Sunday, March 27, 2011

Cultural Quirks and Things I Miss

Monday, 28th March, 2011
Nelson, New Zealand

With April looming up in the headlights and just under two months left in New Zealand, I think it is time once again to reflect on some of the cultural differences we've experienced/are experiencing over here, and to take note of some things we distinctly miss about home. From the profound to the random, we have made note of a variety of distinctions in culture and way of life, and I'd like to share them with you all here.

**Before I begin, let me give a disclaimer here. The things I'm going to talk about are based purely on my own and Matt's observations and experiences in New Zealand, and may not necessarily be representative of the entire country or culture. Our observations may also be intertwined with our opinions, and in comparison to how we have experienced things back home in the states, which may also not be entirely representative of American culture. Some of these issues are quite sensitive, and I don't want anyone to think that we have an ill opinion of either New Zealand or America because of them; these are just differences we've noticed, that seem worth sharing and reflecting on. We have had an amazing experience here in this country, and we also love and miss our home; we are not trying to say that one is any better than the other; there are good and bad aspects to both cultures, so please just keep that in mind.

So here we go:
  • I'll dive into one of the heavier issues first: parenting style. In general, we have noticed a difference in Kiwi attitudes towards parenting, versus what we are accustomed to in the U.S. In New Zealand, we notice that parents tend to give children more responsibility at a younger age, that they become more self sufficient and are not catered to as much as most American children we know. While I think there is a bit of a protective attitude in the U.S. of constantly checking up on your child and making sure they never do anything that might get them hurt (which is a good thing), what we've seen in NZ is that children are brought up to entertain themselves, get what they need for themselves (within reason), and learn by getting themselves into sticky situations and learning the consequences for themselves (which is also a good thing). We have also noticed a lack of discipline/consequences when watching parenting just in stores, in parks, on the beaches, etc, compared to what I have observed back home. Again this is purely our observations, but we've seen far more of parents here giving in to their children to keep them quiet, rather than setting boundaries and expectations and following up on them, or else just letting a child cry or tantrum until they get over it, and not really address the issue at all. I don't want to express an opinion on this, because I'm not totally sure how I feel about it, and also because it seems to go hand-in-hand with the cruizy, laidback culture in general, and the vast majority of Kiwi children still grow up quite well-adjusted, healthy, and well loved. 
(Click on Photos to Enlarge)
 Wharenui on a Marae in Rotorua
  • The attribute of not setting expectations is something we have experienced several times ourselves while in New Zealand, which is what makes me think it's just a part of the culture. I'm such a planner and scheduler that it's something I have a hard time with, but I do appreciate the easygoingness of it as well. From our Workaway experience on the Coromandel to goat-hunting in Taranaki, we have had the experience of being invited to do something, and having the actual activity be entirely different from what was suggested in the first place. "A few beers on the beach" turns into an all-night party, with no warning that you might need warm clothes, something to sleep in, and a sober ride home. "Come to our house and then we'll go to a friend's place up the road" can mean a 45-minute drive and then backtracking half an hour back to the friend's house, when you could have just met there in the first place. We've also run into this type of phenomenon while job-searching, countless times. "Yes, we're hiring, leave us your c.v. and we'll call you next week" has, almost exclusively, turned out to mean "We think we'll hire someone this summer, but we don't know when and for what hours, and by the time we've figured it out two months from now, you'll be leaving town anyway."  I know that sounds harsh, but it's been an incredibly frustrating aspect of the culture for us. Laidback is awesome, but especially when it comes to job searching, and also our own safety, it gets old pretty quickly. Given more time, I'm sure we could get used to it, but in such a short amount of time it's been very hard to secure work. There's a very straightforward method and set of expectations to job searching in the states, and it's been difficult to cope with the differences here, and so many times we have been told that we will have work or be contacted soon, only to be let down. Kiwis in general seem to have a hard time naming a distinct time, place, and expectations for anything. The answer to "What time should we get up tomorrow?" is usually "Oh, I'll just knock on your door," and "Just come over later" seems to be the name of the game for everything else. 
 A typical New Zealand Villa/Victorian style house, New Plymouth.
  • Racism. Believe me, I know there is racism in the U.S., clearly we have a massive history of it, and I am not usually directly exposed to what is left of it nowadays. But I have to say, in the U.S., it is widely culturally unacceptable to do or say anything remotely racist. I don't mean to say it doesn't happen; I am very aware that it does occur through many areas of our culture, but in general if you were to say something racist or culturally derogatory in a public place or social gathering in the states, especially to a stranger, there would be a massive uproar immediately. That said, while racism is clearly discouraged in New Zealand, and this country is, generally, doing a far better job than the U.S. of integrating cultures while preserving and protecting important cultural differences, we see and hear derogatory comments all the time, without comment or reaction from bystanders. I can't tell you how many times we've heard about "those f*&%ing Maoris" from people we've just met, and Matt observed a customer at a petrol station comment to her children about "those stupid f&%#ing Indians" in front of the Indian station attendant. That said, comments in the reverse direction occur as well; Lyn told us about Maori students at her school calling their white teachers "f&**ing Pakeha" to their faces. While it's painful and awful that there is still racism in the U.S., I suppose we are somewhat protected from seeing it, which may be a bad thing, as it makes it easier to ignore. Here in New Zealand, we see expressions of it all the time, so we are all too aware that it is occurring. What is bizarre to us is that it seems so much more...I don't want to say acceptable, because it's not, and condoned isn't really the right word either, but that's the best I can come up with. All of that aside, it has been amazing to see, for the most part, two distinctly different cultures existing side by side, while mingling and, mostly, being very accepting of the other. 
 Mural in Kaitaia
  • Patriarchy. Another sensitive subject, and another cultural aspect which, while not expressed overtly, persists nonetheless. New Zealand, while having some of the most progressive policies in the world and being the first country to give women the right to vote (in 1893), still suffers from a fairly heavy degree of male-dominated culture. Keep in mind, this is just our observations, but I'll give you some examples. We've been to several places advertising items that come in "Small" and "Man-sized" versions. Multiple ads on TV show women unable to do some task, and needing a man's help. A particularly good case of this was a commercial for a bicycle tow-line, advertised along the lines of this: "Is she having trouble getting up that hill? Use your muscle power to help her out!" Every ad for beer, barbecues, or a building supply store has some allusion to the fact that things are only for men, and always show the men being in control and the women in the background taking care of the kids or cleaning the house. Lovely. I know these kind of things are present in the states as well, but I've never seen such a massive barrage of this kind of propaganda, all trying to prove that certain things are just for men to do, and certain things are just for women to do. I've also never heard or seen so much support for "Blue is a boy's color, and pink is a girl's color." At work, I have had several parents tell me that they can't buy a red jacket for their boy, because it's too much like pink, and they don't want their boy wearing pink. I can't say anything at work, but I can't help but express an opinion here: First of all, get over it already, and take the chance to educate your children that any color they like is fine, and that pink can be a boy's color if that boy likes pink. And second of all, red is too close to pink? I'm sorry, but it's an entirely different color. Seriously.
 Haka at Waitangi

Ok, enough of the big stuff. Now we're down to the random, fun differences. 
  • Postcodes. I find this one kind of funny, but it really is an interesting difference. This came up because we ask every customer at the store for their postcode, to find out where our customers are coming from. I was flabbergasted to find out that the vast majority of our customers, and, apparently, Kiwis in general, don't know their own postcode! I finally asked about it, and it turns out that until just a couple years ago, postcodes weren't even used in most of New Zealand. Nelson only had one postcode until about two years ago, so you just wrote the street address, and "Nelson," and maybe the suburb if you wanted to get fancy. Most people still don't even use their postcode except for official business, and because there are so few people in the country and so few large cities, mail will get to you without the postcode. I think it's kind of awesome, but it's a completely foreign concept to me, because in the states the postcode (we call it a Zip Code, and it's five digits, as opposed to NZ's four) is an integral part of your address, and often mail will be returned if it doesn't have a zip code on it. In cities, the Zip Code narrows you down to about a 30-block area of town, if not smaller. In rural communities, there is one zip code for every town with a post office, which includes the surrounding area. The zip codes go basically in order of settlement, meaning that the east coast, and New England in particular, have the first postcodes, starting with 0, and most of the west coast has zip codes starting with 9. In New Zealand, the codes start in the north, with Auckland having the codes in the 1000s, working south- Nelson's are in the 7000s. 
  • Vanity Plates. Personalized car license/registration plates are very popular in New Zealand. I swear sometimes that every other car we see on the highway has a vanity plate. I don't know why they are so popular, but they are certainly easier to come by and are way way more common than in that states.  
 Our Kiwi Christmas lunch.
  • Some observations on food. New Zealand food is, in a nutshell, awesome. New Zealand is renowned for being very modern and innovative with food, while at the same time paying tribute to all the cultures that exist here, and to their membership in the commonwealth, i.e. lots of British influences. New Zealand gave the world chef Peter Gordon, as well as Simon Gault and the guys from Masterchef, and the fusion of cultures that goes on in New Zealand cuisine is evident everywhere we go. Seafood is a constant denominator here, with fish and chips topping the list of iconic Kiwi food. In an interesting twist, at least 80% of fish & chips shops also sell Chinese food. "Fish & Chips Chinese Takeaways" is probably the most common shopfront on any New Zealand street. Additionally, pretty much any restaurant you may go to, from Indian to Thai to Italian food, will also have Fish & Chips on the menu! Everyone here fishes, as you don't need a license to fish or collect shellfish on most coastal areas (this goes hand in hand with the hunting/gathering that is so common through all levels of society here). Prawns, scallops, whitebait, paua, mussels, pipi (tiny clams), oysters, snapper, tarakihi, hoki, gurnard, snapper, crayfish, and so many others, are fundamentals here, cooked by themselves, in stews, or as fritters. The famous Kiwi "barbie" or barbecue, is another wonderful thing- sausages, grilled courgette (zucchini), prawns, veggies, mushrooms, bacon (ham), streaky bacon (American bacon), everything can be cooked on the barbie. The traditional roast dinner is a step up from the British one, I would have to say- similar ingredients, but lighter, somehow. Roasted chicken or pork or lamb, mashed potatoes or kumara, peas, sausages, gravy, and usually a salad or fresh veg of some kind too. Some other distinctly Kiwi foods include pies (small, single-serving ones, in every flavor and ingredient combination imaginable), chutneys and relishes of all kinds, sweet chilli sauce (to which I am addicted), the famous Pavlova, the flat white (like a latte, but with more steamed milk), ice cream, tea biscuits (light, wafery or shortbready dunking cookies) and of course tea. Kiwis, from tough burly hunters to farmers to housewives to businessmen, are tea drinkers, making a cuppa numerous times each day. We have completely adopted this, and are also sold on the fact that not a single Kiwi establishment or home we have stayed in has used a stovetop tea kettle. Plug-in kettles (or jugs, as pitchers are called here) are the norm, and are far more speedy at heating the tea water than anything else. 
 Carved gateway at Ahipara School, Far North. 

That's all for the observations, but Matt and I have also slowly been compiling a list of things we regularly miss about home, most of which fall into the category of Random Items. Besides of course our family and friends and beautiful Portland generally, we miss:
  • Mexican food. What I wouldn't give for a carne asada taco from a dive-y Portland taco truck!
  • Cooking in cast iron. 
  • A very general thing: having our own space and ownership of it, besides the van. 
Matt misses:
  • Portland Beer! It's worth noting here that NZ beer is weaker than US beer, by a couple alcohol percentage points. 
  • Woodworking
I miss:
  • My oldest, most beat-up hooded sweatshirt. 
  • My black leggings
  • My garlic press
  • Owning a teapot (not to be confused with a teakettle)
  • My bike! Oh my bike. 
  • Country music. Real American heartland country music. Not something I normally care too much about, but one of those things you miss after being totally deprived of it for over half a year. 
  • Being able to just call up my family or friends when I feel like talking. Skype is wonderful, and email is nice, but top-ups and calling cards make it too expensive to do more than talk to my folks and brother once a month and call friends for a few minutes on important occasions.
Cathedral Cove, Coromandel Peninsula

So that's the list for now, as we look at what we'll miss and what we look forward to upon our homecoming. The more Matt and I have been thinking about going home, as that time approaches, the more I keep trying to remember what all we have in storage back in Portland, and failing. I know some general things- bike, clothes, kitchen stuff, but it's been long since I've seen any of it, and I've gotten so used to living off of so little, that it has all slipped my brain. It will be like opening one big Christmas present, as Matt said, when we empty our little storage unit sometime this summer. As it is, since September we've each lived off of a Rubbermaid bin's worth of clothes, and haven't allowed ourselves to buy anything that won't fit in the bin. We've each bought a few things since we got here, but ultimately we've each got about three pairs of pants/trousers, a couple pairs of shorts (or skirts, in my case), a few sets of long sleeves, 6 or 8 t-shirts/tank tops, a weeks' worth of underwear and socks, one dressy outfit, bathing suits, a pair of hiking boots, a pair of dress shoes, a pair of walking shoes, jandals, raincoats, long underwear, a warm hat and gloves, and a sunhat. There's a few other bits and bobs, to be sure, but that's pretty much it. I've definitely started to notice that the clothes I have are getting a bit baggy and worn out because they've been worn so much, but we're both really pleased with how well we packed, as we've used everything we brought and barely needed anything more.

That's enough reflections for now, it's time for me to make lunch and get to the rest of my day off!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Successful Bread, and Recipe!

March 26th, 2011
Nelson, New Zealand

I figured an actual recipe deserves a post of its own....

I baked a second batch of bread today, with far better success than my first attempt! I used a new recipe this time, a much more traditional one involving kneading and rising. I looked around the internet for a basic bread recipe, and then tweaked it in a few places, so here's my version:

Combine, in a large mixing bowl:

1 1/2 cups warm water
1 Tbsp. honey (if you like a slightly sweeter bread, double this amount or use white sugar instead)
1 Tbsp. yeast granules

Whisk lightly with a fork, and then let this combination sit for about ten minutes. During this time the yeast should do its stuff, foaming up and bubbling, creating a head on top of the water.

1 pinch of salt
1 Tbsp. cooking oil or olive oil
Approx. 6 cups flour, one cup at a time.

I used 2 cups wholemeal flour, and about 4 cups of white flour. Add a little at a time, stirring and mixing all the while. When the mixture begins to come away easily from the sides of the bowl and combine without being totally sticky, you've added enough flour. I think I used a bit too much, because it was a bit thick and heavy to knead (it still came out great, though!). Remove the dough from the bowl and place it on a lightly floured surface. Knead for about eight or so minutes, trying not to add too much flour to the dough. Knead by folding the dough on top of itself, giving it a quarter turn, then pushing it away from you with the heel of your hand. Repeat. When the dough has formed a cohesive, smooth ball and is no longer sticking, place it in a greased bowl, cover with a cloth, and set it somewhere relatively warm and out of the way of any draft. Let the dough rise (prove) for 1 to 2 hours. In this time it should (approximately) double in size. 

Punch down the dough, and work it for just a few seconds to pop the air bubbles in it. Don't work it too long, or the dough will become rubbery. Form into loaves or rolls, and place on greased baking sheets or in greased loaf pans. Cover again and let rise for another 45 minutes. After 35 minutes, preheat the oven to 350 F/177 C. Before you bake the loaves, slash the tops with a knife to prevent them from splitting (they will still taste great, this is a purely aesthetic touch). Bake for 25 minutes or until the loaves sound hollow when tapped. Let cool in the pans for a few minutes, then remove to a cooling rack.
This recipe makes as much bread as is shown in this photo. This bread baked for just the right amount of time, but did not brown on top. Brushing the tops with egg would make for more toasty looking bread.

Enjoy! (And let me know your results, if you try this recipe!)

Scenes from Nelson

Saturday, 26th March, 2011
Nelson, New Zealand

I'm enjoying a nice day off today, while Matt is at work (the reverse will occur tomorrow...), and in spite of the gray and rainy weather, I went into town with Nickola this morning to take a wander around Nelson's Saturday Market, and enjoyed myself thoroughly. It felt like home, a combination of Portland's Saturday Market combined with a big farmer's market, produce and food vendors mixed in with artisans selling pottery, greenstone necklaces, Manuka honey, and handmade clothes. The carpark full of stalls, hopping with people on a warm and rainy Saturday, was definitely a taste of home.

(Click on Photos to Enlarge)

I bought some fresh carrots and tomatoes, a cucumber and some free-range eggs, and scouted out all the beautiful potential gifts and souvenirs and had several fun conversations with vendors, and sampled some delicious honey and homemade peanut butter. I also took a little walk through the town centre, and snapped a few photos so you all could get a glimpse of this great little city:

 Nelson's Christchurch Cathedral, at the end of Trafalgar Street

 Our place of work, on Halifax Street. 

Trafalgar Street on a rainy market day.

Work has been busy and chaotic this week, with the start of the sale and some long hours, but we are both still thoroughly enjoying it. Matt and I haven't seen much of each other this week, with different shifts and him not home till 8:30 or 9 PM most nights. Luckily those hours are over now, and we are back to relatively sane days. This job keeps us on our toes, we are never bored, and there are all manner of things to be done, so it stays interesting. We've met people from all over the world, and yesterday served a customer from Eugene, Oregon! We have many customers from Christchurch, who evacuated to Nelson after the earthquake and are now preparing to go home and are looking for sleeping bags, camp stoves, water purification tablets, etc. I have also helped several customers who live locally but are putting together survival kits in case an earthquake or other disaster hits Nelson. The earthquake, and the sheer number of aftershocks (around a dozen a day for Christchurch, even now), in addition to the huge tragedy in Japan, has put everyone here on edge, and people are wanting to be prepared, which I suppose is a good thing. 

Having settled into work and home here in Nelson, with the days flying by very quickly and little chance for exploration, I am feeling a bit of a sense of loss and nostalgia, remembering our bygone summer days on idyllic beaches, wandering around without work or rent to worry about, surfing and freedom camping and soaking up summer. Those days seem so long ago now, and I feel almost homesick for my dark tan (which has long since faded, although I'm still far more tan than I have ever been in Oregon), living in just a bikini and jandals, and the brilliantly hot sunshine on me as I wrote letters sitting on Ahu Ahu beach in Taranaki. And for our paradisaical weeks in the Far North, swimming in the warm ocean every day, sleeping under brilliant stars and feeling like we had found heaven in the middle of nowhere. Slowly it is dawning on me-- the reality that our time left in this country is limited, and as ready and excited as I am to come home, it's a little heartbreaking to think that we will never get those days or experiences back. I'm so glad we have the memories and the photos to keep them alive for us.

Nostalgia aside, I am enjoying many aspects of being settled, like cooking! Here is one of my latest exploits in the kitchen- a chickpea and spinach stir-fry served on couscous.

 Stage 1

 Stage 2

Stage 3


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bread, and Bikes!

Tuesday, 22nd March, 2011
Nelson, New Zealand

It's been another beautiful day here at the top of the South Island, and Matt and I have had a productive and satisfying day off. The big sale at work starts tomorrow, and I work the early shift, catering to the masses of crazies who will queue up outside the door half an hour before we open. The first day of the sale is a one-time extra savings day for all the club members, who take it very seriously and have been in on scouting missions all week, so tomorrow will be pretty wild, and it felt good to get lots done today and feel prepared to face the hordes in the morning.

After having a nice long sleep in, I set about baking a batch of bread, as we've been living off of budget brand $1.50/loaf bread for the last six months and felt the need for a change. In the long run it's cheaper to bake your own bread, at least if you are comparing to nutrient-rich, healthy bread and not the cheap stuff we've been buying. So last week I bought white and wholemeal flour, yeast, and other ingredients, and today I tried out Annabel Langbein's "Busy Peoples' Bread" from her wonderful book The Free Range Cook (a bestseller in NZ, Matt and I bought it for ourselves for Christmas and sent it home with Jessa. It turns out that Nickola just so happens to have a copy in her kitchen!). This is a no-knead quick bread that rises in the oven at a lower temperature before you turn it up to bake the bread. I'd like to try it again with actual loaf pans; Nickola doesn't have any, and I had mixed success with the available baking pans:
 (Click on Photos to Enlarge)

What doesn't show in the photos is that I put one batch in a smaller, round pan at first, but as soon as it started to rise in the oven, it completely overflowed the pan and dripped all over the oven. I had to pull it out and pour the remaining dough into a larger pan. The batter is a very liquid, sticky one, not like kneaded bread dough, so you can't shape it into loaves or rolls. It's also a very yeasty bread, a taste which is probably exacerbated by the fact that it wasn't in proper pans. I'm going to try and find some loaf pans at an op-shop this week, and also maybe try a more standard bread recipe next time. Still, it's awfully tasty. The seeds on top are a mixture I bought in the bulk section at Pak-n-Save, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and dried cranberries- delicious!

We got the call today that the bikes we looked at on our weekend were ready to be picked up, so this afternoon we walked down to Stoke (about a 30 minute walk) and got our bikes, and a free regional bike map! I had been getting really stir-crazy to get out and see something new, so our maiden voyage was a ride south towards Richmond, then back north along the coastal bike route, past mud flats (the tide was out) and lots of water birds. The bike paths around here are really really great, and I can't tell you how nice it felt to be back on a bike again, even if it was a slightly small mountain bike that was misadjusted for my height, meaning I couldn't extend my legs very far at all! Have no fear- as soon as we got home, we rifled through the van for the Leatherman and an Allen key, and after a few minutes' work, had everything fitted properly, so our two-wheeled commuting can begin comfortably tomorrow! Nickola has two spare helmets and a spare bike lock, so we are all set, if a bit dorky. The helmets are a bit dated, but I think it's the matching His and Hers green bikes that make us particularly stylish :)

The rest of the day has been filled with cooking, cleaning, gardening, and performing surgery on Nickola's vacuum cleaner, which had somehow gotten a clothespin stuck inside the internal cord spool, preventing the cord from retracting properly. Productive day!

Other than all of that, life goes on as usual. We're enjoying ourselves generally, and eating well and cheaply. Matt went to the local fruit & vege stand on his lunch break yesterday, and bought sweet corn, spinach, tomatoes, kumara, onions, and apples enough to fill his backpack, at a total cost of $18.00, and we're spicing it all up with fresh herbs from the garden here.

You can see from the books in this picture that we've been doing some thinking about what kind of exploring we want to do here on the South Island. We are working here in Nelson through the first  of May, it looks like, so we'll have about 3 weeks of May to explore before we have to get back to Auckland to catch our flight home. We certainly won't get as thorough of an experience on the South Island as we did on the North, but we're both okay with that- the North Island is really the place for the steaming hot subtropical summer and surfing we came in search of. We have also decided that we won't try and take any trips out of New Zealand until we fly back to the states. When we first came to NZ, we thought we'd like to go over to Australia and/or up to Tonga or Samoa at some point, but we've come to the realization that we wouldn't be able to go anywhere for more than a week, and would spend a lot of money doing so. It would be the kind of travel that is a vacation, and not what we're doing in New Zealand, actually living and experiencing the country. We sat down about a month ago and confirmed with each other that what we'd rather have is the fullest and most diverse experience of this one country, than small snippets of several different countries. So we'll stay here.

At this point we're trying to figure out when and how we'll travel around to the places we want to see south of here, when and where we'll sell the van and surfboards, and how we'll get back to Auckland. We have several options for each at this point, and one of them is new and pretty exciting: Magic Bus, a hop-on, hop-off bus company here in NZ, has offered me a free South Island Pass in exchange for blogs and photos involving their company! I found out about the opportunity from a customer at work who was doing the same thing, and I contacted Magic, who said yes, definitely. So if I want to, I'll get a free pass for the month of May, and have free transport to all the places I want to see on the South Island! Matt might try and do the same thing, catching up on his blogging ( and taking more photos, or we might sell the van somewhere where he would drive to, and meet up with me for some leg of the trip by bus. It's all up in the air right now, but lots of exciting thing to think about!

With that, it's time for me to make tomorrow's lunch and head for bed. May you all be well and happy wherever you are, and thanks again for reading!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Living, Settling, and Selling

Saturday, 19th March, 2011
Nelson, South Island, New Zealand

It's been nearly a week since we arrived in Nelson, and time has really flown by. Despite the quick passage of time, we are just now starting to feel settled and really getting the lay of the land, and learning the ins and outs of our new job. Between getting settled here, we are very much enjoying happy news of a brand new baby back home, and hashing over all kinds of plans for our return- which suddenly seems right around the corner.

**You may notice a new shiny green badge in the sidebar of my blog. Matt just discovered the 350 Challenge, and if you have a blog, I encourage you to add the badge to yours. When you add it to your blog page, the Challenge offsets 350 pounds of carbon in your name. The more badges there are on blogs, the more readers will see them, and chances are those readers have a blog- and so it pays forward. Click on the badge to read more **

At home here in Nelson, we have finally gotten all of our clothes into drawers and gotten situated in our room, done a giant grocery shop and planned a menu for the next two weeks, and yesterday found ourselves a couple of used bikes that we will be ready for us on Tuesday, with a buyback that means they will only cost us about $50 each! I haven't been on a bicycle in six months, and am looking forward to commuting on two wheels again.
 (Click on Photos to Enlarge)
 There is a guitar here, which Matt immediately took advantage of by learning some new songs!

 The bright and sunny living room (lounge).

 Our room, with the necessities of life: surfboards and a writing desk. 

Tonight we got started on our weekly bit of garden and house work in exchange for our share of the utilities, pulling some weeds and doing some cleaning around the house. It feels oh so good to get my hands in the dirt again- it's been quite awhile since I worked in a garden. The garden here is a delightful tangle of tomatoes, herbs, grapevines, and geraniums, and we are so enjoying cooking with fresh herbs again- basil, rosemary, tarragon, sage, marjoram, thyme, and lots and lots of parsley!

Blossom, the ancient, smoochy, and (benign) tumorised resident feline. 

At work, we are now fully into the swing of things, having had all kinds of product knowledge hammered into our heads, and in between setting up for the Easter Sale are now able to properly fit tramping packs for customers, explain the difference between different Gore-Tex jackets, and give the run-down on all of our member benefits while trying to sell as much as possible to every customer. I sound snide, but ultimately it's actually a really fun job and the work days fly by very quickly with so much going on. As you're all probably aware, I'm not a huge fan of consumerism, or retail for that matter. In this case, I've made peace with working in a field that is contradictory to many of my beliefs, not just by the fact that it's a job and I need it, but because we are selling (for the most part) products that help and encourage people to be active and enjoy the outdoors. And also, it's temporary.

So far Matt and I have worked all the same shifts, and our manager is kind enough to try and give us the same days off, which isn't always possible. Starting Monday, we'll be working different shifts, but mostly on the same days, overlapping in the middle of the day. I work the early and openings shifts, and Matt comes on at 10 AM most days and works through the end of the extended sale hours. We work with a team of really good and fun people, and are both pretty much enjoying ourselves, despite trying to remember a billion different things at once- info on all the products, how to organize and "action" things coming from the stock room, set up displays, and do various kinds of intricate transactions at the till. It's really interesting to learn the ins and outs of yet another industry, and very nice to have full-time employment for the next couple of months.

With everything else we've been working on, we haven't had a chance to get to the beaches here yet or do a whole lot of exploring. The weather has mostly been lovely (Nelson is one of the most reliably sunny places in the country) and we have gotten to know the CBD (Central Business District, i.e. Downtown) decently well, and have been driving partway to work and walking the last mile or so each day, so we get exercise, cut down on petrol, and see a lot of Nelson by foot. When we get our bikes, we'll be able to bike on the Railway Reserve, a paved trail that follows an old railroad grade, from the bottom of the hill we live on, all the way into the CBD- pretty handy, and a beautiful ride.

Some views from the living room:

Strangely, it barely feels like fall here at the foot of the sounds. A week ago, up in the high country, there was absolutely no doubt that it was autumn, but down here the climate is incredibly mild and the seasons change about a month later than they do in the mountains. So we're enjoying a bit of Indian Summer as we head toward April, the southern hemisphere equivalent of October.

 After work snack, and a shameless plug for a delicious drink that I'm pretty sure is unique to this corner of the world: Bundaberg ginger beer, from Australia. 

 The sweet frittata we made for dinner tonight, with ham, potatoes, and sultanas in it. 

 Tonight's moonrise from the sunroom. 

The lights of the Nelson 'burbs just after sunset.

 I know it's not epic beaches and highland musters, but hopefully all of you are still enjoying our travels vicariously. I promise we'll get to exploring the area more soon, and share our findings here! There are so many amazing things going on in this little region, there is plenty of epicness to be had, we just need the time to find it!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Back in the Low Country

Tuesday, The Ides of March, 2011
Nelson, New Zealand

After twelve fun and incredibly educational days at Spray Point Station, we have found our way back to sea level (almost) and are now gainfully employed and settling into our new digs in Nelson, the beautiful and vibrant town at the head of the Marlborough Sounds and one of the sunniest places in New Zealand.

Friday morning brought on an episode of Extreme Mustering, New Zealand Style. We drove to the top of the ridge overlooking the Cannister River, the same ridge we mustered west (towards the house) from on Thursday. This time, Roland had the goal of collecting a dozen or so sheep that we had seen the day before, over the fence on the eastern side and down towards the river (away from the house) into the area that had been fenced off for the Carbon Farm. There’s a reason they didn’t want to run sheep on it anymore, and due to this particular mob somehow ending up on the wrong side of the fence, we found out just why Roland doesn’t ever want to muster there again. After I herded four relatively docile sheep into an accessible paddock along the ridge, we then spread out across a massive and unbelievably steep hillside, slowly zig-zagging down all the way to the river, flushing 12 sheep out of the bush in the process. It all sounds well and good in writing, but it took us a good three hours to get down the hill, a descent of several thousand feet that involved navigating around a couple of sheer rock faces, through thick and tangled native bush, scaring up wild goats and pigs, and occasionally, for me, sitting down and sliding down the hill on my bum, in places where it was too steep to attempt walking! It was definitely extreme, but also exciting in an insane kind of way. Naturally, the sheep made it to the bottom about an hour before we did, and kindly waited next to the gate into the holding paddock while we finished our descent. Keep in mind, the distance between Roland (south end), and me (north end) was far enough that we weren’t even always within shouting distance. Matt covered the area between us, and we were all so far apart that for most of the time we appeared to each other as moving specks on the mountainside!
(Click on Photos to Enlarge)

 If you enlarge this photo and look really closely, you'll see a tiny red dot in the upper centre of the picture. That's me. I then proceeded down past the bottom right corner of the photo, and that same distance again after that.

When we finally all joined up all the way down at the river bottom, the truck remained parked at the top of the ridge, a several-hour climb behind us, so we took the easier way home, walking a good two miles down the relatively flat track out of the valley and then up Waihopai Valley Road (Roland went up the hill track later on the motorbike to retrieve the Ute). My feet and thighs have never been so sore as when we finally reached the house! We were very glad that mustering is only done in the morning, but what an experience!

On Saturday we got a reprieve, as Roland was taking some guests deer hunting early in the morning, so we spent the day playing with the kids, doing some work around the house, packing, and catching up with ourselves a little bit. We decided we needed to leave for Nelson around 2 or 3 PM on Sunday, so helped Roland with the muster again that morning. We drove back up the ridge to clear another of the huge paddocks on the side toward the house, and were treated to some eerie and ethereal lighting effects as we drove up the hill and straight into the low-hanging fog/cloud that covered us for the first 45 minutes or so that we were mustering. It was one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring natural phenomena that I have actually been in

The morning’s muster was relatively tame compared to the previous one, and we successfully collected 60 or so sheep, and as there were several very dirty ones, plus the ones we collected in the Cannister Valley, we drove them up the road to the house and into the sheep yards. 

 Several of the lambs from the Cannister side had never seen humans or fences before, and were a bit wild. A number of the sheep were very daggy and had never beend drenched and were suffering from fly-strike, so after drenching the whole lot, we pulled out the dirty ones and herded them into the woolshed for some dagging (shearing off the poo-ey bits that attract the flies).

Matt and Ben clearing a sheepjam.

Catching and securing a daggy sheep. 

 Toting a daggy sheep.

Roland gave Matt a turn on the drenching. 

 Herding the sheep into the race. 

 Inside the woolshed. 

 Note the burlap moccasins or "moccys" on Roland's feet. They allow the shearer much more flexibility to prop up the sheep, and don't slip on the wool and grease that always covers the shearing shed floor.

After watching Roland take care of a couple, I left him and Matt too it and went to shower and pack the van. When I checked back in an hour or so later, I showed up just in time to watch Matt dag the very last sheep! Much harder than it looks- not only do you have to shear off all the gross bits, which happen to be around the sheep’s most vulnerable parts, but you have to hold the sheep still while you do it, while leaving your hands mostly free. And having handled lambs and then caught several sheep over the last several days, let me tell you that restraining a fully grown sheep that doesn’t want to be restrained takes a lot of muscle and finesse! Matt, with a few stops and starts, got the job done, and it was fun to watch, but I didn’t get a photo. (This is just dagging, and it takes this much work…the hot-shot shearers can shear upwards of 300 sheep per day, it takes only a few seconds for them to shear the entire fleece off a sheep!)

After lunch and showers and lots of hugs, we said goodbye to our hosts, the kiddos, and Spray Point Station, with many thanks for the wonderful experience and so much new knowledge! It was a bright and sunny day, and the two-hour drive to Nelson was absolutely lovely, though pretty, lush little towns and skirting along the edges of the sounds. We had been searching on TradeMe (the NZ equivalent of Craigslist/eBay) for rooms for rent in Nelson, and through a massive stroke of good luck, got a reply and managed to arrange to see a room on Sunday night as soon as we arrived in town. Everything worked out wonderfully, and moved in that very night! We are subletting from the fun and vivid Nikola, in a house high on a hill overlooking Tasman Bay and across to Abel Tasman National Park, with loads of bright and wacky colors and decorations on the walls, and a lovely affectionate cat named Blossom. We pay $165 per week in rent as a couple, and have arranged to do a couple hours’ maintenance and garden work per week in exchange for utility costs. The views from the house are incredible, and our little room off the garage has loads of light, just the right amount of storage, and a sweet antique wooden writing desk that I fell in love with at first sight! 

 Looking from the dining room towards Nelson. The city centre is right behind the low hill on the left side of the photo. 

We started work at Kathmandu yesterday morning, and so far it’s going well, it is retail but in a fun environment, with very good people. We are earning $15 per hour and the store is right in the city centre, across the street from the library and the I-Site, and easy to find. We live in the suburb of Enner Glynn, so it is a 10 minute drive into town. We walked today, but it is a full hour walk each way, although a nice route. We are searching for cheap bikes as there is a paved bike path from the bottom of our road all the way into the town centre, about 5 km. 

We are settling in well, enjoying our new situation, and adjusting to working full time.

Last night's dinner, to celebrate employment and housing: Salmon with spring onions, rice, and a fresh salad from the garden.