A Travellerspoint blog

The Year of the Rabbit

Bugs, real estate, kayaking, and high school assessments

semi-overcast 25 °C

In the spirit of the Year of the Rabbit, this post will hip hop all over the place! One web site declared that “the year of the Rabbit is known for a placid year, very much welcomed and needed after the ferocious year of the Tiger. We should go off to some quiet spot to lick our wounds and get some rest after all the battles of the previous year.” Let’s hope so! http://www.theholidayspot.com/chinese_new_year/more_zodiacs/rabbit.htm

BUGS! BUGS! BUGS! In Colorado we had mosquitoes, flies, worms, gypsy moths, and probably many others. Here in NZ we have Daddy Long Leg spiders, flies, fleas, moths and certainly many more. Interestingly, in NZ people do not appear to have any screens so the bugs are quite at home in your home. The spiders are not harmful but I still don’t like them. Overnight webs can stretch across the INSIDE of your cupboards. When Kenzie and I walk in the AM, sometimes we walk through giant webs strung across the path. It’s so creepy! The flies are plentiful and annoying. This year, with a La Nina weather pattern (hot & humid), we have more flies than ever, how exciting for them! As evidenced by sales at hardware/ home/grocery stores, many folks buy wall mounted, automatic poison dispensing, and battery operated canisters whereby toxins are dispersed through your home on an automatic and regular basis. No thanks! Oh… what was that about clean and green? Apparently flies become immune to it anyway so it ceases to be effective. I use a newspaper. Howard is very excited with his high tech fly swatter! He uses a battery (yes!) operated plastic tennis racket thing emitting a small current to offer electric shock to the fly; and we thought electric shock was for keeping cattle and mental illness at bay! Sometimes we get those really gianormous coach roaches, the ones people euphemistically call water bugs; as if they could be used as surf boards? Recently, I had a suitable for YouTube Bug ‘n Bowl of Nuts exhibition in the pantry. None of the insects here are toxic; another feather in the proverbial Kiwi cap comparing ourselves in the Kiwi/OZ friendly rivalry. Go Kiwis!

SCHOOL ASSESSMENT: Recently in the news there has been brouhaha about high school assessments. Most of the nation now uses NCEA. Some schools use Cambridge. The conflict has been over some schools choice to use both; some parties said that was not right and should only use the New Zealand based (created) assessment NCEA. The Minter of Education got involved and it got a bit ugly; some called the school using Cambridge exams elitist and unethical, potentially illegal, and implied lapses of integrity.

NCEA is partly an internal assessment thus subject to much subjectivity. Teachers give the exams & grade them as the year progresses. One class could have 6 Papers to equal the NCEA assessment. Funny thing though, the questions are leveled achievement, merit, excellent. (easy medium hard) but of you don’t get the low level correct you don’t get any points even if you get the excellent (hard) section correct. That is just not right! NCEA & Cambridge are very important exams and are used for university entrance. Cambridge is an international assessment given at the end of a yearlong course. Over 150 years old, Cambridge is used in 160 countries and is an end of year exam vs. a process of assessment.

Speaking of his school’s increased use of the Cambridge Exams, the principal of Auckland Grammar School says “It is not elitist; it’s something that works better for our kids. I’m not telling schools what to do, or that we should all do it, but for us it works really well. If it didn’t work for us then we wouldn’t do it – we’re not STUPID”. I love how he is so frank and outspoken for his students, staff, and Board of Trustees, who have spent 10 years analyzing and discussing the two assessments. They want to offer both; more students now opt for the Cambridge. So what? In a small country, with literally no districts at all, it seems silly not be enable schools to offer a variety of assessments to students according to their needs, interests, and goals. One size does not fit all in New Zealand….. or anywhere else.

The focus and conversation about student learning in NZ shares some similarity to the US yet is still vastly different than here in NZ. Refreshingly, overt corporate interest is minimal here. The undercurrent of wanting to dismantle public schools is also not blatantly evident. Schools and teachers work hard, and some suffer, but not as badly as many places I have witnessed in the US. The US right wing attack on public schools, and a single minded focus on assessment (to the detriment of so many others areas important for student success) are not evident here either. There is even some money for schools. Schools are not perfect and there are many kinds of schools just like there are many kidns of students. AND …. the conversation is obviously shifting around assessment and standards.

KAYAKING: Last week end, we drove to a small river in the little aptly named town of Riverhead, NW of Auckland. While I avidly read the wonderful book, THE HELP, under a shady tree, Howard kayaked. He could have signaled for help at one point….. After about an hour or so paddling into the big bay, Howard made a dramatic and fast rushing finish. He sailed into view, waved his paddle, and proceeded to cross over a rapid. He sailed over the rushing white water, gave me a big smile, and then went head over tea kettle SPLASH! It was so funny! I cracked up and so did the assorted people in the park, immediately he bobbed to the surface and started to laugh. All was well with the world.

REAL ESTATE: We are looking for a place to move - maybe. We absolutely love the location of our current house yet think we might find something a bit nicer for a similar price. We do not want to move for the sake of moving as this place has many of the features we appreciate and want, like the beach! Our house has not been maintained in 20+ years which can be depressing when you are used to something a bit more “together”. It has one area of complex mustiness covered up with a lingering cheap scent. The carpet is literally threadbare. We wonder if we will freeze in winter. The list goes on. Now that we have lived by the beach however, with a bit of lawn (or section as they say here) we are spoiled. Not sure what will happen so we will see & fingers crossed; wish us luck!

Posted by Hilary G 18:21 Archived in New Zealand Tagged education kayaking bugs teachers living_abroad clean_ and_green real_estate daily_living educational_assessments ncea cambridge_exams Comments (0)

A Typical Day In Auckland

sunny 23 °C

When Kenzie and I leave the house at 6 AM every week day morning, I always stop and wonder for just a moment: can I hear the ocean or is it still today? In summer, the sun rises at 6ish so we see spectacular hues of red, pink, and orange appear over the adjacent volcanic island Rangitoto. Some days we can smell the sea from the front door, other days I miss that pre-coffee jolt.
Kenzie and I walk to our town, Browns Bay, through a circuitous route over hill and dale, along the water front, and back up the hill. It can be close to an hour. We see regulars and typically stop for a quick chat. At that hour it is all business and most everyone has an internal clock ticking. Our most frequent buddies are “Phil and Lucy” and the “Rubbish Men”.

Phil and Lucy are so nice. He is a cheery, smart, and successful, almost retired Hospital Industry guy and she is a near deaf/blind totally adorable little white fuzz ball. Bichon? (I get them all mixed up.) The rubbish men are fascinating and friendly. One is a tall skinny farmer from South African who tells me stories – “ah the guns, they are so bulky – when you get a call you gotto move the guns, always the guns, so bulky and in your way!” “He rode his bike around Australia, literally (!!) and can talk at a similar steady stream. The other is a Kiwi bloke whom Kenzie adores, I let her off the leash and she runs to him like a long lost pal. Today he was so mindful of not letting her get any of his bacon pie.

On with the schedule! Home by 7 AM then shower and breakfast with Howard at 7:30. We talk about the news and our plans for the day. Off to work I go @ 8ish. My drive is easy, due west, which bypasses the motorway completely.

Back at home, Howard typically has a busy day of work, emails, letting in the numerous repair men who come to piece together this white elephant of a house, working out, and doing errands. Every day he has a long list of things to do, people to see, writing to accomplish, and of course a dog to walk. Yes, Little Miss Pumpkin Princess gets a long afternoon walk as well.

Typically Howard walks her at the end of the day before dinner. This is so nice as it gives me a quiet time to “creativity cook” whatever I can rustle up and then putter around. For example, right this moment they are walking (this involves reading under big trees by the sea) and I am up in our lounge typing away and glancing out to the distance whilst I hear the surf as it crashes against the beach. Dinner IS cooking I promise!

After dinner lots of people the world over watch TV, yet I find TV quite dull. I find TV dull everywhere but in NZ I find it worse. Perhaps this is because I’m enjoying life and am busy? I’d rather read my library book or go online than watch dumb TV and yes I’m an international TV snob. We have many shows from the US, the UK, and of course from here. It just seems irrelevant to watch TV when I can see what I want online. Howard says lots of Kiwis love to watch US sports and many people wear shirts celebrating their favorite American athletes. American movies are VERY popular. Howard likes to watch old movies and sports so we have the $$ Sky TV dish satellite system. Maybe if the TV was in a different room I would watch it, probably would. Right now TV is in our upstairs lounge which means you have to go upstairs – I know such a hardship! Wonderful news about the actual dish (about 18 inches in diameter) it is always pointed north so you always know where north is - isn’t that just so handy!? You never know where or when you will need to know where north is.

Our lives are not unique. We work during the week, do chores and have fun on weekends. We live like many other couples, except we live in an amazingly beautiful place in a small isolated country. The isolation is a double edged sword… think about it. We do not lack for things and the people here are more relaxed than I am used to and many like to take “chit chat” to full blown “talk” about significant interesting topics. One thing I have noticed, and appreciated, is the level of depth you can reach in a short amount of time. For example, guns in the US OK let’s talk about that! The brand of NZ as being “clean and green”, OK let’s talks about that. Mortgages in NZ and the cost/ processes of buying a house, yeah lets talk. People often have time to talk about something other than themselves or people they know. Or maybe they are interested to hear a foreign opinion - and we have those in spades!

Our typical days here are not unpleasant. Sure we have issues and challenges, yet they seem petty and inconsequential. Items on our negative list are rapidly receding whilst items on the positive list are growing. We enjoy each others’ company, our work, our location, our life. I wish more people could have what we have.

Posted by Hilary G 23:16 Archived in New Zealand Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises people ocean green walk work life day north tv daily schedule clean_ Comments (2)

Happy Christmas from Auckland!

sunny 25 °C

Greetings! Just a quick post to wish all my online friends joys of the season and peace for the New Year.

Kiwis don’t say Merry Christmas as much; it is often Happy Christmas. The holidays here in NZ are pleasantly low key. Shopping is happening but not frenzied. There are parties and gifts yet everything seem to be a smaller scale. I see few lights on houses in our neighborhood, wreaths are here and there, and trees or blow up plastic Santa’s grace the occasional house. Decorations, e.g. at the mall, are much smaller and village shops often have homemade/hand done decorations. It is not “flash”! The concept of scale is interesting. The other day I thought the way people live, even structures and systems in NZ exist on a very human scale. We are a small country and humanity is valued.

It’s hot, yet for days we had torrential rain. Then the sun finally came out so the flowers are brilliant. Butterflies and birds abound. Ahh, the joys of summer! Today we swam in the sea, our first swim of the year. Fantastic! The water felt so good, so refreshing.

Our time in NZ has flown by and we are very glad we are here. I miss very little other than the people I care about. Never a Pollyanna however; next post may be more about the not so nice aspects… as everyplace has them and no place is perfect.

Let’s all hope for a peaceful and positive 2011.

Posted by Hilary G 00:37 Archived in New Zealand Tagged flowers christmas swim hot decorations Comments (2)

Catching up, Hot Holidays, and Dunedin

December 2010

semi-overcast 20 °C

Today I flew back after 5 days in Dunedin, which is a small city at the southern tip of the South Island. I went for a Library conference at the University of Otago - celebrating 100 years of public libraries in NZ as well as 100 years of the University. The University of Otago is the FIRST University in NZ.There is rich, diverse heritage and the town is reminiscent of Northern California with elements of gold mining, university students, ocean and mist, rolling green hills dotted with fat happy cows, and really good coffee and beer - so I am told! At the conference we had lots of fun, good productive work, met all sorts of fascinating and friendly people, and now I’m tired. I will catch up @ home this week end.

Dunedin hosts a population of about 130,000 and is a city of many firsts according to the guidebook. Eco tourism is really big. There are spectacular beaches, rugged hills, farmland, a gorgeous harbor, albatross, and penguins. Architecture is Victorian, Edwardian + modern; I love the contrast of old and new. Dunedin has a heritage of Scottish settlers, whalers, and Maori. Check it out. I really want to go back to sight see and play. Food was very good, interesting, fresh, and pretty healthy.

Christmas is around the corner in 3 weeks time yet trees and decorations are just going up. I like that the holidays do not begin the week end of Halloween. Today driving home from work I missed a great photo: cute young guys in shorts and flip flops, muscle shirts and shorts, selling 8 fresh Christmas trees on a corner. This is the first tree lot I have seen! Weather today was mildly muggy warm. This week I visited a few shops and most were devoid of anything overtly Christmas. Even the airport interspersed carols with non Christmas music.

Flying within New Zealand is very easy. There are a few planes going to a few cities at a time. Auckland to Christchurch is one hour +. Christchurch to Dunedin is one hour +, and we flew that in a puddle jumper. The luggage people were so nice. I had funny luggage as a vendor participating in the conference and each piece was an odd shape, over sized, or fragile. “No worries Miss!” We were charged extra but I sweetly questioned that and was kindly docked $150.00. Thank you!

While in Dunedin, a group of us went to a happening place, yes after dinner, and the bartender was a beautiful young woman from Arvada, CO. I was floored! She arrived with her parents 3 years ago and loves it here. Went to the US a while ago and was very happy to come “home”. She was a lovely, poised, confident, smart young woman working to earn $$ while finishing her degree. I was very impressed with her level of articulation and verve. Meeting people and leaning about their motivation to be here is so engaging. I can’t get enough of that, maybe that confirmation helps me verify my own experience?

People are fascinating. I love talking with people and yet not talking. For those of you who really know me, I know this surprises you! I’m really listening. Stories blow my mind. Perspectives jar my mind set. Despite my occasional discomfort, tiredness, or awkward stress (which is lessening each day), the stories of people grab me and hold my attention. Random examples: Greek dad from Zimbabwe (used to live-in staff up the whazoo) who brought family here for a better life. Gorgeous brilliant young woman + hubby from the UK living in the sticks of NZ for same. Edgy young guy from Singapore whose wife is getting her PhD; and many many Kiwis who share their journey with me in an open and humorous fashion. If I was an oral historian I would have a field day. Since I’m not, I’m simply fascinated and feel very connected to people as I listen.

I don’t think it is truly the perception of time that is different, although time feels slower here than in the US, I think perhaps I pay attention more fully. However, that is a generalization. I cannot say that about everyone I meet. Impatience and haste are certainly present yet solid, polite, upbringing seems to overcome. Sure, people can be very polite and seemingly connected and act interested, yet not really. OK I can deal with that! That feels more normal. Overall, the level of humaness and civility feels refreshing. Since Auckland has the largest population and is so urban, getting out of Auckland feels more like the real NZ. Look forward to lots more travel as the year unfolds.

Cheers! (that means “cool thanks!”)

Posted by Hilary G 00:03 Archived in New Zealand Tagged buildings travel airport heritage dunedin library civility stories Comments (2)

Settling In and SLOWLY Getting Organized

loving life in NZ

sunny 19 °C

OK OK it’s been a while now and we have no excuse but to be 200% organized but we are not. What with long hours at work, beach walks for coffee on the week end, and myriad other things… we are still a major work in progress in the new rental. Howard just assembled book cases so we can unpack some books; a good feeling of “home” for sure. I go through phases of unpacking which translates to mostly not - b/c I want to play when io have time off!

Update: spent the best part of this week in Brisbane (Gold Coast) Australia at company HQ. It was wonderful! Really learned a lot. I did not get any information or history on Brisbane beforehand so have nothing to offer. The river is lovely, meanders through the central business district with ferries racing past pedestrians taking the slow route. My camera pooped out or I would have included pix of graceful 30 feet tall stainless steel “ribs” lining the blocks long boardwalk with pink bougainvillea entwining and trailing thus offering shade to hot and weary walkers. It was simply gorgeous. Another funny thing: there is BEACH with sand right along the river cleverly called South Beach. I wished I had my bathing suit so I could have jumped into the giant pool - about 2 blocks long. Weather was really HOT and HUMID; I got a blister.

Other news: We like it here a lot. My list of things that are challenging is diminishing as my list of things I miss is likewise diminishing. It’s been 6 months now. We watch/read news from the US with great alarm and concern. It doesn’t look good. Kenzie is deliriously happy and we walk along the beach to the village everyday @ 6 AM. The rubbish guys are out busy working and she has a major fan club. I’m still struggling to find clothes I like and can afford. It is SO expensive for SUCH poor quality. I know I know, what a boring uptown problem: I need to find humid summer style professional wardrobe suitable for travel and trade shows…… this clothes fanatic is seriously suffering! I will stop whining now. Thanksgiving is coming up and I can not even think about it. The idea of a big heavy meal is too much; the idea of a gathering of friends and family is delicious.

Howard is great and has taken over more household chores so I can take a breath. He is busy every day taking care of lots of mundane stuff + working + working out and is pretty darn amazing. We are watching Glee so sorry if I’m being incoherent! Busy week end coming up with giant sculpture show in nearby oopsy boopsy Devonport. Hope you are all well. Happy SPRING from down under!

Posted by Hilary G 23:53 Archived in New Zealand Comments (2)

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