Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Resuming Island Living

I’m going on three weeks now that I’ve actually resumed island living, and life is good here in the isles. This is a move that wasn’t necessarily predicted. In fact, things got off to quite a slow start back in the northern summer when I first began a more serious search for gainful employment. The long and short of it is that all the signs were pointing this way and I do feel that it was in my cards to turn up here. And some credit is due to my friends Tyler and Laura for sending the job advert my way. For as long as I’ve known Tyler, he’s claimed that Wellington is his favorite city on the planet. Yeah, it is pretty cool.

Tourist Route: I have always considered New Zealand to be a great place, but I never thought it would become one of my homes. My first visit was in the late fall of 2001, and I couldn’t have found a better location which to retreat. The Kiwis impressed me then with their authentic kindness and sincerity which is really unrivaled. Under the guise of a Travel Director, I had the opportunity to return this past year and explore both islands again, with my tourists in tow. Being on tour as a TD has many perks, including but not limited to: living the high life in deluxe hotels; fine dining (often in the company of several kind and generous travelers who enjoy sharing a drink or even picking up the tab); and hitting all of the tourist spots (generally on consecutive occasions) for the low bargain price of FREE (or if exploring in a the odd moment of free time, you can easily play the TD card – checking it out for the sake of my tourists and promising to bring a bit o biz that way). Landing here again means that I can pass go with a little bit of local knowledge and head straight to the real heart of the country, sans tourists. Wait…I am meant to be resuming an office job. Damn.

GPS: This email is coming to you from my new flat in a small and hilly neighborhood that lies south of central Wellington, called Brooklyn. Naturally, Brooklyn comes with its own Central Park, which I pass through on the steep walk down hill to work each day. It is quite a nice bonus to walk through a stretch of tree-scented nature (aka bush) with chirping (and yet to be identified) native birds and vistas overlooking the harbor before encountering the hustle and bustle of the concrete jungle. Speaking of steep hills, I have yet to find the exact percentage of Wellington which finds itself on a hillside, but I did hear that the Americans helped to lay out the city on a grid system – without ever having laid eye on the place! Go figure. At least the streets are relatively straight; they just bend around the harbor and zigzag up and down the hills.

It seems that NZ lays just as far south as Norway lies north, but with the help of the wonderful inter-web, I learned this is not so. Thankfully. This doesn’t mean long and dark winters, rather a mild climate year round. Indeed, we’ve got palm trees and an assortment of hearty, yet tropical-ish flora and fauna, and I’ve heard that one can reap the rewards of a backyard garden year round. It’s approximately one-third of the way through the southern summer and weather conditions can range from flat out cold, to cool but sunny, to hot in the direct sun. At least half of that time there is bound to be gusts of wind, so you and your belongings best be anchored or tethered tightly. Oh, and remember that hole in the ozone? Yep, it’s apparently right over kiwi-land and the rays are intense. Sun block has become part of my morning routine.

Gone Flatting: “Going flatting” is the term used here for seeking out a flatmate-filled flat to share. It is quite common for Kiwis to live in large homes that have 2-6 bedrooms and several living areas. I know my independent self and I wasn’t keen on the idea of living with 2-6 people, but on the other hand, I knew it could be an easy in to social and urban adventures, not to mention the initial cost savings in furnishing a flat from the ground up on my own. Since I didn’t know the city, I had to rely on suggestions and opinions offered by my three work mates, who not only didn’t know my lifestyle well, but were very diverse in their own ways of life. Each of them provided valuable tips, but in the end, I just had to get out there and see the market for myself.

Central Wellington (the CBD) lies directly on the harbor and is bordered on the other three sides by numerous neighborhoods which crawl up and down the surrounding hills and valleys. Like any urban area, the neighborhoods are diverse in both ethnic and economic make up. With a variety of green, quiet, and quirky places to choose from, my selection process was quickly narrowed down by affordability, walking proximity to work, and overall gut feeling. Not only is the neighborhood important, but the potential flatmates. It’s like speed-dater and a job interview all rolled into one!

I found two neighborhoods I really liked: Newtown and Brooklyn. Newtown is to Wellington what Grønland is to Oslo. It’s ethnic, vibrant, and filled with cafes and food, but it’s also the Mecca for hospitals, half-way houses, and Salvation Armies. While both flats I checked out here were lovely, I didn’t really like the idea of meeting the down-and-outs on a daily basis. Brooklyn, on the other hand, has funky art deco cinema, a few tasty take-aways and restaurants, a corner pub, two “dairies” (we know them as a corner store or a small grocery), and it’s on two bus lines and only a 30 minute walk to my office. Now all I needed was the flat…

Actually, I did something very unlike me and quite rude – I blew off the people who were to become my future flatmates due to a hangover. There was a little more to it than that, but luckily James and Erin weren’t too judgmental and kindly offered a second chance for my visit. They were my first of three Sunday morning stops, but it was clear the minute I walked in that it was a match. James is 31, a media student at the uni, and father of Maddy, a super cute 7 year old. Erin is 26, works at the Ministry of Justice as a business advisor, and is the girlfriend of James. Not only was I hesitant to live with two people, I was quite unsure about living with a couple, not to mention a single father whose daughter visited for half of each week. But there was just something about the interaction between the three of them, as well as what would become my room in this great flat, that gave off a good vibe.

The house has conservatory style windows on the front and back, and my room is located at the back with an entire wall dedicated to glass. The French doors open up to a small wooded deck enclosed by a brick walkway. The remainder of the back yard is a terraced hill with a small workshop/shed and garden plot situated at the top. I saved some moving in dollars since the room came with a queen bed and linens, a roomy closet with a storage area above it, and my boss donated two small nightstands. The rest of the flat is comfortable and homey and not cluttered at all since Erin and James just moved in just over a month ago. The front lounge (aka living room) has the other floor to ceiling glass wall and a brick fireplace that is just too narrow to be operational. Erin and James have the upstairs bedroom which has a balcony overlooking the street and catches all the afternoon sun. Maddy’s room is next to mine and the smallest, but jam packed with toys and fun stuff. We have a reasonably large bathroom, complete with a tub and separate shower, a good-sized kitchen with an old and sturdy gas range, an attached laundry room off the backside of the house, and a single car garage for James (and an extra fridge which we have devoted to beer and leftovers). My flatmates are great and it is fun having Maddy’s spirit around part-time. She adds some kind of life to the place that breaks up the potential couple-ness of James and Erin, although they have been more than welcoming by including me in BBQs and excursions. I’m pleased to have found them because they actually are the kind of people I’d like to be friends with in my everyday life and it’s that much better that we share our daily routines. Erin and I have decided to share bread making responsibilities in the bread maker the previous tenants left, and James is heading up composting and gardening, which we are all eager to get started.

The Office: My new official title is pretty flash: Assistant Director, New Zealand Programmes, Institute for Study Abroad, Butler University (IFSA-Butler). Not bad, but really, in our mini office of three (four if we’re counting the IT guy who comes in twice a week, if he feels like squeezing us in amongst his other clients), it only means I am second in command and basically share a lot of the main responsibilities with the Director, and try to help out our high-strung administrator when I lack in tasks. As for my day-to-day, I have a fair bit of writing ahead of me, some design courses in store, and lots of hands on with incoming US uni students and the administrators at each of the respective universities they will be attending here in NZ.
My first day here was filled with some settling in and a ferry ride off to the annual holiday party; morning tea out, boozy lunches, and long afternoon coffees were other pre-holiday events which happily kept us all at a distance from our desks. Alex, my boss, is on holiday until mid-January, leaving me in charge. We had a late night work session just prior to her last day in the office, complete with ordered-in pizza and some beers, and we both feel confident and comfortable in our roles. Another good match.

Same Same Different: My transition into Kiwi life has been relatively short and sweet compared to the adjustment periods I’ve previously experienced, and I reckon this is in part due to our common language. Well, common and common. After all, it is a dialect of the Queen’s English which is spoken here, and the accent and a few words and phrases do take some tuning of the ear and mind before they make sense.

I’ll leave you with this interesting observation: I’ve encountered a number of people who seem to prefer going barefoot to shoes. Hm.