Thursday, August 4, 2011

It's An Upside Down World

Quite often I am lost.  I have a little problem, I was born and raised in the Southern Hemisphere.  Now you are probably wondering what that has to do with anything but the fact is I had a really good internal compass going on in New Zealand.  I could mostly point to where North was from anywhere I was and I knew my way around.  Unfortunately my compass is completely messed up in the Northern Hemisphere.  It doesn’t even point South which would be kind of useful.  I don’t know where it points now.  I think it just waves around madly trying to find its own North. 

This causes major problems when it comes to going anywhere.  Here in the US knowing the compass points is vital to being able to read directions.  Someone will say “ok to get here you just go west on 90 until you get to 291 then take that to 91 then go North until you get to exit 15".  It seems as if roads don’t even have names, just numbers.  This all poses a problem for me because not only do the numbers get mixed up in my head my compass is all twisted.  Even my 'Never Eat Soggy Weetbix' saying doesnt work.

For a long time when we first came here I would get totally lost almost every day.  I used to be able to leave my house and so long as I drove out my drive, got to the main road and didn’t turn off from there I would be ok.  I could then just turn around and make it back home.  Unfortunately there are lots of turning only lanes so a few times I was forced to turn off the main road without wanting to and then I would be frantically memorizing turns so I could do it in reverse without getting lost.

Several times a week I would call James in a panic, usually hysterical (I was pregnant) and very lost.  He would guide me back home after he had figured out where I had ended up.  In fact he actually loaded something onto my cell phone that was like a little tracker thing so he could look at a map on a website and see me blipping along a road (normally nowhere near where I really wanted to be). There was one time when I had my nieces staying and I decided to take them all to the park.  That went well because I had already gotten lost finding it a few days earlier in preparation for the big trip.  What I didn’t bargain on was getting lost inside the park while trying to find the exit.  It was a really big park and unfortunately I got to the wrong exit and there was no way to turn around.  I figured this was not the time for hysterics since I needed to keep a strong façade up.  After all I had 5 little girls in the back of the van and I couldn’t let them see me in a weakened state or who knew what would happen.  I figured between them all they could probably take me down.

I tried to think logically and thought that if I just kept driving then eventually things might start to look familiar.  This went well for a while.  Nothing was looking familiar but I knew that any moment now it would be ok.  Then I went across the Massachusetts/Connecticut border.  This was not good since I live in Massachusetts and not Connecticut and if I kept driving I would eventually get to Florida.  Not really the best way to get home from the park.

It was at that point that I decided turning around was the best course of action.  As I was doing this I could hear a discussion going on in the back seats.  “Where are we?” said one of the nieces.  “Oh, we’re lost” says Emily very matter of factly. “Mummy is always lost, its ok, Daddy always finds us”.  “Mummy normally cries, then calls him up and he gets us home”. 

I did eventually find my way home that day but I really miss being able to jump in the car and be able to get to any place I want without the aid of a long suffering husband.  You see in New Zealand navigating around the country is pretty simple really.  If you are at the bottom of the North Island and you want to go somewhere near the top you just head north.  Like for instance if I was in Wellington and wanted to drive to Auckland I would just go north.  About the only big decision to make would be which side of the mountain to go around.  Now all you Americans are probably hyperventilating and wondering what number the road is and thinking “what do you mean which side of the mountain, how many mountains are there?  What if there’s more than one and I pick the wrong one?”  See all the New Zealander’s know which mountain I’m talking about and can probably visualize the road too.

I know this because when we lived there it used to amuse me to no end when we would drive anywhere and James would be working out how we would get there.  He insisted on calling the roads by their numbers (see we do have numbers, just not as many and we rarely refer to them by their numbers).  He would get all serious and say “we’ll take number 1”.  The funny thing is that State Highway 1 (as we call it) goes from the top of the North Island all the way to the bottom of the South Island (not sure what happens in the water between the two islands).  He didn’t quite understand why I would laugh at him and I would say “well so long as we take a left at Sanson and a right at Bulls we’ll be fine”, this confused him.

That’s how we navigate.  We use the little towns as markers on our journey and we know where most of the little towns are.  It’s kind of unsettling living in a country so big that knowing all the little towns would be almost impossible. 

Another funny thing about navigating in New Zealand with an American by your side is hearing them totally mispronounce the place names.  It’s truly hysterical.  James got pretty good at his pronunciation but at first it was funny to hear him try.  We have names like Waipukurau, Ohakune, Te Awamutu and Rangiora.  Then there’s the ones that sound slightly rude, like Whakapapa (the wh is pronounced as an f and the a is more like a u).

Actually I have a funny story about us taking trip in New Zealand.  We were going away for the weekend and we decided to leave really early in the morning, before the sun came up, so that we could drive while Emily (she was a baby then) slept.  This was a lovely time of day (or night) to be travelling and since the roads were pretty clear we were doing well on time.  We had decided for that trip to take the left side of the mountain and as we were making our way around it the sky started to lighten in preparation for the sunrise.  Around that time James let out a sound, kind of an “oh” like he’d just had a light bulb moment.  He didn’t say anything else and I asked him what was up.  He said “I thought that there were lots of white rocks in the fields but I just figured out they were sheep”.  We had been driving past fields full of sheep for quite some time.  I had been thinking at the time “oh, isn’t that nice, all the sheep are sleeping” not having any idea that James was at the same time thinking “my goodness, there’s lots of white rocks around here”.

At Christmas time last year James got me a GPS unit for my car.  I am now never lost.  I still don’t know where I am but at least I have Billy Connolly telling me where to go.  I had to change the GPS to calculate everything in meters and kilometers too since I cannot make my brain work in feet and miles.  Sometimes people will say to me “just go 2 miles down the road and you’ll come to a stop sign, turn right and it will be on your left about 4 miles further on.”  I smile and nod and then rush to my GPS and punch in the address. 

So, not only do I not know where North is, I also cannot guess how far a mile is.  And as for how many feet make up a mile, don’t even get me started.  I recently decided to look this up just out of interest and who on earth came up with the crazy idea to make it 5280.  What were they thinking?  I’m almost certain it was done to confuse poor metrically minded immigrants.

People keep telling me that I’ll figure out where places are soon enough.  I’m still waiting for soon enough and until then I’ll have my trusty GPS with me.

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