Saturday, December 31, 2005

Kiwi food

FISH & CHIPS: Always a local favourite. Very British. And there's no shortage of fish around NZ! I like it with lots of tartare sauce (that's how it's spelled) but the waitress seemed puzzled by my request, so I guess that's not the normal way to eat it. Perhaps they sprinkle it with vinegar instead, like they do in Canada?

PIE: Rick says it's a traditional lunch for thousands of kids growing up in NZ. "Pie" refers to meat pies, not fruit pies. He took us to an award-winning pie cafe for lunch one day. Mmmm. Curt had a Steak & Mushroom pie with big chunks of tender beef in it. Rick and I each had a Potato Topper pie which is mince, topped with mashed potatoes, similar to a shepherd's pie. By the way, "mince" is short for beef mince, known as ground beef in the States. Here's something else: most people feed their dogs raw mince (packaged especially for dogs in big 2Kg tubes), not canned dog food or dry kibble. But I digress.

KUMARA: Sweet potatoes are a traditional Maori food. It's pronounced KOO-mer-uh. We tried the orange and the gold types and as far as I could tell, they were exactly like sweet potatoes and yams in the States. Kumara is also popular made into french fries, a.k.a. chips.

FLAT WHITE: This is what you ask for when you want a latte. But Curt says they're actually better than American lattes because there's more coffee flavour. However, Curt's been trying to start a new habit and make a cuppa tea instead. Here's why: teabags cost 7 cents and coffee at Starbucks costs $5, We're cheap. We're going with the tea idea. We have an electric tea kettle that boils water at warp speed (in less than a minute).

CHEDDAR CHEESE - It isn't dyed orange like in the States; it's white. I always thought the orange color looked slightly radioactive, especially that goopy melted cheese they serve on nachos at movie theaters and convenience stores. Another tidbit: a convenience store is called a "dairy."

TUNA - Besides regular canned tuna, they have it in various flavours. We liked the lemon pepper and tomato basil versions so far. Why hasn't someone in the States thought of this? It's quite tasty.

PAVLOVA - a dessert with layers of meringue, fruit, and cream, somewhat like a trifle. Both pavlova and trifle are commonly prepared for dessert on Christmas or holidays. Bev served it for the family Christmas dinner.

TREACLE - I saw this in the grocery store today and am still trying to figure it out. It looked a lot like syrup. Or maybe molasses. Although both syrup and molasses were right there on the shelf, too. The jury's still out on this one.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Kiwi crosswalks

At intersections in downtown Auckland, the pedestrians cross the street in 4 directions at once. It's actually pretty efficient, but slightly alarming to us foreigners at first. After the cars have all had a turn, the streetlights stop all the traffic and the pedestrians get their turn to go any which way: all the people going north/south, plus the peole going east/west. plus you're even allowed to cross diagonally. It's quite a sight.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Day 2

• First stop: Starbucks (for Curt). Are we American or what? We need to start drinking tea if we want to become true Kiwis.
• Second Stop: Whitcoull's bookstore (for Megan). We got a newspaper and a city map. We also gawked at the GIANT Santa on the outside of the Whitcoull's building. He's 5 storeys high and his finger wags back and forth and his eye winks. It's rather disturbing.
• Next stop: electronics store. We needed an adapter so we could get our computer operational. Mission accomplished, thanks to a kind salesman named Jarred.
• We went back to the hotel triumphantly to set up the computer. Unfortunately, after we got everything plugged in, we discovered that the mouse no longer worked. It must have gotten crushed because it wouldn't click; it doesn't have any spring left. It was packed in the box with the computer & keyboard, wrapped in bubble wrap and a down comforter. That poor box went on 2 plane rides and was handled by the notoriously careless baggage handlers. Hmmm. The box was also unpacked, inspected, and repacked by TSA. Hmmm. And now our mouse is crushed. Hmmm.
• Back to the electronics store. Our new friend, Jarred, helped us find a replacement mouse.
• Back to the hotel triumphantly once again. Success! The mouse works. The computer works. We're back in business.
• Next mission: hairdryer. My hairdryer from the States actually works on New Zealand's voltage system, so I brought it along. But somehow the "Cool Air" button got pushed in too far while it was packed in my suitcase on the plane (how did those baggage handlers manage to do this?) And I can't seem to undo the Cool Air button. I feel rather silly, because it shouldn't be that hard. But I pushed and I pushed and I can't get it to pop up. Sheesh. So we bought an authentic NZ (pronounced "en zed") blowdryer at an authentic NZ department store called Farmers. It was even on sale because it's Boxing Day. On a different note, I forgot my purse at Bev's yesterday and my hairbrush was in there. So this morning I brushed my hair with a fork! I felt like Old Dan Tucker who brushed his hair with a wagon wheel. Boone used to sing that song over and over when he was little. : )

Monday, December 26, 2005

Arrival in NZ

Well, we arrived on December 25th. It seems fitting somehow to set foot on New Zealand soil on Christmas Day to begin our new life. It was sad to say good bye to so many good friends at work, at church, and in our neighborhood, but we are looking forward to new friends in our new country. On the way to New Zealand, we spent 4 days in Hawaii which was a perfect transition for us. We stayed with my brother Ross and his family, and my parents were there too, so we got to spend some quality family time with everyone before we said good bye. Being in Hawaii also provided us the opportunity to get adjusted to the warm weather. It had snowed in Portland the day before we left! But it was plenty warm in Hawaii and when we landed in Auckland (pronounced "Oakland") it was summer and about 75º.

As we passed through the immigration checkpoint at the airport, I was expecting an extra-long session with the officer because we had a US passport, but are arriving as NZ Permanent Residents on one-way tickets. Alas, he spent 60 seconds looking at the stamp in our passports (which took us 7 months and 200 pages of documentation to acquire!) and waved us through. That's it?!? I wanted to take a photo of this momentous occasion, but suddenly it didn't seem very momentous. Oh well. We're here!

Our friends, Rick and Bev were at the airport to meet us, and it was good to see their familiar faces. Thankfully, they took us to our hotel because we needed a nap and a shower after flying all night. Later, they came back to get us and took us to their house for Christmas dinner. Their daughter Christina (a primary teacher) was there, as well as their daughter Sharron (a nurse), her husband Kris, and their friend, Jo. Sharron and Kris just returned from living and working for a year in the U.K. This is apparently a common practice and is called one's "Overseas Experience" or O.E. for short. Everyone seems to have an O.E. after they finish university. Anyway, they just got back last month and were living with Rick and Bev for a while. Christina still lives at home, too.

We had a nice family Christmas dinner with all of them and sat around afterwards learnng about the best cell phone plan, the best bank, the best neighborhoods to live in, etc. We have so many decisions like these to make and it's really helpful to have their advice! They also tried to teach us a little about rugby so we would have some background knowledge. Rugby is VERY popular here and the national team, the All Blacks, are like gods and hearthrobs all wrapped into one. During our conversations, I struggle listening to their accents, however. Kris was saying "the beest thing is"...and it took me an extra second to realize he was saying "the best thing is". Later, however, I realized something: my name, Megan, will be pronounced "Meegan" by people here, which means everyone will always get it right! That'll be a first.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Christmas letter 2005

December 5, 2005
Dear Friends:

We are embarking on the biggest adventure of our lives. We are immigrating to New Zealand! In last year’s Christmas letter, we spoke of our desire to move there. After visiting in March, we decided to proceed with the immigration process. Immigrating usually involves two forces: one pushes you away from your home country and one pulls you towards a new country. In our case, the current political situation in America is pushing us out. We are simply fed up with America. We are so liberal that we feel like we just don’t fit in here anymore. At the same time, our love of traveling and our desire to live abroad is pulling us towards a new destination. As you’ve read our Christmas letters over the years, I’m sure you couldn’t help but notice how much we like to wander all over the world and explore new places! Combined, those two forces were the basis for our decision to pack up all our belongings and relocate half way around the world.

Immigration adventure: We had to get FBI clearance (to make sure we weren’t terrorists or child molesters?), and a twelve-page medical exam. (to make sure I wasn’t pregnant, among other things!) I also had to obtain a New Zealand teaching license. We submitted 200+ pages of documents to the New Zealand Immigration Service in October, had a brief phone interview, and received clearance shortly thereafter. Overall, this took about 7 months. Whew!

Employment adventure: I have a job teaching 8th grade at Te Atatu Intermediate School. Since they’re in the southern hemisphere, their school year runs from February to November. Summer vacation is during Dec. and Jan! Anyway, I have to be there to start work Feb. 1st. Meanwhile, Curt is applying at various engineering companies in the Auckland area. He hopes to continue working in the hydroelectric industry since he has enjoyed the challenge and the pace of that work.

Location: My school is located in a suburb west of Auckland called Te Atatu. We are keen* to join this waterfront community. Auckland itself is a city of one million people that looks a lot like Seattle! It has a huge harbor, ferry boats, and a big tower called the Sky Tower that looks suspiciously like the Space Needle. Auckland is on the North Island of New Zealand, where the climate is subtropical. We’re really looking forward to living somewhere sunny. Remember, we’ve lived in Washington and Oregon for 40 years. Need I say more?

Moving adventure: Our furniture is being transported on a shipping container across the ocean, which takes 6 weeks. Once we arrive in New Zealand, we will begin looking for housing while we wait for the furniture to arrive.

Address adventure: Sadly, we have no forwarding address to give you at this time. We will be at our current address in Portland for 2 more weeks. After that, our mail will be forwarded to Carlin, who will get it to us … eventually … once we find a place to live.

Departure adventure: We fly out of Portland on Dec. 19 to begin our adventure. By the way, when we land, it will be about 80ºF (27ºC). I guess I won’t be needing my Christmas jersey*! (that’s Kiwi for sweater)

Support: We are exceedingly* fortunate to have friends in New Zealand (he’s Kiwi, she’s from Washington state) who hosted us on our visit last March, loaned us their car (driving on the left side of the road: Yikes!), introduced us to their friends and relatives, and took me to visit local schools as well. They are helping us with many little details and are a valuable resource as we make this huge step.

Disadvantages: We will miss the view of Mt. Hood from our living room window. We will miss being within driving distance of many relatives, especially our boys. We will miss our church family here in Portland. We both love our jobs and are sad to leave them.

Advantages: We truly look forward to the adventure of learning about a new land with new mountain views, new culture, new jobs, new lingo, new accent, new hemisphere, new bureaucracy, and new vacation spots. New Zealand has a slower pace of life with less emphasis on consumerism (fewer Hummers). There are no handguns allowed (even the police don’t carry guns), and no snakes. (really!) New Zealand is firmly anti-nuclear, and they consciously strive to be culturally sensitive to their indigenous population (the Maoris). Plus, the top three government officials are women. (really!)

Other travel adventures: As you can imagine, the immigration process has taken up most of our time during 2005. However, besides visiting New Zealand in March on our fact-finding mission, we did take a holiday* to Greece with the boys in August. This trip was intended partly as a 10-year anniversary of our big 6-week vacation to Europe back when the boys were younger. Also, it was partly a last big hurrah before we left the country. It’s very different to travel with these 4 independent young men, rather than with the 4 little boys we traveled with last time! It was especially rewarding to see how much they’ve grown up and what fine, decent blokes* they have become. Overall, we enjoy spending time with them. It also warmed our hearts to know that they don’t mind hanging out with us old fogies for a few weeks, either.

We’ll be thinking of you over the holidays even though we’ll be half a world away. As we embark on our own mega-adventure, we hope that you, too, find just the right amount of adventure in your lives during the coming year.

Megan & men

* I’m practising using Kiwi words and spellings