Transportation, Travel

Can you say “whoops”?

I think I was a little drunk on Auckland, almost giddy from the natural setting. This feeling of being surrounded on all sides by beautiful blue water, rolling green hills, and nothing but blue sky and perfect clouds above. And throw in the most perfect weather imaginable, too. All my photos seem to reflect this amazed, disbelieving quality. I took more and more photos and they just seemed to get better and better.

It was sad to contemplate leaving Auckland after having seen so little, but unfortunately we had a schedule we needed to stick to. So in the morning we packed up our bags and went to investigate rental cars.

Rental cars. Oh. My. God. What a disaster. Stephen and I had a long list of agencies and fliers and naively assumed that it would be easy-peazy. Drivers’ licenses: check. Credit card: check. Green light—go! Yes, theoretically that is how it works if the rental cars were not INSANELY EXPENSIVE* with all sorts of MADDENING small print involved. It didn’t help that we were going to a city that most agencies didn’t have a depot in. Nor did it help that we had thought to rent the car for only two or three days. And it positively, absolutely did not help that we only wanted a one-way rental. Uh-uh. Nope. Not good.

Stephen and I trundled up and down the avenue with our rolley suitcases bumping along behind us. We went to one agency. Sorry, no depot in that city. We trundled to the next agency: Sorry, minimum of 7 day rental. We jay-walked across the street to yet another agency: sorry, one-way rentals have a BILLION dollar non-negotiable fee. It was truly like one of those movie scenes. Up the street. Down the street. Heads getting lower with every failure. I see us through the eyes of the rental agency rep’s. Boy, those kids don’t understand a thing about renting a car, do they, Al? Yeah, kids these days, Bob.

This was the point where my mental didn’t-you-know-you’re-an-idiot voice kicked in—that helpful little voice that clearly highlights all your failures, even when they’ve already been brought to your attention. I heard several helpful messages from my little friend, such as “Well, Amy, EVERYbody knows that you have to reserve a rental car in advance.” And, “You should’ve thought about this a bit sooner.” Sigh. Yes, yes, I know. Colossal failure.

The situation looked rather bleak. If we couldn’t get a rental car we would be stuck in Auckland for another day because we’d already missed all the busses and there wasn’t a train where we were going. (This is something we will discuss later.)

After comparison pricing every agency up and down the street, Stephen and I realized we were going to have to get a 7 day rental, which would cancel out the one-way fee. By doing a 7-day rental we would have a car for all of our North Island adventures and would be able to get a fresh car when we arrived at the South Island to get us from Picton to Nelson. It was the best of a bad situation. Yes, yes, brought on by our own lack of planning. We were clear on that.

So we plunked down a credit card for a cool half grand and went to see our valiant steed, err, vehicle. Behold! A Sunny Nissan! Choice of all poor overseas English teachers traveling in expensive Western countries who after having lived in China for the last 6 months refuse to ride a bus around a prime road trip nation! Drive, Sunny, drive! Onwards to the horizon! Yee-haw!

. . . and though we were really not that pleased about the price involved, I think this is an accurate reflection of our feelings as we pulled out of Auckland, heading for State Highway 1.

*A somewhat subjective statement based on the then current contents of my bank account.


Getting to Know You: Auckland

In Auckland we had the pleasure of staying with some of Stephen’s friends. They rent a beautiful house on the outskirts of Auckland which was like living in a forest. The first night we arrived we’d planned to go out, but upon arriving at the house we both fell asleep and slept like the dead. It had been a long trip. I woke up around 9:30 PM to find that our hostess had kindly ordered in some pizza. Dinner and some browsing of the Kiwi TV offerings and then I happily went back to bed.

We only had about 2 ½ days in Auckland, but I think we tried to make the best of them. In the morning we saw the downtown, especially around the harbor, and then took the ferry to Davenport, a charming little town on the other side of the water.

A fish and chips shop was our first port of call. We took it down to the park on the shore and watched the foraging of the beady-eyed seagulls. Though I am not a huge fish fan, I must admit it tasted really good. We ate our chips with Wattie’s Tomato Sauce, the famous local brand. (Stephen informed that that the term “ketchup” would only be used at McDonalds. Well, excuuuse me!)

Feeling replete, we went to climb Mt. Victoria, though I felt the “Mt.” was being used in a somewhat generous sense—a smallish hill really. The views from the top were fantastic though and I suppose it was then that I really began to appreciate that blue New Zealand sky. Even in the photos it was amazing.

In the late afternoon we went to Mission Bay, which was a lovely drive from the downtown. We gorged on creamy, smooth ice cream from Mӧvenpick, a Swiss brand. We sucked the bottom of our cones, trying to prevent getting ice cream all over our hands, and I positioned myself carefully so as to prevent getting ice cream in my hair. Then we went to see the hilltop Rose Garden, catching a stunning sunset. We’d hoped to catch the sunset at Mt. Eden also, but were a little too late, so we settled for a quick trip around the giant crater. In the evening, I fulfilled one of those lingering life to-do’s by watching “The Shining.” Honestly, the book was way scarier.

Day two in Auckland featured a lot of old friend visiting. We had lunch with a Chinese friend of Stephen’s. She and her husband and two children are now New Zealand residents. The children spoke a charming childish Mandarin; I was enchanted. We crossed the Harbor Bridge to have lunch at a Malaysian restaurant. After lunch they kindly drove us all the way back to downtown and dropped us off at the Auckland War Memorial Museum in the interestingly named Auckland Domain—a large park-like area. We were just in time to catch the Maori cultural show—an enjoyable, lighthearted, but professional show. The museum itself was excellent. The only problem was that I didn’t have enough time to give it the attention it deserved. It was very interesting to learn about New Zealand involvement within British Empire, WWI, WII, and beyond. Unfortunately by the end I was practically running through the exhibits.

We strolled through the domain and hit up a convenience store or “dairy” for water and snacks. We continued on to the neighborhood of Parnell, observing some lawn bowling on the way. Lawn bowling, really? Parnell is a posh little area, all wine bars and expensive boutiques. We met another friend of Stephen’s at a one of those aforementioned wine bars. And not just any friend—a Bradley Cooper double! Really! I almost wondered if there was something Stephen hadn’t told me . . . The friend’s girlfriend spoke a New Zealand dialect that I had the hardest time understanding. I felt like I understood two words out of ten. We followed our wine with dinner at a Turkish restaurant and ended the day with another flat white.

I can’t say that I saw everything in Auckland and of course wish I’d had time to see more, but I left with an impression of green hills, wind, water, and lots of beautiful blue sky.

Cultural Differences, Food, Travel

In which we arrive in Auckland

Arriving in Auckland, one of my fondest memories was going into the convenience store to get some water. We meant to just grab a bottle of water and go, but we were positively arrested by the sight of hundreds of products that we hadn’t seen in what seemed like years. There were soft drinks, snacks, chocolates, chips—oh my! The surest way to an expats heart is through his/her stomach! We’ll walk a hundred miles for Twix.

And not just food, but the marvel of English newspapers and magazines. I’ve often pondered my lust for magazines when I am abroad. Though I’m hardly an avid reader at home, I develop a serious craving as soon as they are no longer easily available. Every Chinese language newsstand is a reminder of this hole in my life. Sniff, sniff.

Stephen and I exclaimed our way through the convenience store, I’m sure much to the surprise and then amusement of the staff. We checked our greed, reminding ourselves that this would not be the only convenience store we encountered in New Zealand. Scanning our stack of free tourist pamphlets and brochures, we caught the Airport Express bus to downtown Auckland. The ride was enjoyable as Stephen excitedly pointed out familiar places in the passing scenery and filled me in on his time living in Auckland.

First impression of downtown Auckland was favorable. Not a New York or Los Angeles, but a respectably urban downtown. A nice hilly quality in some parts. We hauled our luggage to the Britomart luggage lockers, causing me to already regret my packing choices. Stephen called his friend we were going to stay with and we settled down in a café to wait for her.

Amusing experience #2 was attempting to order coffee at the café. The menu didn’t look anything like an American or even British menu. I was presented with the choice of a short black, long black, flat white, or cappuccino. Uhhh. I asked Stephen for clarification, but a coffee-drinker he is not. No help there. Becoming quickly aware that I was, indeed, not in Kansas anymore, I humbled myself and asked the girl behind the counter what a flat white was. She must have not been asked that before, because her explanation was not very helpful. Sooo, like coffee and milk? Okay. But what’s the difference between that and a latte? Uhhhh. Blink, blink. Not wanting to be an irritating foreigner, I decided to take my chances with the flat white. I also couldn’t resist ordering an apricot “slice,” which I suppose Americans would call an apricot “bar”. Apricots! Wah! Me no see long time! We realized quickly that the availability of fresh summer fruits was going to be one of the unexpected benefits of visiting New Zealand at this time.

I sipped my coffee and nibbled on my apricot slice and thought that things seemed to be getting off on a good foot.


Status Report

Hello all! Still alive and well in China-land. Apologies for the sparse blogging. Regrets, etc.

Shockingly enough, we are approaching week 9 here, which is the middle of our semester. Teachers are preparing their mid-term exams and students are sending anxious email queries.

I owe you guys about 50 blogs posts. There are always lots of things I want to share with you, but just get caught up with the day to day. Most blogs start off strong when their writers are in the holy-cow-I’m-in-a-foreign-country stage, but do tend to dwindle as time goes.

I really don’t want my blog to suffer that fate. But there gets to be this tremendous backlog of things you want to write about and suddenly your “fun” writing project seems like a looming term paper. Really kills the joy. So I again am resolving to blog, but aim for shorter posts which will be less intimidating for the writer.

Brief status report would be that all is well. Classes proceed much as they always have. The weather has been mercifully mild up to this point, though humidity has been distressingly high. (We will discuss the growth of mold as time allows.) We have entered the rainy season, nary a sunny day for several weeks. Socially things are comfortable. I have my people and my routines. Generally speaking, life is good!

Plans for next year are unknown. I have applied for a special teaching program and several other jobs as well, but haven’t heard back from anyone yet. (Prayer, please?) If all else fails, I would be welcome to stay here and some days that doesn’t seem like such a terrible thing. I should be home in the summer, but really need some summer work to make it financially feasible. Two months with no work is a quick way to burn through my savings from the rest of the year.

That about sums it up! Promise to deliver some posts about my New Zealand trip and other goings-on here.