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Life in Lockdown

We’re in Queenstown now. We’ve been here several weeks, with more to go. We haven’t stayed in one place this long since we left home in August.

We’ve adopted a much slower pace of life. The boys will often get up early to play video games online with friends back home. I cook a breakfast of pancakes or bacon+eggs, which the kids devour almost instantly. Lauren sips coffee and reads in the sunlight that warms a corner of our small deck each morning. The sun here is incredibly warm: we see people sunbathing on the grass when the temperature is in the low 60s.

Each day we make sure to take a long walk on the path that runs in front of our apartment. Some days we walk as a family, and other days we walk in smaller groups, or solo. This trail is full of walkers, runners, and bicyclists, all practicing proper social distancing. There’s a beach about a kilometer from our place with excellent views down the lake. Each day as I go past I think to myself, “wow, that’s a nice view. I should take a picture.” So I do. Now I have lots of pictures from the beach.

View from the beach of the Frankton Arm of Lake Wakatipu
I’ve taken many variants of this picture. This one’s from the beach….
View down the Frankton Arm of Lake Wakatipu
….and this one is from a bluff a little higher up. Not pictured is the small but occasionally-stinky wastewater treatment plant next to the water.

The mountains that ring the lake are also photogenic, and they change with the weather. The light is always different, highlighting some features and plunging others into shadow. Most days the mountain peaks are barren. We’ve woken up on a couple mornings to find them dusted in snow, and other times they’re smothered in fog. At the base of one mountain is a stripe of mauve foliage. We’re curious to know what it is, but due to the lockdown can’t get there to find out.

View of The Remarkables from Frankton Arm.
Our view of the 7600′ Remarkables range. Zoom in to see the mystery mauve marking on the bottom-right of the mountain, just above the red boat. It’s not *that* interesting, but idle speculation gives us something to do during lockdown.

Every day at 1pm we watch the government press conference about COVID-19, which usually features the excellent Prime Minister and her supremely-competent Director-General of Health. At first we followed the conferences to keep up with rapidly-changing developments and new restrictions. Now we watch more out of habit and to have an anchor point in our daily schedule. Like many New Zealanders, we breathe a sigh of relief when the number of new cases drops from the previous day; we feel a tinge of sadness when a death is announced; and we wonder when the country will drop back to Alert Level 3 – or lower. We also yell at the reporters, who seem to be competing to see who can ask the most inane question.

In the afternoons the kids reluctantly do schoolwork. The siren songs of video games and YouTube are strong, and there is a lot of negotiating about screen time vs school time. We now know firsthand that teachers deserve an extra zero at the end of their paycheck. Or maybe two zeros.

Every few days I’ll make a grocery run – solo. You’re not allowed to enter the store in groups of two or more. The roads aren’t quite deserted during the short drive, but there are far fewer cars than usual. I can pull onto the main road without waiting a minute or two for a break in traffic. The grocery store has bouncers out front to ensure that people are following the rules. They are friendly and helpful, wiping down shopping carts (called “trundlers” here!) and admonishing anyone who tries to enter the store through the very clearly-marked ‘exit’ lane. Most of the people in the store are staff fulfilling shop at home orders. The cashiers are behind tall plexiglass shields, and don’t seem especially interested in conversation (but that might just be my charming personality at work).

Our particular grocery store is well-stocked. A few items like bulk flour and hand sanitizer are generally out of stock, and there are specific items or brands that may be missing. On the other hand the produce and meat sections are full of fresh food and there is plenty of toilet paper. I can usually find everything on our shopping list. We have more time + energy to cook, and eat far fewer pasta dinners than we did while on the move. This is a welcome diversification!

Toilet paper aisle in Queenstown in late March

To be fair, Queenstown might be an anomaly. It’s a relatively small city that caters to tourists and campers. Many of the visitors have left, so there’s a surplus of capacity. We’ve heard about long lines outside supermarkets in bigger cities like Auckland, and shortages of staples like pasta. In March there was some panic-buying. To calm folks down, one of the national TV news channels paired up with a supermarket chain to air a segment from inside a packed warehouse. The message: there is plenty of food in the supply chain.

Easter is a big deal in New Zealand. Good Friday is a national holiday, and all stores are closed. The Prime Minister declared the Easter Bunny an “essential worker,” meaning it could go to work delivering candy. (She also warned children that due to the lockdown, the Bunny might not be able to make it to every house). We crafted Easter eggs out of construction paper and hung them in our windows. We did not make our own hot cross buns, which we learned are a traditional food for Easter. I’ll have to see if I can pick up some next time I go out.

During the evenings we’ll often watch The Simpsons, and perhaps a movie (Swiss Family Robinson seemed apropos at one point). We get the local broadcast TV channels and have a Roku stick that allows us to access Netflix and other streaming services from back home. On broadcast TV there are frequent government-sponsored ads imploring people to “Unite Against COVID-19.” These strongly-branded ads feature an eerily-calm female voice giving instructions to “shop alone,” “be kind,” or “wash your hands.” They are unsettlingly dystopian, but good policy and necessary for now.

After months on the move, the kids appreciate the stability of lockdown. They like the large blocks of unscheduled time, which they use to play video games, watch YouTube, or build with the few LEGOs we have with us. I appreciate the slow pace of life. Overall it’s quite relaxing! I’ve had the chance to take on some projects I’ve been meaning to get around to, such as taking an accounting course (really!) and writing a computer program that converts a photograph into a mosaic of LEGO bricks1. Despite the inevitable onset of cabin fever, I’ve really enjoyed these activities. A lesson for me here is that I need to do a better job building time for hobbies into my life once lockdown lifts – and especially once we return home. Not that accounting will be one of my hobbies.

[1] This is a much deeper rabbit hole than I expected. I got “ok” results on day 1, and have been trying to get from there to “good” for more than a week. It’s turned into an education on image processing pipelines with questions such as: Should I perform color quantization in HSL or CIELAB instead of RGB? Which low-pass filter should I apply before downsampling? And so on. Suggestions welcome.

2 replies on “Life in Lockdown”

Great post, Steve! No clues here on the mauve stripe or the color codes, but your observations of life in Queenstown are magnificent. I do hope the boys are keeping good Journals! They’ll want them some day for their grandkids to read and question!

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Glad to hear that you guys are doing well. NZ looks fantastic! Could the mauve colouring be a Heather in bloom? Love the LEGO photo program!

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