Sunday, March 21, 2010

Step 1 - Get a Phone

[Editor's Note] Better late than never... I'm finally going to post our "Moving to New Zealand" series. It's 8 or 9 steps which I'll publish more or less in sequence over the next month or two though the events that inspired them were smushed more like into three weeks. I'll probably intersperse these with more interesting and personal stuff since the series is rather drier and more practical than is truly my nature. If you want to read the series all together, I'll give them a single "moving" tag.

Lounging About
Lounging About
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
When we dismantled our lives in Seattle, we were forever astonished by how many strings we left trailing behind. It seemed that for months random charges, irate emails, and miscellaneous to do's appeared out of nowhere like urbanized black magic sprinkled through our days. For those considering dropping out, going for a walk about, or otherwise escaping the Real World, I'd like you to first adventure with me on a little thought exercise.

I want you to pretend for a moment that the companies with whom you routinely do business are actually toddlers -- strong willed, very healthy, robust toddlers dressed in company colors with appropriately logo'd baseball caps. Each company more or less only reaches to your waist. Since very few can jump high enough to grab you in a stranglehold, abandoning them to the wolves in the forest merely requires a hard heart and pair of ear plugs. Sometimes, it's easier if you leave a basket of food behind. For example, you could simply pay a small discontinuation fee on an account or forego getting your money back on a security deposit which distracts the toddler-company long enough for you to get offshore and out of reach.

A few of these toddlers have big brothers who can and will turn you upside and shake until the gold in your fillings drops out of your mouth. To escape, you need to identify these lien holders early on and get them paid off. Make sure you have their assurance in writing that your presence is no longer necessary for their happiness and well being. While we were bobbing on the hook in a wild anchorage of northern Vancouver Island, we had one bank chase us down and try to foreclose on a piece of commercial real estate for the sin of not being physically where they expected us. These people you do not want to screw with. Best to make them go away in advance.

But with persistence and a long knife, you can and will be able to cut nearly all strings that tie you to the daily world of bills, mortgages, payments, subscriptions, auto-transfers, annual fees and the lot. The rest you give to your mommy and say, "Take care of it."

Then you leave.

Great, but now we're trying to reenter the regular world and are finding it takes nearly as much work to get yourself reestablished as it did to cut the ties to begin with. First, while we have grown and matured during the intervening years, the companies with whom we do business are still whiney, spoiled toddlers. Those who actually remember us from the good ole days are whiney, spoiled, vengeful toddlers. The rest are merely annoying and petulant.

As we reengage with civilization, we discover the world is full of Catch 22 loops such as the following:
* At most New Zealand banks, you can not open a bank account unless you have a permanent address.
* Most New Zealand rental properties will only accept a draft on a New Zealand bank account for your bond and first week rental payment.

Like that? How about this one:
* You can't get a visa until you have a job.
* You can't apply for a job until you have a visa.

Okay, not good enough? Try this one:
In New Zealand, they assume you have -- at some point in your life -- purchased electricity. So when you wish to turn on the lights at your new home, the first question in the online form is your account number without which the form literally will not progress. And what happens when in desperation you call the company... because gee... you don't have an account number? The automated friendly phone voice also prompts you for this same account number without which she dooms you to a virtually unending purgatory of musak until one of the electrical company's three live customer representatives gets back from tea.

The trick is the work around. The work around inevitably costs more money. Budget for your reentry to the world on the assumption that it is going to take more time and cost more than you currently anticipate by at least 10% in both cases.

Hatching Jaime
Hatching Jaime
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
We discovered that when all is said and done, the first thing you must do to get reintegrated into the regular world is to buy a phone. Without a phone number, you can literally do nothing. There is something about those mystical audio digits that confers "realness" in a way that bank drafts, passports, and work contracts do not. It also turns out that getting a phone number these days is about as dramatic a process as picking up a pair of new shoes. Wander the mall, look at the various models, select one, buy a SIM card, load it up with some money. They don't ask for your phone number (don't laugh! … By the time we arrived at the "buy phone" conclusion, we fully expected the store to require a phone number for us to get a phone number…). They don't even require that you give them your name. Drug dealers must love this.

So in addition to our preference for fast boats, sunny climates, and the avoidance of real work, cruisers have another thing in common with drug dealers… we like unregistered phones. It took us 72 hours to come to the Buy Phone conclusion during which we were quite literally unable to get anything useful done. Now we have a really dodgy piece of Sony Ericsson crap and a cellular phone number with a weird number of digits that make no sense.

Moving on…

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