Sunday, August 21, 2011

Packing up

Although I have about three or four sets of photos that I ought to write blogs around and post - I just can't quite get my head around it.

That's because we are scheduled to go home tomorrow.

And we're all packed up.  We have the alarm clock and the backup alarm clock set.  We've returned our borrowed toys, dropped the 'leave behind' clothes in the Salvation Army bin, washed the towels, taken out the recycling and trash.

We are ready to go home.

The weather looks all clear.  There are no ash clouds on the horizon.  So barring earthquakes and other natural disasters (and you KNOW I'm knocking on wood after writing that sentence) we will commence our 42 hour airport marathon tomorrow morning.

So, it is a good time to try to start summarizing some bigger picture impressions of New Zealand.

New Zealand is in many ways very culturally similar to the US.  We all speak English.  The original treaty that allowed Great Britain to colonize New Zealand was signed in the 1830's -- allowing the European settlers to begin development about the same time (and pace) as most of Texas, the midwest and even California.  There was a Gold Rush on the South Island's West Coast in the 1860's -- only about 10 years after the California Gold Rush.  So, we are both relatively young countries, settled recently, with lots of entrepreneurial talent.

Famous New Zealanders include Sir Edmund Hillary (first man to ascend Everest), and Sir Earnest Rutherford (Nobel prize winning father of nuclear physics).  It is somewhat ironic that Rutherford hails from New Zealand - and did his early research at the University of Canterbury, where Chris was teaching.  New Zealand is a completely nuclear-free nation, and ended a long-term alliance with the US in the early 80s because New Zealand would not allow US nuclear submarines into kiwi waters.

But in some ways, New Zealand is still different from the US.  There are only 4.3 million people in the entire country.  And 1/3 of them live in Aukland.  So to understand what this means - try imagining that California was deserted except for the population of urban LA - and that 2/3 of that population moved out and spread out over the entire rest of the state.

Relatively small population, very spread out.  And a huge country-wide reliance on tourism for business.

This leads to some good and bad differences.  In a sometimes frustrating way, the communications technology infrastructure is somewhat behind.  There is virtually no 'free public internet'.  And even when you pay for a wireless connection, you cannot expect it to be fast.  There is no Netflix, Hulu or other streaming.  And if I had actually rented a television, but not gotten 'Sky' (digital cable), I would have had approximately two channels to choose from.

But, many (most?) businesses in New Zealand are small businesses.  Restaurants are frequently family owned and run.  Hotels are often also family owned and run.  And there is no tip culture.  This means that business is done on a more personal level.  On average, I have found that the people who are working in the service and tourism area take care of you because they actually care whether or not you have a good experience -- not just because they are hoping for good tips.

But - despite how much I've loved the scenery, liked the culture, and enjoyed our experience - I am ready to go home.  I want my pillow.  I want my coffee maker.  I am ready for the kids to get back into their school routine.

So please cross your fingers that my next post is from Austin talking about how happy I am to be home.

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