Teaching English in Thailand, Traveling, Bone-Dry Humor, Other Stuff Too

New Zealand

I’ve been in New Zealand since early April, seeing some of the best scenery of my life and meeting interesting people. Here’s what I’ve written about my time here so far.

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On the trail up Mount Fyffe, Kaikoura

Eight months ago, in the early stages of my travels, I checked into a hostel in Krabi, Thailand. As I lugged my stuff into the dorm, there were three girls vacating the room. I started talking to them, and it turned out they were all from California. Even more surprisingly, two were Cal Poly students studying abroad, and I happened to bump into them. If I would’ve gotten there five minutes later, they would’ve already left. It blew my mind to meet somebody with such a strong connection to San Luis Obispo on only my second day in Thailand. They were two out of the ten or so Californians I’ve met since October.

A long time later, after I’d left S.E. Asia behind, I checked into a hostel in Nelson on my first night in New Zealand, and the exact same thing happened.  Once again, I was new in the country, not sure what to expect, and completely on my own. All the friends I made in S.E. Asia, all the kind people that helped me, and everybody I met or talked to at all were suddenly gone and I knew I would likely never see any of them again. I had been flying and sitting in airports for 22 hours without much sleep, and before that odyssey began I had spent the day sweating and walking around in Denpasar with all my luggage on my back.

I was in the kitchen eating for the first time in well over 24 hours, looking like a wild, hairy, depleted, Neanderthal, grunge-band, castaway shit-kicker. People started talking to me, curious to know what trajectory could lead a person to this. For the hundredth time, I told my little story and started asking similar questions to the travelers around me. Before long, a girl who’d overheard us from another room poked out her head and asked, “There’s a Californian?” Turns out she and her friend were Cal Poly students, just like the two Poly girls I met my second day in Thailand. This time one of them had even gone to my high school, and we were there at the same time for two years but hadn’t actually met before. Coincidences like this seem common in NZ. Two of my friends and coworkers in Kaikoura were from the same city in Argentina and hadn’t met before either.

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Mount Fyffe Summit

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Now that the teaching days are over, I’ve been ambling through NZ and contributing far less to society. I’m a rugged individual, the pepper of the Earth, a sojourner traversing the “beatin’ off” path [my own terminology], cleaning stuff, chopping wood, slicing meat, making beds, standing and sitting in lots of different places, and looking at things. Everything seems clean and well-maintained, and it’s really cold compared to the heat and humidity of S.E. Asia. I’ve left all the clutter, crowded streets, and food carts behind, and now English is once again the predominant language. It’s actually overwhelming sometimes, all the conversations I can suddenly overhear, all the questions people ask me, the way so many people need to speak constantly, and the stupid things I hear myself saying. My inability to communicate on a deep level in Thai, Malay, and Indonesian was isolating before, yet I adjusted to it; I learned to like it. Now the opposite circumstance has become isolating too, but in a different way.

After one night in Nelson, I went to the small beach town of Kaikoura to work in a hostel in exchange for accommodation. I was told it was difficult to find other work in Kaikoura because the summer was over, and the town becomes dead in autumn and winter. I arrived without any expectations, committing to a minimum two-week stay at the hostel and nothing more. I guessed I would probably go somewhere else after the two weeks, and use whatever free time I had to make plans for afterwards. Instead, I found myself out on trails, running, surfing, getting into shenanigans with my coworkers, and playing guitar with a band on open mic nights in a little pub.

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Kaikoura Peninsula. I lived and worked somewhere on the strip along the coast, a ways to the left from the peninsula

Kaikoura is funky. It feels almost like some undiscovered beach town in Northern California—with a highway passing through and a string of little businesses on the one main street in town—until you look north and see snow on the mountain peaks and the distinct, incredible New Zealand mountain ranges jutting out from nowhere and extending all the way to the ocean, coastal forests and all. There’s about 3,000 people there, a few local pubs, and little benches set up at all the numerous view points and parks.

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Hiking above Queesntown

One day I decided I’d apply for a second job since I was already there and had nothing to lose. I saw a help wanted sign in a Thai restaurant and thought how ironic it would be to work there after living in Thailand for six months. The hostess told me to come back in half an hour when the manager came in, so I crossed the street and walked on the beach to kill the time. When I got back, I had a brief interview and went into the kitchen to meet the chef. To my surprise he was actually Thai, and spoke very little English. I couldn’t help but smile and start speaking some Thai. They told me to come back the next day for a trial shift, and it was as easy as that.

I got such a kick out of the arrangement though; to think I would wind up in a Thai restaurant—not just working there, but helping to translate English to Thai and vice versa for the manager and the chef, and also learning how to cook a few basic Thai dishes when the chef was swamped with other orders—in this tiny town I found haphazardly, in a country I almost decided not to come to after all, is still a huge coincidence. A month later I got laid off because the tourist season ended, and by mid May there were less than half as many people around. Easy come, easy go.

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Queenstown after figuring out my camera settings

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Lake Wanaka after a night of snow

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Brenmer Point, Wanaka

The other workers I lived with at the hostel were mostly German at first, but I stayed long enough to see big changes in the staff. There were Danish, Belgian, French, German, and Argentinian workers. An actual Kiwi even showed up and joined the staff one day. I spent a lot of time swearing in other languages and trying to stump people who guessed where I was from. The camaraderie with the working staff there was more meaningful to me after so many months as an anonymous stranger in S.E. Asia, with handfuls of friends (albeit close, given our circumstances and limited availability) and coworkers here and there. The dank stuffy dorm room we lived in felt more like a home than my prison-like apartment in Thailand ever did.

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Hiked so far up into the Ben Lomond Forest in Queenstown, it was just me and the mountain goats

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Now I’ve got the backpack back on again, and I’m seeing the south of the south island, looking for somewhere else to stay and work a while. All my pants have holes in them.

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Getting artsy in the mountains

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