Sunday, May 10, 2015

Not-so-pleasant Aspects

After the two-week trip in the North Island, the time has come for some of the not-so-pleasant aspects of New Zealand. The speeding ticket from the first day of the roadtrip waiting in the mail did not help...


My first experience with the New Zealand healthcare system was not enjoyable. The law only allows pharmacies to dispense 3 months' worth of prescription drugs at a time. You have to go back in for a doctor's appointment every 3 months to get a refill (contraception is the exception - it is every 6 months). For people on a medication for years that does not require close monitoring, this is ridiculous. The international student insurance of course doesn't cover the appointment or the prescriptions, so this could quickly become a signficant cost. Some other students have said that it is sometimes possible to get a cheaper nurse's appointment for refills, but I have not tried this yet. (Also, even over-the-counter drugs from a pharmacist can only be given out in 1-month supply.)


We have found that toilets here don't flush well, regardless of whether or not they are in rich people's houses or nice business establishments. It is nice that most of them have the dual-flush option to save water, but they don't get enough power to actually get the water clean. I finally looked up the difference and found an Australian company trying to show that their way is superior to the North American way: 
"North American toilets most commonly utilize siphon jet technology. Most of the water in the tank is used to create a vacuum or siphon effect in the trapway of the toilet bowl, which then pulls the waste out after the water. [...] Washdown toilets do not use this flushing mechanism. When flushed, the water is released very quickly from the tank and into the bowl through an open rim bowl design" ( 
Sorry, but the washdown toilets just don't do the job. It's not saving water if you have to flush several times. 

Power outlets are not installed in most bathrooms, at least not in older places. If they are, they are in inconvenient locations and not usable for things that need to rest, like electric toothbrush charging stations. I'm not sure where people who use electric appliances (hairdryer, hair curler, etc.) get ready in the mornings. There is also a general lack of power outlets in hallways or rooms; often there is only one or two for a whole room. Power strips are the norm here.

I think I've already mentioned the absurdity of the sub-standard housing and lack of central heating, but now that colder weather is here again (52 degrees F in the house this morning), it is very frustrating. Just using the heat pump for a little bit in the morning and evening and heating blankets has shot the electricity bill up a lot. It will easily be over $300 a month for electricity this winter. Also, I downloaded the manual for the heat pump which is technically an air conditioner to try to figure out how the timer works so the kitchen won't be an ice box in the morning. I had to laugh out loud:
"Heating Performance: The air conditioner operates on the heat-pump principle, absorbing heat from outdoor air and transferring that heat indoors. As a result, the operating performance is reduced as outdoor air temperature drops. If you feel that insufficient heating performance is being produced, we recommend you use this air conditioner in conjunction with another kind of heating appliance."
So...the main source of heating in most New Zealand houses is not really designed to work well when it's cold outside. Great... Guess it's good I have three space heaters, three heating blankets...

Part of the reason we study at school is because most of the buildings are heated (who knows how much that costs). But it is unclear who is in charge of the heating. Sometimes if the weather outside warms up, it actually becoems too hot in the room and students start opening windows to get a breeze. Having heaters on and windows open is so wasteful. 

We started using our clothes dryer and discovered that because it doesn't have a vent on the back, all of the moisture in the clothes shoots out through the front vent and soaks the laundry room floor in front of it. I'm not sure who designed it this way or why there isn't at least a warning that you will have a puddle to contend with when you use the appliance.

"Morning tea" is basically snack-time at 11:00am, and last week I went to one as part of a staff meeting. As in the past, there were napkins but no paper plates or utensils for eating some of the food. All of the food is not finger food, and yet they still do not provide a non-messy way of eating them. This has happened with fruit before, but this time there were full sponge cake and carrot cake pieces. I picked up a piece of the chocolate and raspberry sponge cake with my bare hand and it oozed raspberry jam and whipped cream all over. I put it in a napkin to hold it, but this still involved sacrificing one hand to become entirely messy. I cannot understand how anyone thinks this kind of food can be eaten without a plate and fork. 


I know a lot of U.S. college teachers still take attendance in their classes and count it as part of your grade. Here, taking attendance is not the norm (although I've heard some teachers do it). Sometimes lecture halls are full; other times they are visibly missing most of the students. My tutorial attendance has been steadily dropping and I know I have neither carrot nor stick to hold over them. Fewer students are actually completing the weekly reading as well, making it difficult to have discussions when no one has read. The whole system seems to be based on the ideal notion that students are there to learn, rather than complete the assignments, pass the classes, and earn a degree that can then help them get a job. There are some good students, of course, but you have to wonder what the rest of them are doing with their time since most classes don't have homework and just have a couple essays or tests for the entire grade. 

I also just finished grading their first round of essays and encountered an astonishingly high number of grammar and punctuation errors. From asking around the staff and other postgrads, I have learned that the New Zealand education system is not very good and if you don't go to a good school or have a good English teacher, you probably won't learn grammar or how to write an essay.  

Another interesting thing is that the school allows time clashes, so a student can be enrolled in two classes that have lectures at the same time and not go to one of them but complete the assignments and get credit for it. Some of my students are unable to attend my tutorials because of time clashes. There are also three-week-long study breaks with exams at the end. We never had that long to study for our exams; plus, we had homework throughout the semester! I believe these breaks are a legacy of the British system.


D learned in one of his law classes that there has been boilerplate language regarding acts of God (like earthquakes) in mortgage agreements for decades, and people signed them without any consideration that their homes could be repossessed and demolished by the bank if it deemed earthquake damage irreparable. So technically, if a homeowner didn't have earthquake insurance, they wouldn't be entitled to receive any compensation in the event of an earthquake. Yet because the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes caused so much damage to the city as a whole, public pressure ended up turning against the enforcement of these clauses. The situation raises interesting questions about whether it's fair to the people who prepared and bought earthquake insurance that people who didn't pay for it ended up getting bailed out because of the disaster. Four years later, people are still waiting for insurance claims to be settled and a couple houses in our neighborhood are in the process of being demolished. 

Also, earthquakes are getting to be a pretty common occurence for me here, though I am still scared when they happen. We experienced our first one while at school on April 24th. Since we were several floors up, the shaking was gentle. It lasted for about 20 seconds.

A lot of roads are poorly marked. In the U.S. there are Botts' Dots and reflective markers so you can clearly see the lanes. In the dark, it is hard to tell where lanes are, and it is dangerous when it's raining and you can't see where you're supposed to be driving. In construction areas especially, you sometimes have to guess where the lane dividers are. 


I think that is the bulk of it for now. It will be interesting to compare Australia in a few months with New Zealand and the U.S. It should hopefully be a bit warmer there!

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