Karen’s letter #5 – In a tipless country



K’s most recent letter. A reminder that the photos have no bearing on the text.


Hi all,

The title is TIPLESS, not TOPLESS!!! Don’t get excited!

We have discovered some great advantages to living in NZ (and some disadvantages too):

1. Although the NZers complain about crime – it is safe – at least that is our take on it. The whole country has had 43 murders in the past 6 months, compared to SA’s 45 a day (my stats stand to be corrected – but the general idea is what matters). Most of the murders are as a result of drunken brawls / bar fights in specific communities; the Samoan and Maori communities seem to have more social problems than others. I have not yet heard of a single: rape / gang rape / farm murder / torture and murder of old people / cable theft, although I am sure all these things must happen here too.  I have heard of: child abuse, armed robbery, theft. But to be honest it is rare and they make a huge fuss of it. I have not yet seen ONE single house with burglar bars or an electric fence, although houses often have a security screen on the front door. NZealanders, of course, think that crime is spiralling out of control.

I, myself, have become a wanted fugitive by parking for 109 seconds (I kid you not-somebody timed me) in Delia’s driveway (which gives access to 2 other houses) and was fined $40. I found that a bit mean since there was no parking in the street, I was sick as a dog AND I was taking her flowers, nevertheless- a parking infringement I received in the mail. Sue- you will love it here.

2. Although some things are expensive, you save a lot on other expenses. Housing and food is expensive and unfortunately, necessary. We are paying just under $500 per week for our house and Phillip you know how small it is. On the other hand, it is 59 seconds walk to the picnic table on the beach and 5 minutes to Musick Point golf club. It is a beautiful area. If we stayed out of the Macleans zone we would save money on housing. One could save even more by moving to Christchurch, which  is probably pretty reasonably priced now, but, of course, Christchurch has its downside, so to speak.

3. Cars are cheap (I don’t know how the new carbon tax coming in Jan or the Japanese tsunami will affect prices though). You get a very reasonable second hand car for $10 000.
4. Schools are cheap; we had to pay $150 for 6 months of Etienne’s school- that is about R750. In Pta we were paying R4000 – R5000 PER MONTH. His school has HUGELY better facilities than his private school in Pta.  His classroom has 4 computers that are on all the time as well as a smart board. The kids come in early in the mornings and play around in the class room on the computers and smart board (no teacher present) for an hour before school starts. They do maths games etc.

5. Medical facilities – you do not have to have a medical aid (although we are looking to get one). We pay $30-$50 for a visit to the dr. Medication is virtually free: $3. We went to visit Granny May in Middlemore hospital today. She had a stroke last week, but is surprisingly well and spritely, and apart from some confusion does not seem too badly off.  It is a public hospital and I can only compare it to the private hospitals in SA. It is a BIG hospital- lots of staff, it is clean,  there is lots of equipment that looks as if it works and generally has good facilities. I would not be terrified to land up there. There was a poster on a wall stating that they have not had a hospital-spread infection (can’t remember what they called it- but basically think Klebsella virus killing babies in SA) since 1996.

6. One of the absolute pleasures of living here is that we have not paid a single tip since we have been here. You pay no tips at restaurants or coffee shops, no tips for car ‘guards’, no ‘tips’ to people at the traffic lights, no tips to petrol attendants. If you add it all up, it can come to a lot; a few hundred per month, at least.

 7. Setting up home is cheap. Friends and family loaned us loads of stuff when Steven and Juliette moved in. Almost all the rest of the stuff we have we bought at the Sally’s (The Salvation Army shop). You can get anything there from beds to bedding, pots to puzzles and desks to dumbbells. Sometimes brand new, most often used. Usually in good condition and cheap; R150-R200 for a desk or chest of drawers- however, think functional- not classy. You can also buy stuff on Trademe. Besides buying 2nd hand stuff- the home ware stores are ALWAYS having sales- this place is not known as ‘The City of Sales’* for no reason. I buy virtually nothing anymore if it is not on special – this includes food.

Also- your rental property comes with curtains and most probably a dishwasher- so you don’t need to worry about that either.

Another sunset from the Howick Golf course

8. Electricity is cheaper – although they complain terribly about it here. In addition, we have just received about R1500 BACK from our electricity company. As users we are also shareholders and since it is a non-profit organisation we get a dividend every year. MY magtig mense!!! ESKOM, you have a loooooonnnnnnggggg way to go.

9. What else? Mmm- you don’t have to go on holiday to the beach.

10. A downside – while winter weather is warmer and wetter than SA winter, spring is just strange. Yesterday it was cold, windy and rainy and today is a glorious day of sunshine. It is totally unpredictable and it is difficult to imagine that yesterday’s weather and today’s weather occurs on the same planet, never mind the same season in the same country.

11. … and a final upside – we have a B -team to shout for in the RWC now that SA is out of the running. We are really struggling to support the All Blacks- it does not seem right, somehow, but we are trying (PLEASE don’t anyone tell Chrissie or Debbie). The team is actually so accessible and friendly that we can’t help liking them, but still, it is not easy.  There are loads more flags up now than there were a few weeks ago; clearly another shipment of flags has arrived from China. It is such a pity that SA is out and we were quite devastated at their loss. A lot has been said here in the press too and the general feeling is that they are not 100% sure that SA really did lose the game. Nevertheless, SA is out and of all 4 Naudes, Jules was by far the most upset.

12. An observation, rather than an upside or down side- although it is more of an up than a down. This is a country of mixture. It is strange coming from SA where the colour lines are quite easily  distinguishable. The other interesting observation, that I was not expecting is that of the SAfricans here- possibly 30% are NOT ‘white’. I would have thought that it would be 99% white SAfricans here. Not so.

… and in other news – Granny Smith is in hospital again (but hopefully out by now),  Et and Jules are on a school break for two weeks, I had tea with Margaret’s best friend from school, I held my first workshops and they went very well. We are very excited that the Spectors are planning a visit in January and the Noomes later the year (we hope) and pray that you will all start your planning soon.

We are missing you all and wish you could be here,

Lots of love,

Karen and The Kiwis

*I have heard some people calling Auckland the ‘City of Sails’, but clearly, they have never spent time in the shops.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Karen’s Letter #4


Another letter from Karen. Again the photos are not related, they’re just pretty.


September 2011

Dear all,

More on driving

Another snippet about driving – this time about my drivers licence- I arrived here on a Friday night and on the Saturday morning Steph took me off to the AA where I joined the AA and also applied for my license. Right there and then at the counter I did my eye-test, paid at the same counter, signed etc. A week later my driver’s license arrived in our post box.

I am very relieved that NZ has just increased the driving age – otherwise Juliette would be allowed to drive on a restricted license right now. Are they crazy? She can’t even peel potatoes and they think she can drive a car!!


Houses in NZ are generally smaller than houses in SA, but some are pretty big. The houses that we can afford are small and ugly, but there are some nice houses out there. There are no shanty towns and the houses for the indigent are pretty decent houses with garages and gardens.

You often find several houses on one plot- sometimes with looooong driveways that disappear towards the back, as I have said about our house- I don’t know where the land of our house starts or ends. We have no fence and no gate. Steph’s car is parked in a garage, but mine gets parked on the drive-way. Many cars park on the side of the road overnight. My neighbour leaves his car outside at night with his GPS clearly visible on the windscreen.


Regarding security in NZ- there is none- I have not yet seen a single house with burglar bars, garden walls are low or decorative and gates are almost non-existent. You quite often get security doors covering the front door; they look like a thicker version of chicken wire and I am sure a good true – blooded South Africa criminal would not find them much of a challenge. Our only security is a glass front door that you could easily break and turn the door knob to open the door.

Nandos has the same irreverent adverts even here - this is what they had for the RWC.

Stores have cameras and the big stores (like Builders warehouse type stores) have a security officer at the front door- who is basically a friendly retiree who you can ask where to find the screwdrivers when you arrive and who says “see ya later” when you leave.


Winter was really not half as bad as we expected. It was much like a Cape Town winter- except that there were not whole days of rain- rather minutes of drizzle, sometimes rain, interspersed with lovely sunshine. There were some lovely days of bright sunshine with not a cloud in the sky; it was quite summery. Then came spring. Give me winter any day- this is crazy!! The last 3 days have been miserable, rainy and extremely blustery. There are lovely spring flowers out all over; lots of daffodils in the public gardens, and mixed bulbs in private gardens- but the flowers are the only sign of spring so far.


Yes, the RWC has come to town. There are quite a few flags around, but it is nothing like SA was last year. One of the problems is that it is almost impossible to find the flags. I spent last week driving round looking for car flags- nothing, zero, zip!

We went to the harbour for the opening ceremony- we were not quite able to scrape together the R16 000 for the actual ceremony and game at Eden Park. There was more than enough to see and do at the harbour and I am sure you saw us on TV when they showed the crowds at the harbour. They were expecting 50 000 fans and 380 000 turned up, so yes, it was a bit crowded. We went into town by ferry and all public transport to the city centre was stopped soon after we boarded the ferry. We left soon after the fireworks.

Taken on a stroll through our local golf course - about 200m down the road.

We went my friend Wendy but decided to split up when we got to the  City center- it would have been too difficult to all keep together. We some nice SA’s on the ferry on the way there and on the way back met an Irish family, parents of a friend of Juliette’s on the ferry. There are not many Kiwis around- everybody came from somewhere- at some stage, even the Maoris. Many of the people who I would think of as being Maori are actually Samoan or Pacific Islanders. I have no idea how to tell the difference; they are all big and all look like Jonah Lomu- which means I don’t spend too long checking them out, in case they notice me.

I took some nice photos of South Africans at the harbour- will put them on my Facebook page.

News re the family

Steph is off in Hong Kong again, Jules has had to choose her subjects for next year. She will be doing the Cambridge stream and will be taking History, Geography, Biology as well as the prescribed subjects: English, Maths and Physical Education. Etienne will be taking part in his first cross-country race – and I mean the first; there has been no training in this ghastly weather.

Please send lots of news, I love hearing from you.


Karen and the Kiwis



Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Karen’s letter no. 3


Karen has been a lot better at writing than me, in fact I have fallen behind in posting her letters. So I am going to catch in three separate posts all at one time. My next one will be posted very soon. The pictures are not necessarily related to the story – just nice shots which Karen took. Each has a caption which tells the story.


September 2011

Another instalment … this time about NZ driving.

I was reading through a guide-book and it suggests that for long distances one should plan to drive no more than 200-300 km A DAY- with frequent rest and pit stops. Crikey – it would take more than a week to get to Cape Town from Pta like that! In their defence (who ever wrote the book)- you simply can’t drive as far or as fast as you do in SA. The roads are windy and there is probably not more than 1 km of perfectly straight road anywhere in the country. The only highways are in Auckland – there are no highways (as such) joining major centres around the country, although the roads are good- no pot holes (Sue and Riette!!!) and very good signage all over. Steph says there is a toll road up north, it costs about $3.50 and you have 5 days after you have used the road to pay the toll via the website.  There are no toll booths.

Black carrots from the market (you also get yellow ones- and orange beetroot).

Talking about stuff that is missing from the roads – there are no ‘traffic-light shops’- so do not expect to save any time by doing your DVD, hangers, sunglasses and ‘herb’ shopping at the traffic lights. There is also nobody to clean your windscreen at the traffic lights with weak dishwashing liquid and a strong smile. Somehow we cope.

There is no such thing as school kids being killed by taxis – ON THE PAVEMENT –  as far as I am concerned the greatest indictment against the taxi industry in SA. The speed limit outside schools is 40 km/h for about an hour before and after school.  There are very good scholar patrols – always with a teacher present, and quite often there is a police-man watching as the kids leave school for the day  – no doubt watching for taxis on the pavement.

As far as kids getting to school are concerned (here I am talking about primary schools) – lots of kids walk or ride on little push-scooters, some take the bus and some take the ‘walking bus’. The ‘walking bus’ is a parent who walks a certain route and collects kids on his/her way to school, so that a small group walks together – up to about 10 kids (or “kuds”- as they say here).

Traffic rules are obeyed and NOBODY parks in a bus zone or in a ‘wheelchair’ zone – of which there are always plenty in good spots at the shops.

Most of the Macleans college kuds either walk, take the bus or drive themselves to school – the driving age here is now 16 (recently gone up from 15) and there are loads of cars parked along the road next to Macleans (Juliette’s) school and other high schools. Juliette called me the other day at 3:50 to ask if I could collect her from school – I had just arrived home, so I said that if the bus did not arrive by 4 she should call me again and I would fetch her. She walked through the front door at 3:59.

‘Daffs in front of Green Gables art gallery in Picton str, Howick

Because the roads are pretty windy you really can’t travel terribly fast and there are not very many stop signs – mostly traffic circles. Also you will find a main road in a suburb with many crescents off it – and many dead-ends too. If you look at our area on Google maps you will see that Bucklands Beach Road is quite a big one and many little roads meander off it and back – or not. Roads also change name in the middle of a seemingly straight bit of road – so Laings road becomes The Parade, Morrow Ave changes into Devon at the Scout Hall, and Bucklands Beach Rd becomes Hattaway AND Clovelly – not always with any apparent reason. This is no Cape Town where you can keep the mountain to your left, or Margate where you can keep the sea to your right and kind of figure your way around – forget it! If you ever visit – you will need a GPS (don’t let that stop you though – we have one for you). It randomly switches languages into Afrikaans every now and then which startles Steph and amuses all his passengers.

For any driver under the age of 20 the alcohol limit is zero, zip, nothing, nada, niks. There are road fatalities and they make such a fuss that often a fatality (or even an accident) is mentioned on the national news. The National News – now THERE is a great theme for a future newsletter.

Loads of people ride bicycles and walk their dogs, especially along The Parade (the beach road of Bucklands Beach) and in Howick it is quite common to see a dog on a leash at a coffee shop or perhaps waiting outside the library or at a veggie shop or the butchery – this is where they look the happiest.

This morning at the Howick market there were several guide dog puppies going for walks and at one table at the coffee shop (where we met up with Lynne and Aunty May for breakfast) there were 3 dogs.

Which brings us to another thing – it is SOOOOOO quiet at night. Where do these dogs go at night? Where we stay it is so quiet and so dark – you can’t see a thing at night in our bedroom, except for the glow of the bedside clock. There are no automatic garden lights that flash on as the sun fades out – there are no dogs that even whimper, there are no cars zooming past and no gun shots. It is dead quiet – despite the lack of gun shots. The houses are reasonably close together – much closer than in SA – and I am sure all the neighbours whisper at night and can hear everything we say from ‘please pass the salt’ to ‘how many times must I tell you to use your cutlery’.  They all know by now that Juliette leaves her wet towel on my bed and that Etienne never puts his toothbrush back in the right place and that I hate the toilet seat being left up.

Dentistry in NZ

I have been dying to tell you about this – there are 2 dentists that I regularly drive past – the one is called ‘Creative dentistry’ and the other ‘Lumino dentistry’. It makes one wonder – one day I am going to park my car outside for long enough to watch a client go in and come out – just so that I can see what ‘creative’ and ‘luminous’ dentistry looks like (note to self: take sunglasses).

Next edition – security in NZ or maybe architecture – it doesn’t really matter – there is neither of either.

Family news

Jules’ choir tour to Wellington went off well except that she had an awful room mate who did not sleep and left the TV on some murder channel, so poor Jules woke up to screams at 3am. They did reasonably well at the competition – being awarded a silver. She is enjoying school, liking maths, not liking French and is talking about becoming a primary school maths teacher. Its early days, so we will see – she has plenty of time to change her mind, if she wants to. I am very happy to encourage her to do that if she wants to.

Wendy (friend) and I went for a walk from our house past the golf course and to Musick Point - we then walked down the steps (STEEP) to the bottom of the cliff RIGHT on the northernmost tip of the Bucklands Beach peninsula - this must the world’s tiniest beach - just big enough for a family of four with four friends, 8 sandwiches and 2 bottles of champagne, not even space for a beach ball.

Etienne is still inventing stuff and can now say the Periodic Table up to Rhubidium. He has a nice Periodic Table (the one from Scienza) up on the inside of his desk and tried to take it off, but it tore, so now he says he split some atoms. He still likes his Greeks and Romans, esp the gods and myths. He did very well in a general knowledge quiz on NZ – second best in his class, still struggles with spelling and writing, but he has the loveliest teacher and loves his school and being here in NZ in general.

Steph still doing Mandarin on Tuesdays, gym 3x times a week and ironing and cooking and is looking forward to his next trip to ‘Die Verre Ooste’.

Granny Smith  turned 80 on the 31st of August. Thanks so much to everyone who went to see her or phoned her. Margaret organised a party at the clinic and bought an enormous bunch of flowers and several people popped in to see her and made a fuss. Thanks a lot.

I am going to send some pics separately this time, so if your server rejects them you can still see the letter. S may also stick the pics on his blog.

Lots of love to you and yours,

Karen and the Kiwis


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Formidable Formosa

I am on my second Asian journey – this time Hong Kong and Taiwan. I guess as my trips become more frequent I’ll have less and less to say about the places I visit (to the relief of many).

I am less overwhelmed this time and even the tailors on the street corners seem to be accepting my blunt “No” without further solicitation. I travelled all over the city on the MTR (subway) and did not get lost once, but the heat still got the better of me. Now global warming might be making the sea levels rise, but with the amount of water I consumed yesterday there should be a significant downward adjustment!

I am staying in western-style hotel chains mostly because the offering is predictable. The food is generally also good and when I get in from a long journey I actually just want to eat decent food quickly and then get to sleep: after a full day of sweaty travelling adventure is not high on my menu. But even the mundane has little surprises – like finding (among the orange juice, grenadilla juice etc) on a breakfast buffet a jug of maize juice! Yup and it tastes like very cold, very sweet, sweet corn. Well why not?! There is also white guava juice and lots of dragon fruit as usual.

White guava

And funny names, crazy translations etc are just too common to be noteworthy. On virtually every sign there is something funny that is either a result of unfortunate associations,  literal translation or a whole-hearted belief that Google Translate can actually get everything right.

Just outside my hotel is a famous chain of jewellers called LukFook and, judging by their merchandise it is a very appropriate name. On the way to the airport I saw Go Lik Concrete and passed a truck carrying refrigerated fruit with the name Harmonic Health along the side, and so I could carry on interminably.

Love River at night

Go on, admit it. You’ve never heard of Kaohsiung (pronounced “Gowshoong”). Unless you’re an absolute dweeb that got a AAA in geography no one knows that this is Taiwan’s second city. Based on the lower tip of the island is it a 50-minute flight from Hong Kong and what a great way to be introduced to this country!

Broad clean streets – with additional two-lane roads exclusively for scooters and bikes. And here the streets are perfectly maintained and the people (or at least the adults!) wear crash helmets. The kids that travel with their parents on scooters do so at their own risk.

Love River early in the morning

I think this is what China could be like in 20 years time. It is Asia with controlled capitalism but with rigorous management of resources and equally earnest promotion of entrepreneurs. The number of great brands that are actually Taiwanese as opposed to Chinese is impressive. Consider Acer, Asus, BenQ, Mustek and Tatung (computers), D-Link and Transcend (electronics and peripherals), Giant and Merida (bicycles), HTC (smartphones), to name a few.

Kaohsiung Museum of History: Previously the Mayor's office.

Kaohsiung is the industrial capital and many of these branded products are actually manufactured here. It is the largest port because of its protected, deep water harbour.

In my pre-breakfast constitutional this morning I took a circular walk around the hotel along the Love River.

The hotel is an older, 5-star establishment called the Ambassador. An intriguing blend of traditional and modern. It’s room doors still have keys, not smart cards. You can leave the lights on in the room when you leave. But the its claim to fame, and probably that of Kaohsiung in general is the electric toilet.

Electric Chair

Yes, my friends, this is a marvel of technology. Gone are the days where one’s natural urges were discreet – now it is time for entertainment. As you can see the loo is now a hi-tech object, complete with a heated seat, a built-in bidet, a choice of water jets for “cleansing” (and even an option to have pulsating jets in the bidet) and the option for air drying (!!) Oh, and it flushes too. One definitely needs a license to operate it and I would suggest a seatbelt before attempting this for the first time. I shudder to think of the proctologist’s bill if Etienne were ever to start playing with this loo.

Terrifying control panel

Relieving explanation

For the rest the hotel was fine in terms of friendliness and service. The food was great but there was one serious draw-back: clearly they were very clever when constructing it because they sourced their masonry and their mattresses from the same brick factory. This is “firm” taken to the extreme. Fall on to the bed and you’ll need a physio to get up.

Holy Rosary Cathedral

My walk also took me past an astounding church called the Holy Rosary Cathedral. It is really quite beautiful but not quite as big as one would expect of a cathedral. Because I was hot a sweaty from my rigorous walk I did not step inside so this is a web pic.

Inside Holy Rosary

In Chinese culture it is OK to stare, and I guess I am quite an unusual sight in this part of town. So in my walk there were several stares, one dropping jaw but mostly friendly waves and greetings. Very friendly people in general and a lot more cheerful than their mainland counterparts.

I am also surprised by the amount of English spoken. Almost everyone can get by with a basic phrase or two – a lot better than my very stilted Mandarin.

From Kaohsiung to the capital and the largest city – Taipei. A two-hour northward journey by high-speed train. It is older, more congested, with little alleys compared to the broad boulevards of Kaohsiung. It also has some of the most magnificent buildings I have seen in Asia.

Potted history of China/Taiwan: Island off the coast of China, inhabited by aboriginal tribes mostly of Polynesian descent. The Chinese start occupying it (around 1400) and quickly get the better of the locals, driving them into the hills. Today aboriginals make up 2% of the population. Wave after wave of Chinese come aboard, mostly from the closest part of China namely Fujian province. The next phase of invaders consists of the Japanese. They occupy the island at about the same time as they colonise the northern part of mainland China.

Back on the mainland in 1911 the Ching dynasty (which dates back to 1644) is coming to an end with the boy emperor, Puyi (the last of the Manchus). The republicans under Chiang Kai Shek (CKS) depose him and he becomes a puppet emperor under Japanese rule and lives a charmed life of luxury at the end of a Japanese string in a fictitious state in northern China.

The decorative gate of the National Chiang Kai Shek Memorial

The war ends with a Japanese defeat which spells victory for CKS and the republic is about to be thoroughly entrenched when the communist Red Army under Mao Zedong start gaining support and the resulting civil war starts turning against the republicans. By 1949 the writing is on the wall and CKS and his entire entourage as well as all the people sympathetic to the republican cause and those who oppose the communists flee mainland China. They get on planes and ships and head for the island of Taiwan which has a population of about 2 million. Within 4 years it has a population of 6 million. The aborigines have been dominated in turn by the Fujians, the Japanese and now by the republicans. The Fujians themselves become second-class citizens as CKS sets up government here. He brings with him much of the government wealth, many national treasures and a working government system. (As an aside the boy emperor had it good under the Japanese, gets imprisoned by the communists and ends his days as a lowly gardener. It is a great story poignantly told by Bernardo Bertolucci in “The Last Emperor” – see it).

National Palace Museum

While claiming to be the rightful government of China CKS and his Kuomintang (KMT) party quickly convert the sleepy island into an industrial giant with the support of the West who are eager to form a bulwark against the rising tide of communism. China declines financially under communism but its wealth is redistributed. Taiwan flourishes as a one-party, capitalist dictatorship. Slowly China gains ascendency and by the 1980s most western governments have started turning their backs on Taiwan (politically and diplomatically) in favour of mainland China. Within a short space of time Taiwan is entirely isolated and relies solely on its industrial relations to keep links alive with other nations.

At the entrance of the museum - look at the size compared to the person in the background

Relations between the island and he mainland have always been tense because the KMT under CKS insists that it is the legitimate government of the whole of China. After his death there is a softening of attitudes and two parties operate in the legislature: the KMT believes that one day there will be a reunification of the two Chinas. The DPP believes that Taiwan can survive as an independent island nation in the same pattern as Singapore and (sort of) Hong Kong. When the first DPP president is elected and the talk of separation becomes loud and frequent, China lobs a few nuclear missiles over the island and into the Pacific as a warning shot. People flee and emigrate at an unprecedented rate. The KMT comes back into power and things settle down again. Next year is the next election and it is going to be a very close race. In the meantime links between the mainland and Taiwan have been re-established with frequent flights and lots of mutual trade and tourism.

In the train I could see a non-stop strip of urban development interspersed with very intense agriculture. The island is probably entirely self-sustaining in terms of food production even though fully half of it is too mountainous to be cultivated.

The museums are spectacular and the wealth brought over from the mainland are proudly displayed.

My host (from the New Zealand Ministry of Trade and Enterprise) took me to a little dumpling restaurant after our morning’s business and I was treated to prawn and pork dumplings, fried tofu, crispy fried anchovy-sized fish, and beef wrapped in pancakes. Totally delicious. he did warn me about avoiding the local delicacy – fermented tofu. This is a euphemism for rotten beans. The curd is left to soak in water for 12 days and the smell is dreadful and fills the tiny eating place. The worse the smell the more appealing it is for the locals. Like a really ripe gorgonzola, I guess.

This follows on a meal I had last night which was an eight-course set menu including many interesting delights: poached mixed vegetables with a lily bulb, baked prawns with a curry sauce, and a sweet bean soup for desert! The waitress took one look at how I man-handled a slippery mushroom with my chop-sticks and very graciously brought me a set of cutlery with which to shell the curried prawns.

The hotel is crowded with an international Cryotherapy conference so it is very noisy and finding a table at breakfast was a challenge. But at least the mattress is a little softer, less like granite, more like sandstone…

Taiwan is claimed to have the largest ratio of scooters to people in the world and driving through the city in morning rush hour this becomes obvious. Scooters are to Taiwan as sheep are to New Zealand. They are all less than 150cc and there are gazillions of them. I’m not sure how you would recognise which one is yours – they are all so very similar.

Leaving Taiwan is a great experience too – Taipei airport is almost an hour’s drive out of the city but what a lovely airport it is – possibly one of the best I have seen. Not nearly as big and imposing as HK, Singapore etc but where else have you heard of special displays and shops for local handicraft of the aboriginal people, a showcase of all the recently patented hi-tech goods that are not yet commercially available (but soon will be) and a huge display of Taiwan’s prize orchids! Now that is a change from the relentless luxury brands which usually clog an airport.

And the final word in this inexcusably verbose blog goes to the biggest children’s brand in Asia and it is for once NOT Disney…

Goodbye Disney

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Karen’s Letter from the edge #2

Karen has been writing letters that have not been made public – she writes them and sends them to far too small a group of people. So I want to fix that: here are letters number 2 and 3 (never read #1 so have no clue what’s in it, but it is probably as good as these two). She also included a random selection of photos at the end. Bon appetit!


August 2011

Dear all,

Hello there, thanks for all the mails and phone calls, I really do appreciate hearing from you. By the way – I have a new Pretoria telephone number: 012 – 743 6464. If you call it – it comes through to me on SKYPE and you pay only for a Pretoria phone call – neat hey!! Just keep in mind that we are 10 hours ahead of you, so if I don’t answer when you call at midday you know why.

Here follows some more news and views re our little NZ adventure:

Shopping in NZ

Firstly – there is no Woolworths. (Actually there is a store called Woolworths, but it is not Woolworths, if you know what I mean). Besides Woolworths I also miss having different sized shopping trolleys – here you get big trolleys and if you don’t want that then you can use a hand-held basket. Only one place has an in-between-sized trolley. I miss Spar with their big trolleys, medium-sized ones, trolleys for one, two or three baskets. Somehow we cope.

I have been into a mall only once in the last month. Somehow I cope. I think because security is not such a big issue here – the shops are mainly stand alone shops in their own parking lots – or a group of shops around a big parking lot – kind of like the Waverley shops in the old days – just bigger. It all ends up looking rather untidy. I find it interesting because in SA now most shops are inside where it is easier to protect people while the cars are outside. Here both cars and people are pretty much outside. The one mall I have been into is quite a distance away and we were only in there very briefly. Jules had been there before and says it is enormous – much bigger than Menlyn. I will have to go back when IZZI comes to visit though because it has a game shop with Lord of the Rings stuff in it.

My favourite shopping area is Howick Village. Howick used to be an outlying village – many many miles from Auckland itself, but because of highways and especially because of bridges it is now in spitting distance, sort of like Centurion to Pretoria. Many people who live in this area (and I include us and Howick in ‘this area’) work in the city and take the bus, drive or take the ferry into the city. Howick has a main street – still its original main str from 1800+. The main str is called Picton str and the business area is demarcated pretty much by the 3 churches in Picton str – I guess the Catholics at the one end, Methodists in the middle and Presbyterians at the other – or some such combination. The two end churches are really pretty and picturesque and have little church yards with grave stones in. Imagine seeing that in Pretoria’s Church street today!

Between the churches you find a butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker and just about anything else you need. There is a hardware store, a fresh vegetable store, 2 antique shops, a few coffee shops, some boutiques, some restaurants, a wool shop – in fact 2 haberdashery shops – a stationery store, a book store, gift shop, a florist, a pub, a travel agent, the bank, hairdressers, a lawn-mower shop, a Biggie Best shop, an ice-cream shop, a sweet shop, in other words – alles en nog wat. What is nice is that each store is small and you can walk from the one end of Picton str to the other in the time at all. At the far end is a largish grocery store, so I go in there for my other goodies.

Just beyond the top church is our doctors’ consulting rooms and there is even a funeral parlour right there. Yes, it does worry me a bit that they are right next to our doctor – but what with the florist only a few shops down – it seems like an irresistible one-stop-shop.

Family news:

Etienne is really enjoying school – he has quite a few friends – mainly Mat and Mathew. Mathews’ mum (not mom here) is …. Cathy, but their surname is not Miecklejohn, so not quite a replacement for Matty back in SA.

He does Scouts on a Wednesday night and Engineering club on a Friday afternoon. He spends lots of time between Fridays inventing stuff with his engineering Mecanno set – he has invented an elastic cutter and a toilet-roll fan – both soon to be patented and to be appearing on shelves near you…

Tomorrow we are manning a sausage sizzle for the Scouts – here they often do sausage sizzles (the NZ version of boerewors rolls) as fund-raisers. They also have specially packaged Oreos and chocolates that are sold to schools for fundraising purposes. Jules has been carrying boxes of Oreos around for the last few weeks and has made more than $100 dollars towards her trip to Wellington.

Juliette leaves with the MacLean’s choir on Sunday for Wellington for the choir nationals. She is doing well at school and has some very nice friends. Her school is huge, but it has a small feel about it as all the students are divided into houses and each house has its own structure. Each house also has, and this she likes, its own common room with a kitchen where you can make toast or coffee or heat your lunch in the microwave. They have the best view in the school – their common room looks over towards Waiheke Island. The view from the school is absolutely incredible, how they get any studying done is a mystery.

Steph is getting on with his Mandarin and is going to Hong Kong again in September.


The weather here was reaaaaally cold last Monday and Tuesday, with snow all over the country- all over the South Island and on the south of the North Island. Some people are even convinced that there were a few snowflakes in Auckland. It was rather drizzly here and very windy; so windy that one of the boats was washed onto the beach- and made it into the newspaper (so to speak). By Wednesday all was well, mild and sunny again.

This afternoon was so lovely – Etienne and I took a walk along the golf course towards Musick Point. The sea was azure and the grass emerald and the yachts crisp white – it is really so beautiful – goodness, I am getting quite lyrical! I hope I never stop loving and appreciating it as much as I do now.


Last week I was cooking – yes, cooking! Go and have a cup of tea and come back to finish reading once you have recovered….. Anyway, we have a set of really sharp knives. I was using the bread knife to cut a gem squash and it slipped and cut into my finger. It was not too terrible, but because of the angle of the knife, the serrations, and the force it cut quite a bit of a flap of skin and I was worried about dirt in it and therefore infection. So I took Etienne off to Aunty May and I drove myself to the A+E (accident and emergency). They cleaned it very well, gave me a tetanus injection and dressed it. I paid at reception and that was that. Today I get a letter in the mail – I quote:


 Dear Mrs Naude

Your injury is covered by ACC (I don’t know who or what this is)

We have received your ACC claim following your injury on 11 August. We’re sorry to hear about your injury and wish you well in your recovery.

 Because your injury is covered by ACC, we’ve already contributed to the costs of your initial treatment.  We did this by paying the health professional who treated you.

 If you need further treatment… (here I summarise) you can apply for further treatment and help like someone to help you in the house, if you need time off work you may be able to apply for help with weekly payments for loss of earnings


I never contacted them – at the A+E they must have sent through my details, so I think I can go and reclaim what I paid. I was there on the 11th and they wrote the letter on the 16th and it arrived on the 18th. I have a claim number as well as an ACC45 claim number – whatever that is. OK, I am not impressed by the shopping trolleys, but I am impressed by this. By the way this is on the Gvnt medical aid – we have no medical aid (called health insurance here).

Oh well, that is enough adventure for one week – speak soon, I hope.


Karen and The Klan

Farewell @ the airport - why do they all look so happy?

View from the bottom of our drivewayAnother sunset



Our little brown house

Jules and Et on Bucklands Beach with a shell heart

Whatever shoes

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment