Well now that we’ve slipped into a version of routine I can now take stock of the changes in our life over here. Firstly, they fall into two broad categories. 1) How the place we are in is different from home and 2) how we have changed due to our new circumstance. For example, in the first category I’m constantly amazed at the difference in prices. Some things like food are 2 to 3 times the price here. Doing the grocery shop can be painful for me but ceding control to Julie who doesn’t share my affliction with spending, means that food purchases are based on a meal plan and not on what is on sale.
On the flipside we can go indoor rock climbing until our arms fall off for under $5.
In the second category of change it is us that is different. We have modified our lives to adapt to our new reality.
Some observations of differences in the first category:
People aren’t on their phones as much. In fact we were at a country festival last weekend and I got separated from Julie. I picked up my phone to call her and suddenly felt self-conscious. I looked around. Despite hundreds of people, young and old, walking around there wasn’t a single person on a device. It creeped me out that that creeped me out.
Phone and data plans are cheaper and simpler in NZ. I’m sure the reasons are complicated but we are paying half as much for our plans here than at home.
Tax and tip are included. Sure the prices are higher but what you see is what you pay. This is good.
No homework on the weekend. Yet.
High and rising minimum wage. $20 by 2021.
Your employer must contribute to your retirement savings and you aren’t allowed to take it out until you retire.
The relationship with the Maori seems based on respect rather than tokenism. This is obviously complicated and will take a long time to absorb properly so I won’t comment further.
Roundabouts. Sure, they eat up a bit more real estate than intersections but they are fun and greatly improve traffic flow. Cheaper than bridges.
People deal with chilly homes when it is cold. Because our winters require central heating the concept of temperature controlled homes is omnipresent and was something I took for granted.
Bare feet. Kids go barefoot. Outside, in the streets, in stores. The first day I saw Camille go to school barefoot I asked “Where are your shoes!?” She shrugged “whatever”.
Coffee. There aren’t as many places to get coffee and certainly not cheap coffee but when you do get coffee it is good coffee.
Metal roofs. Everyone has one and they make so much more sense. Why are they so expensive at home! More investigation is needed – stay tuned.
Meth. Also called ‘P’ here. I haven’t see it but many talk about it as if it is a national crisis. All the houses we viewed made sure to get their meth inspection certification. They say it’s easier to obtain than marijuana. Epidemic or puritan over-reaction?
Clear-cutting. You often see patches of hillside that have been stripped bare and the ominous trucks of fresh timber barreling down the narrow roads. Here nature and man live so close together and I can’t help but wonder how sustainable the collision is of this ancient land and the rather new machinations of international economics.
Trees and birds. The trees are prehistorically massive and produce comical shapes to my eye.
The birds are beyond plentiful. They are always singing in the background and often songs that sound more like 8-bit video games than living creatures. A few times they have slammed into our windows. The lucky ones leave an imprint of their squish on the window, the unlucky ones fall to the ground and promptly die.
Halloween is different too. They just aren’t as hard core. The costumes are a slapdash affair and there are no pumpkins (this makes finding the houses that give out candy difficult). Also, it is warm and light out. Weird but more relaxing. I wonder what Christmas on the beach is going to be like.
All of these things seem novel at the moment and it is easy to be rosy when looking at the very surface of a new place. It is much harder to get a deeper look at it’s subtleties. Also, I know I will be leaving and some problems, if I even see them, will only be temporary for me. But this is a problem with all travel and I hope that at least our extended stay will give us a finer-stroked and honest picture of this place.
But equally interesting to these differences is the change that we’ve created for ourselves by taking ourselves out of our Ritchie Avenue rhythm.
In this second category of change it is us that has modified ourselves to adapt to our new reality. To me nothing represents this more than the thinness of my wallet. Not so much that I’m poor but rather it’s contents has been greatly reduced due to our simplified finances. My wallet contains: 1 bank card, 1 loyalty card for the supermarket, 1 health insurance phone number that I hope I never have to use, a $10 bill (it’s largely a cashless economy here), a kid’s tooth and a band-aid. My thin wallet makes me happy. Like a newly cleaned room, it’s simplicity breathes calm into me.
Like canoeing across lakes and making jigsaw puzzles, baking bread is one of my favourite activities because I have a Pavlovian response to the fact that I’m doing something that requires a lot more time.
We also bought a cookbook by NZ chef Al Brown and are working our way through various recipes like cottage pie, self-saucing pudding, and butter-date crumpets.
We have less stuff. Like being in a hotel room, I absolutely know where everything is. This has its bad side though. Trying to source a screwdriver becomes a mission rather than a drawer pull. I’m constantly trying to figure out whether I need to buy something or not for the time we are here. For example: our place doesn’t have a blender. Do we just go without a blender for 7 months or do we buy one? (Spoiler alert: we bought a used magic bullet for $1.50) What about bikes? Kayak? Roof rack? Desks for the kids? Egg poacher? Sweatband? Hammock? A whiteboard? Paintbrushes? Waste baskets? Shelves?Oh oh, you can see where this heading…
All in all we are trying to use our time to both try out new things but also create better habits that hopefully we can bring home with us and rely on when the demands of more work and actually having family and friends to share our lives with are added back into the mix.