Little Things

Many things are, if not better organized here than in the US, at least simpler to navigate. But some things are different or at least curious.

For example, for whatever reason, phone numbers can vary in length. Sometimes I will be listening and copying down a person’s phone number and think they are done, but then they will go on adding more numbers. And there doesn’t always seem to be a set pattern of how to say your phone number. You can say the digits one at a time or in groups of two or three or four numbers at a time, or any combination of that.

“Is that your number then?” I might ask.

“Three,” they might add.


“Four seven.”

Landline phone numbers are eight digits long. But mobile phone line numbers are generally ten digits long but can be nine or eleven. Toll free numbers begin with 0508 or 0800 usually followed by six digits, but sometimes seven. What is called local rate numbers are only four numbers in length. Numbers for operators are three or four numbers in length. For emergency services, dial 111—that’s easy.

Of course to call internationally, to the US for example, you have to dial ‘00’ (the exit code), then ‘1’ (the country code for the US), then the area code and the seven digit phone number itself.

Westpac Bank logo

Westpac Bank logo

There are some other things that bother me. My Westpac bank account number here has sixteen numbers in it. But sometimes it only has fifteen numbers in it. When I asked about this, I was told that if I see the fifteen-number version to just add a ‘zero’ two numbers to the left of the last number. Not a big deal, I guess, but this is a bank account number and hardly inspires confidence when transferring funds from the United States.

My banker in the US might say, “This form requires a sixteen-digit bank account number. Yours only has fifteen numbers.”

“Well, just add a zero in there somewhere,” I’d quip, “and if you like add a zero or two to my account balance at the same time.”

When I set up my bank account here from the US, I was informed that I could wire transfer up to one million dollars, distinctly more than I was planning. If I wished to transfer more than that, I needed to dial this three, four or eleven digit phone number and give someone my fifteen or sixteen digit account number.

Also at the bank, savings plans or investment programs are called “schemes”, as in asking you to participate in a “Savings Scheme” or an “Investment Scheme.” Coming from the US, I generally think of a scheme as something that Bernie Madoff or Kenneth Lay went to prison for. Not something you should do, or particularly something in which a bank should openly advertise its participation.

Writing the date I still find troublesome. It fact, it gives me as much trouble as driving. Like many other countries, but unlike the US, the number of the day is written first, then the month and finally the year. I’m slowly beginning to accept the fact that I was born on the 8th day of the 21st month.

Generally when you buy a car in the US, you’re given a full tank of gas and sent on your way. But gas is more expensive here. When you take that test ride in that jalopy, you’ll be using up your own petrol, so don’t go too far or for too long. And your new used car might just be delivered to you with that little gas gauge needle already pegged at the bottom tine of the “E”.

“If you find a car with a full tank of gas, buy it!” someone at work advised Rebecca.

To buy a car (pronounced ‘ca’ here in New Zealand) I went to probably about fifteen different used car dealers. You know all those shifty little used car dealers on corner lots in your hometown, the ones you pass by and are glad you aren’t buying a car there. Those are the ones, the ones where the salesmen are like carnies at the circus (called showies apparently in Australia) and you are the mark. The ones where whatever their price is, and after negotiating them down $3000, you can be sure you’re still getting screwed.

Toyota Spacio

Toyota Spacio

Actually all the Kiwi dealers seemed reasonably fair and forthright. They were still salesmen however. I did get phone calls saying that I needed to return immediately if I wanted a particular car since another buyer was on his way. Well, no worries, the other buyer on his way could go ahead and buy the 2000 Toyota Spacio with 125,000 km on it for $7500. Waiting a few days and coming back each day, prices dropped generally five hundred dollars/day until the dealers reached their bottom-line prices.

One small dealer advised me that he would be closed because of a rugby match. His team, the Crusaders from Christchurch, would be playing and he expected to be having a feel quiets (drinking beer).

“But there is only one thing that is important to New Zealanders in sports,” he started off. “That is when we play Australia in anything that we win (pronounced ween). If we don’t win, grown men cry, even truckdrivers and loggers, everyone. Things come to a standstill. And the women don’t like it because the men become bitter and useless.”

He paused for a few seconds gazing up at the sky. “Even seagulls don’t fly,” he added.

Used New Zealand cars come in two varieties, called New Zealand New (but not new anymore!) and Japanese imports. The NZ New cars were manufactured specifically for the New Zealand market. Some of the car dealers swear by them. “You need to buy a NZ New car,” they’d advise me. Another dealer would say, “Never buy a NZ New car. They don’t take care of their cars here. The children climb all over the seats, eating and spilling things. Dirty dogs tear up the upholstery. People fish, tramp (hike), camp. The cars are filthy and not cared for. Buy a Japanese import.” Hmmm, sounds like kind of the way I treat my cars . . .

The Japanese imports at the used car dealers are bought by the Kiwi used car dealers themselves or their representative at large auctions in Japan. One dealer said he had flown to Japan 78 times for these auctions. Apparently people fly in from all over the world for these auctions. After relating how his first marriage had failed in part because of the travel, the same dealer related to me how one buyer from Africa he had met at the auction in Japan had three wives. “That’s what you needed,” I replied with a total lack of tact, “if you lost one, you’d have two more to go through.”

There are very strict maintenance requirements on vehicles in Japan. Also the cars are generally very low mileage because it is congested and expensive to drive in Japan. In most of the large cities, people use public transportation, and for some owning a car is more a matter of having something to spend their savings on rather than a necessity I was told. Also in many places, each car must have a designated parking spot indoors, often carried by robot lifts to their designated spot.

The auction cars are all rated on a scale from one to five. Five would allegedly be perfect and brand new. Most of the imported cars are from 4 to 4.5. A few miniscule scratches on the side or bumpers of the car, the type I can accumulate everyday parking and bouncing around in traffic, can drop a car from a 4.5 to a 4. Also, I was told that the front dash was pulled off to verify that the odometer hadn’t been tampered with. Apparently if one crucial seal placed by the car manufacturer over the odometer has been touched at all, the car is rejected as an import. At least in some cars the side panels are pulled off to look for any sign of compression of the foam beneath them, signs of an undisclosed accident with only the body being repaired.

One dealer had a 2007 car arriving that only had 6000 km (3700 miles) on it. How can you drive only 3700 miles in 7 years?  Well, you can do it by driving only about a mile and half each day. But maybe you could just—walk?

Also, if you know anything about cars and Asian imports in particular, the essentially same car is given a different model name depending on the country for which it is produced. And are you familiar with the Runx, the Tiida or the Allex?

Cars in New Zealand are also required every six or twelve months to obtain a Warrant of Fitness, something not required of the patrons at the local Wal-Mart on 8th Street back in Colorado Springs.

I ended up buying a 2005 Nissan Tiida sedan with 36,000 km (22,000 miles) on it from a dealer near the hospital where Rebecca worked. I figured if he didn’t treat me right, she could badmouth him to all the employees. It is like a new car. I am almost afraid to drive it. It’s too clean for me. He said I am the second owner. I imagine my car being brought down from some multi-level parking garage in Japan every few weeks and the owner driving it to the local Buddhist temple where he or she would walk amongst the cherry blossoms or Zen gardens. And then go home.

Nissan Tiida

Nissan Tiida

There is a screen in the center of the car’s console with multiple functions. When I turn on the car, Japanese ideograms appear, I suppose greeting me and asking me how my day is going. There is also a GPS system which the dealer told me is not tuned or functional in New Zealand but I haven’t yet learned to turn it off. While driving I see two views (aerial and street level) of my car travelling down strange streets nowhere near where I am. I think they are downtown Tokyo or Osaki. There is also a red arrow and lots of cryptic Japanese writing supposedly telling me where to turn, or maybe where a good Sushi bar is. Then one day just out of the blue, a Japanese chick began talking to me out of the GPS console. Scared the hell out of me. I think the car had somehow realized I wasn’t following the visual prompts on the GPS screen, and decided to enlist her help. More recently she has started yammering every minute or so. She says the same thing in Japanese. I think it is, “You’re going the wrong way. Make a U-turn as soon as you can.” Then in another minute, she repeats herself.

Here is a photo of the display.


Sometimes the display shows I am across the street from a 7-11. But when I look, there is no 7-11 across the street from me. In fact, there are no 7-11s in New Zealand. Also sometimes I see a mysterious highway 53. If I could find out where highway 53 was, I’d know where I was.

The owners manual, also written in Japanese, provides no help or explanation.

The car also has a TV as one of the functions in the same center console. Even if it wasn’t against the law in New Zealand, do you really think it would be advisable for me to be watching “American Pickers” while driving on the left here and navigating the roundabouts? Oh yes, my dealer was also gracious enough to give me half a tank of gas with the car.


2 thoughts on “Little Things

  1. Funny, funny funny !!! By the way, how is it that you were born on the 8 the day of the 21st month ? Am I missing something ? All that time you spent studying Spanish…should have been spent on Japaneese….Who knew???

  2. Just hilarious! Wikipedia had this to say: “National Route 53 is a national highway of Japan connecting Okayama, Okayama and Tottori, Tottori in Japan, with a total length of 138.5 km (86.06 mi).”

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