Friday, October 17, 2014

New House

We're moved into our new house which is a relief after almost two months of living with strangers (although the second place was okay just cramped). It's more room than we need, but with almost everything here being single-family homes, that's what you get.

There is a garden area plus a long row of soil along the fence for more garden or flowers. Any tips for starting a garden from almost scratch are welcome (it's coming into spring here so a lot of things can start to be planted now). D is going to attempt to grow jalapeno peppers -- if we can find the seeds -- since they are so expensive in the stores.

Although most homes don't have central heating, this one does have the next best things which are an HRV system and two heatpumps (the white things on the wall). The HRV system is supposed to pump warmer air from the attic into the house through vents in the ceilings of the rooms and create a kind of pressurized bubble which also prevents heat loss through the single-pane windows. It's been cold the past few days, but today it is nice again so the house is warm at 26 degrees Celsius (78 Fahrenheit). Power isn't cheap, so we're hoping the HRV keeps us from having to use the heatpumps a lot. Another plus - a dishwasher! Haven't had one of those in a long time.

There is a separate laundry room which is nice because usually they cram a washing machine in the bathroom, presumably because this is where the water supply is. It is not common for appliances to be included, so this room just has a washing basin. There is room for both a washer and a dryer, however. And a dryer is another luxury - most people hang their washing outside on the line to dry, which is fine except when the weather is unpredictable, it frequently rains or is very windy, and you don't want to wait several days for everything to completely dry. Or don't want all your neighbors to see your laundry. We decided early on that a dryer was a necessity (and since no one wants them, they're very cheap second-hand). 

In another news, I've just finished two sessions of training to become a learning advisor next year, essentially what the U.S. calls a tutor (one-to-one help to other students). It's amazing to discover how poor students' writing and critical thinking skills are when they haven't been asked to write an essay until they come to university. Universities here don't have a general education requirement, so students don't have to take a first-year English class or know how to go out and research and write a 5-paragraph essay by themselves. And there are a lot of English-as-a-second-language students who can get in with relatively low levels of ability in English (part of the turning of higher-education institutions into profit-makers), so they also struggle on the level of having to communicate in a language that may not even have any of the same rules as English. They are handed an assignment to write an essay in response to a question like "To what extent did religious issues account for the conflict between Ireland and Northern Ireland?" and have no idea what to do. Or they just discuss everything they know about the topic and hope they've answered the question by the end. The training made me appreciate my high school teachers and the opportunity to take advanced-level classes that drilled into me how to write a good essay with a thesis and support for the arguments. I've never had to explain these concepts to an ESL student, however, so it will be interesting to say the least.

little patio area
lounge room

kitchen with dishwasher

dining area off the kitchen

bathroom, part 1
bathroom, part 2
they like having separate toilets

separate laundry room with wash basin
closet - they're not as much into doors, and not all the closets even have curtains to hide them!

*hopefully a future garden brimming with fruits and vegetables*
nice yard area

Sunday, October 12, 2014

TranzAlpine Train and Fox Glacier

Our first real "taste" of New Zealand outside the city came last week when we took the famous TranzAlpine train ride from the east side of New Zealand to the west coast. The train ride was around 4 1/2 hours there and had beautiful scenery, from idyllic pastureland (sheep, goats, cows, and even deer) to river gorges and then the snow-topped Southern Alps. There is an "open" train car where you get great views without the glass, although the wind was fairly extreme. It started raining when we got into Arthur's Pass -- a mountain-top town -- so the windows had rain spots on them for the rest of the trip. It was a bit scary going under the 5.3-mile Otira Tunnel, mainly because of the possibility of an earthquake causing havoc.

We then took a bus from Greymouth to Fox Glacier which was awesome! I booked a guided tour which turned out to be good because very recent slides in the area had meant they closed down some of the paths that led closer to the glacier unless you were with a group. They provided overpants, heavy-duty boots, socks, and rain coats so you didn't have to get any of your own stuff dirty. It sprinkled a little on the hike over, but then the sun came out and it was a beautiful day. Fresh air and sunshine -- good for the body and soul.

Later, we took a very long walk from the little town to see the Mirror Lake which was supposed to be a 1.5-hour walk return trip, but ended up being about that long each way. It was a lot of walking. And because of the heavy rain in the morning, the water was murky and the wind was making a lot of ripples. The short walk from the lake's parking lot to the lake was enjoyable as it was through rainforest and totally reminded us of Central America, minus the bugs.