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Week Two of Blogging with Friends

They met through a mutual friend at university. He pretended to be 18 and an economics student; she would learn to be wary of an engineer’s sense of humour. They fit together well, despite being so different. Everything felt easy, relaxed. He visited her family on the farm, learning a whole new way of life that was foreign to such a “townie.” He became the son her father never had, and was given chores that no city kid should ever be given. Though both men had fun when they went rabbit shooting together. She became the daughter his parents never had, gaining their trust and affection, although they never quite understood what feminism was all about.

They got married, and set up life together. Careers and first houses and travel took precedence for the first 10-15 years or so. She had always wanted to travel, and he quickly learned to love it. When the babies didn’t come, amidst some scary diagnoses and losses and difficult years, his hair went grey. She realised that corporate success would require being someone she didn’t want to be. So they ramped up their travel. But aspirations to live abroad again have not yet been realised, due to their wish not to abandon his elderly parents. And as happens for so many, with children and without, life caring for others has dictated much of how they have spent their lives.

Before they knew it, they were celebrating major milestone wedding anniversaries, and major milestone birthdays. Grey hair turned white. Knees became a bit creaky, and backs started to hurt.

Yet “we’re not old yet,” she insists, turning away from the mirror.  They are old only in the length of time they’ve loved each other. Now, the week after another wedding anniversary (somewhere between 30 and 40 years), there are still, they hope, decades left. Only then can they truly be called “Old Lovers.”

 

Week 2 of the February 2020 Blogging Project

 

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New Zealand is a pretty small country, and I’ve travelled quite a lot of it. But when my sister rang a week or so ago and asked if we wanted to join her (and her husband and Charlie) for a few days at a town we’d never visited, we jumped at the opportunity.

I love a road trip. Travelling in the middle of school holidays is something we usually avoid like the plague, but as we were driving mid-week it wasn’t a problem. We drove familiar roads and unfamiliar roads, enjoying the scenery. We saw native plants and trees, and exotics showing off their spring blossoms. One town seemed to have adopted the rhododendron as their official plant of choice, and they were all flowering at the same time, lining the roads into and out of the town, and filling both public and private gardens.

On the road, we were surrounded by lush, green fields and hills, dotted with dairy cows on the plains, and sheep as the hills got higher and more rugged. Occasionally, further north, we saw goats, and wild turkeys, llamas and alpacas.

We stopped for lunch at the town at the base of the ski-fields on Mt Ruapehu (an active volcano) in the centre of the island. For a day right in the middle of the school holidays, it was surprisingly peaceful. Everyone must have been up on the mountain, swishing down the slopes, enjoying the last days of this year’s ski season.

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Mt Ruapehu

Raglan, our destination, is a small but well known coastal town, popular for its surf beach. One afternoon we headed out to the beach to watch Charlie (who had already been on a horse trek that morning) surf the waves, along with about 50 others. The learners stayed close to the shore, but others hung further out, looking for the bigger waves. Whilst it was a warm day for this time of year, the sea would have been icy cold, so Charlie’s wetsuit was essential. Her mother and I played around with our cameras, and I managed to get a shot of her up on her board, and a second shot as she did a dramatic fall into the water. When I zoomed in, I could see her face was covered with a huge grin. She came back exhilarated and not at all exhausted, despite battling the waves for some hours.

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As it was my sister’s birthday, we had champagne on the deck of their rented house, went out for a special dinner, and generally over-indulged with coffees and cooked breakfasts and avocadoes brought from their orchard.

It was a quick but hilly walk into the town for a coffee and look around the shops and galleries, and the following day we climbed down to the bottom of a waterfall and with much less enthusiasm back up, although the rain put paid to my plans of walking the track that went right in front of the house where we were staying. Instead, Charlie and I played table tennis in the garage, but we never did get around to having the darts match we’d planned.

And in between we relaxed, read and chatted, or just enjoyed the views from the bach.

All too soon we had to leave. School, work, and real life called for us all. We decided to take it easy on the way home, and so detoured along the west coast to a town I’ve only visited once before. It too is nestled under another volcano, which didn’t emerge from the clouds hiding it until we were well on the way home. I caught a view of the top only through the back window of our car. Isn’t it always the way?

Mt Taranaki before the cloud lifted

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A friend (Amy) is currently on holiday in Thailand. We were AFS students together when we were 17 or so, and she has returned this time with her husband and her parents for the first time. I have been loving seeing her photographs on social media, and I share in her joy in sharing this place that is so special with the people she loves.

It made me remember hosting my parents in Thailand just ten years after I was a student there. We were living there as diplomats, and it was the first time my parents left New Zealand. Thailand would not have been their first choice as an overseas destination, but we were living there, they were temporarily homeless (having retired from the farm, they were waiting for their little retirement house to be built), and they actually had a little cash in their pockets to make the trip. They travelled later – to Europe, and a couple of times to tour different parts of Australia (they saw more of it than I have, despite our numerous trips) – but regularly said that their trip to Thailand was the one that stood out. Frankly, it blew their minds. Europe, Australia and America all feel familiar – people look like us, the food isn’t that different, and we are accustomed to seeing these countries on our screens and in our books. But Thailand – its sights, sounds, food, temple, people, language, and size – has no reference point in rural New Zealand where they spent their lives.

They came because I had spent a year there instead of finishing my last year of secondary school. They came too because a few years later, they hosted a young Thai exchange student, their fourth “daughter.” (My friend Amy did this several years ago too.) I remember walking with them out of the airport in Bangkok. My mother sniffed the smoggy air, and looked at me in horror. “Do we have to breathe that?” she asked incredulously. My father looked around in fascination, and uttered a very 1960s comment. “The teeming millions of Asia,” he said, as he had probably never seen so many people in one place. These things are so familiar to me today, it’s good to remember their reactions.

They stayed for a month, and we took them around Bangkok (or rather my husband did, while I worked), and on excursions out of Bangkok, day-trips in our car, or a few weekends at the beach, and on a longer trip on a sleeper train, which they loved. (There’s a funny photo of them on the train here.) They were still young, newly retired, and adventurous. They explored the local streets and foods on the non-excursion days, got to know our maid, relaxed by and in the pool, met my Thai host family, went on adventures with their Thai AFS daughter, and did many things they never would have imagined. My father, who had always been very active (as a farmer he really had no choice), sat under a palm tree at the beach, feeling the soft, warm wind, and just relaxed. “This is just wonderful,” he said, looking around. It was certainly a far cry from the cold prevailing wind on the stony beach near the farm where he spent almost all of his life.

I remember coming home from work one day, and hearing of my mother’s trip to a market. She had visited it with my husband and father a few days earlier, but they had just walked through it, and didn’t give her time or space to explore, or shop. She was determined to go back, and insisted that day that she was going alone. My husband had nervously summoned a tuk-tuk, and gave the driver instructions of where to take her. Noisily it drove off, and he wondered if a) he’d ever see her again, and b) how he would explain that to me when I got home! There were no cellphones. She didn’t speak a word of Thai. She’d never taken a taxi in her life. But she had money, she had the address of our apartment with her, and she wasn’t scared. Of course, she made it home safely, much to the relief of my husband, who swears he lost a couple of months of his life from the stress.

I loved rediscovering Thailand through their eyes and ears and nose and tastebuds. I am equally sure Amy is enjoying doing this with her parents and her husband. And I know we both feel so lucky we’ve been able to do this with those we love.

 

 

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