Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Dog Registered to Vote

So we went out to a lovely Burmese restaurant last night with our hosts (a former Canadian, and former South African / European Muttman) and co-worker (a former New Yorker) and friend (Tasmanian). With a complete lack of native Kiwi, we discussed the many differences between America and New Zealand.

The most striking difference (after you get past the accent and Christmas during the summer time thing) is the total lack of security and a seeming over-abundance of trust.

They are telling us stories of going to get petrel at an inner-city station. The woman's card wasn't working. The guy behind the counter was like, "no worries -- just pay it when you get the chance." Gas is, like, $7 American dollars per gallon over here! That's an amazing amount of money to just let go on the off chance that this stranger will come back with cash.

They had elections for this club, and one of the ladies became the new treasurer. What do you have to do to get the bank to switch things over to your name? Just call them up and let them know that you're the new treasurer. That's it? Yes. When I became the new VP of the Syndicate, we all had to go in person with two picture IDs and sign a multitude of documents and give fingerprints! Well, close.

There is a fairly lengthy application to register to vote over here. Apparently, for rural locations in New Zealand you don't have a street number, so they give you a box where you can sketch a map of your place of residence (they don't want any bad artists registering to vote). They ask you the names of your next door neighbors, and it's, from my understanding, acceptable to write "the fat man is on my left, and the large family with a new baby on the way is on my right." Or you write, "next-door neighbors Ann and Joseph just moved," and they're like, "oh, sure -- we know Ann and Joseph. Nice folk."

This one guy was frustrated with the lack of security here, so he actually registered his dog to vote. And the registration was approved. Fluffy Barksalot is now a proud member of the voting population of New Zealand. So crazy.

The equivalent of the IRS frequently don't even get the social security numbers right over here. It's amazing. 2 years after doing your taxes, you get letters like, "we think you may owe us money, what do you think?"

The inefficiency of this system kind of makes my American head spin, but everyone who has moved here from other countries seem to just love it. They think it's heaven. All of the trust, homeland security not breathing down your neck all the time, tapping your phone. It's a real freedom for them.

From what I can see and hear, the laxness isn't taken advantage of very frequently. So I wonder, the more secure you are, does that make the people around you more hostile and therefore more likely to try to take advantage of your insecurities? I don't mean individuals -- obviously if you leave your door unlocked in a country of locked doors, you're making yourself an easy target. But if the whole country is a country of unlocked doors, is the average small-time criminal mind less threatened and therefore less likely to do anything bad?

So it's less that the people are very trusting over here and more that they live in a culture of trust, where trust is a way of life and is, therefore, largely unquestioned and unchallenged.

All you need is love (wa, da-da-da-da...)?

All Spa-ed Out

Well, yesterday we went to the spa over here in Christchurch. First hour for feet, second hour full body, both of us could go at the same time in the same room so we could hold hands while they did our feet, etc. It was quite fabulous. And a good price, too -- especially considering the exchange rate (yay America not sucking it up that badly!!).

There are a bunch of massage parlors over here. And not just in New Zealand -- there are more in Australia as well. And it seems way more culturally appropriate for straight guys to get massaged. Not that it's not in the states. I mean, my Uncle Patrick (with all of the wine & technology) seems like he could get away with monthly manicures and no one would think twice about it. My Dad, on the other hand, has had a professional massage only once, I believe, and, though he went into it with an open mind, it's not something he really wants to do again. Too much intimacy from to distant a stranger.

So I find the heightened cultural acceptance here interesting considering that our little world guide book states that both Australia and New Zealand require a larger sphere of personal space during casual conversations. For the record, I haven't noticed this to be true, but I've been hanging out with dancers who have no concept of personal space anyway.

Something else that's interesting is the large number of slightly shady spas over here. There is a door down a street clearly marked "Chinese Spa," but all you see is an ill-lit staircase going up. Are you running a special on happy endings? Even the awesome place we went to had a slightly shady air. But maybe that's another cultural difference.

The spa I've been to in the US had high ceilings and a grand piano and lots of light until you got in your individual little massage room. Everyone was dressed in a crisp white button down shirt and black slacks.

But that was in Plano -- a Dallas suburb. There's not that much extra space in the middle of Christchurch. Definitely no room for a grand piano lounging about the foyer. And perhaps you want dim lights and incense as soon as you walk into a spa here so you can instantly get into the relaxed mood. I dunno.

Anyhow -- next time you come out here, I totally recommend that you get a massage. The experience is always fun :)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


If you take a look at the last post, you may have noticed the addition of some pictures. I probably won't go quite so picture happy on all posts, but I will be going back through and attaching pictures to old posts, so have a looksie over the next few to see what neat pics we've added.

I've also slowly started adding photos to picasaweb. You can check them out at:


Monday, June 16, 2008

Driving on the Wrong Side

So yesterday we went to Akaroa as a day trip. Akaroa is one of those stupefyingly beautiful places. On the drive up, I was wildly taking pictures out of the car window. At first, I was aiming, but after a while I just started sticking my arm out and clicking in every direction. It didn't matter. Everything was friggin' beautiful!

It was only slightly less enjoyable for Mike. I say slightly less enjoyable because he was the one driving.. on the wrong side of the rode... on the wrong side of the car. Things were crazy! It was soooo odd sitting in the driver's seat and facing nothing but the glove compartment. The rear-view window showed me nothing!

It was even worse for Mike. All of the shifting was on his left side (thank goodness it wasn't mirrored). The blinker was where the windshield wipers were. And vice verse! The rear-view mirror kept on staring at him, trying to tell him something. He's in the passenger side of the car! What could it have to say?

It was also awkward to keep the car in the middle of the road. Poor Mike was totally used to keeping a different part of it in line, so we kept on weaving a bit and I would have to let him know when the wheels on my side went off the road. (Don't panic, Mom -- we didn't die)

Anyhow, it was all so freaking beautiful. We rounded the top of a small mountain / large hill and saw Akaroa, and it was sooooo GORGEOUS. It was one of those breathless moments. It's on the shore of a bay, so it smells like the sea, but it's super calm. It's surrounded by those mountains / small hills and the clouds creep in over the top of them and cast large, swirly shadows over everything.

The coloration of everything was so vivid! They sky was extra blue somehow, so the water was brilliant. There are so many kinds of trees here, and each one has a distinct color and texture. Walking in this area is endlessly beautiful, and it was warm enough that we could take of our coats for most of the day (don't be too envious -- it's raining and freezing today).

The main attraction we went to see was the Giant's House. This place is kind of like a gallery / bed and breakfast owned by this one particular artist. The whole place was kind of magical. The entire property was one big installation that had the look of a still life Mad Hatter's tea party. She mingled her artwork and the natural foliage of the garden together beautifully so the whole thing blended in to this colorful, bizarre environment. I'm not going to tell you any more about it. You'll have to see pictures.

Mike got some fabulously greasy fish and chips, and I got some hush puppy variants for lunch (and then some sadly sub-par fudge). Then we walked and walked everywhere and came back to Christchurch again.

It was quite a day. Wish you could have seen it!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Ritzy Party

So we went to a party last night after the workshop. It was crazy, I tell you! We're looking at the house from the road saying, surely that can't be it.

To give you an idea of what we've seen thus far, all of the houses have been more or less one story, or derelict old mansions. EVERYTHING has been in walking distance -- typically within 8 blocks, maximum. There are very few parking lots, so most everything is parallel. All of Cristchurch is kind of built up around little central blocks that have little fountains and statues in them.

This house belongs to the Uncle of one of the swing dancers here who is leaving. I never really met her -- since she is leaving, she packed instead of coming to the workshop. Her uncle, apparently, is one of the foremost sculptors of Christchurch and his sculptures are displayed all throughout town.

The house is a huge three story house built by the Uncle himself entirely out of recycled materials. It is covered with broad windows and sits atop a steep incline. We walked up to the house in the dark, and the ragged stone steps were punctuated by hand lit candles. To either side were large, dimly lit sculptures in the shape of crosses, and geometrically curvaceous naked women. It sort of looked like the graveyard of the Adams Family.

Inside, I have to confess, I actually had a very good time talking to people who I barely knew at all. We had many good conversations about the habits, origins, and influences of Zombies, the cultural differences & comfort zones of New Zealanders and Americans, comparing and contrasting the Indigenous peoples of America and New Zealand respectively (you'll have to ask me if you're curious -- it's some interesting stuff). I didn't even get into a dance conversation until the end of the night, and I think I only danced 4 songs.

The inside of the house was covered with artwork -- paintings and etchings that the Uncle had collected. Some of them we had seen in a nearby gallery earlier that week.

As for the rest of the house, I imagine that it was quite grand, but, honestly, it was so covered with people that I really couldn't see that much of it. There were a BUNCH of people there, and I felt very underdressed. Nevertheless, Mike and I, being Americans and the best dancers in the scene, were a big hit.

So funny how something completely unexceptional somewhere (and out of your control, for the most part), could make you such a splash in a different setting. If we stayed here too long, I could definitely see a tendency towards big fish / little pond syndrome.

Thanks to the brevity of our stay and my stubborn insistence on my own suckage, I will return to you all as determined as ever :)

Friday, June 13, 2008

We are the Champions, My Friends

Oh Yeah! Another successful workshp down! Many I'm psyched. This one was So not a let down compared to OZ. This one was even better than the last one! We learned from all of the things that didn't go quite right in OZ and we applied them to this new syllabus and even the non excited New Zealenders were with us by then end busting their butts with these crazy hard moves. I was so excited. I'm so proud of them. And I think we really succeeded in being inspiring, the first goal. Everyone was smiling and really getting into the music.

There's not a dance tonight, unfortunately, and actually nothing going on until next Wednesday, but I guess we'll find out if there was a lasting impact then. I'll be sure to let you know ;)

Miss you all, and very excited to be a dance instructor :D

~~ Laura

Thursday, June 12, 2008

New Zealand or Bust

So we are in New Zealand now. Much colder here and it gets dark even earlier, I think. But it is very, very pretty. They did not lie to you in the Lord of the Rings :)

Although, I have to say, Air New Zealand was way less cool this time around. The plane was smaller (only six seats to a row instead of 9), so the food was not nearly as good and there were no videos on demand. We had to watch the same movie as everyone else (some underwater treasure hunting movie starring blonde actors whose names I don't remember). I tell ya, life is hard. Life is hard.

Our hosts are very nice. There's a bit of that initial weirdness, establishing yourself because your complete strangers living with each other very suddenly. Like usual. But it is beginning to ebate. We had a nice long chat about the scene and Charleston and teaching, etc last night. And then we all went out to a cheese shop and then a cupcake shop for dessert on their lunch break. I think that those have really helped.

That is something that Mike is so freaking good at. He is really good at remembering to put time in with random people. It's always a little uncomfortable at first because of the annoying shyness thing, but it always ALWAYS pays off in the end, because living is so much more harmonious!

Anyhow, hope lots of things are lots of fun over there. Let me know how the Fed and Lambert's and that new Quality Seafood thing on Monday nights are going. How are lessons going? Etc?

Miss you all :)