Monday, August 24, 2015

Last Day

I walked around the sky tower for over an hour and took a picture from every window. I was trying to get to the point where I could think about my impending departure without tears, but I never quite got there.

Tears are not really my thing. That's not entirely accurate. Tears happen as often to me as the next person, but I don't like for people to see me cry. Tears in public are not my thing. My ex used to affectionately call me crybaby because he was one of very few people I would allow to see me cry and I'd told him when we met that I don't cry. So, to be clear, I do cry just usually not in front of people. The occasional exception is usually at movies, in the dark where no one can really see me anyway at least that's what I tell myself [ Note: here is a complete list of movies that made me full on weep in theaters full of people - My Girl, With Honors, A League of Their Own, Armageddon, Lord of the Rings - Fellowship of the Ring).

But I am not the same person I was when I arrived in this country. Which is one of the reasons that leaving it is so difficult, way more difficult than I was expecting. What's worse, I can't even put my finger on what it is I will miss aside from maybe myself.

I mean, the country is beautiful, but so are a lot of places (many of them in my own backyard), and the people are super nice but truthfully (introvert that I am) I didn't actually talk to that many of them, and the cities...

Wellington was wonderful. I went to every possible market (the famous night market, the arts and crafts market down on the waterfront, and the Sunday farmers market), and I looked for penguins (but didn't find any), and of course went to Weta Workshop and took the tour (which had a cute tour guide whom I might have attempted to chat up if I weren't such an introvert). Napier was beautiful, but sad (maybe because it is winter, I don't know). Rotorua and Taupo both had a similar summer town in winter vibe to Napier.

Auckland was my favorite probably because it feels so much like home.  Of course everywhere you look you see mountains and water just like at home (but that's true of pretty much the whole country). I mistakenly believed Auckland to be a smaller city than Wellington when apparently it has a much larger population. Auckland seems less urban though and more laid back. The streets are wider and the pace seems slower. I love it here, in Auckland, but I love a lot of places that I never she'd tears about leaving.

My happy place is Granada, Spain. I almost dropped down and kissed the ground when I got of the plane in Granada because I could already feel how much I was going to love it there. London is another place I love. It's the only city outside of North America that I've visited more than once. Obviously I also love Austin, Texas. I mean that's a city I can't stop visiting. If I have any excuse to visit Austin I can't get on a plane fast enough. Let's not forget Canada. Everything's better in Canada, and my dream is to retire to a lake front apple orchard in Kelowna, BC, make cider, and swim naked in lake Okanagan every day.

I love all of those places but I never shed tears over leaving any of them. I don't know what it is about Auckland, but I'm having a real hard time letting it go.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Bright Light

This trip has been a bit of an emotional roller-coaster for me so far for many reasons that I'll return to, but first I want to talk about Napier. I spent today walking all around the city of Napier. When I got here I couldn't stop smiling. Napier is called the Art Deco capital. It's an entire city almost entirely built in the art deco style. Honestly, I couldn't love it more. I was ecstatic. But as I walked around the city I noticed that it appears to be dying.

It's a beach town so maybe it's only dead for the winter. A number of businesses did have signs up saying that they were closed for the winter, but far more of them were just empty.  Every block has a minimum of two (and some up to five) empty store fronts, for sale or for lease. Many of them are mortgagee sales which I assume is like foreclosure. I'd like to think that come summertime all of those beautiful, art deco, empty buildings will have found new tenants and the town will be bustling and lively, but right now it makes me kind of sad.

Like I said, this trip has been kind of an emotional roller-coaster.

I spent my first day in Auckland mostly shopping and shopping on holiday is always bittersweet for me. One of my favorite things in life is buying gifts for people that I know they will love and then think of me with love every time they use/look at it. I had a good friend, one of my best friends, who had a huge collection of souvenir shot glasses. Every time I would travel I would buy her a shot glass and she would buy one for me every time she traveled (although I do not have a collection but for the ones she bought me). She died four years ago and now, every time I'm on holiday, every time I go into a souvenir shop I see the shot glasses and it makes me sad.

Anna was an amazing person and when she died it was truly like a light went out in my life. Not THE light because I am and always will be a generally happy and positive person, but a light went out. Anna suffered from severe anxiety and depression but despite that I think being generally happy and positive was a trait that we shared. She would have anxiety attacks, or go through bouts of depression, but at her core I think she was a happy and positive person. The things that could have killed her only made her stronger and the thing that did kill her turned out to be a river rafting accident. Of course, falling out of a boat on a river is most often not deadly but combined with abnormally warm winter weather, and abnormally wet and windy spring weather there were a lot of snags fairly close under the surface to get a foot caught on.

In truth there's really not a day that goes by still that I don't think of Anna and wonder what she'd be doing now if she had lived. Traveling just increases those thoughts. Another thing that increased them on this trip was the emotional Trjoan horse of a performance that Emmett Skilton gave the other night in Between Two Waves. Unlike the atom bombs of emotion he often dropped on The Almighty Johnsons that simply made me weep uncontrollably, this performance got in my head and continued to unleash the emotions days later.

The play had currents of anxiety and depression running through it. I mean, obviously there was also the climate change and flooding to bring back memories, but it's the anxiety and depression that I keep coming back to. The character of Daniel was a pessimist struggling with how to look forward to something. That seems natural for someone who's suffering from anxiety and depression. Ever since seeing the play I keep coming back to that and wondering how on earth my friend, who I know suffered with anxiety and depression as well, managed to be such a bright light. On top of anxiety and depression, Anna had been diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis about a year or so before she died so she was in pretty constant physical pain as well. How did she remain so positive and happy? It's easy for me, I have never had an anxiety attack, I've been sad but I've never been depressed. It can't have been easy for her.

For the most part this trip has been filled with pure happiness, and joy, and peace. I saw this amazing play that I've been looking forward to for months and it was even better than I'd imagined. I met Emmett Skilton who's talent is only eclipsed by what a kind, and funny, and truly stellar human being he is. I did the zorb which brought me peace and joy I can't even begin to describe. I visited the Shire.  I spent an entire day wandering aimlessly around a whole city of art deco. Oh, and it's lambing season which makes large swaths of this country extra adorable. I have nothing but love for all of the things I've experienced here. Yet occasionally I find myself crying as I drive through the endless pine forests and sheep pastures thinking of Anna, missing her light, wondering how she managed to keep it so bright, wishing she was here to share all of this with.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Other Side

I assume many of my friends and family, whom I imagine to be the only people reading this, are interested to hear how I've taken to driving on the other side of the road. In truth it's really not that different because the roads and the rules are very similar here. For the first day or so I had constant anxiety much like I did when I was first learning to drive back home.

I learned to drive in Ballard, a neighborhood of Seattle that has very narrow streets.  Actually, they aren't that narrow inherently but they always have cars parked on both sides which makes them extremely narrow. As a novice driver I was constantly nervous that I would side swipe the cars parked on the right because I didn't have a good sense of how far away that side of the car was.  Then I was afraid that I would overcompensate and hit the cars on my left.

Here, in New Zealand, that anxiety came back for the first day or so of driving (only reversed because now I'm sitting on the right side of the car and driving on the left side of the road).  I'm mostly used to it now and I'm extremely glad I decided to drive myself because on a bus or a train I might be too consumed by motion sickness to really enjoy the scenery.  Yesterday, I took a bus from Rotorua to Hobbiton because there was drinking involved in the Hobbiton tour and I wanted to be able to partake. The motion sickness was almost too much on the way there. Interestingly, on the return trip it was not as bad which seems to imply that the beer I had actually helped to decrease my nausea which seems counter-intuitive.

Today I made my way from Rotorua to Taupo (on my way eventually to Wellington and then back up to Auckland again). On the drive from Rotorua to Taupo I found that the roads and the road rules are not the only things similar to home. The scenery I drove through this morning was just like home (and beautiful, of course, like everything here).  Some of the trees and plants aren't the same as what we have but for the most part the similarities were uncanny.  This area has mostly dairy farming and timber as its industries so it was just like driving through the Snoqualmie river valley, or the Skagit valley, or over Highway 2, or along the Trans Canada Highway from Vancouver to Kelowna. I felt right at home.

I've been very focused on the similarities but there are some minor differences that I find very interesting as well. For example, I had a migraine the other day which put a damper on my travels...actually it mostly put a damper on my writing as that evening I was holed up in a hotel room in Rotorua finishing a script that's been tugging at my imagination for a while now. I was only able to see about half the computer screen though due to the aforementioned migraine.  I ventured to a pharmacy looking for something to take for it.  Actually, first I ventured to the supermarket (all of which have pharmacies in them back home), but that was fruitless so I then sought out a pharmacy.

At home I'd probably take Aleve Cold and Sinus for a migraine because it has 120 mg of time released pseudoephedrine in it and that is the best and strongest vaso-constrictor that I've ever encountered. Here, however, you can't get pseudoephedrine (even the 30 mg) without a prescription. I asked what else they would recommend for a migraine and they gave me something with codeine in it. I did have to give them my name and address to buy it, like I would back home if I wanted pseudoephedrine, but back home you can't get codeine without a prescription. It's odd little differences like this that I notice.

One of the other differences that struck me is that the electrical outlets all have on/off switches on them here. That seems extremely convenient for saving power, you can just turn off the entire outlet, but I definitely have trouble remembering that I need to turn them on (or off for that matter).

The on/off switches on the outlets also got me wondering where the electricity comes from over here. I very rarely think about my carbon footprint when using electricity at home because where I live almost all of the electricity comes from hydro. Since I'm here primarily to see a play about climate change though I've been thinking about energy sources and carbon footprints a lot since arriving. I wondered what sort of energy sources New Zealand is using. They certainly have a lot of geothermal activity so that could be an energy source, they could also use hydro (there are a lot of rivers).

I looked it up, of course, and according to the Google and Wikipedia about 75% of New Zealand's energy is generated through renewable sources (hydro, geothermal, and wind primarily). That's pretty comparable to Washington state (where I am from) so on that front I feel pretty okay about my energy consumption here.

The car I'm driving is another story. I miss my Prius C. Again, I feel compelled to say that I receive no compensation from Toyota, though I'd happily accept if they wanted to compensate me.  I love my Prius C, I couldn't love it more...unless it were a fully electric, like a Tesla S, or a Leaf, or if it were a plug in hybrid like a Prius Plug-In, but as I've got no where to plug in a car at home so I can't go the full electric or plug in route.  The Prius C is the next best thing, it gets 53 mpg (average).

I had to take whatever car they gave me at the rental agency here though and, in addition to missing small modern conveniences (like bluetooth syncing and decent suspension), this car is a gas guzzler.  Also, it has to warm up. It took some getting used to, when I first got my Prius, to look for the ready light rather than listening for the engine noise, but now that I am used to it when the car I'm driving roars to life and then has a little green light on until it warms up it's a little disconcerting. Also, I'm a very bad parallel parker, and trying to do it from the other side of the car, on the other side of the road, in a car that's significantly longer than my Prius C is no fun. Luckily, I've only had to parallel park a few times so far.

All in all, on the other side of the world, and the other side of the road, on the other side of the car, I feel remarkably at home.

Everything's Better

I have a saying, "Everything's better in Canada", but New Zealand is really giving Canada a run for its money.  I may return having revised my saying to, "Everything's better in New Zealand", or I may not return at all. Okay, I know, I have to return, but it's nice to think I could stay.  In an alternate universe there is a version of me that stays.

What makes New Zealand better? Well, there's the dairy products as previously mentioned, then there's the fact that apparently you can't walk ten meters without running into one of the locations from the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies. I visited Hobbiton today, which is the set of the Shire. Hobbiton is the only location to still have sets from the film built on it, but according to the Hobbiton bus driver both the North and South islands are littered with locations. Not surprising I suppose since all six of those films were at least 80% set outdoors. Hobbiton, by the way, was beautiful.

Everything in New Zealand is beautiful, or the small portion of it that I've seen so far anyway and I've stayed on the North island. I'm staying on the North island for my entire trip actually. On my second to last night in Auckland it was suggested to me (by an amazing photographer who has an excellent visual sensibility) that I should cancel my planned itinerary and go to the South island instead if natural beauty is what I am looking for. If that is true, and I've got no reason to doubt him (as I said he's a photographer who knows a thing or two about beautiful things), but if it is true I can only say New Zealand is likely the most beautiful country in the world.

I was tempted to take the advise, to cancel my itinerary and head for the South island instead, but as natural beauty was not my sole purpose this trip I decided to stick with my plan. I'll just have to come back soon and do the South island next time.

One of the main reasons I decided to stick to my plan was the Zorb.  Zorbing, for those unfamiliar, is an activity (some might call it extreme) wherein you get inside a giant plastic ball and roll down a hill.  It's more like a ball within a ball actually.  You can do it dry or wet the difference being either they put water inside with you or they don't. The dry track was down for maintenance when I went.  I sort of feel like the dry version would be kind of a waste anyway, but that's just me. In addition to the dry versus wet choice you can also chose a straight track or a twisted track, I chose the twisted one.

The thing about the Zorb is that it's incredibly freeing. You have to completely give up control. I mean, it's on a "track" so there is a level of control, but that control is certainly not yours if you are inside the Zorb. For a minute, or however long it takes it to get to the bottom, you are completely without control and you know it when you are about to get in so you have to consciously chose to give yourself up to it.  Then for that minute, not only do you have no control, but it's almost as though you have no thoughts. It's kind of the ultimate in meditation. You are completely in that moment while it's happening, you can't help it. I'm trying, but I really can't describe it. All I can really say is that I am not the same person I was before I got in the Zorb and doing it was perhaps the best decision I have ever made. So, when I say that everything is better in New Zealand, "everything" includes me.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Pancake Machines FTW

I'm staying at a Holiday Inn in Rotorua and I want to talk a little about my love of Holiday Inns...

Actually first let me say that I am not a professional, paid, travel blogger though wouldn't it be nice if I were.  I'd love to be paid for writing things I would (and do, and will) write for free. If the New Zealand tourism board wanted to pay me to travel their country writing about the beautiful sights, friendly people, and exciting adventures to be found there I would take that money and thank all the gods everyday for my amazing luck. The Holiday Inn has also not paid me for the glowing praise I am about to write. Though, again, if they wanted to offer me unlimited free nights in their hotels I would certainly accept that offer and not think twice about my integrity for I would praise them for free happily, and will now.

My love of the Holiday Inn began, as many of my loves do, in Austin, Texas.  I was there for the premier of the Veronica Mars movie and I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express partly because it was relatively inexpensive and partly because they had a block of rooms saved for Kickstarter backers of the movie and finding hotel rooms on that short notice in Austin during SXSW would have been difficult at best.

At first my love of the Holiday Inn could be almost entirely traced to the pancake machine (which is specific to Holiday Inn Express hotels).  The pancake machine doesn't make the best, most fluffy pancakes you've ever had but it makes pretty darn good pancakes and they come out of a machine. You press a button and a few moments later out comes a pancake, off a conveyor belt. It's awesome.

Now, the Holiday Inn I'm staying at in Rotorua is not a Holiday Inn Express, and therefor doesn't have a pancake machine.  It has a breakfast buffet which does have pancakes, and though I didn't eat any of them they looked delicious.

Despite the lack of pancake machine, this Holiday Inn represents all of the things I have come to love about all Holiday Inns (Express or otherwise).  The thing about Holiday Inns is that they are clean, and comfortable, with extremely friendly and helpful staff, and generally good facilities (this one, I think, has a gym and a pool and, I know, has laundry which can either do yourself or they have a service). The other thing about the Holiday Inn, is that they are everywhere and every one I have ever stayed in, while not exactly alike in every respect, is the same in quality.

When I travel I like to stay at least one night in an expensive 4 or 5 star hotel and/or a hotel that is also a tourist attraction, this trip I'll be doing that my last night in Auckland (at Sky City which I believe is both of those things). While it's fun to do that and sometimes hotels like that have amenities you won't find in a Holiday Inn (the 5 star hotel on Wenceslas square that I stayed in had complimentary bohemian champagne...or sparkling wine if you want to be that way about it), often they are just more expensive, with fancier furniture, (expensive) mini bars, and more expensive shampoo. I bring my own shampoo anyway because I'm picky like.

The Holiday Inn though, with or without the pancake machine, is is a reliably wonderful hotel that has everything you need and you'll find at least one in every major city and in most minor cities as well.  This one in Rotorua even has power adapters that you can borrow for the duration of your stay.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Human Condition

Don't stop me if you've heard this before. I know I've said it before, but it bears repeating and it relates to my trip.

The human condition has at its core a terrible contradiction. We are constantly trying to distinguish ourselves from one another whilst also constantly trying to connect with each other. We are all the same and at the same time none of us are the same. One of the reasons that I love stories in any medium (books, movies, television, theater, music, etc.) so much is that they are at once unique little snowflakes and at the same time they are all the same.

When a story is told well it can make you feel connected to the entirety of the human experience by showing you a single moment of that terrible contradiction that is inherent in humanity. It takes a good writer to start with, regardless of the medium. If the medium is dramatic (film, TV, or theater) it also takes a great actor; someone who can bring to life that contradiction.

The reason I came here, to New Zealand, was to see a play. I know there are those of you who think I'm crazy. People look at me with some combination of confusion, awe, and fear when I tell them I flew halfway around the world to see a show. They gave me the same look when I flew to Boston for a weekend to see The Glass Menagerie (and that was only a 5 hour flight). I get it, I do, it's a long way to travel for one night of entertainment, and obviously I'm doing more than just seeing the show here in New Zealand (and did more in Boston as well), but I don't think there's any distance too far to travel to experience a moment of true connection to the human experience and I knew (from seeing him in The Almighty Johnsons) that Emmett Skilton has the talent to bring a moment like that to life. And I could guess, from reading the description of the play and the story of how it came to Auckland, that Between Two Waves likely contained a few of those moments.

Between Two Waves is amazing. It's a story that needs to be told as much as possible in as many venues as possible. It speaks eloquently and subtly about anxiety and depression, and less subtly about climate change and relationships. It speaks about the sometimes extremely complicated and sometimes very simple chain of causes and effects. It speculates about cures, about what can be cured and what cannot. It's a wonderful, beautifully written story (by Ian Meadows).

Both the producer (Leanne Frisbie) and director (Peter Feeney) took to the stage and played parts. They, and the leading lady Shara Connolly, were phenomenal. They are all obviously talented actors but I think a deeper connection to the story is also evident in their performances.

It was Emmett Skilton though who brought to life the terrible contradiction of the human condition. He was the one who showed that we're all in this together yet also completely alone.

Normally, those moments in great stories, the moments that make you feel connected to the entirety of the human experience, are fleeting, just a few seconds, but today, 18 hours after seeing Between Two Waves, as I sat on the beach, the feeling was still with me. That was the power of Emmett Skilton's performance. That is what a great actor can do. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Home Away

Auckland is a lot like home (Seattle). In fact even the weather has been very reminiscent of the Pacific Northwest. Day one of my trip was sunny and with the palm trees all around it had me thinking of LA, but everyday since has been wet and overcast and has me thinking of home.

There are other similarities too. Auckland is a port city and an economic hub which means lots of tech and fish from what I can tell (just like home). It's also very hilly and there is coffee everywhere you turn. Also, the Pacific rim nations are all well represented in terms of food options. In short I feel like I never left home at all.

One of the problems with all these reminders of home is that I am suddenly struck by the strong urge to do nothing at all. Yesterday I spent mostly reading which is all well and good, it's my vacation and I'll spend it how I like, but I only have a short time here. It's not like it's the first time I've been vacation in a beautiful foreign city and spent most of a day reading, but at least when I spent most of a day reading in Granada I did in the gardens at the Alhambra, and in London at Trafalgar square. I can't let a little (or a lot of) rain stop me. So today is get in the car and drive day and see where it takes me.