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Monday, May 22, 2017

the Kiwi has landed . . .



After 17 years, I'm back home in Aotearoa / New Zealand for the foreseeable future - and it's grand.

The small town / small country characteristics that annoyed me as a teen and young adult - where everyone knows everybody else's business and everybody - now seem part and parcel of being accepted into a community and I've seen and learned enough in my travels to no longer be concerned at the opinions of those who don't know me.

My welcome home has been incredibly warm, despite the cold of the approaching winter. A dear friend has welcomed me into his home and it feels much like about 35 years ago when we also shared a house, tho with more occupants at the time. Much else feels the same - I accompanied my friend to a band rehearsal on Saturday where we barely stopped laughing (I suggested the band go on the road as a comedy act) and it felt just like the days of my misspent late teens.

Except, perhaps, that by 10:30 that night, we were sitting watching tv and drinking herbal tea while I crocheted - not quite the hard rocking days of yesteryears.

Sunday, we went to the the local market to check out what was on offer, then had lunch with the band's guitarist, and it feels very much that I am back where I belong.

This week, my job is to find a job, so I sent off applications for a few interesting possibilities this morning, before walking down to the banks of the Waikato River about five minutes away to practise yoga and exercise. It's incredible to have such peaceful beauty so close by.



I feel so much better that it's difficult to reconcile with how down and depressed I was in Hong Kong. Emotionally, I'm being gentle on myself and enjoying the peace of being at ease, which salves me physically and mentally also. Physically, I'm still recovering from my recent and prolonged illness, but I'm sleeping well and eating healthily and feeling better each day.

I plan to reconnect with whanau in the area this week and sort out random bureaucratic issues, and hope I'll have employment here before much longer. I also plan to start things in motion for the book project I've had in mind for some time.

The adventure of life is back on track . . .

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Hangin' with hens . . .



I've lived with free range chickens and know the difference a good life makes to the taste and goodness of their eggs and, eventually, to the taste and goodness of their meat.

The yolk in the egg of a free-range hen fed well is a deep golden orange, nothing like the insipid yellow you get from a factory-farmed hen. The proof is in the taste. It seems obvious to me that the food produced by an animal that is free to move around at will, forages in the dirt and plants for seeds and insects, and is fed a good variety of greens, grains and appropriate table and food prep scraps will be far superior in taste and goodness than that of a creature that is confined to a small space without even natural lighting.

I've been empathising with factory-farmed animals a lot lately. Studies have been done but again, it seems fairly obvious that a lifestyle that constrained would result in stress and stress causes illness (antibiotic use is high in factory farming), as do overly crowded quarters. (NB: My home country also lags badly on this issue.)

There came a time, after the chickens had been free range on my friends' farm for about 20 years, that the woman of the house finally got sick of them shitting in the laundry and trying to help themselves to the sacks of grain. Finding the eggs was also a great adventure - there was a henhouse where most slept at night and where they usually lay, but there were always a few rebels, who preferred to roost in the lower branches of a macrocarpa or lay their eggs in a secret space they'd made under a hedge. Whenever I worked in the garden I had one eye on where the hens were coming and going from as there was often a clutch of eggs at the end of the trail.

So we built them a chicken ranch. This was no mere chicken run, it was an area about four times the size of my Hong Kong apartment with a sheltered, reasonably barren area behind the henhouse where they were fed each morning and could scratch among the scraps and soil to their little poultry hearts' content. It also had an area of hardy bush and a grassed area, both over the fence from a large kitchen garden so they got plenty of good greens and insects tossed over the fence to them also. The eggs continue to taste amazing.

When home in Aotearoa/New Zealand last month I visited a young friend and we chatted while we spontaneously weeded his garden and I checked out his hens. They were eating crayfish (not crawfish but a tastier cousin of lobster) shells with meat still in them. The friend had got the crays diving, and I realised that the hens I know at home had better lives than I did in Hong Kong.

At one extreme of Hong Kong, people literally live in cages. Landlords divide rooms with metal cages and people live cheek to cheek with their neighbours in spaces about the size of a large dog cage. Others live in shanty housing sheltered only by a tarpaulin or plastic sheet if lucky, yet more live on the streets.Yet others have their cooking facilities, laundry and toilet all in one small room. The Society for Community Organisation and photographer Benny Lam did a powerful exhibition and book on this last year and it's well worth the time to check out the images.


One of Benny Lam's powerful images of a side of Hong Kong few visitors know exists. Credit: Benny Lam/Soco.org.hk

Benny Lam records the lives of cage residents. Credit: Benny Lam/Soco.org.hk


Domestic helpers don't necessarily have it much better. Although employers are required by contract to provide helpers with “suitable and furnished accommodation” and “reasonable privacy”, there are no guidelines as to what constitutes "suitable accommodation". A recent survey of 3,000 plus Filipino and Indonesian migrant workers found 43 per cent were not provided with private rooms. Of those who were, in one-third of cases, the room was also used for other purposes, such as storage or to house pets. One helper, in an extreme case granted, slept in a kitchen cupboard above the fridge and microwave oven.

Hong Kong could not run without its army of helpers yet they are treated as invisible by most employers, and suffer abuse and exploitation at the hands of many others. Those employers are the elite of Hong Kong - the ones who can afford to hire a human to tend themselves, their children, elderly and pets yet often treat those humans with less care than they bestow on those same pets. Former colleague Yonden Lhatoo likens this dystopian existence to an H. G. Wells sci-fi cautionary tale.

Now on to what I admit is a first-world problem but no less a concern for that. The mid-level position worker in Hong Kong also lives a very constrained life, living in a larger box and often with better views but often just a better decorated self-chosen cage. Hong Kong is known as a vertical city because of the multitude of these boxes built one atop another, in many of which nobody knows their neighbours or even spends much time in the box other than to sleep (roosting) while believing themselves to be free-range during the day.

Vertical Hong Kong - the view from my apartment of so many other apartments. Credit: Tracie Barrett


Or at least, during those hours of the day when they're not ensconced in their cubicle cage doing whatever pays the exorbitant rental on their roosting boxes and the lifestyle that goes with being in Hong Kong. Many have no natural light in their workplaces, an issue animal rights groups consider abuse for animals, many go without breaks during their often long and relentless work days, and many turn to other things to cope with the stress of living and working here. The healthy choices include yoga, exercise, meditation and healthy eating and all have become big business in a city where stress (and overcrowding and pollution, both of which add to stress) reigns supreme. The less healthy but possibly more prevalent coping mechanisms include drugs and alcohol and I am stunned by the amount of drugs I see or know of used casually here (and I lived and worked in an Australian skifield for two winters in the '90s, when drug use was rife).

Friends and acquaintances in such mid-level jobs often tell me they don't feel valued by their employers for themselves or what they have to offer, but merely as another "employee unit" that is easily replaceable for the right money. Money is the constant justification for working the extra hours, accepting the regular illnesses that go with being overworked, overstressed and often overlooked - "I'll just do it for a few more years", I often hear, and it's a valid trade-off to set yourself up in life if you consider it worthwhile.

Personally, I did the math and it doesn't add up.

I love this city, I love the friends I have made here and I hope to keep the city and those friends as an important part of my life. I hope to visit regularly but I can't live here. For me, it's not sustainable.

I need to go back to where I can be truly free-range and dig in the soil whenever I wish. I need to go home, and I am . . .



Friday, April 28, 2017

a little down, but bouncing back . . .

trigger warning, dear readers, this post is about depression, but I hope won't be too depressing

I don't talk about these things openly until they're through - I give hints but I don't really want to burden everyone I know with the thought that the only thing stopping me stepping in front of a moving tram is thinking about the people who would need to clean up the mess

cause, you know, they have hard enough jobs without me adding blood and splatter to it

but that's where I've been for the last few months - seriously deeply suicidal and depressed, also sick, tired and stressed, which didn't help

maybe those things go the other way in terms of cause and effect

I talk to a couple of people I trust to help me through at the time, and hang out with the others in my support group, and do meditation and yoga and crochet to handle it

it's over, and I have grown and learned from it

I'm going home, and I cannot be grateful enough for my employer for listening and caring and trying to understand

and sorry I let them down but, I was seriously trying not to step in front of a tram

my friends and whanau have been amazing now that I have put out the call (yeah, i missed out telling them about the stepping in front of trams impulse)

I am overwhelmed by the love and compassion and welcome arms

thank you, thank you all, I'm safe with trams again

Friday, April 21, 2017

Tainted love . . .


this stunning view . . .
I expected to love Hong Kong. And I do, but it's one of those toxic loves you want to get away from as quickly as you can, while not letting it know you're breaking up.

I'm not allergic to it, but I have developed a distinct intolerance. despite its many charms.

So, now I've decided we're breaking up, I want to enjoy this amazing city as much as I can. Which is really, really easy to do. I just have to be careful not to let it sweet-talk me into staying, because it's not good for my long-term physical or mental health.

I'm stunned to consider how sick I am in HK, but so is everyone I work with and almost everyone I know. A friend who has lived here for seven-plus years said this past winter was the worst she had experienced in terms of illness and described a feeling I've learned only too well these past three months - where you feel yourself recovering from one illness only to find another varietal taking its place. To borrow a US military acronym, SSDD - Same Shit, Different Day. One strain of the lurg of the week will give you a raw throat served as a side dish to the general malaise and wooly-headed 'feeling like crap' (a technical term), with another your throat will be fine but you develop a smoker's cough without needing to inhale.

I shared the back row of a flight back from New Zealand last week with two young boys (unaccompanied minors and they sit them beside me? what were they thinking?) and it's not just overworked adults who suffer. One told me he has eczema in Hong Kong (and he lives on one of the islands, not downtown) but not in New Zealand. My asthma is the same - I barely notice it when living long-term in Aotearoa but it's a life-and-death issue for me in Asia.

As to mental health, which greatly impacts physical health and the body's ability to shake off illness, HK seems overly intense for the purpose of appearing so, rather than to achieve anything. Few expats I know take meal breaks or breaks of any kind because to do so would mean having to work longer than they already do, and nobody wants to do that. Which is so counter-productive and counter-intuitive it leaves me incredulous.

I've discussed work-life balance with friends in HK and NZ over the past few weeks and I get a similar questioning look in both locales, but for very different reasons. In Hong Kong, the question is what that means (work-life balance??); in New Zealand the question is why such a term exists. Isn't that simply called life?

BUT, Hong Kong IS amazing - it's just not where I can live. But while I'm here, I plan to live it well, knowing I have a timeline and a recovery plan in place.

The Pacific Ocean, forests, rivers, art, music, theatre, friends, food and no doubt a little politics - its nearing time to go home.

. . . or this . . .

Thursday, April 6, 2017

tangata whenua

tangata whenua - loosely, people of the land, but so much more

I just Google-translated both parts of that

interesting, in many ways

Google Translate says tangata means "man" - my memory was that tangata means person or people, no gender specified, but this is Google translate

Ii did better with whenua - it recognised the word as inseparable from the land, offering "land", "country", "ground" and "terrain" as translations but completely missed the other meaning and the importance of it

whenua also means placenta or afterbirth (sorry, any squirmy boy readers out there - I recommend you get over your sqeamishness and become men)

so, we are tangata "people" of te whenua "the land, the placenta"

this is how deeply we relate to the earth - we are born of her and nursed by her, and blessed by her

our creation myth has our mother, Papatuanuku (the earth mother) and our father Ranginui (the earth father) embracing each other so closely that their sons couldn't breathe

by the way, the boys were all considered gods also, and they wanted to breathe and yell and be loud proud boys, but it was hard when you were trapped between the parental units

meet the guys:
Tumatauenga - god of war, hunting and fishing, but also of agriculture.

I feckin love that my ancestors knew there was a time to come home from war and grow things. Very cool, peeps

Tawhirematea - let's keep it simple and say he's the god of storms and weather and winds - there's a lot more drama but there are also more brothers to meet

Tangaroa - the god of the sea, which feeds us and challenges us and often kills us if we're careless

the previous two are the one's I speak most to while at sea - soldiers and sailors pray a lot as part of their jobs, they just might picture who they are praying to differently (one godhead, far-too-many systems)

more Maori boys to come,

Tane-mahuta - god of forests and birds

Tane is THE dude of Maori gods. Forests and birds, dude. Tane is strength, and quiet power and longevity

we have a giant Kauri (tree) in Northland that is the largest known - estimated to be about 2,000 years old

also named Tane Mahuta - but, sigh, Tane was the son who separated Ma and Pa, nobody else was strong enough

hard to get past that

Rongo - god of peace and cultivated food

because, you know, you need peace to cultivate food (why is that so dificult?)

Haumia-tiketike - god of wild food plants

NB: In case you haven't noticed, we not only cover all bases but we cover all food sources

Ruauomoko - god of earthquakes, volcanoes and seasons

They all go together

Rehua/Antares - the mysterious star child



Is it obvious that I am really looking forward to going home?
 

 






Thursday, February 2, 2017

learning to run . . .

the first time I left home was totally unplanned

I'd woken up to a radio report on a friend and classmate who was missing - she did that occasionally - then arrived at school to find her sitting on a step

"Hold on," I said, anticipating an adventure, "I just need a few things from home."

A few hours later, we tweens were trying to convince another friend's older, cooler, not necessarily legit brother (but a big brother after all) that we could handle being in Auckland on our own.

At the time, I thought it was a friend who turned us in - in hindsight, it was probably the big brother.

The police arrived and were surprised to find me - I was at school as far as anybody knew - but we were both taken to the station. Where we were strong, and staunch, and invulnerable, until they separated us.

I, being a storyteller even at that age, and having run away (not very far, I admit) without thinking it through, told the police a story cobbled together from news reports and bad fairytales, of evil stepparents and goblins and not being loved.

My mother didn't even know I'd run away when the police contacted her to say they had found me. When she came to get me, they suggested she take me home and beat me as I'd said the goblins often did.

Once I realised I could leave, I continued doing so.

I learned to be better at surviving - recognizing the good and bad options and the good and bad advice.

One of those was being taken to a job interview at a massage parlour by a "friend" and realising I'd rather be waiting tables, then realising that waiting tables, and doing it well, was nothing to be ashamed of.

I guess I gave up the "easy" options around that time . . .

Saturday, January 21, 2017

WHY we march ...

I'm struggling for a title here, because I have no interest in preaching to the already converted, I want to reach readers who don't yet understand why women are marching today. That's not easy ...

Let's begin with an anecdote. I'm Maori. New Zealand's indigenous race. I'm many other things also but that is a key part of my formative years. I was the Maori girl, from the Maori family. In those days, in some homes, it came with a stigma.

I'm also light-skinned, well-spoken and could easily "pass" for white, something indigenous people know all too well.

Obviously, I'm also female. But I'm smart, talented and tough, and while I will never "pass" as male, I know my worth and can negotiate it. As a friend wrote elsewhere today, I am an exception.

Except I'm not.

Simply being female means I have to be better, stronger, more capable to aspire to the same rewards as a mediocre male. It means having to be brash and outspoken to be heard. It means, often, that I need to assess the mood of the males around me and adjust my behavior accordingly.

It means that being treated equally is an exception, and that is why we march ...

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Change of plans . . .

Like most things in life, there's no "one size fits all" when it comes to motorcycles.

The ideal bike differs for each person, but needs to be one that feels perfectly comfortable, where you become part of the machine and it part of you. Where maneuvering is simply a matter of seeing where you want to be, an almost subconscious shift of weight or a slight push on a handgrip. There are enough things against you as a motorcyclist - the road conditions, weather, other traffic, roadworks and wildlife - that you can't afford to add fighting your ride into that mix.

My 980km round trip to visit my cousin in Roma made me realize the V-Strom DL650 will never be that bike for me. It's a beautiful bike - smooth, powerful, responsive- but much too high and heavy for someone of my height and weight. Being barely able to reach the ground on a bike that weighs three times more than me makes stopping awkward at best, dangerous at worst.

Dulacca Truck Stop: unleaded for the big beast, lemonade for the smaller, water to pour over my head.
Rinse, ride, repeat . . . 
So, I've decided not to ride the beast to Sydney, as riding any distance on a bike you're uncomfortable on is a recipe for disaster. Riding that far and into a major city on this bike would be stupid of me.

Unfortunately, there are no lower bikes available so instead of heading out today, I'll relax beside a friend's pool and recover from my ride back from Roma yesterday. Through a heatwave that Queensland is experiencing that required constant water stops and cool down periods before facing the road and Australia's road trains again. At least it was too hot for the 'roos to be on the roads.

Killaroos planning road rampage . . . 
There is a bike in Sydney that may be suitable for my stay in the city and I'd like to ride out to Watson's Bay and up to the Blue Mountains while there, but I'll wait until I can try it on for size before booking this time. Returning the V-Strom will cost me money, but that's better than having it cost my life or health.

Instead, I'll fly to Sydney in the morning and check into my fancy Airbnb apartment at Darling Harbour. I think I'm going to the opera in the evening, and have five days there to visit with friends and explore my old stomping and sailing grounds.

The adventure doesn't end, the transport has just been adjusted . . .

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Admin note

the kiwi has been too tired to fly of late, that will change

Monday, January 16, 2017

Riding the sunburnt country: Day 1 . . .



Ready to ride?
While an ocean sailor, l quickly learned there are few agnostics at sea. When your life is at the whims of the sea and the weather, you tend to pray, whether it be to God, Buddha, Allah, Gaia, the universe or your own personal combination. I tended to throw Tangaroa and Tawhirimatea into the mix.

I was reminded yesterday that long-distance motorcycling is similar.

I left Brisbane mid-morning en route to Roma, Queensland, sometimes referred to as "the gateway to the outback."  I'd just spent three wonderful days catching up with family, friends and friends who have become family, and was planning a 490km shakedown ride to see a loved cousin I hadn't seen in too long.

Another treasured friend rode with me out of the city and some of the way, by which time I'd gained confidence with the overly large and heavy bike I'd rented, then he left me to make my way alone.

The open road astride a powerful bike is a vastly different experience than traveling by car or other four-wheeled vehicle, where the goal seems to be to distract oneself as much as possible from the trip. On a bike, distraction is deadly, and one is constantly scanning the road, the other traffic, what lies ahead, on both sides and is approaching from behind.
the big, beautiful beast (and friend) 


This trip being in Australia, I had to add killeroos and slowly jaywalking koalas into the usual dangers of being on the road without a hard shell covering.

That heightened sense of awareness also makes one highly aware of the beauty of the world you're in and the preciousness of life and I find myself prayerful when I ride long distances alone.

I'm constantly giving thanks - for friends and whanau and freedom, and helpful strangers who often become friends. I'm thankful for good weather, well-maintained roads, the beauty of the huge open sky and the sunburnt fields of scribbly gum trees and corn and red sorghum and the long low Queenslander farmhouses, with their wide shaded verandas that insulate the interiors from the incredible heat.

I'm even thankful for my fellow road users - the drivers of the massive road trains I'm following who indicate when it's clear ahead and safe for me to pass; the drivers coming towards me who flash their lights to warn of speed traps. There's a sense of camaraderie just by sharing the same road.

I'm thankful for the hospitality offered to a traveler, at road houses, gas stations and truck stops. Where strangers ask where you're going, where you're from and what brings you this way, then give advice and good wishes for the roads ahead.
Heading out . . . 


I ask my god/s for gifts also - mostly for a continuation of those gifts I'm already thankful for.

Please watch over my friends and family, continue to bless me with health and good fortune, please protect me from rain while on the road, distracted drivers, and those damned killeroos.

Then it's back to giving thanks ...