Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Step 2 - Buy a Car

Say What?
Say What?
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Today, we bought a car. Actually, we bought a Toyota diesel minivan. We had to get something large enough for the family on a tramp as well as to shuttle around the visitors we anticipate. It's a six-seater, seven in a pinch, with room in the back for gear. Having said that, I've never seen such a small van. I think this van would fit in the corner of our old van. Welcome to Euro-world.

New Zealanders in general and Aucklanders in particular like to drive. Everything is very West Coast U.S.-ish with suburban sprawl, geographic water and mountain challenges, and very few, low quality and expensive public transit options. Folks have repeatedly told us that you can't live in Auckland without a car. Even our short time here supports this conclusion. While pavements (which is what they call sidewalks…no I don't understand it either…) are abundant, drivers are oblivious to pedestrians and downright hostile to cyclists. There are almost no dedicated bike and pedestrian corridors. With the widespread enthusiasm for the outdoors and sport, it is inevitable that this attitude while shift over time, but today it really sucks to be non-motorized in New Zealand.

So into our microdot of a minivan we wedge ourselves.

Of course, then we run into the most obvious delta between our world and mirror world: right-hand drive. Driving on the wrong side of the road is tricky and confusing. DrC took to it immediately, of course. Remember, this is the man whose surgical environment is both backwards and bent. He drives in reverse by looking in the rear view mirror and stepping hard on the gas petal. And he does it really really well. So after a day or so, the good doc mastered mirror world. It's taking me longer.

Actually, it's not driving that give me fits. I can do that. Just think LEFT LEFT LEFT LEFT. That works. There are occasional moments of disorientation when I'm making wide right turns, and I still find parking strange. However, the real problem is the subtle influence our driving patterns have on the rest of our movements through the world. Yesterday, I almost slammed into a runner at the park. It was early in the morning with the sun only thinking about rising. There was almost no lighting under the trees, and I could just barely make out the trail. Head phones on, head down, I'm slogging out a couple of laps in an earnest attempt to keep off the nearly two stone (20 pounds?) I lost on the boat. Suddenly I hear a muffled shout and sense movement directly in front of me. Primed for a mugger, I leap to the side ready to chop and kick only to find an irate business man in togs, muftie, and trainers (shorts, t-shirt, and running shoes) glaring and gesticulating as he continued on the path. Silly me. I was on the right side of the track. Or the wrong side. Or some side where I didn't belong.

View of Mirror World
View of Mirror World
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Next time you are running on a trail, walking up a busy staircase, or pushing your trolley (shopping cart) down an aisle, pause for a moment to reflect on your position relative to those around you. More often than not, you'll find yourself automatically 'driving yourself' on the same side of the road as your native country's car. Even going in and out of doors at the broker, I find myself opening the wrong door and banging my nose on the glass. How many things are like that in our lives? We take for granted these patterns that are so ingrained we don't have rules about them. Why would you? You don't need a rule to tell you which side of the staircase to walk up. And then when we go to a new country, we're forced to reexamine these patterns, change existing ones and develop new ones, or face the consequences.

It's only taken us two weeks to stop putting our toilet tissue in the bathroom rubbish bin (trash can). I am certain the hotel housecleaning staff is grateful we're adapting.


Ruth said...

So sorry to hear about your stuff! We'll hopefully see you in New Zealand -- though we're going the slow way and are now in the Galapagos!

Liz said...

Hi TF Family
Been reading along for a while now.
Seems like you are well on your way to re-entering this hectic world we share.
So sorry about your loss, but glad you were able to recover what you did.
I learned while driving in the also mirror-image world of Japan not to think in terms of left/right, but to just keep the CENTER of the road just outside the DRIVER'S side window.
Sure does make the turns etc. easier.
Don't know how to tell you to deal with the walking bits.:))
Mata ne