First Impression of New Zealand

I am happy to say that our most difficult first month has passed. Michael and I went through some serious problems associated with moving, with kids. It is never easy to move to a new country, even though New Zealand seems like such a breeze compared with my move to the US. After a month, we definitely quickly learned a few things. I would not say the pros and cons since everything is relative, but there are some differences.

Environment

I would say the environment is the best of any place I have been to, until the Liberian MV RENA hit the reef and had oil spill, Bay of Plenty is pretty populated and the locals were really upset that the government started to clean up at day 5. Kiwis are very very conscious about the environment, especially the wildlife, locals actually went out and started cleaning the oil themselves on the beach even though it is really not a good idea. This is not a rig, but it is near one of the most beautiful destinations for penguins, whales, and dolphins. It is really strange why the ship would be aground in the calm water, in the middle of the night. It seems though John Key is right on top of it and the government is working on troubleshooting rather than having the company working on the mess they created, like in the Gulf. Michael talked to one of the scientists at work about the pollution caused by the oil leak in the Gulf, the opinion is the areas near the Gulf is probably not good places to live, hopefully RENA doesn’t break and release more oil to the ocean or the petrol can be transferred out in time. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-15230941

There’s protest going on this week to save the Manawatu River in Palmerston North downtown, the big problem people are concerned about is the nitrogen running off the farmland, although considered one of the most polluted waters, it looked so clean to us.

Food and Drinks

New Zealand is not quite 100% pure. In general, Kiwis are very much keen on keeping New Zealand GE (GMO) free, however, there’s no GE labeling law here. I was told all the produce made in New Zealand is GE free however the imports are not, the majority of the food we see here are produced in New Zealand and most of them are conventional with heavy usage of chemicals but many imports from Australia. With fruits, many US imports as well. So we stick to our general rule, no GE, no dairy, no preservatives, no dyes, no conventional dirty dozens, therefore leaving us shopping at the organic shops for majority of what we eat. I am really happy about the options however, but I would really love to grow more greens on my own since they don’t have most of the organic Asian greens we love here, even though you see the conventional versions in the supermarkets.

We have not found High Fructose Corn Syrup anywhere here, even the ketchup at McDonald’s (unfortunately we did visit there once because of the playground they have for the kids and we had chicken nuggets, fries and apple pie).

If you are a coffee lover, New Zealand is the place to live. It’s better than Europe you get more than the tiny little cups, and loads better than the US since you have 10 times of choices here. Almost every place offers a coffee menu with at least the following must-haves:  long black, short black, Mochaccino,cappuccino, Macchiato, Latte but special requests will cost you such as decaf or soy. Almost everywhere you go, there’s a label for fair trade, although Michael and I think it’s such a joke because fair trade organization actually doesn’t track how the money goes, meaning that premiums made from the fair trade doesn’t necessarily goes to the producers, it’s basically a marketing tactic. For example, a farmer works on a fair trade farm in Peru gets paid 2 pesos per hour more than one works on the non-fair trade farm, but his salary is still below the minimum legal wage. We cut off coffee long time ago but found ourselves going back to our old habits here, so we will buy a cafe machine at home, make our organic soy milk at home and only make decaf.

Food is very very good here, the Chinese, Indian food are more authentic, pizzas are so much better than the US, and we have not explored all the restaurants here. I guess the European influence is still here.

Since there’s plenty of grass year round in New Zealand, beef and lamb are safe to eat, they are ALL grass-fed. Chicken and pork are not necessarily the case so have to read the labels, farm grown, free range or organic. We found a lot of seafood are imported from Asia mostly from Thailand, so they are cheaper and also radioactive, Michael and I found a place in town called Ocean Fisheries so we can go shop there and only buy seafood caught in New Zealand waters (minus Bay of Plenty).

Internet

I can’t say there’s anything good about internet here, it’s a monopoly by Telecom. Telecom used to be owned by the government but sold out to private owners, so with plenty of service providers, they all go through the same deal in the end. New Zealand is also one of the few places on earth that puts a data cap on the usage, as if the internet is a product like water or oil. They charge ridiculous amount of money for it and people here just don’t know better, “unlimited” internet access is not in the Kiwi dictionary so you have to pay about $100 NZD to not to worry about if you are going over the limit. We are going with Snap!, the only company we found providing unlimited usage of Google and YouTube, it’s about $100 a month for 55GB, much better than what we are paying now, a hefty $30 for 1GB, yea no kidding! But hey that’s politicians for you, and a typical privatization in a capitalist society.

Money Matters

Thanks to the bankers and corporations that rob everyone on Main St, US dollars fell from 1:2.5 in 2002 to 1:1.2 NZD now, making everything so much more expensive than the US. We really have to get used to the prices here, a croissant costs $6 (about USD 5), a soup is $10, a coffee usually runs between $3.5 to $5, and gas is $2.09 per liter, which translates to USD 6.2 a gallon, going out to eat usually we spent $30 to $50 for two. Thankfully Michael only needs to drive 5 minutes to work and I burn my body fat using the pram. The cheaper things are beef, lamb and kiwi fruit.

For rent, Palmerston North is pretty good, rent is cheaper than Shanghai and of course you get a whole lot more than Shanghai as well. There’s no HOA or property taxes here. Houses look a lot more interesting than anywhere I’ve been.

A lot of Kiwis move to Australia for a more decent salary, but most people we know working here like their jobs very much. It really depends on what you want in life, I guess. New Zealand offers a very balanced life style, it’s the law that everyone must have at least 4 weeks of vacation each year, up to 20 sick days, minimum two 10-minute breaks a day and all the government agencies and some companies are moving towards 37.5 working hours a week, plus you have 11 public holidays, absolutely no overtime, so a lot of people go on vacation for 6 weeks! We are actually happy that there’s no rat race here, I am perfectly fine with the folks left behind not putting money as a priority and I am getting used to seeing Michael leaving at 8:15am and back home at 4pm! Anyone can join the union by law making the voice of the working class louder than anywhere I’ve lived.

Cars are expensive, most Kiwis drive second hand Japanese and Korean cars but for a few thousand dollars you get very decent cars. Insurance is cheap, about 15% of what we paid in the US because you can sue someone for personal injuries. Lawyers won’t make it as good here as in the US for sure.

Most people shop on trademe, and no one cares what you drive, what you wear. Even at the most expensive neighborhoods, you still see the Japanese and Korean cars. Michael and I actually started counting how many people we saw in public who didn’t wear shoes and I think we are at 7 now, gas station, burger king, mall, bank, it’s hilarious.

Banks charge a lot of fees, but you can avoid those by using internet banking. Unfortunately NZCU isn’t like my favorite credit union in the US, they don’t have a clue what their SWIFT Code is so I can’t wire money from the US to them, that was a struggle. CDs, or Term Deposits are about 4.5% for 6 months, and goes up to 6% for 5 years, and that’s considered one of the lowest interest environment here in New Zealand, it’s a great place to put money in the banks, since the mortgage rate is lower than the interest rate it makes sense to borrow also. We just can’t justify buying rather than renting in a place like this. However, other than Kiwibank, most of the New Zealand banks are owned by Australian banks.

Lifestyle

I love the fact that it is so much safer here! There’s no guns, you can have rifles for hunting and there’re gun clubs. If you use a sword for self-defense, it’s considered pre-meditated murder, since it’s a weapon so better pick up a golf club if you need to defend yourself. Last year New Zealand nation-wide had 60 murders.

People are very laid back and spend a lot of time tramping (hiking) and doing outdoor stuff, can’t blame them it’s a beautiful country. They are also very friendly. A lot of immigrants here, mostly from Asia, Europe and South Africa. South Africans move here because of the safety issue mostly and the rest move mostly because of the lifestyle. Politics and religions are not in your face, and we love that. On the news you see more about wildlife including dinosaur (seriously), All Blacks than anything else.  I can actually watch RT, that’s amazing that we can actually watch world news like in China.

The downside of this type of lifestyle is that we have to get used to getting everything done during working hours, the trading hours are usually only on weekdays till no later than 5:30pm, this includes Organic Living, banks, Cafe and real estate agents. The only places that open at night are restaurants, some bars and we are finding our way around the weekend places like Bunnings to take the boys to play and enjoy a pie and Chai latte.

Education

Teens seem a lot more disciplined, no drugs or graffiti. A lot of options for children. New Zealand invented playcentre, now spreading to Japan. Playcentres are for kids from birth to age of 6, and requires parents’ participation, actually it’s run by the parents with a pre-school curriculum with the spirit of guiding the children learn through playing. Its very much in line with our homeschooling so its a great place to take Lin and Li where they can play with kids at different age group. The library is really nice as well, where we found nice change rooms, play areas, free internet with their own wi-fi (that’s huge) and classrooms, of course endless choices of books, CDs and DVDs. They also have workshop for kids at different ages which we plan on going once the school holiday is over in two weeks.

On top of the tax credit, there’s also family assistance for most family with kids, paid fortnightly, also New Zealand government pays for up to 20 hours per week of early childhood development, including kindergarten, day care, in-home care (home educators and nannies), also playcentres for kids from age 3 to 5. So it is a great place to raise children.

Social Benefits

Unlike the US, where you can almost kiss good-bye to your tax dollars (sorry folks, no offense but that’s the reality), New Zealand doesn’t necessarily have the state-of-the-art technologies but it does provide basic health care to everyone. You have to wait to see a doctor if it is not an emergency but it’s not going to cost you anything either. For kids, up to age of 6, everything including prescription is free.

There’s government housing where family in need can apply for, making headcount of homeless in Auckland under 50.

So everything is pretty much what we expected and we are pretty happy here. The hardest thing for us was to find the right car, learn to drive on the opposite side and learn about the traffic rules, then find the right house, which we secured yesterday and ready to move into on Oct 22nd. New Zealand isn’t perfect but it’s a whole lot better than places we lived before, we do understand things change but as of now, we are pretty happy in the little corner of the world that doesn’t attract any attention, no worries, less hassles, that’s the way of life we wanted and we like it.

Disclaimer: of course we are biased, and of course everyone has an opinion, but I did try to write down our observations, and try to be neutral and fair about things. After all, we’ve lived in so many places and traveled so much so we do compare, hopefully it’s worth something to whoever is reading it. 

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1 Comment

Filed under 2nd year

One response to “First Impression of New Zealand

  1. Michele

    Cynthia, I enjoyed reading it. In fact, I love your updates !! And, I am doing some reading about a possible move to Asia … http://www.internationalcravings.com Not sure if the time is right, but is it ever. I’m keen that the boys get some exposure to an asian language. Will keep you posted!!

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