Kiwi Soft Power

Summer is long gone, but this Op-Ed from the  Feb. 10 edition of the Dominion Post still resonates for its hilarious take on the politics of the summer barbecue.

Donald Trump’s sleep is restless. He dreams of column after column of cold-steel phallus rolling along Pennsylvania Avenue. Rows of gigantic missiles to put Putin in his places, thousands of gun–metal grey tanks to set Jong-un’s nerves a-gangling. 

Meanwhile, in a backyard on a humble street in Tauranga, power is displayed in the deft handling of a sausage and sashay of steak (sirloin or eye fillet, certainly not rump) over a hot plate. 

National ‘s Simon Bridges no doubt knows the value of Kiwi soft-power around a barbecue; the light, beer-induced banter among powerbrokers; the casual sweep of tongs to distract the eye and redirect the discussion; and the ability to diplomatically keep other pretenders away from that fiery altar. 

We may not have the missiles, the marines, the military might, but there is much to be learned from a man or woman’s management of the barbecue. 

Our own leader, Jacinda Ardern, demonstrated such power on Waitangi Day when she grabbed the barbecue implements to distribute the sausages and further undermine the pillars of male hegemony. 

Bridges may also fancy his chances at leadership. If he is, at some point in the future, named National Party leader, he will recall that his successful campaign began with a barbecue in a backyard on a humble street in Tauranga. 

Brilliant. And for the record, Bridges currently does sit as the leader of the National Party.

List of Sorts: Appreciations and Adjustments

After living in New Zealand for a few months now it’s time for a short, random list of sorts – below are a few simplicities I appreciate and a few things that take some, shall we say, getting used to.

–Poor Knights Islands. Bland Bay. Cape Foulwind. Doubtful Sound. Doubtless Bay. Dead Whale Reef. While the Maori names of places are the richest in meaning, I’m definitely enjoying their droll British counterparts. Seems like there were quite a few days when Captain Cook wasn’t having a great time mapping New Zealand.

— Our first encounter with NZ’s eels came at a wildlife center in Hokitika that had a tank full of 90-year old, female, blind specimens that long ago lost the taste for fish and now subsist solely on steak (an excellent retirement plan, btw). The crazy thing about these eels is not how they’ve managed to carve out a life being hand-fed steak tartare at every meal, but that they were all born in the ocean somewhere east of Fiji and Tonga and drifted back to live out their lives in New Zealand streams. Somehow their parents made it from those streams across the ocean to spawn in the first place – science, of course, is trying to ruin the grand mystery by tracking exactly where this all happens.

— Glowworms are magical. On a night walk through kauri trees in Waipoua Forest small constellations of bright blue glowworms (actually fly larvae) sparkle like stars. Between eel migratory patterns and glowworms, I definitely didn’t expect to be this fascinated by larvae.

— Maybe I’ve just missed some places in the States, but ordering up a tuna roll always means you’re getting fresh fish. If you’re not careful in NZ your tuna roll might just come from a can…

— … but the espresso at gas stations totally makes up for sad tuna. We’ve come across a few gas stations with full-on barista service and flat whites at the ready.

— Some time around 10:30-11am, teachers head to the lounge for a cuppa, whether it’s tea or coffee. Not only do most schools in the U.S. not provide tea and coffee for staff, they certainly don’t make time for it.

— Honesty boxes are everywhere from the side of the road to the office cafeteria. In the office you’ll see a box of baked goods, a tin for collecting payment, and a ledger to write down how much you bought and when (have not seen anyone just leave their VenMo name yet; possible missed opportunity for those of us without a lot of small change around). I often wonder how much a cookie side hustle pulls down in a given week, and what the true intentions are – give your coworkers a much-needed sugar boost, or run that cookie racket so you’ve got your coffee budget covered all week?

— Besides the stunning natural scenery, it’s nice to hike in a place where there isn’t anything waiting to kill you. No bears, snakes, scorpions, etc. Maybe, just maybe, a spider might cause you trouble. But your biggest threats are more likely to be something like cliffs, avalanches, or rip tides, the last of which is why the Swim Reaper has his own website.

— Finally, I’ve never seen a country more into David Bowie. I support this wholeheartedly.


5 resources for learning the Māori language

From Te Waipounamu to Te Ika a Maui, one of the more striking aspects of being in New Zealand/Aotearoa is its bilingualism.   Māori words and phrases pepper perfectly routine English sentences in the newspapers, TV, and radio. Much of the geography and wildlife of Aotearoa is known in singularly Māori terms. And government agencies list their titles and much of their signage in words I understand and those I absolutely have to learn more about.

The recognition of te reo Māori has not come without a struggle – there was a time when speaking it in schools was prohibited, for example (brief history here).  But since 1987 Māori has been recognized as an official language of New Zealand.

With a relatively short amount of time here, I’ve been doing what I can to learn as much te reo as possible. Here’s a few resources I’ve found particularly helpful.

1. Online dictionary and grammar tools
For looking up a single word, I’m partial to for its thorough explanations of words with multiple significant meanings.  For grammar  I’ve found quite helpful when wondering about a general approach to language, such as how to ask questions.

2. Books and workbooks
On the road, having a copy of “Māori Place Names” on the dashboard was indispensable – so many locations in New Zealand are named for natural features, with names that fly by or blend together until they are unpacked.  I picked up a copy of  “Teach Yourself Māori” a while ago which I’m going to go ahead and *not* recommend  it – a lot of my time has been spent trying to make sense of the formatting of the book. I’m intrigued by these Māori Made Easy books and workbooks and their 30-minutes/day approach, but haven’t pulled the trigger yet. [ED: Picked one up on Feb. 22, loving it]

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