Monday, March 24, 2008

Sunny Day Three and Kiwi Barbie

It's Monday, the statutory holiday for Easter observance and I'm sitting down at Starbucks across the Quay again. The good news is that we DO have available high speed internet in the apartment building, but we just didn't get the cable modem and VOIP phone for some reason. I'll have it sorted tomorrow and we'll be much more available in all of the old internet ways. I talked to an older American guy in the building named Ken and wondered why we didn't get the cable modem or even know about it, and he said something to the effect of.. "Ah! New Zealand... yeah they'll get around to it."

Yesterday we kicked around Wellington some more and took a train up to Johnsonville. We wanted to see how far it was to walk to the train station and how long the train ride to Johnsonville would be. One of the stops along the way was at Ngaio, which is one of the suburbs that we liked based on looking at the houses for rent/sale online in the months preceding our departure.

Here are the pictures for Day Three:

One thing had absolutely no sense for at all was the verticality (is that a word?) of the landscape in the area surrounding Wellington. The two operative words for the countryside surrounding Ngaio are "lush" and "steep."

It was around 2pm when we got to Jville and we found a bakery that was open and had a light snack before turning around and taking the train back in. From the train station to our apartment was about a 10 minute brisk walk, which means that if we DO end up getting a place in Ngaio it'd be about a 10-15 minute train ride followed by a 10 minute walk to work for me. Perfect.

A Kiwi Barbie

Brett Ross, our only NZ contact to this point, had planned a family dinner with us for Sunday evening, but it turned into more of a multi-family cookout following an afternoon game of "touch" (touch Rugby... apparently a one-hand-touch version of the game that removes all of the bone-shattering elbows to the face that the full blown version features.) The dads and the kids play it pretty regularly from what I could gather.

The BBQ has hosted by Mike, Brett's brother, and his wife who live in Petone (pronounced pee-TONY,) a suburb of Lower hutt. They had a 10 year old girl, Fia and two boys, and Brett and his wife Alie (sp?) brought their 11 year old daughter Deonte' (named after hearing the name on Oprah apparently) and their two boys. Also there were a couple from Upper Hutt, a man named Tim and his son and a guy he brought that he knew from elementary school who'd recently entered civilian life after 22 years in the British armed forces, a man named Toko (which was short for something and who reminded me of a guy I worked with at Nihilistic named Joe Ching who was hilarious and had a totally deadpan delivery) and his wife and their son. They were glad for our two girls to help even out the numbers a bit.

Zoe and Haley were soon thick like thieves with Deonte and Fia and some of the boys and they went out to the cricket and rugby field adjacent to the backyard (through a home-made door directly in the middle of the fence) and ran around, climbed trees, and god knows what else. A whole herd of kids would periodically stampede this way and that while we said on the back deck and Mike grilled sausages, kababs, chunks of beef, patties of minced beef, shrimps, and a few other things.

All around the backyard, abalone shells were hung. Mike dives for them. Kiwis are allowed to take 10 per day per person. Mike seemed pretty hardcore. In fact, both Brett and Mike are clearly at least partly Maori and Mike in particular had the look of a Maori warrior. After he was done cooking the meats, he rapped a fork against a drinking glass a half dozen times to get everyone's attention and gave a beautiful speech about how happy he was to have everyone there and specifically welcomed the people who he'd just met (the guy Tim and Tim's friend and the four of us) to his house. He then said something at length in Maori and ended with "Kia Ora!" This was followed by a little "good on ya, Mike" through bites of meat from half of the guests.

It's the end of summer here, and there was a bittersweet waning-summer feeling among them that Joanne recognized and pointed out to me. The neighborhood pool was closing, the BBQ's were going to cease soon, winter is coming.

We all had a wonderful time. I can't think of a better introduction to NZ family life. The atmosphere was relaxed and happy there. We talked freely about US politics, NZ politics and political system, sports (here that's Rugby and Cricket) schools, and the ever popular weather. Here talking about the weather isn't really small talk the way it is back in the states. Kiwis seem genuinely interested in it and like to discuss it at length including periods of severe weather and any sort of weather related events of the last century or so.

On NZ politics, it seems that the major parties (National and Labour) take turns in power, with three terms per turn. Toko told us, "I guess we're so socialist that it doesn't seem fair if one party stays in power for too long." The cycle seems to be: 1) first term is a landslide against the party currently in power as kiwis vote "change" or "fairness" depending on how you look at it. 2) ruling party wins second term pretty much de-facto as rising discontent with policies start to color the elections, and 3) for third term they barely squeak in and by the end of the term the electorate are ready to vote the opposing party in on a landslide and the cycle begins again.

It's fascinating stuff. We have a lot to learn from the kiwis and if yesterday is any indication, they're going to be happy and open to teaching us and showing us.

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