The Monkey King Dances is a collection of columns written for two New Zealand newspapers – which don’t archive online – between August 2007 & July 2008. Columns are reprinted as originally published barring any serious grammatical errors. Pictures and links added for fun.
It’s so unfair. A cheap shot, really.
After a few months as an American in another country, you get used to the snide remarks and rude comments that run the gamut of feelings – from a barely disguisable inferiority complex to the genuinely disgusted. When the person can handle the kind of insults they dish out, it’s really fun. I once traded barbs with a kiwi reporter for 10 minutes straight. It was a beautiful dance of abusive rhetoric.
So my actions a few days ago were cruel and thoughtless. I’d like to blame the homesickness, but that would be cowardly.
Talking on the phone to a friend back home, I told him with all the gravity I could muster, “They’re waaayy behind the technological bell curve. They just imported their first batch of stethoscopes here.”
“Really!” gasped my friend. “I can’t believe it!!”
“It’s true man. After that first shipment, they set up three clinics in Timaru and five new locksmiths opened up for business. There’s a queue snaking down the blocks for both businesses. I guess you could say everyone’s…er…safe.”
It was unfair to throw around that insult without any Kiwi present to fire back similar complaints about Americans. I feel guilty now, but my frustrations came from a week’s worth of clothes hanging on the line still waiting to dry.
I sound like a wet blanket, but I have several issues with the clothes lines that dot the backyard of every kiwi home. For one, the weather in this country makes hanging the washing nearly impossible. One day a few months ago, a few rain drops fell on a cloudless day, an hour later there was hail. By that evening, every type of weather condition had been experienced, including reports of a twister.
People often ask me what it is I am looking forward to when I return home. I’ve had plenty of time to think it over and of all the things back home, it’s the appliances I miss most. Forget apple pie and southern accents, I can’t wait to pull my piping hot clothes from a high powered dryer.
When the first flat I lived at in New Zealand didn’t have a dryer. I just chalked it up to the cheap rent and college occupants. My first few batches of laundry were shocking adventures of misunderstanding. At first I thought the washing was just a two-in-one kit and kept my clothes in there until they started to mold and began talking to me. When I finally peered over our fence at the other house, I knew I was in trouble.
It was not my proudest moment, but I actually had to have my flatmates teach me how to hang my wash. That’s not to say I’d never seen a clothes line before. In Arkansas, the lady next door used hers all the time. She was 98 and often ran naked and screaming around the neighbourhood, so I didn’t put much stock into lines.
Aside from that association, the only time I can recall seeing clothes lines stateside is at the movies in one of two scenarios: right before a love scene or just before a bloody, horrible death. As a result, I was under the impression one was to hang the wash naked and in the dead of night. The neighbours who were so talkative when I first moved in, stopped talking to me after my third week.
I asked a few trusted Kiwis why every ones seems to opposed to the fresh smell and utter joy of clothes fresh out of the dryer. There was nothing nostalgic or economical to their reply, it was always strangely conscientious. Conserving energy was always the answer.
When you consider the population of New Zealand and the fact there is a gaping ozone hole over the entire country that effort seems a little silly, like having a swimming pool when you live by the ocean. Whenever I mention this, I’m always reminded – quit forcefully – who put the hole there in the first place, so far be it for me to criticize those efforts.
Instead, I’ve decided to embrace this clothes line culture. I’ve been working on a limited edition collection of All Black clothes pins. The pins will feature the life-like faces of the All Blacks, much like the bobble heads that were going around last year. For just $5 you too can have Carter, McCaw, Williams, So’oialo, Kahui and more hold up your clothes as they flap through fresh Kiwi air. When your clothes are dry, these clothes pins will let you know with a battery-powered haka.