Link love (Powered by grey days and a stuffy nose)

nzmuse link love roundup

I’ve always hated taking pills. For the longest time I simply couldn’t swallow time. I’ve gotten over that hurdle now, but I still have a mental block in the that regard. I think this distaste for medication is one of the weird things passed down to me by my mother.
I’m all for doing whatever it takes to control major things like crippling acne or terrible periods – but everyday maladies I tend to wait out. Headaches, colds, whatever.

Now that hayfever season has come around again, I’m reluctantly admitting that I need the drugs. I need them every year and I’m almost certainly going to need to take them for the rest of my life.

Much as I hate relying on medication to get through daily life, I don’t think I have much of a choice. Why go through misery and suffering when there’s a fix for it?

This week’s links

How to double your salary: Some solid career advice

The slow burn of financial education

Travelling isn’t really all that glamorous

On making money, unapologetically

The rules of creative success in the digital age

Cultivating an attitude of abundance

What to do in that weird week between Christmas and New Year

Foodie Friday: Where to eat on the West Coast

Whitebait fritters - Donaldo's at Carter's Beach, Westport
Whitebait fritters at Donaldo’s at Carter’s Beach, Westport

I’m not much of a small town person, and one of the reasons for that is simply that I love food. And usually, cities are where it’s at for eating.

But the West Coast surprised me with amazingly simple, fresh pub grub and café eats. (I already raved about the degustation dinner at Te Waonui.) If you’re ever travelling up or down the coast, here are a few places I heartily recommend.

Freddy’s Cafe – Greymouth

We arrived in Greymouth around lunchtime on a Sunday on the TranzAlpine only to find most of the town shut. One place that was open was Freddy’s, tucked away upstairs on Mackay St. A couple of doors down was a chain cafe that we actually spotted first, but when faced with a franchise vs an indie? I’ll almost always try the local offering.

While the sweet treats in the cabinet looked tempting, what we really needed was a proper lunch. I went for the classic fish and chips and was not disappointed. Generous plate, with a side salad to boot. If I recall right, my lunch buddy had the whitebait fritter special – not as big but apparently excellent.

Coasters Bar – Hokitika

We decided to follow the path of least resistance and dine in. If you’ve got the dosh and the desire for a somewhat upmarket dinner experience, the Ocean View restaurant is the way to go. But we wanted something more casual and a little cheaper, so we opted for the Coasters bar (it’s in the building in front). There were locals winding down with a beer after work, and a wall paying homage to local sporting talent that have done the town proud over the years.

I ordered the paprika hotpot, which arrived steaming and topped off with a fluffy pie crust. I’m still not quite sure how you’re supposed to actually go about eating a dish like that, but I think a bit of mess is inevitable.

Afterwards, it was back to my room for a soak in the spa bath while listening to my happy playlist on Spotify.

Donaldo’s – Carter’s Beach, Westport

Donaldo’s is a neat spot in Westport – Carter’s Beach to be specific – looking out to the ocean that was humming with locals when we popped in for dinner.

I must confess, I don’t really get the appeal of whitebait. But I figured I’d give it another shot while I was here. It was prime whitebaiting season, after all – what better time to sample it? And while the whitebait fritters were crazy fresh, I can’t lie … I still think whitebait is plain and boring, no matter how much lemon or salt you add. But hey, a lot of people love it.

In short: whitebait ain’t for me, but this is a great place to eat whitebait if you do.

Denniston Dog, Westport

Denniston Dog, in the main Westport township, came highly recommended. We wound up eating here not once but twice – first, an early breakfast, then for afternoon tea in anticipation of the plane ride home.

I’m personally leery of anything Mexican down under, but my buddy had the breakfast quesadilla and had good things to say about it. I went for the breakfast stack myself and was absolutely blown away – every aspect was out of this world. I cannot fault the crispy hash brown, the perfectly poached egg, the hollandaise or any of the accompanying veggies. Also recommended: the cabinet snacks and the fresh fruit smoothies.

My beef with capitalism: Inequality’s a bitch

The problem with inequality

Economics is not my strong suit. Nor can I say I am particularly interested in it. I’m a micro person, not a macro person; a creative trying to get by in a capitalist world.

But even I can’t fail to note that the wealth gap is growing, not shrinking.  Yep, even here in little old New Zealand.

I like this dummy proof breakdown:

“New Zealand, which had the developed world’s biggest increase in inequality from the mid-1980s to the mid-2000s, has seen more economic damage than most. According to the OECD’s calculations, our economy grew about 30% in the last two decades – but it would have grown by 45%, or half as much again, if inequality had stayed at 1980s levels.”

Inequality matters. It’s a no-brainer. It’s a drag on the economy, and I think the saying that “you’re only as strong as your weakest link” is perhaps relevant here.

“When families lack the income they need to pay doctors’ fees and keep healthy, or to fix their car so they can travel to a new job, or to give their kids the equipment and clothes they need to succeed at school, it’s obvious that economic growth will suffer. You could argue that these are problems of poverty, not inequality, but really the two are inseparable; the reason some people have so little is that the fruits of economic growth are going largely to our richer citizens.”

As someone who ostensibly belongs to the middle class, occasionally I feel a tremendous sense of guilt that I have it so much better than many other people, and gratitude to be lucky to be where I am. But the other 99% of the time I spend fretting that we’ll never be able to really get ahead.

Bridget at Money After Graduation sums up my feelings perfectly:

“Wealth inequality is a growing, terrifying problem and I don’t want to be on the losing end of the deal. I’d rather we live in a more equal society when it comes to wealth distribution, but so long as we don’t, my singular goal is to get as far away from the bottom as possible.”

When necessities take up more of your income, you may even need to borrow to afford them. I don’t believe in ‘broke yet happy’. I think it’s something people tell themselves in order to feel better. Nice idea – in theory.

So, what are we supposed to do? Same old, I guess. Hustle, hustle, hustle.

A key piece of the inequality puzzle in New Zealand boils down to that most basic of needs: shelter. The way I see it, so much of this hinges on property – stability, security and quality of housing. The status quo is a disaster in financial terms – and in health terms, for renters.

It’s good to see that our go-to economist for all stories on renting vs buying is finally starting to discuss the pragmatic downsides of renting in New Zealand. While the actual quality of rental housing isn’t a talking point (and thus, the problem with mainstream media and the limited perspectives of the typically privileged people within it) he acknowledges New Zealand has some of the most restrictive rules in the developed world for renters.

“New Zealand is strangely different in that we have made this almost special provision around renting of residential property versus other types of renting.” – NZ Herald

“The rental market is designed for students flatters. It is no surprise that it is the young couples with children who are most unhappy.” – Stuff

But the level of chatter around the state of rental housing is growing.  Research shows that private rental housing is in worse condition than houses that are owner occupied, however, in a tight market, you have to take what you can get.

“One potential tenant, looking at a property, asked if the holes could be fixed and rodent droppings cleared before she moved in. “[The landlord] said: ‘If you don’t like it, there’s other people that want to live here’.”

Is it any wonder the typical tenancy lasts only just over a year?

Amazingly, here’s a rare mainstream newspaper editorial that hits the nail on the head.

Housing in New Zealand is not only scarce and expensive; for too many people, it is also downright unhealthy.

“Our national housing stock is of poorer quality than most OECD countries. In particular, too many houses are damp and cold – which means they contribute to our grim rates of infectious and respiratory diseases.

This is deplorable in an advanced country, and like our other housing problems, it needs to urgently change.

Extensive work has already been done, so there is no excuse for delay. Most recently, results from a pilot study on 144 rental homes showed 90 per cent failing the warrant. That number needs some qualification – some houses failed for such easily remedied reasons as flat batteries in smoke alarms. But other results were more deeply concerning – like the third of rental properties that lacked any form of fixed heating.

No-one in New Zealand should have to live in a dog of a house.”

In order for renting to life to work you need to be able to save and invest what you’re “saving” by not having a mortgage. The problem is, rents are not going anywhere except up and up.

  • Renter demand in Auckland is forecast to increase by 63% over the next 20 years and it is unclear whether “mum and dad” investors will be able to meet this demand
  • Rental affordability is a critical issue for low- middle income households in Auckland, and people who enter retirement renting are likely to face ongoing hardship

The prospect of continuing to have to pay rent throughout retirement is scary. I can kinda understand why suicide at 65 starts to look like a pragmatic option.

Recently, an acquaintance posted a photo on Facebook . In it, he and his girlfriend stood on the deck of their new house, all smiles. Of course, like all our other home-owning peers, they only managed this because their parents stumped up cash for their down payment. Heck, if mine offered, I’d swallow my pride and take the offer.

But is this what the future of our country looks like? Only the well off buying homes for their children and passing the privilege of living in a decent property on down the generations, while everyone else remains stuck in cold, damp rentals and suffering all the ill effects that poses?

Surely we can do better than that.

Link love (Powered by grilling and strawberries)

nzmuse link love roundup

PSA: If you’re on the hunt for an offbeat movie to watch, look up What We Do in the Shadows. It’s been on my radar for awhile – made by and starring some of our top film/comedic talent, it took out a People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival. I FINALLY got around to watching it the other day, and all I can really say is wow. It’s so bizarre, so very Kiwi, and just … original. It won’t be for everyone, that is for sure.

This week’s links

Unsuccessful pickup lines used on Asians. White people: stop ni hao-ing anyone who looks vaguely Oriental. kthxbai

On battling feelings of inferiority

A life of renting is dark and dismal

Odd friendships you probably have in your life

Healing through pop music 

A roundup of great writing on women and gender

One of the best pieces of advice ever: Be the person you needed when you were younger

Three big money lessons I learned this year

I’ve been back in full-time employment for a whole year now, and I’ve been thinking about the place work occupies in my life.

I do not want my life to revolve entirely around work … but that said, I would much rather focus on work than the domestic front. Paid work can be frustrating (and a whole bunch of other adjectives) but I find it so much more personally fulfilling than doing household type work.

If money were no object, I would literally never cook or clean. I would pay to have all that done. Not because I think my time is super valuable, but because I simply don’t enjoy those tasks and I am not very good at them. Eating good food made by others = one of my biggest joys.

On a macro level, here’s what else I’ve been contemplating, more  generally.

Your pay does not always reflect your worth

It’s common sense, and we all know this. You are more than your paycheck. But this REALLY hit home for me this year, having moved out of a field that is notorious for underpaying and overworking.

It seems crazy to me that people like the Starbucks barista profiled by the NY Times work so hard and get paid so much less than I do. Or that some construction foremen can earn less than me when that is objectively a much harder and more important job. And don’t get me wrong, I’m hardly rolling in it; I’m only now making the equivalent of a starting salary in many other fields. Yes, sometimes it’s because the higher-paying role genuinely creates more value/ROI for the business – but not always.

There is a LOT of money floating around out there

I have written about countless funded startups and interviewed both investors and entrepreneurs. T has sold stuff to people with (in my humble opinion) way too much money.

It’s clear to me that there is money to be made – if you can tap into it. That means getting into the right industries in the right kinds of roles.

Money affords happiness

There’s no such thing as ‘broke yet happy’ in my world. Never has been, never will be.

I earn more now. That reduces my stress levels. It enables me to live a more enjoyable life.

I hate scrimping. Don’t get me wrong, I am really frugal by nature, and I suppose that’s why I hate to have to cut back beyond that.

For years I thought T would outearn me – but that’s not how life has worked out.

Strangely enough, an unexpected benefit of what I do these days is that the things I struggled with previously – the external/outward facing stuff, coming up with story ideas – aren’t factors anymore. And for the first time I feel like I have the means to support (financially speaking)  the creative things I love – bands, publications.

New Zealand can offer a great lifestyle, but it’s not a cheap place to live, particularly in Auckland. If I have the opportunity to earn more to fund a better life, then that’s not a route I’m going to turn my nose up at.

Also: at some point, I would like to work someplace that pays bonuses. Just to see what it’s like.

So, I just learned something really shitty…

The Disputes Tribunal – essentially small claims court – cannot deal with cases where “someone knows they should do something but simply refuses to (for example, to chase a debt that someone agrees they owe you)”.

Why this sucks: Since T quit Toxic Job, we have been waiting to be reimbursed a couple hundred dollars in expenses. These were incurred on behalf of the company on our personal credit card shortly before he left.

It has now been over four months. We have been constantly following up. There are two bosses; let’s call them Aaron and Ant. Aaron is the sane, decent, normal one, and who unfortunately is/was also the less hands-on one. After initially contacting Ant, T has mostly been emailing Aaron lately – since he is infinitely more reasonable – and Aaron has been apologetic and understanding. Though, let it be observed, not to the point of ACTIONING THE REIMBURSEMENT.

Based on the vibe T is getting from him, and the fact that T’s ex-colleague/buddy (we’ll call him Rich) just interviewed for a job at the competition, it seems like shit is going down over there. Rich is young, a small town boy, a bit of a pushover really, who has put up with Ant for months. So for him to have finally had enough and be looking elsewhere, it must be bad. (On the plus side, since he got the new job and starts in January, it’ll mean no more talk about Toxic Job when he comes around to visit in the future. That was the worst part about the friendship IMO – dwelling on all that drama.)

I have financially written off that money, but I cannot let it go emotionally (though I really should for sanity’s sake) and I refuse to give up on the principle (and T is fully in agreement on that count). Being an asshole and driving away all your staff is one thing; cheating them out of money that they are owed is another.

I’d had the idea in the back of my mind that Disputes Tribunal would be the next step, but apparently it won’t be. The fact that money is owed is not actually in dispute.

I know that unpaid wages would fall under the Employment Relations Authority; I’m assuming money owed for reimbursements would probably be in the same boat. Need to look into this further, but it’s a headache I really do not need right now.

Allrighty, vent over. Any advice gratefully received.

Hokitika, the home of greenstone and treetops

Hokitika - Driftwood sign on the beach

Know what amused me most about Hokitika? Tourists picking up handfuls of sand off the beach and placing it safely into a plastic ziplock bag, presumably to take home. Cute.

Hokitika - Driftwood sign on the beach - plus couch

Okay, and maybe the armchair sitting in a puddle.

So, what’s Hokitika all about?

It’s a small seaside town on the West Coast, between Greymouth (north) and glacier country (south) – Franz Josef and Fox Glacier – the kind of place that’s a lunch stop or overnight stop for most visitors. (It’s also known for its end-of-summer Wildfoods Festival.) And lately, it’s been enjoying a burst of attention thanks to its inclusion in Eleanor Catton’s Man Booker-winning novel, The Luminaries.

Here’s what we got up to in Hokitika.

Getting to grips with greenstone

I learned some fun new facts while in Hokitika, touring one of the local greenstone shops. Greenstone (or pounamu in Maori) is nephrite jade and it’s highly prized, yet if you do happen to find any on the west coast beaches of the South Island (only in these areas, though!) you can collect it and bring it home with you. There is a 5kg limit in place when it comes to taking greenstone out of New Zealand.

And did you know that we actually import a lot of greenstone – from Canada, Asia, and other regions? If buying a local greenstone product – a carving, a necklace, etc – is important to you, look closely to see if it’s genuine New Zealand pounamu. Or, if in doubt, ask.

So, head to one of the many, MANY greenstone shops in Hokitika. See if you can take a tour and see the master carvers at work.

Walking through the treetops

The  west coast is  the wettest region in New Zealand, so it stands to reason that the greenery here is particularly lush. At Treetops  just south of Hokitika, one of the newer attractions around, we went for an amble through the forest – 40 metres in the air.

Treetops walk near Hokitika

Treetops walk near HokitikaTreetops walk near HokitikaTreetops walk near HokitikaTreetops walk near Hokitika

I always seem to forget/underestimate just how afraid of heights I am. These bridges are engineered so that they do sway and flex under pressure, which was mildly terrifying even on a calm sunny day with nobody else around. That aside, it was a nifty thing to have experienced. If that’s your kinda jam, remember: Treetop Walk!

Alas, I’ve still yet to visit the Hokitika Gorge, which is a total stunner in photos. Next time?