Skimming Deep

Searching, traveling, talking, reflecting, and exploring. Read along with me as I continue on my journey through life.

Month: September, 2012

Growth: For Better or For Worse?

Off the topic of travel, but something that I'm coming across in my travels are these interrelated questions, “Is growth always necessary or desired? Does progress equal growth?”

I first came across this idea a few months ago, having a conversation with a friend who was working for a food truck in Boston. She was talking about some of the good things about the food truck and some of the critiques she had of this particular food truck owner/ founder (this friend wants to start her own food truck someday, which is why she's been working for one). She was critical of how this food truck owner was so bent on growing and expanding the food trucks– creating more and more trucks with the brand and even opening up a storefront, I think– that my friend felt the quality and the essence of the truck was being lost. And along with that, the owner was just working like crazy.

We both commented that growth doesn't always need to be the goal in business (although in a capitalist, and American, system, it seems that IS the goal). What's so wrong with building a good solid food truck with good products and a stable customer base? Why is the goal always to grow and grow until you cannot grow anymore?

Since that conversation, I've come across this idea of going local and staying small (family gardens, for example), where sustainability is the goal, not profit. And I'm of the mind that growth is not always key. Of course, this can't be applied to everything, but I'm feeling in terms of business, lifestyle and living, it is kind of a radical idea.

I'm reading Anthony Bourdain's Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook, and came across a chapter about David Chang, of Momofuku fame. He's a workaholic (seems to be a common thing among us Korean Americans) and is driving toward perfection. He's grown his business with multiple restaurants, a book, and other things, and yet he is still restless for more. Bourdain asks him what makes a good day for him, and Chang talks about going from restaurant to restaurant and seeing people working hard and diligently, all aiming for excellence in service and food delivery. And he said that's rare, especially because he can't be at every restaurant every minute monitoring as his businesses grow.

My thought is, when things grow to larger and larger proportions, you lose quality because you, as the founder/ owner, don't have as much ability to keep an eye on everything. Yes, it's a bit of a control thing, but it's also the idea that as things grow, they tend to get diluted. And then people start to cut corners. And then you do whatever you can to keep costs down and profits up, often at the expense of the quality of the product itself. Then it becomes an industrial system. At least that's my analysis of it. We see that happen to any product where it becomes more of a commodity (food, clothes, ideas, things) and the essence of that product is gone.

How do we change people's thinking to not always focus on scalability and growth and more focus on sustainability and consciousness of human and earth health?

Just some food for thought. At least for me!



A Pleasant Sunday in Wellington

Wellington has to be my favorite city in NZ so far. Hard to tell how much of that is influenced by my host and how much is really the city itself. New Plymouth was a bit small and provincial (a great library, definitely, but beyond that, not too much to offer beyond a day or two visit). And I didn't get much of a visit in Auckland, and no one to show me around, too, so that wasn't so enjoyable. But in Wellington, I have a wonderful host and the weather has been pretty good for the most part.

Wellington is known as “Windy Welly” and it definitely proved that today. Thank goodness for my windproof jacket!

Went back to the Botanic Garden with my host, by car this time, to see the tulip garden which I missed yesterday. Beautiful flowers just past their peak but beautiful and vibrant just the same. On a nice Sunday like today, families were out in force, enjoying the fresh air and sights.

We went for a nice drive along the coast around Wellington and saw beautiful coastline; had fish sandwiches at the Chocolate Fish, a cute little neighborhood restaurant along the coast; stopped at the WETA studio in Miramar, a suburb of Wellington…

And then I went for a hike up Mt. Kaukau, right by my host's house. A bit of a steep hike, but a breathtaking (because of the impressiveness and the wind which was really gusty up top) view of Wellington and beyond.

After that hike, I came down the mountain (hill, really) and played a few rounds of golf croquet at the club where my host plays. All in all, a nice Sunday set of activities. Topped off with a chocolate fish candy, apparently a favorite of my sister-in-law, my host said. And then we had dinner at my host's brother's house- really nice meal of chicken casserole and veggies.

Tomorrow I'm off to my next WWOOFing site in the Marlborough region of the South Island. Will be at a vineyard! I'm not sure what kind of Internet access I'll have, so I'm trying to get in a few posts now while I can. I'll be at the next site for two weeks.

So I hope those of you who were requesting more photos are happy. I'm finding this “Pic Stitch” app quite useful to stitch multiple photos together. Geesh, what apps haven't been thought of!?


Travel Tips and Such

My route through New Zealand for the last two weeks.

I've been in New Zealand for almost two weeks and I have come to really appreciate a few choice items:

  • a nifty cool fast-dry towel that my former boss got me as a going away present (thanks, E!). She bought it at REI. It's been great, especially on the farm where it was a little damp in the room where I was staying (a factor of living in the countryside with not the greatest ventilation and insulation from the outside elements).
  • my Keen shoes. I bought these before my trip to Paris last March, and they've served me very well. Sturdy, waterproof, comfortable– great for walking, medium-level hiking, travel. I love them!
  • my iPad and Verbatim bluetooth portable folding keyboard along with the Blogsy app. These three things have been great for blogging. All I need is a wi-fi connection and the Blogsy app is super user-friendly to link to my picasa web albums, my Photostream and photo gallery, and WordPress. WordPress has an app, too, but it's really clunky and not easy to use.
  • my iPhone with a New Zealand simcard (from Telecom). Photos, iMessaging, checking email/ Facebook, Instagram-ing, music. My connection back home. Enough said.
  • a small Nalgene water bottle (500mL). This has been great for day trips– it's not too heavy when full of liquid, and this one is easy to clean– it has a wide open mouth.
  • my two jackets— one is a rain jacket, one is a fleece. In this unpredictable NZ weather, both have been so great to have. They're light, pack well, and also warm when needed. I bought these right before I left because I left my other set of jackets back in Boston. But good thing because those were white and baby blue– the dirt from the farm would have done a number on them.
  • a small travel notebook. Even though I have a notes app on my iPad and iPhone, it's actually easier to just write down quick notes in the notebook– travel arrangements, reflections and journalling (when I don't have access to wi-fi), a makeshift calendar for my itinerary. I got a lot of journals as going away gifts, and the one I brought was nice and light and had a soft cover.

Some other travel tips for New Zealand in particular:

  • I got an Inter-City Flexi-Pass to use for bus travel. Instead of booking travel for each leg of my trip, you can buy these passes (kind of like Eurail passes in Europe) which either book a certain number of on-off trips or hours traveled. So I got a 55 hour Flexipass for $415NZD. I'll let you know at the end of my trip whether that was the right fit or not. I have no idea at this point, but I was trying to estimate based on how many places I was hoping to hit on my trip.
  • I set up a bank account with Schwab bank online to use for free ATM withdrawals all around the world. How it works is you can use any ATM machine, and at the end of each month, if you got charged some kind of withdrawal fee, Schwab reimburses your account all those fee amounts. No other bank does that.
  • I set up a credit card with no foreign transaction fee— there are a few of these out there. The one I set up was with Capital One– their green Cash Rewards credit card. Usually American credit cards have fees if you use them outside of the U.S.; this one doesn't! Make sure to check on your credit card before you leave the country or you'll be hit with all these fees without even knowing it until you get your statement. I think American Express cards don't have a foreign transaction fee, but they're not accepted everywhere. And I never got one of those because you have to pay a fee to use the card. What is that?!
  • Based on the advice of a friend of a friend, I set up a membership with BBH (Budget Backpackers Hostels, or something like that) which cost about $50NZD, and they've supposedly got more unique and family owned hostels around New Zealand. I've only stayed at one BBH hostel so far and it was nice.
  • The Lonely Planet New Zealand has been good so far, not the greatest, especially since I'm really looking for things off the beaten path, but not bad. I don't know about the Rough Guides for NZ or any of the other ones… But so far, I've just kind of wandered around cities and found my way OK. I'm a museum and parks person, so that's what I've gravitated to.

I've really enjoyed myself so far. The highlights have really been staying with different people. The city sightseeing is nice enough, but the best parts have been sitting with people and talking about life and politics and New Zealand. I'm hoping I continue to be able to sit with some nice people for the next weeks.

Plus, as I've said many times already, it really is a beautiful country. I've seen lots of rolling hills, coastal shores, sheep and baby lambs frolicking in the fields, trees and native plants, interesting birds…

I'm also starting to lay out my next legs of travel. I've set my departing date from NZ to November 12th. From there, I'm set to go to Indonesia. I'm hearing mixed reviews about Indonesia, so I'm not yet sure how long I'll stay there. But then I'll move on to Malaysia for a good 1.5 – 2 weeks. And from there, on to Vietnam, hopefully, to see a friend (a former CAPAY youth who's living there for a year with her husband!). And then, I think I'll be ready to head home in time for Christmas (Mom, I know you're excited, but this is what I'm thinking now, so don't get too excited! Things might change!!)

The rare (probably only at this point) self-portrait. It's hard to take photos including oneself when you're traveling solo. And I'm not totally comfortable having my photo on my blog, but I'll go with this one for the benefit of friends and family members reading my blog.


Back in the City: Wellington

I'm trying to figure out if I'm a city mouse or a country mouse. I grew up more in the country (well, rural suburb, I call it), near cows, corn fields, farms, and dirt roads. But my last almost-15 years has been living in cities (Seoul and Boston).

I love the diversity of cities (people, I mean)– that's something I've noticed on and off being in mostly rural and small-town New Zealand: there's very little diversity. And what little there is, I've only encountered in the cities: Auckland and now Wellington. I've definitely not come across any black folks (African or otherwise). There are Maori, but many of them are so mixed that it's hard to tell who's white and who's mixed or Maori. I miss the diversity of cities like Boston. Wellington is more diverse than New Plymouth. Auckland was pretty diverse, too.

I love the access to cultural institutions like museums, theaters, parks, etc. in cities. I spent much of this morning at an amazing museum in Wellington– the Te Papa Tongarewa, which means “treasure box” in Maori. It really was a treasure– I saw so many interesting exhibits about New Zealand history and also the Maori-Pakeha relations (Pakeha = white people).

Front of the Te Papa museum in Wellington, NZ

I really do like the presence of, dare I say it and sound really patronizing and elitist, “more educated” people that you're likely to come across in cities. I'm debating whether to leave that sentence in, but I'll do it because this is my blog and my thoughts… This is not to say that there aren't educated folks everywhere, but the likelihood of having more educated people in the city is higher, and it can be challenging being around people who have not had the chance to have much education and who may be entrenched in old ways of thinking.

Moving on….

On the other hand, I love the peace and quiet of the country. I like the wide open space. The green space, nature, trees, etc. that you're more likely to come across. I love nature in its more pure form out in the country. And with my growing interest in gardening, it's easier to make gardens flourish in outdoor, natural spaces where pollution and people aren't so omnipresent.

So I'm left with somewhat of a compromise– live in a suburb near a city. Is that possible?

In the meantime, I'm here in Wellington, capital city of New Zealand, for two days. Here's the view from my host's home, on a hill in a small suburb right outside the city. Beautiful view from every room in the house!

My day was spent walking around the museum, a must see. And it's free! Some of my favorite exhibits:

  • an exhibit about Maori cloaks (we couldn't take photos)– all woven by hand, made with flax, feathers, and other natural materials. Really beautiful works of art and functional (to keep people warm and dry in a new climate. The Maori came from the Pacific islands about 900 years ago, and it was a colder and wetter climate here, so they had to adjust). Native people's arts are always so amazing to see. Such labor, love, and time went into those constructions.
  • an exhibit about the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi which was supposed to be an agreement between Maori and Pakeha about the land and sovereignty, but interestingly, there are two versions which aren't exactly the same– an English version and a Maori version. So both parties, though they signed the agreement, weren't really agreeing to the same thing. The British version said that the Maori were basically becoming British subjects of Queen Victoria and giving up authority and sovereignty of the land in exchange for protection and not being kicked out. The Maori version was not so absolute. So since then, there are have been various land disputes, and in the 1970s, there were especially protests and fight backs from the Maori because so much land had basically been taken by the Pakeha. The exhibit was a little benign, and I'm curious to know what the Maori side would be.
  • an exhibit about the experiences in Maori in the modern age— moving to cities, facing discrimination, protesting land grabs. It's such a different history from the indigenous people of the Americas because they were essentially settlers in New Zealand. I guess New Zealand is one of the last countries to be settled by people (only about 900 years ago).

So besides the museum (where I spent a good 3.5 hours), I walked through the city to take a cable car (just 3.50NZD) to the top of a hill where there was the Wellington Botanic Gardens. It started off a little grey this morning and then turned absolutely gorgeous. Blue skies, puffy white clouds, cool weather. A beautiful spring day (in September!!). Here were some of the sights on my walk down the hill through the Gardens (also free):

Two views of a kinetic (movable and moving) sculpture in the Garden. One view from the bottom of the hill it was perched on; and another view from inside the funnel part. Very cool.

Beautiful flowers in the foreground of a rose garden that was not yet blooming.

View of Wellington in the distance, from atop the Botanic Gardens.

And now I'm back in the comforts of the home where I'm staying. Definitely a step up from the farm where I was this past week, but I guess everything is special in its own way. I miss the family that I was staying with, and I'm happy to be here with the nicer comforts of a nicer home.


I'm back at the New Plymouth Puke Ariki library for one last day in the area. My bus for Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, is at 2:15pm. And then I have a weekend in Wellington with a friend of my sister-in-law (thanks, L!!) and then on to my next WWOOF placement near Blenheim. No idea what to expect for my next placement so I hope I get some access to wi-fi at some point in the two weeks that I'm there.

It has been an amazing 10 days, as mentioned before. I have the deepest gratitude for the family that opened their home and hearts to me so I could have some learning. I guess I gave them something in return– weeded paths, a cleared and newly planted strawberry patch, and transplanted berry vines. But that's small contribution on my part for three meals a day, conversation and knowledge sharing, and becoming part of the family for a week and a half. WWOOFing is an amazing thing on both the part of the member and the host when the fit is good.

Recognize this patch from my last post-- it was a before and after. And this is an after-after. I planted all those strawberry plants!!

After this experience, I'm really itching to get started on something back home (wherever that is now, since it's not a guarantee that Boston is home…). But I'm trying to be patient to take on my experiences to learn different things about gardening, permaculture, life in another country to see what else I can add to my toolbox of ideas and lightbulbs.

The family I was staying with was really quite radical in their thinking about life and society. The mother (I call her that but she's really only a few years older than me– but it feels too weird to call her “the woman”– I'll just call her “C.”) introduced me to some films and youtube videos that were really interesting.

One video we watched was called “The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil”– you can watch it online. It was a really interesting, and hopeful, documentary about how Cuba suffered an economic collapse after the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s because Cuba's source of oil (the USSR) was now gone. Permaculture (or sustainable agriculture) was the solution to getting people off energy dependence (since they no longer had a choice!) and bring people back to local economies and sources of food. It really showed how community gardens can solve some of society's biggest problems!

Peak oil is this concept that we will (or actually have) reach a peak of oil extraction after which there will be a decline in extraction and production. Theorists have said that we are currently in the time of peak oil and after this time, we should really start to worry and find alternatives to fossil fuel dependence. In essence, there is a finite amount of fossil fuels in the world and we really need to talk and strategize seriously about how we can get off of oil, coal, gas, petroleum, etc.

Permaculture, conservation, local systems, solar/wind/water energy sources– these are all strategies and tools to use to get us off fossil fuel dependence and I have seen it be possible with the family that I was living with this past week and a half.

I can see how this is all possible in rural settings where there is a long growing season and there aren't so many options for access to resources. Now I'm thinking about how to bring these concepts to urban living where there's such an abundance of resources (supermarkets, gas stations, technology) and where EVERYTHING depends on consumption of some kind of fossil fuel. Is it possible to cut that way down? Would people be interested in those ideas? Do they have too much to lose? How do we start to really instill in people the idea that if we just keep consuming earth's resources without giving anything back, we're really going to be in trouble sooner rather than later?

Living with this family, talking to “C,” I can see how one can become really alarmist and almost paranoid about all that's happening around; so I hope to keep a level and hopeful head about me in thinking about how to bring these concepts back to my friends and family as a start.

So that's a bit of my soapbox for today. I'll be in a city this weekend so will hopefully have more access to wi-fi and will post more pics of another part of the country. But I'll leave you, dear readers, with a final photo of Mt. Taranaki:

This was my last view of the mountain on my last day. I originally had posted a pic of my WWOOF host farm, but I know they're so cautious about publicity so I took it down for their privacy.


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