Sunday, 14 December 2008

not ready to talk about why I quit my job

I think I'm finally getting over my 'seasonal jet lag' Because this Summer I am completely restless and in search of Something New.

Last Thursday, around 10-ish (translation: bed time) I turned to Loren and said "let's go do something!" So we walked out the door, intending to either jump on the first bus that came along, or just keep walking up Majoribanks to Mt. Vic.

Then we saw the Welsh Dragon Bar. Every time we walk by it, we say "We should really check that place out sometime," but we never do. So this time we did! This tiny pub is located in the island between two major thoroughfares, which always seemed like a bad idea. Also, the very unique-looking little building which houses the pub was originally a public restroom. Not to mention the only Welsh pub in town.

The place was half-empty on a Thursday, the staff were actually having a party for someone's last day. When we opened the door, there was no music playing, we almost didn't want to come in, then this guy said to us "It's ok, it's not a private party!" We got beers and proceeded to check the place out. The walls were covered in Welsh flags, photos of Welsh sports teams, and other Welsh-related items. There was a nice lounge area with faux-leather couches, and a little garden area in the back. A pair of circular rooms bookended the building, complete with domed ceilings covered in paintings. One of these was the pool room. We found the original schematics for the public restroom hanging in a dark corner.

In summary: funky and a little bit awesome.


Monteith's Black and a red-felted pool table

Then the live music started up, which explained the silence we experienced when we first came in. We kicked back on a couch with our beers, and listened to a damn good rendition of "No Woman, No Cry." And I thought: what better way to spend a Thursday night?


Looking through the lounge into the main bar. Those are Welsh (and Irish) flags hanging from the ceiling.

Friday, 12 December 2008

No, we're not moving back to America now that Obama won

This post started as a response to a comment asking whether I am moving back to America now that Obama is the president-elect. It was not the first time I'd gotten this question.

The answer, without hesitation, is 'no.' Bush was only one reason to move, besides the supreme court justices he appointed remain, as well as the damage he's done to the checks and balances on which the federal government was founded. And furthermore, America is still a place where a person like Bush could get elected, be a spectacularly horrible president, and then get re-elected. Where he could - just to name a few - start unconscionable wars, alienate all of our international allies, and turn his back while Americans died in a flooded, hurricane-battered New Orleans. Where he could do all this and not evoke riots in the streets. These things still happened, and I can't change the fact that I lost faith in the American people, and became ashamed to be an American.

There's also the fact that I like it here in New Zealand, I love living in Wellington, and besides we made a decision to move here indefinitely regardless of the outcome of American elections. And I must also mention that I am so tired of moving, of uprooting, of saying good bye to people. I'm done. We're staying. We'll be signing up for citizenship in a few years, and a re-shuffling of American politicians isn't going to change that.

Yes, it was a great moment in American history when Obama won. Sure, it was a great moment to be an American. But I am an American only by heritage now. We did, of course, notice that Bush's term was almost up when we moved. We did know the next president could be a Democrat. But you know what? There are nine Green MPs in New Zealand's parliament right now, and we helped make that happen. And while the NZ government has just shifted to favour the more conservative party here in NZ (after nine years of a female-led Labour government), the 'conservative' National party is still more liberal than American Democrats. Including Mr. President-Elect Obama.

Turned out I had a lot to say on that subject. I guess I'm feeling a little defensive. I think a lot of people didn't really believe we'd move here, and a whole bunch more didn't think we'd stay. And what with me quitting my job, I'm realising a lot of my co-workers had similar assumptions. Since the word got out that I'm leaving, every co-worker I've talked to about it has in their own way asked if I'm leaving the country.

Oh yeah, quitting my job. I guess I should write a post about that one of these days.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Going Green - Part II

And so, living in the capital, as we do, and being excited about New Zealand's system of government, we decided to get involved.

So I registered my interest in volunteering for the Green Party. Turns out, what with the campaign being only six weeks long, there's not a whole lot of volunteer work that needs doing. But I have participated in a couple of events.

The first was an event to announce the Green's platform on transportation. They got a bus parked in a big open space by the waterfront, next to it they had volunteers line up fifty cars. Next to that they had volunteers line up fifty bicycles. The idea was to get a visual on how much more space cars take up on the road. So we showed up with our bicycles and participated. After they did othe photo shoot, they had us do a couple laps around the parked bus and cars. Then Jeanette Fitzsimons, co-leader of the party, gave a speech outlining their new transportation policy. The Wellington wind was up to it's usual mischief, and poor Ms. Fitzsimons looked more than a little wind-blown by the end of it. But such things happen when you're a Wellington politician. Here's one of the photos from the event:

Car,bus, bike Wellington-4

The event made 2nd page of the local paper. They used a photo of Ms. Fitzsimons with the bus and cars in the background.

Believe it or not I still have plenty to say on the topic of politics and New Zealand. More to come.. next time.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Going Green

My goodness, I guess it's about time I talked about New Zealand politics a little. It is, after all, one of the things that attracted us to this country. There are a lot of things about the way government runs here that are very different from the States. I just want to highlight some points of interest.

New Zealand is a parliamentary democracy.
Kinda like England. Members of parliament (MPs) are elected. They are generally analogous to the the congress and house of representatives in the states. There's a Prime Minister (PM), who is usually the leader of the party holding the largest amount of seats in parliament. The PM then forms a government (Americans, we're now talking the equivalent of the "Executive Branch") and picks cabinet members, who are also MPs. That's the basics of what a parliamentary democracy looks like. I'm not going into details on this point.

New Zealand has a Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) Voting System
This is where things get interesting. New Zealanders get two national votes. One, they pick among the MPs who are running in their district. Two, they vote for a political party in general. The party votes are counted up, and they will determine the proportion of each party represented in parliament. I'm not going to go into all the weird details of how the hell you go about making this work, see this handy wikipedia article for details.

The point is, while there are two major political parties in New Zealand, any party that gets 5% or more of the party vote gets representation in parliament. (also, any party which gets even one MP elected in a district gets representation). Why does this matter? Well for starters, say you're an American, and you don't really like either the Democrats or the Republicans all that much. In fact, there's this third party - perhaps the Green Party - that most closely represents your views. But if you vote for the Green presidential candidate, you might as well throw away your vote. It won't mean a damn thing, will it? Say the Greens have the support of 7% of the voting public (the current situation in NZ). If that 7% vote Green, in the American system, it won't accomplish a damn thing. In fact, probably a lot of them will vote Republican or Democrat instead, just to feel like they've done something useful. In New Zealand, those 7% can go ahead and vote Green, it will mean that 7% of parliament's MPs will be Green.

What can the Greens accomplish with just 7% of parliament seats? A lot more than you'd think. There are currently 9 political parties represented in NZ's parliament. Neither of the major parties - Labour and National - have a majority of the seats. That means that neither of the major parties can accomplish a thing without forming coalitions with the minor parties. (Check out Parliament NZ's site for a run down of the current MPs).

I have for a while felt that the Green Party most closely represents my values. Not only are they advocates on environmental issues, but they take a strong stance on human rights as well. And what's the coolest, is that they are a global party. While each country's Green Party is autonamous, they are all part of the global greens network. Not only is this just cool, but it speaks to the universality of their principals. In case you were wondering what those principals are, take a look at the Global Green Charter.

The point I am slowly getting to, is that I am looking foreword to voting in New Zealand's national election this year. I can't wait to vote Green, and feel that my vote actually counts.

I am not nearly finished with this topic, but for now I'll leave you with this lovely image from The Green Party of New Zealand's campaign:

vote for me

Friday, 26 September 2008

A day without a bus driver

Wednesday the bus drivers went on strike during peak commuter time. Thursday the bus company retaliated by locking them out of their place of work. This basically slammed bus service to a complete halt for the entirety of the 25th of September.

Thursday was lovely. The weather was beautiful, warm, with a cloudless sky. I took the hint (as I had the day off) and went on a cycling expedition. I had it in my head I needed to get to Lyall Bay, which is to say, The Beach. The North wind was making its presence known, but at the moment it was at my back and it felt nice. I stopped half way through at a lovely little park, right next to the colourful boat houses. But my favourite part is the park benches, sculpted to double as lounge chairs.

lounge park benches3

When I got to the back of Evan's bay I took a detour to look at one of our city's many wind sculptures up close:

box wind sculpture2

From there, it was on to new cycling territory. I followed the road signs to Lyall Bay. And coincidentally, my route took me right past the Go Wellington Bus headquarters, and a whole bunch of disgruntled bus drivers with signs:

bus strike 1

Cars were honking their support when they drive by, and I waved as I cycled past. It was exciting. I'd never seen an actual Union protest before.

And finally, my destination.

lyall bay scene

Lyall Bay

It was strange, to have a day without bus service. All the commuters were forced to drive their cars into town, causing massive traffic. The parking situation in town was pretty dire. It became very clear how much Wellingtonians rely on public transport. Which is, to me, a positive sign. Lucky for me, the lock out was over Friday morning, and I was able to take the #3 into Karori Wildlife Sanctuary for my first volunteering day of the season.

Thursday, 18 September 2008


Okay, I've resisted as long as I can. I think I have to do a post about Kiwi words and phrases. Actually, since New Zealand lingo borrows heavily from Great Briton, a place I've never been, I sometimes have no idea whether a word is uniquely Kiwi or not. So this is really going to be about "stuff they say differently here."

Starting with a couple of my favourite phrases:


Doesn't mean: A reference to someone's body type.

Does mean: Used to describe something that's gone badly, such as "that's when things went pear-shaped."

Analogous to: Similar to "went south" or "went to hell."

In popular culture: Used in a couple episodes of Farscape (an Australian-made sci-fi tv series)

"You're a star" or (even better) "You're a legend"

Doesn't mean: that you are literally famous.

Does mean: That you did something really good and the person is praising you for it.

Analogous to: umm, possibly "way to go" though it's not really the same. (actually, I can't think of an American phrase
that isn't used just as frequently as a put-down)

In popular culture: "you're a legend" is used in the Flight of the Concords song "The most beautiful girl in the room."

Well, that's a good start anyway. Now I think I'll get to work on a more exhaustive list.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Conversations Overheard in the Sauna

What's it like having a female Prime Minister?

I'm in the sauna on a 'mixed' day, which means the men outnumber the women roughly four to one. Which means mostly the talk in the sauna is about politics, sport, and business. They're discussing the latest political scandal - something about the foreign affairs minister and some shady campaign contributions. When one guy says, "She (Helen Clark) will burst into tears soon. Playing the sympathy card, that's what they do." To which a lady in the sauna replies "Ay! What do you mean 'they'?" Another guy adds "Well, she did cry over the ... (controversy over a parade of half-naked porn stars on motorcycles) She really didn't want that parade."

It is a simple fact of female physiology: women cry more than men. Have you ever seen a male political leader cry? Does any of this sound reminiscent of Hillary Clinton's recent presidential campaign? The difference is New Zealand elected Prime Minister Clark. Three times in a row.

PS: For those of you going "Wait. A parade of what??"
Yes I did say half-naked porn stars.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

this evening's meal

Today we walked to Newtown - a suburb just out of central Wellington. It only took us about twenty minutes. We were in search of a new place to eat. We saw a Mexican place and a Chilean place that both looked good, but we settled on a Nepalese place as we'd never been to one before.

The Restaurant: Jewel of Nepal

The food: We got two curry-like dishes with saffron rice and veggies. I got lamb, Loren got the fish. Both were very tender and tasty. And the chai had coconut milk in it, which was unique. Also, nearly everything on the menu could be made vegetarian on request.

The atmosphere:
Laid back, lots of bench seats with little pillows, but the lights were too bright (something that perhaps only I would complain about). The best part was the middle-aged Kiwi fellow sitting in the corner playing blues music on a beautiful steel guitar while his wife sat nearby keeping him company. Completely inexplicable, but all the more pleasurable for that.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Work: Pros and Cons

Working with animals has its hazards...

occupational hazard

I can't remember the last time my hands were scratch-free

On the other hand, I get to cuddle kittens

kitten season has officially started

... and on a good day, I might even get to cuddle a lizard!

blue tongued skink at work
the nice lady who owns this blue-tongued skink lets me have a cuddle whenever she sees me in the shop

Thursday, 21 August 2008


Last week we went to a Cuban cafe near our house. It had a mural on one wall and a huge photograph of Havana on the other.

Cubita Cafe wall mural
(detail from the mural)

Sitting in that cafe brought back memories of my visit to Cuba. We mostly stayed in Havana which is not what I'd call a relaxing vacation, but it was one of my most memorable experiences. We stayed with locals. We talked with artists and taxi drivers, with actresses and University professors. We met people who had devoted their lives to the revolution, and people on the street trying to make a dollar off tourists so they could get to America. It was amazing. It was a beautiful city. In the evenings we'd sit around and talk about politics and about our day, trying to process what we'd seen, trying to make sense of the strange world around us. There were five of us: myself, my parents, and two of my cousins. My younger cousin had just graduated high school and had never left the States before. My older cousin is a gay rights activist in Florida. My father was the centre point of our group; the one who devised the trip.

I took some fantastic pictures on my old 1950's era split screen point-and-shoot. I am now feeling inspired to dig them out of the closet, get them onto disc, and also get copies sent to those who were on the journey with me. It's way overdue.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Foreign Things

Last week on the way to the pharmacy I noticed a little Asian market, so of course I had to check it out. It was pleasantly homely, with crowded shelves and, for some reason, an impossibly tiny driving range in one corner. Browsing the aisles of mysterious goods with undecipherable text it occurred to me that I am an immigrant living in a foreign land and yet I still have this impulse to put myself in strange and unfamiliar situations.

What does that say about me?

Stranger still, I encountered several familiar products among the exotic wares, items I hadn't been able to find New Zealand before. I found Dr. Pepper, and what must have been Gatoraide though it was only recognisable by the distinctive lightning bolt logo. And, most amazing of all, SPAM!


(only the most expensive SPAM I've ever seen)

In fact, I realized later I'd walked out of there with two comfortingly familiar items:
strawberry mochi (for me) and Dr Pepper (for Loren).

strawberry mochi

(the mochi was very tasty!)

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Wellington goes to the Movies

Written Friday, August 1st

Wellington is considered the Hollywood of New Zealand, and with this title comes a dizzying number of Film Festivals, the biggest being the NZ International Film Festival, which is in town right now. I am determined to make the most of the festival this year, and by the time it is finished I will probably have seen more movies on the Big Screen in two and a half weeks than I have seen previously since we moved here. So this seems an appropriate time to talk about the Wellington movie-going experience.

Wellington has 5 major movie theatres - four within a couple blocks of my apartment. They co-exist by filling different niches - the art house theatre, the cheap theatre, etc. - but the fact that they coexist at all in such tight quarters is a testament to the enthusiasm Wellingtonians have for cinema. There are two significant differences in the basic movie-going experience here vs. the States. The first is in the refreshments. There is usually the familiar concessions counter - here called a "candy bar." However, you may not find some of the basic items Americans associate with movies - popcorn and hot dogs. On the other hand, most "candy bars" will be happy to sell you a beer or a glass of wine. Many theatres are also associated with a full cafe, where you can get a beer or a cup of coffee, a muffin or a toasted sandwich, and either enjoy them at the tables (often on the 2nd floor and overlooking the street) or take them right into the movie with you.

The second difference is the hardest for me to get used to: assigned seating. When you purchase a ticket for a film, the ticket is for a particular seat, just like if you were going to a play or a concert. This means if you are going to a popular film you can't just rely on buying tickets right before the movie - you may get stuck with the worst seats. You need to plan ahead, and you need to know what the good seats are for that particular theatre. Mostly box offices will have a seating chart to help you with this. The plus side is that with a little planning and know-how you can get your favourite seats, and you don't need to show up early and wait in a long queue for a popular film on opening night.

The NZ Film Festival also uses a couple of less conventional theatres: the Film Archive, and Te Papa Muesum's Soundings Theatre.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

When Loren and I went to get tickets for a Film Festival movie the other day, the lady at the box office looked really familiar, but I couldn't figure out why. When I went to the same theatre today, the same lady was at the box office, and again she just looked so familiar. Hours later it hit me: I'm almost certain she's the lady that officiated at our civil union.

Something about that made me feel like a really belong here now.


Written Friday, 25th July, 10:14 pm
Random moments from last weekend. Which was much more eventful than this weekend has been thus far. (by "weekend" I mean my days off which are Thurs. Fri. and Sun.)

I got a haircut for the first time in about two years. I got a recommend for this tiny place run by one woman. It was raining, and I sat on the couch flipping through hair design books. I pointed out a photo, and she got to it. Washing my hair, she asked me what I do for work. She said, "If it's true what some people believe that you come back as another animal, then I want to be a parrot." I asked "in the wild or someone's home?" She said "A pet parrot, because you can say whatever you want and no one will care." She got the haircut from the magazine dead on. I can't remember the last time I was this pleased with a haircut.

I cycled to the Sheepskin Warehouse to buy a possum tail to send to my nephew for his birthday. There's American opossums where he lives, I thought it would amuse him. They were fresh out of tails, but the lady gave me pitch for buying a whole possum fur. She explained that if you loop the tail through one of the holes from where its eyes were, you can make a sort of furry scarf of it. Something about being a foreigner myself makes me feel more comfortable asking strangers where they're from if I notice an accent. She said she's from Malaysia, lived here 17 years, raised two children here and they both left for the UK where the job market's better. I told her about where I'm from, and about my parents, and how my nephew, whose birthday it is, is a dancer. I settled on wool and possum fur hat, tucked it into my windbreaker, and cycled back into town.

When I got home, I saw a friend online whose visiting Hawaii right now. I was giving him all kinds of advice about Hawaii, and then I got to really missing Hawaii. He said "enjoy the island you're on." Which was excellent advice.

After work I quickly set about following my Hawaii-visiting friend's advice. Loren and I went to a great little out of the way Malaysian restaurant. I got lamb roti chanai and a side of steamed veggies. We wandered around town for a while then met some friends at SF Bath House (which is a dance club) for Atomic - a weekly even where the DJ plays 80's. Not just pop 80's but everything - pop, punk, new wave, goth, everything. It was late getting going but once I got on the dance floor it was so much fun. I couldn't believe I'd been here over a year and hadn't once been out dancing. I mean, that is ridiculous.

Loren and I went to our 1st Wellington Film Festival film. Vexille - a CGI/Animae scifi/action movie. It was actually really good, really interesting plot, and a lot of fun to look at. I cannot believe we didn't make it to a single thing for last year's festival. I mean, 3 of the theatres are within 2 blocks of us. Clearly we have a lot to make up for this year.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Wellington Coffee

Wellintonians love their coffee. This city has it's own coffee culture, and coffee is different here. For starters, coffee always means espresso drinks. There is only one place that serves drip coffee and that is Starbucks. Also, there are some standard items on a Kiwi menu that you won't see outside of NZ and Australia.

Flat White - very similar to a latte, but in theory the flat white has less foam.
Short Black - this is a shot of espresso
Long Black - a double shot of espresso with hot water. Similar to an Americano (as close as you're going to to get to something resembling drip coffee)

I was not much of a coffee drinker before we moved here, but now I order decaf mochas all the time. What makes them so great? For starters the milk is just better here. The coffee is also consistently good. Cafes get their beans from one of several local roasteries that source their beans from around the world and roast them on site. And since NZ has nothing against Cuba, some of them source beans from there, especially Havana Coffee Works.

revolutionary coffee

Turns out Cuba makes some pretty tasty coffee. I also love that if you order a cappuccino or a mocha (also called a mochaccino here) it will always come with at least one marshmallow. Often the marshmallow is covered in chocolate.

decaf mocha
(this mocha from Mister Bun's came with one regular and one chocolate marshmallow)

Despite, or maybe because of this, mochas aren't made very sweet unless you ask for sugar in them. Which is just the way I like it. Also coffee always and everywhere comes in the same lovely Italian ceramic mugs with brown glaze on the outside. Wellington coffee culture is not about a quick coffee to go. As my copy of "The Best of Wellington" puts it:

"The definitive coffee experience is best had sitting down, drinking from thick, pleasantly warm, tactile Italian crockery, with just the right amount of finely textured milk blended with a short strong shot or two of espresso."

decaf mocha - half full

Despite all this Starbucks does have a presence here, with its tall, vente, and grande, with its super-sweet double caramel latte to go. They are not completely clueless, though. They can't ignore the popularity of the flat white.

starbucks flat white

Friday, 11 July 2008

So I'm at the Doctor's today: I'm finally getting my chronic neck pain dealt with now that I'm a resident and can participate in NZ's subsidised health care. For one thing, my GP's not afraid of alternative medicine. Last time I was there, she recommended an acupuncturist, this time she gave me the name of an osteopath "because acupuncture is more effective for short-term pain."

While I was there she did a pap smear as well, since I'm way overdue. Afterwards she asked me what birth control I'm using. Then she offered to give me a script for condoms.

Holy crap. Subsidised condoms!

I had no idea that was an option. They're not "my brand" but they were so cheap there was really no reason not to give 'em a try.

Total cost:
doctor's visit $48
pap smear lab test: free
One month supply of my neck pain meds: $3
Six 12-packs of condoms: $3

Sunday, 29 June 2008

The Camera Collector

I'm not obsessed or anything, but when I think about it, actually own a total of eight cameras.

Film cameras:
Pentax zoom90-WR (somewhat broken)
Pentax ME super (somewhat broken)
Pentax K1000 (crack in the prism but otherwise intact)
Ansco gaf (old split screen point-and-shoot)
Lomo Super Sampler **NEW ADDITION

Digital Cameras:
Olympus D-460 zoom
Pentax K100 (digital SLR)
Motorola KRZR-K1 (camera phone) **NEW ADDITION

With the exception of the K1000 (which was given to me by a friend of a relative) and the Super Sampler (which I only got last week), all of these cameras have been my primary camera at some point. They all have their particular strengths and weaknesses. The Ansco was the only camera I took with me to Cuba - it just felt right and my ME super had just started throwing tantrums - and it took lovely photos of crumbling Havana architecture. The Olympus was my 1st digital, and the fact it was so light for cameras of its time made it a perfect companion when backpacking for the Hawkesbill Turtle Project. I took some incredible shots on that thing, simply by being able to take it places my other cameras couldn't go.

SO. The obsession continues. I'm currently having a great time checking out the particular charms of my camera phone. The Super Sampler is a toy camera from the Lomographic Society that I've had my eye on for YEARS. It is essentially four near pinhole camera lenses that take four side by side exposures on one "picture" - each image taken 2 or .2 seconds apart. For this camera to really shine, you need bright sunlight and lots of action (a sporting event, perhaps?). But sunshine is scarce this time of year, so I haven't made it through the test roll yet. Here's a blurry photo of the gadget, taken on my camera phone:
super sampler
AND, I was in the Metshop the other day, when I saw something I couldn't stop myself from buying: Sunprints. These are little blue squares of paper. You place an object on the square, stick it in the sun for a couple minutes, rinse in tap water, and an image appears. Magic! I can only assume these things are based on existing blueprint technology. My parents are in the land surveying business, this involves drawing maps, and originally my parents worked with my grandad and his ancient equipment. This included a blueprint machine: you take an existing drawing, stick it on some blue paper, run it through a machine that stinks of ammonia, and out comes a blue-and-white copy: the original meaning of "blue print." When I was a kid hanging out at my parent's office, I'd use the special blue paper to make images: find a leaf or something to stick on the paper in the sun, run through the stink machine, and you get a picture. I hadn't thought of this in years, but holding that tiny blue package in my hands, it all came back.

I was determined to test it first chance I got, but waited too late in the day and the sun was failing, so I went on a mad dash through the city looking for a spot of sun. Just as I was giving up, the sun broke through some clouds - it was on the verge of disappearing behind some mountains. So I just laid down my set up on an anonymous bit of side walk and tried not to look like a crazy person as I sat there staring at it and waiting for my five minutes to be up.
In the end I got a washed out image, due to the thin sunlight and long exposure time. And of course it has been raining ever since. Another new toy just waiting for a sunny day.
bule print feather

Windy Welly

"Gusts of 130 km/h are likely in exposed parts of Wellington and coastal
Wairarapa through to about 6pm today"

Damn. So much for getting a bike ride in today.

Friday, 27 June 2008

Can someone tell me why I keep taking photos in public bathroom mirrors? It's become a compulsion or something.

aro park metal mirror

Honestly, I just love what the metal mirrors do with reflections. If only there was something more interesting to take photos of in a bathroom stall besides myself. I'm starting to feel a touch narcissistic.

And let me take this opportunity to say a few words about public restrooms in New Zealand. They are absolutely the best public restrooms of any country I've ever had the opportunity to take a piss in. Kiwis will look at you like you're some sort of toilet fetishist if you tell them this, but that's just because they don't know how good they've got it. Friends, there are at least FOUR public restrooms in the small space of down town Wellington, and they are all clean, devoid of graffiti, and on average smell better than my own bathroom. Some of them are even HEATED in the winter. There is no garbage or human waste on the floors of any kind, they have hot and cold running water, all of the fixtures and appliances are undamaged and in working order. I have even had the confidence to change my clothes in a bathroom stall without once shuddering or getting the urge to run home and take a hot bath. I think all this has to do with the sense of pride Kiwis have for their public facilities, right down to the toilets. Indeed, there is even an annual award for Best Loo. Not to mention the famous toilet in Kawakawa that was designed by a noteworthy German architect.

It's a little thing. But when I talk about quality of life, in reference to why I've moved to New Zealand, this is just on tiny piece of the puzzle. And probably I wouldn't spend so much time taking photos in restroom mirrors if the restrooms were unpleasant.

Friday, 20 June 2008

What the camera saw

I took a rather leisurely stroll today, putting up fliers for Karori Wildlife Sanctuary and window shopping along the way. As I had my camera phone on me, I took a few covert photos along the way:

fictional packages

On a shelf above some science fiction/ fantasy books, some presumably fictitious postal packages. I've been in this use book store many times, but never noticed these before.

there is no religion

Down an easy-to-miss side street, I saw this mysterious building and had to snap a photo. Turns out the Theosophical Society is some kind of occult religion (according to Wikipedia). Still, I can't help but apreciate the motto above the door.


I simply love the fact that this little cafe exists. Between the Che logo and the Cuban coffee sold within, this place would be an impossibility in the States. The availability of Cuban coffee, cigars, and rum still amuses me, though I've been here over a year. And on the subject of alcoholic beverages, I still can't get over the fact that absinthe is widely available in liquor stores.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

I have camera phone technology now

It's tiny, I take it with me everywhere I go, and it performs well in low lighting situations. It's completely silent, there's no flash, and it just looks like I'm checking my text messages when I use it. It's the perfect stealth camera. And what of it's photo quality? I happen to like cameras with interesting limitations. They inspire certain kinds of creativity This is my favourite camera phone photo so far.
I have camera phone technology
Taken in the brushed metal mirror in a public restroom stall the day I got my camera.

Monday, 16 June 2008

the greener grass (written Thurs. 12th)

A universal part of the expat experience is longing for those little items, things you took for granted you could always find at the store, that are no longer available. It's different for everyone: pumpkin pie filling, Bounce dryer sheets, Fritos, doughnuts, graham crackers. One person I know gets American cooking chocolate shipped over once a year for making American-style brownies. I meet a lot of expats and they've all got something, and nearly every one of them has found some way to import some keenly missed item on at least a semi-regular basis. Loren and I have made a sort of unspoken vow to resist the urge to do the same. I don't begrudge my fellow expats, don't get me wrong: hey, whatever it takes to get you through the difficulties of living in a foreign culture on the other side of the world from your homeland. It's just a difference in philosophy, really: our strategy for adjusting to living here long term is to go cold turkey on American products as much as we possibly can.

That's not to say I don't get those cravings. Part of it, of course, is borne of homesickness, but some of it is just the allure of the unavailable. I was here months before I realised there's no doughnuts. Back in the States, I probably ate about one doughnut every six to twelve months, but the realisation they were gone made me crave a Duncan Doughnuts' chocolate glazed. Just the other day I had a dream about Pop Tarts. Now, I haven't had a Pop Tart in maybe four years, but still, I woke up thinking about my favourite flavour - brown sugar and cinnamon - and how nice and crunchy they are fresh out of the toaster. Until that dream, I hadn't even noticed the lack of Pop Tarts on the grocery shelves.

Which brings me to today. I'm at the grocery store, getting the usual basket full of tasty New Zealand items, when I spot a shelf of sale items. The sign reads "novelty bars: two for two dollars." What I'm looking at are a stack of Snickers, Twix, and Mars Bars. Now, I'm not a big junk food fan, I'm not really much of a candy eater. But faced with $1 snickers bars - an item I was just last week remarking on the sore lack of - I couldn't resist. Snickers are my favourite, even though the caramel hurts my teeth.

It was silly of me. I don't like junk food, and it seems like most of the American things there are to miss are junk food. On the other hand, the kind foods I really care about are almost universally better here. Just take the other items in my grocery basket:

Milk - SO much better in NZ, once you've had a latte here you'll never want to go back. I've gone off soy milk since we moved here.

Lamb - my favourite meat, fresh and readily available year round.

Carrots, onions, broccili, and mushrooms - All the local fruits and veggies are fantastic, you can mostly find anything you're used to if it's in season, plus some new and exotic stuff you can't get anywhere else.

Moneith's Doppelbock Winter Ale - Local beer here is just so much better. We have become regular beer drinkers!

(Still, I have to admit I'm a little excited about the Snicker's bars.)

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Tools For Global Living

aka, my favourite online resources that make an expat's life easier.

World Clock - get the local time anywhere in the world. Instantly. You can even make a "personal world clock" of just the places you care about. This is handy when you live in a country that's a day ahead of everybody half the time,  when countries keep rearranging daylight savings time, plus the fact our seasons are backwards from most places. No more having to do complicated mathematics just to work out whether you can call the parents without waking them up in the middle of the night.

Online Conversions - Convert any unit of measurement into any other unit of measurement. Going from imperial to metric ain't easy. If you weigh 60kg, have you lost weight? If you're going 100 km/hour is that too fast? And don't even get me started on the number of calculations this little gadget has saved me with regards to cooking from American recipes. (And when I say ANY unit of measurement, I mean it. Every find yourself in a situation where you need to know how many avograms are in baht? I doubt it, but if you did, this site would make your life a lot easier.) - Gives you current exchange rates between any two types of currency.

How to Call Abroad - This site will tell you how to call any country in the world from any other country in the world.
aka, my favourite online resources that make an expat's life easier.

World Clock - get the local time anywhere in the world. Instantly. You can even make a "personal world clock" of just the places you care about. This is handy when you live in a country that's a day ahead of everybody half the time,  when countries keep rearranging daylight savings time, plus the fact our seasons are backwards from most places. No more having to do complicated mathematics just to work out whether you can call the parents without waking them up in the middle of the night.

Online Conversions - Convert any unit of measurement into any other unit of measurement. Going from imperial to metric ain't easy. If you weigh 60kg, have you lost weight? If you're going 100 km/hour is that too fast? And don't even get me started on the number of calculations this little gadget has saved me with regards to cooking from American recipes. (And when I say ANY unit of measurement, I mean it. Every find yourself in a situation where you need to know how many avograms are in baht? I doubt it, but if you did, this site would make your life a lot easier.) - Gives you current exchange rates between any two types of currency.

How to Call Abroad - This site will tell you how to call any country in the world from any other country in the world.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Seasonal Jet Lag

That's what I've got. I arrived here last year in time for a second winter, and that's just not natural. I get winter depression normally, but I floated blissfully through winter number two, possibly just too lighted up by the excitement of so many new things, the joy of having Made It after all. That bastard depression caught up with me in the New Zealand Summer, though. And not a single reason for it. Warm and sun and my parents visiting, life and love and everything going ok. But I couldn't sleep, my mind was too busy cannibalising itself, and I was perpetually tired.

"I awoke today and found the frost perched on the town
It hovered in a frozen sky, then it gobbled summer down
When the sun turns traitor cold
and all the trees are shivering in a naked row
I get the urge for going but I never seem to go"
- Joni Mitchell

I think of that song normally in Spring. Summer is imminent, and long-ago childhood summer vacations make me feel like wandering the world care-free. Winter usually makes me want to hunker down, curl up under the covers, get comfortable, settle in. Well. This winter all I can think of is travel. Adventure. I want to see the world. I want to see the rest of New Zealand. I want to jump on a motorbike (not that I know how to ride a motorbike) and just drive off down the road. This winter, I know just how Joni feels. But. Well. It's the wrong time of year for such things, isn't it? I guess I'll just have to wait it out.

"I'll ply the fire with kindling now, I'll pull the blankets up to my chin
I'll lock the vagrant winter out and bolt my wandering in
I'd like to call back summertime and have her stay for just another month or so
But she's got the urge for going and I guess she'll have to go"

Friday, 16 May 2008

mile stones

I got my NZ driver's license in the mail last weekend. Holding in my hands an official photo ID with a New Zealand flag in one corner, it felt almost as big a step as getting those residency stamps in our passports. I don't have to remember my passport if I want to buy beer at the grocery store!

And today I registered to vote in two different countries. I will vote in two national elections this year! How cool is that?

Friday, 9 May 2008

How I Got Here

I'm not done talking about our one-year anniversary. I want to talk a little bit about how I got here. About the very beginnings.

In the year 2000, I was a journalist for my college newspaper. The night of the election, they showed coverage on a big projector in the student union. I stayed up late that night drinking chai lattes and covering the election and the student's responses. When it became obvious nothing was going to be decided that night, I had to write three possible stories: the one where Gore wins, the one where Bush wins and the one where we still don't know what the hell's going on. We all know which one the paper ran the next morning. Weeks later we were all trying to get our heads around the presidential coup Bush had pulled off, and the editors were joking about running the headline "World Goes To Hell In Handbasket."

Meanwhile, I had boldly proclaimed to friends and family that if Bush won, I would move to Australia. I guess they all thought I was joking. Actually, I was one and a half years away from a Bachelor's degree, but after that I really did intend to leave the country, at least for a while. Why Australia? Well, partially it comes down to playing with the globe in my classroom in elementary school, searching for the farthest possible location from my hometown in the South Carolina low country. Partially it's because of a children's book called "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day," in which a child has the sort of mundane very bad day that children sometimes do, and proclaims to his family that he's moving to Australia. (Also, they speak English in Australia, which is convenient).

Later that year I got assigned a feature story about a Russian man who worked at the registrar's office and also ran the college's chess club. He told me he left Russia not long before the collapse of the Soviet Union. He said he left because he could see it coming. And that just got me thinking: If that was about to happen to my country, would I see it coming? Would I have the wisdom to leave before it happened? And that notion stuck with me somehow.

Well, we all know I didn't leave the country upon graduation. I'd met Loren by then, and decided he was worth sticking around for. Years later we were sitting on the couch in our comfortable two-bedroom apartment in Berkeley, when Loren mentioned to me that Sweden had a viable political party that was Feminist. We started one of those despairing conversations about how pathetic the US is compared to other first-world nations when it comes to a lot of political and social issues. This was late 2005. The outcome of the '04 election was still fresh in our minds, not to mention the Hurricane Katrina disaster. I mentioned the fact that we didn't necessarily have to continue living in America. I'm sure I'd said it before, it was always a fact of life for me, I'd moved around so much in my childhood. But this time somehow it stuck. I told him about the Russian man I interviewed in college. He said something about not wanting to be around for the sacking of Rome. We started talking specifics about where we might want to move to and why. That conversation, that was the beginning of everything.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

number four

I remembered one more song having to do with moving to New Zealand. This one's a bit less obvious:

Andre Bird - Tables and Chairs

When you get down to it, part of the appeal of New Zealand is it seems uniquely poised to weather a number of post apocalyptic scenarios and come out pretty ok, peachy keen, even. It's not a popular thing to say you sometimes fantasise about these things, but this song voices it boldly. When I saw Andrew Bird live at the SF Bathhouse in Wellington, he said this story was inspired by a couple he knows who moved to New Zealand, and how they dreamed of a post apocalyptic future in which we have a chance to start again.

"i know we're going to meet some day
in the crumbled financial institutions of this land
there will be tables and chairs
there'll be pony rides and dancing bears
there'll even be a band
cause listen, after the fall there will be no more countries
no currencies at all, we're gonna live on our wits
we're gonna throw away survival kits,
trade butterfly-knives for adderal
and that's not all
ooh-ooh, there will be snacks there will
there will be snacks, there will be snacks."

Friday, 2 May 2008

Top Three

I'm working on a Top Five of songs that have to do with our move here. But so far I only have three:

Dar Williams - O Canada Girls

(listening to this song on the bus back from a conference in Palmerston North, looking out the window at the rolling hills along the Kapiti coast)

"I guess it's got to feel like some exodus
And if I succeed, well there will be more of us
And if I don't well I don't really know

Who have found our unsung nation
Where we left so much land to itself
That everyone had her own mountain"

John Denver - Rocky Mountain High

(This song came into my head as I hiked into Karori Sanctuary one morning. When I got home and looked up the lyrics that I realised he says "twenty-seventh year" which is my age)

"He was born in the summer of his 27th year
Comin home to a place he'd never been before
He left yesterday behind him, you might say he was born again
You might say he found a key for every door"

Jimmy Buffett - Banana Republics

(A more cynical take on migration, kept thinking of this song as we were packing up to move here. )

"Down to the Banana Republics
Down to the tropical sun
Go the expatriated American
Hopin' to find some fun

Some of them go for the sailing
Brought by the lure of the sea
Tryin' to find what is ailing
Living in the land of the free
Some of them are running to lovers
Leaving no forward address
Some of them are running tons of ganja
Some are running from the IRS"


Yesterday I took the theory test and got my NZ driver's licence. Two days previous was our one-year anniversary of arriving in this country. So. A couple of things I remember about moving here..

April 27th. The day we left. We loaded up the rental car, left our house keys on the counter. By previous arrangement, some young lady with dreads came by to pick up the futon we had slept on our last night in the apartment. We drove downtown and for some reason decided to grab a coffee at Royal Grounds on our way out. It was there, sitting in the coffee shop, looking across the table at Loren, that it really hit me what we were doing. I had been so busy packing, and selling our stuff on Craigslist, and making arrangements for our trip, that it all seemed like an intellectual exercise until that moment, when there was nothing left to do but get to the airport and step onto a plane.

April 29th. The day we arrived. The taxi dropped us and all six of our bags off in an empty parking lot, down an alley, allegedly near the address we'd given him for the apartment we would be staying in. Loren went off to find the place, and the lock box containing our keys, while I watched over the luggage. There I was, down an unfamiliar alley, in an empty parking lot, with not a single key in my possession, not knowing the location of the bed I would sleep in that night, and sitting watch over what were our only possessions for the next six weeks. Now, I have known in-between places, standing between what's to come and what's come before, with nothing to do with the present but wait it out. You get that any time you travel on an aeroplane, for instance. But this was the ultimate in-between place in my life, the moment of complete disorientation before this new chapter of my life could begin.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Fun with statistics

Before I moved here, I spent a lot of time researching stats on New Zealand vs. America, Wellington vs. Berkeley, etc. Statistics may be cold and sterile, but my imagination can fill in the details, and the picture that emerged in my mind with reguards to New Zealand made me really excited. How could we NOT try to emigrate? I have lost the Word file I used to keep of such statistics, but in my internet wanderings on this rainy morning, curled up on the couch under a down comforter, I came up with a comparison of NZ vs USA murder rates, and I couldn't help but brag a little.

NZ Police statistics
put the national murder rate at 1 offence per 100,000 people per year
Wikipedia puts the USA national murder rate at 5.6 offences per 100,000 people per year

That's a total of just forty-five murders annually in New Zealand, most of them in Auckalnd. So I feel just a little bit justified that I feel so safe walking through any part of Wellington by myself at night. I sometimes wonder if my inherent feeling of safety in this country is partially due to some naive notion that New Zealand is full of nothing but nice friendly people. But now I know that on a purely statistical level, I have less to fear. There's no constitutional right to carry a handgun around here, though the New Zealand bill of rights, drafted just eighteen years ago, is by my reckoning a more comprehensive document. But I digress...

The other day I was listening to NPR, as I do, and heard mention that US gas prices at the pump have risen 80% in the last year. It got me thinking how out of touch with those on-the-ground issues I really have become since I left America. I've been hearing about the financial crisis by little pieces here and there, my parents having to scale back their little business in Hawaii, a friend here and there trying to sell their home and finding it's gone down in value beyond anything they could have predicted. And here's another piece to add to the picture. When I left California last April, the average gas price was $3.25, today it is $3.85, which means in my little area of the San Francisco Bay, there are no doubt pumps selling gas at over $4.00. What does it all mean? We will have to wait and see. I recall us fancy liberal types asking ourselves how high the prices would have to get before folks sold their cars and started using public transit. four dollars? five? We may find out soon. This handy website has among other things, a historic gas price graph that you can fiddle with. I put in California, then I put in Hawaii, but what really gave me a shock is when I ticked the "add crude oil prices" box. I saw a third line soaring high above the other two, where historically it has kept pace with prices at the pump. I don't know where this is heading, but it sure as hell isn't sustainable.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Things to do on the weekend

Sorry I haven't posted in a while. This post is mainly just for the photos. Two weekends ago, we went for a hike up Mt. Victoria with our friend Reed. Though we've done this hike plenty of times, this is the 1st time we've been brave enough to check out the tree swing.

Mt. Vic rope swing
(Above photo taken by Reed)
Mt. Vic rope swing 2
(not sure if I took this one or if Reed did)

In case you can't tell, this is a rope swing on the top of a very steep hill, overlooking a sharp drop-off to the city below. It was so much fun I can't believe we never tried it before.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Rainy Sunday Morning

Finally, a proper rainy day. Woke up too early, though, feeling kinda crumby due to the two glasses of wine and the staying up a bit too late. May as well get up. First order of business was tasty baked goods from Pandoro, and a coffee for Loren. I'm obsessed with the blueberry muffins at the moment, they are perfect and not too sweet. Forgot to grab a free biscotti, though. Oh well. Back to the apartment, Loren still fast asleep of course. Now, the eternal Kiwi breakfast beverage question: tea, or Milo? I'm not sure what's more worrisome: the fact it seemed perfectly reasonable to me to buy a 1 kilo tin of Milo, or the fact we've finished it off already. Tea it is, then. I've currently been doing a combo of roast mate and vanilla red. I'm thinking how these are precisely the type of small luxuries I was afraid I wouldn't be able to find in New Zealand. It turns out mostly you can find just about any type of little shop I may have been missing from the Bay Area, it's just there's only one and it may take half a year to stumble upon it. Back to my computer, and I'm not surprised to hear the scavenger hunt has been postponed. Met Service is saying eighteen degrees and rainy; there's rain droplets on the webcam. I have to admit, part of me is relieved. After a long day at work and a late night out with the co-workers, I could really use a quiet day at home with my sweetie.

Friday, 22 February 2008

Update to A Strange Tale

I went for a stroll just now to see if those things we saw last night were a still there. (and to take photos so I'd have proof I wasn't just making things up)

I found the strange statue was still there, and was indeed a statue. I was comforted to see I wasn't the only one startled by the new addition. I saw many a person pause to inspect it. There were some pier-diving kids nearby. Here, a boy demonstrates how well the thing is bolted down:
(I feel since the boy willingly jumped into my shot, and since you can't see his face, this photo is fair game here)

There were no dancing shadows, of course, as it was daytime, but I saw the boxes with the lights in them all locked up but still there, so maybe they will be back again tonight?

The circus tents were still set up in front of the New Zealand stock exchange:
Meanwhile the building that seems to have popped up over night in Frank Kitts Park, while still a bit mysterious, seems to be part of the Pacific Blue festival, which starts tomorrow. (and you can bet I'll be stopping by to check it out)
On the way back, the statue was still drawing plenty of attention. The crowd of kids in bathing suits had grown, and I saw one boy climb onto the thing's shoulders to get more height before jumping into the water.

A Strange Tale

We went for a walk last night. It was a lovely warm night, with a huge full moon hanging over the Harbour. Dramatic streaks of high-altitude cloud lit up by moonlight, and the water was remarkably calm. We walked along the water behind Te Papa, and there was this statue we thought was a person at first because it wasn't there before, and because it looked real in the moonlight. What finally gave it away was how still it was and how the centre of gravity was wrong, the statue leaning impossibly foreword as if in the process of diving off the pier into the dark water.

Moving along, we saw some people gathered in front of Te Papa on the Mac's Brewery side of the giant building. The museum was closed, so what were they all doing? There was a couple dancing to nothing, but the crowd was just milling about, not really centred on them. Then we walked a bit further, and saw someone had set up two huge lights focused on the five-story-tall wall of Te Papa. The lights were projecting the dancing figures high upon the wall. There were other figures, too. Some seemed to be co-conspirators in this strange performance piece, some were just regular folks who walked in front of the lights and then started playing - doing "walk like an Egyptian" or shadow boxing each other, or just standing there fascinated by the mere fact of their shadow displayed at such a height. We watched for a time and the shadows danced across the façade of Te Papa, that dramatic full moon hovering above it all.

Further along we walked, curious now about the lights we saw down by Frank Kitts park - it seemed like all the park lights had turned to greens and blues and pinks, surely those weren't there before? Then we reached it - a park built in many levels, defined by ancient battlements along the harbour side, with little out-of-the-way garden nooks and terraced pathways. To our astonishment we came across a sizeable building which hadn't existed before. A large circular building, with a strange façade down one side made of pink triangular structures, and an open-air section in the back which looked like an ordinary cocktail lounge. Peering in, we saw a sign that said "private party" Private party indeed! Who builds a temporary night club in the middle of Frank Kitts park just to throw a party!? The place was empty, but there were enough security guards about that we didn't stay too long to snoop. (I'm going back today just to see if the thing is still there).

We headed back along the lagoon side of the Sea to City bridge. We could hear drumming coming from the park on the other end of the bridge. I'd noticed a drumming circle gathered there once before during a full moon - maybe it's a regular event? Looking over there, I could see it was a much larger group than before, some drumming, some just hanging out. I caught the glint of a baton twirling over there somewhere. The drumming sounds drifting over from the park sounded vaguely Tahitian.

Headed back towards Te Papa now, we notice something else new. Circus tents set up on the long stretch of cemented park land in front of the NZ stock exchange. Tents with brightly coloured lights running across the tops of them. A sign informs us the circus won't be doing shows until tomorrow, still all these lights are on and we hear odd sounds coming from within the tents - a bit of drumming or the tinkle of some kind of string instrument. They must be practising. Even from here we can see there are shadow figures still dancing across the wall of Te Papa. The folks at the tables outside Mac's Brewery are enjoying the show along with their beers. Someone has gotten so close to the lights that their shadow is five stories high. The shadow is trying to grab a little kid who is running around in front of him, darting out of his imaginary grasp.

Sometimes I feel like I'm living in the actualized potential of a city, the Platonic ideal of what a city can become. Sometimes it seems impossible that this place exists at all, and that I actually live here.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

The Big News

We're coming home from getting takaway, Loren's checked the mailbox, and is opening mail as we walk up the stairs... that's when he breaks the news: he has just opened a letter informing us that our residency applications have been accepted!

This is a huge deal to us. Here are the main big deal things that it will mean:

We are free to live, and to work, in New Zealand. Permanently. Our dealings with Immigration New Zealand are basically over, except for getting visas whenever we travel outside of the country.

We can become citizens, if we so choose, after we have been here for five years.

I can bring my parents in as residents after we have been here three years.

We may participate in the national subsidised healthcare system.

We can vote in the national NZ election, which will probably be held in November of this year. In fact, we will be required to register to vote once we are eligible, which will happen in May.

In short, we will have almost all of the rights of an actual New Zealand citizen. When we started this application process, we were quite confident we would succeed, but we didn't know it would happen this soon. We were told by Immigration to expect it to take 6 to 9 months. We were told by other immigrants that it often only takes four months. We weren't holding our breaths. In fact, we were in the process of applying for temporary work permits to make up the gap that might occur between our working holiday permits expiring and our residency application getting accepted. And thank goodness I hadn't gotten through that process yet or that would be an extra $400 wasted in application fees. In the end, it only took Immigration three months and two days to send us an acceptance letter!

Today I walked the two blocks down to the Immigration office to do the final step - turn in our 'migrant levy' (the final fee) and hand over our passports so that they can stamp them. We probably won't get them back for another week, and although I know that really the process is OVER, this bit is just tying up loose ends, it still feels a little disconcerting to be an immigrant and not in possession of your passport. I will feel immensely better when they are returned to us, all officially stamped with brand new residency permits.

Monday, 4 February 2008


Kiwis love rugby, and the biggest rugby event around here is the Sevens. What the hell's that, you ask? Not being sports fans of an type, I admit we didn't really have a clue until recently. I knew it involves rugby, and everyone seemed to be really excited about it. Well, basically it's like an entire season of international rugby competition condensed into two days. Each game is only fifteen minutes long! Well, if ever we were going to watch some rugby, this seemed like the time. So, the final night of the Sevens we wonder out our door to find a random sports bar to watch in, and we find that half of Courtenay Place is closed to motor traffic. Someone has erected at two-story high TV in the middle of the street and folks are just sitting in the sidewalk or the street or the nearby bars watching the game. Perfect! We find a free patch of side walk and settle in to watch the last two games of the Sevens.

First South Africa totally tramples Wales:

7s SA vs Wales 2

And then the final match: New Zealand vs. Samoa!

7sNZvsSamoa tied

It's a very close game, but NZ manages a win with only minutes left on the clock! New Zealand has won the whole thing, and everyone is cheering!

NZ wins7s

Now the real party can being on Courtenay Place. (as for us, we just went for a walk along the waterfront and then called it a night)

Thursday, 31 January 2008

The things that fill my mind when I'm day dreaming on the bus

Albums currently in my CD player:

Andrew Bird - Fingerlings 3
Tom Waits - Asylum Years
Once Soundtrack

TV show I'm currently obsessed with:

(the new) Doctor Who

Superfluous Gadget I'm currently lusting after:

Supersampler camera by Lomography

What I miss about California today:

Heirloom tomatoes, 49er's sushi rolls, Osento, white-handed gibbons singing early morning duets at Oakland Zoo

Things I love about Wellington today:

Walking home from work in the warm summer twilight, Kaka parrots flying over the lake at Karori Sanctuary, bubble tea and crepes at the mall 1/2 block from our apartment

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

The New Year

December 31st

We heard there was a free concert in Civic Square for New Years Eve. While I had no intention of staying up late enough to greet the new year, we decided to wander down the waterfront and check it out. The band was pretty good, though I never caught the name. It was ten o'clock before it got dark, and still fairly warm at that. That's when I realized how much sense it makes to have New Years in the Summer. Staying up past midnight sounds like a far better idea when the days are long and the nights are warm.

January 1st

We took a bus to Lyall Bay, just a short 10 minutes away. We bought ice creams and walked along the beach. Not much surf today, mostly just kids on boogie boards looking hopeful. Down where the beach ends was a rocky area with some pretty good tide pools. We found sea anemones, limpets, chitins, mussels, sea snails, hermit crabs, and one beautiful turquoise star fish. It was an absolutely beautiful day, sunny and warm. And the beach was full (make that half-full by California standards) of folks enjoying yet another statutory holiday. It occurred to me there's at least one more reason it makes sense to have New Years in Summer: New Years Day actually feels like the beginning of a bright, shiny new day, full of hope and promise.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Boxing Day

December 26th

Since I had the 26th off, we decided to wait until this day to cook a big holiday dinner. Turkey was out, as you can only get it frozen and probably imported from Goodness knows where. And lamb's not exactly a special occasion meat when you live in New Zealand. So we went for a ham (manuka-smoked and on sale) scallop potatoes, green beans, and fruit salad (our one nod to the fact that it's Summer). Since Loren loves pumpkin pie, and I think its pretty nice too, I was determined to finally work out how to make one from scratch. A pumpkin pie from scratch is the only kind you can make in New Zealand. There's no such thing as canned pumpkin or frozen pie crusts. Fresh pumpkin can be procured year round, however, and cheaply. I used to agree with Garrison Keillor that the best pumpkin pie you've tasted is not that much better than the worst pumpkin pie you've tasted. I don't agree anymore. The pie was so tasty that I'm making another one today. And it was pretty simple to make too.

Mostly instigated by myself, we secured two Christmas items for the occasion that are traditional here (and in the UK) that are not popular in the States. The first was mincemeat pies, which turn out to be pretty tasty. They are basically little pies with apple, raisin, chopped nuts, and spices. What's not to like? We found them tasty but very sweet (except for Loren, who hates raisins).

Christmas Curiosity Number Two was Christmas Crackers. These look like a tube-shaped gift-wrapped package. You hold onto one end, get a friend to pull on the other end, it makes a tiny explosion, breaks apart, and some sort of toy/present comes flying out. You can buy these by the dozen in the grocery store, and they can contain anything from stickers to plastic toys to silly jewellery to those little things put on wine glasses so you don't get them mixed up at a party. We also got some nice ones from a chocolate and espresso shop that had 3 chocolates in each. Also they always contain a card with a joke on it, invariably a bad joke, usually a pun. Despite the painful jokes, these little things were so much fun, I feel I really missed out on something good as a child, and now have a lot of Christmas Cracker cracking to make up for!

We got a walk in that morning when the sun was out. Most stores were still closed up tight and the town was quiet. Boxing Day is a statutory holiday too. The rain was back by the time we started cooking. It was warm rain, but still, it made it feel a little more like the right time of year. In California rain always means Winter.

Monday, 7 January 2008

Christmas Day

December 25th

The animal hospital where I work was closed, but I had to work anyway. Someone had to look after the animals that were spending the Holidays at our hospital and cattery. The night before, the rain had started, and that morning it was still going strong. Riding home afterward on the bus (which was running for free all day) it was a strangely peaceful sight to see the city so empty. The bus driver (a man wearing two sets of corrective glasses at once, presumably instead of bifocals) said it was unsettling to see the city so completely devoid of people and cars "a city's nothing without it's people." But I thought there was something nice about it, like the city was just sleeping comfortably with all the rain falling gently everywhere. It was December 25th two years ago I first saw my City, when we took the ferry up from Picton on vacation. The first time I met Wellington, it was sleeping.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

The Day We Bought the Mincemeat Pies

December 23rd

Loren and I wandered down to the park, in search of ice cream. It was a beautiful sunny summer day, and we needed an excuse to get outside. On the way we stopped by Pandoro, a fantastic little Italian bakery near our house, to buy mincemeat pies for Christmas day. (we didn't know much about these odd little British baked goods, but we figured our favourite local bakery would at least show us what good ones tasted like).

Pies in hand, we walked toward the waterfront until we reached Movenpick, a new ice cream parlour with lots of tables outside. We sat near a big, grassy field which was being thoroughly utilized on this lovely warm Sunday. There were informal games of rugby, soccer, cricket, and lawn darts all going on at the same time. Past the grassy field, the skate park was also being put to good use, as well as the small basketball court next to it. A Pacific islander at a nearby table started up a lovely slack key version of "O Holy Night" on his guitar. And it crossed my mind how crazy it was to be eating ice cream in the park two days before Christmas.

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