I have made it to New Zealand! I survived the planeride! I got through customs! I found my people and my place to stay! I have settled so fully that I am now sleeping in/unable-to-leave-room-cos-of-a-small-anxiety-attack in New Zealand! And beyond that dumb brainspell everything here is absurdly great.
There’s a fern, unlike any fern i’ve seen, twisting its way up a wooden beam outside my window. There are trees, unlike any I’ve seen, surrounding my room on all sides. Green fills the window to the right of me–feathery ferns and stocky lil trees leaning toward the ocean just beyond. Green fills the window behind me, tear-shaped bug-bitten leaves snaking through a wire fence and moss covered stone steps leading up to the road, and the hills, and the low wisps of cloud moving across the sky all graceful and slow like a fancy waiter’s hands. There’s a mirror resting on the floor next to my steamer trunk and it’s shining w a silvery square reflection of this everflowing greenery. I can just barely handle it.
I am inside romance right now. The walls of my bedroom are a soft mint-green, natural muslin curtains border each window and billow out with a soft morning wind; my laptop is resting upon a soft, white quilted comforter. I’ve entered into the perfect sad teen tumblr reblog. I just need some tiny succulents and string lights, and a homemade banner that says “I still think only of you”.
Kiwis are supernaturally humble and low-key about all of this too. On my first day here, I was walking with my friend back to their home and got aesthetically knocked out by their street. It was pleasantly suburban, with wooden rambler homes painted different bright colors, and low powerlines criss-crossing unevenly across the street with a fog-shrouded swell of greenery acting as the natural dead-end. I was knocked out cos I realized that we were walking directly into a “24 HOUR LO-FI HIPHOP STUDY MIX” screenshot.
“Are y’all like perpetually gobsmacked by your surroundings?” I asked.
“Oh, you mean the hill?” My friend said, “Nah.”
I am learning this self-effacement is a cultural thing. A sign of rudeness would be to talk about yourself, or try to signify some sort of status. And one of the worst things you can do to someone else is compliment them too effusively. To put someone on a pedestal means they now have to work extra hard to get themselves down and that’s stressful. But people still recognize that they are living in a paradise, and work to keep things nice. So there’s an air here where everyone is supremely chill, but shimmering.
There’s a coffee shop around the corner from my computering school that has remarkable espresso. It’s in a cool retro-fitted garage, with a huge-ass bar and punk kiwi baristas that shout “yeah, boy!” with sincere happiness when you give them your order. But while it’s cool, it’s not stressfully cool. You feel welcome immediately. And there’s no register, or cashier. Instead, you prepay for a bunch of cups through a self-service card reader and then you write down how many cups you paid for in a big book on the counter. So you’ll write your name, and then draw a bunch of squares beneath your name, tell the barista what kind of coffee you want, they shout “yeah, boy!”, and you draw an X on one of the squares. Their business plan seems to hinge entirely on trust and people not being assholes, and here that’s a sustainable business model.
The downside of this is that I am extremely self-conscious all the time. I am acutely aware of being a loud, large American coming from a city where status is constant, and a hungry near sociopathic social-climbing is seen as a sign of affection. I keep wanting to disappear (like now, as people chat warmly in the rooms above me but I stay glued to the bed typing to you). I’m over-compensating in humility, which means I stay silent in conversation while privately wondering if I’m talking too much or being too loudly quiet. My emotional state is like when you find yourself next to a beautiful painting in a gallery and your voice drops to a whisper, because it’d be rude to talk near a painting, and you take your hands out of your pocket and clasp them behind your back due to some private hierarchy of social graces created on the fly and known only by you.
I am excited to calm down and see hills as just hills and friends as just friends. And so I’ll shut off this computer and go say hey to my flatmates. And then I will walk into the city. And sure that walk requires that I climb the mountain Maitarangi, one of the most picturesque spots in the city. And sure, it’s part of local myth that a mythic sea dragon name Waitatai tried to jump from a lake into the sea, but was too fat and got stuck in the gap between. And this giant body of a dragon slowly settled, and provided a home for fish and birds and turned gradually into soil and trees and stone. And sure, it will be down this dragon’s back I will walk to reach the city and see my friends, but I’ma try to be chill about all of this.