Sunday, November 13, 2005

Kiwi Country

As a warning, this is not a usual post about RDF, the semantic web, Java, software development, etc.

This is just a little list I made on holiday based on my limited interactions while touring the south island of New Zealand:

  • Money - Finally a country where the denominations are the correct size - the $2 coin is bigger than the $1 coin. It annoys me that denominations aren't based on size - both the US and Australia are guilty of this. Another example of some sensible thinking, the emergency number is 111 rather than 000 (New Zealand was first of course). You're having a heart attack, you've got a rotary phone, which number would you prefer to call.

  • Lack of infrastructure - this is related to population I guess but the lack of guard rails, petrol stations, dual carriage ways, etc. especially around mountainous roads was very disconcerting.

  • No newsagents - I really can't imagine living in a place that doesn't have newsagents or good book stores. In the US and Australia there's usually a healthy selection of magazines and newspapers - the only magazines that I could find were in a bookstore and there was a Mac one, a PC one and that's about it.

  • Food - was pretty much the same with Coke tasting the same (although 20mls less in a can), more pie shops, good white wines (chardonnay that was drinkable), chocolate fish and alcohol in supermarkets.

  • Language - while I started truncating my vowels by the end of the trip I also noticed that most people used "wee" rather than "little" a wee bit more than I was used to.

  • Another country with long history of stupidly introduced species. Somewhat of a surprise was that most of the really bad ones are from Australia. Possums, magpies, wallabies, stoats, weasels and rabbits seem to be the main culprits for a country whose native fauna consists mainly of birds. The idea of a ferret eating a penguin alive rids you of some of the cuteness associated with mammals. I knew about the possums beforehand (which are pretty awful anyway) but the damage is pretty hideous and its good to see some productive use is made of them with possum fur combined with wool in clothing. The bird highlights were the kiwi, kakapo (introduced to me in Last Chance to See and recently highlighted in Kakapo Crisis), kea (also a concept extractor) and fiordland crested penguins (who have lost the fear of land based predation). The future does look good with many of them being introduced on islands where they are safe.

  • Real estate or how beautiful places are being overrun by rich foreigners. This not unique to New Zealand or Australia but it was sad to hear that working class locals are quickly being out-priced by rich foreigners and may not be able to afford to live in the same place as where they have grown up.

  • It would appear that the Maori culture is vastly better integrated and embraced than native culture in Australia (and many other parts of the world I would guess). There is a dedicated Maori television channel, radio programs, Maori is the official language and there seems to be much greater cultural interaction. Its not without it problems and injustices but it seems New Zealand has a much better history of treating people decently. This includes it being the first country to give everyone over 21 the vote (in 1893) and generally being a progressive socialist state. Another example, universal voting wasn't granted until the 1960s in Australia whereas in New Zealand it was there from the start (it did require voters to have individual title of the land however).

  • Water, water everywhere. I'm fairly convinced that some places, like South Australia, are fairly silly places to live, especially compared with somewhere like New Zealand - which is basically paradise without the snakes. New Zealand is almost arrogantly wet and fertile. The sheer number of animals (mainly sheep) in a paddock was impressive.

  • I don't want to reinforce stereotypes but the most annoying tourists would have to be American. It wasn't the loud complaining per se but more the insistence to understand everything and it had to be within their own cultural context. There seemed to be a lack of adapting and accepting things and it's just annoying to always suppose that something is worse just because it's different. I know this isn't an unfamiliar sentiment - the converse is often said to be true - that others don't stand up for themselves enough. I'm trying to be even handed here, maybe everybody does it and sure not all Americans are the same, maybe its just the ones that go on holidays, maybe I'm a cultural fascist, but it was really, really annoying.

  • And one last thing, the iPod compatible bed.
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