Another Year Gone

Next week will mark two years in New Zealand.  Two years.  In some ways, that seems like such a long period of time, and it others, so little.  To mark the one year anniversary last year, I took stock of what I’d learned over the year, what I’d done, how I’d changed.  I tried to make sense of whether living on the opposite side of the planet made things different.  Made me different.  Two years in, it’s time to take stock again.  So.  Here’s what I’ve learned and what I’ve done in the last year.

I’ve made new friends.

I’ve lost others.

I’ve discovered a love for vegetarian sushi.  And yum cha brunch on Sundays at Great Eastern.

–And insanely-expensive-but-oh-so-gorgeous-delicious-and-exotic cocktails at the Hippopotamus restaurant bar with girlfriends.

–And lemon chicken at Cha before going to the movies at the Embassy.

–And raspberry pastries from the Simply Paris stall at the Sunday market.  Or maybe a Roti wrap from the Indo-Asia food truck at the same Sunday market.  Or the Cambodian noodles.

–And garlic Naan bread and dahl from Masala, with its dark red walls and Miles Davis CDs playing in the background.

I’ve discovered I have favourite places in Wellington, many of which are not on the tourist map.  Several of which are. Many of which are places to eat, drink, and read a few good books.

I now subscribe to two magazines that ascribe to a life lived consciously, sustainably, and with as few chemicals and processes as possible.  I have decided to make my own kitchen counter cleaner after successfully making my own shower cleanser.  (Vodka!  It’s all about cheap vodka!)

I have grown to like eating lamb—especially with chickpeas and homemade yogurt sauce with chili and mint.

I’ve been reminded that it really is true: Where you go, there you are.  I am the same Jenn with same Jenn issues and the same Jenn successes no matter where I live or what I do.

I’ve been impulsive and have been glad for it in the end.  (In fact, I leave today for a trip to India for a friend’s wedding.)

I vacillate between hyper-planning (my usual mode) and no planning (Jenn 2.0).  The fact that I even contemplate “no planning” is amazing.

Aside from a plane ticket and few required bits of planning, I have not planned my trip to India.  I am reliant on the maxim that everything will work out in the end.

I continue to jaywalk brazenly.  I also continue to follow the rules related to standing in queues and obeying Official Signs.

I have started referring to “lines” “queues” and I use the word “heaps”.  But I still refuse to call an elevator a “lift”.

I don’t think I can handle hot climates anymore.  But I’m still not a fan of biting cold.  Wellington winters make me long for Savannah summers.

I have succeeded in the art of layering.  Mostly.

I have cut my hair short after years of growing it out and keeping it long.  I’m still not sure who the woman is staring at me in the mirror.  I suppose that’s a metaphor for life.  Though living amongst the Wellington uber-hipster-intelligencia has taught me that this is a tired, tedious, and obvious metaphor.

I miss home every day.  But I’ve come to realise that at home, I’d miss Wellington every day.  Because Wellington is my home too.

I have always been a quirky set of contradictions.  I remain so.  Only with funny spelling added to the mix.

I’ll end this blog with three things that have come to amuse me about living in New Zealand:

  1.  My fondness for gossip magazines, which heavily feature the Royals.

My guilty secret

  1. Assigned seating in movie theatres (which people follow.  There have been “incidents” when people were sitting in the wrong seats).

Seat D-5, and don’t you forget it!

  1. Drying my clothes on a line instead of in a dryer.  It really is—in many respects—a nicer way to dry your clothes.

Now.  What will the next year bring?

A Day in the Life

My Sunday, in pictures.

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Queenstown? It’s a Mystery!

We spent last weekend in Queenstown, which is in the south-western corner of the South Island. We needed some serious R&R. The last few months have been difficult for lots of reasons (which is in large part why I haven’t updated my blog in so long!).

We didn’t choose Queenstown; rather, it was chosen for us. Air New Zealand has a very cool product called the Mystery Trip. It makes a fabulous gift (which this was for us) and covers airfares for two, accommodation for two nights, and transfers to and from the airport. In return, you turn up at the airport on the chosen day and find out where you’re going for the weekend.

To me, the best part about Queenstown is that it is a gateway to some seriously cool places, like Fiordland National Park, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I’d longed to get to that part of New Zealand since moving here. To me, Fiordland represents what’s left of a vast, wild tangle of land that cannot be “conquered” by man, and is so breath-taking, that man couldn’t bear to do so anyway (though that sentiment may be changing). Whatever you’re looking for you can find at Fiordland: glaciers, woodlands, waterfalls, rivers, sounds, fjords, mountains, and plains. It is a riot of sounds, colors, and ecosystems.

The river leading to the "Chasm", Fiordland. You can barely see it, but the water is glacial blue. There's a good reason for that--it's glaical water.

In contrast, Queenstown is a riot of ski and tourist shops, bars, and leopard printed jeggings and ski pants.

From reading that, you might think I didn’t enjoy Queenstown. That’s not strictly true. I did enjoy many parts of it. We enjoyed the gondola, the botanical gardens, and two visits to the Onsen Hot Pools. We had lovely meals at reasonable prices and didn’t lack for entertainment. It’s a picturesque gem of a ski town situated on a beautiful lake.

But perhaps—in a way—that’s what I didn’t like about it. Queenstown caters to the international tourist. There’s an almost perfection to the wide, beautifully appointed walkways; the names of shops are clever and visually appealing; you get ice in your water glass without asking. And everywhere you turn, you hear an American accent.

It was discomfiting to hear. It was embarrassing to see how some of countrymen conducted themselves. It was bizarre that I stared at the ice in my water glass and wondered for half a second what it was and why it was there. (Generally speaking, you don’t get ice in drinks here—not unless you request it. Nor do you generally have your order taken tableside at a café.)

Looking down onto Queenstown, with The Remarkables in the background.

I like that much of New Zealand is imperfect and remote; that it hasn’t been “Disneyfied”; that it retains an essential Kiwi-ness that you can’t find anywhere else.

Perhaps that’s why I much preferred our journey to Fiordland and Milford Sound on Saturday. You felt the fragility of your humanity in the face of implacable stone and ice. It was amazing. Thrilling. Awesome (in both the literal and colloquial sense of the word). I could have spent weeks tramping the various walking tracks and just *being* there.

Bill Bryson wrote an engaging book on this issue, called, “A Walk in the Woods, which was about his tramp along the Appalachian Trail. He experienced many of the same things, including the discomfiting experience of the resort towns along the way.

There is nothing quite as humbling as feeling for a moment the contradiction of having a vast wilderness to yourself and knowing that your short stay is at the land’s leisure. It puts everything into perspective; it’s like a press of life’s reset button.

Below are some pictures from the trip. We can’t wait to go back and spend some serious time having our own little walk in the woods.

Sitting at the shore of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown, New Zealand

A cairn in a valley in Fiordland.

Milford Sound. No words.

A close-up of Sterling Falls in Milford Sound. These falls are about 400 meters (1200 feet) high.

Me at the start of the Gertrude Saddle track. No, I didn't do it. It required alpine and navigation skills on an unmarked trail that takes 4-6 hours to complete. It's only 3.5 ks.

A Kiwi Thanksgiving

What do you do when you live in a country that doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, and doesn’t have turkeys, cranberries, and all other “Thankgsiving-ish” foods available in late November?  You improvise.

Yesterday, T and I had our second annual “Kiwi Thanksgiving”, which consists of Chinese takeaway and homemade desserts.  Why Chinese takeaway?  Because I was so over trying to make things from home in a place that doesn’t have things from home, that I just gave up.  Chinese it was, and it was delicious.  It all started with the dessert, you see.

Last year, I made gingerbread pumpkin trifle.  It’s a thirty minute recipe, assuming you have gingerbread mix, Cool-whip, Libby’s canned pumpkin, and Jello vanilla pudding mix.  When you have none of these things, it’s a five day recipe.  Between roasting pumpkin, whipping cream, researching how to make pudding mix (this could be the subject of a blog post all on its own!), and paying $10 for a bottle of molasses to make real gingerbread, this became the most expensive and time-consuming dessert in history.  To make matters worse, when I was finished, I was universally confronted with the following questions:

“Pumpkin for dessert?  Really?  Why would you ever do that to a pumpkin?”

These questions were usually followed by slight shivers and vaguely green cast to the skin of the questioner.

This year, though, I was prepared.  Not only did I make sure I had vanilla pudding mix from home, I used crushed gingersnaps instead of gingerbread.  And I made sure to make two other desserts–chocolate pecan pie and cranberry orange apple pie.  That, plus some creative papermaking ideas from this blog, and I was set.  We had sixteen guests this year, and plenty of orange beef and egg foo young to go around.  Here are some pictures from the event.

To all of my friends at home, happy, happiest of Thanksgivings to you.  Know that I thankful that all of you are in my life.

Our buffet table. (I spent an hour ironing that sheet. I'm not very good at ironing...)

My Thanksgiving "fast facts". Did you know that Thanksgiving used to last for 3 days

The thankfulness basket--anonymous and read aloud after dinner. This is always fun. Especially when you can tell who wrote what! We got a lot of thoughts of thankfulness for good friends and family, but a few thoughts for bare-chested, very fit men running in the summer.

Banners! (We, perhaps, went overboard)

Dessert!

What says Thanksgiving like Chinese takeaway!?

why not have some fun with the descriptions?

Yes, one more banner....

And finally…

The Thanksgiving Smurfs are courtesy of our good friends Anna and Paddy, who found them in a second-hand shop last year.

Happy Thanksgiving to all I know and love!  To my friends at home, eat some pumpkin pie, cornbread dressing, and cranberry sauce for me.  (And some turkey, too!)

In praise of Kiwi-dom

Hillary Clinton wisely observed that New Zealand punches well above its weight in the international arena.  She’s not the first to say this, and I doubt she’ll be the last.  And she couldn’t have been more right.

I think for most people in the US, the concept of New Zealand is rather fuzzy.  Before moving here, I always assumed that New Zealand was a stone’s throw from Australia.  And while Australia is New Zealand’s closest “big” neighbor, Antarctica is in the same block.

Where in the world is New Zealand?

That's New Zealand. The long speck at the left, bottom

To put this into perspective, Australia is approximately 1,826 miles away from New Zealand, which is roughly the flying distance between Savannah and Las Vegas (give or take a few miles).  Antarctica is approximately 3,000 miles away from New Zealand, which is a bit more (by 200 miles) than the flying distance between Key West and Seattle. Fiji and Tonga are both closer to New Zealand, at 1,615 and 1,483 miles away, respectively.

These sound like huge distances, and they are.  But when you’re on a small island at the bottom of the South Pacific, you’ll take your neighbors where you can find them.

But let’s take a moment and talk about size.  The size of New Zealand (a composite of all of the islands making up the country) is comparative to the state of Colorado. New Zealand’s population (approximately 4.36 million) is a bit more than the population of Kentucky and a bit less that the population of Louisiana.  For comparison purposes, the population of Colorado is approximately 4.95 million.   (2010 US Census).

So.  We have a country at the bottom of the world, roughly the size of Colorado, and with only 4.36 million people, which sits in the shadow of its much larger neighbor, Australia.  What could New Zealand possibly offer on the international stage?  A lot.

Here’s what I’ve learned about Kiwis.

Kiwis are brave and willing as:

ANZAC (Australia New Zealand Army Corps) memorial

In the Gallipoli campaign of World War I, 2,721 New Zealand soldiers were killed and 4,852 were seriously wounded.  Just taking into account those who died, that represented approximately one percent of New Zealand’s population at the time.

Consider that figure in US numbers. America’s current population is approximately 312 million.  Losing one percent of the US population in a single military campaign would equate to roughly 3.12 million people.  This would be like losing the entire population of Iowa and her visitors. 

That is an especially sobering thought when you consider that the Kiws and the Turks who fought against each other in the Gallipoli campaign were considered expendable pawns in a far more deadly game.

Kiwis have a long, distinguished history of performing well in conflict.  Consider the 28th Maori Battalion in World War II.  Among other successes, it was responsible for almost completely destroying a German panzer grenadier battalion in March 1943.

After 9/11,New Zealand was one of the first nations to offer its assistance.  It still is.

While New Zealand is small, and even the Kiwis joke about the Navy consisting of single dinghy, never underestimate the ingenuity and tenaciousness of a New Zealander.

Kiwis are ingenious as:

And speaking of ingenuity, the phrase “Kiwi ingenuity” doesn’t just refer to things held together by string and tape.  Here’s just a sample of the things Kiwis did first:

  • They split the atom.   Kiwi, scientist and Nobel Prize winner Baron Ernest Rutherford was the first in the world to split the atom in 1919.
  • They invented the eggbeater, spiral hair pin, and the first burglar-proof window.  All three are courtesy of Ernest Godward, who was British born, but emigrated to New Zealand in his teens.
  • Jet boats, water sprinklers, advanced air compressors, and a thingy that smooths ice on ice ponds.  All of these were courtesy of Sir William Hamilton.
  • Jogging.  Yes, jogging is a Kiwi invention thought up by Arthur Lydiard.

You also have Kiwis to thank for items like disposable hypodermic syringes; spreadable butter; tranquilizer guns; referee whistles; and air-tight lids.  And of course, New Zealand is the birthplace of the Bungy.

 Kiwis are egalitarian as:

While egalitarianism permeates most structures in New Zealand, what I’m really referring to is the fact that New Zealand completely ignores its size and thumbs its nose at the strictures of hierarchy, whether at work, or in government.

Consider that the US wanted to dock the USS Buchanan (a ship that may or may not have been nuclear powered and/or carrying nuclear weapons—the US would neither confirm nor deny) at a New Zealand port. New Zealand said no.  Why?  Because New Zealand had declared itself a nuclear-free zone (in part, in response to the request to dock) and wasn’t interested in budging on that.

The US responded by suspending its ANZUS alliance obligations to New Zealand.

According to Wikipedia (you know, the font of all knowledge), “New Zealand’s three decade anti-nuclear campaign is the only successful movement of its type in the world which resulted in the nation’s nuclear-free zone status being enshrined in legislation.”

I think there was a healthy consideration of, “Who was New Zealand to tell the US that they couldn’t park their boat in New Zealand”?    Who was New Zealand?  She was herself.  That’s pretty darn cool, when you think about it.

nuclear-free protestors in NZ. (Image courtesy of NZhistory.net)

But beyond a little nation saying “no” to a big nation, since moving to New Zealand, I’ve seen strikes, protests, sit-ins, rallies, marches, and other forms of political expression about everything from caged chickens, to worker’s rights, to the price of milk.

What is most incredible to me is that, as an American, I am bemused by this.  That’s extraordinarily sad, really.  When I think about why I’m bemused, it’s because if I were at home, I probably wouldn’t bother with making protest fliers or marching on Parliament.  Perhaps I’ve become too jaded and apathetic about the “little guy’s” voice being anything more than a whisper against the din of political self-interest.

Either way, New Zealand is refreshing in its egalitarian zeal.  I find myself protective of that earnestness, that true belief that every voice matters; every vote counts.

That extends to personal issues as well. New Zealand recognizes same sex marriage and civil unions.  All people—gay, straight, transgendered, whatever—are afforded a level of dignity and normalcy that I can’t say I’ve seen in other places.

And finally (and some would say most importantly), I close with the fact that New Zealand was the first country to give women the right to vote.  In 1893, no less.

That, to quote a good friend, is ‘Choice, bro.’

The day I called the Wellington Central Library a toliet

I confess.  It’s true.  I called the Wellington Central library a toilet.

It was completely unintentional.  You see, I called it a wharapaku (pronounced FAR-eh-pah-koo), instead of a whare pukapuka (FAR-eh-poo-kah-poo-kah).  The importance of this will soon become clear.

I have always loved languages.  Over the last few years I have slowly been delving into Te Reo Maōri, which is the Maōri language.   It is an evocative, beautiful language.

But even if I didn’t love learning new languages, living in New Zealand requires a very basic understanding of many common Maōri words and phrases.  Regardless of whether you’re Maōri or Pakeha (non-Maōri European), everyone knows that you eat kai (food); that when you say Kia ora, you’re informally saying hello; and that the world needs more aroha (love).  Morena is “Good morning” and ka kite ano (pronounced kah KEE-tay AH-no), roughly translates to, “See you again.”  Iwi (pronounced EE-wee) refers to a tribal family, but it also means bones. 

Place names in New Zealand are often made up of component words and are poetic translations.  You can usually puzzle out what many words mean simply by knowing what each component means.  For instance, Aotearoa (OW-te-ah-row-ah) translates to land of the long white cloud and is the Maōri name for New Zealand. 

Another good example is Wainuiomata (pronounced Why-new-ee-oh-mah-tah).  Wainuiomata is a suburb of the HuttValley, just outside of Wellington.  Wai means water.  Nui means big.  O means of, and Mata could refer to a person’s name.  So, one possible translation is ‘the place of Mata’s big water’. 

I did a little bit of Googling to see if I was right.  According to wainuiomata.net, I was close.  It states:

The origins of the word are disputed, but one commonly accepted translation refers to the women who came over the Wainuiomata Hill to evade marauding tribes from the north, and who sat wailing by the stream after the slaughter of their menfolk. From this we have ‘faces streaming with water’ or ‘tears’ although it could equally refer to the large pools of water which lay over the swampy surface (face) of the northern end of the Valley, and which led to that area being known to the first settlers as ‘The Lowry Bay Swamp’.

 See?  Fabulous.  There are all sorts of great stories behind the origins of Te Reo Maōri words. 

Te Reo Maōri is also constantly evolving.  For instance, traditional Te Reo Maōri didn’t have a word or concept for airplane.  So the Te Reo Maōri translation for airplane is waka rereangi, which literally means canoe sailing in the sky.  (Generally speaking, waka refers to any and all forms of transport). 

As part of that evolution, you find a lot of transliterations in Te Reo as well.  The traditional word for Monday, for example, is Rāhina (RAH-hee-nah), but its transliteration is “Mane” (pronounced, MAH-neh). 

To be fair, though, knowing a little Te Reo is like knowing a little French—you generally wind up unintentionally insulting someone when trying to ask for a glass of water.  And that’s exactly what happened when I called the Wellington Library a toilet.

The word for toilet in Te Reo is wharepaku, which (as I understand it) translates roughly to small (paku) house (whare).  (Though in this sense, I think “small” is less of a description of size—which would more likely be “iti’—than a description of stature). 

The word for library whare pukapuka roughly translates to house of books. 

I realise that these are very distinct concepts and words.  However, for someone who knows so little about the language, wharepaku sort of kind of maybe sounds a bit like whare pukapuka. 

So, as T and I strolled through theWellingtonCBD one Saturday afternoon and I pointed to the grand Wellington Central Library and said, “Look, it’s the wharapaku!”, you can imagine why he choked on his soda and started laughing. 

As you can see, the Wellington Central Library is not insubstantial. And it is definitely NOT a toilet!

Te Reo Maōri is an official language of New Zealand, but there was a time when children in school were forbidden to speak it.  There was a time in the not so distant past when it seemed as if Te Reo would die an unceremonious and needless death.  Through many recent efforts and much encouragement—both private and public—there is now a slow and steady movement towards more New Zealanders having a working fluency in Te Reo. 

I tell this story (and give you this lesson) because I think it’s important to preserve indigenous culture.  A huge part of that preservation is maintaining a base of knowledge of the language.  Without the language, we are lost.  I realise it may seem odd that an American living in New Zealand is saying this.  Maybe it is odd.  I don’t know.  I guess part of it is that so much of the Native American culture is now lost, as are the people, the languages, the crafts.  The history.  Perhaps that’s why I’m so keen on this topic.  For me (and for my wounded pride) I hope that means that many, many more people will proudly (albeit mistakenly) point to the library and exclaim, “Look!  There’s the toilet!”

To Wellington, with love

I had intended to blog about a recent disastrous skirt purchase, but after walking the waterfront this morning, I decided that an open love letter to Wellington was in order. There was just something a bit magical about today, a jumble sale’s worth of mish-mashed activities and things all coming together and reminding me what I love best about Wellington and New Zealand.

My day started like most Sunday mornings.  I walk to the Sunday Market almost every week.  The Sunday Market is a farmer’s market, first and foremost, but is also a haven for foodies and those who live by the idea of local, organic ingredients.  In addition to my onions and broccolini, I can get fresh fish; ethically farmed and butchered venison and lamb; and organic, free-range eggs.  I can also enjoy an authentic quesadilla, Cantonese noodles, Roti, Brazilian barbecue, French pastries, and Maori specialities, all while listening to a variety of buskers singing the likes of Elvis, Johnny Cash, and traditional Maori songs.

Placard for a Sunday Market food stall

Brazilian barbecue, anyone?

Delicious jams and cakes for sale!

 

 

This is the view that greets me when I leave my apartment and head towards work (or in today’s case) the Sunday market. People say that you can’t beat Wellington on a good day.  It’s true.

Wellington, on a gorgeous day.

One of the best parts of my Sunday morning is spotting the markers for the Poet’s Walk.  This one perfectly describes what the day starts like in Wellington.

On the wharf, part of the Wellington Poet's Walk

Before I got to the market, though, I came across this.

Of course I had to take a quick glance.  A quick glance turned into an hour and the purchase of two signed prints and a new handmade leather journal.  But these tickled me.  “Hotties” are essential in the winter here.  I never understood the joy that is a hot water bottle nestled at your feet until recently.  And of course, a hot water bottle by itself is boring.  It definitely needs some tarting up!

"hottie" covers, handmade from felted wool.

Finally on my way to the market, I stopped at Te Papa (the national museum of New Zealand) and enjoyed the window displays.  In addition to everything else going on, Wellington is also hosting the World of Wearable Art, or WOW.  It is a celebration of art displayed on bodies instead of canvases, with endless categories.  This is a display of a dress made of ground tarps and bottle caps.  Amazing!

One of the previous WOW dresses, made from industrial materials.

Detail of the dress: painted tarp ruffles and bottle caps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally getting to the market, I elbowed my way through the throng and snapped up veggies for the week.  Avocados and peppers were on sale (usually $3 and $5 each, respectively this time of year), and I heard the voice of veggie tacos calling.

One of the veggie stalls at the Sunday Market

Care for some Japanese bok choy?

On my way back—ladden as I was with veggies, prints, a new journal, and a chocolate brioche from Simply Paris’s (a gorgeous little French patisserie just down the way from our apartment) market stall, I stumbled across another one of my favorite Poet Walk quotes.

Part of the Wellington Poet's Walk

I reflected on that as I strolled home and I thought about everything I’d see today—the ingenuity, the creativity, the community coming together, and the meld of disparate cultures and ideas, all melding together into one dazzling day—and I realized that’s what I loved best about Wellington, what I love best about New Zealand.

So, to my beautiful Wellington, thank you for always making me smile and for reminding me on a daily basis all that is truly good and wonderful in this life.

Yours,

Kiwijenn

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