Readers may remember the recent article about the crime ridden, down-at-heel township of Tokoroa being unable to attract a doctor, even with the offer of a $400,000 salary and 12 weeks of annual leave.
The news obviously struck a chord with the UK’s Daily Telegraph who used the impetus to re-publish a blog by journalist Peter Foster.
Foster moved his family to New Zealand eight years ago. In 2009 he wrote about how he “was driven bonkers” in the space of two weeks in Takaka, and left NZ after a year.
Interestingly, Foster made the same mistake as many migrants to New Zealand – he believed the hype about the lifestyle, took a massive drop in salary and moved to what he thought was paradise. In reality it turned out to be as dull as ditch-water and as boring as hell. However, he’s glad he gave it a go – it was an experience.
If there’s anything that can be learned from Foster’s experience it is this – New Zealand doesn’t have to be for life, if you’re attracted to it give it a go by all means but don’t sink your life savings into the place. Give it a try for a couple of years max and retain the wherewithal to move on at the end. As our readers will tell you, it can be a miserable, soulless, career ending place to be trapped in especially if you have children and aren’t allowed take them home or out of the country.
After-all, over one million Kiwis live abroad, that must tell you something. People with get up and go do exactly that.
Here it is again.
It was one morning during the school run that I finally realised that life in paradise wasn’t for me. There are no traffic jams in heaven, just an undulating bike ride to the local kindergarten through fields of buttercups and vanilla fudge cows.
On the back of the bike the first-born yabbers away as only a soon-to-be-four-year-old can; bleating at the newborn lambs and pointing upwards into a firmament as blue as the gaze of the late Paul Newman.
“Look Daddy,” he says, brimming with the joys of a New Zealand spring, “It’s a skylark? Can you hear him?” I could, and yet much as I wished to share in the boy’s innocent enthusiasm for the birdlife, my own mood was decidedly unlarklike. In fact, if I’d had a gun, I’d have taken pleasure in blasting it from the sky.
It so wasn’t meant to be like this. After a decade scrumming it in big cities – six years in London, four in New Delhi – moving to Golden Bay in the garden of New Zealand was supposed to be a dream existence.
The idea was to take our young family from a sooty suburb in New Delhi (pop. 20 million) to the tiny rural town of Takaka (pop. 1,182) on the South Island and prove there really was more to life than career ladders, commuting and dropping the kids at daycare. (I’m still haunted by the London friend who said he didn’t know what his son liked to eat because he “usually ate at nursery”.)
So while our metropolitan mates were spinning like fretful mice in their wheels, we aspired to a broader view of the world – earning much less (just enough to get by) but enjoying ourselves far more. After all, it doesn’t cost anything to walk on the beach or swim in the sea and, if you know where to look, there are plenty of free lunches to be had – fish from the ocean and fresh veggies from the garden.
If we were a little smug, it was only because we thought we were daring to be different.
Perhaps too different. Golden Bay has always attracted its fair share of refugees from reality. In the 19th century it was gold rushers, in the Sixties the first hippies, in the Nineties the “end of the world is nigh” millennium crowd and, most recently, a species of green-minded folk looking for a quiet place to grow vegetables while the world sleepwalks into ecological Armageddon.
It is, quite literally, the end of the earth (which was the point) but at times during the past year, standing on the beautiful beach at the bottom of our garden, I did start to wonder if I might topple off without anybody actually noticing. Being awake while the rest of the world is asleep is not healthy for lifelong news junkies.
It’s deeply annoying to admit it, but the metro-mate naysayers (smug themselves, we thought) have been proved correct. “You’ll go bonkers in a week,” they said. They were only half-right. It took me at least two. Growing the perfect runner bean and baking dates scones have their undeniable satisfactions, as does catching your red snapper at sunset and pounding the deserted windswept beaches.
But there is a limit. And now, I’m faintly ashamed to say, I have discovered it. So while it’s wonderful for young children to have their father around all day, a father’s not much use if he’s become a lunatic lark-slayer.
More seriously, I hope they will forgive me for taking them back to a high-rise city and they’ll adjust again to the long hours ahead of dad disappearing into his office. No doubt there’s a balance out there – somewhere – but this year I didn’t find it.
None of which is to say that we regret a single second of our year-long stay in Golden Bay. Life turned out exactly as billed, but in the end it just felt different from how I’d hoped it would. We’ve made good friends and grown stronger as a family, learning plenty of new things about each other – good and not so good – and gained a healthily broad perspective on life. I’ll never forget the daily walks on the beach, the afternoons foraging and exploring and the evenings fishing off the rocks. Each and every experience, even the skylarks on the school run, has been wonderful, magical – and yet… and yet.
Whisper it softly, but bliss is, well – I’ll say it straight out – boring as hell. Or should that be boring as heaven? After a year in the pristine seclusion of Golden Bay tending the veg plot, I crave the infernal stink of the big city and the juice-inducing competition of the rat race.
If that’s a measure of my own shortcomings as a human being, then so be it, but I’m afraid Julian Barnes had heaven bang on in the sublime climax of A History of the World in 10 Chapters when his narrator wakes from a dream to find himself “on the other side”.
At first everything is gratifyingly brilliant.
Breakfast is so perfect he eats it again for lunch and dinner, in between shooting 18 around every golf course in the world; winning a Grand Slam at tennis and scoring a blistering but elegant 750 not out against Australia at Lord’s.
But in the end, living his dream life is a strangely empty experience. “Why do we have these dreams of Heaven?” he asks his celestial shrink. And she replies. “Perhaps, because you need them… because you can’t get by without the dream. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It seems quite normal to me. Though I suppose if you knew about Heaven beforehand, you might not ask for it.” source
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