Postcards and Pints

Today is a University holiday here in Hamilton. With the day off and nothing to do, I popped into a local pub to draft a few postcards to family and friends back home.

The Abbey is a most agreeable establishment. Sponsored in part by Stella Artois, the Belgian brewing company renown for its premium lager, the pub has all the features one might expect of a quaint pub including wood floors and dark paneled walls.

As I sat at my table and began to write, I could not think of a better way to while away a lazy fall afternoon. There’s something eminently appropriate about a pint and a pen.

And whilst I wrote to my family, I couldn’t help but think of life in America, of life back home. The nostalgic trip down memory lane reminded me of how much has changed in recent months.

Roughly six month ago, my son was born in Tucson, Arizona (10/15/12). At the time, I could not have forecasted that six months later I would be writing postcards in a pub in New Zealand having missed his first Easter.

“Oh the places you’ll go,” as Dr. Seuss said.

Like most extended separations, the time here is bitter sweet. It has been a tremendous opportunity to be here and serve at the pleasure of the Centre and my colleagues. Yet, it is difficult not to miss home and family and friends. Particularly when things settle down on days like today.

It’s interesting that my Māori friends so often inquire as to my family’s welfare. Their culture is one that values family, or whanau, above all else. To see a new father, so far from his family is a difficult thing for them to process. I suppose things in America and New Zealand are not that different after all.

And so I’ll draft and mail my postcards with fond thoughts of home. I will down a fine pint imbibed in a foreign land to steel my resolve. And I will say a brief, post-Easter prayer with love for their well-being – because when one is so far away, there’s not much more one can do.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Capitalism in New Zealand

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This afternoon I ambled about town and visited The Base – a large indoor/outdoor shopping centre rumored to be New Zealand’s largest. I’m not sure about the rumors, but I was pleased to happen across something that reminded me of home. 

Whilst on the hunt for a new backpack I spotted one of America’s finest exports, a Dunkin Donuts smack in the middle of the mall. I quickly shared my excitement with the manager, much to her surprise. Apparently, most people don’t get quite as excited as I do while happening upon a local D&D.

As I bit into my strawberry frosted doughnut, I swear that I tasted the sweet taste of freedom itself. Somewhere in America, a bald eagle soared a little higher.

And when I sipped my hazelnut coffee, made with one cream and two sugars just like God intended, well, it was enough to bring a tear to the eye. I promptly said a silent prayer of thanks and thought twice about singing The Star-Spangled Banner to the crowd.

Instead, I did the next best thing. I read some of Ayn Rand’s reflections on capitalism before happily proceeding to apply the lessons I had learned.

On the way home, I thought about the invisible hand of the market, and about the aspiration of free trade. And I smiled contentedly for the first time in many days.

Yes, friends. Capitalism is alive and well here in New Zealand and American exports are still making their way into the global market.

Three cheers for globalisation! And God bless America.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

My Neighborhood

Silverdale, Hamilton NZ

I don’t have many friends here in New Zealand. In fact, aside from my colleagues at the school, I’ve met hardly anyone. This dilemma is the three-fold product of not having a vehicle, awaiting my first pay stub, and working full-time. But the longer I’m confined to my corner of town, the more I find that belonging to a place is a funny thing. And, in fact, this sense of belonging is not terribly difficult to achieve if one tries. 

Consider my almost daily trip to the carry out place down the street, or as they say here in New Zealand the “take away.” By the by, I can’t say I understand the nomenclature. But then again, I can’t understand why Kiwi drive on the left side of the road and substitute the letter “s” for “z” in ways that make no sense. For example, if New Zealanders had the word in their vocabulary, “privatize” would be spelt “privatise.”

I suppose it’s not only the nomenclature that makes little sense. They play cricket here too.

God bless America.   

Anyway, back to my take away shop.

It’s difficult to chat sometimes with the amiable proprietor given our language barrier. As noted, I speak American whilst they speak English with inflections of Vietnamese. But I come in often, and I feel rather comfortable here. They’ve also gotten to know me quite well and usually fire up a cheese burger when they spot me crossing the street. 

The place is run by a father, his son, and his wife – who, incidentally, speaks way better English than either bloke. But it’s the father who’s the chatty sort. He likes to give me a hard time for ordering the cheapest, least healthy thing on the menu. I can’t understand him all the time, but those times I can’t, I’m pretty sure he’s saying in Vietnamese that I’m going to give myself a heart attack. I respond to his shenanigans by reminding him that my consistent patronage keeps him in business. This always gets a good laugh.

Tomorrow, we’ll repeat the schtick. Because, after all, we both know I’ll be back. 

And that’s the funny thing really. My analytical mind knows that this is a transactional relationship. He and I chat because we both want to continue the arrangement: he provides a service and I pay him for providing me with food. But in nearly all ways, it’s a perfectly honest, open relationship. Does that make it less of a friendship because its transactional? I don’t think so.

The bottom line is that they are keeping me well-fed and I am helping to keep them in business. And when you share a small corner of the globe in a small corner of the country, in a small corner of town, well, that’s just what neighbors do.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Happy Waitangi Day

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You can be forgiven if the salutation above means relatively little. If I hadn’t the day off, it’s quite likely the day would have passed from my radar too. Even so, Waitangi Day is New Zealand’s celebration of its founding document the Treaty of Waitangi. The treaty marked an 1840 agreement between the Māori peoples and the “Queen of England” that permitted the Brits to establish a civil government in New Zealand in exchange for the recognition of Māori ownership over their lands and other property interests. 

Unsurprisingly, there has been much disagreement on the contents of the treaty – the lot of which makes my job here possible. Of principle importance is what exactly both sides ceded in the original understanding of the treaty. The Māori contend that they did not give up complete sovereignty to the Crown such that their traditional governance entities would be rendered moot. The British Government and, subsequently, New Zealand’s constitutional monarchy contends that, in fact, the Māori did just this.

Of course, the the matter isn’t quite so black and white. Consider that the New Zealand Government established the Waitangi Tribunal in 1975 to hear Māori claims of violations of the treaty. To date, some $700 million have been spent by the Government on reparations to the Māori in the form of land and property transfers, and formal apologies for violations of the treaty, all with the consent of the British Monarchy. Such payments, however, have stoked the resentment of some non-Māori New Zealanders who allege that the Māori are simply exploiting the treaty to obtain special privileges from the Government. The Māori claim that such concessions by the Government are simply what is appropriate given the destruction of their culture and governing structures.

As an aside, my work here will focus on the restoration of traditional Māori governance structures and their long-term viability. To wit, concerns about extant Māori governance entities have reached such a pressing level that the University of Waikato’s Māori and Indigenous Governance Centre has committed significant resources for examining the best practices of tribal governance from around the world in hopes strengthening Māori governmental institutions at home. All of which is a very long way of saying that my work here will focus on finding ways to help create stable governing entities for Māori peoples. 

Taking a step back, as an American in New Zealand, it’s a bit odd celebrating another country’s founding. But I tried to get in the spirit by having a lunch of what the locals call fish and chips – or what I routinely call fish and freedom fries much to the confusion of my local restauranteur – who happens to be a Vietnamese immigrant that speaks only limited English. To compensate for my foolishness, I make it a point to leave a tip. Unfortunately, I think this further confuses him since New Zealand isn’t a country that tips its service industry workers. Strange, I know. 

In all, it has been a relatively agreeable Waitangi Day. I met a number of colorful characters, including a neighbor named Jared who tells me that he has an aunt who is Sioux. Incidentally, I met Jared when he dropped by and woke me up, around 8am this morning asking to for a spoonful of instant coffee for his coffee mug. I suppose I’ll have plenty of time to sleep when I’m dead – although sleeping in would have been quite nice today. I was also pleased to make the acquaintance of Syd, a local, Indian entrepreneur who runs the quick-mart only a couple of blocks away. The Simpsons would be proud.

And with such august company, I have to say that the national holiday/day off has been quite nice. From the Southern Hemisphere to you, Happy Waitangi Day.

Public Transportation, The Original New Zealand Excursion

I decided to venture out yesterday. This was not an easy thing for me to do. As my wife would attest, I prefer habit over adventure and tend to stick close to the rivers and the lakes that I’m used to, quoting the immortal TLC.

That said, I am also particularly loathe to use public transportation, especially busses. I’m not sure where this phobia came from but most of my experiences with bus systems have been bad. Some of this stems from a personal incompetence at reading the bus grid, with its complex schedule of fares and timetables, not to mention that no bus in the history of busses has ever run on time. Given that its the middle of summer here and a balmy 78 degrees with 50% humidity, I was also more than a bit frightened at the thought of a crowded bus with poor AC.

Nevertheless, I made the 20 minute walk to my local Walmart equivalent, affectionately called The Warehouse. One can call New Zealanders many things but ostentatious isn’t among them. After finding my various necessities, I ambled along toward the local bus stop. Having studied the bus grid before I left, I felt confident that my luck with public transport would turn for the better.

I shouldn’t have been surprised when it didn’t. Rather than taking me toward my destination, I inadvertently boarded the wrong bus due to New Zealand’s affinity for driving on the wrong side of the road. Two hours later, after taking the entire bus loop, I arrived at the stop nearest my residence. My twenty minute trip by foot turned into an afternoon-long tour. As it happened, poor AC and crowded seats were very real, though very negligible, concerns.

In all, I learned a valuable lesson from my excursion. Busses are cursed. Avoid them if at all possible. When taking local public transportation becomes necessary, take the train or a cab. You’re welcome.

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Before and After Workout Exhibit

The website My Modern Met showcased an interesting art exhibit earlier this week by French photog Sacha Goldberger.

One half of the layout shows pictures of joggers that have just completed a brisk workout. The second half of the layout shows the same joggers in professional attire, posing in the same light, and manner as they had the week before.

According to Goldberger, the photos are intended:

“To show the difference between our natural and brute side versus how we represent ourselves to society,” Goldberger tells us. “The difference was very surprising.”

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Here’s an example of Goldberger’s work, courtesy of My Modern Met.

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Goldberger’s premise isn’t terribly insightful. Everyone presents an image of self to the world around us. But the exhibit is dramatic in that it underscores just how highly constructed the image we present to society actually is. Think about how much of our day is spent maintaining the image we wish to present.

Your morning shower. A, hopefully, daily ritual to evince good hygiene, and keep one’s bodily odors at bay. Why? So that you and your co-workers can co-exist in relative, cubical harmony.

The clothes you wear. As one fashion blog put it, the entire fashion industry exists for the sole purpose of producing ‘wearable art.’ I kid you not. They really said that. By this logic, you choose to wear clothes that make an artistic statement about you to the rest of the world. My t-shirt and jeans, for example, probably say to the rest of the world, “I hate you.”

The car you drive. Chevy struck advertising gold in the early 2000s in its effort to persuade Americans that you are what you drive. While trying to hawk its massive, and over-priced Silverado pick-up trucks, Chevy cleverly implemented the tagline “Like a rock.” Alas, this would be the last clever thing Chevy ever did.

The point of the “like a rock” campaign was that “you may be a bit soft about the gut, but by God if you drive a Chevy you’re just like a rock all the same.” According to the Wall Street Journal, the “like a rock” campaign was so successful among middle-age men, Chevy just might bring it back. The point, of course, is that the vehicle you drive says something about you to society.

For example, one good friend, who shall remain nameless, drives a Kia Spectra circa. 2004. His choice of car says to society, “Please, don’t hit me. But if you must hit me, I have lots of insurance.” Yes, my good friend is an attorney. My own, battered Chevy Colorado says, “I decided to start law school in the desert west before the economy tanked, and moved here from a major city where I didn’t need a car. This is all I could afford.”

The accessories you carry to work. Being but a lowly student, I don’t have a real job per se. But since I am a student, I’ve given considerable thought to the kind of backpack I carry. I think my Timbuk 2 bag tells society, “I could be a hipster, in a real city.” And once society believes what the bag tells them, it says, “I kid, I kid! The limeade racing stripe was supposed to let you in on the joke.”

Etc.

I suppose I’ve quite belabored the point by now. But the exhibit really is interesting in that it underscores how nearly the entirety of our waking existence is spent shrouding the image on the left in the trappings of the image on the right. Naturally, this doesn’t address the real question.

Exactly why do we care so much about what other people think of us?