A Travellerspoint blog

Death and Taxes

Didn’t Oscar Wilde say everything was negotiable - except death and taxes?

sunny 15 °C

On October 1st the tax structure changes in New Zealand, this is not negotiable! At the same time the GST (goods & services tax) also changes. The GST will go up (from 12.5% to 15%) and income taxes will go down; in effect it is sort of a wash. Stores are having huge promotions to sell sell sell before the new GST. If you are buying a car or boat, yes makes good sense! Since discussion of taxes is so incendiary & polarized in the US, I thought this topic might be interest so people can take a look at what NZers pay.

When you buy a pair of shoes GST is added like sales tax, yet when you have dinner out you are charged GST but your bill is all inclusive as there is NOT any TIP expected. At first the prices seem extraordinarily high but then you realize “ahhh no tip” so it softens the blow a bit. I have spoken with Kiwis who freak out with the US tipping process; it is just so confusing to them.

Income tax rates: Now… imagine if people at the upper end of the range in the US paid this much tax! How would life in the US change?! Interesting thought experiment ‘eh?

Income Current rate New rate
$0 - 14,000 12.5% 10.5%
$14,001 – 48,000 21.0% 17.50%
$48,001 – 70,000 33.0% 30.0%
Over $70,000 38.0% 33.0%

However, as I understand it, let’s say if you make $50,000 you don’t pay all of your tax at that 30% bracket. You pay 10.5% for your first $14,000, then you pay 17.50% for the next chunk of change, and then you pay 33% for that last little bit ($1,999.00). The fiscal year runs March to March.

Today – Sunday - was a nice relaxing day. We hung out at the beach, windy but nice or fine as they say here. We also changed our clocks today so got to “spring forward’. Howard and I celebrated 24 years of living together today. Amazing! Next up is our wedding anniversary in February! Moving the next two weekends & am REALLY looking forward to being in the new place. Cheers!

Posted by Hilary G 00:12 Archived in New Zealand Tagged light day taxes savings gst Comments (0)

NZ Secondary School Teachers on Strike

plus the earthquake & a few new photos are posted

all seasons in one day 15 °C

Since I have arrived here in NZ I have been watching - with great interest - the state of the teaching profession. Like the US, teachers here are under siege with unpopular mandates from the Ministry of Education. To top it all off, this week a big annual report came out that stated that many NZ secondary school teachers are paid less, and work more hours, than other teachers in nations in the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development). OK so that’s 29 other countries - ouch! After 15 years experience, a NZ teacher makes $10,000 less than OECD counterparts; NZ teachers also start at a lower pay scale. Speaking of hours worked, only teachers in the US and Mexico work more hours than NZ teachers. Ouch again.

NZ is a small nation of only about 5 million people, geographically isolated, in the southwest corner of the Pacific Ocean yet has boasted some of the best educational results for decades. I believe the consensus is that NZ has had a world class educational system. When I became a teacher in the 80s it was all about the “NZ way”. Moreover, tertiary education is a “product”. Many wealthy university students from all over the world come to NZ to study and live, and often their parents come to visit as well, which all equals big bucks for NZ! Recent changes to (K-12) standardization go against the Kiwi grain of local control, individualism, and creativity. People vociferously complain of failed K-12 educational policies from the US and UK being imported to NZ.

For awhile now, secondary school teachers are in negotiations with the Ministry of Education and have reached a stalemate. Teachers are asking for a 4% raise and a”genuine commitment” from the Ministry to address class size, teacher retention, and recruitment. Due to the fluidity between NZ and Australia, (the UK too) many teachers simply leave NZ for greener pastures. This week in both Wellington and Auckland, big rallies were organized; last I heard about 2,000 teachers, wearing black, marched down Queen Street in Auckland last Wednesday. More later as this drama unfolds…..

On the home front, everything is going very well. We are looking at all sorts of used furniture and plan to move early October. It will be fun to unpack and see what we brought. It’s been so long since we packed it will be like Christmas!! We bought a second car, Mazda of course; it’s a station wagon so little Miss Pumpkin Princess has her own “space”. Actually she is turning into a pumpkin and has gained weight; and no, she is not eating any of the infamous NZ savory meat pies! I love my new job and my brain is “switched on” – lots to learn and wonderful people to work with. I have a spacious office with all sorts of spiky, wild NZ surreal succulent greenery outside my wall of windows. I foresee it will be a lot of work and extremely absorbing. I reckon (popular word) the work will be chewy. But hey, I don’t have any papers to grade at home… or lessons to plan... or parents to call… or… or… or…. like I did when teaching.

EARTHQUAKE UPDATE: The news has been pretty comprehensive for those interested in the Christchurch/Canterbury area quake. All I can say is kudos to the Kiwis. Staunchness has triumphed despite days/nights of massive rumbling aftershocks freaking everyone out. The mental anguish has been horrific. Anyway, due to excellent building codes and amazingly thorough on-the-ground-response from all the various organizations, recovery and rebuilding are well on the way. I’m so sorry I did not see Christchurch’s gorgeous old brick buildings before this happened. I’m extremely impressed with responses compared to other natural disasters I can think of.

Final thought, having two springs in one year is extra special nice! Our garden has all sorts of bulbs (tulips & daffodils are just finished); many flowers and shrubs are blooming and trees are starting to green up. Strange things are blooming, I have no idea what they are, but they are pretty!

PS: if you are looking at photos and see BMX guys – it was so funny. We were walking on an old timber road when suddenly I hear “OH SHIT….. PEOPLE” and this guy sailed over my head on his bike!! I was afraid he would be scared of me and crash but he didn’t… they were the cutest guys, about 18 y.o., and we had a nice long chat. I took photos of them as they did tricks for us – and they were good! The track was impressive and totally hidden in the woods.

Posted by Hilary G 23:25 Archived in New Zealand Tagged education teachers strike oecd Comments (1)

Walking on the Motorway AND on Sunshine??

rain 12 °C

NZ is a young country; the land was formed over a period of 82 million years and the first settlers, the Maoris arrived only 800 years ago (although evidence indicates Polynesians arrived 2,000 years ago but while their colonies did not last, their rats did). The second wave of pioneers started to arrive after Capt Cook landed in 1770…. and waves have continued ever since. Urbanization is also relatively new here as NZ is a country with an agricultural economic base. So long story short, when a new motorway gets built it is big news and a major endeavor!!

The tradition here is to allow the public to walk on the motorway before cars are allowed so 15,000 of us strolled upon one new section last Sunday, 29/08/2010. It was such fun! I have never walked on a motorway before and was eagerly awaiting the event! My friend Maureen said to arrive early and get parking, which was very smart. We parked and strolled over to the onramp and gazed up at all the construction, then amidst steady streams of people, coming and going, walked up the onramp. It was so interesting to look down to see the well known Newmarket shopping district and see the ocean views beyond that. Cars were zooming by on the other side and you could feel their vibration, it was so weird. Imagine a stretch of highway in your neck of the woods and what it would be like to simply stop, get out, and happily walk around on a beautiful sunny morning with other cars rushing about on the other side! The actual blue crane that moved the sections of cement was enormous! All kinds of families and individuals were ambling about, snapping pictures, & chatting. So many good stories: Many remembered the last time they walked a new section or even the iconic Harbor Bridge in 1959. When we had enough, we nipped over to another street and walked over the motorway on a pedestrian bridge to get a good view of it all from a distance – rain started to pour down so we had to run and keep our cameras dry.

Moving to another country is like entering a land of ambiguity and total limbo. Where will we live? Where will I work? What will we eat? What will I wear? The latter is especially important because clothes here are more whimsical, creative, feminine, and fun than I’m used to! I’m just starting to “get” clothes here but do “get” they are VERY pricey. The clothes horse function of my brain has been switched off so I rotate between a few boring black outfits and am so grateful no one person (except Howard!) sees me on a daily basis. Thankfully, some of these other major pieces are now starting to fall into place and the ambiguity is diffusing.

In October we are going to move to another rental house super close to the beach. It is a 2-3 minute walk to a small beach and park adjacent to a larger beach & town called Brown’s Bay, which is about 30 minutes north of Auckland (sans traffic). Brown’s Bay is a self contained beach town with all the shops you can ask for, public library and busses to Auckland. I feel a real sense of community there. The house has a huge deck with bits of fantastic ocean views, lots of rooms for offices and guests (ahem), big kitchen, massive upstairs lounge with amazing ocean views, a tidy yard for Kenzie, + 2 car garage. We are so excited! But now I have a whole new thing to be anxious about; packing, moving, unpacking, arranging, & of course buying a frig, washer, furniture, too many decisions. Ergh. We will be fine.

My new office is only minutes away, due west, right across the motorway so my commute will be really manageable. Traffic here can be a nightmare. New office?? Yes, as soon as my work permit is processed by immigration I can start. Details as soon as that happens……. Hope and pray the work permit comes through in TIME as the offer of employment is only open until the 24th of September. Fingers crossed!!

PS: Katherine Mansfield’s later stories are much more nuanced, sophisticated, and even darker than her first…. Simply wonderful!

Posted by Hilary G 23:51 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Katherine Mansfield + Some Random Observations

lots more photos uploaded for your viewing pleasure as well!

semi-overcast 14 °C

It’s more fun to start with the random thoughts. Now that we have been here for a few months we are seeing how much we don’t know. Elections are coming up and we are clueless for the first time ever! Now that we have some small level of normalcy we see all the things we don't know and places we are just learning about and now want to go.... there is so much to see and do here + so much to learn.

For example we were looking at cars and most of the styles are ones we have never heard of. OK Mazda, but what is that Mazda? Since cars are shipped over from Asia/Japan they are Asian/Japanese models. Their GPS does not work here either. No one imports cars from Singapore due to the heavy rain there which shorts out the electrical system of the cars. Who knew?

The other day at school, it was pouring with rain (some hail too). At morning tea time the teachers all left their kids in their classrooms, UNSUPERVISED, and went off to tea! I was flabbergasted and asked if that was typical… “Oh yes they’re fine!” Hmm, I dont think it would fly if US teachers left their kids in their classrooms for 20 minutes (or more) by themselves. In another classroom about a dozen kids (age 8-9) were busily using 6 hot glue guns and getting burning hot glue all over themselves. They were quite happily making a mess and running to get cold water for their (tiny) burns. The teacher, sitting at her desk, way far away, just laughed and said we shouldn’t coddle them too much….. Ok! Today while walking Kenzie I saw 2 little barefoot, helmetless, boys hurtling down a twisty, steep hill on skateboards screaming with delight. Big boys have been reported to ride their extra long skateboards down long steep hills at night on the MOTORWAY… so I guess it fits that kiwis invented bungee jumping right?

You all know how I love my local library and my stack of bedside books is a constantly revolving half dozen. I have always heard of Katherine Mansfield but never read any of her work. Well, let me tell you, she is funny! She is totally sarcastic and acerbic about polite, boring bourgeois society. She was born in NZ in 1880, eventually got pregnant, and then recuperated in Germany (not sure what happened to the baby) where she began the famous modern short story genre with the publication of her first book, In a German Pension. Apparently, soon after she married she left him & ran off with her another lover; they published and worked together for some years before she died around age 40ish. She sounds very unconventional and exciting for the Victorian Era! I think I would have liked her in person if she was as funny as her writing.

Posted by Hilary G 22:51 Archived in New Zealand Tagged educational Comments (2)

Volunteering at a Local Primary School

I'm having a blast at school!

sunny 15 °C

Here is a description of one morning:

A class of Year 5/4th graders is working in visual literacy so are going to make origami box and top to hold the biscuits (cookies) they baked yesterday. Yummy! Following directions, sequencing, fractions, reading visual cues not in text was the goal. So, we all learned how to fold the large heavy white paper into boxes – for those that have done that you KNOW sharp creases are essential! Once boxes were built they could paint them as well. It took us almost an hour for everyone to finish & then it was time for “brain food” (snack time).

From there I went to kindergarten, what kiwis call year 1. Kindergartens exist and (from what I understand) are similar to US preschools. More on that later as there is big national controversy going on … Here in NZ, all children start school at age 5; from the parent/child point of view it may sound delightful and fun “oh what a special day!” But it is a teachers’ nightmare. As the teacher told me, kids come at all times throughout the year and you have to orient them (and parents) how to “do” school. Other kids get bored with the orientation. We teachers all have had new kids come in to class but as a first day ever, in the middle of the year that is really hard on everyone – and the poor student is way behind on what school is even all about! Many schools also have a class called ‘new entrants’ where all the new kids go after a certain point in the year. Whether those kiddos go on to the next year 2 or stay at year 1 all depends on their age and progress.

Today I worked with kids who clearly were very young, emergent, pre literacy level kiddos. It was exhausting trying to keep them on track for more than a nano second but we managed! They are adorable as any 5 year old can be, full of energy, enthusiasm, and the God's Honest Truth about anything and everything. The content of their work was high level and interesting: yesterday they watched their teacher pour hot water into a bowl and water vapor rose and formed droplets against plastic wrap over a bowl. They were labeling their pictures and writing up explanations of what happened. Oh but guess what? One little girl stuck her bright little face right into mine, I mean really right into me, and whispered excitedly that she had 3 glue sticks!! OMG! Clearly that was the highlight of the moment for both of us!!!

Morning Tea is a time when the children run outside and play while all teachers all gather for tea/coffee in the staff room. Everyone is together expect those (appears very few!) on duty. We had a trivia game and teachers won prizes like boxes of cookies or candy! I’m very struck how all the teachers and the office staff all enjoy morning tea at every school I have visited. Everyone is together for 20 minutes to connect and socialize. Often there is a game or simply a few casual announcements but everyone is together every day. I think back to the millions of times I have heard teachers – in the same small building - exclaim that they have not seen their colleague or buddy in DAYS.

Next 3rd grade/year 4: I had a group of 6 students and we too were working on sequencing and following directions while working within the larger context of things that change form. Their goal was to make yeast for Maori bread called Rewana bread. The class room was a hub bub of activity! Every group did something different. Overall, every subject is organized in groups so students do a lot of independent work and the teachers do lots of planning! Today while we worked on cooking the potato for the yeast, mashing it up and adding the flour, filling in the work sheet, & looking up facts on teeny tiny laptops, the teacher met with a variety of groups to check their progress on whatever they were doing.

My overall first impressions are that the pace is a bit more relaxed, recess is much longer, & there are many more hands on activities than what I have seen recently in classrooms in the US. Recess rules! Morning tea recess is 20 minutes and lunch is a total of 45 minutes for eating and playing. Wow! The kids eat outside as the weather usually is “fine”. They take off their shoes a lot and don’t appear to be cold at all when I’m freezing. Staunch kids!

Posted by Hilary G 22:18 Archived in New Zealand Tagged educational Comments (2)

(Entries 6 - 10 of 35) « Page 1 [2] 3 4 5 6 7 »