9 Months as An Ex-Pat in Auckland: The Tumbleweed Has Stuck

9 Months as An Ex-Pat in Auckland: The Tumbleweed Has Stuck

“Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans” –Allen Saunders I know I’ve been terrible about updating my blog lately and since I just paid to renew my domain name, I thought an update was overdue, especially considering the ironic turn my life has taken since my last post about ex-pat life in Auckland, 4 months ago. When I wrote that, I was about to give up on Auckland. I felt useless at work, I saw my life passing me by and I was so determined to make a change, I was applying to jobs back in the Northeast, something I never thought I’d do. That was the beginning of many things I never saw coming. Just to put this in context… January 2016 Just before moving to New Zealand, my grandma predicted, “you’re going to meet a nice Kiwi bloke and stay forever”. I responded with maniacal laughter. “First, New Zealand is way too boring and far away from everything. I’ll stay the year I promised to work, then return to civilization. Secondly, Kiwis are too pale and too chill for me. Auckland’s main redeeming quality is that there’s lots of ex-pats”.   She dismissed my indignant protests with a “grandma-knows-best” little smile and I grunted at the ridiculousness of her premonition then immediately forgot about it. Fast forward to a few days after I wrote that post (May 2016) Out of sheer boredom and utter desperation, I rejoined Tinder and started talking to a guy who just passed in his two weeks notice for an engineering job that he felt no longer challenged him. We enjoyed some “good banter” (as they say in these parts) online for a few days, and agreed to meet up. A few minutes before we were supposed to meet, he texted, “I just got out of a relationship and I don’t know what my next step will be after this job ends, so I’m not looking for anything serious”. I replied, “well, that’s fine with me. I may quit my job and return to the States so I’m not looking for anything that’ll keep me in Auckland”. I also knew that traveling made me incredibly detached, and I was always the one trying to keep things from getting too serious. “Not a problem at all”, I told myself. Well, our first “meeting” (to which I wore crazy leggings and slippers, as the ultimate anti-date apparel) was nice but relatively ordinary. We went for a walk and we chatted. I liked talking to him and it seemed like he had a good head on his shoulders, but he didn’t make any moves and didn’t even text me that night. “Well, it’s probably for the best”, I reassured myself, “I’m leaving this place soon enough anyway”. Well, long story short, he might not have messaged me that night but he did text me the next day and somehow, it quickly turned into messaging each other for hours each day and hanging out more than we probably should have. A couple weeks after I met him, I knew I was in trouble when it was time to go to Myanmar and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to leave. This was a country that had been on my list for ages and anticipation for 3 weeks of wearing elephant pants and being a dirty backpacker again is what was getting me through long workdays. Myanmar turned out even better than I wanted it to be but somehow traveling this time wasn’t the same. Up until this point, I was driven to travel by a desire to find where I belonged. But during this trip, I had a nagging feeling that I belonged near the pale, blue-eyed Kiwi with ridiculous dance moves. Needless to say, I shortened my trip by a week and joined him and his parents for a few days of fishing and boating on their South Island “bach” (holiday house).    Spending time with him and his parents, who were just as silly and easy going as he was, felt so right that I didn’t even mind giving up warm Southeast Asian weather for being bundled up in thermals and having to de-numb my limbs by the fire! Fast-forward another 5 months to the present day (Nov 2016)… This Kiwi bloke didn’t completely cure me of my travel addiction (I still snuck off for quick trips to Colombia, the States and Niue (a small island in the South Pacific) but those trips too weren’t the same. It was fun to see, eat and do new things but I still couldn’t wait to board the plane back home, knowing he’d be there...

The Beauty of Uncertainty & Chaos

The Beauty of Uncertainty & Chaos

What first attracted me to physics was how nice and predictable it was.  You could use the kinematics equations to predict exactly where a ball would roll off the table, and as long as you chose a dense enough ball for air resistance to be negligible, Ta-da!  The ball fell in the cup.  Once you understood the language of mathematics, could turn words into numbers, you could predict how nature would behave.  For an ambitious student who loved to plan, whose life vision was a constant refinement of a decision made at the age of 5 (teacher->physics teacher->physics professor), I found tremendous comfort in the predictability and order of the universe. The last day of my freshmen physics class, this simple worldview was blown out of the water by a day long teaser discussion on special relativity.  Sure, my teacher debunked the twin paradox (where you could send a twin on a super sonic spaceship and he’d return to earth younger than his land-loving counterpart) as an incomplete analysis of the situation, and thus not a paradox.  But still, the day left me full of questions and a little bit angry, “How could quantities as fundamental as space and time be measured differently for different observers?  How can the perceived storage of energy depend on your reference frame?  How can basically everything be relative except for the speed of light?!?!” Well that led me down the worm hole, so to speak, and reading about special relativity inevitably morphed into learning about quantum mechanics which turned out to be even more frustrating.  Supposedly, you couldn’t even determine the most basic properties of a subatomic particle and the process of making the measurement affected the outcome.  If you tried to make a confident measurement of position of a particle, you’d lose information about its speed and moment.  Even more frustrating, our measurement abilities couldn’t be attributed faulty apparatus, it was an intrinsic property of these tiny particles.  Instead of absolute outcomes, the best you could do was speak in probabilities, probabilities that are affected by initial conditions, nearby particles and the actions of the observer.  For someone who loved knowing things, predicting things, planning things, quantum mechanics was deeply upsetting.  A “shut up and calculate” approach got me through my college courses but anytime I slowed down to think about things, the idea that the universe wasn’t innately knowledgeable disturbed me. It disturbed me until I realized that it corresponded with reality much more accurately than a predictable Newtonian universe.  Despite all my planning and micro-managing my life aspirations, the vision rarely corresponds to reality.  The universe isn’t always a logical progression of cause and effect.  Life is random, and a lot of the time, the best you can do is predict that one outcome is more likely than another, based on certain initial conditions.  You can adjust your behavior to maximize the chances of achieving something, but life can always interfere.  Certainly, trying to predict the behaviors of other people is nearly impossible, and if they know you’re observing them, that will almost certainly impact their actions. The real revelation wasn’t realizing that a quantum mechanical view of the universe made intuitive sense but it was recognizing the beauty in unpredictability.  This took much longer, probably not until I started traveling longer-term, when I dealt with uncertainty and chaos on a daily basis, when a lot of my expectations for my life were turned upside down and replaced by new dreams. “Perfectionism is merely an endless treadmill of self-destruction that’ll only build momentum until you’re running at unsustainable speeds.  Rather than remaining a slave to the illusions you perceive as safe, step off the treadmill and live as the piece of art you are: messy, colorful, fluid, adaptable to change, mistakes, shifts, surprises, pain and of course immeasurable moments of beauty. It is there, outside the enclosed walls of perfect self-imprisonment that you shall touch the meaning of freedom” -Victoria Erickson Life was so much more fun when I embraced opportunities as they arose, took advantage of serendipitous encounters and spent time enjoying life instead of waiting to control it. “Our anxiety doesn’t come from thinking about the future but from wanting to control it” -Kahlil Gibran Rarely were the highlights of my trips hitting the tourist attractions that were on the itinerary I designed for myself.  Instead, it was accepting a daughter’s invitation to learn to make dumplings from the Chinese lady who barely spoke English on the Singapore subway.  It was hopping on the back of “Rasta Roberto”‘s motorcycle in El Salvador and enjoying metaphysical musings as he shared his piece of paradise.  It was spending two weeks sailing with a guy who I...

Find Happiness in a New City: 3 Secrets

Find Happiness in a New City: 3 Secrets

After a month and a half of “real life” in Auckland, New Zealand, I’m finally starting to feel settled and find my groove but it wasn’t not easy.  I’ve met others who have been for years and still doesn’t feel completely adjusted.  Whether you’ve moved to a new country or just relocated to a distant new city, you’re never going to have as much history as in your hometown.  And it’s always hard to be away from friends and family, especially if they still reunite regularly. When I first got here, I struggled, which might have been obvious when I wrote this post.  A couple weeks ago, I started to appreciate New Zealand more and, thanks to a change in attitude, I’ve continued to embrace this place.  Although I’m by no means an expert, here’s three secrets that have helped me find happiness in a new city, with specific suggestions for ex-pats in Auckland, New Zealand.  Well, maybe they aren’t secrets, but sometimes simple suggestions can be effective! 1) View Each Day As An Adventure When you are living in a new city, it’s the best of both worlds… the adventure of traveling and the financial stability of working… unfortunately, a lot of people get wrapped up into new jobs, new responsibilities and new habits that they forget to take advantage of the fun parts of being in a new habitat.  Or they think they have time to explore so they postpone doing it.  I recently read an article from CNN  18 things we love on vacation but hate back home that playfully exemplifies how different people react differently on vacation than at home. “When we travel, we become children again — every experience is box-fresh with a new-car smell. Public transportation? A magic train ride to awesome. Grocery stores? An Aladdin’s cave of unfamiliar vegetables and hilarious brand names.   Back home, we have our security filters on high alert. That friendly stranger must be a lecher, lunatic or bore. A carnival parade is a sequined traffic disruption and street performers are bell-ringing pariahs. But on vacation, we let ourselves be open. We’ll taste that testicle souffle, we’ll sample that snake-venom liqueur. And when our stomachs rebel later that night, we’ll still be glad we tried.” When things go wrong traveling, you’re more likely to view it as part of the adventure, and laugh off bad experiences as a good story to tell back home.  When you run into similar situations in “real life”, it can ruin your whole day (for example, the spontaneous parade that delay your trip to the beach or the random person talking to you on the metro, ruining your nap).  Things aren’t always going to go smoothly when you’re in a place with different cultural norms, values and tradition.  You can often respond by laughing or crying.  Although crying can be tempting when you’re stressed and struggling to adjust, adopt the traveler’s reaction, giggle then share your “crazy story” with your friends back home. This weekend, 9 of my physics co-workers and I decided to hike one of Auckland’s most beautiful tracks, the 10.3 km Te Henga walkway.  The forecast looked beautiful, the sky looked beautiful when we left Auckland but as soon as we got far enough into the trek not to turn back, it started raining hard.  Before we knew it, all of us were drenched and spent the next couple hours slip, sliding through the mud.  Some of the people who lived in Auckland to anticipate finicky weather were prepared, and the Italian even bust out an umbrella, but I got soaked to the skin.  But, we all had a good laugh, and it brought back memories of mud sliding through Sapa, Vietnam. My French friend took this lesson a step further.  He was tired of getting blasted by the wind and soaked by the rain during his bicycle commute to work so he decided to use the wind to his advantage.  Now wind surfing is his new favorite hobby and it makes him appreciate less-than-ideal weather. In addition to adapting a traveler’s attitude toward mishaps, go exploring!  Immerse yourself in the new culture, recreation like the locals do, try the regional cuisine.  The Internet is great for creating “little bucket lists” to consult when you’ve got a free weekend and nothing to do.  Instead of being depressed about your lack of immediate best friends, maybe you’ll meet one if you do something from 16 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do In Auckland, The Ultimate New Zealand Bucket List or 50 Things You Should Have Done if You Live in Auckland. 2) Adapt to Your New Surroundings If you’re going to settle in to a new city, you’re going to have...