Tuesday, March 09, 2010
We arrived in New Zealand two weeks ago. So now is probably the best time to just blurt out those first impressions without the influences that will filter in after a few weeks, months, or years to digest. We'll touch base in another six months or so to see if these initial impressions play out.
Green -- DrC describes it this way, "Wet Southern California -- palm trees and eucalyptus with lichen. Weird." Lush. Summer warm, sunny, and beautiful. Strong winds, vigorous gardens, and a whole lot of grass. The Kiwis -- to their eternal credit -- are park, sport, and recreation mad.
Multicultural -- American hubris strikes again. When you live in the U.S., you think we're multicultural. These folks put even Berkeley to shame. I've never seen so many nationalities and races rubbing cheek by jowl on a regular basis. It's incredible.
Immigrations R Us -- This goes with the prior thought, but it feels like native folks -- both Maori and Pakeha (or NZ European as they like to call themselves on all the paperwork) -- are by far the minority here in the Auckland area. Everywhere we go, we're interacting with people who arrived like us without furniture. As a result, this is a very sympathetic environment to the newly arrived immigrant. However, we Yanks are by far the minority; The majority are from the Pacific Islands, India, and China.
Expensive -- Distorted dollar perception or simply post-Mexican culture shock, it feels heinous. Looked at analytically, it's about the same as Seattle. So, I'll say it again, Auckland is expensive.
80's Flashback -- No insult to the Kiwis, please, but the culture feels like we've taken a step back in time to high school… both the positive and the negative bits of that era.
Small -- Again, without dissing the Kiwis or their country, this place is so small compared to Mexico or the U.S. The entire population is roughly that of Washington State. National news feels local. The upside? If New Zealanders want to do something, they just do it. The downside… no neighboring states or federal presence to fall back on when problems are big and intractable. This WA State to NZ comparison, btw, keeps popping up. DrC is attending a conference in a few weeks of all the ophthalmologists in the country. The meeting anticipates roughly the same number of attendees as the annual WAEPS conference (WA's eye doctors).
Seattle Echo -- There can be no Aucklander or Seattlite who would feel displaced swapping places. They should be sister cities. Size, economics, neighborhoods, traffic patterns, social ills, social benefits. I'm not saying this because Seattle was our homeport and familiar. DrC and I have lived in six major metropolitan areas during our lives and visited many others. Tick for tick, we've never seen two cities more similar in character.
Weird Light -- So we'd read about the high levels of U.V. down here. The articles do not do it justice. You can fry your neck and arm sitting in a car on the 10 minute drive home from work from the sun glancing in at an angle through the window. The UV is extreme and dangerous. There is a national campaign to Slip, Slop, Slap: Slip on sun glasses, slop on some sun screen, slap on a hat. Cruising Puddle Jumpers, take this VERY seriously. The Congers have the deep tan only cruisers of many years in the mid-latitudes can boast, and we've all five seen our skin redden in very short exposures to the full sun here. But where I'm going with this is that you actually notice a difference in the light. Everything feels slightly too bright to me… as if I'm looking at it through clear glass.
And with that I'll finish my first impressions because it's not fair to New Zealand or Auckland to say it's too fast, too commercial, too modern, too stressful, too urbanized. It's a beautiful city, and three years ago I'm certain DrC and I would have mortgaged our souls to the devil to buy a house in Ponsonby and settled in with verve and contentment. After spending years progressively shedding our middle-class, type A personalities -- during which we let our stress levels leak out our toe nails over successively more beautiful sunsets in nearly silent anchorages -- it's absolutely impossible to be happy living in Auckland. Every time we drive north towards the city, I can feel my shoulders bunch and a low grade headache start. All those beautiful little mirror-world pocket neighborhoods, so like our familiar haunts in Ballard and Fremont and Bellevue, are just too full of loud noise, fast moving people, and pressure.
Kilometers of trees.