For several years, I have listened to American radio, namely NPR, almost everyday while doing those unavoidable, banal chores like cooking, cleaning, laundry etc. I often struggle to find things that are interesting and relevant to my life as a New Zealander living in Asia. Sometimes, I find things that pique my interest, but often, I tune out with all the segments about American politics and economics which I understand about as much as the Mormon religion. Which is to say, not much.
Recently, out of curiosity and a lack of better options, I have rediscovered New Zealand’s very own public broadcaster, Radio NZ. Back in the day when I was a whippersnapper student living in a grimy, grungy flat in Dunedin where it was warmer outside than in, I used to occasionally listen to the station.
I was reluctant to go back to it. I imagined there would be a lot of interviews with farmers, rugby players and Shortland Street ‘stars’. How wrong I was. Diving into the archives has been pleasantly surprising to say the least. I am getting to know my home country all over again. I am dazzled by Kim Hill’s incisiveness. My frequently sleepy brain cells are raising an eyebrow as I come to terms with the new New Zealand. I hear tales of Man Booker Prize winners (Eleanor Catton) and stories of a gay American couple buying a farm, raising pet pigs and making olive oil. I am exposed to the wonderful writing of a former street kid turned diplomat turned poet and entrepreneur (Leilani Tamu).
All this has been going on while the Motherland basques in the South Pacific sun and I’m shivering amongst the falling snow in -8 degrees. Of course, I reminisce and feel pangs of longing. I would much rather have wet sand and freshly cut grass under my feet than mushy snow and dirt. But I cannot complain. I will soon be taking my Jesus wheels for a stroll along the famed shores of Ipanema and Copacabana. In my jandals, of course.
The view from my window this morning
And so it is. The stunning oranges, reds, browns and yellows of the crisp autumn have given way (or more likely, been pushed aside – this is Korea after all) to the dull greys of the North East Asian winter, also known as Hell. Now that the sun has gone AWOL and there have been a few half-assed snowstorms, it’s time to hibernate.
I find myself contracting. I become anti-social (even more so than usual) in the cold weather. I don’t want to leave the house. I stop exercising and lose motivation to do anything except lie in bed eating Dorito’s and mindlessly surf the Interwebs. Or read memoirs about people giving up their corporate careers to train as chefs and open restaurants. These books are an escape into la dolce vita where a large part of the protagonist’s daily quota of mental energy is spent thinking about what kind of cheese to eat next. As far as work goes, I can’t wait for each day to be over so I can run home and jump into a steaming hot shower and stay there until my skin is pink like a pig’s (and the lack of exercise is making me chubby like one too).
And when I’m not occupied with the winter blues and/or cheese, I’m thinking about one of my former students in Cambodia who sent me a message the other day telling me how heartbroken she is because her secret boyfriend is getting married to another woman. I’ve also been vicariously experiencing Afghanistan through Marianne Elliott’s great memoir about her time as a UN peacekeeper in that country. More than the political aspect is the internal journey she takes into yoga, meditation and self-compassion and her descriptions are often so acute that I feel like she has been inside my head. Also, I can’t imagine how she endured such harsh conditions, both in her internal and external worlds. Inspirational? Littl’ bit.
In other news, my cousin sent me a Christmas stocking full of chocolate things that can only be bought in New Zealand. It arrived on the day I decided to give up sugar. And now I have to delay my plans for another week as I must dutifully consume all of it. It would be disrespectful not to. Can copious amounts of Chocolate Fish take make the sun come back? Let’s find out.