On Sunday, we hosted our first get together at our apartment in Auckland. At home (at least in Wisconsin) you might expect your host to provide drinks and snacks. Here no one expects that, on account of how expensive it would be to do so. In reality, we provided the venue for a small gathering and a grill. Everyone who came brought food and drink, and it was a merry time. Though in all honesty it couldn’t hold a torch to our epic Door County potlucks – it’s foolish to even compare – because we pretty much set the standard up on our little peninsula.
In any case, everyone had gone home by about 6pm and it was just me, Colin and our flatmate Rolo relaxing on the couch in our living room. And that’s when I spotted it. The rat – or wait, a possum? – in one of our banana trees, directly off the porch. We stalked to the window to have a closer look. We later looked up pictures of New Zealand rats and possums to make sure our identification was correct. Therefore I can say with confidence that it was definitely a rat, eating unripe bananas. I might not have believed it if it hadn’t paused, looked Rolo dead in the eye and then dashed off quickly as our neighborhood cat, the Ginja Ninja, approached and took up his post. We haven’t seen the rat since.
Rats are considered serious pests in New Zealand, and park rangers work hard to trap and poison them. We have seen them as roadkill on a number of excursions out into the country. Some parks go so far as to put a fence up around the perimeter with rat and possum traps, and all parks have traps in various locations throughout the forest (accompanied by warning signs). These two invasive species are the number one killer of birds, and have caused a series decline and near extinction of several unique species on the island. Mainly they have no predators, so they flourish at the expense of our feathered friends.
Especially vulnerable is the land-dwelling, nocturnal kiwi bird, which conservationists are working hard to protect. The kiwis lay their eggs on land, which makes them easy targets for rats and possums. That said, birds who tuck their nests away in trees aren’t safe either, these nasty critters won’t hesitate to climb right up and yank the babies from their roost. It’s true. We saw it on the internet. In all seriousness though, NZ doesn’t really have any indigenous mammals (besides bats). The country is home to an incredible array of birds, however, which are seriously threatened by these invasive creatures.
Anyway that was the first time we’d seen a live NZ rat, much less a rat in a tree. So you can imagine that Colin started meditating about how he might KILL ALL THE RATS (slingshot? bow and arrow? small cannon?) and our flatmate (who was not privy to the sighting) Kris, deliberated about who we might tell. In the end we did nothing and told no one, because you just can’t notify the authorities about a rat on the loose. We have to hope that he got what he deserved at the paws of the Ginja Ninja.
Most people in Auckland drive cars. They take great pride in their precious automobiles and might scoff at the crazy notion of car-pooling. As a result of being a competitive, business-oriented city, you’ll see a lot of (admittedly) sexy cars driving around. Four wheels take precedence over two feet – pedestrians beware – and most definitely over two wheels.
Most bikers wear all kinds of neon. Blaze orange vests, neon orange and yellow on their backpacks and helmets. I once saw a biker with four bike lights – one on the front of his bike, his helmet, the back of his bike and his backpack. In general, there are very few bikers – mostly men – and those who do take major precautions and bike defensively. I have two lights, one blaze orange vest and when on a major road I bike in the middle of the lane to be as visible as possible, and to avoid cars cutting me off.
So when I arrived at work the other day, having biked in a skirt, my male kiwi coworkers immediately questioned the logistics of this.
“I wear a skirt that’s long enough,” I said. “And if it’s windy, I take extra precautions. You’ve just got to embrace it.”
You’ve just got to embrace it. My unintentional new tagline.
I mentioned before that Aucklanders can be quite pretentious, and that certain parts of Auckland are more prone to this than others. The CBD, or “central business district” for those not hip to the kiwi lingo, is definitely one of those areas. That’s where I had to go today to get my suit fitted for work, and as you might imagine, I biked.
Biking into the CBD at noon on Thursday was pretty much the last thing I wanted to be doing, but I had no choice. So I bobbed, weaved, darted through crosswalks, tried not to get hit by the back end of a bus when it swung out, swore at the cars that didn’t leave any space between them and the curb, and shook my fist angrily at a JAFA who cut me off.
Sweating and a bit frazzled, I locked my bike up on a hip, narrow, cobblestoned side street and looked for Crane Brothers. It took me two walk-bys because they’ve got one of those tiny, sophisticated signs that you can’t see unless you’re really looking. Inside were three very sophisticated, metro-looking men with slicked back hair. They looked at me with open confusion and smiled tightly.
It was clear they were sizing me up just as I was sizing them up. I had a very Pretty Woman moment when I set my helmet and commuter bag on the leather chair and pulled out my rolled-up grey wool suit. To their credit they masked their judgement relatively well. They fitted me for the pants first, and that’s when I remembered that my very old Tom’s have been making my feet smell. He would need to hem the pants, and pin them, which would require close proximity with my smelly foot. My light blue tank top was still wet with sweat along the neckline. I grimaced to myself.
The very tall, manicured clerk made a bit of small talk with me as he tried to fit the over-sized jacket down to my munchkin shoulders and waist. I thought again about my flyaways and split ends as he picked up my bushy ponytail between two fingers and carefully moved it aside.
I almost choked on my sparkling water (who takes still when given a choice?) as he quoted the price of tailoring at over $300. Should he send the bill straight over to Creghan? I assumed that was a rhetorical question. Did he think the sweaty hippie in front of him would be paying for it? Certainly not.
My brief foray into the business district finished, I biked home without delay. I can barely contain my excitement at the prospect of going back to pick it up in two weeks.