May 27, 2007

Skip this, if not interested in money...

I don't think I ever waited for a Government budget to be announced with so much anticipation as I did here, in NZ, just a week ago. There are so many things wrong here that could be fixed with simple law changes or budget redistribution (things that are tested, tried and proven as successful in many countries around the world), so it is difficult to understand sometimes, why does it take so long to do simple and sensible things in NZ. The big news for this budget was the Kiwisaver scheme: you can save 4% or 8% of your wages for your retirement and the employer has to contribute 4%. Basically everyone says "well done", "great!". But what really puzzles me is why did it take so long to introduce an option like that?!?! The average NZer is deeply in debt and still can't stop spending for consumer goods (and property), while not saving enough for the pension. So this is a clever move to get people saving instead of spending and curb the inflation.

You don't have to look far (like Finland or Singapore) to get that idea. Just look across the ditch: Australia implemented a similar scheme in the 1999 and now have a TRILLION in people's savings to invest in businesses, etc. While NZers have been pooring all their money in property that hugely increased in price, but hasn't really generated any business. So local companies are stripped of cash and an average kiwi doesn't have any savings (s/he may have 5-6 houses though...). Besides all that, there's no capital gain tax on property (so you can own as many houses as you wish, sell them tripple the original cost and not pay ANY TAX!) and you can deduct mortgage interest of your investment property from your income tax. Hold on now for a minute... All this is happening, while the younger generation of kiwis increasingly can't afford to buy the first home?!?! How does all that add up?!?!

Why all this financial speak, you may ask? Who cares really? Well, it kind of affects what we can or cannot do here. And for one, it is not sensible for us to buy a home. It would be kind of cool to buy a house so that we could have 1) insulation, 2) ventilation, 3) some eco heating system 4) sauna, 5) backyard. But for now we can't really contemplate that, so we retreat to our cute(ish) bungalow with windows that steam up every morning (because of humidity and lack of ventilation) and continue to drag our 2 oil column heaters wherever we go (no central heating) and pay exorbitant power bills (no insulation). And go to tepid baths for sauna and walking to Waitakere ranges for our daily fix of nature.

We found these pohutukawa trees on our walk to Waitakere dam today. I thought they were supposed to be in bloom in midsummer on Christmas?!?! On the other hand, the salad in our tiny vegetable patch keeps sprouting new leaves, even though the winter is supposed to start next week!!!...

Posted by gkligyte at 11:24 PM | Comments (0)

May 22, 2007

Way to Our Hearts

This is our Tortoiseshell Moggie Whangai ("whangai" means "feed" or "adopted child" in Maori). Every day she comes to work and sleeps on the chair next to me or on Nicoletta's keyboard.

First time I saw her in December, I thought she was ugly - she looked like a possum! The cat was howling outside and was looking for any opportunity to get into our offices. We chased her away and hated her. She wouldn't give up, if the door was locked, she'd jump inside through the window, give us the vicious look and cry out more. Then we gave her milk. And there was no turning back.

Slowly she made her way into our offices, she'd sneak in and sniff out the corners behind the tables, then she'd fall asleep somewhere on the floor. Soon she started getting canned tuna for breakfast and moved up to sleep on the chair or on somebody's lap or on the table. The howling stopped and her character changed completely. We gave her the name Whangai and now she's "working" with us every day.

We'll be moving offices soon and we're trying to budget a cat door.

Posted by gkligyte at 12:03 AM | Comments (4)

May 13, 2007

Almost there...

This is Te Arai beach. After a longish break with the blog (busy at work!!!), I find it pretty hard to come up with a good story to write... Well, our residence applications have been approved and we submitted our passports to get the stamps a week ago. They gave us 3-6 months estimated processing time for the first application stage, so we were quite surprised to receive a positive answer in a month!!! I gather they couldn't believe their luck when they saw our application!!! A couple of youngish, healthy, highly educated people with vast work experience are willing to pay taxes here?!!? Quick! Approve it now before they change their mind!

The whole NZ immigration process is very pragmatic, basically you have to prove that you are good stock (you don't have a chance if you have problems with kidneys, or heart, anything that could potentially eventually make you a "burden" to the NZ society). I heard stories of perfectly healthy and capable people (with jobs!) rejected, because they had a disabled child, etc. So apparently we're sufficiently germ-free for this society.

NZ has a problem of brain drain to Australia and UK (obviously). The salaries here are not that great, taxes are high, housing expensive and of poor standard. There are lots of stories of people going for their OE (Overseas Experience) to earn the money so that they can return to NZ to buy home or start a business. Lots of people don't come back. Meanwhile lots of new people (surprisingly mostly from UK) immigrate to NZ all the time. It is quite interesting how it all works. Hearing the British immigrants' stories, it seems like it is pretty impossible to live in the UK anymore (crime, uncontrolled immigration (?!?!), etc...) They come to NZ looking for the last safe haven on Earth (if only they'd check the newspapers, not the glossy immigration brochures!)

In any case, considering the geographical isolation, NZ has a pretty mixed population: increasingly more Asian and Pacific, though majority still Pakeha (white European), and, of course, a very significant Maori minority.

The trees above are Kauri trees. We found a magnificent walk in Waitakere ranges that goes through kauri forests. The area is an established natural reserve, protected since the end of the 19th century. If you think that Europeans landed in NZ just some 250 years ago (really), you have to be impressed that they managed to destroy so much of the natural environment so fast! Apparently there are only 2% of the natural kauri forests preserved in NZ, everything else has been logged and shipped away (you may find kauri houses in San Francisco, apparently!). If I'm not wrong, it really took them only a few decades to deforest most of NZ (cashing in the forest, establishing farmlands, etc)

Kauri villas make really beautiful houses with "good bones" (the house in the picture is not built of kauri!). I took this picture, because they are building a house on one section in our street. One morning I saw that the old house was lifted high on poles and I thought that they are going to relocate it. Yes! They do "relocate" houses here. They move the whole house, just lift it off, put it on a truck and deliver it to a new location! For example, you could buy a piece of land, buy an old kauri villa and trasnport it (I heard they do transport them even from the South Island to North Island!), put it where you like and then renovate. So much for the proper basement, insulation and what have you. If the house is too big, they can saw it in two, deliver the halfs and put them back together in the new location! Apparently timber costs so much these days, that you could never afford to build a real log house here anymore (hence most of the modern architecture is so in love with corrugated iron!). Pretty cool recycling, I'd say.

Up till now the weather has been treating us really nicely! Considering that this is supposed to be as mid November in the Northern hemisphere, we have it good! I could wear a Tshirt while taking a walk on the clifftop at PIha!

Posted by gkligyte at 11:51 PM | Comments (0)