I get inspired by immigrants, web gurus and writers. The seasons are wrong, the houses are damp, dolphins are better humans, and square isn’t always.
Youth really is wasted on the young
Sometimes when I think I’m getting old (which I’m not) it’s good to hear stories that remind me that it’s never too late do make big changes in life. One of those stories is that of Briton Eric King-Turner, who, at the age of 102, recently moved to New Zealand with his 88-year old Kiwi wife. This makes him the oldest immigrant in the history of this country.
Despite their age, the couple had to go through the normal immigration paperwork, proving that they were not in a “marriage of convenience” just so that he could become eligible for residency, but in a stable relationship. Once that was accomplished, they travelled to their new home on a ship (not a container ship though.) During the long voyage, Mr King-Turner learned how to use email. They arrived in Wellington on Valentine’s Day.
The best part of the story though is Mr King-Turner’s motivation for moving to his wife’s home country:
“It’s a wonderful new adventure and I would say to anyone that if you want to do something you should do it straight away while you can.”
“What’s important is that when I’m 105, I don’t want to be thinking, ‘I wish I had moved to the other side of the world when I was 102′.”
What an inspiration!
Ur doing it wrong
We are now well into year four down under, yet the reversal of seasons in the southern hemisphere continues to feel very wrong. It’s blatantly obvious that the calendar and cultural schedule of western societies was created in the northern hemisphere and simply applied to the southern half of the globe without considering the implications.
This is not about Christmas in summer—the yearly “Santa at the beach in Australia” article in northern media has become a very tired “oddity” indeed. Plus, unless the notion of a traditional (white? where?) Christmas is what you are after, who cares! It’s summer, and warm, and for me that’s always a cause for celebration. It’s the other 11 and 1/2 months that are the trouble.
It’s difficult at best to be at peace with the fact that sweet, hopeful May is in fact one of the gloomiest months of the year (the equivalent of November). Unlike the northern winter, which is interrupted by Christmas, New Years and other holidays, the New Zealand winter stretches from June to September at best, more often, spanning six dark and cold months without as much as a public holiday or any other event to interrupt and lighten the mood. And while I don’t celebrate Easter, it sure doesn’t belong into autumn instead of spring.
One thing we can count on every year on Easter is the discussion about New Zealand’s trading law. This law forbids shops to open on three and a half days per year; these are: Good Friday, Easter Sunday, the morning of ANZAC Day and Christmas Day. Affected are all shops, including grocery stores. Dairies (small corner stores that sell a little bit of everything, albeit at a horrendous markup) are exempt can only sell items that are essential and can’t be put off till the next day, whatever that means. Garden centres area allowed to open on Easter Sunday but not on Good Friday. Stores in tourist towns Taupo and Queenstown may open; stores in tourist towns Wanaka or Rotorua may not. If you think this is confusing, don’t even look at the liquor laws for the Easter weekend.
Every year there are calls for letting councils regulate whether shops can open or not on those days, or for scrapping the ban altogether. Also every year, relevant bills are defeated and nothing changes which is blamed on “lack of public consensus”, meaning that none of the various opposing lobby groups has been convincing enough. According to our ever-witty local tabloid, the change has been “put in the ‘too-hard basket’”. Wait for a repeat in 2009.
And speaking of the New Zealand mainstream media: If that’s where you get your news, you would think that the biggest problem facing this nation is neither the slowing economy, the housing crisis or long wait times in the public health system. No, it’s kids with spray paint.
In Auckland, a 50-year-old businessman stabbed and killed a 15-year-old teenager whom he caught tagging a fence on his property. The mayor of South Auckland shortly thereafter called tagging “a starting point for a lot of youngsters getting on to the criminal treadmill”, and the government introduced new legislation that would ban the sale of spray paint to minors, increase fines up to $2000 (currently the maximum is $200), and allocate money to local groups and councils for anti-tagging initiatives.
Now. I’m very much a believer in the broken windows theory. I strongly dislike tagging, and it bothers me a great deal when I find tags on our building or street. There is no excuse for vandalism, and by all means should offenders have to clean up their mess and be fined. But declaring a “war against graffiti” (which, by the way, is not the same as tagging) is awfully fearmongerish and encourages the kind of creepy vigilante justice expressed in so many comments that sympathised with the stabber and thought the kid “had it coming” or even “deserved it”. So it’s ok to kill someone because they tag your property? What if they litter? Spit in your front yard? Maybe that one only justifies a good beating? The whole debate is eerily reminiscent of the annoying smacking controversy I’ve written about before, where violence seems to be the preferred method by which kids learn to respect authority and other people’s property.
On a side note, the issue isn’t limited to cities, nor to Kiwi teenagers. In February, a 28-year-old German backpacker was caught tagging both rock walls and glacier ice at Franz Joseph Glacier on the South Island. English tourists took pictures and reported him to the police, who arrested him the next day. He was ordered to clean up his handiwork in order to escape charges. It took him almost two days, during which he was “seriously dressed down” by tourists and guides alike. Surely this would have been an effective deterrent?
At least we don’t have to worry about the Israeli army
It’s still summer, sort of, but the occasional southerly reminds us that our nine months of discomfort are not that far away. Lest we forget what’s in store, here comes a study on the health effects of leaky buildings from Massey University. The verdict: Mould was found in 75 per cent of the 1310 households surveyed. “This is comparable to a study of Palestinian refugee camps, where the rate was 78 per cent.”
Our cold, damp and mouldy houses lead to respiratory problems such as wheezing, coughing and asthma, and “conservative estimates put the direct health costs of leaky buildings in New Zealand at $61 million a year.”
What’s being done about this? Nothing. While this article circulated heavily amongst my immigrant friends, it didn’t register on any great scale. And while it’s great that these studies point out the dangers, I don’t understand why we need more studies. It’s damn obvious that the current state of housing is simply subpar. Just look at any other civilised country and their building standards and raise them here accordingly. Anything above Palestinian refugee camp shacks would be an improvement. Thank you.
Round peach in a square lunchbox
One of my favourite stories of all times is Carl Barks’ Lost in the Andes (1949). In this story, Donald Duck discovers square eggs in the Duckburg museum and has to travel to South America with his nephews to find the mythical chicken who lay these square eggs. As one might expect they encounter all kinds of peril. My favourite scene is when the nephews are ordered to produce square bubble gum bubbles in Plain Awful, the city where all round things are forbidden.
I was therefore excited to hear that a fruit grower in Otago on the South Island has introduced square peaches. Unlike their round cousins, these square peaches, called “Flatto”, wouldn’t roll around and fit easily into lunch boxes. Could this be true?
In one word, no. Life, unfortunately, is nothing like a comic strip. The Flatto is not really square at all, but resembles a flat donut. This wouldn’t fly at all in Plain Awful. (Apparently they are quite tasty though.)
Dolphins 1, humans 0
It’s not easy being a whale these days. Even if you manage to escape the fate of becoming a delicacy in a Japanese restaurant (for research purposes, of course!) there’s the whole beaching problem. According to The Internets, it’s not entirely clear why whales beach themselves—the most common theory says that they lose orientation due to sickness or injury.
When humans find beached whales, they try to get them back into the water. Unfortunately, because the whales are a lot bigger than the humans (although as a species, we seem to be making some progress in that direction), this doesn’t always work. When two pygmy sperm whales became stranded in Mahia Beach in Hawkes Bay (500 km north-east of Wellington), a group of people tried to get them back out into the water, but the whales kept getting stranded on a sandbar and the would-be rescuers finally decided to give up.
This is when Moko, a dolphin well-known to the locals, approached the whales and guided them to safety to a channel that led away from the sand bars and out to sea.
A conservation worker who had unsuccessfully tried to help earlier said that “there was obviously something that went on because the two whales changed their attitude from being quite distressed to following the dolphin quite willingly and directly along the beach and straight out to sea.” And a marine mammals expert from the Te Papa museum here in Wellington added that “it’s the first time I’ve heard of an inter-species refloating technique. I think that’s wonderful.”
A busy summer
But enough of flora and fauna. It’s been an eventful couple of months for my species as well. Everything gets crammed into the summer months here, and my calendar was accordingly full.
One of the most anticipated events for me was Webstock, a Wellington-based web conference with a fantastic lineup of speakers on all things web, and an excellent opportunity to meet and connect with people in our industry. This year’s conference had 500 people attending and consisted of three days of workshops and two days of conference.
My impressions of the workshops and presentations were a bit mixed, ranking from truly outstanding and inspiring to somewhat disappointing (more of the same things you’ve already heard a thousand times.) What really impressed me though was how well the conference was organised—from the bags to the program to the badges, from the food to supporting event program such as a craft market, cocktail hour and dinner, everything was created with care and creativity and made a huge difference to the overall experience. Not to mention that it was heaps of fun and great to met so many people who are passionate about the web.
For a bit of a contrast, I let my self be talked into participating with a team from work in Round the Bays, a 7km run along the bay, starting near Civic Square and ending in Kilbirnie, a suburb near the airport. Round the Bays is a “fun run”, a nice little Sunday morning activity for everyone because unless it’s at least double-digit distance, uphill and preferably against strong headwind, Kiwis don’t consider it serious sports.
On the South Island, they have an annual race called Coast to Coast where you literally cross the Southern Alps from the West Coast to the East coast, spanning 243 km on foot, bike and in kayaks. The champions manage this in a mere 10.5 hours. There’s also something called the “24 hour mountain bike challenge”, where, you guessed it, your ride your mountain bike for a whole day.
So, admittedly, a 7 km run on flat surface isn’t exactly serious. I was still proud I managed the whole thing in 41 minutes and 9 seconds which isn’t bad given that my faster team mates were all male and on average a decade younger.
Finally, we’ve also had a plethora of cultural events and festivals in the city. I’m not sure why the International Arts Festival and the Fringe Festival, two major annual events in Wellington, are all happening at the same time instead of spreading things out a bit. But whatever the reasoning, we managed to see a number of good shows, including a black comedy at Downstage theatre, a jazz trio from the US (The Bad Plus), acrobatics in Civic Square, and a couple of sessions at the Readers and Writers week: Doonesbury cartoonist Gary Trudau, and a very interesting discussion about war between British novelist Ian McEwan, German author Uwe Timm, and NZ writer and poet C.K. Stead. Maybe I am glad that there are fewer things on from now on. At least it’ll give me some time to catch my breath, and of course, blog.