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 :)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Workshop is a Success!!

Hi all,

Sorry, it's been a bit of a while. We've had very little time for almost anything with all of the planning and sight seeing and now teaching (workshop is finished!)

Sadly, we STILL have not seen a kangaroo, but not to fear! We have plans to go to the zoo or the Hillsville Sanctuary (I think that's what it's called). We will have lots of pictures of wildlife if out camera comes to (it died earlier today, but it died earlier on the trip as well and became fine, so we'll see).

So now I'm just relaxing after a long day of teaching. We're going to enjoy a nice homemade lasagna at our hosts, so we can spend our money where it really matters -- chocolate. This place is busting with cute little cafes of every culture and they actually have quite a few luxury chocolate shops. I'm very impressed and long for something of this caliber in Austin. Jeez! So excited about the chocolate we have planned for Monday. We went to visit the place already -- it looked very nice and quite expensive. A proper date night. I'll let you all know if it tastes as good as it looks.

So, number 1 question I've been getting about America -- "why do your toilets have so much water in them? The splash factor is very creepy"

Our answer -- "Because we're a very wealthy country and we just don't care about conservation in any way. Also our toilet technology isn't as advanced as yours, so our low flow toilets don't actually flush anything." Their toilets over here are fabulously economical because it's such a desert country. Everything over here is very efficient. They even have an hour glass that you can use while you shower. It's fun -- it turns showering into a kind of suspenseful game.

So the workshops went really well. I had no idea what a big deal this thing was. They rented bands! We had about 80 people in class. This is the first time that anyone has rented a band for me. Or flown in, for that matter (some people came in from other OZ states adn even from Tasmania!)

Saturday was a great success. There were a few moments of lower energy, so Mike and I took note of those and why they happened, and then eliminated them for Sunday. That said, things weren't without hiccups. The last class of Sunday had a mini train wreck for about 10 minutes, which was a total shame and I feel very bad about that. But, all that considered, everything else was so great. I believe that we actually taught an all levels class. The very advanced people were challenged and the beginners learned something. We went into a lot of technique and played a lot of music. I would have liked for there to be a bit more dancing and a bit more review. I would have loved to do the Ste & V thing of using all of the moves from all of the classes into a big final sequence masterfully crafted to music. But, that aside, we did a great job and there's talk of bringing us back next year :) :D

The Aussies were completely wonderful and I think I may like teaching them better than Americans. Maybe it was this particular bunch, but they were so into it and so easy to laugh and so forthcoming with questions. They came up and asked to try it after class, they had us do the moves so they could videotape everything, they practiced it with each other during the breaks. It made me very happy to be a part of it all.

Teaching with Mike, of course, was also wonderful. He's the bomb. The cheese to my maccaroni ;)

Ok, sorry this update is a little all over the place. We're a bit tired. More later :)

Australia isn't actually screwed up

Ok, we wen't out dancing since then, to discover that Australia isn't actually screwed up... It was us the whole time!! Amazing! When we went out to Madam Dinamites on Wednesday, we couldn't connect with anyone and Mike and I were both thinking (dang, we're going to have to totally beginner-ify our workshop, these people are SO backwards).

Thursday everything was fine. Of course there were some more beginner / intermediate people, but it all just felt so... normal, you know? Very funny. I think that our bodies were both still jet lagged on Wednesday or something. Still catching up. My brain felt fine, but I can't think of what else it might have been. And it's pretty cool to think that your body would need it's own individual pace to get in line, and that, even if your mind is totally caught up, there are so many things you body does on it's own, in muscle memory, that things still wouldn't work out until it had caught up.

Jeez. Our bodies are sooo cool.

Dancing & Strange Dream

Last night we went out dancing for the first time. Needless to day, it is very different here, and we left feeling a bit broken. Not because of rough partners or anything, but because none of our dances were good. They were just kind of, not bad. Eh.

Maybe it's that pre-workshop funk. Makes sense that the instructors would get it, too.

I don't think Mike does, but I feel a lot of pressure to be really really good. I want to be at least as good as everyone in Melbourne to justify the immense amount of money that they have spent on getting me over here.

Also, it's kind of amazing -- Noni is the person who brought us over here, and she hasn't seen us in about 3 years. The organization who is footing the bill, Swing Patrol, brought us over on Noni's suggestion, never having met us or seen us dance before. So she's amazed that they have so much faith in her, and we're amazed that she has so much faith in us!

Basically, I must be fantastic.

No pressure.

But I did have my first nightmare about the workshop last night. Though, it's funny, everything was wrong in it except for me.


Pretty much, Mike and I had planned out some fabulous classes. We go to a meeting before the workshop to discover that there are a bunch of different instructors there. That would be totally fine if the levels were tracked - but no, everything was still all levels.

Well, crap! Our classes scaffold, so you can't take the second class without the information gathered form the first. Mike, we need to discuss this NOW!

But we can't, the first class starts in 3 minutes and we still have to get to the room. Just follow my lead, I guess. Or we'll discuss a lot while the students are practicing something. I hate this stuff.

I go into the room, and there are about 8 people squished inside of a room that has the width and breadth of the inside of a sedan. Too bad to have such a small class, but my gosh! Good thing I don't have more because of the room!

But wait -- a wall opens and leads to a much larger room -- about the size of Scott's living room. It's a dorm room. Like with beds and a carpet in it. And to narrow full length mirrors hanging from the wall. Totally useless. You can't see anything but a sliver of the class.


So the first class is body movement. There is no way of playing music for class, though neo-swing comes over the loud speaker with a 4 minute break between songs. That's great. So I start teaching them a sequence of body movement stuff. Then Jonathan (Austin friend) comes in for some strange reason. I have no idea while he's there -- the only thing that I can think of is that he was hired as another instructor and the organizers were so terribly DISorganized that they had scheduled me in the same room to teach with both Jonathan AND Mike -- different subjects at the same time.

So Jonathan rushes in, and I guess he's frazzled because he's late for class and figures that I'm killing time until he gets there. Then he starts giving them instructions for partnered movement. The students, who are very obedient, good natured and talented, all partner up and start working on this new thing which has nothing whatsoever to do with our class.

I proceed to be VERY rude to Jonathan for about 30 seconds. Fortunately, the neo-swing is blasting, so the students are none the wiser. Then I catch myself, apologize, hug him, and kick him quickly out of room before I turn to the wreck that is class and try to figure out how to salvage it.

I wake up with a start. Terrible dream. But quite a relief that it wasn't zombies again. I was almost sure I would have a zombie dream because we had discussed them at length over that evening's dinner. I'll gripe out an imaginary Jonathan any day if it will save me from the un-dead.

Kind of funny, though, that I wasn't the one screwing everything up in the dream. I wonder if I feel powerless over my own destiny right now... Or maybe I have a deep seated prejudice against Ausie's ability to organize.

It's not true, by the way. Everyone here seems divinely organized and I feel very well taken care of. The largest mix up so far has been a leaky air mattress, which has already been switched out.

~~ Laura


Jeez, it's cold here! It was cold here yesterday, too, but it seems important enough to actually write about now because the sun has gone down by this point. Since it's winter here, the sun goes down by 5:30pm, and then there are only so many layers that you can put on. Less to protect yourself from the cold -- more to protect yourself from the dark cold -- hate dark cold.

So we had a moment of weakness and shame today. We went to Starbucks (yes, in case there were any doubts, there are several here as well). I felt terrible, but, honestly, the coffees you get here are about a third of the size as a Starbucks short. And you have to ask for the short specifically! It may seem cheap, but I really wanted my American-sized serving.

Consequently, if you ask for black coffee here, Mike discovered they will look at you like you've got a wallaby growing out your nose. "White flat," I believe is the closest you come to it, and it's a latte without the foam. Poor Mike -- not only can he not practice his guitar, but he is losing all of his valuable black coffee training.

There are all sorts of other small differences over here (besides the obvious weather, money and accents. The doorknobs are at about shoulder height here (making it very difficult to feel about in utter darkness. The light switches are all a different shape. They have a mail slot for regular mail, and a separate slot for junk mail. They all ride kangaroos to work. The toilets are always in a totally different room than the rest of the bathroom.

Never the less, in spite of all of these differences, I find it's kind of difficult to truly appreciate the fact that I am in a different and very remote country. I'm just kind of here, enjoying myself, but it's not like "holy crap I am SOOOO in Australia!"

I have decided that, at some point, I would like to do one of two things to fix this problem:

A) Go to a country where I have to totally change my day to day life. Bathe in a small wooden hut or something. Each cockroaches. This would suck, but I think that I would ultimately gain a larger respect for the fact that I was no longer in the USA.

B) Kick it old school -- get there by boat. That way I REALLY have the feeling of how very VERY far away this place is. It's not a puny day long plain ride. No, no. It's months on a boat. Maybe even a small, unpleasant boat at that. The Mayflower or something.

Things are just so easy no a days that it's hard to really fully appreciate how amazing everything is. That said, maybe all of this will change when I get my first glimpse of some crazy Australian wildlife or an Aborigine or something :)

Arrival in Aussieland!

Hi Everyone,

So after 26 hours of travel (including layovers), we have finally arrived. And it was a blissfully uneventful flight, indeed. No stolen cars. Not even any delayed flights! The most exciting thing that happened was that there was a very thick fog over Melbourne, so we went down to land, and then came back up again.

Captain: "Well, as you may have noticed, we didn't quite make that landing. There is actually some pretty thick fog about, so we couldn't see the runway. Some of you may, uh, have been reading in the news that air crafts can land in up to ____% invisibility, and, in fact, this is one of those air crafts. Uhh, however, the technology in Melbourne is insufficient to support such a decent. So we'll just circle around this area until the fog dissipates.... So that's the bad news...

"The good news, uuh, is that we have about 30 minutes of fuel left, so we have some time. If we can't land by then, we'll have to fly to Sydney to get a refill."

Nervous laughter from all. The captain was very funny the way he said it. Very full of uuuhhs. Made me wonder if we were in some kind of grave danger, but they didn't want to say anything to make us panic.

However out next attempt at landing was successful (everyone clapped and I quietly thanked God that we hadn't died horribly in a fiery crash) and out luggage wasn't lost and our ride was there waiting for us (though it took us a while to find him) and everything is just great.

Not even jet lagged -- yet ;)

New Zealand air rocks by the way. Your choice of a bunch of movies and reeeeaally friendly service. I quite enjoyed myself (though I could have really gone for an elliptical in the back).



So rather than spam folks with stuff about our travels, I set up this neat blog. Thanks for the inspiration Ryan!

As I can, I'll be posting all the emails Laura's already sent out for those that want to re-read or have not yet read them.