Tag Archives: New Zealand

Stag Nation

Stag Nation   —by Jinny Batterson

On a January trip to New Zealand,
Pedaling with a small group of bicycle tourists
Through the countryside near the Southern Alps.
My aging calf muscles complain. It’s hard to keep up
With others younger, fitter, better trained.

Finally, I resign myself to pedaling solo
Until our luncheon rest stop. On a flat
Stretch, I’m startled to see a stag with big, velvety
Antlers on the other side of a high, strong fence.

Once reunited with our group and guides, I ask
About the stag. “Lots of farmers have
Switched from raising sheep to raising deer,”
Another guest, a proud Kiwi, explains.

“Most are thoroughly domesticated and
Slaughtered young for the venison that
Has a stable market at premium
Prices in Europe, but some bucks are allowed
To mature until they have trophy-sized
Racks on top. Then they may be released
Into semi-wild areas where European and
American hunters will pay hefty fees to shoot them.”

Somehow this seems unsportsmanlike
To me, but I can understand how farmers
Trying to cope with falling commodity prices
For lamb and wool would latch onto almost any
Alternative. I admire the beauty of the
Countryside, the resilience and adaptability
Of New Zealanders, even as I wish for less lethal
Outcomes for the stags. 

Back home, I learn that the U.S. has deer farms, too, though,
Most American deer are still wild. Both wild
And farmed herds here may carry a wasting disease.
I research the Kiwis’ deer practices further. Turns out,
They’re transitioning from staging stag hunts to
Harvesting the stags’ horns for their velvet.
Humane harvest does not hurt the stags, who regrow
New antlers each year naturally. The velvet contains
Compounds widely used for possible medical benefits.
I wonder if American farmers and sportsmen
Could learn this velvet touch.


Customer Service

Customer Service     —by Jinny Batterson

During a recent extended trip, I had chances to experience both good and bad customer service—not the everyday gauntlet of exasperating telephone answer services mechanically mouthing “press 1/press 2…”—but live, in-person encounters. Because my husband and I chose not to rent cars in left-driving New Zealand and Australia, we had lots of exposure to busses, shuttle vans, trains, taxis, and ferries. Some of the drivers went well beyond the norm in pointing out landmarks and historic sites. Others seemed to think just getting us from Point A to Point B was enough—given the terrain and infrastructure, sometimes it was. Whatever our earthbound travails, some of our best and worst travel experiences occurred at airline ticket counters.

Several months in advance of this “bucket list” trip, my husband had pre-booked almost all our airline flights. Near our trip’s end, we planned to spend time with an Australian friend whom we hadn’t seen in years. Trying to coordinate our respective schedules, we learned that he had a prearranged trip that would limit our visiting time to three days.

We arrived so early for our four hour international flight to his city that the check-in counter for our airline was not even open yet. We got an unhurried breakfast, then noticed that a substantial line was forming for our airline’s ticketing counters. Figuring that the line-standers might know more that we did, we joined the queue. Nearly two hours later, we finally reached one of three available ticket agents. We presented our paperwork and passports to get our boarding passes. The agent did not make eye contact. He seemed somewhat flustered as he searched his computerized databases for our records. Then he checked a set of printed sheets. Finally, he spoke. 

“I’m sorry, but you are not listed anywhere. Are you sure you have a reservation?”

Exercising restraint, my husband politely asked to see the printed sheets.

“Here,” he then pointed for the clerk, “both our names. James and Jinny Batterson.”

The clerk retrieved the sheet, checked his computer screen again, then explained, just barely audibly,  ”We had to change planes for that flight. You should have gotten an email. There is no longer enough room for you, so we’ve rebooked you on different flights. You should reach your destination late this evening.” 

“Would you please print our revised boarding passes, then?” My husband’s sense of restraint was fraying.

“I’m sorry,” responded the clerk, “but the first leg of your flight is now a domestic one, so you’ll have to go to the domestic terminal to arrange for boarding passes. There’s a free shuttle bus stop just outside the door to your left.”

The passenger behind us intervened. “That shuttle doesn’t run very often. You’d likely do better walking the fifteen minutes or so it will take you to get to the domestic terminal.”

We went outside and walked through the rain to the domestic terminal, where we joined another line. Turned out, our connecting domestic flight was late and also overbooked. No chance to reach Australia until at least the next day. About 6 that evening, we got to the head of the line at the sole customer service desk. The clerk there offered us the choice of either an indirect flight the following evening, or a refund of our ticket price. We accepted the refund offer, deciding to risk finding an earlier alternative flight to give us at least a little time with our friend. Luckily, we found a different airline with a direct flight the next morning.

Our reunion with our friend, though shortened, was wonderful. We then spent several days exploring parts of eastern Australia on our own before our set of flights home—across the Pacific, then across the U.S. on a domestic American carrier to our home airport on the east coast. Arriving at the international terminal in Sydney, we had about two and a half hours to get our boarding passes, clear customs and security, and make it to the plane. When the airline’s ticket counters opened, we were about twentieth in line. With ten or so ticket agents serving economy class customers, we got to an available agent in about five minutes.  As soon as she saw our paperwork, she alerted a supervisor, who sent us straight to the customer service desk.

Our hearts sank. Not again!  At least the line at the service desk was not long.

“What can I do for you?” the customer service rep asked, smiling at the two of us.

“There seems to be a problem with some of our ticketing,” my husband explained.

“Oh, yes, ‘Batterson,’” the clerk said, looking at the reservation sheet Jim had handed him. “I was looking over your files just before we opened. You’re one of several cases today in which our American partner airline has issued seat assignments, but not yet created boarding passes. If you’ll wait for just a few minutes, I’ll see what I can do to straighten the problem out.”

It took only about ten minutes before the clerk motioned us back, explained that he’d been in email contact with the U.S. airline, then handed us boarding passes and seat assignments for both our international and domestic U.S. flights and sent us on our way.

Now that I’m back home, I’ve gotten sufficiently re-accustomed to the impersonal features of most American customer service that an exception is noteworthy. I belong to a monthly book club that features North Carolina authors. About ten days before this month’s meeting, I realized I did not yet have a copy of this month’s book. Neither did my local library, so I contacted my favorite independent bookshop to see if they stocked the book I needed. Unfortunately, they were temporarily out, but said they could order it quickly and have it available for pick-up at their recently relocated store.

Placing the order online, I mentioned in the comments section that I lived across town from their new location, had limited transportation, and needed the book as soon as practical. Within hours I got an email response from their ordering clerk, saying that the book would arrive at their store within one to five days. Additionally, she offered to drop off the book at my doorstep on her way home from work once it arrived—she lived not far from me. I enthusiastically accepted her offer. As she handed me the book, I thanked her. She replied, “No problem,” then scooted back to her little car and drove off. 

I’ve heard it said that no one values good customer service any more, and that, anyway, such service no longer exists.  I know differently.     



Waitangi Day

Waitangi Day      —by Jinny Batterson

In early 2016, rather than heading to Florida to avoid the worst of winter, I went further afield—to the southern hemisphere and a series of walking and biking tours in New Zealand.  Most of the time, I was out of reach of media outlets, sheltered from both American and New Zealand politics. However, though I was out in the countryside of the south island bicycling on February 6, I could not entirely filter out news about preparations and celebration that day of what is generally considered New Zealand’s national holiday: Waitangi Day.

What has become Waitangi Day began with the 1840 signing of a treaty between a number of indigenous Maori chiefs and a representative of the British crown. The treaty was supposed to help insure peaceful relations between the European settlers then beginning to arrive in New Zealand and the more numerous and fierce Maori, whom historians think first arrived in New Zealand about a thousand years ago. In 1932, the British governor-general turned over the grounds where the treaty was signed, at Waitangi on New Zealand’s north island, to the New Zealand government as a national historical site. Annual celebrations began in 1934. Typical events on Waitangi Day incorporate Maori war canoes, sports contests, food, crafts, and singing.  In most years, the Prime Minister of New Zealand makes a brief appearance and gives a speech. A historical museum was opened at Waitangi in 2016.

The Treaty of Waitangi has not always been universally revered or agreed on. The treaty was created in two versions—a Maori language version and an English language one—and there are some basic disagreements about its provisions. Among the most fundamental differences are the meanings of terms like “sovereignty” and “ownership,” which differ significantly in the Maori and the English versions, resulting in ongoing disputes.

As this year’s celebration loomed, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key declined to attend, having received abundant criticism for his government’s recent signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. Instead, he sent cabinet minister Steven Joyce, who was, not unexpectedly, beset by protesters angry over the signing. One threw a pink plastic dildo at him. Many others marched in protest of the agreement, which they claim takes away sovereignty that is not the government’s to negotiate. 

Now that I’ve returned to the U.S., I’ve had some fantasies about how any of our political hopefuls would react to a pink plastic dildo in the face. New Zealanders generally seem a calmer, less agitated lot than the average American these days. Some issues implicit in the ongoing New Zealand controversies are very much present in our U.S. body politic, though. How do immigrants and the indigenous populations of any area make peace? How do they preserve peace over time, as conditions change? How does an increasingly multicultural society remain inclusive and guarantee basic rights for all? What constitutes sovereignty, or ownership? 

A New Zealander I met later in my trip gave an answer that rang true for me. “None of us own anything, really,” he said. “We are only temporary stewards. The best we can do is to try to share our portion, however small or large, and to leave our homes on earth a little better than we found them.”