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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.

a

 

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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.

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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.

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