Sunday, January 23, 2011

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

"Don’t sweat the small stuff – and it’s all small stuff." ~ Richard Carlson

I found an article on Yahoo that said that New Zealand was the 5th happiest country in the world. The article stated:

"For most, being happy starts with having enough money to do what you want and buy what you want. A nice home, food, clothes, car, leisure. All within reason. But happiness is much more than money. It's being healthy, free from pain, being able to take care of yourself. It's having good times with friends and family."

In the short time that I have been here, I have definitely started to examine what it is that makes me happy. And I have to agree; it’s not the car, food, clothes or home that put a smile on my face. Since I have moved, my life has drastically changed and I have been “forced” to go back to the basics.

Back home, my daily ritual included driving my SUV to the local coffee shop to get my gourmet latte (of flat whites as they call them here) before work, dining out for all three meals a day and then closing the day with some sort of social activity. I never wanted for anything…if I saw something I desired, I ran to the closest store and bought it new. I was living the American dream. Or was I? Was living in excess, really more of a nightmare? Well, it was at least a nightmare for my pocket book!

In one week, all of this has changed! We cook almost every meal at home, I search for sales at the store, I sleep on a twin bed, I walk just about everywhere because I don’t have a car, and I drink instant coffee (wtf?!?!) However, I wouldn’t change a thing. I needed to simplify and get back to the basics.

Although I moved to one of the happiest places on earth, relocating to new country was no small feat. I moved to an English speaking country, but I have so much to learn from a cultural standpoint. My first weekend here was epic and was filled with adventure, but early last week it was time to get real and start “living life in New Zealand.” It is a little bit overwhelming at times, but I quickly realized that I couldn’t “sweat the small stuff” and that it would take time to truly fit in. I sometimes feel like a child who is seeing the world for the first time and so I am constantly asking questions. If you plan to visit New Zealand in your lifetime, I will share with you some of the things that I learned this week:

1)    Everything is backwards! – The toilets flush counter-clockwise, cars drive on the opposite side of the road and people walk on the “wrong” side of the sidewalk. I have to admit, I have been too scared to drive. I am extremely intimidated by the crazy drivers and all of the roundabouts. It is also a big transition moving from Portland, which is a bike & pedestrian-friendly city, to Hamilton where cars won’t stop and will hit you if you are in their way.
2)    Can you convert this? – Right about now, I wish I had paid better attention in school. I have to convert everything into in kilometers, kilograms and military time. I think I must have been sick the day we learned all of this or perhaps I was daydreaming in class about visiting a far away destination. Who knows?!
3)    What’s for dinner? – As I mentioned, I rarely dine out. (However, if you were to visit and eat out it is important to note that you don’t tip.) The cost of living is quite expensive in New Zealand, so now we cook most of our meals in. However, the trip to the grocery can be quite daunting for two reasons. 1) I don’t really cook, so I have no idea what ingredients to buy. 2) Stores don’t carry all the brands I was used to at home. Good news, is that I have almost completely cut out processed foods from my diet (because they are so expensive.) It is also important to know that people refer to meal time as “tea time.”  When I attended my first BBQ someone said, “tea time” which meant it was time to eat. Don’t be a fool like me and think it is actually time for tea…they will laugh at you!
4)    Slow down you’re moving too fast! – Everyone moves a little bit slower here and I have had several kiwis tell me to slow down. When I got here, I instantly started searching for a job and people are amazed by that. Well, it paid off because I start my first day at Convex today…it’s a part-time gig at a printing company until I find something in a field of interest. But at least it is a paycheck!
5)    What? Say that again. – I can’t understand half of what people are saying, so I often have to have them repeat themselves. The accents are strong, but the challenging part is learning all of the kiwi "slang". Jandels = sandels. Tramps = hikes. Partner = boyfriend or girlfriend. Rubber = eraser. CV = resume. And don't forget to swap z’s and s’ – i.e. organise.
6)    No shoes, no shirts, no service! – Bollocks! No one wears shoes here. I went to the grocery store this week and there were several people without shoes on. Gross! Also, all elementary students aren’t allowed to wear shoes at school. I asked if athlete's foot was a problem and they said "Never!"
7)    It’s getting hot in here! – apparently there is a giant whole in the ozone layer above New Zealand. Within one day, I had a killer tan and a crazy tanline. Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen…and nothing less than 30 SPF. The country actually has a pretty massive ad campaign promoting sunscreen use because they have such a high rate of skin cancer.

Of course there is going to be a learning curve, but I am up for the challenge. I not only love the cultural experience, but New Zealand is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been in my life. On Saturday we did a five hour hike in the Pinnacles which is located in the Kauaeranga Valley on the Coromandel Peninsula. The hike (or tramp as they call them) was amazing! I felt like we were in the rain forest because of all of the palms, rivers, rata trees and swing bridges. We did the entire hike in the rain, but we managed to finish majority of the loop before the big storm hit.

On Sunday, Laura and I had a nice little girl’s day. We headed to the Te Aroha Thermal Pools, which are built at the base of Mt Te Aroha. The thermal spring water that flows in the pools is supposed to be good for skin conditions and arthritis. While at the spa we also treated ourselves to much needed pedicures. It was such a relaxing day. I swear my stress level went from an 8 to maybe a 1 or 2. I am definitely not sweating the small stuff anymore. After we left the spa, it stopped raining at there was a beautiful rainbow arched at the base of the mountain. It was a perfect end to our day of relaxation.

I could definitely get used to island life!

The Pinnacles

Monday, January 17, 2011

Tēnā Koutou from Paradise

“It is the drink of men who think and feel or fear nor fetter – Who do not drink to senseless sink, but drink to think the better.” Anonymous

I haven’t even been in New Zealand a week, but it already feels like home. I have always been a bit of a nomad (a.k.a. couch surfer) so it doesn’t take me very long to acclimate. I also think it has been a pretty easy transition because Maura (for those of you who don’t know, that would be Mike and Laura) have welcomed me with open arms and shown me the ropes. I am getting a crash course kiwi-style!

We haven’t wasted anytime since I have arrived. Last Friday we hopped in their Holden Vectra (a.k.a. the shaggin’ wagon) and headed to Raglan, which is located on the West coast by the Tasman Sea. We spent the day swimming in the ocean and playing Frisbee. Raglan is one of New Zealand's premier surfing places in the world and I have been told that Jack Johnson has a house there and often surfs! That same day we hiked Bridal Veil Falls. The falls are 55 meters high (180 feet) and are often regarded as being the most spectacular waterfalls on the North Island. That night I attended my first kiwi BBQ and met Maura’s group of friends. I experienced everything from stubbies to kiwi sausage (which is a staple here) to backyard cricket.

On Saturday, we headed to Tauranga for the Blues, Brews & BBQs festival. Tauranga is located in Bay of Plenty region and is home of the largest port in New Zealand. The festival had a decent blues line-up and we enjoyed local ales as we soaked up the sun (or I mean got burnt.) A few of my local favorites were Mac’s Ales, Tuatara Brewery, and Green Man Brewery. Well let’s be honest, after the first couple they all tasted delicious. After a day of consuming high content alcohol, we headed to the beach and swam in Pacific Ocean. That evening with stayed with Mike’s (or known here as Mank, which is Mike + Yankee = Mank) co-worker’s parents house in the hills of Tauranga. The Millers own Millhenge Ferns, which is a nursery that grows a variety of native plants. They grow black tree ferns, which are also known as mamaku. I thought they were palm trees, but instead they are New Zealand’s tallest tree fern, growing up to 20 meters high. The Millers are self-sufficient and grow all of their own food and raise their own cattle. We enjoyed Deb’s homegrown strawberries and blueberries and I swear they were those most delicious that I have ever tasted in my life. We camped in their yard and sat up all night learning about each other cultures.

Our crew got up early the next morning and headed back to town to hike Mount Maunganui (officially known by its Maori name Mauao), which is an extinct volcanic cone. According to Maori legend, this hill was a pononga [slave] to a mountain called Otanewainuku. Locals simply call it “The Mount.” The hike was short, but intense. The view of city and the Bay of Plenty was breathtaking. After the hike, we scoped out a gelato shop and then hit the road for home. On our way we stopped at McLaren Falls for a quick dip. I also attempted to pet a wild sheep while we were there, but no such luck!

We had a great weekend exploring the North Island and this week has been a little back to reality. I got my IRD # (SSN), set up my bank account with WestPac, applied for my library card and also got my CBD card (my membership card for a local bar.) I have been applying for jobs like crazy the last couple days and have set up appointments with local placement agencies. Keep your fingers crossed that I can get some work…or I will be coming home very soon!

Haere ra!
(Which means goodbye in Maori)

View from the Mount

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Leaving on a Jet Plane and I Don't Know When I'll Be Back Again

“Adventure is worthwhile.” ~Amelia Earhart

I think it is only appropriate to quote Ms. Earhart since the last three days of my life have included three different planes, 20+ hours of flying and four different airports.  Luckily my travel story ended better than hers did!

I have one word: OVERPACKED! When I left Portland with three suitcases, I knew I had my work cutout for me before I left for New Zealand. With careful planning and skillful packing I only had to check two pieces, but their combined weight was over 130 lbs (oops!) When you have already spent close to $2,000 in airfare, an extra $360 in luggage fees is a little hard to swallow. I also realized that my carry-on items were oversized and rather difficult to tote around. I guess I should have done my research and realized that the Aussies were going to be a little more strict with their carry-on policy. 

Despite my baggage “issues”, I thoroughly enjoyed my International flight on VAustralia. When I arrived at LAX I had to claim my bags and check-in for my international flight. As I pushed my luggage cart from one side of the terminal to the other, I kept passing the drab airline counters filled with unhappy employees. When I reached the end of the terminal, the VA check-in was like a mirage (or a upscale cocktail lounge.) Lady Gaga was blaring, the décor was trendy and beautiful Australians were there to greet and lift the velvet rope for me. Was I boarding an airplane or hitting up the club?!?  I had a few hours to myself before my flight, so I went over to Terminal 1 for dinner. This is where most of the flights to Asia depart from. Wow, that was a culture shock for me! I decided to hit up the only Pho cart in the terminal and was reminded that other cultures don’t believe in lines and don’t acknowledge your presence. When I finally got my pho and diet coke, I unloaded my bags and dove into my book. (I have resorted to reading and journaling since I don’t have a cell phone or access to WiFi.)

The minute I boarded the plane I knew I was going to enjoy this flight. The plane was baller -- it had mood lighting, a bar set-up right when you walked in (for first class of course) and they were playing Ray LaMontagne over the intercom. The plane was gigantic and the seats were spacious. During my 13 hour and 20 min flight, I enjoyed two vegan meals, a couple glasses of wine, watched four free movies (Inception, Going the Distance, The Social Network and Sex in the City 2) and slept for a nice chunk of the flight (thanks to the meds from Dr. Pill Pusher.) I was seated next to a nice guy from New Zealand (South Island.) He had just taken a month off from his job to travel the West Coast and was then stopping off in Australia to explore for another week. If only our country had the same mentality as the rest of the world! 

I landed in Brisbane at 8:00 AM on Wednesday morning (Tues back home). I explored every inch of this airport and even read an entire book from cover-to-cover. I exchanged $25 (US) to get cash to pay for lunch and I was handed $19 (Aus)…ouch! That barely covered my combo meal at Subway. Mike and Laura were right - I will definitely be eating out less. Luckily Mike is a good cook! I met a nice young couple with a 11 month year old baby. They also live in Hamilton and met while she was teaching aboard in NZ.  People have been very friendly.

I also met an older couple on my flight to Auckland.  When I sat down, he asked me if I was escaping or traveling the world. That question caught me off-guard, but then I realized he was talking about the flooding. Over 75% of the country is underwater and this is worst flood since the mid-70’s. The man told me that he and his wife had to leave because the water was up to the roof of their house. The city of Brisbane doesn’t allow homeowners to carry flood insurance, so all of these poor people are left to fend for themselves.  I asked him if the Australian government would step in and he said at this point doubtful. He said that their farmland is destroyed and that most industries have come to a screeching halt – the coal mining industry is losing $1 billion dollars a week. He also said they are concerned about the drinking water because most of the reservoirs have been contaminated. This just reminds me how lucky I truly am.

Our flight was an hour late because of the weather, so I almost made poor Mike late for work since he has to be there at 4:00 AM. After days of traveling it was so nice to see familiar faces. They even made me signs, but they didn't recognize me so they gave me the signs later. I enjoyed catching up on the hour or so drive back to Hamilton. It was quite hilarious watching Laura try to navigate.  However, I am not judging because I am a little nervous to drive on the opposite side of the road.

It was a little surreal to wake up this morning on the other side of the world, but I quickly adjusted after a great day at Waterworld (the pool) and a good workout at the gym with Laura. I am excited for the weekend because we are going to the beach and hiking near Raglan tomorrow and up to the Bay of Plenty near Tauranga. We are going to the Blues, Brews & BBQs Festival and then camping at the Silverbirch Holiday Park. It should be a great first weekend in New Zealand!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Left My Heart in the Portland Rain

You say: "how does it feel to be traveling?
How's it feel to live your life on a train?
And the aeroplane?"
Well, I ain't gonna' lie to you
Well, every town is all the same
When you've left your heart in the Portland rain...
“Paul’s Song” M. Ward

A little over a week ago, I packed my bags and said goodbye to Portland. My last day was filled with hugs, tears, “see you laters” and a lot of goodbyes. I fell in love with Portland…the coffee, the food, the outdoor activities, my friends…so it was hard to say goodbye (or see you later) to my life there. I know I will keep in touch with my friends over the next year, but it is always hard to say goodbye and also know that I am never see some of them ever again. I feel like people come in and out of your lives, but they all play such an important part of shaping who we are. Perhaps it is an amazing friendship, a deep love or maybe it is just a memorable conversation. All of those people play a part in helping us become who we were meant to be. So I want to thank all of those who influenced me…good or bad…thank you! 

When the plane rolled away from the gate in Portland, I was a mix of excitement, nervousness, sadness and intoxication (thanks Kate.) After takeoff, I looked down and saw the lights of Portland. The city looked so small and it made all of my problems seem so tiny and trivial. Perhaps the plane taking is a metaphor for me taking off on my journey and soaring to great heights. I am going places – physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. It was hard to not look back on the lights of the city. But at that moment, I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t look back. Instead, I would be present in the moment and look forward to the future.  The plane then climbed above the clouds and just like that Portland was gone. 

When I announced that I was moving to New Zealand, I had numerous people tell me I was having an “Eat, Pray, Love” moment.  I haven’t finished reading the book, but my Mom and I watched the movie tonight.  In the movie, the main character said, “Ruin is the road to transformation.” Perhaps this is true.  Maybe everything has to come “crashing down” in order for things to truly change (for the better.)  So as I leave my heart in Portland, without a job and very little money in my wallet…I can only hope that I am transforming into the person I meant to be.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat, Pray Love” also offered this great quote about the Physics of the Quest.

"‎"...I've come to believe that there exists in the universe something I call "The Physics of The Quest"- a force of nature governed by laws as real as the laws gravity or momentum. And the rule of Quest Physics maybe goes like this: "If you are brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting (which can be anything from your house to your bitter old resentments) and set out on a truth-seeking journey (either externally or internally), and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue, and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher, and if you are prepared - most of all -to face (and forgive) some very difficult realities about yourself....then truth will not be withheld from you." Or so I've come to believe." 

So here I go on my truth-seeking journey!