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Learning From Others

Posted by Iain on June 1, 2018, 4:48 p.m. in Living

One of the reasons I love my day job is because I get to work with people who see the world differently to me. It strengthens me. As nations, we all like to believe that ‘our way’ is the best way but experiencing different cultures, traditions, languages and values can challenge that. It’s why I am staunchly pro-immigration. Not untrammelled or unplanned, but orderly.

Spending time as a minority, even on holiday, getting off the tourist buses, souvenir trails and out of the comfort of those sterile multi-national hotels which, let’s face it, seldom reflect local culture, can be incredibly rewarding. I get to deal with such ‘minorities’ every day at work; it’s nice to be one at times to better appreciate what it feels like.

Travel can challenge us - be it language, food or simply ways of thinking - it is healthy for us all because it gives us a chance to (re)assess ‘our’ way of looking at the world. Most societies think their way of doing things is the best. I guess that’s why my ancestors and their European competitors decided to carve the world up between them and bring ‘European standards’ to the New World. Along with Christianity of course to save all those savages and souls from wasting their lives and risking a descent into hell. One of the major errors of the day was that we spent a lot of time colonising and telling people what was good for them and what wasn’t, without really listening to what they might have been able to teach us. I might add that Captain James Cook was something of an exception.

One of the highlights of our ten days in Hanoi was a morning in cooking classes. Part of that was a visit to the local market and, yet again, I was forced to reassess our ‘west is best’ approach – this time to the simple act of buying food.

Those of you that come from western or ‘developed’ countries and who have been to wet markets in Asia or Africa will appreciate it when I say they stink, are an affront to the senses, look like a breeding ground for all sorts of dangerous bacteria and would turn the local City Council Food Hygiene Inspectors green if they didn’t die of fright first. No Food Hygiene certificates hanging on the walls here to reassure the purchaser that strict food safety and hygiene regulations have been met! (There are usually no walls...)

In 33 degree heat, open tables of meat are laid out, live fish swim in aerated paddling pools, cages full of protesting chickens line the alleys, (vegans may want to skip to next paragraph) every part of a pig is laid out right down to its snout, tongue, ears, trotters, insides – nothing is wasted here. Seafood is layered in plastic baskets, snails and crabs do their best to escape the confines of their containers, fresh fruit and vegetables are piled high. There is not a freezer in sight let alone a fridge. The gutters sparkle with fish scales and blood splatters. It’s raw in more ways than one.

To my surprise, I thought they operated like this simply because there were no freezers, but was told the local view if often that if it is refrigerated or frozen it is viewed with suspicion because it is considered old. 

Old! Who’d have thought? 

At dawn and in the late afternoon the stall holders bring their (until recently still oinking, mooing and bleating) livestock from their farms and still swimming fish from the local rivers. The animals that now bedeck the tables were crowing a few hours earlier as the sun came up and the pigs were running around in their pens, contemplating another dawn. The fruit in the market was picked earlier in the day for the most part and the vegetables were harvested a few hours before they went on sale.

No one will buy a dead fish because a dead fish is an old fish. River fish are preferred to sea fish because the sea fish travel around 3 hours to get to the market once they come off the boats at the coast. The river fish came from a local lake or river and spend 15 minutes on a bicycle to get to you. Alive. Seafood is less popular in part because it is more expensive having travelled from the coast and it’s considered more ‘dangerous’ because it’s ‘old’ even though it travels in ice. So, you pick your fish from the paddling pool and as it gasps for some oxygenated water, it is dispatched and prepared while you watch. They’ll do the same with the chickens and ducks. To our eyes a fluffy, quacking, white duck is a long way from the lip smackingly good Peking duck of my local Mount Eden Chinese eatery but of course they all started off feathered and cute, waddling to the local pond.

Where we see unhygienic and cruel, the locals see fresh and hearty. 

I started to ponder our own means of growing, dispatching and distributing food and you conclude that many Vietnamese may well consider what we do in our countries to be extremely odd and unhygienic – supermarkets full of ‘old’ food; no vegetables in my local supermarket had their roots in the ground a few hours earlier or fresh fruit the sun upon them for several days. The butchery section is full of meat from animals that were slaughtered in giant abattoirs, no doubt stressed and terrified following a lengthy road trip crammed into stock trucks. 

Yet, we have something to teach these people about food preparation and hygiene. 

So called ‘Farmers Markets’ are of course making a big comeback or are being set up in the cities and towns of the New World.

In downtown Auckland, a 433 hectare space now home to 45,000 permanent residents with several supermarkets to cater for the rapidly growing permanent population, one thing we are missing is a fresh produce market. Many of us, even in Auckland, detest supermarkets, the thought of the ‘weekly shop’ makes people like me gag and we prefer to shop for the evening meal on our way home at one of our smaller deli type mini markets springing up across Auckland. The daily shop of our grandparent’s generation is making a very big comeback.

My wife and I are looking to sell our Mount Eden suburban home and develop a 150sqm space in the city we own to move into. We won’t have room - let alone any desire for - a space taking deep freezer which we will pile high with food. We want fresh.

Although city planners are looking for and encouraging thousands more people to call the Central Business District (CBD) home, local fresh produce markets, so long a feature of European and British cities, have never really taken off in either Australia or New Zealand. I was reading earlier today how, in Barcelona, no one lives more than ten minutes’ walk from one. I wonder if our city planners are setting aside any spaces for such markets? They are more than simply a place to buy food, they serve as social spaces and meeting places and might assist our own Auckland CBD evolve away from booze and clubs to places families want to raise children. If we are serious about this, as I am certain that we are, we are going to increasingly demand such amenities. 

We don’t have to be slaughtering goats in the gutters and of course we’d expect different standards to the old quarter of Hanoi, but one thing that the stroll around the market with the chef taught me was to see what was in front of my eyes in a new way. 

In a way, it was kind of obvious – I haven’t met anyone, let alone a poor person, who, if they cannot work because they get food poisoning and who does not have a first world health care system or welfare to fall back on, would ever display, prepare or sell vegetables, fruit or meat in a way that turns their customers off returning because they got sick.

Until I had the benefit of being with a local chef who could explain the local ways for a morning, I really had no clue. I will never look at a wet market in the same way and hope if we set aside space for something similar in downtown Auckland we might not get ourselves all tied up in food hygiene rules and regulations...many of our recent migrants from Asia will thank us for it. 

And we might thank them for teaching us our way isn’t always the only way.

Until next week...

Iain MacLeod, Southern Man


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A Tale of Two Transport Systems

Posted by Iain on May 18, 2018, 5:34 p.m. in Living

For the past week I've been in Hong Kong talking to those worried about their children's future and the creeping influence of China on the principles they hold dear, like the value of their one vote and being allowed to speak their minds.

Political changes aside, of all the Asian cities I visit, it is my favourite. The food, the scale, the shops Although I struggle with the teeming hordes. I struggle even more when a lot of the teeming hordes dawdle along, tapping messages into their cellphones, but that's another story.

What makes this densely crowded city more incredible to me is the way their planners have built a public transport system that so effectively moves people around. It never fails to amaze and impress me that in a city of over 7 million people, where most live in an area about one third the size of Auckland, it is such an easy place to get where you're going thanks to its well developed public transport system; particularly its MTR (Mass Transport Railway).

A few days ago and having a rare day off, I needed to escape the masses and try and find a quiet place to do some walking. Preferably with some trees and with what passes for fresh air in this part of our planet. So, on the MTR my wife and I jumped. Under the harbour from Kowloon, we made one seamless and quick change of trains on Hong Kong Island, another change a few stops later, took a third back under the harbour again and then after 11 stops and around 30 minutes of travel time, up we popped in the east of Kowloon, for the grand price of NZ$6. On to a waiting mini bus and some 20 minutes later we arrived in the coastal town of Sai Kung. On to an old Sampan and 45 minutes later we were dropped onto Sharp Island. By Hong Kong standards, deserted, and no more people there than you'd find on a busy summer day on a beach near Auckland. 

While the travel to get there might sound like a bit of a hassle, it was actually very relaxing. I didn't need to drive. I didn't need Google maps. In a case of wanting a day chilling, the journey was all part if the experience. We were on the island within 90 minutes of leaving the hotel. Seamless. Easy. Cheap. 

A long hilly walk for two hours in the baking sun it was to be sure shades of 'mad dogs and Englishmen' but the sweat did us good. The sea at the end of the walk was inviting and warm, the sun hot and the booms anchored offshore saved us from swimming among too much discarded plastic and other human made detritus. 

I was desperate for the sights and smells of forest, and the MTR and mini bus delivered. 

Even in peak times, it works. Might be standing room only in the trains but they are air conditioned and for the most part, Hong Kongers are polite and respect one another's tiny personal spaces.

Fast forward a few days to Hanoi, Vietnam.

Chalk and cheese. Crossing the road on the hoof in the Old Quarter is a near death experience.

I've been in peak hour traffic in London, been abused by rude discourteous cab drivers in New York, survived the madness of KL taxi drivers in their decrepit cabs, sat choking on exhaust fumes in taxis in Jakarta but nothing, and I emphasise, nothing, prepared me for Hanoi.

I don't think I have the words to describe the chaos of 9 million people and no public transport. If you've ever seen one of those programmes of a close up of blood coursing through a human's veins, with thousands of corpuscles bouncing along barely avoiding one another, replace the veins with often narrow streets, corpuscles with motorbikes, add on average 2 people to each (most without helmets), many with babies and infants, wives riding side saddle, some eating ice-cream whilst texting (saw it!), you might start to get the picture. Unlike the veins and arteries in your body, these motorbikes aren't all travelling in the same direction. I can but wonder how the streets aren't flowing in blood.

Not certain why the good folk of Hanoi aren't all tone deaf. Although there is little point in using their high pitched beeping motorbike horns or throaty parps of the BMWs and Land Cruisers, they all do anyway. Nobody seems to have worked it out yet that it makes no difference...

The driver that delivered us to our hotel suggested that there are road rules and laws here but the laws are "flexible"...I think he meant "optional". The result is chaos on a scale I've never witnessed. And so we sat on a restaurant balcony last night two floors up, enjoying a sultry evening, overlooking a square dominated on one side by an increasingly grimy Christian cathedral - a relic of French imperialism - drinking cool beers, eating the most amazing food and watching this amusing spectacle, wide eyed and for the most part, speechless, going on below us. We sat transfixed. How we didn't get to witness any deaths is beyond me.

Thousands of people are arriving in this city every week (good old communism, you don't work, you don't eat) seeking work and massive apartment blocks are rising from former paddy fields everywhere to cope. Real estate is booming. 

What seems to be missing is the concurrent development of something like Hong Kong's MTR. Without it, these mega cities of Vietnam (of which they will have two within a decade) will end up like Jakarta; choking on their own vehicle emissions, pushing up greenhouse gas emissions and pushing down quality of life and economic prosperity.

I hope among all this chaos is some plan to quickly roll out compressive and cheap public transport.


Our Cultures Combined

Posted by Iain on March 17, 2017, 10:31 a.m. in Living

I for one am glad that Donald Trump’s second attempt at his travel (Muslim) ban has been blocked by Federal Judges in Hawaii and on the US Mainland.

If he really did want this to protect national security there’d a whole lot more countries on the list than the ones he (and before him, the Obama Administration) identified – like the ones that raised or harboured the 9/11 NYC attackers.

It did get me thinking though about the issue of migrant ‘compatibility’ when we talk - not of people studying, holidaying or visiting friends and family in countries like the United States or New Zealand - but settling permanently. 

Yesterday I listened to an interview on the radio with two women who run a not for profit ‘refuge’ for migrant women and children from ‘Asian, Middle Eastern and African’ cultures. They help women and children who might be victims of physical abuse. They were seeking minimal fundIng from Government as many other refuges get but had been turned down. Government suggested they were duplicating services already in place. They argue that their customers had special cultural needs not being met by 'mainstream' refuges.

I don't think it any great surprise to those of us who work with migrants beyond simply securing visas as most advisers do that it stands to reason there may be greater settlement and dislocation issues with migrant women and children from areas less like NZ than for immigrants from other areas. 

This is an issue I am not sure policy makers consider when they think about the ideal migrant - no points system can account for cultural difference – to raise the issue risks being accused of being racist or xenophobic. 

Perhaps, however, we should suck up the accusations and think it through from a permanent residence perspective. Should our points and other assessment criteria take account of culture - the less like ours it is the fewer points might be awarded. I can imagine the bunfight if you even suggested it but it has some merit for all those involved.

I reminded myself I am the guy that in the context of identifying my own clients ability to settle well and relatively quickly including finding work that I stress at seminars the importance of culture and language to the process before and after you get to a country like New Zealand (and Australia).

English abliIty and cultural compatibility are important.

Securing employment is more about those two things than anything else, ‘trumping’, if you’ll excuse the expression, skills shortage or skills demand.

The five factors I have identified that determine the speed with which my clients find work are in descending order of importance ‘being in New Zealand to show employers they are serious; English language ability; being ’culturally compatible’; having a ‘resilient personality’ followed by ‘demand and skills shortages’.

I expect the reference to English language ability is obvious – this is still predominantly an English-speaking country and while there are thousands of employers (particularly in Auckland) who speak other languages, most employers only speak English.

Given most migrants require highly skilled jobs to secure residence then many are applying for more middle or senior level ‘white collar’ jobs where cultural compatibility (perceived or real) becomes even more important. Employers and recruiters ask themselves ‘If I put that candidate into that management role is that going to work from a cultural perspective? Will he/she get along with and understand local workplace practices and cultural norms?’.

Such a view might be outdated in a globally connected world and in a big, cosmopolitan city like Auckland, but I see it at work every day. Like it or loathe it, it is real. Part of the human condition. We learned this behaviour when a strange hairy looking guy arrived at the cave mouth 200,000 year ago speaking in a language we didn’t understand. We are programmed to be cautious (and back then probably just hit him over the head with a club). It might be subtler today but the ‘caution’ switch in our DNA was set to 'stranger danger' long ago.

So, it stands to reason that the more ‘different’ from the dominant culture you, your wife and children are when you want to migrate, the greater the stresses at play when it comes to settlement.

I am often asked why I go to South Africa, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and more latterly Doha and Dubai to identify those that might wish to migrate to NZ. The answer? All (apart the last two) are ex-British colonies and with that usually usually a high degree of English language fluency and a greater degree of cultural ‘fit’ because institutions, education and ‘social norms’ are closer to New Zealand or Australia.  In terms of the UAE our target market tends to be British, South African and US ex-pats who at the end of their tax free ‘tour’ may not wish to return home. So, in effect, even there we are identifying those that New Zealand employers are more likely willing to employ and who are more likely to settle ‘better’ or at least more quickly. 

I should add Filipinos, Indians and a few others to that list who come to us via Singapore and Malaysia in particular – the difference with them is that they usually have very good English and are employed in a predominantly English speaking working environment – so in effect have ’passed’ the same 'integration' test in a society more like New Zealand's. Consequently, virtually all our clients coming to NZ to get jobs and succeed at a rate of about 95%.

The interview with the NZ refuge operators also raised the issue of Generation 1.5, which refers to the children of migrants. I often speak of the impact on children who might have been born overseas but come to settle with their parents being not of the same ‘culture’ as their parents but nor truly ‘Kiwi’, whatever that is, and the issues this can create within the family.

One thing is for sure, the younger they are when they arrive, the more Kiwi they will be. The process is very quick and seldom takes more than about six months.

It can be a different story with some teenagers however.

At that difficult period in their lives identity issues become more prevalent and their peers usually become more important than their parents (been there, done that, got the scars - and mine were born here!). If they have parents who (understandably) are rooted in a culture with values the children no longer share or never had; it stands to reason that there can be real inter-generational conflict issues that may develop.

And that is where the refuge comes in. They weren’t for a second suggesting that all migrant teenagers end up seeking help after a big blow up with their parents, but I can see it being an issue some of the time for some migrant families.

Dare I suggest it, where the parents come from a country with very different cultural norms and expectations of children than we have of our own ‘home grown’ offspring, the chances of this happening surely increases.

I am sure most parents of recently arrived South Africans, Brits and the like have pretty much the same teenage issues that I had with my boys. If, however, I was from a country where for example it is normal for me as a parent to choose a partner for my child - something outside of the New Zealand cultural norm - it stands to reason a NZ raised child is likely to fight back.

That is something that I am not sure most parents ever contemplate before they emigrate ‘for their children’s future’ (the rationale I am most often given for the move). You want your children to have the education my children got - the free and easy lifestyle of Kiwi children, the wide-open spaces and freedom to explore, develop and grow - but when they do, it can in some cases lead to real family tension.

It is important that migrating parents recognise this. Your children will not be just like you and will unlikely identify with your cultural norms. You need to let that happen to avoid potential outcomes you never foresaw.

There are other ways, beyond thinly veiled racist bans (a la Trump) in my opinion to send signals to potential migrants about being careful what you might wish for if you are intending to settle somewhere else.

 

Until next week...

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man


A Seismic 7 Days

Posted by Iain on Nov. 18, 2016, 4:01 p.m. in Living

I wasn’t sure whether to write this week about the seismic geological events in New Zealand or the seismic political ones in the USA.

Are we sick of listening to and reading about Trump yet? I am. While I still struggle to understand it, it is real. Let’s watch him back down on all the big noise he made while campaigning (wire fence anyone?).

I’m certainly over the well-intentioned but 'wide of the geographical mark' emails of earthquake induced sympathy for us all here in New Zealand that I’ve been receiving this week.

My crew and I have been swamped by emails from people sharing their ‘thoughts and prayers for all New Zealanders and their families’ after the ‘deadly’ earthquake in the north east corner of the South Island earlier this week. It’s nice but it is overkill.

In a world of sensationalist headlines and reporting as a hungry 24/7 news cycle needs to be fed, I cannot believe the attention it has got. Sure, the earthquake was a biggie but earthquakes are nothing new to people who live in parts of the South Island or the lower North Island. It all happened in the middle of nowhere; in thinly populated areas. In fact, here in Auckland we didn’t even know there had been one till we turned on the radio or got news 'alerts' on our cellphones hours after the event. The epicentre was 1000 kilometres away, so perhaps it is no wonder.

Two people died. One of a heart attack and one when his rickety old house collapsed. Sad, to be sure, but it was two people.

Without wishing to sound heartless, two people also died in car crashes last weekend here but I don’t recall it being reported in either the BBC or CNN.

But that’s the news cycle for you. If the death was spectacular enough it makes it onto the global news feed. 

Some pretty interesting things happened though which are worth sharing. Campbell Point in the northern part of the South Island is this week 2 meters closer to the equator than it was this time last week. That’s quite some forces at play! There are also places along the coast where the seabed is now two meters higher than it was last week – to the extent it is not actually seabed anymore but ‘land’. Pretty amazing stuff. People have been wandering along collecting paua (abalone) and crayfish off the rocks. It is like a sashimi buffet!

So that’s our earthquake, now what about America's? 

On the US election I have pondered if it might be possible that New Zealand could elect someone like Trump.

My view is 'highly unlikely' for a number of reasons. We don’t have a two party system dominating any longer and neither can either one ever govern alone without smaller ‘support parties’. 

Further, we elect our Politicians on the basis of a proportional representation system. In this way we have far more diverse voices and world views represented in our Parliament. Those with ‘radical’ views tend to fester and get largely ignored in a system like the United States where two broad ‘churches’ of political thought exist. 

In such systems, one is more likely to see the rise of the radical like Trump appealing to a group (in this case it seems a very large group) of voters who feel they are being left behind and their voices not heard (which makes you wonder if Bernie Sanders could actually have been the better candidate for the Democratic Party but that’s another story).

Here, following the implementation of Mixed Member Proportional representation or MMP as we call it, the big parties splintered and we have got parties of the middle, the left and the right. We have a Maori Party and we have the Greens, all in a Parliament together. All political and economic voices can find a home.

The fact that we have a small and (largely) homogenous population where our view points are not radically different to one another through the sharing of predominantly similar values means someone like Trump is less likely to get anywhere near the levers of power.

Issues like abortion are simply not the issues here as they are in the US. A woman’s body is hers. Nor guns – we cannot carry them and nor do our police. 

Our Governments do react however to ‘noise’ from these ‘one issue’ parties and deflect the political threat. As regular readers will be aware, the Government here recently made a big media deal about changing immigration settings and told the country they were cutting numbers (that was not really true but that’s not the point). This was, I have no doubt, as a direct result of focus groups and polls showing an increasing disquiet not with migrants per se but the indirect effect of larger numbers of people coming to live here (or returning home) and pressure on infrastructure, schooling, hospitals and of course house prices. 

And not to be ignored a rise in popularity of our own ‘NZ First’, political party supported by grumpy old people who want New Zealand to return to some mythical dream time (I think it was around 1970 apparently) when migrants were British and the England still wanted to buy our butter and lamb.

So our political system has release valves that a two party system doesn’t seem to have and this means sitting Governments try harder it seems to me to ensure that all citizens share the benefits of an economy doing well and are looked after better when it is not. And more ‘radical’ views are listened to and acted upon. America might like to try it. Bernie Sanders out there on the far left. Hilary Clinton (allegedly) and Obama on the centre left, most Republicans centre right and the Tea Party way further to the right. (Not really sure where Trump’s natural home is when the typical Bernie Sanders voter seem to have voted for Trump).

We have all those political leanings in our Parliament yet we tend to swing quietly from core centre left to core centre right with a sprinkling of the fringe to make up any given Government. Tails don’t wag dogs but ‘minority’ views get a look in here. They can effect change.

To be clear I am not saying we do not have inequality like I have witnessed in the US on my visits there, but recent international surveys show New Zealand is far less unequal (if that is anything to be proud of) than most developed western democracies – and certainly the United States.

So could a Trump rise to power here? Thankfully I think the chances are very slim. Equally a Hilary Clinton would be seen for what she really appears to be as well.

Our own occasional rare but big seismic events tend to be geological, more than political.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man 

Tags: trump | earthquake

What is the real cost of living?

Posted by Iain on April 22, 2016, 7:51 p.m. in Living

I am often asked by those looking to move what the cost of living is in New Zealand.

Some data out this week is somewhat insightful.

Inflation for the year has come in at 0.4% largely caused through significant increases in tobacco taxes as further disincentive to smoke.

Interest rates on mortgages/bonds have continued to fall. The cheapest deals in town right now are around 4.1% with the average 12 month fixed term somewhere around 4.3%.

There was talk of further interest rate cuts this year but with annual inflation creeping up a little the bets are now more evenly split on ‘holding’. Economic growth has come in around 2.5% for the past 12 months.

We have the lowest tax rates in the OECD (rich countries club) – my Singaporean clients will be pleased to learn. Wages are fairly static as a result of all this.

Anyone with a mortgage (about one third of households only) have actually had a rise in their disposable income this past 12 months as mortgage rates have fallen to levels not seen in over 60 years. Virtually no inflation for the past few years has helped with this.

Most of our clients, irrespective of where they come from are neither poor nor wealthy (although we have a few) and fall squarely into the ‘married, mortgaged, middle class with two children and a dog’ camp. It is to them we speak at our seminars even though our audiences (and clients) also feature young singles, older parents and those without children.

This makes it quite hard to quantify ‘average’ cost of living given all the variables on both sides of the equation – where migrants come from, the exchange rate and whether it favours them (UK and US) or not (South Africa and Malaysia) or is about the same (Singapore) and how they might choose to live in New Zealand and of course, where, with Auckland being expensive by NZ standards and Dunedin cheap.

As a general rule we talk about a family of four needing to earn around $4500- $5500 after tax per month in Auckland to live a dignified middle socio-economic existence out in the suburbs. This requires a pre-tax annual income per household of between $65,000 and $80,000. Most of our clients will be earning that with one income earner given the average Auckland salary is $75,000 before taxation.

Renting or paying off a three bedroom, 200 square metre home (cost around $800,000 - $900,000) with a 20% deposit is likely to cost around $2500 per month based on current interest rates. To feed and clothe a family of four, another $1200 or so, $700 for insurances, utilities, cellphones, petrol and the like take up the bulk of the rest.

There are no luxuries in that. Once both partners are out working the household gross usually increases to at least $100,000 adding around $2500 - $3000 a month in the hand. Outside of Auckland you can generally shave around 25% off that monthly cost given the insanity of Auckland house prices is not shared (yet) by these other cities.

I have been in Cape Town the past few days and cannot believe I can buy a cup of coffee (hideous coffee I should add, what is wrong with this otherwise hip city that you cannot get decent coffee?) for $2.90. In Auckland $4.50 minimum. My wife and I have been able to eat well for $100 in some quite nice restaurants. I’d expect to pay 50% more in Auckland. The cost of wonderful wine in this city is so low I’d be a certified alcoholic in short order if I lived there.

Of course we get a lot for our taxes as compared countries like Singapore and South Africa – by and large ‘free’ education of world standard through to University and heavily subsidised thereafter. Our health is more or less covered through our taxes without expensive or compulsory medical insurance. Our family has a surgery and specialist cover just to avoid potential lengthy public hospital waiting lists (although I see the waiting list for varicose veins is currently about ten days – in case you might have some).

At retirement irrespective of your means a married couple picks up around $550 per week after tax which if you had no mortgage and didn’t live in Auckland would see you living a dignified if modest retirement. Supplement that by another $500 of your own private retirement savings and life would be pretty ‘sweet’ as we say. My own father tells me that he and his wife can live for around $2000 per month quite comfortably (splitting their time between homes in Tauranga and Auckland).

As a regular visitor to Singapore and Hong Kong (where property prices given the tiny size of the average apartment are absurdly high), Auckland property prices and cost of living probably looks very cheap to those coming to settle from there. Certainly no more expensive.

New Zealanders often spend our money in very different ways obviously and some might disagree with these numbers (I’d like to hear your comments) but as I find more and more people in South Africa and the Philippines unable to afford the move now my frustration is if we can only get these people to New Zealand, their skills allow them to earn good money and the cost of living, as high as we might perceive it in Auckland, allows them to get ahead relatively quickly.

Last week in Johannesburg I was consulting with a woman whose sister moved to Auckland five years ago. She is of the type I imagine is earning around $100,000 per annum. She now owns four homes...she brought no more money with her than most middle class migrants when she migrated.

I would really appreciate for the sake of those not yet in NZ but reading this to share with other readers their take on the cost of living. If you do, give us the big picture – what do you do, your income (more or less), where you live, how many children you have and how much money you brought over with you. It could be very interesting indeed.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod Southern Man - Letters from New Zealand


Keeping Kiwi Cool

Posted by admin on April 8, 2016, 3 p.m. in Living

My wife and I had the pleasure of attending a training session on digital marketing hosted by the Auckland office of IMMagine this past weekend, and I couldn’t help but notice the spread of ‘cool’ in and around the city. I spent 20 years in New Zealand (the last 16 of those in Auckland) before moving to Melbourne in 2008. During that time, I helped thousands of people immigrate to NZ (many of whom were South Africans) and although all remarked how beautiful Auckland is, a few compared it to Johannesburg 20 years ago in terms of its development. (I say 20 years ago, but since it’s 2016 already, it’s probably a little further than that in the past where some kind of nostalgic comparison could realistically be drawn between Johannesburg and Auckland).

With Auckland’s increasingly cosmopolitan, firstworldly vibe and South Africa’s economic and social decline this gap unsurprisingly continues to widen. This type of comparison actually always offended me because while the cool and trendy side of Auckland existed back then, in true NZ fashion it was subtle and understated.

You need only wander along Ponsonby Road or have coffee in the Chancery to appreciate true NZ cool. It's not only in the architecture (see the magnificent new Auckland Art Gallery) but also in their music (Crowded House for people of my generation, Shihad for the younger folk) and in their art (see this recent article about Kiwi art selling for millions) and it's in their humour (Flight of the Conchords, 7 Days, Billy T James).

What particularly impressed me on this recent trip is that the ‘cool’ is now more overt, the shades of personality layered and visible, louder and more confident. One didn't have to look very far for the ‘cool’ in plazas or laneways - it was easily discernible throughout inner city Auckland with the gentrification of many urban areas, new cycle paths, cafe sidewalk eateries and a greater preponderance of more diverse restaurants and wine bars in the inner city. The gritty architecture of cobbled shared areas and the exposed brick of heritage buildings gives Auckland a kind of cool that has a very unique New Zealand flavour but I can see certain parallels with inner city Melbourne which is also modern, cosmopolitan and world class.

There is a stark contrast between modern Auckland and the Auckland that I immigrated to back in 1989 as a 20 something year old South African. I still remember my first day in Auckland in 1989 when I asked the bus driver where the main street of Auckland is, and the response I received was "You're in it, mate!” followed by peals of laughter.

My partner Iain recently made the comparison between Auckland and Melbourne and described Auckland as a smaller, more compact version of Melbourne and I think that comparison today in 2016 is quite justified. It's almost as if the growth in population to 1.6 million has given ‘cool’ some serious momentum in which to flourish. I’m not sure Johannesburg could really be compared today at all. (Although it goes without saying that Johannesburg has its own identity and version of “cool”, but Auckland has very quickly transformed into a new beast entirely.)

I also had the impression that New Zealanders are doing OK financially. With unemployment approaching 5% and interest rates at 4%, house prices have reached Melbourne levels yet retail shops seemed busy; one had to book for restaurants in order to be seated. It is quite easy to understand why our NZ seminars are so popular in cities in South Africa, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong to name just a few.

I do hope some of this Kiwi cool has rubbed off on me now, and I know that I am a richer person for the 20 very happy years I spent in New Zealand. Luckily, if I ever need any tips on how to keep Kiwi cool, I can look to my 3 sons born in Auckland to observe it in action.

-Myer Lipschitz, Director, IMMagine
Melbourne Office 


A Deserted Island, a Picnic and a Large Blue Shark

Posted by Iain on March 11, 2016, 8:20 p.m. in Living

It seems last week’s blog caused more than a few heart palpitations; four people fainted, three were admitted to hospital with chest pains; fourteen had nervous breakdowns and a further 23 took to their beds for all of Saturday. Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration but dear reader, I share these stories and advice with you about the risks inherent in the migration process not to cause you to wet your pants or faint on the kitchen floor but in my attempt at honest and transparent communication. You need to be aware of the risks and the rewards of migration, but please keep my advice in perspective.

For those of you now terribly concerned about travelling to NZ to look for work because you fear that this fair country of ours has more in common with North Korea than you ever thought, remember only about 8% of our South African clients are questioned or stopped and we have had one (out of thousands) refused boarding of his flight in transit.

So the risk is very low. My point was that it is all quite random, bizarre and rare...

How about this week we leave the real or perceived stresses of the border crossing behind us. I want to share with you what might go down as one of the most perfect days of my life.

Summer here rolls on although the first signs of autumn approaching can be felt in the mornings. Where overnight temperatures have in recent weeks hovered around 18-19 degrees at their minimum we are now waking up to 16-17 degree mornings. Daytime temperatures are still in the mid-20s and the humidity lingers although it is starting to decline from regular peaks of 80-90% to the mid 70%.

Last Sunday my wife and I packed the boat with a picnic lunch and our fishing gear. We decided to head out to Taranga Island which lies about 15km off the east coast of Northland. The plan was a bit of fishing, some swimming, a picnic on the boat and some quiet time in the sun.

The sky was cloudless when we set off at 11am. A very big blue sky was stretched from horizon to horizon and our island lay dead ahead floating on a calm ocean. Bream Bay was as calm as I have ever seen it. Barely a ripple disturbed the surface and there was certainly no wind. Not a breath. The sun was promising to be very hot by mid-afternoon.

About 5km out to sea I switched off the engine and let the boat drift as it pleased. The absence of any current and no wind meant we bobbed quietly. The only sound was an occasional ‘gloop gloop’ as whatever ripples there were nudged against the side of the boat.

About 20 minutes in I pulled in the first fish. A 45cm Kahawai. Traditionally thought of as a fish to use for bait, they taste wonderful in either a curry or smoked (not rolled up in Zig Zag paper you understand, but smoked as in cooked over charcoal and a low heat with plenty of wood chips for smoky flavour). We were satisfied with that – at least dinner was covered.

We lingered a little longer enjoying companionable silence and complete solitude before pressing on to the island.

Around twenty minutes later we pulled into our favourite little bay at this island and dropped anchor in 3m of water. Taranga and the islands that surround them are nature reserves – it is illegal to set foot on them. 

These islands have been cleared of all predators and are used as sanctuaries for birds and reptiles that cannot survive on the mainland owing to predation. Out there they thrive. The sound of these birds calling to one another is something you sadly never hear on the New Zealand mainland. It really is cacophonous. Incredible. Parrots, parakeets, Tuis, Bellbirds, Robins – this island really does have them all.

This island is pretty big and at its highest point towers to around 500m. I always think of Tahiti when I see Taranga – steep, rugged, with lush mature vegetation, massive trees, vines and flax bushes covering every square inch. 

The water is crystal clear, 24 degrees warm and incredibly inviting. The water is so clear that you can easily see 12m down. The bottom is sandy and dotted with outcrops of rock usually covered with swaying beds of kelp. The water is so clear you can see the fish and (according to my wife, the ‘huge’) stingrays that cruise across the bay before wriggling down into the sand where they wait quietly between meals.

 

After a few swims, our lunch and making like lizards in the sun for a quiet couple of hours we decided to head for home with a planned stop along the way for some more fishing.

At only 800m offshore this island reveals itself for the ancient volcano it is. The fish finder (radar) reveals a steep slope plunging into the depths. In that 800m from the shore the depth had gone from nothing to 65 metres. Over the side went the lines. The sun beat down. Hot. Really hot. 27 in the shade which must make it 38 in the sun.

The shirts went on, the sarongs wrapped around shoulders or draped over legs – our sun is vicious, at this time of the year the burn time is 12 minutes. The sun actually stings so the sunscreen was lathered on. On the sea you have even less protection as the rays bounce off the still water. You cop it from above and below. We drank lots of water.

Caught another 20 odd fish of which we returned 11 to the water (always fish for tomorrow is our motto – take just what you need to have a couple of good meals).

Then the shark arrived. I swear if you had any idea just how many sharks there are in our waters you’d probably never go into the sea. Picture this – the bluest water, calm as a mill pond, crystal clear and a 6m boat. A 2m shark appears, frictionless, sleek and body the colour blue (it was, no surprises, a Blue Shark). Around and under the boat it circled for around ten minutes. I have to say I love sharks – they really are quite beautiful (from 2 m away and sitting in a boat but even when I am scuba diving I love encountering them). Magnificent.

I had a bit of fun with a small fish that had timed its bite on my hook really badly. It was not looking like a good day for this baby snapper – a hook in the left side of his mouth and a shark about 200 times his size cruising up his right flank! 

The shark must have been full because he wasn’t much interested in my little fish. The shark did a couple of lazy ‘fly bys’ before ignoring my wee friend (if fish could scream I suspect this guy might have been).

A few minutes later the shark melted back into the blue and I released my little snapper back into the depths.

A wonderful encounter.

We cruised home, the sun sinking slowly ahead of us.

A magical day. Almost perfect. One of those days you never want to end.

When you get here (or if you are here) and you don’t have a boat then if you Live in Auckland you can experience pretty much all of this by visiting Tiritiri Matangi Island – a ferry goes out there and it is only about 45 minutes up the harbour. Humans are allowed, indeed encouraged, on it and being predator free you can enjoy up close encounters with some of the most endangered birds on the planet. 

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man


Auckland in Top 3 Cities to Live

Posted by Iain on Feb. 26, 2016, 7:57 p.m. in Living

Auckland has, for the third time, just been voted the third best international city out of 230 ranked in which to live in the annual ‘Mercer Quality of Life' survey.

Which struck me as kind of strange as I sat in ‘peak hour’ traffic at 2.45pm (!) this afternoon as my wife and I fled the city for the beach house. I was thinking that there is much to really like about this city and I enjoy living in Auckland very much but I suspect those doing the survey must travel only between 11am and 2pm when the traffic flows freely. It isn’t KL, New York or God forbid, Jakarta, but we are not used to bumper to bumper traffic and we do not like it.

It also crossed my mind how much longer we would sit near the crown of the ‘best city in the world in which to live’ tree. Everyone I know now grumbles about spending 1-3 hours a day sitting in their car getting to and from work or to some other destination.

I blogged a few weeks ago how the Government had, after several years of telling us we didn’t need it, brought forward financing for the ‘we’ve been waiting for 100 years’ city rail loop and the final pieces to the freeway jigsaw. I hesitate to say 'too little, too late' as I am sure it will all help but with all the growth in population going on here - natural and migration led - I thank my good fortune we brought a house in central Auckland 21 years ago and don’t need to cross this city every day by car.

Not enough houses and too many people arriving right at the time that housing shortage was starting to bite has put a lot of people, particularly those immigrants, under real financial pressure. Migrants continued to arrive in Auckland at a rate of 42,000 or so last year - migrants being Kiwis coming home largely from Australia, Australians coming with them and the rest being resident visa holders coming to join us.

So the pressure is certainly on, but it is leading to changed behaviours. My eldest son who lives just down the road from us has dispensed with a car and catches buses everywhere. Another youngster that has joined us this week catches the train to and from work. We have two that catch ferries from northern and eastern parts of greater Auckland. All very regular, clean, safe and convenient. It seems the younger you are the more likely you are to prefer sitting on a train, bus or boat catching up on work or with friends...

Back to the survey! It ranks, as I said, 230 cities on factors such as culture and environment, political stability, safety, housing, education, and ease of doing business.

That pretty much sums up everything that makes Auckland a great place to live and raise families - great schools; so politically stable as to be dull; out of 1.6million people over 40% are foreign born meaning it is an incredibly vibrant place. I reflected on this aspect as I left the office earlier today. Sitting at one set of traffic lights I observed people from all over the world; women dressed in wonderfully bright saris, Sikhs with bright orange turbans, Chinese in huge sun hats, over dressed Koreans with gaudy sun umbrellas, the odd hijab and two young Arabs looking like they had just parked their camels somewhere. 

Because central Auckland is home to two world class universities and satellites of several others, Downtown teems with youngsters from literally all over the world. Africans, Arabs, Asians - you name the country, they are probably here. The sweet smell of flavoured tobacco hangs in the air in the narrow street behind our office and is a meeting place for young Arab and other (mainly) Muslim men from mid-afternoon until well after the sun goes down.

Export education is now worth $1.5 billion dollars per year and a lot of that ends up in Auckland - high quality education at a relatively affordable price when compared to more expensive countries like the U.S. gives Auckland a real advantage.

It is a vibrant, cosmopolitan and outward looking city yet once you are through the traffic you can within 30 minutes be on any number of relatively deserted beaches, wandering across publicly owned parks and farmlands, chilling in rain forests, be on a boat fishing or sitting enjoying a glass of Friday afternoon Pinot Gris on a vineyard on an island that took you 40 minutes by ferry to get to.

It remains overwhelmingly safe with crime statistics continuing to fall across all categories (except sexual assault, but those that understand these things say that reflects higher rates of victims being willing to report rather than any ‘natural’ increase in offending).

The quality of housing is generally high (if you can afford one) and with the proposed changes to our residential zones things will get even more exciting as we look to moderately intensify areas like Mount Eden where I live. 

Speaking of Mount Eden, as I climbed this extinct volcano a few days ago with my wife I realised, not for the first time, that what we take so much for granted is viewed with awe by the 3.2 million people who visit each year, many of whom it seems head for the summit of this piece of geological magic in the middle of the city. Auckland is dotted with these extinct volcanos and the views from their summits are the best in town -  perhaps that from Mount Eden being number one. As I climbed I heard French, Spanish, Hindi, Korean, Chinese and a smattering of other tongues I could not identify.

Auckland scores high for things to do and places to, well, be human - eat, drink, socialise...

If you had been here today you’d have enjoyed 29 degree warmth with barely a cloud in the sky.

It really doesn’t get a whole lot better. Summer this year has been long and hot and there is no end in sight.

For what it might be worth, Wellington came in at 12, Sydney at 10 and Melbourne at 15 (that’ll cause a bit of inter-office banter no doubt).

Vienna came out on top, followed by Zurich - these two cities and Auckland, though very different to each other, always rank highly. Vancouver, as it always does, topped North America (never been there but everything I hear leads me to speculate it is the ‘Auckland’ of North America).

No prizes for guessing Damascus and Baghdad came last.

Which is interesting timing because today the first of several hundred Syrian refugees arrived in the country and are being resettled in Wellington - the 12th best city out of 230 to live in. I suspect most have never heard of New Zealand, would never choose to be resettled here, but many I hope will in time once they are more settled, thank their good fortune we invited them to seek shelter here.

I am sure we will make them welcome and safe to enjoy the very special country that this one is.

I am off for a weekend of wood chopping, weed pulling, sea swimming and getting all ‘beachy’, so...

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man


A Few Days People Spotting in the Abel Tasman

Posted by Iain on Feb. 19, 2016, 8:51 p.m. in Living

I often reflect on just how lucky I was to be born in New Zealand. Not to be smug about it but when I consider what our clients have to go through to secure their slice of this place it makes me very grateful indeed.

Never more so than over the past week or so when my wife and I enjoyed a few days in the city of Nelson and the Abel Tasman National Park with four friends. This top (left) corner of the South Island is known for its long, hot dry summers, crystal clear seas, golden sandy beaches and forests. Vineyards and orchards dot the countryside around the National Park which is criss crossed with wide meandering rivers and estuaries. 

Nelson itself is a beautiful small city of around 90,000 people where, unlike the imbecile planners that came before my generation in Auckland, the old buildings dating back to the 1880s and thereabouts are still standing tall and proud. I doubt you’d have ever seen more cute places to drink coffee and then while away a few hours wandering through the art galleries that are abundant in this lovely provincial city.

Over three days we sea-kayaked around 8km, past seal colonies and islands where the predators have been eliminated allowing space for New Zealand’s native birds to recolonise in tenuous peace and walked for 40km through regenerating forest in one of New Zealand’s newer National Parks (est. 1942).

Although I was expecting a ‘wilderness’ experience this is the height of the tourist season and the trails and beaches were, by New Zealand standards, actually pretty crowded.

At times I thought the ‘305 from Munich’ had pulled in. That or the Sea Princess had slid in to a bay out of eyesight and proceeded to disgorge some of the most miserably unhappy looking people I have ever seen. Perhaps they are not used to walking...

We are not talking Orchard Road in Singapore on a Friday night or Yellowstone over Thanksgiving weekend but there was no shortage of wheezing, gasping, limping, chattering, noisy humans - the one animal I was quite keen to escape from.

I have often wondered who those camping and fishing and otherwise outdoor shops that are everywhere in this country sold all their wares to. Now I know. While my small group were walking in old Nikes, any old shorts grabbed from the wardrobe and $8 tank tops, the foreign walkers had all the latest in stink proof, water dissipating, stretch tops with matching water resistant khaki slacks tucked inside merino wool socks and sturdy boots. With German engineered walking poles pumping piston like at their sides.

Being Kiwis we greeted each and every one. Wished them a Good morning or afternoon and enquired as to their general health. The responses were hilarious. At least half stared right through us as if we had not even been there (some feat on a path that’s about 1.5 humans wide). Others grunted. A few said hello. At least two young Europeans who looked like they had slept rough for a week and had just been to an Ozzy Osbourne concert (with appropriate all black attire and over sized baseball caps with mullet hair dos) literally grunted as they passed, eyes unblinking and fixed on the next bend in the track.

One group of spray tanned young Spanish women were determined to drown out the annoying clattering cicadas and delightfully twittering birds by cranking up the loudest European dance music from a set of speakers on one of their backpacks.

Another group who were unfortunately walking in the same direction as us had the same wilderness experience in mind as the Spaniards (as in they were thinking, we are young, nature sucks, it’s lovely to look at but I need the sounds of urbanity - loud) and they too had the music pumping from a backpack. I looked back and saw my companions dancing away behind them...I have never felt so old in my life...is it true the older we get the more imbeciles we seem to come across?

The best of the human spotting had to be the rather pompous elderly Englishman and his wife who decided they did not require any assistance in boarding and then launching their double kayak into a reasonable sized swell on day one. 

Rejecting the assistance of three rather nubile young back packers (he can’t have had his glasses on or he’d have seen what he was missing) he responded with a dismissive wave of his hand and a jolly old ‘We’ll be fine…’ Then  having rebuffed the approach attempted to get on board.

Seeing the swells were in danger or rolling over the top of the kayak one of the nubile troop tried again and asked if she could hold the kayak for him. At this point he got a little angry and with more hand waving told them in no uncertain terms that ‘IF I NEED HELP I WILL ASK FOR IT!’ at which these helpful young ladies beat a hasty retreat back up the beach.

Mrs "We Do Not Need Any Help" had made it into the front seat of the kayak and was facing out to sea with a grim expression on her face and her paddle at the ready. Never turned her head.

Mr "We Do Not Need Any Help" then proceeded to attempt a boarding of his end of the craft. The breaking waves were doing their best to turn the nose of the kayak side on (something the pretty young things in bikinis could have helped prevent) and just as he went to slide into the seat he completely missed and slid over and off the side of the kayak. With a rather inglorious splash and a waving of his paddle he disappeared under the foam. Having been hit and floored by several more waves as he tried to stand up, he floundered and flayed as the kayak did its best to roll back over the top of him. I’d be lying if I said this didn’t cause much merriment to those of us sitting on the beach chewing on our sun ripened fruit. One of our party was almost in need of the Heimlich manuever.

After several attempts to right himself he pinged up off the sand and balanced his bum once again on the back of he kayak and attempted a ‘landing’ into it once again but this time from the opposite side. With hands and paddle windmilling above him he missed and slid off the other side into the Tasman Sea with yet another rather large displacement of water.

By this time everyone who was on the beach either had their hands clasped firmly over their mouths or were laughing so hard those clattering cicadas were once again being drowned out. Cruel I know. But hey, more than one person had offered to help and no one else had refused as they needed to leave the beach in their kayaks.

His wife continued to sit stoically in front with eyes fixed on the horizon, paddle still at the ready. I got the feeling she’d been in these ‘stuff and nonsense’ situations before where the English stiff upper lip would win the day.

Third time lucky and soaking wet he almost dived headlong into the kayak, somehow managed to get his legs in and he triumphantly dipped his paddle in the sea but realised too late that, with him on board, his end of the kayak was now wedged firmly in the sand and the waves were crashing over his wife. He must have found some strength from somewhere and he pushed at the sand with his paddle as they were lifted on a wave and and off they went at great speed.

Not once did either look back.

The rest of us all sought and gratefully accepted a helping hand as we launched our kayaks. 

When we had stopped laughing.

It was, all in all a magical experience spent with great friends in a part of New Zealand that is so like so many other parts of New Zealand. God smackingly wonderful to be in and around.

Add it to your NZ bucket list. Don’t expect too much peace and quiet if you go at peak season but you get to see some very beautiful scenery and some very odd (human) birds.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man


Simple Pleasures

Posted by Iain on Jan. 15, 2016, 10:17 a.m. in Living

Happy New Year and all the best for 2016.

I have just returned from enjoying the thick end of three weeks at my beach house north of Auckland. 

I was listening to a conversation on the radio as we cruised home last night about ‘how blessed we are’ to live in this country.

It is so right.

I think it’s only when you spend as much time away overseas as I do that you can truly appreciate what we have here.

I crave the time away from Auckland for a couple of weeks to recharge the batteries and for the relative peace and quiet. I say ‘relative’ because from Boxing Day through to the second week in January it seems, judging by the number of Audis, Porsches and BMWs that most of Auckland followed us north. 

Irrespective, life slows down. I was determined to turn the computer off and not clear emails (that lasted precisely three days but doing it when you are ready somehow seems like a break anyway). This online and instant world can often be just a little too instant…

We spend our days with friends and family. We take long walks along coastal trails and the many stunning beaches that line the east coast of the North Island. 

I continue my never ending project of rehabilitating 6000 square metres of abused Northland. Blistered hands, sun burned nose, aching muscles - there is nothing I’d rather be doing than shoveling compost, digging holes and planting native trees.

We usually go fishing but like clockwork whenever I suggest to my tractor that it needs to be good and play fair and help us to launch the boat of the beach it packs a sad. This year we got out once, caught some good fish and then the tractor started haemorrhaging transmission oil. It has been in intensive care ever since. Lucky fish!

When El Nino wasn’t delivering windy nights my wife and I retreated to our Safari Lodge tent to sleep. We just love our nights in there. It is big enough to have a Queen sized bed. The smell of the vegetation outside, the occasional whiff of salt laden sea air. The rustle of leaves.  We were treated on several nights to a spectacular huge moon rise. 

For those of you that live in big cities you cannot imagine the sky at night here. Being the southern hemisphere, we get to look in toward the centre of our galaxy when we look up. Our skies are dark (little light pollution once you are away from the city) and not a night would go by without my sitting in a deck chair just staring up the sky. You’d be amazed at how many satellites you see (13 in one hour is the record).

We are lulled to sleep by the sound of crashing waves, Morepork (native night owls) calling to one another and a chorus of crickets.

We were woken every morning at dawn by the call of the Tui, shrieking of Minah birds, the ‘kuk, kuk kuk’ of the Kingfisher, the warble of the Piwakawaka (native Fantail) and two particularly verbose sheep in a nearby neighbouring paddock (I can’t wait till they become lamb chops, they mess with my karma).

This year the baritone sheep were accompanied by two baby kingfishers that had hatched just after Christmas. I had never heard the noise these birds make when young before - best described as a never ending dragon like hissing (I presume dragons hiss). They clearly do this as they are vulnerable to predators and so they set up this din at dawn and they go all day. And I mean all day. Their parents arrived back to the nest in a hollow tree every half hour or so with a steady supply of skinks, a small brown native lizard.

They left the nest yesterday, just as we were about to leave.

My other delight is a lone Bellbird. This small olive green bird about the size of a Blackbird or Thrush moved in about two years ago forced off an offshore island, we believe through drought. Most mornings I thought I heard his distant ‘bing bong’ call which is truly beautiful but through my sleepiness I wasn’t quite sure.

Then a few days ago I thought I could hear him close by when I was working in the garden and sure enough, just as every other time when I thought he may have moved along, there he was, sitting no more than 3 metres away picking at the bright orange berries of the Karaka tree. He sang after every mouthful. All I could do was sit beneath the tree quietly and drink in his splendid song. And smile at my good fortune.

I don’t know what it is but every time I think he might have moved on to greener pastures (or more flowered trees) and I haven’t seen him for a while he reappears, almost, it seems, reminding me that he never really went anywhere.

In three hours I am climbing aboard another big bird, this time with engines and flying north to Singapore for a heavily booked seminar tomorrow morning before a week in Kuala Lumpur and a few days in Hong Kong.

I’ll go to sleep the next week or two imagining I am back in that tent and the sound of humanity outside the window is not traffic and the hum of these overcrowded cities where everyone is so removed from everything we take for granted here in New Zealand, but crashing waves and the wind in the trees.

Until next week.

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man


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