Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Adventures in Flat Hunting

Finding a flat in Auckland has been considerably more difficult than it was in Wellington. In Wellington I arrived on a Saturday, looked at places on Tuesday and Wednesday, and had made arrangements for a place by Friday. Not so in Auckland. Since I arrived last Monday, my wonderful friend Sarah has driven me around almost everyday, and we’ve probably seen about 20 different places. I’m definitely spoiled for choice here … it’s just that most of the choices are, well, not so choice.

Regan’s flat was not notable one way or the other; it was more that Regan was not my ideal flatmate. He had just quit his part-time job at a video store—he didn’t think he’d have time for it anymore now that he was trying to get something going with his band. I know they’ll be successful, though, because as Regan was taking down my name, he told me that after talking to me on the phone that morning, “I wrote a song about you in the shower. But I forgot it.” I told him I’d be in touch.

Claire and Stacey were super-nice, so nice in fact that they wouldn’t stop talking and made us late for our next appointment. I now know all their likes and dislikes, from sushi to art to dinosaurs. They’re not all sunshine, though, as we learned when they were telling us about their old flatmate. “I got so mad at her,” Stacey said, “that I punched her in the face.” I wasn’t exactly disappointed the next day when I got a text saying they’d found someone else. But fear not, the text made sure to note that I was still welcome to be their friend.

Shaun and his two flatmates (whose names I have chosen to forget) lived in an enormous house that I’m sure was beautiful back in the day—before there were life-sized cut-outs of naked women on the walls. Their explanation of rent and expenses was pretty straightforward: “Sometimes we have enough money to pay bills on time.” The guys also happened to be some of the most socially awkward people I’ve ever met. One of them sat in the lounge just staring at the TV, even though it wasn’t on. The other two stumbled through conversation and couldn’t seem to figure out why they had three empty rooms they couldn’t seem to rent out. Best of luck, guys.

Ricky and Greg met when Ricky tried to sell Greg some bad drugs. They’ve been best friends ever since. Ricky texted me the next day to say that they needed someone who could stay longer than I could, but added, “You’ve got my number—we should get drinks sometime.” Who knew that flat-hunting was so socially lucrative?

The best place by far, however, was Chris’ place. The easiest way to describe it—and I mean this in the nicest way possible—is that if the house and the guys were in the US, it would be a house for a slacker frat at Michigan State. The place was disgusting, and the furniture inside looked only slightly higher quality than the two or three old couches stacked on the porch (“Don’t mind our fuel. We’re burning those soon.”). The kitchen had clearly never been used or cleaned, and I’m tempted to say the same about the bathoom. “We’ve been meaning to get a shower head put on the shower,” they told us. “We can do that by the time you move in.” Probably true, because I’ll never move in, and they’ll probably never fix the shower. Not surprisingly, the only thing in even semi-good condition was the Playstation. Still, the best part came as we were walking out (“I still have to look at some other places, but I’ll let you know”), and Chris pointed to a small dirt patch by the walk: “Don’t mind the grave.” First I thought I’d heard him wrong, then I thought that maybe they’d had a dog that had died from neglect or something, but no. “We hate our old flatmate’s girlfriend, so we made a fake grave for her.”

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Now You Have No Excuse

As the world gets smaller/flatter, it was only a matter of time before free international calling appeared. I guess you could say there already is free international calling with services like Skype and Google Talk, but here is a service that does not require a computer for either party.


All you do is call the phone number in Iowa, and it will connect you to international numbers in a whole bunch of countries--including New Zealand. Although nobody has tried calling me yet, I read about the service in the New York Times, and I put a lot of confidence in their fact checking abilities, so I don't think it's some sort of scam. They say that the only potential downfalls are that it's sometimes hard to get a connection, and it might not connect to cell phones in some countries. Sounds good to me.

Of course this means that I now expect my phone to be ringing off the hook.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


There are many things I am thankful for this Thanksgiving holiday. There are the usuals like my wonderful family and friends, good health, etc. But I am also thankful that I have been able to travel and experience so many amazing things in the past year. I'm thankful for all that Australia and New Zealand have to offer, in terms of their natural beauty as well as their culture. I'm thankful for the great people I've met and the opportunities they've given me to experience aspects of Australia and New Zealand I probably couldn't have seen otherwise. I'm thankful that I got the courage to pack up and move overseas.

But before I get too cheesy, let me say what I am not thankful for right now: I am in no way thankful for the fact that Thanksgiving is not celebrated in New Zealand. I take small solace in the fact that I am enjoying fabulous spring weather at the moment, while all you Michiganders are freezing cold. But that just doesn't compensate for the severe lack of turkey in my life right now. Oh, and I am also not thankful that a "pie" here involves meat. Painfully, I have met a number of people who have never even heard of a sweet potato pie. As much as I love New Zealand, I just don't think I could ever call a Thanksgiving-less country home.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Well, transitioning up to Auckland has been pretty much a breeze so far. I left Wellington on Sunday morning, catching a ride with two German guys are travelling the North Island. We took a scenic route up to Turangi, a town just nestled between Lake Taupo Tongariro National Park (the home of Mt. Ngauruhoe AKA Mt Doom from Lord of the Rings). We spent the night there and then finished the trip to Auckland on Monday. Lots of good pictures and scenery along the way--all to be posted soon.

I jumped right into life in Auckland, and within a few hours of arriving on Monday I already had a job lined up (I'll be doing the same thing I was doing in Wellington, but now I'll be based in the Auckland Ministry of Health office), and had checked out four flats. I saw two more yesterday and will see two tonight and hopefully will move in somewhere this weekend.

Being up in Auckland this time is much different from when I arrived in May. Although I still don't find it to be as welcoming or pretty as Wellington, this time I am equipped with the connections and friends that allow me to settle in without too much stress. It will still take some figuring out to understand my way around (especially since I have to take the bus and/or train out to my job), but it shouldn't be too difficult. And maybe in my time here I will figure out why the rest of the country hates Aucklanders so much. Is it that Aucklanders really do think that the world revolves around them or that the rest of the country is just jealous? The jury is still out, but then again, I have only been here three days.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Bad Weather

I know I have written about Wellington's crappy weather before, but at the time I thought it was a passing thing. One cannot expect winter weather to be good, because bad weather is what definies winter. But now it is spring, and since the nice days in Wellington are really nice, I was hoping it would improve.

Not so. Since I got back a week ago, it's been storming almost nonstop. And this is not your average wind and rain, either. I seriously considered going to hide in our window-less hallway the other day for fear that the glass was going to blow in. Then my flatmates and I had a discussion about what they call hurricanes here (typhoons? cyclones? There was no conclusion), and if they get them (yes).

Then yesterday there were TWO earthquakes.

I'm leaving for Auckland tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Not-So-Savvy Traveler

Having travelled around 50,000 miles (give or take) since February, I feel like I have gotten pretty good at travelling. I can pack quickly and compactly, I have a good organizational system for my carry on luggage and important documents, and I'm not afraid to ask for directions. If nothing else, I keep reminding myself that even if I forget something, as long as I've got my passport, tickets, and some money, I can figure out the rest later. And that mindset was working well--I made this far never getting seriously lost, and the only things I've misplaced are one pair of pants and one pair of underwear (I don't count the socks that our washing machine eats because I didn't start losing those until I moved into my flat in Wellington).

Being the savvy traveller, I figured my trip back to New Zealand would be easy. My flight from Detroit to LA was a little late, but I had checked my luggage straight through to Wellington, so I figured my only potential holdup would be security. Still, I was well prepared with my slip-off shoes and ziploc bag of liquids (under 3 oz of course) in hand. But the holdup came at the Air New Zealand check-in counter. First the check-in guy shuffled through my tickets about 20 times. They were all there. Then he flipped through my passport over and over. I pointed out my visa, the stamp in my passport showing that I'd entered New Zealand in May and had activated it, plus the line on the visa that said "multiple entry permitted." He called over a supervisor to take a look. "You need a return ticket," she told me.

I have one, of course (I had to send proof when I applied for my visa), but being the savvy traveller who does not carry valuable things I don't need, I had left it in New Zealand. No sense in hauling it to America and back, right? The supervisor woman asked if I was flying Air New Zealand back--maybe they could just look up my reservation? Unfortunately, being a savvy traveller, I'd booked an open-ended ticket to allow for changes to my itinerary. So there was no reservation in the computer. Did I have a copy of my ticket? Of course--the savvy traveller carries photocopies of all important documents. But being an idiot, I had packed the copies in my checked luggage thinking that I wouldn't need them. Still, I was extra-prepared and had left an additional copy with my parents, so could they fax it over? The woman told me that no, since it was an open-ended ticket and not a proper reservation, I needed the real thing.

My options? Stay in LA or buy a new ticket from Auckland to LA. They talk about carrying a credit card for emergencies, and this was definitely an emergency. I'm never very excited about making $1,000 charges, so it was especially painful considering it was something I'll never use. The woman assured me the ticket was refundable, but she also qualified that with "Well, maybe not completely." Great.

Fortunately, all my good travel karma (or something) swept in at the last minute and literally just as the guy was about to take my credit card, the woman "made a call to New Zealand" and told me I could get on the plane without the new ticket. I thanked them about a million times, decided it was not a good time to ask if I could have a window seat, and ran off to security. I was going to write a letter to Air New Zealand thanking them for having such a great staff, but then thought better of telling the company that their employees potentially let someone (a person with a non-Anglo name, no less) on the plane without proper documentation.

So long story short: I'm safely back in New Zealand (the immigration people in Auckland mentioned nothing about a plane ticket), and when I leave the country again in a few weeks (Tonga? Vanuatu? Still deciding) I will definitely be taking my Auckland-LA plane ticket.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Leaving Home or Going Home?

After almost three weeks back in the US, tomorrow I'm heading back to New Zealand. It has been a very productive trip home. Most of my major accomplishments (taking the GRE, getting wierdly sunburned, catching up on the entire fall TV lineup plus some back seasons of The Office and Gilmore Girls, etc.) were not photographed, but here are a few that were captured on film:

Halloween was pretty awesome. In addition to continuing our tradition of watching Teen Witch while handing out candy to trick-or-treaters, I carved the greatest pumpkin I have ever carved. Jenny made the Detroit D. Sadly the Tigers did not win the World Series, but my pumpkin is still awesome.

I also got to take a fabulous tour of the Wayne State Law School, complete with a trip to the lecture room that had been locked up because a squirrel got into the vents. Seriously, why did I go to New Zealand when I can visit Wayne State?

It was definitely a good trip home. I'd list all the other great things I did and people I was so glad to see, but since there are no more accompanying pictures, it's not really that fun to read a list of names. Posted by Picasa

More later on some of my observations from being back in the States. I wouldn't call it culture shock, but it definitely took some adjusting. There are some things I am sad to have to leave again (DVR), but I also can't wait to get away from others (the feeling that I am constantly being marketed to).

Also, "happy" election day. Although I now feel strong attachment to New Zealand, I will maintain my civic duty as an American and vote today. And depending on what the election returns tell us tonight, tomorrow might be a really, really good day to leave.