Looking Through the LeNZ
Updated: Jun 29, 2021
Small Country = Small Things
New Zealand is tiny. Not teeny-tiny like The Vatican, but, it's small. New Zealanders would call it "wee". It makes sense that many NZ things would also be small, but instead of talking in weird mysterious terms, if you will indulge me, I'll give some examples:
Mail (known to the locals as "post"): mail is delivered by carts. In the US, there are mail carts, vans and vehicles that vary by region. Here, it's 1 cart, and the word "Cart" makes these vehicles sound big and luxurious compared to what they really are. In the movie The Little Rascals, they build a go-cart... some wheels, 2 axles, a body. Imagine that, put a 24 Volt battery to power it, now you have a NZ mail cart that is capable of zipping around sidewalks, which they do with incredible swiftness and dexterity. Mail cart drivers here seem like they hire directly from a pool of retired Rally Racers. An elite team of Fast & the Furious style drivers.
The single best performing stock in New Zealand from 2009-2019 was not a tech company. It wasn't some "Visionary"-led, brilliant person that was going to change the world. It was a dairy company called A2 Milk. Think about that. This means that the economy of New Zealand has been pushed forward in large part by 1 company that doesn't sell some amazing software or platform or social service... it's freakin milk. It's not even like Kombucha or tea or coffee or soda, you know, like beverages that huge swaths of people in countries drink all day every day! Milk has pushed the New Zealand economy forward. That. Is. Amazing. It's an economic Power House of Cows. Or Economic Power-Cow-House....Economic Cower House...Cow-Pow-Hou.
Trust: we rented our current place by signing a rental agreement. If you're waiting for more, that's it. There was no request for ID. No Visa. No verification of funds or employment. We walked into the property manager's office, signed an agreement that was less than 10 pages and walked out with keys.
Everybody knows somebody: we currently live in a townhouse that has 4 units in total. It's located right by a school that was founded in 1881. We learned the building we live in was built in the 1930s, so it's been around for a while. I work in an office with maybe 40 ish people. Pause - remember that Christchurch has a population of around 500,000 people, so it's not a small-town in the sense of population. Despite that fact, One of the people I work with told me he lived in the unit right next to us about 37 years ago. That seems like a coincidence to me.
Nowhere in New Zealand is more than 75 miles/ 120 km from the coast. You can practically yell to the other side of the coastline.
Christchurch is a wonderful place for many reasons (the smell of toast is just 1 of those). A big reason the city is so appealing is because the massive City Council here does a great job at taking care of things and providing for its citizens. A great example is that they put on shows and performances in the park during summer evenings. We saw opera in the park, for free, last summer. The city built a giant band-shell stage and had some national opera group come over and perform live for anyone that wanted to put down a blanket on the massive lawn and watch. That just happened. There for any on-lookers.
The real clencher took place a week before the opera though. A local theatre/theater troupe put on a 5-person show of Treasure Island, Not only was it free and open to the public, but they had a popcorn machine and passed out little popcorn bins to everyone. Families brought blankies, food and some drinks and just had a picnic, while these 5 actors walked us through the tale of Treasure Island. Was it a Daniel Day-Lewis and Meryl Streep like performance? No. Not even close. But those 5 people still provided one of the most entertaining evenings I've had. They walked out from their mini-stage into the lawn of audience members and engaged with them. In fact, at one point a kid from the audience was called upon to answer some question, but without knowing how to answer, the kid brought up a hard-boiled egg to the cast and handed it to them. I don't attend much theater, so my expertise is limited, but I'm pretty sure the audience bringing up food to the actors in the middle of a performance is not part of the normal process of a performance.
What followed was a goodly amount of laughter but mostly applause from the audience. The actors had to chortle a bit too, because, well... they were gifted an egg. It's as if the Easter Bunny itself had donned the actors with the gift that it is so well known for providing. The performance went on without a hitch, making some pop-culture and local reference (which went RIGHT over our heads), except when someone was doused with water like in Flash Dance. I know this because like all 6 year old boys, Flash Dance was a big part of my life. As I write those words though, I'm beginning to realize that it's possible (only just barely possible), that not all American boys do grow up with an instant recognition of Jennifer Beals.
In summary, the city provided a performance to its people, and in return the people provided an egg. I'd say that's a beautiful thing.
The idea of time has become more interesting to me as I've experienced more of time itself. LC and I moved to New Zealand on Christmas Day of 2019. In case the world loses all of its records and annals of history, some stuff was happening then. A few notable events:
There was a volcanic eruption in the Bay of Plenty (NZ) that killed a couple dozen people.
The Australian Bushfires ran wild. Our first few weeks in NZ were met with somewhat shady days because the air was smoky, and the sunsets were VERY red.
A small, locally isolated disease that most people have never heard of, broke onto the scene like the Kool-Aid Man, right into your living room. It was called COVID-19.
The confluence of these events meant that times were unusual for a lot of people, but the main reason for us had to do with Christmas. I've mentioned before that many businesses and especially Financial Services go into hibernation during the Holiday season of December and January. Some reasons for this are: it's summer in the Southern Hemisphere during those months and Summer is awesome + productivity tends to slow worldwide in businesses because people tend to take time off + many non-American cultures have more flexible time-off policies + why not?
Trying to find a job in the middle of this time was hectic and I did not enjoy it, to put it in polite terms. This translated to feeling like our timing was terrible. We had just left secure and great lives in the US only to try to put down roots at the worst possible time of year in a foreign country. Some would say it was "unwise", Others wouldn't say it, but they would think it - and they would be right. It was a defeating feeling, because no job meant we couldn't choose where to live, which meant we were floating around, directionless. Eventually, I did gain employment. We did find a place to live. We were fortunate to be minimally disrupted when COVID struck NZ, so that we could maintain our jobs.
Because of NZ's government, decisions, geographical remoteness from the rest of the world and it's size (did I mention it's small?), the nation moved center-stage as a leader for handling a pandemic. This made it clear what good fortune we had. So a timeline would look something like:
- We move to NZ. No job = happy, bu also sad
- Job gained = happier
- NZ does very well during COVID = happier still
- Realization that quality of life is great = more happier-er
(A slow and increased sense of satisfaction)
This made me think about how things felt hard and terrible, then time passed and things got better and better. The funny thing is, it's hard to step out of real time and know when the good times are "the good times". It also shines a light on the fact that it can be much more difficult to realize when things are good, how they are good, or even how good things are, unless you have some kind of contrast to that. "Bad" then is almost the Siamese twin to "Good", you can't have 1 without the other. This is by no means a new concept, so I'm not claiming to have discovered anything... the classic yin yang, the trials and tribulations of Moses wandering the desert, Oden losing an eye to have gained clearer vision/insights.
The other point that I have learned from this is that time doesn't stop. Obvious? Yes, but stay with me. Time continues, so everything that has happened up until now, can and likely will change again. Things in my life could easily be categorized as "good" right now, and that will probably change at some point again, then change again, and again, and so on. A great perspective of this to show this is by adding the word "yet" or "for now" to the end of any negative statement to change it. E.G. "I haven't lost any weight" + "yet" or "I'm really stressed at work" + "for now".
The short & sweet non-rambling version of this is explained by Michael Sasche (who I might add, I strike a stunning resemblance to),
"While it’s not a principle, I often think of the parable of the Taoist farmer. The Taoist farmer has one horse, and the horse runs off. The villagers lament his misfortune, and he replies “We’ll see.” The horse returns with four more horses, and the farmer is praised for his good luck. He replies, “We’ll see.” His son then attempts to break the horses, and breaks his leg. Again, the villagers console him for his bad luck. The reply again is “We’ll see.” Then the army comes and conscripts all the able-bodied young men, but the farmer’s son is spared." And so on...
Lots of Coffee, But No Coffee
There are 2 interesting things about New Zealand coffee:
A common drink is a Flat White. It's espresso with a small amount of milk. Think of a latte but instead of 6 ounces of steamed milk, it's about 2. It's probably the most ordered beverage here, but I've never seen it in another country.
Coffee doesn't exist. They have espresso drinks (Americano, shot, latte, cappuccino, flat white) but not actual "coffee". If you try ordering a "coffee" from a barista and they will reply with, "what kind?". You will both enter a state of confusion as each of you tries to figure out if you're on a candid camera gameshow and the other person is pulling a prank on you. You're not/ it isn't. There isn't any 'regular'/ drip coffee in this country. Think about if this were slightly different; if the entire country constantly drank teas... chamomile, oolong, green tea, rooibos, etc. Then, the moment you try to order a black tea, you learn that black tea isn't a thing, and what's more, most people aren't even really familiar that black tea exists at all in the world.
You wonder if you're crazy. Are you losing your grip on reality? Is tea even real or have you been delusional and losing your mind? The answer is 'no'. You're fine, but you live in a funny place - that's all.
Capturing the Zeitgeist New Zealand hasn't always had the respect it deserved. It's had some unfavorable opinions stated by unenthusiastic visitors and here are a few that are worth sharing:
"I believe we were all glad to leave New Zealand. It is not a pleasant place. Amongst the Natives there is absent that charming simplicity... and the greater part of the English are the very refuse of society." - Charles Darwin, 1860
"A Country of inveterate, backwoods, thick-headed, egotistic philistines." - Vladimir Lenin, 1909
"Altogether too many sheep." - George Bernard Shaw, 1934
"If you wish to kill yourself but lack the courage to, I think a visit to Palmerston North will do the trick." - John Cleese, referring to a city in NZ, 2015
I think the country has come a long way in the past 100 ish years, so my opinion is that these previous views are antiquated and no longer relevant.
Also, sheep are delightful, so Mr. Shaw was wrong. Fact.
Producers of Produce
The American continents were the original homes to a number of natural foods, in fact, the lands produced many foods that we now think of being synonymous with other cultures:
Imagine Italian food without tomatoes - because that's what it was before tomatoes were exported to Europe.
Think about Irish dishes without potatoes, because those also came from the Americas
Many Eastern Asian dishes are layered with spices from chili peppers, but they couldn't have done that before chili peppers emigrated.
The Nightshade family, avocados, papaya, chia seeds, green beans, peanuts, pineapples, squash (including zucchini and pumpkin)
Last, but certainly not least = corn
Corn, or maize, is a very interesting food and I'm not going to give the history of it here because I'm not that informed and it could potentially be hideously boring. The reason I find this so interesting is more personal. Corn is an amazing food that can be turned into all kinds of amazing things these days such as, gasoline, alcohol, plastics, other foods, but I want to focus on flour. Plain ol' cookin' stuff. Masa Harina is a specialized kind of corn flour that is used to make corn tortillas. This may come as a shock to you, but the New Zealand flavor palate hasn't discovered the beauty of Mexican and hispanic cuisines, so corn tortillas can be hard to come by. This has led to LC and I rolling up our sleeves and learning to make corn tortillas.
I've heard of people making pizza dough, sourdoughs, fresh pasta and other dishes, from scratch at home. I've tried this. I've hated this. I found, I was terrible at this. So when the idea came about to 'make' corn tortillas at home, I was... skeptical.
(end of tangent)
We have figured out how to make delicious and delightful tortillas. Authentic? Probably not even close, but tasty to this kiddo. This is so funny to me because I lived almost my whole life in the US, and have been shoving corn tortillas in my garbage-disposal-that-I-call-my-mouth for a long time and it's been wonderful. But it took me moving 7,000 miles away to learn how to actually make something that I commonly ate. Moving away from home, from familiar things, from deliciousness, and other cultures has brought me closer to them (in a way). Funny eh?
Break on Through to the Other Side
New Zealand houses some wild and exotic birds. Birds that make noises you've probably never heard before. There's also seagulls, but not the seagulls I grew up with, the seagulls here are ... angrier....louder... more staunch and opinionated. The seagulls here squawk like they have megaphones in their throats and REALLY figured out how to project their calls. They incite fear and laughter. It's like watching a very old but very scary movie, where you laugh because it's so cheesy, but all the while you are still nervous inside and just waiting for something to pop out and make you shriek like Daniel Stern in Home Alone.
There is 1 species of blackbird here that loves to find a pile of leaves on the ground, get amongst it, and start hurling leaves. They start throwing leaves around like the front end of a chipper-shredder that has a whole tree going in. They are tireless and seem to want to dig right through to the center of the Earth
...And it is precisely because of that I have developed another theory. The link in the paragraph above states that these blackbirds came to NZ from Europe, the Middle East or North-West Africa, but I'm calling hokus-pokus. Bologna, BS. Bull-honky.
I say these guys come from Spain and here's whhhhy. These blackbirds dig so furiously that if they did make it through to the center of the Earth, then all they have to do is go through the other half and they are out. And whhhaat is on exactly the other side of the planet from Christchurch, NZ? Galicia, Spain. And so the legend goes:
A group of young ambitious blackbirds were waking up from their siestas in España one mañana, when they were struck with inspiration, they thought they would dig to China. Everybody knows that all birds love Chinese food, so it makes sense that they would want to dig a tunnel there. The problem is that these particular blackbirds weren't very geographically aware... but they had grit and moxie. So dig they did.
They dug night and day. They mined out the earth and kept going deeper and deeper in the earth's mantle until they finally hit the core. The core of the earth is very hot - in fact, it's even hotter than parts of the sun. The heat was unbearable and when the group of blackbirds were ready to give up, the other half of the earth opened up, so they were able to travel on through to the other side. They emerged from a hole that had opened up either due to volcanoes or earthquakes or the Eye of Sauron or something. The problem is that hole in the earth closed back up and these blackbirds were now stranded in New Zealand and have been slowly trying to tunnel their way back ever since. The reason they can't get back is because they only speak Spanish so none of the local birds understand them. A sad and made up truth.
This is why we have named these birds "Spanish Tunnelers".
A Funny Thought
Imagine someone you knew went around the world and then you found out they did a TV show - wouldn't that be funny?