Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I am Kiwi

Mum, M and J feeding out on mum and dads farm Masterton, New Zealand.

I love reading blogs by people who are expats in New Zealand. I am eternally fascinated by how our quirks and idiosyncrasies are viewed by non kiwis. The good, the bad and the ugly, it all finds me coming back for more. It’s kinda cool to be privy to how the world sees you from the inside and I am very grateful to those whose blogs I routinely read as they make me realise how different we are and how strikingly similar we are all at the same time. Plus there are some beautiful shots of places and things uniquely kiwi that are such a part of me I am immediately teary.

We have often been mistaken for Australians since we have become expats. This assumption is made by both expats and by locals although rarely by other Kiwis or Aussies. I am quick to point out I am, we are, New Zealanders, not Australians which is sometimes met with confused amusement (bemusement maybe?). Some people I have discovered don’t know the difference between an Aussie and a Kiwi (as if the accent doesn’t give it all away!). It doesn’t help both companies (the red and the blue) that J has worked for are Australian companies and that he is often the only Kiwi in an office of Roos (Kangaroos that is). They, of course, have no problem telling the’re either a winner or a loser depending on how the game went on Saturday...the rights to brag or bag are a such telling factor.

Formidable and stoic, the All Black Haka.

I have got to admit before we left NZ I hadn’t really registered how great the difference, except when it came to cricket, rugby, netball...we wear All Black and they wear Green and Gold and of course we are the better team ; )...tongue firmly in cheek... except for cricket where we have, for the past decade or so, lost our mojo, it seems.....sigh!!
Differences between the two nationalities are expressed like sibling rivalry within New Zealand and are almost always sports focused although there is the occasional political commentary if you are so inclined. I had only been to Oz once before we began our belated OE (for the uninitiated that’s Kiwi for ‘Overseas Experience’, a rite of passage for many New Zealanders after Uni and before getting a real job). It was for a whirlwind wedding weekend, J was best man and the wedding breakfast was at a German restaurant none of which was conducive to my being particularly receptive to any particular Australian cultural variation.
Samoa was, it turned out, an education in more ways than one. We ARE fundamentally different. It shouldn’t be a surprise really, as the website convict creations, ( newzealand.html), written by an Australian, points out. Our origins are complete opposites. Australia was founded as a penal colony for petty thieves, prostitutes and those caught falling foul of the law during the depression while New Zealand was sold as the land of plenty to intrepid British pioneers looking for a piece of paradise to plant veges and tend sheep. I’m pretty sure they weren’t told about the weather, earthquakes or the formidable, stoic natives! The website’s quite scathing of Kiwis (do they really think we ‘don’t do any good’?) and riddled with inaccuracies and wild assumptions but it does offer insight into at least one Aussies perception of their neighbour and it doesn’t seem to be limited to games of rugby.

A Hindu devotee during Thiapusam in Singapore.

I like difference. I chose to study Anthropology and World Religion at university because I was so interested in different cultural practices, beliefs, differences and similarities. I love the fact that living in the countries we have lived in gives us, our family, first hand insight of different cultures. There is nothing like witnessing an event, you have read or been taught about in a classroom, being played out on your street, at the market, outside the temple, in the airport,
or by the river. I have childhood memories filled with such events and I have chosen make certain my children too, to be able to witness these things first hand. I hope that this makes them better, less prejudiced, more accepting people and I hope that it instils in them the same curiosity and appreciation I have for our differences and idiosyncrasies, cultural beliefs and practices, something I think is lacking in this world of ours. Too often what we read or see screams of judgement and bias rather than understanding and interest and I think it’s up to us as parents to help our children not be influenced by the negativity but rather be enquiring, interested, appreciative and unafraid of our differences.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

All grown up

Our oldest has left home, all six foot 18 years of him. He began his tertiary experience at the beginning of the year and so far we have only seen him once, during his semester break, when he flew out to Singapore for 10 days. A couple of weeks after he left we moved to Cambodia. His experience of where we live now has so far come from google earth and pieced together from emails and MSN with his brother. He actually left a few years ago when he began his 10th year at school, the year kids in New Zealand begin their trudge through the national exam system. We were living in Samoa at the time and the school just wasn’t the best option for a deaf child who has dreams of building robots so B went back to NZ and became a boarder. He took it hard for about 5 minutes then picked up his newly discovered and conveniently packed freedom, shook himself vigorously and leapt towards manhood.

I wasn’t so lucky. I had known that when we let him go it would happen but I still wasn’t prepared. I don’t think you can be really prepared but for me it was particularly hard. As the mother of a deafie I had, until boarding school in another country intervened, had quite a lot to do with B’s everything. Years of IEPs and a personal relationship with his Itinerant Teacher meant not a lot slipped past me. Now I wouldn’t even know who his teachers were, the kids in his class, what he was really up to when he said he was going for a bike ride.

B, unlike his brother, isn’t a talker so to understand what he was/is feeling you have to use non verbal clues, clues I wasn’t going to be able to see everyday anymore. I was going to have to learn to rely on his teachers, housemaster, my sister and mother and try and get B to open up via the internet sometimes. They, especially my mother and sister, were going to have to learn to see the clues, pick the changes in behaviour and learn to relate them to things that were going on in Bs life, things he wasn’t going to openly tell anyone about. This wasn’t and still isn’t easy as B, like many deafies, has a thick exterior that exudes hakuna matata , a protective shell that shields him from a judgemental society overly dependent on labels and from the fact he knows he is missing out, he is spending a lot of time guessing and is constantly scanning our non verbal cues to figure out what we are saying.

He did it, he made it all the way through school and whether or not he manages to make it through his chosen tertiary course he should be proud of how far he has come. People often comment that B doesn’t behave deaf and he doesn’t. He is confident, self assured and worldly wise. He manages airports with ease and new situations with poise. Every time we see him he is more grown up, we see a new B, an evolved B. My dad once told me that we wouldn’t know how good a job we had done of our parenting until our kids were independent adults, people we wanted to know, people we chose to be around, so I guess we did do a good job...whew!!!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Driving Miss Daisy or Driving us Crazy?

I’ve heard many an expat complain about the local drivers and or driving conditions in whichever country they might be living in and I’m sure expats, from those very countries being bellyached about, who live in New Zealand, have as many gripes about our alleged atrocious driving/drivers (I blame the roads and conditions rather than the skill of Kiwi drivers in New Zealand naturally). The drivers in Asian countries get a particularly bad rap and for good reason it seems. Even in Singapore, where any gear past second is almost superfluous, there are more fatalities than most major western countries. Ten years ago the Red Cross reported that an estimated 880 000 to one million people worldwide die in traffic accidents and a further 23 to 34 million are injured, the majority, a staggering 85%, in developing or ‘transitioning’ countries. These rates are increasing year on year whereas rates in developed countries are declining. Half of the total fatalities occurred in the Asia Pacific region with Malaysia taking line honours followed by Thailand in per capita statistics. Scary, scary, scary.

I never drove in Singapore. We decided that buying a car for three times what we could in NZ was just not worth it considering the public transport system is so good. This did mean that we were at the mercy of the skills of taxi and more often bus drivers many of whom drove as fast as possible at (yes I did mean ‘at’ and not ‘to’) every bus stop, intersection, traffic light and vehicle ahead or in the next lane, hitting the brakes at the very last minute and taking off again at the earliest opportunity ready or not! Balancing skills, arm strength and the ability to keep rude words in ones head were tested on a daily basis often more than once or twice. The driving by those in cars didn’t, however, seem to me to be any worse than what we experienced in Samoa. It seemed to me that Singaporean drivers indicated at least half of the time, came to a complete stand still at red lights, stayed on their own side of the road and usually in a particular lane and generally behaved like they had at least read a road code. Samoan drivers on the other hand drove as if they had just bought their license from a stall in the market (which some of them actually did). To add to that I am sure many of them were in need of a pair of thick glasses. This was especially evident at night when a barely held together, by chicken wire, rattle bucket pulls out in front of you, going up Cross Island road with inches to spare and grunts painfully up the hill. The driver is just visible, peering over the steering wheel, nose as close to the fractured (never park under a coconut tree) windscreen as possible trying in vain to make sure the white line that marks the middle of the road remains in the middle of his windscreen by the light of his almost lit headlight (no I didn’t mean headlights plural). Of course this particular road, which as its name suggests bisects the island and which we lived about two thirds of the way up on, is beset by blind corners and narrows the further up you go. This, however, is no problem for the average Samoan driver as ‘passing lane’ is of course the other definition of ‘blind corner’ even if your car can only manage 10 km/hr in second. It was common to find yourself faced with a huge Bedford bus, either straddling the white line or almost completely on your side of the road, coming merrily towards you. Woe betide the person who believed the driver would adjust his trajectory!! A complete stop on the grass verge (if indeed one was available) was usually required along with some choice words (no not so he could hear although it was tempting!!) to regain ones sanity before the resumption of the journey. Traffic lights only existed in Apia, the capital, and weren’t really traffic lights as much as starters pistols (that’s if drivers were going to stop at all). There was many a time going straight through a 4 way intersection where I hit the brakes and came to a standstill on the bonnet (ok not quite on but pretty close) of a car crossing in front of me. I am still surprised that neither of us had an accident in the two and a half years we drove Samoa. The coconut tree J backed into one night after organising a hugely successful Melbourne Cup event doesn’t count he informs me as the car had been moved during the course of the night. In other words the tree wasn’t there when he parked and anyway it was but a minor ditt not even a coconut was dislodged in the process.

So I am again trying to imagine myself behind the wheel in no sense (yep that is ‘no sense’ as opposed to nonsense) traffic because although we do have a driver here there will be times when it seems a bit ridiculous to get him to our house to drive someone to the shop for milk or bread or to drive M to a friends place in town for a couple of hours during an evening in the weekend. We will see how brave I feel after the six months the company makes us wait for before we can entertain a blat on Phnom Penh’s dusty moto and unmarked blacked out windowed Lexus clogged roads.