Good night, Westley.
I'll most likely kill you in the morning.
- William Goldman, The Princess Bride
So this is it, our last regularly scheduled blog post. Please bear with me ... it's a bit of a long and rambling one.
Our journey began on a whim and with a little leap of faith (Link: Small Steps). Some time in early 2013, Kari made the suggestion that we jump out of our comfortable life in Myrtle Beach and try something new in New Zealand. Not being completely irresponsible, we planned a family vacation to the Land Of the Long White Cloud and spent two weeks traveling about in a caravan (Link: Around New Zealand in 14 Days Part 1 and Part 2). We fell in love with the country and the culture almost from the moment we landed for our extended holiday. We realised, of course, that living here would be something very different from spending a couple of weeks driving around like the Scooby Doo gang in the Mystery Machine. The biggest hurdle would be getting here in the first place. Putting our U.S. lives on hold for a year, while being about as far away from the U.S. as one can get, took a little planning and logistics (Link: Breaking Up is Hard To Do and Home Automation). Our transition to life here in New Zealand was aided by following the advice of friends who had forged this path before us. We were standing on the shoulders of giants, and little did we know at the time how much we would come to appreciate their friendship and open arms.
Virtual wine tour with Alyssa and Ryan. Napier Wine Centre, February 2017.
I've never been a writer, nor had much of a creative side. I have certainly never been one to share my thoughts, feelings, or emotions with others, so I have no idea what possessed me to attempt a weekly blog. A few weeks just prior to leaving, I told Kari that I was considering writing about our soon-to-be life in NZ. I think she was as surprised as I was by the suggestion. We were in the car on our way to the mountains and we started brainstorming some ideas. The first thing was to come up with a name. We wanted a title that would be uniquely Kiwi, but easy to understand and remember for our family and friends in the U.S. and Canada. I had something in mind, but can't for the life of me remember what it was. I kept rejecting other ideas from Kari and Little Highstead, then Kari threw out the title "Jandals and Togs". We tried a few others on for size, but it was perfect and it stuck ("Jandals" is Kiwi slang for flip-flops, and "Togs" are swimsuits).
I'm no Jonathan Livingston Seagull
I had no idea what I was committing myself to. Only a few months in, Kari starting referring to the blog as my other wife. Between generating an idea, research, writing and editing, formatting and adding photos, a typical blog post takes 10+ hours of work spread out over several days. Of course, some of the posts have taken much less work. The Most Dangerous Game and Apocalypse Now were conceived, formatted, and written in my head during a 30 minute walk from work. Once I got home, all I had to do was sit down and write them out. I got in the habit of carrying a small notebook to scribble thoughts, ideas, song quotes, and particularly appealing turns of phrase. I would turn to the notebook for ideas when the well was running dry. My goal was to post something each week, and I have more or less hit that target, but I did take a break from writing for several weeks just after the new year. Of course, I hadn't promised anybody anything. I could have quit at any time and just faded away, but I held on with a certain tenacity. I'm proud of the fact that I set this goal and saw it through to the end, but I would be lying if I said that some part of me isn't glad to be looking at it in the rear-view mirror. It's been tough.
It would seem that many of you have found it tough as well. For the first month or two, most posts were read by well over 200 readers each week. Settling In, posted 7 Oct 2016, saw the most hits at 288. Lucky (1 July 2017), did get 260 hits but I suspect that had more to do with all the people I tagged when I posted it rather than any inherent merits. And one of my more recent posts, Street Beat (4 Aug 2017), garnered 251 distinct hits. The general trend over the last 2-3 months, however, has been a drop in hits to about 30-70 for any given post. I'm definitely disappointed to see readership fall off as it has. I feel like my writing has improved as the year progressed and my later posts have been much better written than the earlier ones, though I suspect that my writing has also become somewhat formulaic. Most recently, one of the nurses at work called my writing "scholarly". It really wasn't what I wanted to hear, I'm going for "entertaining", but it certainly echoes earlier critiques.
Himatangi Beach from Chumbawamba's driver seat
I'm most proud of our photography. We bought our first "grown-up camera" knowing that we would be moving to NZ and wanting to do it justice. I had a rudimentary understanding of how a camera works from my attempts at underwater photography using a Nikonos V about 20+ years ago. This was a 35mm manual film camera with an optical viewfinder, and it was pretty much state of the art for underwater photography when I was using it in the 1990's. The digital revolution made it obsolete and the model was discontinued in 2001. I shot slide film and had to process and mount the slides myself. It was a great introduction to every aspect of image making. Sadly, while the camera was mine, the images I generated were owned by someone else and I have none of the several hundred pictures I shot.
Nikonos V underwater camera. For me, where it all began ... and ended.
When we finally got ready to purchase our DSLR, I spent a lot of time researching our various options and took the advice of photographer friends. We wanted a camera system that would allow us to grow into it for many years, but still be manageable as beginners. We started out with a camera body suited for serious amateurs and pros, but not top-of-the-line, and a standard lens. Along the way, we bought a used wide-angle lens. The glass was better and the speed of the lens was an improvement, but more importantly, it forced me to think about composition and lighting. Teaching myself to use a wide angle lens, I also learned more about how to use my standard lens. Some of the gains I made with the DSLR even translated to improvement in my phone pics. Link: Playing Favourites and Caution! Wide Load.
As I worked to hone this craft, I discovered that there are differences even within photography itself ... who knew? I had thought that I preferred landscape/nature photography ... it's the environment in which I am most comfortable. When starting to explore the capabilities of the new lens, I found that I actually preferred street photography and candid portraits. With Little Highstead playing soccer, I have also taken a special interest in sports photography. I'm just beginning to understand how these disciplines require their own specialized approach, and every time I learn something new, it only reveals the depth of my ignorance. Kari recently took a one-day photography workshop and I was green with envy. As she and I have become more adept and accomplished, it has served to whet my appetite for more.
Artsy pics, candid portraits, street views, and soccer have each provided new challenges as I fumble my way along.
During our year here, we have made almost monthly journeys away from Palmy. Our favourite destinations have been Wellington and Napier, but we have managed to travel pretty extensively throughout both the North and South Islands. I can't neglect what brought us here in the first place, however. I have never defined myself by my job and my job title is not who or what I am. That being said, my vocation as an emergency medicine physician is what has allowed us the time, opportunity, and financial stability to travel and work abroad. Even when practicing in the US, I frequently took moonlighting gigs. Working in a different hospital, with different staff, and sometimes different expectations from what I am used to is a great way to keep me learning and keep me interested. Even before arriving, I was excited to practice medicine in a new country and a (new to me) socialized medicine system.
Palmerston North Emerg Dept (A&E) ... an insider's view
Healthcare training in New Zealand is fundamentally different from that in the United States (Link: Training Docs Down-under). It follows, then, that the practice of healthcare is also very different. Ostensibly "socialized medicine", healthcare in New Zealand is actually a hybrid public/private system. ACC (Accident Compensation Corporation) covers all expenses assoc with "accidents", including car accidents, accidental trauma/injuries, and some medical conditions (e.g. seizures). It is funded by taxes on employers, employees, petrol, and vehicle registration. This is a true single payor system.
Everyone in New Zealand has access to the public, single payor system for hospital level care; however, private insurance can be purchased or people can pay out-of-pocket to bypass the public healthcare system and enter the private system. This dual pathway is common for certain specialties (e.g. Orthopaedic surgery). Primary Care (GPs, Family Doctor, etc) on the surface are part of the private system; patient's pay a co-pay or insurance to cover, but their care is actually govt subsidized.
New Zealand spends about 9% of its GDP on healthcare. In comparison, the US spends approx 17% of GDP on healthcare (the next closest in the world is Switzerland at about 12%). In absolute dollars, that is about $9450 USD per person (NZ spends approx $3400 USD per person). You would think all that additional money would lead to better care, but outcomes for the US are not so great when compared to other OECD countries. Some of that cost difference has been attributed to the difference in attitudes with respect to end of life care. Initial analyses do not seem to bear that out. (Link: End of Life Care).
On one of the forums that I frequent, someone had said not to go to NZ for the money, and that has certainly born out to be true. We made far less money here than in the US, and financially we are much worse off than we were just a year ago. We changed the way we lived, in some ways out of necessity. While we didn't accumulate wealth while we were here, and I contributed nothing to savings or retirement, I was very happy with my work environment and thought the pay was fair. We lived much more simply than we were accustomed to and were much happier for it. If anything, this was the biggest lesson we learned while being away. Hopefully, we will take this new attitude home with us and our life in the US will continue to be as simple as it has been here.
"Home" in the U.S. and NZ.
At this point, we are looking around our rental house and trying to decided what to take with us and what to leave behind. Kari and I are both amazed at how quickly the year has come to an end. In an earlier post, we had written about how becoming friends with Kiwis is a slow process (Link: The Long Goodbye). One of my co-workers and his family emigrated from the U.S. just a few months before we did and disagreed with my assessment, while several Kiwis felt I was spot-on. Tom (the American) thought that their assimilation was probably aided by having several young children who were all involved in sport. Now that we finally have developed a bit of a social circle, mostly through Little Highstead's soccer (Tom wasn't wrong), it's time for us to pack up once again and leave. It seems this month ahead is filled with plans to catch up with people as we get ready to go.
As this adventure draws to a close, it means that our next adventure is just beginning. Our plan is to spend a month traveling through Asia and Europe before returning to the U.S. We will spend a few days in NYC then drive south, stopping to visit friends along the way. Just a few days before we left the U.S. last October, our cul-de-sac threw its annual outdoor movie night and block party (Link: Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow). Funny enough, we found out that this year the block party will be held just a week after we return.
Thanks to all of you for dropping by every now and then, leaving your comments, and PMing me. While this is our last weekly blog post, it's not the last you will hear from us. We will attempt to post short stories and photos along the way as we visit Japan and then from our post-card tour of Europe.