Many apologies for a month’s delay in my blogging. I have spent the last several weeks in Taupo working my ass off and saving up money, which hasn’t left much time for adventuresome activities. Also, no pictures this time. My life isn’t all that photogenic at the moment.
Still, it has been interesting. Christmas didn’t feel like Christmas. The folks at my hostel had an all-day barbecue with a Secret Santa. As is usual with Secret Santa and Yankee Swap-type scenarios, I stupidly opted to unwrap one of the unopened gifts rather than rob someone of a nicer one. My big Christmas gift for 2006: a Winnie The Pooh soapdish and toothbrush holder. Truth be told, I really didn’t want much of anything. My backpack is enormous and is stuffed to the gills already.
Most of the local hospitality workers are foreign travelers, and there is a little network to put us all to good use. All of Taupo’s businesses and lodging seem to be run by a very small group of people, all of who know one another. When I mentioned that I was looking for a job, people immediately told me to stop by one place and talk to this guy ‘cause he knows that guy and that guy can help you find a flat and so on and so forth. I feel like my Irish ancestors arriving in America and immediately being sucked into a Boss Tweed/Tammany Hall-type organization the moment they hopped of the boat. So far, no one has asked me to vote for them or beat up a rival hospitality workers gang, but you never know.
Once I started my bartending job, I decided to move into more economical housing. At the advice of some of my co-workers, I checked out a house about a mile out of town. It is owned by a guy who, of course, also runs a couple of other local hostels. The price was right (NZ$100 per week), so I moved in a couple of days later. The place has seven rooms with two people in each room. Along with a few Kiwis, my housemates hail from Ireland, England, Scotland, Holland, and other parts of the US. Most of them are nice, but sadly they are also slobs. I lucked out with my roommate, a Scotsman named Wayne. He’s a cool guy, and we seem to be the house’s cleanest residents. Thus far we are the only people who regularly wash our dishes or take out the garbage. Basically, it’s a bit like my sophomore year at college, only with funny (or funnier) accents.
Since I have had time to catch my breath in Taupo, I have been able to see more clearly the subtle differences between New Zealand and the land of my birth. Outpost of the Empire that NZ was and is, there is a British slant on many themes. Besides the whole driving on the left thing (something I find more terrifying than bungy jumping), the letter “Z” is pronounced “Zed,” the NZ$20 note is blessed with the glorious visage of Her Majesty The Queen (or is it Helen Mirren?), they actually care about the game of Cricket, Robbie Williams is very popular, and they generally turn a blind eye to Michael Jackson’s freakishness. When it comes to food, French fries are called chips and a meal is never complete without some form of sausage. There is a condiment called “tomato sauce” that looks like ketchup, smells like ketchup, and is packaged just like ketchup. It ain’t ketchup. It resembles very thick, cold tomato soup, and it sucks. When it comes to casual attire, it is socially acceptable for dudes to walk around in bare feet and short shorts (like the ones my Mom used to buy me in 1991, about 5 years after their coolness had expired) while sporting a mullet or even a bleached rat-tail. Seriously, they still have rat-tails here! And they bleach them! Shirts are optional in most situations. Occasionally, I’ll spot someone wearing a t-shirt or cap supporting an American sports team. Tragically, they are usually Yankees merchandise, but I have seen a number of Celtics t-shirts, so they haven’t all sold their souls to Satan.
I haven’t mentioned smoking. I am not a smoker and I don’t like the smell of cigarette or cigar smoke (I do kind of dig the smell of pipe tobacco), but I am not one of those self-righteous assholes who consider smoking to be a crime against humanity. I hate those PSAs they play on TV at home that portray tobacco companies as genocidal regimes. Everyone knows that smoking is bad for you. The same can be said for eating bacon. I say choose your vice and don’t trouble others with it. That being said, those obnoxious PSAs and other anti-smoking campaigns are clearly having an effect on younger Americans. Of the travelers I have met, I’d estimate that at least 60% are smokers. Granted, I haven’t met many Americans here, but I am constantly running outside to hang out with my new foreign friends and watch them light up with greater frequency than I ever did with my buddies at home. If I only hung out with non-smokers, I would be very lonely and bored. One funny thing is that most of the cigarettes in New Zealand must be hand-rolled. At first, I thought everyone was rolling joints, but no. Pre-rolled cigarettes are way more expensive around here, so everyday I watch new (mostly) European arrivals struggle with rolling papers and filters. With all the heckling I get for being American, at least I can say that we are making better progress in the battle against nicotine than our neighbors. Take that, Terrorists!
Anyway, I will probably stick around Taupo for about three more weeks. There are lots of things to do around here (sailing, skydiving, jet-boating) but they are all pricy. I haven’t gotten much sunshine lately, so I gotta make up for it down the line. When something more interesting happens, I’ll let you all know.