Picton Gardening

Leaving the farm was a hard thing to do. I was having so much fun there. I tried to remind myself: leaving places that make you happy is just part of traveling. Hopefully it’s a bittersweet experience that happens more.

I am writing this some two months later. So much seems to have happened since the end of January. All of it has made me happy!

One of the reasons I was okay with leaving Mangarara was that I had already lined up another job. It only took me a couple days to confirm the next job after deciding to look. My next gig would be working as a gardener at a home in Picton.

Picton is the port town for the Cook Straight ferries. If people know about it, that’s all they know about it. I was happy with this location because my family would be starting their New Zealand trip in Nelson a few weeks later. I wanted to be in Marlborough for the start of that.

Bluebridge may be the cheaper ferry but, I’ve taken it twice, both times it left late. This trip left over an hour late. I was supposed to arrive at 23:30 in Picton. By the time I got to the house Id be working at it was almost 02:00.

I was working for Sue and her dog Holly. I was nervous taking the job. You never know who you are going to be working for. I know nothing about her, her home, her values, her attitude, her lifestyle, nothing.

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Holly at the dog park

Both of them were waiting up for me. Sue is in the same position as me, nervous about the unknown, but for her, the stranger is in her house. We said a quick hello before the three of us headed to our separate beds.

Come morning, a more formal hello was made, a tour of the house, a list of gardening jobs to be done, and Holly showed me her ball which I was responsible for throwing every time she brought it to me.

The house was built in 1916. Sue’s grandparents bought it new. Back then, the only work in  Picton was dock worker or freezing works. Sue grew up in the house with her sister Helen and both parents.

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Over the course of two weeks and change, I met the cast of characters that are Sue’s friends, I learned a lot about her life, and even accidentally got to see a photo of her boobs from the 70s. (I’m sure she’ll love that I’m writing that!)

In their 20s Sue and her sister left New Zealand. First they landed in South Africa and lived int he apartheid state. That only lasted six months and they went off to London.  They lived and worked in London, drinking, smoking, partying, and experimenting with LSD. (I guess I have a knack for connecting with like-minded people.)

Sue has had an impact on Picton. She was a teacher. She opened a cafe or two, sold them. She opened an ice cream parlor, sold it. Opened a classy second-hand store, sold it. I really enjoyed getting a tour of the small town. A minor detour from taking Holly to the dog park. She was certainly confused why we passed it without parking.

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Playing Fetch with Holly

The first friend of hers I met was Gary. An ex-pot farmer who had his home seized by the police for growing, what I’ve been told, was top quality cannabis. He’s all tattooed up and comes around with a giant Bearded Collie named Ralph. Sue pays him to mow the lawn. Gary lived in San Diego for a time in the 70s. he had himself a Mexican wife and lived in Tijuana. Since losing his house he lives only on a government pension. Perhaps New Zealand should rethink ruining people’s lived for a plant.

The second friend I met was Millie. She’s a lesbian sailor who with her partner sailed around the worlds in the 70s. “Imagine a lesbian couple sailing into Oman and Yemen today and then think about back then,” Sue explained to me. Hell of a story!

Millie was an angel to me. I told her I was curious about sailing because I have never done it before. She called her friend right then. When she got of the phone she told me I could go sailing with them tomorrow.

The next day I was sailing with Greg (Kiwi) and his partner Kate (Indianian). We were racing in the local yacht club race. We got second-to-last place. I went out with them again the next week and we came in third.

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There is an older couple that Sue hangs out with as well. They live across town, so a two minute drive. She tells me they have lived a very sheltered life. So when the topic of drugs and harm prevention came up it was a little scary for them. They can’t relate. They spent their lives in Christchurch, then moved to Picton and raised their kids. That’s it. I couldn’t relate. I never wanted to stay in one place.

The last guy I met was Henk. He’s the son of Sue’s neighbor and an old, gay, pothead. He came up from Christchurch to take care of his mother. He brought along his dog Suuz. He’s Dutch but grew up  in New Zealand. He lived in the Netherlands for 20 years. [I recently caught up with him in Christchurch.

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Sue was kind enough to watch my car while I left to meet my family. We parked it on the road to block the trucks from parking in front of her house.  Picton is overrun by semitrucks blocking all the roads parking waiting for the morning ferry or for daybreak to leave. The residents hate them. In fact,  I haven’t yet heard a kiwi say anything nice about truck drivers.

I hitched to Nelson. It took me about half an hour to get out of Picton. Some cute girls beat me to the spot and, of course, were picked up before me! I eventually got a ride from a chef who dropped me in Blenheim at the junction for Nelson.

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Ten minutes later I got picked up by a Maori guy who works in the vineyards driving a harvester tractor. We had a few road beers, talked about our mutual dislike of weed, but love for psychedelics, the Maori culture, and the meaning of life. He was a good cunt! I wished him well when he dropped me off at the visitor center in Nelson.

I spent two nights in Nelson waiting for my family. Luckily, a friend from Auckland was in town. We got together for burgers and made plans to hike in Nelson Lakes National Park.

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Finding a river crossing

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I took my shorts off because the water got deep. Clearly not in this spot though.

 

 

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Taipei in October

It feels weird to be taking a vacation from my vacation(?) [working-holiday] in New Zealand. It was a fact I had no plans to leave. I wanted to spend my entire year in New Zealand. But I had someone important to see in Taipei. So I was traveling 20 hours one way to do it.

I was nervous. I was curious about how it would feel to be back in Taipei with her after being away. It felt hot. Really hot. Really humid.

I left Auckland on a chilly rainy day wearing comfortable jeans for the long journey. I landed with them on. The airport wasn’t hot. I wasn’t focused on it. I was focused on finding her so I could wrap my arms around her.

We walked hand in hand to the Airport MRT and took it to Taipei Main Station. Never going outside. We ditched our bags in a locker so we could go explore. We took another short subway ride to get some dumplings.

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Xiao Long Bao! the smiles in this photo are so staged. I think it’s lame. But she’s beautiful ♥

After walking around for a bit I was dying. The heat was sucking the life out me. The humid was wringing the sweat out of me. Hot an uncomfortable. I wanted to it down and never get up.

By sundown the weather cooled and I was comfortable again especially at the top of Taipei 101.

Taipei 101 view

a blurry view from the top

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We spent the next few days hanging out with her grandparents flipping through movies and a show about rattle snake wranglers. We enjoyed a buffet with her parents. They were curious about my work in in New Zealand.

We spent two nights in the city alone. One of them we had a fancy birthday dinner on the 85 floor of Taipei 101. We went to a movie after.

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I was getting sick of so many photos. I just wanted to eat my dessert!

Honestly most of our time was spent alone in the studio we rented listening to jazz music slow dancing together or in a used book store somewhere in the city. I couldn’t be happier about the time we spent together doing that. In my mind, I think we found “our thing.”

It was sad to leave her. It was sad to leave Taipei. The moment I stepped back into the crowded city streets I felt more at home then I anticipated. It was a lovely warm feeling. Maybe it was the feeling not the humidity that was making me sweat.

Taipei will always be a home away from home. And home will always be when I’m with her.

Back to the ‘Bei

[The title is like “Back to the Bay” the Bay Area but I was going back to Taipei which is pronounced more like Tai “Bei.” I was trying to be punning. I know it doesn’t make a lot of sense hahaha.]

 

After two weeks more than two years  I’m flying back to Taiwan. Never could I have thought this would happen when I left in June 2015. But this trip is totally different in purpose. My friend, Justin, from exchange is coming here with his brother and we plan to hike Yushan. After that, my dad is coming out with a good friend of his as tourist.

In 2015, I arrived in Taipei at midnight and had to figure out how to get to my school in the middle of the city. Alone. The biggest difference for me is that someone will be waiting for me at the airport. This time, there is a bright shiny face waiting for me when I walk outside the arrival gate.

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When I got back to San Diego from Taiwan I signed up to be a buddy for an exchange student.  I was assigned Cindy. Since her exchange I have kept in touch with her. She even came back after her exchange and the two of us traveled together in the states (San Diego, Chicago, and a road trip to camp in Sequoia National Park).

We maintained contact, almost everyday since she left the states. Our relationship had grown to be more than friendly. And, now, I’m here and she’s waiting for me at the airport.

We spend the next few days hanging out in the city eating at all my favorite restaurants from when I was on exchange. The sights and the smells of the city bring back so many memories. Memories of feeling that can never be recreated.

It’s odd to go back to somewhere that meant so much to me. It had a certain energy about it while I was on exchange. I had a certain energy about me. What was once a magical newness is now the familiar. The familiar has also slightly changed. Cities change, but at the same time they don’t.

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We  are late to the airport to meet my friend and his brother. It is my fault. I finally found a used bookstore that sold English books. To my, surprise I found The Monkeywrench Gang on the shelf. Being that it is the book I have already reread the most, I decide not to buy it. It’s important for someone else to read it.

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Getting to Yushan was a little tricky. We are taking a bus from Taipei to Sun Moon Lake. From Sun Moon Lake the bus to the base camp of Yushan leaves at 8AM. So we have to stay overnight.

We try to leave earlier than plan, hopping on a different bus. The bus arrives at it’s terminus. We haven’t arrived where we need to be. We are in a small village in the mountains with no way out. After a failed attempt to hitchhike we call a private car to pick us up.

Staying in the base camp is cold. We were the only westerners. The Taiwanese preparing for the hike were practicing with their ice picks and crampons. I  watching them, realizing I have none of that. We might have underestimated the hike.

My American friends develop a different attitude. They begin to make fun of the Taiwanese for being over prepared. They didn’t even have rain jackets. Their arrogance is annoying to me, but my Taiwanese girl was on the verge of tears.

The ascent up the mountain is pretty miserable. It rains all damn day. I have two rain jackets on, both fail. I have a rain cover on my backpack, it fails. Everything I have with me was soaking wet and freezing cold. I try to keep how pissed off and uncomfortable I am at the weather inside. I shiver all night.

In the morning, I go get my rain jacket from the area where they hang to dry. It’s frozen solid. We were not allowed to ascend the last bit of the mountain to the peak because of snow and ice conditions.

Cindy and I walk down together. My friend and his brother run down leaving us behind. I don’t say anything, but this is horrible hiking etiquette you never leave your group behind. The two of us were carrying everything. What if one of us fell on the ice and couldn’t walk. That would leave the other to carry two backpacks and a friend. Meanwhile they’re well ahead of us carrying nothing. No good.

I think what’s bothering me the most is I am here to hang out with Cindy and my friends are really just unknowingly cockblocks at this point. If that wasn’t the case this wouldn’t have gotten on my nerves so much, maybe. They’re cool dudes!

Then my dad came.