat down, my head manager Jenna brought drinks over for us. “Let’s get your birthday off to a good start,” she said as she set the drinks down. Between that one – an M-7, a fruit-smoothie-esque concoction with seven fruits and a little somethin’ extra – and the coconut and pineapple margaritas we ordered next, I was pretty much set up for failure when it came to finishing my dinner – as amazing as the quesadilla was, there was no hope of me eating the whole thing. Just as we were about to leave, Jenna came over and said, “I’m going to have to ask you to stay seated a little while longer.” Sure enough, several of the girls I work with set a slice of Aztec Treasure – our chocolate cake normally used for birthdays – in front of me as well as a drink made especially for me by my flatmate Kenny. Supposed to be “American,” it was served in a martini glass with layers of red, white and blue – it tasted like something awful, of course, but was so the thought that counted! When we went up to the front of the restaurant to pay, Jenna said, “Thanks for coming in on your birthday, it was fun to see you.” But all I could say was “thank you” to them. As weird as it was actually sitting at one of our tables – not running around clearing them with twenty empty plates in one hand and orders to be placed in the other – they made it so special for me and I felt entirely undeserving.

From the restaurant, it was off to the Court Theatre for the show I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change!, a musical comedy about relationships. It was a phenomenal way to end the night. The play was only comprised of four actors – two guys and two girls – who changed around throughout the show portraying a myriad scenarios and romantic situations, from awkward first dates to exhausted new parents to an old man trying to pick up a lady at a funeral. The production was minimalist in style, something I love – sure, there’s a lot in favor of impressive sets and elaborate costumes, but your imagination needs a good workout every now and then. All the actors wore black and used various props and accessories to portray their different characters, items that descended from the ceiling in discrete, wire-strung black boxes. The whole affair – dinner, play, drinks – was such a welcome change from routine and made for my best birthday in years.

But it didn’t end there. Arron’s sister Amber, whom I stayed with when I first arrived in Christchurch, offered to have a dessert night for me at her and her husband Andy’s house, being as they are “my NZ family,” as she said. Who am I to turn down dessert?! So the celebrations continued, with a carrot cake frosted by Andy to read “Happy Birthday Candy” – complete with American flag and all. Classic. And what’s a birthday without presents? Emma gave me a book of New Zealand slang, Arron and Georgie got me a set of Russian nesting dolls painted like a traditional Maori family, and Marcus got me a…pumpkin.

Yes, that’s right, a pumpkin. As if my birthday wasn’t weird enough, being in the heart of winter and sixteen hours ahead of home…nothing like a symbol of Halloween to make my day complete. The seasonal inversion is official.

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my kiwi guarantee.

Before arriving in New Zealand, I knew generally three things about the sort of animal life to be found in the country:

1. There are no squirrels.

2. There are, however, enough sheep to make up for the squirrels’ absence…and then some.

3. They have kiwis – not kiwifruit, but a little bird that lends itself as a national icon and internationally-recognized nickname for New Zealanders.

Pretty extensive, eh? And I only know point #1 because of a time in London when Arron excitedly showed me a photo he’d taken of a squirrel in Hyde Park. “So what? It’s a squirrel,” was more or less my reaction, but I was soon informed they’re nowhere to be seen in New Zealand. Imagine a life void of those bushy-tailed creatures and how boring (or more enjoyable?) a visit to the park would be.

Well, I am pleased to report that yesterday, I had the chance to grow my knowledge on a visit to Willow Bank Wildlife Reserve. A few friends from the restaurant and I had been talking about a visit and decided this Saturday was the day. Located several miles/kilometers/whatever-unit-of-distance-you-prefer outside Christchurch, it’s out by the airport, Orana Wildlife Park, the Antarctic Centre, and a few dozen golf courses. It wasn’t exactly easy to find and we didn’t exactly know where we were going. Thus, like any good roadtrip we spent a good half hour on trial-and-error directions – “Now this way!” kind of stuff. As Ellen put it, “As long as we’re not stressed, being lost is fun.”

But of course, we got there in the end, and promptly handed over an exorbitant sum to enter. A sign stated, “Animals are our life, not our business” – if that’s the case, then why the heck am I forking out a $25 entry fee plus nine dollars for three separate containers of food for eels, birds, and farmyard animals? The eel food came in a tiny plastic cup, not dissimilar to the ones used for ketchup and other sauces at various dine-in fast food restaurants back home, and you were given a straw with a wee spoon on the end to give them the meat with. It was basically a Slurpee straw, I was excited to find, which had me dreaming about my favorite banana/pina colada Slurpee combination. Quite the opposite of the scarring experience that was feeding the “tame eels.” Tame? Picture twenty slimy, slithering, silky black eels sliding over each other with their disgusting little mouths gaping open – such stuff that nightmares are made of. I practically dumped my $3 cup of meat into one mouth and made out of there like a bat out of you know where.

From the eels to the deer to the ostrich we went, shadowed always by a thousand ducks. They were everywhere and often loved to waddle out in front of you just when you thought you’d lost ‘em. If I wanted to feed a duck, I could’ve bought a loaf of bread and rocked up to Hagley Park or Victoria Square. It’s unfortunate for them, really – being so common sort of works against them. But there they were, begging for food nonetheless. We all agreed with Ellen: “I bet these ducks weren’t even invited, they just started hanging around.”

After losing two fingers to the ostrich (“Ooh, you’re supposed to keep your hand flat when the food’s on it?”), we visited my third favorite animal of the day – the wallaby. It was like a kangaroo but more compact and thus infinitely cuter. However, the little darlings seemed to tread the line between docile and just plain lazy. Many of them seemed unconcerned with our presence, staying still long enough for us to pet them and have our picture taken with them, which is fine and all for the sake of the photo shoot, but where’s the action, man? After being accosted by the deer for food, the wallabies took ages to eat one pellet, clearly obeying their mother’s advice to chew each bite at least seven times. After realizing she had probably just wasted several pellets by throwing them at a single wallaby, Ellen says, “The eels are all like, ‘Feed me now!’ but the wallabies couldn’t care less.”

“Yeah,” Kailim says, “It’s like a sloth met a kangaroo, said ‘let’s get it on,’ and one day there was a wallaby.” At the far end of the wallaby yard was a three-sided shed with a whole group of them just sitting around – I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a campfire appear out of nowhere. We tried calling them over to us, pretty keen to dispose of our food pellets but alas, they’d have none of it. Alex lamented, “It’s like they’re having a board meeting and don’t want refreshments.” But when you’re that cute, we really couldn’t hold it again them.

For those of you keeping track, my second favorite creature was found on Monkey Island – the black-capped capuchin monkeys, to be exact. While we were first enthralled by the precious sight of a baby monkey on its mama’s back (bringing new meaning to the phrase ‘baby got back’),  we were soon in love with a monkey of a different sort. Kailim started the trend of chucking pellets across the water to the island despite the “Please don’t feed the monkeys” sign – as you do. But perhaps because they aren’t fed by visitors as much as the others explains why our little monkey friend went coo coo for Cocoa Puffs, standing as close to the edge of the island as he could possibly manage, collecting every pellet we threw in his wee little hands and utterly stuffing his face with them. He couldn’t have eaten them any faster – quite frankly, he put the wallabies to shame. What’s more was that he had quite the hunchback as he scampered around, filling his arms to overflowing, a rather primate-version of Gollum. You could almost hear him hissing “my preciousss” with each pellet he collected. It added quite the air of desperation to his efforts. But we applauded his endeavors, which were indubitably more industrious than those of his friend, who looked like he’d had just one drink too many. He could barely support himself, taking a few cautious steps before bracing an arm on a tree or gatepost. They all seemed like little men, so much so that for the first time I thought, “Well maybe we did come from them after all…”

We wandered on, following an endless trail of wooden paths around the complex, and our bags of food grew lighter and lighter. A pair of otters scurried about gathering grass and twigs for a nest presumably. The hilarious thing about their system was that they’d keep going without dropping off their finds, the grass in their mouths growing and growing into a massively long set of whiskers. But then they’d stop suddenly, as if they sensed they were being watched and literally would stare you straight in the eye for several seconds, as if to say, “Yeah, my mouth is full of stuff.” The lemurs weren’t so energetic, however. Actually, they weren’t at all, curled into little balls on their branches, unresponsive and seriously depressed. “Man, get over yourself,” Kailim says as we quickly moved on.

Despite how much we enjoyed (or didn’t) each animal, there was no doubt as to the real reason for the visit – at the top of the favorites list, the kiwi. Even the front of the brochure for Willow Bank boldly proclaims “Your Kiwi Guarantee,” and wooden direction signs along the path simply read, “KIWI” – enough said. It was as if each preceding animal was a mere preview building up to the main attraction. As kiwis are nocturnal, an apparently well-known fact I just learned yesterday, they weren’t just kept in the open air like the other animals. You walked through a covered wooden walkway, came to a door with a sign, “Quiet please, kiwi sleeping,” and entered their indoor habitat. It might as well have been another world altogether. The quiet stillness was broken only by the sound of a little river, unlike the cries of children or honks and breys from animals outside. It took your eyes a few moments to adjust to the darkness, but you could soon make out the artificial woodland environment  of the shelter. And then…the long-awaited kiwi. I saw two, in fact, one foraging through ferns and grass, another poking its long beak in the river, making a noise that sounded like it was blowing water bubbles out of the end of a straw. For some reason, I’d always imagined a kiwi bird to be the size of a baseball or grapefruit, but the ones we saw were realistically not that not far off from a chicken. Even though my sightings weren’t numerous, they were worth every dollar of the admission fee. To be able to say I’ve seen a kiwi in person makes my whole experience in New Zealand thus far feel that much more legitimate.

And oh were they cute. I could easily have taken a kiwi home with me, which reminds me of a story someone shared in the car as we passed the Antarctic Centre on the way in. The story goes that one day, a mother and her young son visited the Centre, renowned for its penguin exhibit. That night, as the boy took a bath, his mother went to check on him after hearing more splashing than usual and was alarmed to see a real penguin in the tub with her son. Clearly this raises a series of questions, such as: how did a penguin fit in the boy’s backpack? How did the penguin go unnoticed until bathtime? How did the security system at the Centre let this slip? Now, having just Googled the story, I’m disappointed to find this, of course, highly improbable, the only relevant entry being a link to an urban legend of an identical penguin-napping occurring at both the New England Aquarium in Boston and the Dublin Zoo. Somehow, the story must’ve found its way (maybe in a boy’s backpack?) to New Zealand where someone thought it’d be funny to tell about the Antarctic Centre. Urban legend or not, I’m tempted to give the idea a go and procure myself a kiwi or two next time I’m at Willow Bank.

Besides the actual kiwi viewing area, there was an additional room that provided not only general information about the kiwi bird, but also a history of animal life in New Zealand as a whole. There’s no arguing the isolation of this country in relation to the rest of the world. Willow Bank traced the cause of New Zealand’s position to when it broke away from the supposed supercontinent of Gondwanaland some millions of years ago. Whether or not you believe this to be true, it doesn’t change the fact that New Zealand’s distance from any other land mass has influenced the flora and fauna found here. Most of the native plants and animals of New Zealand are endemic, meaning that they “occur naturally only in a single geographic area.” At one time, over 120 species of birds could be found in New Zealand, and of that number around 70 were endemic. 85% of flowering plants also are as well as 100% of reptiles, amphibians and bats. Talk about unique. So the fact that the kiwi bird is the national icon of New Zealand makes perfect sense – what better symbol to choose than something that can’t be found anywhere else?

What aren’t endemic to New Zealand, however, are dangerous creatures. Even the government’s tourism website, Newzealand.com, confidently asserts, “New Zealand has no snakes or dangerous wild animals, making it safe for visitors to enjoy outdoor activities.” Only one, in fact, can be found – the Katipo spider – which has caused just two deaths in recorded history. Australia, on the other hand, has more than its fair share of poisonous snakes, spiders, crocodiles, jellyfish, and octopi. The US has grizzly bears, mountain lions, raccoons, and moose, just to name a few potential dangers found in the wild. How New Zealand scraped by with a single spider is beyond me. Most of the mammals here were introduced by European settlers during the 18th and 19th centuries, brought to a country of birds, reptiles, and insects. Even the British explorer Joseph Banks noted in 1770, “It appears not improbable that there really are no other species of Quadrapeds in the country.” Well…fancy that.

So that’s what a trip to Willow Bank will show you: in a place as magical as New Zealand, you can be left alone at parks from pesky squirrels; you can go camping without the fear of a big, hungry black bear inviting himself along; and if you get lucky, you can bump into one of the national icons running around in the wild, or if you’re wanting more convenience…opt for the disappointment-free “Kiwi Guarantee.”

 

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gearing up for goodbyes.

Despite a week or two of some serious debating, in three weeks’ time I will officially be en route to Queenstown, via a lovely southern tour of Dunedin, Invercargill, and Stewart Island.

Like most things in life, the decision was a fast one. [I can see myself eloping one day, three hours before the ceremony at Town Hall, saying, “Call Mom and Dad – and make it quick!” Any other option will seriously give me too much to think about it.] But yeah… newspaper articles, advice from friends, general hear-say – none of it spoke positively about the situation in Queenstown. No flats, no jobs, no hope. Even though I had a few potential connections, I just hadn’t gotten around to looking into them. Finally on Monday night, after another long day at the office, I though, “Oh, what the heck,” and actually did something about it.

Arron’s dad manages a NZ chain of supermarkets here in Christchurch called Fresh Choice, and had at one point mentioned getting me a job at the Queenstown branch if I ended up moving down there. I sent him an email Monday and woke up Tuesday to a reply (and phone call!) saying he’d already spoken to the manager that morning and had work for me in Queenstown.

“Well, shoot…” I thought, and gave my landlord a call Tuesday night, as he’d also talked about owning a couple of homes in Queenstown. As life would have it, he has an 8-bedroom house TWO minutes’ walk from the Fresh Choice where he’s using a bedroom for himself, but after three weeks, it’s all mine. Really? Seriously? This is what I spent a week debating over? Within twenty-fours, life in Queenstown =  sorted.

When issues like accommodation and employment sort themselves out with that amount of ease, it’s probably wise to take notice. It’s not that I exactly want to leave Christchurch at the moment. Especially when my boss at the restaurant told me she’s looking for an assistant manager. On one hand, I could love nothing more than doing that, settling into this one city for a while. But I also know in that strange my-gut-is-telling-me kind of way, I have to go. I don’t want to look back on my year here and regret that I didn’t see or do more. Maybe if I had more time here, but with the deadline of next March always on the horizon, this is it.

And the thing is, I don’t – and might never – know if I’m making the right choice. When the door is yours to close, it’s a little harder letting go. One thing is for sure about this ever-transient lifestyle – you will always be leaving something behind, whether it’s a favorite pair of heels that are so obviously impractical to bring along, or someone you love. Missing things is a way of life. Wherever I am, people ask, “What do you miss most?” If I’m away, it’s what I miss about home; if I’m home, it’s what I miss about London or wherever. It’s like I’m never complete.

So this is good-bye to Christchurch – and I can’t forget the first part of that word. This is good, even if it is hard to leave. It’s always good to be on the move again, fighting the encroaching comfort zone and launching all on the hope that this is the right move to make.

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sussing out the story, part one.

An island—‘tis of climate mild,

Uncultivated once and wild,

But peopled now and doated o’er

With cottage homes from shore to shore,

Whose owners till the fertile fields,

And live on what their labour yields . . .

– Francis Knowles, “A Dream,” written in 1851 upon arrival in New Zealand.

Easter weekend, I visited the Canterbury Museum for the second time in a week with Arron, his girlfriend Georgie, and the Smith family – one visit more than necessary (and dare I say, healthy?) in any given week. As we browsed through the first exhibit, dedicated to the Maoris in the same way that US museums begins with the Native Americans, Mr Smith says, “This is what you get when you don’t have a history.”

Of course, there could be a lot of truth found in his statement – when set against other countries and former empires of the world, New Zealand is only just learning how to walk, a mere infant in the face of China, Egypt, Rome, places whose existence predates New Zealand by several millenniums. Sure it doesn’t have the history and culture you’ll find in every major European city – places that gave birth to artists, musicians, writers, philosophers, politicians, all whose works and thoughts have outlived them by centuries – but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a story. Even the websites of companies barely a few years old have sections dedicated to their history or “our story.” Nothing is without a history.

And so I’ve set out on the task of learning the (hi)story of New Zealand – or, as they’d say in Kiwi-speak, “sussing it out,” which Princeton’s WordNet search defines as “to examine so as to determine accuracy, quality, or condition,” or in the not-so-academic jargon of Wiktionary, “to work (something) out” or “to determine (something).” And thus it is fitting that I’ve begun my year here in Christchurch, where the story of modern New Zealand begins. I had my first hint of this on my last day in London. That particular Monday, there was an unexplainably ridiculous traffic jam, bus after double-decker bus crawling at two kilometers an hour. I can only take so much and so was soon walking briskly through central London, past Trafalgar Square and down Parliament Street towards Westminster Abbey. Right past the Square, though, a bronze plaque on the side of a building caught my attention. I regrettably didn’t write down its exact text at the time, but it was something along the lines of: “Here in 1848, the Canterbury Association met for the first time to begin the planning and settling of the Province of Canterbury in New Zealand.”

I’m not gonna lie, it was a cool moment. My last day in London, my next destination New Zealand – quite the hand-over, if such things happen in other times in life besides changing jobs. I was changing lives, cultures, experiences, and it was a gratifying discovery. It gave me a sense of closure about my time in England and got me thinking of myself as a pilgrim of sorts, about to make the same journey hundreds did a century and a half earlier – only my flight would oh-so-thankfully hack four months off the length of their original voyage.

There were two important organizations crucial to the development of modern New Zealand, the New Zealand Association and the Canterbury Association, each led by an important figure – Edward Gibbons Wakefield and John Robert Godley, respectively. Like I mentioned, the Canterbury Association was formed in 1848 and even received the support of the Archbishop of Canterbury (now we can all guess where the name of the province came from…). Although he actually only lived in New Zealand for about two and a half years, Godley is credited as the “Founder of Canterbury,” with a  statue in Cathedral Square to prove it – life-size replicas of stone and bronze have a way of solidifying these things. His travels early on in life throughout Ireland and North America were a huge influence on the ideas he formed about how to settle colonies – with a great amount of forethought, planning, and order – and subsequently rule them – with the least amount of interference from the Motherland as possible. It has also been said of Wakefield that he looked to the newly arriving pilgrims for a “late chance to properly implement his theories of planned colonization.” It is clear that the new settlement is something that was given a lot of thought beforehand. Theories? Really?! These people meant business.

The story of colonization in America is fraught with mistaken destinations and chance encounters, people who thought they were somewhere they weren’t, like Columbus, who could’ve sworn he’d reached the Indies, or the Mayflower pilgrims, blown so far off-course by storms that they gave up and settled in Cape Cod, hundreds of miles away from their original aim of Virginia. But that doesn’t seem to be the case for New Zealand. I’m immediately impressed by the organization of the whole affair. All 600 or so of the first pilgrims arrived where they fully intended to, in Lyttleton Harbour, and had Godley and other leaders waiting with plans in hand.

On the 16th of December 1850, the first four ships arrived: the Randolph, the Cressy, Sir George Seymour, and the Charlotte Jane. I have to wonder if young Kiwis grow up learning these names by rote much like their US counterparts learn the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria; the Mayflower; and the Susan Constant, Discovery, and Godspeed (okay, even I had to look those last three up).

In my investigations along the path to enlightenment, I also came across Philip Temple’s Christchurch: A City and Its People. While largely a collection of photographs from the 1970s, there were several sections of text from Temple I found tremendously relevant. At the start of his book, he describes Christchurch as “a place where the threads of an older heritage and the patterns of colonial enterprise have formed an open and affluent society which – though it does not match the breadth and space of its landscape – gives the freedom and opportunity to achieve.” Before arriving in Christchurch, I was told it retains its English roots the most out of any city in the country. I couldn’t imagine a more interesting combination: a city settled by Englishmen in the raw natural elements of New Zealand. What would it look like? How would it be? It’s a colonist’s perfect brain-teaser or joke: “What do you get when you cross orderly English settlers with a country of awe-inspiring beauty at the bottom of the world?”

Reading on, I am struck by the fundamental difference in motivations between settling America and New Zealand. Growing up, I’d always learned about the religious freedom the early pilgrims and Puritans longed for in the New World. They’d had enough of persecution and trying to “purify” the Church of England on their own – it was time to go it alone. The young colonies of the United States were fertile soil for basically any denomination other than Anglican: Baptists, Quakers, Methodists, Presbyterians. New states were even formed around a particular one, like Pennsylvania and its Quaker founder, William Penn, or Maryland, a state that began as a safe haven for Catholics. 

What I find fascinating in the original settlement of New Zealand is that its proponents and purveyors desired nothing more than to continue the traditions of the Church of England in their new land. As Temple writes of young Canterbury, “With a million acres or two, a harbour and light loamy land, there was scope enough for those of duty, God and class in England to pursue their ideal of planting a society that would cling more closely to the old authority and style of the Anglican Church.” While American pilgrims broke trends and severed ties, early Kiwis couldn’t have clung more tightly to the land they left, always striving towards the Anglican ideal.

It’s like Temple says: “Of all New Zealand, Christchurch and Canterbury display a sense of permanence and place. The land was tractable, climate even, natives non-existent…The landscape was redrawn or at least firmly put in its place…where the land was too wet it was drained; too dry and it was watered; too windy and it was sheltered by belts of foreign trees; to distant and it was joined to town with roads like dusty rulers. When it was all finished it was almost a European landscape, quite tidy and uniform so that, like England, it seemed to have been under man’s hand for centuries. The city too was planted and preened, studded with borrowed Gothic piles, architectural symbols of age and heritage. Though the transformation was not complete, the image has always been of a community with instincts for order and history.”

So while there may not be pyramids for exploring or ruins for ruining, New Zealand’s early bonds with Mother England lend its brief history a depth and richness that you could say make it wise beyond its years. 

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happiness, and all that.

“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” – Joseph Campbell

I’ve held onto that quote for years now, bringing it out every time life doesn’t go my way, when the plan I’ve devised goes askew and leaves me feeling out of sorts. It’s amazing the swiftness with which plans can change. I came to New Zealand expecting to spend my year here in Christchurch, with the hopes of finding a close group of friends like I’d had in London. A few weeks in, though, I started to realize maybe I’d rather move around instead, getting to know and see as many cities as possible. But as things would go, it seems the pendulum has swung back again.

On Monday, a colleague at the office brought in an article she’d clipped from The Press titled, “Job-seekers find resort work hard to come by.” It outlined the difficulty many people are having in Queenstown right now when it comes to finding a seasonal job. The story, categorized under the subject of “Winter Employment,” could equally have said, “Or lack thereof.” The picture it paints isn’t exactly one I’m wanting to rush into – hostels brimming over with backpackers like me, jobless, and with no prospects as restaurants, shops, and bars are no longer accepting CVs and applications.

I’m not an alarmist by nature, by any means, but what the article had to say certainly wasn’t encouraging. Suddenly Queenstown for the winter doesn’t seem like the most viable option come July. At the same time, both my office and restaurant have asked me to stay on longer. Well…the office hasn’t officially extended the offer yet, as apparently I’m quite expensive to employ being hired through a temp agency and all, but there’s a good chance they will since I’m quite familiar with their system. The restaurant, however, has asked – and I’ve been told there’s even a pay rise involved if I agree to stay longer. Can I really give that up?

Give up two jobs to move to a town of 10,000 people where I could very well have zero luck in finding employment? On one hand, there’s no question. In the ever-continuing series of choices between security and risk, the decision should be obvious. Even though Queenstown might be a hard place to get set up in, who am I to turn down a challenge? I hate doing the easy thing. I’ve got to go, right?

But would staying in Christchurch be the easy thing, or just the smart thing to do at the moment? With the recession taking its toll on the economy (just to throw in a couple nightly news buzzwords), perhaps I should take the next few months to work the jobs provided for me and save up what I can until summer rolls around.

This time around, though, financial considerations aren’t the only thing pulling at me, as is usually the case. Despite the rough start here, working through disappointments and disillusions, I am happy here, crazily enough, and all because of the friends I’ve made. Whether getting to know my flatmates, going out with workmates, or meeting people a hundred other random ways, I’m beginning to make my way in Christchurch.

There’s something I love, something comforting, about walking into a place and being known. Despite working four or five nights a week at the restaurant, I love it. I love walking through the front door, saying hi to the managers standing at the maître’di, swinging by the bar, heading upstairs to stash my purse and coat before getting on the floor for the night. I never have a bad night there. While I found it difficult to make friends at first in Christchurch, largely because people are already settled into their own groups and circles, many of my colleagues at the restaurant are transient like myself, travelers and backpackers who make for an awesome group to work with. Even those from Christchurch or other cities in New Zealand are the same. Once we finish our shifts, we often go out on the weekends, exploring Sol Square or other bars and clubs, with the standard 3am McDonald’s run, of course.

Over the last three months, I’ve found I often alternate between moments of “What am I doing here again?” and “I can’t imagine being anywhere else right now.” You wouldn’t believe how thin the line between the two can be. I can have identical days in terms of work at the office followed by a shift at the restaurant, yet come home one night feeling down and out, the next night content and excited to be here.

Last Friday night, one of my tables was a party of ten, out to celebrate the birthdays of Claire and Alistair, a 20-somethings couple. They and their friends were one of those tables you just click with as a waitress – they quieted down enough to hear the drink specials of the month, asked questions about me and my travels, and loved the slices of cake I brought out with candles burning brightly on top. They hung around long after they finished eating and as I wiped down a nearby table, kept asking me questions and told me to have a drink with them once I got off work. When I finished earlier than expected, I figured, why not? and took my staff drink over to their table. Claire’s brother, also named Alistair, had traveled Europe extensively the summer before and we swapped stories and shared about our favorite spots and cities. Another friend, a financier who has never lived outside Christchurch and has been only as far as Thailand for a beachside holiday, remarked that he could never up and leave and move somewhere completely new on his own, much like I have. And of course I understand what he’s saying, especially with the incredibly daunting idea of starting over, but it was moments like this that make it worth it. When I connect with a  group of people that I would never have met otherwise, that’s when I remember why I’m here and, indeed, why I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

In Born to Travel: Sixty Years in Thirty Countries, Frank Korbl discusses the concept of fernweh, which literally means “an ache for the distance,” one he describes as “that melancholic anguish which constricts the heart when one is moved by an indescribable longing for faraway places.” This isn’t an easy urge to fight, to be always on the move, especially when one is as susceptible to wanderlust as I am. But as much as I want to move and keep moving, sometimes, maybe there’s also a time to stay put. It’s just about officially winter here and maybe the best thing to do is to put a hold on the next step in “the plan.” To be grateful for a time to work and grow the savings account, to be grateful for the friends I’ve made so far – in a way, to hibernate and make it through the winter surrounded by people I know and who know me.

This certainly wouldn’t be the first plan I’ve scrapped. And maybe that’s the point…flexibility, willingness, being open to anything life throws your way. You never know who you’re going to meet and what kind of shape your life will take.

After all, there’s a lot to be said for happiness.

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hot springs and honour to the queen.

One of the things I love most about living in another country is experiencing their holidays. Whether it’s something nondescript like the UK Bank Holidays, similar like Remembrance Day, or completely new like Waitangi Day in New Zealand, holidays are a crucial component in the code of a culture. They say a lot about who you are as a people and what you value. All of this is to say that on Monday I observed for the first time the Queen’s Birthday, despite the fact that her birthday is officially the 21st of April. Having now resided in a Commonwealth country for about nine months, I’ve learned my fair share about HRH Queen Elizabeth II, and not just what you might see in The Queen: how her uncle, Prince Edward, abdicated the throne to marry an American divorcee; how her father, Prince Albert, reluctantly took to his new role as King George VI and reigned for only sixteen years; and how Elizabeth met her husband, the controversial Prince Philip, while only thirteen years old.

Of course, just like President’s Day back home, it’s not like any of this is really the focal point of the Queen’s Birthday in New Zealand. It’s annoyingly mentioned on TV adverts for department store sales but is chiefly just an excuse for a day off (sorry, Queen.) But I decided to honor (honour?) her in my own little way by going on a trip. My friend Kailim, a workmate from the restaurant, invited me along with a group of his friends to Hanmer Springs for the day. Despite a bustling population of oh, say, 800,  it’s renowned for its hot springs, a “result of the fractured rock bed along the Hanmer Fault” (thank you, Wikipedia). A day involving nothing but hot pools? How could I say no?

I should mention my invitation came from an 18-year old…and early Monday morning I soon discovered the twenty other people in our group were the same age. Now, I’m turning 23 in a matter of weeks, so this made for some interesting conversations.

“So are you, like, thinking of studying?” a girl asks me.

“Well, I actually graduated from university last year…” I didn’t mention wanting to get my master’s next year – no need to exacerbate how old I was clearly going to seem to them.

After the typical confusion and delays that are to be expected when trying to get twenty-odd people – teenagers, at that – on the road, we finally set off. The sun was shining, I had control of the iPod – can you ask for much more from the passenger seat? We made our way across my ever-beloved Canterbury Plains before hills started to rise up around us. In the distance were the Alps, covered in even more snow than the weekend before. Richard, one of my new young friends in the back seat, tells us to look out for certain rock formations that should be coming up in the hills beside us: Frog Rock, Seal Rock (which Phil claimed more resembles a slouching lizard), and Lion Rock. Lion Rock gets its moniker from its weak resemblance to the open jaws of a lion; Chair Rock is nothing more than two stones set at a ninety-degree angle, one of them upright like the back of a chair.

“Man, this is so disappointing,” Richard says. “They seemed so cool as a kid. I coulda sworned it looked like a massive sofa. I almost wish I hadn’t seem them.”

While Richard mourned the disillusions of his childhood, I kept up watch for more formations. We never did find Frog Rock.

I don’t know what I was expecting from Hanmer Springs. I suppose when I heard “hot springs,” I had envisioned something more along the lines of pools dug out near riverbeds or tucked away among ferns and mossy rocks on the mountainside. What I found was that Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa is quite the commercial affair. The first thing that greets you upon arrival is an impressive price list detailing about fifty different entry options – single adult, single adult return ticket, children under 3, children over 3 but under 15, and even a mini group entry for two adults and up to three children but only one and a half dogs – they’ve covered all their bases.

After making your ticket selection at check-in, the attendant slaps a bracelet around your wrist and herds you along towards the changing rooms inside the complex. You shove your bags and belongings into wooden cubbies obviously ill-designed for the normal size of such a bag – or shell out $2 for an appropriately-sized locker – before heading into one of the nine pools. There’s quite the range of temperatures to be found, from 33-42 degrees Celsius, about 90-110 degrees Fahrenheit, and a cold pool if you get tired of the heat. Among the nine pools, some are modeled after traditional pools, some are landscaped with large boulders and greenery for a natural touch, and the sulfur pools are left chlorine-free – and your nose can tell, trust me.

The whole affair was all too reminiscent of a day spent at Water Country USA or some other watery amusement park. Of course, not being in America meant it was far less tacky, not so much designed with the A.D.D. soul in mind, or built to guarantee a sensory overload. But as soon as we stepped into the first pool, a photographer in board shorts and a polo wades his way over to us and snaps a series of shots, which we are helpfully informed will be available for our viewing pleasure in the gift shop as we exit for the day. The family pool area features hydroslides and a mutant giant wooden bucket that refills every ten seconds or so and, if you so desire, empties itself on you in a cascade of water.

But the setting couldn’t have been more picturesque. The Alps in plain view, steam rising all around, shafts of winter sunlight filtering through pine trees and steam (doesn’t sunlight always seem to “filter” in this kind of writing?). And all I did for four hours was soak it in, letting every customer, phone call, or messed-up order of the past week slip away in the mist.

It was a bather’s paradise. I’ve never been much of a bath or hot tub person – something about soaking myself for extended periods of time in hot water always leaves me feeling groggy and light-headed. But if it doesn’t leave you feeling like you might pass out, these hot springs are for you. What was so completely un-amusement-park-like about it was that there wasn’t anything to actually do. The point is just to be – to pick a pool of your choice and let the steam envelope you.

We dined for lunch in the Gardenside Café, where I paid approximately 400% the normal price for a burger and fries. But I was starving and as it was inside the complex, I sat in the restaurant in my bathing suit, wrapped in a towel. Walking from pool to pool, it felt like a day at the beach. Even the village of Hanmer Springs itself is replete with cafes, fish and chips shops, and – my favorite – mini-golf courses, which, of course, any American knows is a standard feature of a beachside town.

After lunch we walked into the heart of the village, where some of the boys ordered a late lunch at a fish and chips shop and I subsequently found a burger priced at a quarter of what I paid for mine. Excellent. Kailim and I did a couple of trails of a  “Woodland Walk,” taking in creeks, lakes, ducks; all part of your average Woodland Wonderland. We then drove up a hill with some of his friends to catch incredible views of the village, the Alps, and surrounding valleys. Another girl asks me, “Can you get this kind of view in America?” I have no doubt something similar could be beheld in the Rockies or Yosemite or Yellowstone, but certainly nowhere I’ve ever been on the East Coast. And that’s what there is to love about New Zealand – the accessibility of nature. Everything is so close. I’ve been told that the farthest anyone would have to drive from anywhere in New Zealand to the nearest beach would be a couple of hours, and I can imagine the same goes for stunning Alpine vistas.

As I had a staff party to attend back in Christchurch that evening, I went straight to the showers rather than one last trip to the pools with the others. I could have been in a YMCA for all I knew. Cold showers behind plastic vinyl shower curtains, group changing areas, frigid tile floors. Except…it wasn’t summer and I’d spent the day in hot springs, not in a wave pool, lazy river, or traveling backwards in a intertube down the Aquaforce 3000x thrill ride with two loops and a gut-wrenching drop. 

The familiar meets the new – I’m beginning to see a pattern.

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