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Ohau to Oahu

The time has come, the Walrus allegedly said, to talk of many things. Going home and (re)starting professional lives are topics I’m not sure I’m ready to discuss. But we leave New Zealand tomorrow, so the time has indeed come. I recently approached the Walrus to see if he could help me come to terms with the end of our year-long journey. Here is a transcript of the conversation. Please excuse his language.

“You’ve traveled many miles.”

It’s true, Walrus. But wouldn’t kilometers be a more appropriate unit?

“And I suppose ‘zed’ is now the last letter of the alphabet? You filthy ex-pat.”

Sheesh. Forget I even brought it up.

“Grrrr. Fine. But you owe me a salmon steak. You’ve traveled many…miles…and now you must leave.”

I thought you would tell me something I don’t know. Like how to cope with all of this coming to an end.

“What are you taking with you?”

Um, basically everything I brought over minus my jeans. I spilled paint on them while woofing in Waiheke so—

“No! No, no, no!”

I know. They were my favorite jeans. It sucks.

“You materialistic bastard! What are you taking home that doesn’t fit in your bag?” 

Is this a riddle? Because I’ve got to say, I would’ve asked Owl to help with this last blog post if I wanted to answer riddles.

monkeying around on the Routeburn Track

monkeying around on the Routeburn Track

“Name one thing you’re taking home that won’t be in your bag!”

Jeez. Alright. Well, I guess I have like twenty more facebook friends than I did at the start of the year.

“Whoop-d-effing-do! I average fifty new friends a day. I have more twitter followers than Anthony Weiner—“

You know what, forget about it. I’m trying to answer your questions but you’re just being a jerk.

“You’re right. I had sea horse for lunch and it’s not sitting well. Sorry to take it out on you. So you’ve made some friends this past year?”

Yes.

Our flatmate Pete snapped some pro-level photos at Ohau last weekend. You can check them all out at peteoswald.co.nz

Our flatmate Pete snapped some pro-level photos at Ohau last weekend. You can check them all out at peteoswald.co.nz

“What are some of your favorite experiences with them?”

Well last weekend we went skiing in Ohau.

“Oh-a-who?”

No, you’re thinking of Oahu, the main island in Hawaii. More on that later. I’m talking about Oh-how, a small mountain two hours north of Queenstown. We caravanned up with our flatmates and six other friends. Rented out the Glenn Mary Lodge—a quaint and cozy compound built by a couple of ski aficionados in the 60s—and made lots of memories.

class photo in front of Glen Mary Lodge

class photo in front of Glenn Mary Lodge

“What kind of memories?”

We drank a lot of home-brewed beer. So the memories are a bit hazy. But charades on the first night was pretty funny. Guys versus girls. I can’t even describe how we solved “Jumanji.” It was inappropriate, even for your standards. And the meals were quite an undertaking. The girls made dinner each night. Spaghetti bolognese and chicken stir fry—

“Mmmmm.”

Yeah. Well the stir fry was delicious. They mixed sweet chili sauce with the soy sauce and it was dynamite. But if I’m being honest, the spag bowl could’ve been better. The pasta was severely over cooked and—

“I hope you didn’t tell them that!”

Of course I didn’t.

“Phew!”

But Tim did.

“Uh oh.”

Yeah. So that put the boys on cooking duty Sunday morning.

driving down from the mountain on Saturday

driving down from the mountain on Saturday

“How’d that go?”

We had two things going for us. One, everyone was hungover. Ohau just happened to be hosting “Scottish Weekend” on Saturday night so we snuck into that. They had a decent cover band that played a lot of U2 songs. I’m not sure why. But it was a lot of fun until they brought up a bag piper and put a microphone in front of him.

bonfire on shore of Lake Ohau

bonfire on shore of Lake Ohau

“Why would anyone think that’s a good idea?”

No clue. So we fled to our lodge with our eardrums in shambles and went to sleep with aspirations of impressing the ladies with a world-class breakfast.

“What’s the second thing?”

Huh?

“You said you had two things working in your favor for breakfast.”

Oh. Yeah. No, that was a lie. The breakfast was terrible. We basically threw a bunch of eggs, hashbrowns and butter together and fried up some leftover deli ham. Thankfully everyone’s hangover masked how disturbing the meal was.

“You’re pathetic.”

I know.

“How was the skiing?”

flat photo at top of Ohau: Brodie, me, Meg, Sophie, Pete, Sarah

flat photo at top of Ohau: Brodie, me, Meg, Sophie, Pete, Sarah

Unforgettable. The mountain’s only chairlift is a creaky two-seater. But it never got boring. We did some amazing hikes and skied fresh lines. We packed a picnic lunch and washed it down with a cold beer, Kennedy style.

“I’ve got to ask. Why does everything come back to food and drink with you?”

Hmmm. It does, doesn’t it? I never noticed. I guess this year’s been a big change for Meg and me in terms of dining.

Spag bowl night. Thanks for dinner girls!

Spag bowl night. Thanks for dinner girls!

“What kind of change?”

Well in New York we ordered out most nights. Maybe we’d whip up some rice-a-roni if we got home early enough, but the majority of our meals came in stapled styrofoam cartons. And then there was lunch. I probably ate Chipotle three days a week.

“I know. I saw the pictures before you left. That was some nice paunch.”

Hey! I’ve lost fifteen pounds this year.

“You’re like Al Roker circa 2003!”

Be nice.

“Sorry. How’d you do it?”

We became good home cooks. Well, Meg did at least. She’s mastered so many different recipes. Potato-leek soup, red lentil burgers, slow-cooked beef braised in red wine, homemade hummus, pumpkin risotto—

“Enough. I’m dribbling all over my tusks.”

Meg and Kate whipping up a delicious and waist-friendly meal

Meg and Kate whipping up a delicious and waist-friendly meal

Sorry. But yeah, she’s become an amazing cook. And I’ve elevated my culinary game from non-existent to barely competent. I actually went to the grocery store last week and checked out with a basket of carrots, potatoes and cabbage. The closest I ever got to those ingredients in New York was watching a St. Patrick’s Day episode of Law and Order.

“Sounds like you two have made some healthy lifestyle changes.”

Yeah, I guess so. Life in New Zealand is more active. It helps when you have mountains in your backyard, but I think kiwis are more motivated to get up, get out and have adventures. Ed Hilary is on the $5 bill. Nothing against Washington and Lincoln, but I think that captures the different cultures nicely.

“Do you think you’ll bring this active lifestyle back with you?”

I hope so.  We’ve gotten a lot better about exercising, spending time outside, and just saying yes to new experiences. I guess it depends on what we do next. When we lived in New York, work would always come home with us. Maybe not physically, but it was a focal point of our lives and conversations.

getting ready for a morning hike in Glenorchy

getting ready for a morning hike in Glenorchy

The people we’ve met in New Zealand are not trying to make fortunes. They have day jobs that allow them to make a living and enjoy life with their friends and families. I think we already knew that the jobs we left behind weren’t the answer for us. One thing we’ve come to realize is that life is too short and the world is too big to waste time doing something that doesn’t make you happy.

“What next? Move to Maine and join a commune?”

Yes. A Walrus hunting commune.

“Grrrrr…”

Our next move is a three-day layover in Oahu. The plan is to catch some rays in Honolulu so we don’t look like pasty lepers when we try to re-assimilate back home. We haven’t lined up jobs or anything so obviously we’re apprehensive about our impending unemployment. But we both have clear ideas of what we’d like to do, so the plan is to pursue those avenues and see what happens.

“What will you miss the most?”

The people. We’ve befriended some incredible people. I’ll miss the little things like swapping stories over a home-cooked meal, playing ping pong with Pete and Brodie in our frigid garage, and all the impromptu activities we did together: ice skating in the botanic garden, kayaking on the Hawea wave, launching ourselves into a foam pit off giant trampolines.

“So many activities! What else will you miss?”

The laid-back lifestyle. The views. The mountains, the waterfalls and the lakes. The ability to step outside our house and take a picnic hike up Queenstown Hill. There’s so much raw natural beauty here; and although we always reminded ourselves not to take any of it for granted, I know we’ll miss waking up to this every day.

Lake Wakatipu and the Southern Alps

Lake Wakatipu and the Southern Alps

“What type of emotions do you feel right now?”

Excited to see everyone at home. Sad to be leaving this amazing place and our new friends. Really sad actually. Any advice?

“A wise man once said to cherish the memories and make a badass photo album.

Then that’s what we’ll do.

“That wise man was me.”

Cheeky Walrus.

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Eliott and I always skied during winters back home, but our trips were limited to a few days a year. This winter we’ve been able to do our first real season. Our mountain, or ski field as they say in NZ, is called The Remarkables. The actual mountain is only 15 minutes outside of Queenstown, but the base is a treacherous, 30-minute drive further. And that is where this post will begin….

Driving up the remarkables access road- a white knuckle thrill ride in itself

Driving to the base- a white knuckle thrill ride in itself

We approach The Remarkables access road at about 9am on Tuesday morning. The gravel road is coated in snow, making it difficult to differentiate between land and air at the edge of the road. We are armed with a pair of tire chains and only a vague idea of how to use them. Our Subaru joins a caravan of its siblings and we begin winding slowly up the mountain. Eliott’s driving skills are tested as he navigates hairpin turns and avoids the unmarked edges of the cliff road. After rolling, sliding, and climbing for 30 minutes we finally pull into a spot at the top.

The Remarkables in all its glory

Clouds recede, unveiling The Remarkables in all its glory

Frigid Fresh mountain air assaults our faces on the chairlift up to Shadow Basin. You can see the entire mountain from the lift. It’s blanketed in white and pockmarked by jagged brown rocks of various sizes. There’s not a tree in sight, which is a first for North American skiers. The trails lay open in front of us and the absence of trees allows you to carve your own path across the mountain.

Old Man Bart starting his hike up to the "Toilet Bowl" basin

Old Man Bart starting his hike up to the “Toilet Bowl” basin

After a few warm-up runs we’re ready to start hiking. There are only three chairlifts on the mountain, but there are a lot more peaks to be skied. We coast over to the patroled boundary and pop out of our skis. Onto the shoulder they go and into the boot tracks we start climbing. Ten minutes later we’ve reached a new peak and three untouched chutes lay below us. The views are breathtaking- their only competition is the hike itself.

One of our favorite hikes, The Chutes

The upside to every hike is its downside

Down we plunge into the powder. There’s not another skier in sight. It takes a few turns before you realize that the only sounds you hear are your skis crunching through snow and your own breathing. We stop halfway down the chute and look out across a small alpine lake and the frosty range of mountains laying in front of us. The sight and sound of silence is invigorating. There’s nothing like it- pure, untouched beauty.

A panoramic view from the top

A panoramic view from the top

The sun starts to set and the lifts come to a stop as we ski down for the last run of the day. But the fun’s not over yet. Après ski hour begins at 5, and it’s very rude to show up late. Brew, bros, and a fire are the fare for the night.

Mulled wine and a fire on the deck, a perfect finish to the day

Mulled wine and a fire on the deck with the Belfast crew

We know, we know, it’s a hard life that we lead. But someone’s got to do it because these mountains can’t ski themselves.

Five weeks from today we’ll reunite with our families at Logan airport. As we enter the twilight of our trip, it’s hard not to reflect on everything we’ve experienced: the people, the sights, the food, the weather, the lifestyle. The first six months were a case study in nomadic living, while we’ve spent the last five immersing ourselves in a unique and close-knit community. Between these two distinct experiences we’ve unearthed almost every corner of New Zealand and observed several differences between our present home and our past one.

Here are ten that range from subtle to obvious and everything in between:

1. Temperament

Preface: this is a sweeping generalization. Three words I’d use to describe New Zealanders are outgoing, easygoing and friendly. Those aren’t exactly the first descriptors that come to mind when I think about New Yorkers. Here’s an anecdote from my first day living in Manhattan:

A hot and sticky June afternoon. We hopped on a packed subway car and jostled for standing room. I grabbed the rail in front of a seated middle-aged lady. She surveyed the car, then bowed her head down and leaned over my flip-flops. And then she sneezed…all over my foot. I gaped at Meg and couldn’t help but blurt out, “Gross!!!” The lady looked at me and rolled her eyes, as if to say “welcome to the big apple kid.”

Conversely, on our first day in New Zealand–technically it was somewhere over international airspace between San Francisco and Auckland–we met Karen. She was our neighbor for the 14-hour flight. We mentioned that encounter back in September. Karen is so genuinely friendly and helpful; she put us in touch with her daughter, who needed a pet-sitter for November in Wellington, and more recently hosted us for a delicious dinner at her Nelson home when my dad and sister visited in May.

Karen, we want to thank you for your friendship this year. Hopefully our paths will cross again...on this side of the equator or the other!

Thank you for your friendship this year, Karen. Hopefully our paths will cross again…on this side of the equator or the other!

2. Pizza

Nothing beats a New York slice. Whether it’s noon or 4am, New York pizza always hits the spot. New Zealand pizza is different. It has a fraction of the cheese and sauce, is almost exclusively thin crust, and rarely sold by the slice.  But I love it. Kiwi pizzas have a deep appreciation for toppings, which is why I think they make a perfect meal (whereas NY pizza is a perfect snack). Fresh meat, local veggies and creative sauce combinations blend together exquisitely.

If you’re ever in the area and looking for a good feed, try one of these institutions that serve up delicious pizza with a handful of other kiwi specialties:

Costa’s Pizza, Raglan

Shawtys, Twizel

Fork and Tap, Arrowtown

3. Insulation

From our experience it seems that many homes in New Zealand are built without insulation. We’ve struggled to understand why–someone told us it has to do with building permits not requiring it, another person attributed it to costs (which is ironic given our heating bills)–but this has been our biggest grievance with winter here. We’ve grown accustomed to seeing our breath during all waking hours. This is how we dress for bed:

sleeping bag, winter hat, long underwear, sweatshirt/pants, smart wool socks

sleeping bag, winter hat, long underwear, sweatshirt/pants, smart wool socks

4. Immune Systems

New York is a crowded city that becomes a germaphobe’s nightmare during winter rush hour. The subway is a cesspool of runny noses and swine flu. There’s something inherently healthier and restorative about day-to-day life in New Zealand. It could be that the air is cleaner. Or the lifestyle is more active. Maybe it’s the fact that people use less chemicals on a daily basis–e.g. they clean their homes with sugar soap rather than a potent cocktail of Mr. Clean and Ajax. Whatever it is, the kiwi lifestyle is conducive to building a more resilient immune system.

the active lifestyle is definitely an immune booster

bright orange pants also boost your immune system

5. Suspension bridges

In the U.S., suspension bridges are large and provide access to cities. In New Zealand they occur everywhere to bring people into nature. You’ll encounter a suspension bridge on many walks or drives and it will feel like a scene out of Indiana Jones. They’re a lot of fun to cross, but some are quite narrow with weight limits that test your mental math skills.

at Mount Cook, New Zealand's tallest peak

at Mount Cook, New Zealand’s tallest peak

6. Driving

Yes, they drive on the left here. But after four road trips and five months of owning a car, we’ve observed some subtler differences. Rotaries, or “roundabouts” as they’re called, are frequently used in place of traffic lights. They’re pretty efficient–so long as people know how they work.

State highways are usually two-lane roads with no medians and the occasional passing lane, which makes for some aggressive driving. Fortunately we’re from Boston by way of New York, so we have plenty of experience with such maneuvers.

The cars here are generally older than the ones at home. There is no societal pressure to drive a flashy new car, so people are content with twenty-year-old Subarus. This makes a lot of sense to us. As long as she’s a runner, why spend the big bucks when you could save the money for something more meaningful? Like, for example, a once in a lifetime trip.

there's no social pressures to get a fancy car, but we got one anyways

no social pressures to have a fancy car, but we got one anyways

7.  Coffee

We’ve covered this before. But to summarize the difference: kiwi coffee is almost exclusively espresso-based. You can’t just order a plain coffee. If you do, the barista will stare at you until you realize you aren’t in Kansas anymore. Typical coffee orders here are flat-whites, cappuccinos, and the indulgent mochaccino. While we’ve enjoyed these caloric delicacies, we’d be lying if we said we aren’t excited to walk into a cafe and say: “large coffee, please.”

recently engaged friends Bart and Kate enjoying their espresso beverages

recently engaged friends Bart and Kate enjoying their frothy espresso beverages

8. Pets

In the U.S. people have cats and dogs. Lots of New Zealanders have cats and dogs too. But some residents have less traditional pets. In Glenorchy we met April, an eccentric character who let us pose with her roommate:

April's pony, Lacey

April’s pony, Lacey

Another difference is that people own pets for practical reasons, not just cuddling. For example, the rooster meat and bacon we ate back in Gisborne.

9. Seasons

The New Zealand climate is mild and comparable to San Francisco. There are four distinct seasons–amplified or muted depending on what part of the country you’re in. The North Island is generally warmer; the west coasts of both islands get more rain. We packed the right stuff and overall it was pretty easy to acclimate. The thing that takes the most getting used to is the Southern Hemisphere seasons. Meg had her first summer birthday and I celebrated mine with a fresh coat of snow. No matter how much you mentally prepare yourself for the change, it is still surreal when you get to do this in the middle of June:

opening day at The Remarkables coincided perfectly with Kate and Bart's visit

opening day at The Remarkables coincided perfectly with Kate and Bart’s visit

10. Beer (aka piss)

It’s been eleven months since we’ve had bud light or any other watery excuse for beer. New Zealanders take a lot of pride in their barley sodas. Pubs have high quality domestic beer on tap–ranging from large corporate players to popular micro-brews–and we’ve tried them all. Among our favorites are Macs, Steinlager, Emersons and Three Boys.

enjoying some frosty Three Boys IPA at Ohau Lodge

enjoying Three Boys IPA at Ohau Lodge

Beyond the pub scene, home-brewing is a celebrated hobby. Dave, our first host on Waiheke island, had a five valve tap on his back porch. So while our experience has led us to rank New Zealand beer above American beer–where strong offerings like Sam Adams and Magic Hat are offset by keystone light et. al.–there are pros and cons to consider, mainly economical. The average pint in Queenstown is $7, but it’s a lot tastier than the $3 coors light back home. I suppose it boils down to where you fall on the quantity vs. quality debate.

Adventure Seeking

We’ve been selfish these past few weeks- diving into all sorts of activities without letting you share in the fun. Well we’re sorry and we’ll try to make it up to you. There should be plenty of opportunity what with the road trips we have planned for the next few weeks and ski season around the corner. Before we get into that, here are a few of the highlights from our autumnal adventuring!

Riding the Wave

An epic ride indeed

An epic ride indeed

On several weekends we have ventured out to “The Wave” at nearby Lake Hawea. This summer a whitewater kayak park was built on the river. Massive stone blocks have been cemented into the dam-fed waters creating two constant waves for surfing and riding. One of our flatmates has been ripping the wave on his whitewater kayak. However, Sarah and I opted for a simple, yet elegant boogie board ride. I’m not sure whether it’s more fun to get whipped across the rushing waves or to ride the white water. Though I guess I’ve never been able to stay on for much of a ride myself (5 seconds at longest maybe?). Either way it’s damn fun. You don’t even feel the 40-degree (4.5C) winds once you hit the water.

Some days the waves can really be whipping so safety first!

Who’s ready to get some gnar gnar!??

A “Great Walk”

Eliott standing on the brink of a dense beech forest, covered head to toe in moss

Eliott standing on the brink of a dense beech forest, covered head to toe in moss

New Zealand is home to some of the world’s best hiking, or tramping, trails. There are hundreds to choose from here, but only 9 are ranked as the official, “Great Walks.” We’re lucky enough to have one of these just 45 minutes from our house in nearby Glenorchy. The Great Walks are well-maintained trails that take 3-4 days to complete. You can camp out or stay in huts during your journey. Eliott and I opted for a one-day excursion on the Routeburn Track, which crosses the Southern Alps. We trekked for 5 hours, making it about a quarter of the way through the trail to the Falls Hut. The scenery was breathtaking. In the few hours that we walked we journeyed through lush, beech forest, along glacier-fed rivers with pristine blue waters, and took in views of rugged ice-capped mountains. It was without a doubt the greatest walk I’ve ever been on.

Completely untouched, natural beauty. #forgetthefilter

Completely untouched, natural beauty. #forgetthefilter

Winter Preparations

This usually involves a day spent sorting through old sweaters only to discover moths have eaten half of them. Well not this year! Instead we’ve been buying ski gear, planning road trips with family and friends, and making lots and lots of tea! The ski fields (aka mountains) will open up towards the end of June so we’ve been buying up some second-hand gear (yes, we did happen to buy matching skis). We have season passes for The Remarkables Mountain, which is just 45 minutes from Queenstown. It’s been a cold autumn so far and word on the street is that we’re bound for a good season this year. Keep your fingers crossed for us!

The snow is starting to collect up on the Reamrks

The snow is starting to collect up on the Remarks

Eliott’s dad and sister have just joined us for a 3-week trip and shortly after they leave my friends from college, Kate and Bart, will be visiting for another few weeks. So we’re taking the next month to double back on our previous road trips and fit in all of the stops that we missed before. We’ll be going top to bottom, from Auckland all the way down to the Catlins and Stewart Island! Many stories and pictures to come…

Helmets may need to be worn for a majority of this trip

Helmets may need to be worn for a majority of this trip

Lastly, I mention all the tea we’ve been drinking because it’s damn cold in this house! Insulation is a newfound phenomenon here in New Zealand so many houses are built without it; ours was definitely one of them. After almost 12 months straight of 60+ degree weather our bodies are having quite a time adjusting to the winter, but not to worry we’re hardening up one cup of tea at a time!

Oh the places we'll go!

Oh the places we’ll go!

 

Once Were Warriors

We’ve been bad. Three weeks have passed since our last post. While I won’t make excuses, I’ll just say that we’ve been trying to lead a more “kiwi lifestyle” and the immersion has come at the cost of Sheap Travel. This is us climbing back on the blogging saddle.

Our double summer has finally come to an end. The temperature in Queenstown has dropped to the low-teens (celsius!) and the once green tree line has become a palette of yellow, orange and amber. We may be a zillion miles from home, but the foliage gives Queenstown a familiar New England vibe. Despite the cooling mercury there have been plenty of sunny fall days. We’ve mastered the 18-hole frisbee golf course in the botanic gardens and spent an afternoon at the Arrotown Autumn Festival one town over. One of my favorite experiences was hiking the first leg of the Routeburn Track.

picnic break before climb to Falls Hut

picnic break before climb to Routeburn Falls Hut

While we’ve had many awesome outdoor adventures in Queenstown (and will be sure to share them in future posts), a cultural immersion would not be complete without experiencing local art. We recently teamed up with our flatmates to buy a DVD player and the investment has already paid dividends. I’ve been exposed to several new movies over the past month and some of them have blown me away.

So, in a deviation from our typical content, I want to use this space to share my thoughts on a kiwi film I watched last week, “Once Were Warriors.” You can see the trailer here.

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1994 DVD cover

“Once Were Warriors” is a 1994 film centered around the Hekes, a Maori family who live in a state-funded house near Auckland. The story is primarily about the destructive relationship between the alcoholic patriarch, Jake, and his loving but oppressed wife, Beth. While their interaction takes center stage, it is the effect of their choices on their six children that delivers the film’s gut-wrenching message.

This is a violent movie. Director Lee Tamahori, whose filmography includes the 2002 Bond flick “Die Another Day” and the Morgan Freeman thriller “Along Came a Spider,” has created a gritty film that is worlds apart from his more well-known blockbusters. “Warriors” features stylized violence in the sense that fights are coupled with rock music–similar to Tarantino’s type of gore–but the violence impacts me much harder than any Tarantino movie has. That’s because this is a story about abuse–domestic, substance and sexual abuse–so when the violent scenes end and the music fades away, we are left with the distraught victims and the feeling that we have just witnessed a horrific crime but are powerless to do anything about it.

Jake Heke is a deeply flawed protagonist. We first meet him when he tells Beth that he lost his job and is content going on welfare since it’s almost the same as his wage. When Beth scolds him for ignoring his responsibilities as the family provider, Jake screams at her and storms off to the pub. We quickly see that he is more at home at the pub with his friends than he is at his house with his family. Later that night, Jake invites his friends over to continue drinking. When Beth refuses to scramble eggs for the men, Jake snaps and beats her savagely. His friends quietly leave, his children cower under their bed, and Beth is helpless.

Jake and Beth, played by kiwi actors Temuera Morrison and Rena Owen

Jake and Beth, played by kiwi actors Temuera Morrison and Rena Owen

The next morning, their oldest daughter Gracie goes through the familiar motions of putting the house back together and feeding her younger siblings. Beth’s face is so swollen that she can’t leave the house to attend her son’s court appearance. When her friend sees her, Beth says she deserved the beating by arguing with Jake. While this follows the too-familiar discourse of a victim blaming herself, the friend’s response is startling: “You know better girl. Keep your mouth shut and your legs open.”

The fact that domestic violence is an accepted norm in the world of the story is scary. What’s more upsetting is that it is a very real issue in the real world it is based on. Meg and I have seen countless billboards and advertisements against domestic violence throughout New Zealand. Conversations with locals have made it clear that this is a serious national issue, particularly among impoverished Maori families. Among other achievements, “Warriors” breathes life into a problem that forces viewers–especially in a society where the problem is prevalent–to acknowledge reality.

This is a story about abuse, but it’s also a love story. Beth claims to love Jake despite his brutality. On one hand, that sounds like an excuse for her fear. But there are two scenes where we see the other side of Jake: a loving husband who serenades his wife in front of their friends and a dutiful father who rents a car so the kids can visit their brother in a youth home–the latter includes this happy sing-along moment.

Jake and Beth sing for their friends

One of the film’s lighter moments

These two scenes are warm and rich with emotion. We see what Jake is capable of and why Beth fell in love with him. But they are also positioned next to the film’s two most brutal scenes. Obviously that is not a coincidence.

I highly recommend “Once Were Warriors.” As a movie it is fast and gripping. The performances are brilliant, particularly Rena Owen as Beth. As a medium for societal introspection, the film is graphically effective. I will caution that it is not for everyone. It features intense violence, including a nauseating rape scene. The film seems to operate under the theory that violence on any level is absolutely unacceptable, but in order to repel people against violence you have to show it in a very raw and vicious form. After watching this movie I believe that is an accurate theory.

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I’m very curious to hear other peoples thoughts. If you’ve seen “Once Were Warriors” already or end up watching it in the near future, feel free to share your reaction here. It’s a heavy movie but, in my opinion, one worth watching.

How is that possible with such fresh, nutritious, reasonably priced food?

My cooking skills were a serious joke

My cooking skills were a joke

The problem, my friends, lay in Trader Joes’ freezers, where a selection of delicious, pre-made meals was always on display. It was so much more convenient to grab a few frozen burritos than to collect the ingredients necessary to concoct this dish on our own. Also when we got home late on a weeknight night it was a hell of a lot easier to cook (a.k.a microwave) these than make something from scratch. It was takeout quality food at supermarket prices. What can beat that in NYC?

In NYC ovens are used to hold sweaters. Are people really expected to cook in these crawl spaces?

In Manhattan ovens are used to hold sweaters. People do not actually cook in these crawl spaces

Living in NZ has torn Eliott and I away from our precious TJs and eating out at restaurants is quite expensive so we’ve taken to the kitchen with a new vigor. Our experiments have been mostly edible; of course there was the watery pumpkin soup and the not-so-pulled pork. But it looks like our cooking skills are on the up-and-up thanks to all the practice we’re getting this year and the obstacles we’ve encountered while cooking on the road.

They say 10,000 hours of practice makes you an expert, but we've lost track of time so we'll have to go on taste

They say 10,000 hours of practice makes you an expert, but we’ve lost track of time so we’ll have to go on taste

Learning to cook while traveling presents a number of challenges to any chef- especially a novice one. Every kitchen is truly unique. They’ve got their own selection of pans and every stove cooks at it’s own temperamental pace. However, learning to cook in an ever-changing environment reveals flaws in your technique that you might not have noticed in your own kitchen. It makes you hyper-sensitive to all the various factors involved in the cooking process. While you may over-cook the steaks one night, you end up a much more careful and conscientious chef in the end.

Lisa and I hard at work on some curry while traveling through Picton on our road trip

Lisa and I hard at work on some curry while traveling through Picton on our road trip

Another challenge is the lack of a pantry. Believe it or not we don’t have room for a bag of flour and spices in our backpacks so we have to make use of the pantry provided. When we were traveling to a new place every few nights we also had to buy ingredients that we’d be able to use before leaving. This particular challenge has forced us to hone our culinary creativity. Take for example our roast chicken and all the extra ingredients from Thanksgiving. How do you stretch out the leftovers and keep it interesting? Make chicken dumpling soup with the bones and some pot pie cupcakes or a curry with the meat and veggies!

So we didn't exactly starve on Thanksgiving...

We didn’t exactly starve on Thanksgiving…

The last impetus that has pushed our culinary education forward is the company we’ve shared. As we’ve marveled before, New Zealanders have an almost universal “do-it-yourself” attitude and a laid-back disposition. In the kitchen, this means that they cook often and they tackle seemingly difficult dishes with ease. For example on Waiheke, Zion, the 11 year-old, offered to cook breakfast one morning. We came down to the smell of caramelized apples served in elegantly wrapped crepes. I was astonished and remarked, “Crepes are so difficult! You’re a amazing cook.” To which he replied, “They’re just watery pancakes…” He had a good point, and so when we finally had access to some flour in Wellington we conjured up our own chocolately crepes for dessert one night. You don’t need a fancy crepe machine as I’d previously thought, just a pan and some watery batter.

The chocolate crepes may have been a success, but nothing beats a TimTam for dessert over here

The chocolate crepes may have been a success, but nothing beats a TimTam slam for dessert over here

Needless to say, my preconceptions about the difficulty of cooking have been smashed. I’ve come to realize that cooking is not a mystery to be solved. It’s a skill to be practiced. And if all else fails, salt can make almost anything edible. So when we get home you will still find me browsing the aisles of Trader Joes, but I’ll only be stopping at the freezers for ice cream.

And speaking of WHEN we get home, we’ve finally booked our return trip to Boston! Since there was a sale on flights to Honolulu the itinerary had to include a three-day layover in Hawaii- just another of the many sacrifices we’ve made to keep our trip sheap…

Herrro America!!!

Herrro America!!!

How to speak New Zealand

Since moving to Queenstown we have “flatted” with three Kiwis and two Brits. We have learned a lot about their cultures–New Zealanders love Pat Benatar; British people have tea upwards of five times a day. And I’m sure they’ve learned a great deal about ours–Americans make snarky comments at the television during reality cooking shows.

But the most interesting thing multi-cultural cohabitation has taught us is that we speak three different kinds of English. Here’s a list of unique New Zealand words and phrases. Just like a middle-school vocabulary list, we’ve included definitions and used each word in a sentence–specifically, a sentence pertaining to our trip.

bach: a cottage

Last weekend, Meg went to a lakeside bach with two of our flatmates. (Our other flatmate and I had to work 😦 )

bbq at the bach

bbq at the bach

boot: car trunk

The boot of our subaru is filled with tennis racquets and beach towels.

capsicum: sweet peppers (red or green)

Meg and Sarah recently planted capsicums in the communal garden.

car park: parking lot

On our Milford road trip, Cate did calisthenics in the car park.

entree: appetizer

The prawn entree at Fishbone comes with two jumbo shrimp.

flash: sensational or fancy

Our subaru is very flash.

Our subaru is very flash.

fringe: bangs

Most girls would agree, Zoe Deschanel has enviable fringe.  (that sentence doesn’t have anything to do with our trip, it’s just a true statement about fringe)

gutted: emotionally distraught

To say I was gutted when the Patriots lost would be an understatement.

jandals: flip flops or sandals

November through March is jandal season in New Zealand.

lemonade: sprite or 7up

During the brief period I quit drinking soda, I ordered a lemonade at a restaurant and it caused a relapse.

piss: beer

Flat photo: everyone's drinking piss.

Our flat went to Atlas and we all drank piss.

piss-up: a social gathering involving alcohol

our

We had a piss-up on Lake Wakatipu and drank out of a watermelon.

rattle your dags: hurry up, get a move on

Rattle your dags, “My Kitchen Rules” is almost on. (MKR is an addictive Australian cooking show; we think they put MSG in it)

scull: to chug a drink (beer)

Meg sculled both of these...just kidding!

Meg sculled both of these jugs…just kidding!

serviette: napkin

Cleaning up after guests at the restaurant has made Meg appreciate her mom’s enthusiasm for serviettes.

taking a piss: having too much to drink

Last weekend our flatmate Tom was taking a piss at his favorite pub, 1876, and woke up with this:

Glory lasts forever. So do tattoos.

Glory lasts forever. So do tattoos.

tomato sauce: ketchup

Fergburger makes their own tomato sauce.

Fergburger makes their own tomato sauce.

whinge: to complain

During road trips I frequently whinge about the cleanliness of hostel bathrooms.

zed: Z, the last letter of the alphabet

If you pronounce Z like “zee” rather than “zed,” people will laugh at you.

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Don’t worry, there won’t be a vocab test on Monday. But if you ever plan a trip to New Zealand, save yourself some confusion and brush up on this list.

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