The best of: 2010-2014

The best of NZ Muse

One thing the past year has really hammered home for me is that I’ll never be happy with my writing. It is so hard to cover all bases, every possible detail, nuance, interpretation. I may think I killed it with a piece that exploded from my fingers, fast and furious, but find myself clarifying and expanding on points in response to various comments -and that feels like a communication fail.

One of the things I love most is writing stuff that resonates with other people. It’s not the kind of thing you can do every day (at least, I can’t). With the year about to end, I thought it’d be a nice time to look back on some of my favourite posts.

2010

On choices, mortality, and nearly losing it all

Dreams. It’s funny how they change

2011

My first love was a practice run

The ‘job that you wake up excited for’ propaganda

Making your way in the white collar world

2012

Learning to take criticism

Knowing your limits vs stretching your limits

2013

Post wedding reflections

Seven lessons I’ve learned from travelling

2014

Travel snobbery I’m so over

What it’s like to settle down after travelling the world

When the darkness threatens to swallow you whole

Why take a RTW trip?

Why you should take a RTW trip
Next year, a coworker is heading off on a RTW trip – an extended honeymoon – sound familiar?

Particularly if you’re in/from New Zealand, this kind of travel makes sense.

It’s economical

A RTW ticket with multiple stops can cost the same as a single return ticket to, well, almost anywhere in the world. STA’s cheapest RTW tickets start at just under $2000 – that’s the same as a typical return flight to London.

Our currency is strong right now

So you get more bang for your buck. Our money basically gets halved in the UK and Europe, but it’s been a lot worse in the past…

It’s efficient

You can squeeze more out of your time away – experiencing more, staying longer.

And tying back to my first point, on a per day basis it’s cheaper. Your costs are lower when you travel slower, staying put in places rather than moving around like a speed demon cramming everything into a few weeks or a few days.

Plus, play your cards right and you can seriously cut down on jetlag. Another colleague reckons she loses a couple of days at either end of the trip every time she goes back home to the UK. On our RTW trip, though, we had zero jetlag. We worked our way around the world and it worked out perfectly in regard to time zones and flights.

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How was your Christmas, on a scale of 1 to 10?

I would probably rank mine solidly average. I’m glad the actual day is over.

My mandate these holidays is twofold: RELAX, and STOCKTAKE.

I’m not checking work emails, and I wrapped up all my freelance projects as early in the month as I could.

We need to gather up documentation and see what we can do to recover the outstanding reimbursements owed by Terrible Ex Boss.

Speaking of terrible bosses, I’m gutted that a job T interviewed for last week – one just perfectly matched to his work experience/skillset – seemed to be run by a nightmare of an owner. Is it so hard to find a decent company and a non-psycho boss?

I also did a bit of an audit  on all our financial accounts. No surprise, we are still a long way off a down payment – but at least I know the numbers now.

In browsing TradeMe - the site where almost literally everything gets listed for sale in NZ, from the crap in the spare closets you want to offload, through to vehicles and houses – I’ve come to the conclusion that everything is either overpriced, or suspiciously low priced. If it’s too cheap you wonder what’s wrong with it – is it too good to be true? Is the car in rough shape, or was the house a meth lab/part of the leaky building wave?

Just one link this week: a love letter to the internet.

Creating my own elaborate websites about myself was outrageously, hilariously narcissistic in hindsight. But building my own sites gave me the ability to tell people who I was in a way that I could control. It also allowed me to look at myself in a positive way, something that was missing when I looked in the mirror. I liked the me I was on the web. I still do.

I’ve always wondered about the assumption that our online personas are more fake than our physical ones. I often feel awkward and nervous in real-life situations; I almost always feel like I’m saying the wrong thing and am unable to articulate what I really think and feel. Online, I have plenty of time and unlimited space to consider what to say and how to express myself. It’s an advantage that makes me feel more like myself, not less so.

Straight from my own head.

Why I’ll never make it to the blogging big leagues

I feel something so right in doing the wrong thingYou know when experts say certain things are must-dos? Well, there’s a lot of these that I am personally not into, and thus will not be doing in the foreseeable future – even if they work.

Sticking to a single niche

HA. Maybe in another life.

Popups asking you to subscribe

Do unto others what you have them do unto you.

Email lists

In my experience too often email lists are crap – people do them because they ‘should’ but don’t actually have anything worth offering.

Video

I may be in the minority but I know I’m not alone in shunning video content for the most part. I’m not into vlogs. I’m a word person. Unless there is a damn good reason to present it in video form, I want to consume your content in written form, thanks. In my experience working in online media, too often people do video for the sake of it, not because it’s actually the best medium for the specific content.

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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.

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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