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Posts Tagged ‘New Zealand’

A TV commercial that used to run here shows God handing out national assets. South Africa gets diamonds. Australia gets gold, and car manufacturing. New Zealand slept in arrives late and gets Pineapple Lumps. You can watch it here.

This is typical kiwi self-deprecation, yet still celebrating what is good about our country. We don’t have great oil or mineral wealth, we are not strategically located for trade (in fact, just the opposite). But we are lucky in another sense.

We have water. We look in horror to our nearest neighbour Australia – self-named The Lucky Country.  We look at their droughts, their forest fires and ridiculous summer temperatures, their huge country’s habitable zones around the edges, the fact that so much of their agricultural industry is ultimately unsustainable, and their campaigns for short showers with buckets collecting dirty water for reuse.  I for one don’t envy them, and wonder what will happen with the growing impact of climate change on their fragile environment.

Travelling to the Middle East last year reminded me that even Australia is lucky compared to many parts of the world.  The stark, barren landscapes of Qatar, Jordan and Israel were shocking to me.  The relentless sandy and rocky landscapes that continue for thousands of miles could not have been a starker contrast to New Zealand’s green pastures and forests.  There was a harsh beauty to these moonscapes, but I will admit a feeling of relief when we left and, coming in to land in Rome, saw the Italy’s green fields and vines.  It felt a little like coming home.

In New Zealand we have water. It rains here, falls from the skies, fills our lakes, waters our farms, powers our electricity stations. And as climate change becomes more and more of a reality, water is an increasingly valuable commodity. In the past we’ve taken it for granted, but increasingly we are recognising that our water is liquid gold, and should be valued accordingly.  We need to do much more.  But we’re moving in the right direction, I hope.

So next time it rains, I’m not going to moan and groan about the gloomy days or inconvenience.  I’m going to appreciate the fact that I don’t have to wash my windows, I simply have to wait for the next northwesterly storm.  I’m going to remember that I rarely water the pot plants on our deck, yet they’ve managed to survive and thrive for a couple of years now, and that our lemon and lime trees are largely neglected but produce fruit for us, thanks to the combination of sun and rain we get here.  And I’m going to reflect on the fact that we are truly a lucky country.

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Dona’s comment here, emphasising that she was not implying that Britain and New Zealand are the same, reminded me of a dinner conversation with one of the American guests at Ulusaba.  He was living in Nigeria, and we were chatting about the high cost of imported products.

“Of course,” he said, “I guess you find that too?”

I shook my head, puzzled.  “What do you mean?”

“I guess you have to import everything and have high duties.”

“Import everything?” I said, still feeling puzzled.

“You know, you’re islands, so you import everything from the mainland.”

“The mainland?” I shook my head again, suspecting I knew what he meant, but giving him the opportunity to redeem/hang himself.

He chose the noose.

“The mainland,” he said again, as if I was a bit dim.  “You know, Australia.”

I pretended to be very offended.

“You mean the completely separate country that is not part of New Zealand and is, by the way, a four hour flight away?”

The other Americans at the table viewed my (slightly over-acted) horror with glee.  “Oh no you didn’t!” they said, shocked, to the guy.

I guess I shouldn’t be so mean.  But unfortunately we encounter this lack of knowledge is most common in … well, in some parts of Asia, but mainly with Americans.   The typical stereotypes we face when we travel are that

a) we’re part of Australia (sacrilege!), and that

b) we’re just off the … cough … mainland.  A short flight, or perhaps, separated by a bridge.

I explained that, in fact, New Zealand has very low tariffs, when we have them at all.  That we are a very open economy, active traders, major exporters, no subsidies.

The guy didn’t know when to let up though.  “So, how do you survive?”

It was obvious he viewed New Zealand as a small group of islands, perhaps a bit like Fiji, or the Bahamas, rather than a country slightly larger (in terms of land area) than Great Britain.  I explained a little bit more about our economy.  Our world-leading agricultural and horticultural products, the importance of tourism, of our high-tech industries, etc, trying to get him to understand that we’re a relatively sophisticated developed country in our own right, even if there are only 4.5 million of us.  I don’t think he was convinced.  I wonder if he could pick out New Zealand on a map?

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The Because-I-have-to reasons

Reason 1: To see what I can see.
From as far back as I can remember, I have been curious about what else is out there. I think I’ve written before about standing on the beach at the edge of our farm, looking out across the Pacific Ocean, marvelling that there was nothing between me and South America. Knowing there was something else out there that was different, made me want to go see it. I’ve never liked knowing I don’t know things, or that I can’t peek somewhere, or find out what’s going on. Why did I first want to travel? Like the bear going over the mountain, I also wanted to see what I could see. And you know, that song is just plain wrong and stupid. The other side of the mountain is always worth seeing. It is never just the other side of the mountain.

Reason 2: To experience diversity.
The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” — St. Augustine.
Variety is the spice of life. I can’t imagine only ever eating one type of food, or reading one genre of book, or studying one subject. And likewise I can’t imagine spending my entire life in one country, only knowing one way of doing things. I know the US is vast and different. But it is still the US. People sound the same (pretty much) in Delaware as in California, in Ohio and Florida. The cities largely look the same. The differences are small, and in the grand scheme of things, everyone is an American. They still call a holiday a vacation. They still add tax at the cashier, and expect a tip. They still say “have a nice day.” Likewise, Australia is still Australia, whether you’re in the tropical north or a continent apart in the barren western deserts. They still call a duvet a doona, and ask for a skinny latte. They still like to win, and they always tease kiwis about our accents.

But fly from Australia to Singapore, closer to Perth than Brisbane, and marvel in the differences. Then drive from wealthy, efficient Singapore into Malaysia, and cross the border into Thailand, and you’ll be overwhelmed with the differences. You’ll see them, hear them, taste and smell them. And each time, you’ll learn new ways of doing things, new ways of being.

Reason 3: Genetics and Geography

Genetics:
New Zealand is a country of travellers; everyone here, or their ancestors, immigrated at one time or another. In our genes are the genes of people who held their heads up, sniffed the air, and said, “let’s go!” And my genes still say “let’s go” on a regular basis.

Geography: New Zealand is small. Yes, it is geographically diverse. You can drive from snow-capped mountains to the beach in a matter of hours (or less than an hour in Taranaki), ski in the morning and surf in the afternoon. We have rolling plains, moutains, sub-tropical rainforests and fiords, volcanoes, barren desert-like areas, icy lakes, and steaming geysers and mud-pools. It’s about as diverse as a small country can get. But still, it is small. About a month ago my husband and I went to Marlborough (the home of the world’s best sauvignon blancs) for a weekend. We’ve been there many times before, and know it really well. But this time we drove up some rural roads we’d never taken before, and discovered new and exciting vistas. It was fun. Suddenly we were tourists in our own country, and we enjoyed it. This doesn’t happen a lot in New Zealand, because it is small, and so much of it is familiar.

So getting out of our small islands, escaping our own geography, is essential to me.
New Zealand is on the edge of the Pacific, a long way from, well, anywhere. To get anywhere outside New Zealand is an effort, a conscious decision. To stay here it is possible to feel isolated, far from the rest of the world, possibly even trapped. And human beings like to feel connected. So we travel.

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