Monday, March 31, 2008

A little Sunday Scuttlebuttin'

We actually did make it out on the Rainy Lazy Sunday afternoon for a walk down Courtenay Place. There were all sorts of great takeaway and sit-down restaurants along that road as well as many nice looking pubs, some theaters, and a ton of internet cafes.

Here's the afternoon's pictures. Extra credit for identifying which ones Haley took.

I tried to get a picture of Haley beating up on the so-called Father of Wellington, John Plimmer. Most times we head that way, she runs over and beats on him with balled up fists in full view of Wellingtonian natives who no doubt wonder why she has such a beef with their iconic founder. Unfortunately, she was in a foul mood on Sunday afternoon and decided to give Mr. Plimmer a much needed break. Here you can see Zoe standing in as Plimmer-abuser for the purposes of the photo op.

Courtenay Place is a neat street. It's long and packed with shops and restaurants and the tributary side-streets are the same. Chances are good you can find just about anything along there. As much as Lambton Quay is oriented towards weekday businessmen and shoppers, Courtenay Place seems oriented towards weeknights after work and weekend revelry.

We ended up back on Cuba Street Mall at J. J. Murphy's Irish Pub for dinner. The girls stopped and watched a kinetic sculpture midway down the block on Cuba St. Mall for a good half hour.

J. J. Murphy's serves good local beers and traditional Irish and NZ pub food. Joanne got the lamb shanks, I got the ol' bangers 'n mash, Zoe got the shepherd's pie, and haley got some chicken nuggets and chips (fries.)

We ate and watched Rugby (not the NRL, but some Rugby union games, the Hong Kong 7's) on the pub's big screen and the girls read books we'd found at a local used bookstore. Books are EXPENSIVE here. We're glad we have most of ours sailing towards us in a big crate. $15 NZ for a thin child's first grade reader! Ack!

It was a great Sunday evening. The pubs here are big, clean, and very kid-friendly.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Week in Pictures

Today's blog entry is going to be mostly selected images from the previous week. It's a rainy rainy day in downtown Welly today and we're having a pretty lazy pajamas-and-TV day full of naps and lazing about. The weatherman says it's going to clear up in the afternoon, so that probably won't actually happen based on the general local apprisal of weatherman prognostication skill.

Departure and arrival

Day Two

Day Three and Sunshine

Day Four and the Beach

Day Five and Te Papa

Exploring Kelburn and Wadestown

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Weekend Kelburn and Wadestown

Another day, another photo upload and slideshow service. :-/ Photobucket wasn't playing nice with Firefox and Java and Vista... that's a powderkeg of conflicting internet forces right there. So I give you: Picasa.

Here's our album from today's (Saturday's) trip around the Wellington area.

First we went to Kelburn and it started raining on us. Then we went to Wadestown where the wind blew at us. I'm starting to understand the whole Windy-Welly-Winter thing now. We'd been the lucky beneficiaries of some unseasonably sunny and mild ("fine" they call it here) days when we arrived and I feel like the Real Wellington is starting to assert itself now.

We set off on foot, and then got quickly demoralized by the climbing and climbing and climbing that it took to move very little distance on our map. The area between the Wellington CBD (Central Business District) and Kelburn is pretty much vertical... something that you absolutely DON'T get by looking at a map. Or Google Maps. Or Google Earth even.

But today I discovered how to calibrate Google Earth to approximate the sense of actually being there. In Google Earth, go to the Tools menu and select Options. At the Google Earth Options dialog box, 3D View tab, set Terrain Exaggeration to 3. It's as high as it goes.

It works. I flew around and panned around the areas we visited today and that's pretty close to the sense you get when actually climbing the hills. This has proven tremendously helpful when scouting around the Wellington area in Google Earth. It gives you a much better sense of how different neighborhoods are connected and what direction the houses are likely to face.

Oh, and towards the end of todays photos I turned the camera over to Zoe and then to Haley. I'm sure you can tell which ones are theirs.

And for those of you who really WANT to comment on our blog but are annoyed by having to have a blogger/blogspot account to do it, we hear your cries. I turned that off, and even turned off the annoying "CAPTCHA" enter-these-letters-and-numbers-to-prove-you're-not-a-spambot bit too. Hopefully that'll make it easier to comment and we won't get nailed with a bunch of bot traffic promising male enhancement.

Friday, March 28, 2008

One KiWeek!

Today marks the one week, uh, mark on our Grand Adventure in en-zed. I think I should do something significant to commemorate the milestone but I can't think of anything fitting, free, or easily performed on the web. Instead I'm going to link a picture taken at Te Papa (the New Zealand National Museum---sort of like the Smithsonian of New Zealand) as representative of how we felt when we first arrived.

Now I'll post a picture of what we feel like now that we've been here a week or so.

It's an out of focus, suspended, skeletal whale. I really couldn't find a picture that represents how we feel now, but I found this one in the Te Papa batch so what the hell. We definitely feel better now than a rabbit-guts smoothie, though. And strangely, having an internet connection was a much larger part of that than either Joanne or I really feel comfortable admitting. The internet is our umbilical to the outside world and our old life and before we had it established, culture shock was hitting us pretty hard. I'd advise those switching cultures to consider the benefits that at least basic Internet access affords---continuity. At least if you're as internetty as we are. We're pretty internetty.

Today when I was typing an email at work, I typed "favorite" into Microsoft Outlook and hit space. The auto-corrector went back and changed it to "favourite" for me. We're not in Kansas any more, are we Toto?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Te Papa Day Five

I'm trying a little Photobucket action this time thanks to a tip from mlw. Flickr is great and all, but they limit the total number of images that anyone can view to the last 200 uploaded until you Go Official and plunk down some hard earned geeters. I'm going to hold onto my geeters and keep trying photo services until I real full photo uploading satisfaction.

One nice thing about Photobucket that I see right away is that it's dead easy to link to your photos.

Here's one of Zoe and Haley at Te Papa posing with various forms of kiwi bird:

Here's some kind of tricked out crab only found in these parts:

I wasn't actually with them when they went to Te Papa, so I can't really comment on it except to say that from the outside it's enormous and I hear they give away copies of today's Dominion Post there.

Oh, and here's the link to the whole Photobucket album.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Hello, there. I'm happy to say we finally have a solution for our internet needs so we'll be much more reachable. I've been getting my news from the local paper, the Dominion Post, and Channel One and Channel 3, so I basically have no idea what is going on in the world beyond NZ, which, by the way, is pronounced "en-zed" and used as the short for New Zealand.

We're doing well here. Steve has started work. Tomorrow the girls and I will begin the house hunt. We have been acquainting ourselves with our new hometown by walking/scootering everywhere. We were tempted several times to catch a bus but then saw something new and interesting up ahead and decided to stay afoot to investigate.

The girls are amazing. They are so curious and happy. They're getting tons of exercise. I think soon they'll be little string beans like the rest of the Kiwi children here. With all the exercise they're eating constantly and being very adventurous in trying the new foods. Zoe is in heaven with all the meat, bread and dairy that is so abundant in the Kiwi diet - sausage rolls, meat pies, savory scones swirled with chunks of thick cut meaty bacon. Haley is loving the fruits and veg, wanting to sample the many varieties of apples, the big red grapes, and, of course, learning to eat kiwis like a Kiwi with a spoon.

I'm loving the little challenges that are presented to me - learning to order a coffee, deciding which brand of detergent to buy, asking for "take-away" rather than "take-out", remembering to look right, left, right at the crosswalk instead of left, right, left. I know at some point I'll have to get behind the wheel of a car, but for now I'm happy just to walk around the traffic to get the feel of it. It is very easy to get around here by foot, bus or train, and the things we need are easily acquired. While I generally do not think of myself as a city person, nor do I hope to become one, I think I could live in Wellington. It is clean and safe, and the children's play areas all have excellent little take-away coffee shops adjacent to them for Mommy's afternoon pick-me-up (or mid-morning, or after lunch, or, well, you see where I'm going with this.)

I'm exhausted so I'm going to go see what's on telly before I turn in. I've been watching an excellent little show here somewhat akin to "Cops" at home. The name escapes me, but it's basically a NZ immigration officer going around busting people who are in the country illegally, usually due to expired visas. He and the local police track someone down, usually after receiving an anonymous tip via email, then sort of surround their work or home like they're going to raid it. Then the immigration guy knocks on the door, and politely tells them that they've overstayed their welcome and they will be sent home. It's all very proper and gentle and it makes me giggle. The Kiwi sense of authority is more like that of your bachelor uncle who has been left minding the kids. Even the official signage at the Te Papa Museum requested that you not eat or drink in the museum by making a joke suggesting that the exhibits have been well fed so there's no need to bring your food or beverage past a certain point. I must remember to get a picture of that sign the next time I'm there.

Anyway, I've started to ramble, so I will close. I love you all. I miss you. I hope you know you can contact us by posting comments here on the blog or clicking email the author which is an option somewhere on here if you click around. Cheers!

Are We There Yet?

I talked to an American at my new company (I started work yesterday) and it was strangely refreshing and relaxing to speak to someone from the Old Country. His name is Jim, and he moved his wife and adult son here several years ago. He hails from the South Bay, of all places, including Palo Alto, San Jose a few other towns down on the Peninsula. I asked him how long it took before he felt like he knew what he was doing down here and he said "About a year."

In some small ways, I feel like we're already starting to settle in. We're eating all of our meals at home---cooked in our small apartment kitchen---we have a fairly regular daily routine with the girls that involves scootering around Frank Kitts park, lunch at home or picnic out of a backpack and exploration and maybe picking up a few groceries in the afternoon. Now that I've started going to work there's a definite pattern emerging to our days.

The people at the new company work from 9 to 6 and the six o'clock quittin' time seems to be pretty strictly observed with the higher-ups packing out about that time and the rank and file like myself peeling themselves away from their computers one by one. I left at 6:15pm yesterday evening and most of the company had already cleared out. The strict adherence to working hours is something new to me as a game developer where at past companies there was a much less regimented work schedule.

Jim is probably right about the one year breaking in period, though. What he said made sense. He said that until you've been through all of the seasons and see things coming back around again, you don't feel fully adjusted and settled. He said that after a year he could pretty confidently say that he knew what he was doing and how to do it---the Kiwi way, that is.

I know that I'll feel settled in big ways when we have a house, have stocked it with a little second hand furniture and the girls are going to school. When that routine starts to settle in, I think we'll have really arrived. Even though we're making good strides (considering it hasn't yet even been a week) I'm feeling like we've still just barely got our foot in the door.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Our Local Park

Our local park---the one that's right down the street from us here at the Serviced Apartments is Frank Kitts Park.  It's got a great playground with a huge slide and is right on the Wellington waterfront.

It's right between the Te Papa museum and the Queen's Wharf.

Here are a few pictures of the girls playing at the park.

Powered by Qumana

Sunny Day Three and Kiwi Barbie

It's Monday, the statutory holiday for Easter observance and I'm sitting down at Starbucks across the Quay again. The good news is that we DO have available high speed internet in the apartment building, but we just didn't get the cable modem and VOIP phone for some reason. I'll have it sorted tomorrow and we'll be much more available in all of the old internet ways. I talked to an older American guy in the building named Ken and wondered why we didn't get the cable modem or even know about it, and he said something to the effect of.. "Ah! New Zealand... yeah they'll get around to it."

Yesterday we kicked around Wellington some more and took a train up to Johnsonville. We wanted to see how far it was to walk to the train station and how long the train ride to Johnsonville would be. One of the stops along the way was at Ngaio, which is one of the suburbs that we liked based on looking at the houses for rent/sale online in the months preceding our departure.

Here are the pictures for Day Three:

One thing had absolutely no sense for at all was the verticality (is that a word?) of the landscape in the area surrounding Wellington. The two operative words for the countryside surrounding Ngaio are "lush" and "steep."

It was around 2pm when we got to Jville and we found a bakery that was open and had a light snack before turning around and taking the train back in. From the train station to our apartment was about a 10 minute brisk walk, which means that if we DO end up getting a place in Ngaio it'd be about a 10-15 minute train ride followed by a 10 minute walk to work for me. Perfect.

A Kiwi Barbie

Brett Ross, our only NZ contact to this point, had planned a family dinner with us for Sunday evening, but it turned into more of a multi-family cookout following an afternoon game of "touch" (touch Rugby... apparently a one-hand-touch version of the game that removes all of the bone-shattering elbows to the face that the full blown version features.) The dads and the kids play it pretty regularly from what I could gather.

The BBQ has hosted by Mike, Brett's brother, and his wife who live in Petone (pronounced pee-TONY,) a suburb of Lower hutt. They had a 10 year old girl, Fia and two boys, and Brett and his wife Alie (sp?) brought their 11 year old daughter Deonte' (named after hearing the name on Oprah apparently) and their two boys. Also there were a couple from Upper Hutt, a man named Tim and his son and a guy he brought that he knew from elementary school who'd recently entered civilian life after 22 years in the British armed forces, a man named Toko (which was short for something and who reminded me of a guy I worked with at Nihilistic named Joe Ching who was hilarious and had a totally deadpan delivery) and his wife and their son. They were glad for our two girls to help even out the numbers a bit.

Zoe and Haley were soon thick like thieves with Deonte and Fia and some of the boys and they went out to the cricket and rugby field adjacent to the backyard (through a home-made door directly in the middle of the fence) and ran around, climbed trees, and god knows what else. A whole herd of kids would periodically stampede this way and that while we said on the back deck and Mike grilled sausages, kababs, chunks of beef, patties of minced beef, shrimps, and a few other things.

All around the backyard, abalone shells were hung. Mike dives for them. Kiwis are allowed to take 10 per day per person. Mike seemed pretty hardcore. In fact, both Brett and Mike are clearly at least partly Maori and Mike in particular had the look of a Maori warrior. After he was done cooking the meats, he rapped a fork against a drinking glass a half dozen times to get everyone's attention and gave a beautiful speech about how happy he was to have everyone there and specifically welcomed the people who he'd just met (the guy Tim and Tim's friend and the four of us) to his house. He then said something at length in Maori and ended with "Kia Ora!" This was followed by a little "good on ya, Mike" through bites of meat from half of the guests.

It's the end of summer here, and there was a bittersweet waning-summer feeling among them that Joanne recognized and pointed out to me. The neighborhood pool was closing, the BBQ's were going to cease soon, winter is coming.

We all had a wonderful time. I can't think of a better introduction to NZ family life. The atmosphere was relaxed and happy there. We talked freely about US politics, NZ politics and political system, sports (here that's Rugby and Cricket) schools, and the ever popular weather. Here talking about the weather isn't really small talk the way it is back in the states. Kiwis seem genuinely interested in it and like to discuss it at length including periods of severe weather and any sort of weather related events of the last century or so.

On NZ politics, it seems that the major parties (National and Labour) take turns in power, with three terms per turn. Toko told us, "I guess we're so socialist that it doesn't seem fair if one party stays in power for too long." The cycle seems to be: 1) first term is a landslide against the party currently in power as kiwis vote "change" or "fairness" depending on how you look at it. 2) ruling party wins second term pretty much de-facto as rising discontent with policies start to color the elections, and 3) for third term they barely squeak in and by the end of the term the electorate are ready to vote the opposing party in on a landslide and the cycle begins again.

It's fascinating stuff. We have a lot to learn from the kiwis and if yesterday is any indication, they're going to be happy and open to teaching us and showing us.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Day Two: Still Here!

We've managed to survive another day. We have a pay-as-you-go cell phone now for communicating back home and to help make arrangements locally. We still don't have internet sorted out yet, though that's one of my top priorities. To prove it, I'll admit that I'm sitting at the doorway to the apartment building which is directly across the street from the Starbucks wireless hotspot and typing this on the floor while people filing back from Rock2Wellington and KISS, Alice Cooper and other bands stop and point and giggle at me.

Try this address for a flickr photo stream. I think I hit the 200 image limit for the free flickr account, so I'm looking at other photo-sharing options. Please comment with any suggestions.

Just a quickie tonight, I'm eating up all of my hotspot minutes. :/

Friday, March 21, 2008

We're here!

It's true. After a long long night of flying we've finally made it to Wellington!

We got on the shuttle bus that my sister-in-law so graciously provided for us at around 4pm and headed to SFO's international terminal. We then boarded our plane at 8pm PST bound for Auckland. 15 hours later we checked into our "serviced apartments" with the assistance of a very helpful and friendly kiwi named Brett (pronounced "brit") from my new company.

Everyone is in pretty reasonable condition now that we've eaten breakfast and lunch. Joanne and Zoe are on their third tour of the downtown Wellington area while Haley and I take a break.

I'm going to make this quick because I've had maybe a night's rest in the last week and can't really string my words together to make. good. blog. write.

A few observations:

So far, no food items that we've purchased so far including various local and international sodas such as Coca Cola have had any corn syrup in them... high fructose or otherwise. It's all sugar. Sugar in the catsup (tomato sauce,) sugar in the sodas, sugar sugar sugar. Like, you know, the crystalline stuff that comes from cane.

If you're between ages 13 and 23 in Wellington, there's a good chance your T shirt and pants match, and they're both black.

If you order your coffee black, you'll get asked if you want a short black or a long black. This is espresso with hot water... either one shot or two. It's "Cafe Americano" at Starbucks, I believe.

The word "Quay" as in "Lambton Quay," a major downtown thoroughfare is pronounced "key" or "kee." And "Ngaio" is pronounced "NIGH-oh" and "Dunedin" is pronounced "doo-NEE-din" and not "doo-NAY-din" or "DUNE-uh-din."

The Fish and Chips shop down the road is run by a Vietnamese lady named Thuy Vu, and they make Pho as well as fish and chips. The fish and chips rocked. I hope the Pho does too.

A Verizon Motorola RAZR can't call out of the country, but can take incoming calls.

If I put the laptop actually IN the kitchen window in this apartment someone's unsecured wireless router called "DLINK" makes a passable free internet connection provided you don't try download anything.

More to come (and a ton of pictures.)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Around the World in Eighty Days

Most of it, anyways. The movers (Broadway) came today and loaded all of our stuff into a "Lift Van". A Lift Van is a wooden crate that's 86" by 86" by 48" and is used when shipping household items via sea freight when you have less than a full 20-foot container of stuff. Part our of Master Plan in moving is to purge our unnecessary flotsam and jetsam and take with us only the bare minimum.

The packer was gobsmacked that we failed to fill a single lift van. He said that usually people are over. WAY over. He lamented that most pickups required standing around while people cracked their boxes back open and deliberated about what to take and what to leave.

I think we did pretty well. I think one of the reasons is that we taped off the dimensions of a lift van in the garage using blue masking tape and arranged things as we boxed them to get a sense of our total packed volume.

I also think we did pretty well because we boxed most things and all of the boxes fit together tetris-like to fill out our virtual lift van.

Now our stuff is in a crate that's nailed shut and on its way to The Port of Oakland---destined for a big freighter that's going to be on the high seas for eighty days or so, if you can believe it. Three months from now we'll be reunited with our gear. I wonder if we'll still want or need it by then.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Little Pick-Me-Up

How handy is a U-Haul Pickup Truck? I'd rate it somewhere between Very and Extremely. We rented one to take stuff to Goodwill, Novato Human Needs Center, my sister in law Ruth's house, and the Redwood Landfill (dump.) It was clean, had a nice bed liner so our non-dump items didn't get all scratched up and our stuff slid in and out easily. It wasn't expensive and it made a day's lifting-and-hauling pretty painless. We used to use our minivan for light hauling like that, and if I'd known I'd probably have saved the wear and tear on it and just rented the truck.

Now all of the Big Stuff is out of the house. At least, all that's not being used for Staging.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

There's no "me" in "Team"

Oh wait, yeah there is.

So ignore that. I just trying to find some words to express the notion that I can't find words to express how much I love my wife and appreciate everything she's doing to get us ready to move. There's no way I could manage this undertaking without her. No way.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

House Seller's Lament

We're leaving it in better condition than it ever was while we lived there. I remember this from selling our last house. It's such a shame that we'll only be in it for three or four days in its selling condition. Out of all of the days we spent in it, less than a percent of them will be without the ugly annoying things that bugged us since we bought it.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Bye-Bye Prius

Today we figured out who we were going to sell our Prius to . The lady who was going to buy
it had a cute little dog named Ewok. Moving is hard.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Making Ready

Today is a busy day at the Mariotti Compound. We're cleaning, sorting, purging, taping, painting and, uh, cleaning in addition to our normal weekend activities like watching a Dirty Jobs episode.

My family loves Dirty Jobs. Mike Rowe is a bit of a local hero hereabouts. Today I'm feeling a little like Mike Rowe except not quite so rugged. Or so dirty. But my arms are killing me from washing, cutting-in, and rolling paint on the bathroom ceiling. So maybe I'm nothing at all like Mike Rowe, but the Mariotti Compound is getting spruced up regardless.

The girls are helping out around the house by hauling laundry up and down the stairs, putting it away when folded, and otherwise straightening up and picking up. I love it when my family pulls together and pitches in. Last weekend at our garage sale they were super helpful too. Zoe even helped sell stuff by answering pricing questions. "Twenty five cents!" she called out to our visitors a few times.

On this trip to the land of the long white cloud, I know my family will rise to the occasion and pitch in and operate like a well oiled machine when it comes down to it. I know that when it's important we DO rise above the petty acrimony that punctuates our normal everyday lives. "STOP TOUCHING ME!!"

When given extraordinary challenges, people are capable of extraordinary things and it's always heartening to see glimpses of my family's potential as a sign of great things to come.

New Zealand

Moving to New Zealand is hard.Leaving all my friends behind is probably the hardest part.But I am still very curious about what life is like there.It never felt like we were really moving until just
now.We have been packing allot and we sold most of our things that we can't take with us. School is
always the same,and that is that,but life at home is completely different. Today my parents are painting my room brown.Moving is going to be harder than I thought.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

. . .and The Fear sets in.

I came out of the closet at work last week at long last. I've been waiting to exhale there for months and months and when the time to fess up finally came, it was a tremendous relief. Once the novelty of Steve Going to NZ wore off, the well-wishing started to die down a bit and things got back to business as usual. I could finally relax about it and really see the home stretch for what it was: a sphincter-tightening packet of fear.

Somehow the anticipation of spilling the beans at work drew my attention away from the stupendous monstrosity of this whole enterprise and now our looming departure is a couple dozen Dreaded And Unenviable Tasks away from coming off. Frankly, I'm terrified that the whole thing's getting away from me---like it's going skidding away at any moment and we'll be stranded on a 15 hour flight with a fist full of loose ends that we can't unravel and tie down any more. Or at least not without paying import and export tax on our stress as we try to manage across 20 time zones.

Maybe that's putting too fine a point on it.

I'm also terribly excited. The newness of the whole undertaking... from the toilet paper we'll use to the toothpaste to the sounds of the city and the smell of the countryside. After correcting for Jet Lag we're going to start touring Wellington's outlying areas... hopefully by train, bus and by foot. Somewhere in the Wellington suburbs is a house for us. No doubt a smallish, squat, drafty house with miniature kitchen appliances (by our standards) and a small bathroom with a big tub and towel warmers.

Not too long from now I'm going to be lying flat on my back in a foreign country staring up at the ceiling and wondering what it used to be like back in the States. For right now, that time can't come soon enough.

Two Weeks to Liftoff!

Hello, all. If you're reading this it means you've been sent the link to our family blog about our adventures in our new home of Wellington, New Zealand. I hope this blog can serve as a means of keeping in touch with everyone while sharing some of our experiences and discoveries with you all. Welcome!