Sunday, October 29, 2006

Auckland, New Zealand

Auckland, oh Auckland. My first and newest home. You are lovely and true.

May I please share a few of my thoughts on Auckland with you?

Auckland is very much like home in the States. It's a Westernized, civilized, busy, urban city where everyone is white (or brown - think Asian or Maori) and speaks English. Having said that, it doesn't feel that far away from home. Instead of half-way across the world, I feel like you're all up the street. In fact, it's a nice feeling to know that you're all just a block away. Except replace the word block with e-mail.

The same sun shines on me that shines on you. The clouds above my head are full of the same rain that once fell on you. And we're looking at the same moon each night. It's not so far away.

In many ways it's like being at home, except driving on the left side of the road. And not wearing shoes. And the fact that Aucklanders don't differentiate between Canadians and Americans is of course, offensive.

Some days I feel like Tera when she was in Iowa, as I have yet to see more than 6 black people during my time so far. Now, I know that I shouldn't say 'black person', as it isn't very PC, but I can't very well call them African-Americans now, can I?

There's lots of malls and lots of people and lots of McDonalds and lots of Burger Kings. Heaps and heaps of all that stuff, just like home. Around every corner is a coffee shop, which I love, as the coffee shops are much more gourmet than home. Yummy pastries and sandwiches around every turn. Which is why you haven't actually seen a picture of me yet - too fat.

It rains ALL THE TIME. You know, the whole tropical environment and all. It didn't rain for the first 26 days I was here. Then, the skies opened up and down came 26 days worth of rain. So when I say it rains all the time, I meant recently, when it rained for two straight days with no breaks, and then proceeded to rain the next two days every hour on the hour. It makes hoofing it (which one does without a car) difficult.

In the part of Auckland I live in, it's very posh. People that patronize SPQR are very rich and snobby. Or gay. And well dressed. Which go hand in hand.

Sometimes my co-workers like to pretend they know how to sing MY National Anthem to me, and I say, "Guys, you've got it all wrong. It goes like this, 'Oh, Canada. My home and native land...'"

Evidently Auckland, as I was immediately informed (by non-Aucklanders) upon my layover in Tahiti, is not like anywhere else in New Zealand. It's very American feeling (but don't tell them that). In fact, all non-Aucklanders refer to Aucklanders as 'Jafas', or 'Just Another F***ing Aucklander.' But of course, people in Auckland think that everyone else in New Zealand must have a jealousy complex. Which is exactly what typifies the 'Jafa' persona.

If I had ever been to Tokyo, I would think that Central Auckland, in the Central Business District, is like that. It's full of underground shops, overhead signs, flashing lights, big buildings, and heaps and heaps of Asians (though I'll be darned that I haven't found a single place to get my nails done or eyebrows waxed, which I find HIGHLY ironic). One day I asked a (white) gentleman for the time. He proceeded to have a 5 minute discussion with me, which ended in him telling me that when I traveled to the southern part of the country (towards Wellington), I would find it 'more white'. Well good thing for me, then. Whew.

I think I am in for a real treat when I leave. I picture a society a little more casual and a little less civilized. People probably wear shoes less than they do here. And I just know I'll see heaps more sheep.

In short, Auckland is nice, but I wouldn't want to live here forever.

Monday, October 23, 2006

A holiday with a friend

Woo Hoo!

Mary is here! She has arrived! She is in the building.

And she isn't going anywhere.



Ah, bliss, to have another American. And the best part is that she is saying things like,

'Look, no shoes!'
"it's funny how you say 'deck'!"
"What's a trolley?"

And she's saying them out loud. You see, I had to say all of these things in my head for 7 weeks, and now I have someone to share it with. Words cannot begin to tell how many funny inside jokes we already have. Especially about the deck.

So, as soon as Mary got here on Friday morning, we gave her no rest. We (I guess I should explain that 'we' means her new housing partner Mary, an amazing older lady who is a friend of her dad's and was looking to let out a spare room in a suburb not far from Auckland Central) got her home and let her brush her teeth, and then we sent her back out again. She rode the train for the first time (me too!), and experienced downtown Auckland at it's finest (and raniest). We explored a good bit before heading home back to the newly dubbed 'house of Mary'. We ate dinner, had a good rest, and headed out the next morning at 8am for Napier, a coastal town on the eastern most shore of the North island.

The five hour drive there and back ended up being the best part of the trip (think amazing scenery), as the weather was crap the whole time we were there. We did a lot of relaxing, though, and a bit of shopping, and (I finally) dipped my tootsies into the South Pacific (brrrr...). So the trip was far from a waste.

Tomorrow is back to the daily grind, but Mary is in good hands. A splendid time (from this day on) is in store.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Confessions of a shopaholic

Today I went to the mall, and guess what store I got
to shop at?


Woo hoo! Woo hoo!


Not that I would actually buy anything from K-Mart,
but it's the only American store they have here.

That's right. No Wal-Mart, Gap, Best Buy, Walgreens,
Panera, Barnes and Noble, Limited, Younkers, Olive
Garden, Von Maur, or (worst of it all) Target.

So walking into the Big-K was like walking into a
little slice of heaven. American heaven. And since
they don't celebrate Halloween here, the Christmas
stuff is already up.

Another reason I don't shop at K-Mart (no joke), it's
too expensive.

In New Zealand there are no one-dollar bills. The
smallest bill is a $5. For less than that, they use
coins. $1 coins, $2 coins, and 10, 20, and 50 cent

I don't miss pennies a bit.

The other day I found a 10 cent piece on the floor,
and thought I would start a trend of using the word
'dime' worldwide. I said, 'Hey! I found a dime!' It
didn't work.

For any of you who haven't heard this next funny money
story (and I think a few of you have, so bear it again
please), it's a doozy:
The first night I was here I went to the supermarket
with Diane and her mom. I was not yet familiar with
the money, and I was checking out all the faces on the
bills. The fiver has Sir Edmond Hillary, a New
Zealander who was the first bloke to climb Mt.
Everest. On the ten-spot is Kate Sheppard, who I am
sure was important for something. The twenty, though,
had me puzzled. It had a familiar looking lady on it,
but I couldn't quite place who she was, her name
wasn't on it (as are on the other bills), and I
couldn't be bothered to think about it too hard. So
instead, I said to Diane, 'Who's this handsome broad
on the twenty?' Diane looked at me and dryly
replied, 'The Queen of England."


Year 0

(Another e-mail just sent to a teacher friend)

That's right. I said Year 0.

Which was the age of the kids I subbed for today.

But before I can let you in on my day, let me explain
how the school system here works.

The NZ school year starts in February. It is made of
4 ten-week terms with two weeks of holiday between
each one. Kindergarten here is what we would consider
preschool at home. So when kiddos enter their first
year of school, they are called Year 1. This is
confusing to me, as Year two kids are first graders,
and Year 5 kids are fourth graders, and this
difference in numbers is very hard to remember.

All children in New Zealand are legally able to enter
Year 1 the day they turn 5. So, if you do the math,
you would understand that a Year 1 teacher would have
far fewer kids at the beginning of the year than at
the end, as more children in the neighborhood are
turning 5 each month, and are added to rosters. In
the middle of the week or whatever.

Now. If a child turns five late in the year (in
August or later), it would be too late for them to do
Year 1 and be expected to go to Year 2. So in some
schools, they'll graduate some really smart Year 1
kids to Year 2 classrooms, shuffle the kids around,
and put all of the 'newbies' into a Year 0 classroom.

Which is where I was today.

As a side note, I think this system is ridiculous.
Obviously noone consulted you or I to ask our opinions
about this set up, because we would have told them it
was silly.

So these kiddos today were like 4 and 14 months.
Babies. Like August Kindergartners to you. I was

We did an activity with the book Ten Black Dots, which was great
except they didn't know what a penny was.

Then we had rest. For 10 minutes.

Then, they walked all over me for the rest of the day.

Stomp, stomp, stomp.

But oh well. It leaves me a great story to tell you!

Tomorrow, I am in the Samoan unit at Richmond Road. In this
Year 1 classroom, the lessons are taught each day in Samoan.

So it's a good thing I've been practicing my Samoan...

Saturday, October 14, 2006


(This was an e-mail only sent to my teacher friends...)

I had to share this with a group of people who I knew
would understand. Maybe, you can think of a way to
relate it to kiddos?

Last week I was sitting in a cafe reading the
newspaper. I came across an article called 'Search
for the Best Pie". This gentleman had gone all over
New Zealand looking for the best pies and had written
a book about it, and this article was getting the good
dish (no pun intended). So, being a traveler and
pie-lover, I thought it might be interesting to read
and find out more about where I can find really good,
fresh, New Zealand pie (because nothing beats a good
old-fashioned piece of homemade pie from a shop on the
side of a country road, right? Are you with me on

So I am reading the article and it's talking about
good fillings and crispy crust, and I'm thinking about
the awesome blueberry pie ala-mode I had in Maine, and
my grandma's killer rhubarb pie. Yum. And it keeps
talking about where these pies are found, and I am
trying to locate the areas in my head (from my
non-extensive knowledge of the island). When I was
about a quarter of the way through the article, the
author referred to the ingredients he loves the best
as meaty, the kind you can stick a fork into and
really pick up. I thought that was a really
interesting way to describe fruit, and my inference
was that he thought of meaty as a good way to describe
a pie with heaps and heaps of filling.

Then, halfway through the article, he described how
the vegetables in the pie had to be cooked a certain
way with the gravy.

Hold that thought!

My schema changed! I then realized that the ENTIRE
article was about savory pies (think chicken pot
pies), which everyone eats here and calls pie without
thinking twice about it.

Yikes! What a learning moment in my brain.

And I knew I had to share it with my favorite schema

Man! I wish I would have kept the article to send!
What a perfect example of what happens to each of us,
and what we try to teach our students to learn, each

Love from Down Under,

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A favor?

Oh My Gosh, ladies.

I miss the cheapness of Scholastic book fairs.

And I miss the selection of American books.

Here's the story (with the favor at the bottom)

I was telling TK and DK both that relief teaching here
is really different (and sort of dumb). Just like at
home, I could get a call any day for a school. Only
Auckland is a lot bigger than Waukee, so I usually
have a long way to go. But that's besides the point.
The real thing that I am having a bit of trouble with
is that any day I walk into a classroom, there's no
guarantee that there will be lesson plans for me. I
guess it's part of that Kiwi relaxed business and all.
But relaxed or not, I now basically have to be
prepared to teach a whole day to a number of age
levels on any given day.

Now, when I expressed this concern to the people at
the Educational Recruiting agency (who places me in
schools each day), they said 'Well, you have three
years experience, right?' To which I wanted to (but
didn't) reply 'Well, yes. But I had a curriculum and
lesson plans to follow each day, and the instruction
followed a certina set of standards that flowed
together for optimal student learning.'

So, I have been spending the last week getting books
and lessons prepared for grades 1-4. I'll re-use many
of the lessons at different schools, but it still has
taken awhile (and a bit of money) to get it all
sorted. The Auckland public libraries are REALLY,
REALLY large but unequivically stocked with children's
books that I can use. I have quite a selecton, led by
many of the great lessons I am carrying over from
Waukee, but there is one book I am missing that I
would really, really like. I have not only checked
the libraries, but Whitcouls (like Barnes and Noble),
Borders, and three children's bookstores. I can have
it ordered for $39.95, and wait for 10-14 weeks. OR,
I thought one of my great old first grade friends
might have an extra copy they wouldn't mind parting

So. Having said all of that. Would anybody be
willing to double check if they have an extra copy of
Cloudy WIth A Chance of Meatballs (maybe even with a
copy of the sandwich templates), and send it to me?
If, so, I'll kindly repay the gift with a nice
Christmas gift come December. Or something like that.

Your kindness is appreciated...

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Rules of the road

A few words on cars.

There is nothing, nothing, nothing that can train my
brain away from 24 years of practice looking left,
then right, then left when crossing the road. Not
even the eminent danger of getting hit by a car coming
at you (on the right, mind you) as you cross the
street. I am trying and trying and trying to
remember to look right first, but I just can't do it.

When I got to Auckland, the first thing Diane said to
me once we got out of the airport car park was, 'So,
how's driving on the other side of the road treating
you?' To be honest, it doesn't seem odd at all. The
odd thing is sitting, as a passenger, on the left side
of the car. Or getting into the back seat, looking
forward to the left side of the car, and not seeing a
steering wheel. But the most weirdest thing is seeing
a car drive up the street with only one person in it,
and that person is sitting on the right side. It's
like the twilight zone.

But, I am proud to say that I have officially learned
to cross busy streets by myself, without the help of a
traffic light at an intersection. This has opened up
a world of possibilities, as now I can cross from one
side of the street to a shop on the other without
having to traverse the whole block and back. Oh joy.

A couple of weeks ago, my flat mate Joy was on holiday
to the South Island to spend time with her family.
Because she is kind, she left her car for me to
practice driving. It is a very run-down car, but it
has four wheels, can take you from one place to the
next, and is perfect for Wendy to practice driving on.
I had planned on going out to practice driving with
one of my flat mates during the weekend, but that plan
never panned out. So, Monday morning following that
weekend, I snuck out of the house when everyone had
gone to work, and attempted to take my first road
test, by myself. Then, when I opened the car and
tried to start it, the car was dead. So my driving
lesson had to wait. Damn.

Skip to a week later. Joy is talking about selling
her car. I asked her for how much she would sell it.
She said $500. I said, 'Sold!' Except, that I have
come to find that people around here say they are
going to do things, but they don't. So I won't hold
up my hopes real high. And I will keep you posted...

Licensing and registration here is different as well.
Cars are sold with license plates already on them, and
they stay with the car through all of it's owners. To
change the name on the title, you just re-register the
car to your name. Or something like that. Except I
don't know how that would work with personalized
plates and all. When (if) I get a car here, I am
going to look into getting some nice personalized
Hawkeye license plates. Or, I'll get some regular
personalized plates that say 'American' on them, which
will invite random and violent acts of rear-ending or
vandalization, I am sure.

The license plates are those cute little rectangle and
slim ones, like in Europe, and I am still trying to
think about how I am going to get one to bring home.
I mean, whose car is going to have one go missing.

Insurance is an option, which most Kiwis turn down.
So, most of the drivers on the road (especially
international ones) are uninsured, which is perfectly
acceptable and legal. As a side note to that, all
cars are required to have a fitness update every six
months. It's mandatory, and you can be fined if you
don't. It is similar to Iowa registration, only
instead of just paying to have it registered to you
for another year, you have to have a full check-up,
and fix any problems that would otherwise cause the
car to be unfit for the road. For the warranty, all
cars have these huge stickers in their windows that
say 'Warrant of fitness until 24/1/2007'. Of course,
those numbers translate to 1/24/2007, which is what I
am sure they meant to write in the first place.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

My new (and most favorite-ist) job

*This e-mail not intended for the faint of heart, and
you 've been warned...



I have been at SPQR for a little more than a week.

I now walk, talk, and act like a gay man.

Today, I heard the best gay joke. Except I can't tell
it to you because it would have to involve the use of
my hands.

Most of the guys I work with are so incredibly,
unbelievably (unavailably) hot.

One of the servers, Nathan (Nay-Nay), laughs like the
Wicked Witch of the West out loud and all the time.
It's like his M.O. or something, and it's kinda

I am learning heaps and heaps of new words, and I am
learning not to blush at some of the words that I
already knew, but was embarrassed to hear out loud. I
wouldn't share them with any of my grandmothers.

As I have mentioned before, our main clientele is gay
couples, groups of rich straight girls, or cute and
rich heterosexual couples, young and old. It's a very
high-end but casual dining place, and we're allowed to
talk to the guests pretty casually. That in itself
ads a whole new level of interest.

I REALLY love this job, and the people I work with.
It's a fun, fun place to be.

Unfortunately, though, there is one part of my job
that's getting a little bit old already. It is a
conversation that I have at least 6 times a night (no
exaggeration), and it goes like this:

Wendy: Blah, blah, blah, can I take your order? Blah,
blah, blah.

Guest: Blah, blah, we'll have blah, blah. So, are you
Canadian or American?

(now, the first time I heard this, my immediate
reaction was "What the hell? Of course I'm

Wendy: (deep breaths in, deep breaths out, and
patiently reply:) American.

(So, now, American friends, the question I have is
this: is it just me, or would you be deeply offended
to be considered Canadian? Of course I am American!
Is there anything else to be?)

Guest: Oh, you don't sound American.

Wendy: Hmm. And how is it that an American sounds?

Guest: (saying something really dumb in a horrible
southern accent)

Wendy: I'm sorry! You've confused the entire country
with the state of Texas. Yes, they do talk like that
in some places. But not most places. It's a pretty
civilized country and all.

Guest: (taken aback) So, whereabouts in America are
you from?

Wendy: Iowa. Right in the middle. Midwest.

(now, this next part will probably not come as a
shocker to anyone, but I really, really, really do
hear this 4 out of the 6 times I have this
conversation, no joke at all).

Guest: Potatoes, right?

Wendy: (deep breath in, deep breath out, and patiently
reply) Nope. (one more deep breath, patiently walk

On a more sensitive note, here's another one I have
replied to often:

Wendy: Yes, I am quite aware that you don't believe in
our foreign policies. Do you vote in America? Well
then, don't worry about it. You guys just work on
getting the price of eggs down, and then we'll talk
about foreign policies.

And then I say some profanities. In my new gay voice
(which sounds pretty convincing already...).


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

One Month Later

I love sending e-mails home to all of you. There are
so many things I think about each day that I want to
share, so many experiences that are fun to try to
explain in words. At the same time I am trying not to
make my e-mails only talk about the things I do each
day, as I think that would be really boring.

Having said that, I'd like to mark my four-week
anniversary in New Zealand by sharing a long boring
e-mail that details a little bit more about my new

As I said, it's my one-month anniversary in New
Zealand today. I think. But I am not sure with all
of that day-skipping and all.

My house situation is pretty good. The little villa I
live in is choicely situated directly in the city.
It's a gorgeous little house and I like it very much.

My head flat mate, Julia, is intolerable. She's
Sweedish, and doesn't pronounce the letter J, which I
think I have mentioned before. What I haven't
mentioned is how funny that is when she talks.
Especially when you don't like her. When she's not
around, my flat mates and I talk to each other without
pronouncing the letter J too. Some of our favorite
words are You-lia (Julia), yuh-cousi (jacuzzi), yim
(gym), and yoy (Joy). Also, I'll probably be stricken
down dead for telling you that she has an enormous
mouth and the most unfortunate set of teeth. We joke
that she could wrangle a fish in from the ocean with
those chompers.

The thing about Julia is that she is not a nice human
being to others. I think, deep down, she has some
good qualities that she has yet to show us, but for
now, none of us really can stand her, which is a
position she has earned. She talks and talks with no
point, she tells half-truths all of the time, she
makes excuses against everyone else to explain when
things are going wrong for her, and she talks about
all of us to the others when we're not around. For
example, the other day I headed out to meet Ian for
tennis, and the moment I walked out the door, she
started talking to Sheena about Joy and I (as Sheena
later explained). She didn't say anything too
terrible about me, but that she thought I was pretty

But, that's 'yust You-lia', and I guess it makes it
more interesting for the rest of us.

At first I was sleeping on an air mattress that she
provided, which after a week, went flat. You can
imagine my surprise when I woke up on the floor one
night, but I quickly checked my self for snails (all
clear) and went to sleep on the couch. Then, instead
of blowing it back up the next day, I just decided to
use an extra mattress of Ian's that was about to go in
storage. It's a single mattress that is barely big
enough for me. Luckily, I packed my own bedding, and
I was able to make the little thing feel more cozy.
As a joke to you, I am sending a picture of the it.
It's about 6 feet long, 2 feet wide, and 4 inches

As a stipulation of not getting the room I was
originally offered, Julia told me that she would go
ahead and order a sofa bed that she had always planned
on ordering for my room (which, when un-occupied is
actually a spare room, as this is a flat usually let
out to 4 people, not 5) early so that I could use it.
That process, in itself, was a fiasco of half-truths
and laziness, and took two weeks longer than it should
have. Starting tomorrow, if all goes as planned (but
don't count on it) I should have an off-ground bed. I
will now be able to stretch my legs out of the
toothpick position.

My flat mate Sheena is a beautiful Maori chick who
works as a manager at a clothing store. She is 22,
and never went to college. She makes much more than a
teacher, and is allotted $6,000 a year in free clothes
from her store. She also dates a rugby player and is
in the process of landing a modeling gig with
Vodofone. Her face will apparently soon be all over
t.v. She makes me look very plain. Plainer than my
usual plainness.

I am not going to justify to anyone anymore that I do
NOT like Ian in any other way than he is my flat mate.
If you could see this guy, you'd understand why.
Heart of gold, no doubt, but not my type. So stop
asking. We just hang out because we don't like Julia
and nobody else is ever home.

My new job at SPQR is nice. I've done 2 1/2 shifts so
far and really like it. Hospitality here is
different, as Kiwis don't tip. It's not common to do
so. Instead, food costs more, and the server gets
paid more in wages. Instead of making $3 + tips, as a
server would in the States, we make $15 w/ fewer tips.
This is nice because you are paid whether your
restaurant or section is busy or not, plus $20-40 in
tips each night, depending on how busy it is. Also, I
get one free meal and one free drink per shift (well,
the drink comes after the shift...), plus staff pizza
after the meal, none of which is something I never got
in the States.

My money situation has been a bit tricky as well. As
a first time international mover, I made the mistake
of bringing the bulk of my money in a giant (well,
regular-sized) cashier's check, which I unfortunately
waited a week to cash. I didn't realize that it would
take 21 days (not including Saturdays or Sundays) to
process. Therefore, my new NZ bank account is fully
equipped with a large amount of money that I can't
touch. That means, for the first four and the next
one weeks of my new adventure, I have lived off of
US$1,050. This translates to about NZ$1,500. With
that I have done EVERYTHING, including paying three
weeks worth of rent, a $200 deposit on my room,
clothes, transportation, Burger King ice-cream cones,
and groceries, which of course, cost me the most. And
I've bought two lotto tickets which have not yet paid
anything. This week, I had to clear out my American
bank account to pay the rent for the last two weeks.
But, a helpful tip for travelers (if I only would have
known) - leave your money at home and use your credit
card! When I use it, the purchases are AUTOMATICALLY
converted to US dollars, which is cool because I feel
like I am always getting a sale (a NZ$39 shirt
actually only cost me US$26.77 on my Visa!).

My teaching qualifications came back super, and I am
officially able to teach in New Zealand. In fact, on
a 12-step salary scale, I made it to step 7. Just
like that. (Actually, that doesn't mean anything, but
it sounds cool, right?)

School holidays end this week, kids are back on the
11th. Maybe I'll get some relief teaching, as earlier
this week I e-mailed some principals I have spoken
with before about getting in. Also, I have an
interview today with the original Oasis Education
recruiter that I have been back and forth with since
April, so I am excited for that. But, I'm not too
worried as now SPQR will soon start to pay the rent.

I got my first package this week. It was totally
exciting. It was full of candy and goodies, and the
pact I had made with myself to eat less sugar went out
the window. American candy is SO much better than the
candy here. Every calorie is worth it, tenfold.
Also, speaking of home, I learned that I can pay, a
week at a time if I want, to watch live ESPN on my
computer. So last week I watched the Iowa v. Ohio
game live, which was really cool. Even better,
though, was watching the commercials for Ford and
Chevy, and hearing American actors speak.

Mary comes in 2 weeks, and then the adventure begins.
We have plans to take a week vacation upon her
arrival. It will consist of a week by the sea, on
the beach, and at vineyards in a town called Napier,
along with a lot of good old Kiwi hospitality from the
lady who is taking us. We're both super pumped for

So that's what's up. All in all, life is good.