Networking and Nestling Into This Place Called Home

Today was the first day (Sunday) where I actually got out of bed AND out of the house before 8am on a day where I didn’t have to be anywhere (usually I’ll get up around 6/7 but stay in the house until 9 or 10, sadly). I did the 15-minute walk into Hataitai Shopping Village (which actually is pretty grungy, like an old, run-down western town, but still an okay area) and ended up coming across the Hataitai City Walk trail that led me up, up, and up into more and more bush until I got to the top (for the most part) that overlooked Hataitai and Kilbirnie, the neighboring suburb.

I was amazed by how green and lush everything was, much like Kula. Wellington is home to many walking trails (well, all of NZ for that matter), so it’s amazing to know that a good hike is only a few minutes away. And if one is in need of the ocean, it’s right outside our window. 🙂 I’ve never seen such large trees just rolling onto hill upon hill, as well as open grasslands with beautiful flowers and no weeds. I was told by a Kiwi that unfortunately, 80% of NZ’s bush is no longer native, but at least it still looks beautiful out here! I’m beginning to realize why NZ is regarded as such a beautiful country, and I haven’t even been to South Island yet.

I had brunch with a lovely family with two kids (the father was a UCSB alum and I had kept in touch with him through LinkedIn prior to my move and the mother was a Kiwi, born and raised in a suburb of Queenstown, which is amazing) and learned more about the culture and how to get a little more adjusted. They were so hospitable and gracious, talking about their travels and comparing American vs. Kiwi lifestyles. I also watched my first All-Blacks game (for the most part, even though I still don’t understand rugby) on their TV as we were eating. Needless to say, their Bloody Mary for me didn’t get finished. 😛

I was able to get in a full day of walking afterward as I decided to walk to and from downtown rather than taking the bus (everything is pretty much walking distance here, unless you’re going to a faraway, rural suburb). It’s always neat to compare the scenery on various days, since the weather is always different (some parts of NZ get four seasons in one day). Today was a bit gray and gloomy, whereas yesterday was probably the nicest day we’ve had thus far, complete with blue skies, fluffy white clouds (I’ve never seen such beautiful clouds in my life, even if that sounds really dumb to say), and turquoise water. Ironically enough, the water changes colors based on the temperature/weather since the skies reflect on the water. When it’s a sunny, gorgeous day, the ocean looks almost like paradise (the heavy winds sometimes take you back to reality that, no, you’re not in Hawaii, ha). I met up with a friend of a friend for dinner (pad thai again– wasn’t as delicious as the one I had in Auckland but the ambiance of the restaurant was so neat, with colored strung lights and Asian artwork on the red walls). Like my roommate, she’s also from South Africa but has been living in NZ with her family since she was 10. She has traveled to every continent except Antarctica, which is mind-blowing to me.

I realize every day how glad I am to have made this move, since all too often people in America get stuck in their daily routine of life, are comfortable with it, and never live outside their comfort zone. Despite my emotions that run high constantly (it’s an emotional roller coaster that was to be expected along with culture shock), in the overall big picture, NZ is such a beautiful and safe country, especially being a solo female traveler.

I have more of a safe start than others given that I planned out this whole move with multiple spreadsheets, a home base in a beautiful flat, and quite possibly the best flatmates on the entire continent. Thus, I do need to step back every once in awhile and be grateful for everything that has happened while I’ve been here. I’m lucky to have reached NZ safe and sound, without losing baggage or my mind.

The walk through Oriental Bay was perhaps one of the most brilliant sights I’ve ever seen in my life. I loved looking back at the trees that had lights in them (they stay like that for the whole year) along with the moon glistening on the ocean waves. There was also a fountain shooting water up in the middle of the beach area, which basically looked like a rip-off of World of Color with the changing lights. It’s very, very peaceful walking along the coast because all you hear are birds chirping and the sounds of the waves crashing against rocks. Kiwis, in general, are more reserved and not nearly as loud as Americans (hence why I need to watch my volume), so walking along this type of coastline is so much different from walking along a beach back home.

And I’m not gonna lie… having incredibly hospitable, supportive flatmates to come home to at night is probably the most wonderful feeling in the world. I have a tendency to internalize emotions and never tell them if I get down for missing friends back home or for having such a tough time finding a job of the right fit, but whenever I talk to them about anything in general, it ends up being the best remedy. Hearing their perspectives on working in the film industry, hearing their side of the making of the Hobbit films, running into cast and crew at local supermarkets… it’s pretty surreal for me, given that I’ve watched the LOTR extended edition DVDs more than anything else I’ve ever owned.

On Friday, I met up with the cousin of two lovely Kiwi girls I befriended back in LA. We hung out for a few hours in downtown and we had a lot of similarities in the sense that we’re sociable but not partyers nor heavy drinkers. She has a partner (as they call a serious boyfriend/girlfriend out here), which is probably part of the reason why she’s more subdued than half the Kiwis around our age (she’s 22). It was nice to have a little girl pow-wow, especially given that my experience of Wellington so far has just been me job-hunting or exploring the city solo, with just my phone to keep me company.

I also met up with a LinkedIn contact who advised me to consider using my savings for a backpacking trip around South Island (mainly Queenstown) so I could market myself in person with a travel/tourism company and launch my career down there. As appealing as it sounded, I knew that I’d also run into the difficulty of being jobless and even more stressed, and the worst part is that I wouldn’t have a home base in Wellington. After talking with my flatmates for a long night, I realized that in my heart, I know I became their flatmate for a reason and I wouldn’t want to experience NZ without them. The LinkedIn contact was really helpful overall though, probably because he’s an entrepreneur and has marketing/accounting experience. It was nice to finally sit down with a Kiwi professional who has a family and kids but also balances his work life, since I got a better understanding of the workforce and education out here.

Some of the nicest and most career-minded people I’ve met have been through LinkedIn, and to finally meet them in person is really nice (I don’t even care about the age difference, since I relate to the more older professionals out here). After an awful trial shift that shall not be named, I realized that I don’t want to be making friends with the crowds that just want to stay out all night and drink the night away (I go to sleep by midnight and wake up at 6 or 7, so I can’t hang). It does really help to know I have their support with my career, rather than most backpackers who have a much different experience (yet they can still meet people).

And more social media connections: A gal from Twitter that was one of my NZ pen pals for years. Full circle! She has a penguin as her FB and Twitter photo, so I realized I had no idea what she even looked like in person, but she and her friend picked me up from my house and drove me to the top of Mt. Victoria for the 360 degree view of Wellington. It does seem like a pretty steep hike up, so I got the easy route up rather than tramping it. It was another beautiful day, so quite perfect for the panoramic view as well– we could see all of downtown Wellington (which was a cluster of buildings, but it looked like it could fit in both palms of your hand… it’s that small) Miramar, Wellington airport (next to where we live, basically), vast vast lands of bush/forest, part of the Hutt Valley, and more suburbs they named off which I didn’t remember. Heather and Rachel are both Kiwis (Heather is 40 and Rachel is 50), but they don’t look that old… Rachel certainly acted like me, a kid at heart. 🙂 Definitely lovely Kiwis. Heather gave me two beautiful NZ books as well… a huge atlas of NZ and a Wellington special book. SO sweet. We also went to the Boat Cafe (it’s inside an actual tugboat that is anchored down on shore) in Oriental Bay for drinks, and luckily, Heather said she never drinks alcohol as well (wow, there are people who don’t drink out here)! She introduced me to a “spider,” which is an ice cream float here, except you can get it with lemonade or orange soda too (ew). I got it with cream soda, and much to my dismay, it’s definitely way smaller and more expensive than back home. Definitely not like a Ruby’s Diner root beer float. I don’t even think they have root beer here… I’m dying. No Icees, no root beer, no Top Ramen (just crap brands), no Cup-O-Noodles, no Goldfish crackers, no Chicken in a Biskit crackers… my life is crumbling when it comes to food, haha. The NZ brands are definitely bland (the chips are WAY salty though and the tea is just plain bad).

They talked a bit more about their experience in the states (Rachel taught summer camps for special education kids and adults in Michigan for several years and Heather visited LA, SF, Vegas and New Orleans on vacation). Rachel was about 30 when she went to New York on her own and talked about how difficult it was for her to transition on her own, especially being a Kiwi female (must have been a huge shock, given how dangerous it can be if you’re a girl walking alone out there). Both Heather and Rachel talked about how scared they were when they had to go through our customs and the employees were unfriendly and carrying guns (guns are unheard of out here… although there was a murder in Miramar last week and the entire country is going crazy). I felt so bad for them! Heather seemed to have had really nice encounters with Americans, whereas Rachel got taken advantage of the minute she was in NY (her tour bus broke down on the freeway, they got ripped off on another bus, and the bus driver also dropped them off in the completely wrong area). She talked about not wanting to go out alone at night as well, and even though it is safe in NZ, she said it’s probably wise not to wander alone as a girl out here. We also went to Te Papa Museum (my second time) and wandered the first floor for a bit since they wanted me to experience the earthquake room. It was different going there this time since they were able to explain which birds were which, which ones to watch out for (the Kea are known for stripping traveler of everything– they tear the rubber sealant off the edges of a car so the windows cave in and they enter a car through there. They’re incredibly smart), which ones get drunk (the green pigeons or something feat fermented berries hahaha). Some of the birds are rare since they’re flightless birds and therefore can’t protect themselves (duh, like Kiwi birds). The Kakapo is a stupid bird since it’s a camouflauge-y green color but it stays completely still rather than running when a predator comes near, so it obviously gets eaten easily. Pretty sad.

In other news, I’ve realized my safest bet for protein, convenience and budget is PB&J sandwiches. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, man… for being the laziest person who just manages to mess up anything she cooks (i.e. making the worst batch of Easy Mac the history of mankind has probably ever seen), it’s afforadable and so easy. I really miss quality food…

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