Where Am I and What Day Is It?: Recovering and Readjusting in Auckland

Auckland City Bus Asks For ForgivenessAuckland, New Zealand

Traveling to New Zealand is like solving a word problem: If a plane leaves Buenos Aires on Wednesday at 2:30am and arrives in Auckland on Thursday at 7:10am, where did that day go, will I ever get it back, and more importantly, just how long will it take for me to get over the jet lag and culture shock?

Clearly, I’m not in Buenos Aires anymore.  The air here is so clean and clear and the clouds are so white and fluffy that I keep thinking that I’m feeling off due to altitude sickness.  And then I catch a view of the Tasman Sea and remember that Auckland has an elevation of about 12 feet.  Not to mention that I could walk around all day without shoes (as some Aucklanders are wont to do) and my feet still wouldn’t get dirty.

Yet it is all somehow strangely familiar.  Perhaps because Auckland, with its laid-back, environmentally friendly, pseudo-intellectual vibe and penchant for vintage shops, cheap ethnic restaurants, and houses with gardens, is eerily like my hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan.  It doesn’t help matters that I am currently crashing with a good friend from high school, who also recently moved to New Zealand.  My first night, it felt like we were having a sleepover at one of our parents’ houses – the only things missing were a Ouija board, a boy to prank call, and raw cookie dough.  But we’re not in Michigan anymore. We’re halfway around the world in New Zealand.

Readjusting to New Zealand means more than getting used to the fact that while people here are getting ready to go back to work, my friends and family are just finishing their Saturday night.  Aucklanders seem to be big fans of the adage “early to bed, early to rise,” with lights out by 11pm (the time that most Argentines are eating dinner) and alarms set for 6am (when most Argentines are leaving the nightclub).  My body, desperately craving a bit of structure and routine, eagerly latched on to this new schedule.  The other night, around 10pm, I fell asleep mid-sentence, like I had just been shot with a horse tranquilizer.  An hour later, my friend woke me up to send me to bed.  “Is it tomorrow yet?” I inquired earnestly.
“No, it’s 11pm.”
“Oh, I thought it was tomorrow.”  And the time change is the least of my troubles.

The first day here, I kept trying to speak Spanish to people.  This is partly because the language is so ingrained in my subconscious that in certain situations, it comes out without warning.  But it is also because despite the fact that everyone here speaks English, they still have an accent and we don’t always understand one another, causing “second language mode” to switch on automatically.

The other day, my friend and I returned home to find her roommate sitting on the couch watching sports.  Back in her room, she remarked, “In case you hadn’t noticed already, you’re going to hear cricket everywhere.”
“Yea,” I replied, “but I don’t even notice them.  It’s like white noise to me, they just blend into the background.”
“Cricket the sport, not the insect.  Besides, those are cicadas.”
When my friend’s roommate took me to the supermarket and I asked her if the store carried granola bars, she thought for a moment before replying,  “Hmm, granola bars, yea, that sounds familiar.” The next thing I knew, I was speaking to her like English was her second language, avoiding contractions and idioms so that nothing was lost in translation, and saying things like, “I cannot understand you, please.”

Even pronouncing street names is a challenge, probably because many of them are Maori.  Thankfully, even the locals have abbreviated Karangahape Road to K Road. And then there’s the fact that the streets curve and switch names without prior notice.  One moment you’re happily walking down busy Richmond Rd. and suddenly you realize that out of inertia you went straight when you should have veered, and now you’re standing in someone’s driveway in a residential neighborhood.  You retrace your steps back to civilization only to find that the street formerly known as Ponsonby Rd. is now referred to as St. Mary’s Rd.

For the purposes of “research,” and to ask for directions, I’ve been stopping in every store, library, market, and bakery I pass, and I’m still amazed (and pleased) by how healthy this city truly is.  Although, personally, I draw the line at butter, egg, and gluten free sugar cookies made with chickpea flour, applesauce, and soy milk.  It’s like being on the campus of a small, private, liberal arts college in Oregon, where everyone walks around barefoot and calls their professors by their first name.  I keep waiting for someone to pull a Hacky Sack out of his pocket or challenge everyone to a rousing game of Frisbee golf.

Auckland may have the perfect balance between urban jungle and the great outdoors, a paradise for nature lovers trapped in the body of a city dweller. Beautiful beaches where you can sail, surf, or sunbathe are just 30 minutes away, dormant volcanoes offer fantastic views, and parks hosting free events are scattered throughout the city. Plus everyone here is so friendly and polite, even the buses apologize profusely for being out of service. You get the sense that Auckland is a place where people live well, and slowly but surely the city is growing on me.  A girl could get comfortable here, too comfortable perhaps.  So, will Auckland become my new hometown?  It’s still too soon to tell.


1 Response to “Where Am I and What Day Is It?: Recovering and Readjusting in Auckland”

  1. 1 Farolera March 2, 2009 at 1:57 pm

    You are exactly where you’re supposed to, and right on time. Good girl 😉

    So glad the city’s welcome was so warm & pleasant!!! =) do keep us updated. besos!!

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