A Wedding in Christchuch: Week 162

On a vinyeard just outside of Christchurch

“Is that all your luggage?” the customs official had asked with a skeptical glance.

“Yes.” We only had two small backpacks and a canvas bag with my dress and heels.

“We just jumped over for a wedding.” I felt like a jet-setter, but in reality we had caught a cheap red-eye flight to Christchurch. It was only three hours away.

It was after midnight by the time we reached our motel, the door to our room left unlocked. We ate an airport dinner on the bed and turned on the TV. There’s something about watching the news in a hotel room that elicits an inexplicable excitement in me.

Maybe it began back in ’94 with the promise of a new start in the Sunshine State, my mom turning on the news while my dad sat outside smoking the day’s first cigarette. Pack the last few items in the U-Haul and stop at the McDonalds on the way out of town. A long, long road lay ahead and the sun was just rising.


Barret and I have had an odd relationship with Christchurch. It’s a city still working to overcome a crippling earthquake that destroyed its entire downtown. Because of this, out of all the possible cities to visit in New Zealand, Christchurch would not currently be at the top of our list.

However we keep going back: once on our own, twice with Barret’s mom, and once again when my sister stopped there on her way to Antarctica.

I hadn’t planned on returning, but there we were the following morning in the only taxi that didn’t use GPS. The driver, an elderly guy who liked to talk about LPG tanks, handed Barret a thick book of maps. “Don’t worry,” he announced, “you have that discount coupon.”

Five minutes later we were back on track and pulling into a gravel parking lot outside a vineyard on the city’s outskirts. The wooden pavilions at the entrance were draped in pastel bunting and the soft autumnal light was filtering through a row of oak trees.

A Maori prayer was sung, then Bahá’í vows (a faith which originated in 19th century Persia), then traditional Christian vows. I tossed my sachet of oak leaves on the newlywed couple and tried to discretely wipe my tears away.

I’m not quite sure what impels me towards movement, to crossing oceans and mountains and state lines and doorsteps. However moments like these, when I’m seated at candlelit table decorated with gnarled driftwood and surrounded by good friends, I’m reminded of how important it is to sometimes stop. Or, at the very least, slow down long enough to be invited to awesome weddings in Christchurch.

The Laptop Lifestyle Lie: Week 150

Project AWOL- a pyramid scheme with an online reality show. The video production is slick as Hollywood and just as deceptive. The premise of the show revolves around eight average people who pay their own way to Thailand to spend a week training for business and lifestyle success.

On the surface the three tan hosts in board shorts and tank tops offer sound advice: do charitable work, be a supportive team member, dare to follow your dreams, live for today, blah, blah, blah. However, if you turn your blinders off you will notice absurd things like the ‘AWOL panel’ helping their guests achieve laser focus with the vaguest terminology possible.

When in the spotlight, one guest declares he wants to build thousands of wells in Africa because clearly that is the only thing standing in the way of the entire continent’s prosperity. While the gesture is heartfelt and harebrained, what it really tells me is that Project AWOL is very attractive to very naïve people.

If there is anything that can actually be gleaned from the show it would be, “there’s a time when you really have to go deep.” Yes, let’s get into the nitty gritty.

Project AWOL is the slick front to get you hyped about finding Another Way Of Life.  This in turn directs you towards the Empower Network, which is how you achieve success with the help of a supportive team of viral bloggers for only $25 a month including a $25 sign up fee. The complete 8-step ‘Money Getting’ Formula is free.

Now you can use this platform to ‘grow your own business’ or you can become an affiliate and earn commissions. Here’s an example of how commissions work according to the current compensation plan:

“In this hypothetical example, it is assumed that you are fully activated as an affiliate for the “blogging system” $25 monthly membership by following the three steps outlined earlier. If you referred Lisa, and she decided to purchase the blogging system, and fell on your first position, you would receive a direct, monthly recurring payment of $25.

 You would then pass up the product purchase from sales 2, 4, 6, and every 5th to your powerline sponsor for the blogging system. If you then sold a blogging system to Frank – Frank would stay connected to you for future products, and the sale of the blog would pass to your sponsor. You would then collect a 100% commission on sale 3, 5, and 7-10, etc.

 Next, Lisa activates her affiliate account by agreeing to the affiliate terms and activating a payment method. (Remember, since she is already a customer herself, she does not need to have a qualifying sale). When Lisa starts marketing successfully and generating product sales, you would receive a direct payment for monthly subscriptions in the above example for her 2nd, 4th, 6th, and 11th sale.

 If Lisa continued marketing the system, you would also receive a 100% direct commission payment for her sales 16, 21, 26, 31, etc to infinity for her personal referrals. Lisa would keep 100% of sales 1,3,5, 7-10, 12-16, etc – just like you do on your own personal sales.”

Wow, that easy?! Turns out, there’s only one caveat with the payment system:

“Known Issue In The Direct Pay/Powerline System (itʼs ok, really…)

 Because we are operating in a ʻdirect payʼ system and the powerlines are calculated in real time, it is possible for the initial purchase to be credited improperly – there is no way to fix it, and existing sales cannot be re-credited, because commissions are already paid directly to the referring affiliate the moment the sale is made. (So please, donʼt ask, the answer is no…)”

Hmm. Turns out it’s a lot harder than expected to wake up in the morning with another $1,000 in your bank account. I’m thinking only the people at the top make money and they have a vested interest in telling you otherwise. Remember, you are selling their $500 Costa Rica Mastermind Intensive (that you also bought yourself).

I do have good news for you though. It is possible to follow your dreams, travel for years at a time, and pay off debt. The secret is that you just have to be flexible and work hard. Sorry, that’s not actually much of a secret.

Teaching English: Asia

When I worked in South Korea there were times that I was completely exhausted and overworked- but it was always worth it because I enjoyed being there. Everything felt new and exciting and the country is small enough that it was really easy to be a weekend warrior.

Many Asian countries hire native English speakers (with bachelor’s degrees) from all over the world. While you won’t make a ton of money, the cost of living in places like Korea is relatively low so if you’re thrifty you could easily save thousands of dollars.

Some countries in Europe (like Spain and France) also have special scholarship-based teaching programs with the US. These will not pay well, but you have the opportunity to live abroad! Olé!

Working Holiday Visas: New Zealand & Australia

This visa is available for people 30 and under and is open to US citizens as well as other nationals. While the work conditions are best suited for short-term agricultural work, I have held temp office positions in both countries. If you are a US citizen you don’t need a college degree, but it will get you higher paid work if you go the office route.

Working Holiday Visas are a great way to make visiting these expensive countries much more affordable and if you don’t mind a few roommates, you can save money in the process. Obviously it’s not the lifestyle that Project AWOL is advocating, but it’s a lot more feasible than owning a ten bedroom house in Thailand.

Unfortunately, get-rich-quick schemes don’t work. However, if you don’t mind holding 9-5 office job, you can soak up the Sydney sunshine any weekend you want and still pay off your $20,000 student loan.

I just did and I celebrated with two bottles of cheap champers. That’s Aussie for champagne.

Antarctic Centre: Week 89

Polaroid of The Antarctic Cenre

“How about Tanks for Everything?” Barret asked one evening while we were making dinner. “That sounds rad.”

It was our third visit to Christchurch and I was beginning to feel like we were living in the North South Holiday Park. Every night, while we cooked dinner in the shared kitchen, we picked up a few tourist pamphlets from the rack near the door and read them.

“Well- this still looks cool. How about the Adrenalin Forest?!”


My modus operandi, at least since I picked up the brochure, had been to see a kiwi bird. Having achieved that, I wanted to save my money.

“The Antarctic Centre? You CAN’T say no to that.

I had previously nixed this idea as being dorky, but he was right. I couldn’t say no to that. Truth be told, I’d just found out that my sister Nan was chosen to go to Antarctica as a contract fire-fighter. I was pretty proud and somehow unsurprised that her first home-away-from-home would be an isolated, frozen tundra.

She was due to arrive in Christchuch in two days time for orientation and to pick up her cold weather gear. Only after she had forwarded me her contact details did I realize that the touristy Antarctic Centre was actually attached to the US Antarctic Program. In fact, the flights to Mc Murdo Station were the planes that flew over our tent and woke us up at midnight.

Suddenly attractions like the 4D EXTREME Theatre and Beyond the Frozen Sunset felt very relevant; I had to visit the Antarctic Centre.

Polaroid of the Hagglunds outside the Antarctic Centre

The tickets weren’t cheap, but Barret and I weren’t skimping on anything. We wanted to know as much as we could about what Nan might experience. If she was going to ride on a Hagglund, I wanted to as well. If she was going to fly on the Hercules cargo plane, I had to watch the whole informational video loop. If she got frostbite, then I was determined to simulate that by touching the ice slide with bare hands.

We browsed through Mc Murdo photo feeds far longer than the average visitor and shot each other knowing glances when there was firefighter equipment on display. Nan told me she was thinking of spending a winter season their too, so I watched an entire video about ‘life at the station’.

Spoiler alert- there were a lot of hippies and guitars.

I also gave anyone unfortunate enough to linger in my vicinity a short biography on my sister- employees included.

It was a new experience going to a museum with an agenda and I liked conducting research on behalf of my sister and my family. It felt a little bit stealthy, a little bit exciting, and I couldn’t wait to report back to Nan about Antarctica. She was going to love it!

How to get to the Antarctic Centre: 38 Orchard Road, Christchurch Airport, Christchurch 8544, New Zealand

Oamaru & The Victorian Fete: Week 88

Polaroid of the Steampunk HQ

A few years ago, the small Victorian town of Oamaru embraced the steampunk manifesto whole-heartedly. It wasn’t about making a radical statement; it was more like finally diagnosing a rare condition. Oamaru had every steampunk symptom imaginable: a cobbled Victorian precinct, vintage bicycles, a hat maker, and mock British battalion clubs. When push came to shove, the progressively retro citizens only needed to reorder their moustache wax and start collecting aviator goggles. I had anticipated something manufactured and gimmicky, but what I found was surprisingly genuine.

Polaroid of Oamaru Cycle Works

David Wilson, the owner of Oamaru Cycle Works and a blond handlebar moustache, was every bit the gentlemanly Victorian adventurer he appeared to be. Carrying only what fit inside custom saddlebags, David rode a penny farthing from the southernmost Stewart Island to the tip of the North Island. If you have ever driven the hilly landscape of New Zealand, you would understand why he is the only living resident of Oamaru with a sculpture in his honor.

Another proud Oamaruvian, Michael O’Brien, not only had 30 years of bookbinding experience but also looked the part of a scholarly artisan. Under his tidy charcoal vest was a white dress shirt, rolled up to the elbows. His full red beard said lumberjack, while the dark tie and beard combo said 19th century craftsman.

Everything in the narrow, little shop was handmade. While Michael told us about his background, I picked up a journal with marbled paper like a psychedelic oil slick. I knew I was going to buy it as soon as my fingers traced the sea foam bubbles and flipped through the thick acid-free pages. Since credit cards weren’t too popular amongst Queen Victoria’s subjects, I got a discount for paying cash.Polaroid of The Grainstore Gallery, Oamaru, New Zealand

Barret and I were so enchanted by the seaside city, we decided to return that Sunday for the Victorian Fete. It was a sunny day and Oamaru was flooded in period costumes, steampunk creations, Irish bagpipers, buskers, shoe shiners, food vendors and tourists. After a few circuitous rounds, a stop at the Grainstore Gallery, and a couple beers, we waited for the International Stone Sawing Competition to begin. Not that anyone came from far and wide to compete. In fact when I heard there was an open position, I all but dragged Barret to the sign up sheet. As he is a far more sensible drunk than I, he declined while I joined.

I was worried my inebriation would result in severed fingers (or at least a gristly cut), but I still found myself before a giant block of limestone and a saw blade longer than my arm. My heart pounded as I gripped the smooth wooden handle while my feet searched for equilibrium. As soon as the whistle sounded I was off like a bolt of lightning. My arms pumped back and forth, plunging the blade deeper into the rock, creating a cloud of powdery beige dust that covered my legs. Take that New York competitor! Up yours New Zealand!

My stamina must have lasted 30 seconds before I suddenly felt tired. Very tired. Each draw of the blade seemed to cut less rock while simultaneously requiring more energy. Next thing I knew, the race was over and I still had a way to go.

“Do I have to finish?” I asked the ruddy-faced MC.

“Yes,” she smiled at me before pulling out her microphone. “YES YOU HAVE TO FINISH.”

The crowd giggled but I didn’t care- I was focused, determined, and a little drunk. If I had done something stupid like not given up on myself or caught a second wind, I would have had to compete in the second round. NO THANKS.

It was the one time in my life I was relieved to come in last; which, coincidentally, also happens to be sixth place in the world.

How to get to Oamaru: Three hours south of Christchurch on State Highway 1.

Fox & Franz & Pete’s Possums: Week 87

Polaroid of Fox Glacier

Although I couldn’t see the Fox Glacier, there were definitely indications of its presence.  The valley had a telltale “U” shape and the river bank was peppered with “river  surge” warning signs. There were also the groups of tourists in ice climbing gear; wearing a look of disbelief as they surveyed their tropical surroundings, ice picks in hand.

I also had a hard time believing that a frozen block of ice was just around the corner. I wasn’t being pessimistic about the effects of global warming, I just couldn’t help but observe things like: luscious ferns, the silvery threads of waterfalls, and the hot sunny weather. As I walked, the dull thud of a helicopter sounded above. I knew the heli hike tours were going somewhere icy, but as I peeled off sweater layers I wondered how it could possibly be cold enough for a glacier.

Polaroid of Waterfalls at Franz Josef Glacier

It sounds impossible, but it’s true. New Zealand is one of only two places in the world where glaciers extend into temperate zones; Argentina being the other location. Although the view from the footpath isn’t really the best (the guided tours and heli hikes have the best views), that wasn’t what the experience was really about. It was about being at the beach, dipping our feet into the cool Tasman Sea and then heading a short distance through the rainforest to see an enormous chunk of ice. Insane!Polaroid of Franz Joseph Glacier

After seeing the Fox Glacier, we headed north along the highway to visit the Franz Josef Glacier- which had even more stunning waterfalls. I wish we could have gotten closer, but I knew better than to cross the barrier. There were plenty of signs reminding visitors of the two Australian brothers killed by a collapsing ice shelf.

Polaroid of the Bushman Centre

The only way we could cap off such an unbelievable day was with a possum pie. Ever since I’d read about the Bushman’s Centre, which is the only place in New Zealand that serves possum meat, I knew I had to go. When we finally got there, I jumped out of the car, swung my bag onto my shoulder, and heard a dull thump. It was my digital camera hitting the gravel parking lot. Shit- it was broken. I should have checked the zip on my backpack.

So I had gotten a little ahead of myself, but who wouldn’t get excited about invasive species baked goods? The lighting of the café-cum-museum was too dim for my vintage Polaroid camera, so there was to be no photos of possum pelt chair covers or notice boards full of disgruntled customer letters. I was super bummed and the only thing that made me feel better was an entire bag of Pineapple Lumps over a discussion about controversial vertebrate pesticides.

Oh, and of course possum pie.

By the way Barret, how does it taste?

“Uh,” he considered as he picked at his tongue, “it’s got some hairs.”

How to get to the:

Fox Glacier: Westland National Park- State Hwy 6, just south of Weheka

Franz Josef Glacier: Westland National Park- State Hwy 6, just south of the Franz Josef township

Bushman’s CentrePukekura, State Hwy 6- 35 minutes south of Hokitika

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