Sunday, February 14, 2010

Dispatch 53 “Bureaucratic As”

February, 2010

Kiwis have some funny ways of speaking English. Their “e” sound is more like an “i” so my name is “Bitsy” here. They call the thing on the front of the car the “bonnet” and the place in the back where you store your luggage the “boot”, cookies are “biscuits”, “lots of” translates to “heaps of” and so on. Perhaps the most unique and charming figures of speech are where they don’t finish the similes and just say things are “good as” or “sweet as” or “cheap as.” Friends who have lived here for several years after cruising here on their boat gave us a quick seminar and we thought some of these things were quaint but perhaps not universal. But, the “cheap as” expression is even on a website for discounted airfares. They have the occasional airfare between cities of $1 (which you basically have to be on-line full time to grab) but then they have the category called, “Also Cheap As.”

Well, after dealing with the New Zealand Medical Council for over a year and now grappling with the Immigration department, I am here to coin a new term, “bureaucratic as!” Here we are, people who actually achieved a 1 year visa in Mexico in Spanish, on our own without the benefit of a translator or agent, checked in and out of French Polynesia in French, on our own, twice, without the benefit of an agent or translator and we have been brought nearly to tears by the sheer incomprehensibility of the process we are attempting to get a work permit. You might think that a country often crying out about its severe shortage of doctors would be greasing the skids to make it easy for yours truly to come and work here. But you think wrong.

First there’s the application, written allegedly in English. So far, here’s my favorite quote (one of the check boxes in the health section): “If you have not spent three months or more in the past five years in a place that is not on the list, you do not have to provide a medical certificate at this stage.” Unfortunately, we had spent three months or more in the past five years in a place that is not on the list so we did have to provide a medical certificate with a chest x-ray, we think. But, without the examples they gave I would have been undone by the triple negative.

Then, there’s the Medical Council whose job it is to decide whether I qualify for work as a doctor in New Zealand. But part of the review of documents is done, NOT in New Zealand, but in Australia--what they don’t have enough doctors in New Zealand to review your documents? – OH right they have a doctor’s shortage here. They required “original certified copies” of all my documents (are those originals, copies, or what?) which are generally referred to as “qualifications” here (as in diplomas, certifications, degrees, what have you). And, after a year of pondering my suitability, they have yet to decide. After 20 years of practicing medicine in what is commonly referred to as “the most advanced medical system in the world” (OK, don’t get me started on that one, suffice to say that I didn’t get my training in Grenada), they are still hemming and hawing and have required that I have 2 supervisors before they’ll let me work here. Did I mention that they have a severe shortage of doctors? Is it any wonder?

So between our car disaster, our boat issues (there were more, but then, there always are, aren’t there?), the rodential stowaway and the bureaucratic insanity, we have not seen nearly as much of this country as we intended and we haven’t been as favorably impressed with the place as we were initially. We hope that will all change for the better.

Meanwhile, let us admit that we’ve enjoyed the heck out of our little sojourns out in the Bay of Islands and our trip down this stunning coast to Auckland. And we’ve had a blast every time we’re in Auckland even if it’s only to get medical exams for our immigration paperwork. (By the way, neither of the doctors we saw were originally trained in NZ, hmmm, makes you wonder, huh? How did they get through that paperwork?) We’ve seen blue penguins, a Dwarf Minke whale, dolphins, identified innumerably new birds, swatted many mosquitoes and sand flies, tried but failed to participate in the national sport of running over possums (they are an introduced pest here) and “tramped” (hiked) the many Department of Conservation trails. By the way, switchbacks occur on their trails only in situations where the alternative would be rappelling—the trails go straight up and down as a general rule. So NZ has much to recommend it. The cost is similar to the US even given the exchange rate.

But living in a country where first names suffice has its charm. While in a hardware store looking at new propane tanks, we told the salesman we would go to our boat and check the size and, if it fit, we’d be back to buy a second one. He said that was fine but we’d have to buy the first one before we took it to the boat. What he then said was that if we were locals, we could have just taken it and paid for it later. At that very moment a local lady came in, grabbed something off the shelf and walked out saying she’d be back later to pay. And we went to open a bank account here. The banker gave us all the information we needed to wire money from the US to our bank account and then opened us an account, with nothing in it. Our balance was zero. We were bummed that, in the half hour we were in the bank, we didn’t even make any interest. Oh yeah, another quaint thing is that the savings accounts earn 4-5% interest here. Remember that?

So, as with any other paradise, this one has its good and bad sides.