Monday, April 28, 2008

Life On the Open Road...

...with Daddy Mum Haley and Zoe!

We finally hit the highways and byways of enzed (NZ) this weekend to pick up stuff we'd bought on TradeMe. TradeMe is sort of like New Zealand's Craigslist and eBay combined, and it's quite popular. It's like eBay in terms of site interface an layout and like Craigslist in terms of community and populist origins. So far it's seemed to lack the Craiglist "crackhead dirtball" factor that runs like track-marked veins through the meat of the trading community there.

We bought a used refrigerator, a used kid's bed and a used dining room table and chairs and got really good deals compared to new versions of all of them. Joanne did a bunch of shopping around to get the idea of prices on buying things new and then could make educated buys on Trademe for the same or similar items---knowing well how much we were saving. That was some dinkum thinkum because we saved LOADS on these things.

My contribution to frugality without sacrificing quality was to sign up for a three month online subscription to consumer.org.nz so we could use their ratings and rankings to plumb the depths of TradeMe's online auctions and pluck out the best items we could find. Consumer has been a huge help in distinguishing between all these crazy brands that we don't recognize. We bought a Fischer and Paykel fridge. Who? Yeah, exactly.

After our auctions closed and our sellers were contacted, we built a list of addresses and mapped them to find out where we needed to go for pickup. They were all listed as "Wellington area."

And technically, they were. Though at probably the farthest corners of the Wellington Area that you can possibly be. This meant it was time for a...

..wait for it..

..ROAD TRIP!

We rented a well-intentioned though somewhat world-worn van from Handy Rentals (www.handy.co.nz) for a reasonable price and set out from their lot on Thorndon Quay in Wellington CBD to Paraparaumu, a seaside town up north. We'd been chomping at the bit to see more of the country and finally got our chances in the shape of a cross country milk-run to collect furnishings and so-called "white-ware" (large appliances are called "white-ware" here.)

Road trips mean cars, and cars mean driving and driving means Americans retraining their lizard-brains to work the controls in a car with the steering wheel on the "wrong" side of the cabin to navigate along the street on the "wrong" side of the road. I'd been wary of this whole experience since we got here to Wellington as I pictured myself veering out of control into oncoming traffic at every opportunity and securing my family a matching set of sucking chest wounds and massive head injuries inside a bird's nest of twisted automotive steel.

After we'd signed the rental papers with the very friendly and helpful guys at Handy, we got in the van and discovered it was a manual transmission. No worries, mate, I can drive a stick. Wait, the stick is on the LEFT. With the gear shift to the left of me, the turn signal to the right of me, Joanne riding shotgun on the left and charged with staying to the LEFT of oncoming traffic, I pulled tentatively out into Thorndon Quay traffic at around 12:30am.

We finally returned the van at about 6pm, after what resulted in a roughly five hour butt-clench for me. I think I pulled a muscle back there.

Fortunately for everyone inside and outside the van, it was perfectly fine. I was so terrified of my driving instincts putting my family in mortal danger that I was extremely circumspect about everything I did on the road. I was very mentally present the whole time, and well aware that if I were to drift in and out of reverie on the road as I normally do during flat, straight highway driving that I might come-to in the wrong lane headed straight for a bus full of nuns.

Roundabout

Ill be the round about
The words will make you out n out
--Jon Anderson and Steve Howe of Yes
The biggest challenges seemed to revolve around (hah!) the roundabouts that I believe are a nod to traditional British civil engineering. These seem to be where urban planners let as many as six individual roads all converge on the same spot and then sort of shrug and hope for the best. In practice, they're a rotating Circus of Death where cars move in a clockwise circle in and out of the lanes and the laws of physics and indeed the concepts of time and space cease to exist in any meaningful form.

You see a sign before you get to the roundabout that shows you the roads it services. The road sign has a big circle with lines running out of it at random directions. It looks a bit like The Artist Formerly Known As Prince's symbol but with extra legs at various points and lots of names tacked on here or there. You get about 5 seconds to squint at this before you're at the roundabout proper and you receive your only instruction. It's in the form of two signs that say simply "GIVE WAY!" (I've added the exclamation point here because the signmakers seem to have omitted it.)

The idea is that if no one is coming to the right, you can pull in. Then, depending on whether you're going to exit the roundabout you can either stay in the lane into which you've pulled or jockey to the right to allow others to enter. When you see your street coming around on your right, you pull to the left and signal to turn left out of the roundabout.

Sounds easy, right? Factor in that once you've entered the circle, you've left the realm of squares where streets make right angles with each other and the way you were previously headed is "forward" and entered the realm of circles where right angles relax and all roads lead away like spokes on a wagon wheel and the way you were previously headed is now completely lost in the mists of time and space.

All of my great Emergency-Mystery-Moments on the road were roundabout related.

The Little Van that Could

I mentioned that our van was well-intentioned yet world-worn. I believe it is a 1998 Toyota Hiace---a 5-speed manual transmission utility van with lots of cargo space, a fold up rear bench seat for our passengers and over 160,000 kms on it. Putting it into second or third gear was always done with a sense of opportunism and a fallback plan. Sometimes the trick was to put a lot of muscle behind it and sometimes the trick was to use a gentler more encouraging tack. When it'd finally engage, the clutch would let out a soft little squeal almost like sighing at finally giving in to the idea of changing gears in the first place.

The shocks were really soft too. Joanne even called out that fact and suggested that the soft shocks actually helped her with the car sickness that is always a concern of mine when driving her around. I think she gets most sick from rapidly changing lateral force more than anything, and the floaty shocks seemed to lessen that.

One of the standout moments for me was trundling through a roundabout out of gear and clipping the left curb while frantically searching back and forth between second and third gear before finally settling into a third with a little squeal just as we turned out of the circle. Afterwards Joanne and I just busted out laughing. It was pretty comical, though at the expense of the tired yet stalwart Toyota Hiace.

Mission Accomplished

Ultimately we hit our points of pickup and took the fridge, the bunk bed and the table over to our new rental house in Ngaio and left it all in the garage in prep for move-in date.

It was a fun trip on many fronts. We got to see more of the country, we got a tour of Wellington area highways and byways, we met some very nice and interesting people, we got out of the city for a few hours and most importantly we secured some key pieces of houseware.

The trip over to Upper Hutt from Paekakariki on highway 58 deserves a blog entry of its own, so I'll leave discussion for that time.

Next time we road trip, we'll make sure we have whatever the Kiwis like to take on road trips with us. Back in the states it used to be Funyuns and Welch's Strawberry Soda. I wonder what counts as "road trip food" here.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

ANZAC

ANZAC day is a big day for New Zealand. It's kind of like their Fourth of July, Memorial Day and little bit of the Boston Tea Party rolled into one.

I've read historical descriptions of ANZAC day that describe in specific terms all of the details of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps beach landing and invasion at Gallipoli in 1915, but these accounts don't really touch on what ANZAC day MEANS to New Zealanders.

Armies from Australia and New Zealand were called by England to fight the Ottoman Empire, were thrown in as expendables, and through colossal incompetence and bad luck were massacred.

ANZAC Day is a bit like the Fourth of July in America in the sense that it marks the point in history that New Zealanders saw themselves as independent. They left for war as Servants of Her Majesty and those who returned came back as New Zealanders.

It's also a little like Memorial Day in the sense that it's a day of remembrance and somber tribute to fallen men and women of all wars past. It's a day where people lay wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to remember their own relatives who died in war.

The Boston Tea Party in American history marks an event where things came to a head between the colonists and the mother country. New Zealand and the United States both started out as English colonies and shook off (to varying degrees) the economic and political chains as they emerged as sovereign states.

Of course, the Fourth of July is not somber. It's about tailgate parties, sunburn and blowing things up as much as it's about independence. It's a mid-summer day off work for cookouts and partying, blockbuster movies and big sales at all the stores.

Memorial Day is more of a day of remembrance, but it's also the first holiday weekend of summer and a time to get out of town, go to the lake house, rent a boat, barbeque on the beach, and, well, have a bunch of big sales at all the stores.

ANZAC day seems to retain more of its original flavor, though there are, in fact, big sales at all the stores.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Zoo and Park Trip on ANZAC Day

Here's a little video from the visit to the Wellington Zoo today. It was my first visit and I think the third for my three girls (counting Joanne of course.)

Here's a slideshow of our trip, followed by some choice (big NZ word) videos.



The Cotton-Top Tamarins were so cool we came back for their feeding time.

video

We also got to spend some time with the Chimpanzees, both at feeding time and afterwards when they moved indoors. Sally has a 6 month old baby who's just now walking and trying to get away from her.

video

Speaking of primates, look at these simians at the park where we hung out after the Zoo:

video

And the whole family got in on the act on the Roktopus too. I think they also call them the "Witches' Hat." They're very fun and kind of dangerous... especially when you get a bunch of overeager yanks aboard.


video

Monday, April 21, 2008

Blunday Suddy Blunday

We had a pretty low-key weekend. We had big plans though! We were going to rent a car and drive up to the Kapiti Coast and go kayak somewhere. We ended up doing none of that and instead hanging pretty close to the apartment most of the weekend. The weather on Friday evening and Saturday morning was disouraging us from venturing out. We got a cold snap and a bunch of rain. It was good weather for soup.

We tried a french bistro up on Cuba St. called Le Metropolitain. I think there are probably a couple of accents here and there in that name, maybe. At any rate, it was probably the first bad meal we've had in Wellington. It was expensive, service was slow, and the food wasn't very good. Three strikes! The staff was authentically French, however, so I'd put that in the minus column as well. Don't eat there, we definitely won't go back. D'accord?

At least we got out of there before the Edith Piaf cover band got set up and started to play. I'm pretty sure playing Edith Piaf records over a bowl of whole milk would yield cottage cheese in the first 10 seconds. It sounds a bit like a young boy being beaten to death with an accordian.

There was, however, a highlight to that meal and that was Haley and the Escargots. Sounds like a cool name for a book, a band or maybe an art film.

Joanne and I knew that Haley would eventually have snails some day, and we both looked forward to it with great anticipation. Haley is our adventurous eater---often preferring exotic foods over the mundane pizza-and-fries preference which is almost universal among the world's children. Haley goes for the squid, octopus, heavily spiced meats, bitter green vegetables like kale and spinach. We knew she'd be up for escargots, and sure enough when enticed with the option of eating snails she was all over it.

And she LOVED them.

She had the escargots tongs and the two-pronged fork since her snails were still in their shells when served so she got the full experience. Watching her work them out of the shells and hungrily chow them down was a singular joy for both of us. It made everything else about "Le Metropolitain" worth it.

Sunday I gave mom a much needed break and took the girls to the park, bought them some ice creams and let them lose their minds. We also stopped off at an art museum and Zoe took pictures of pretty much everything in the place. It was an absolute blast.



On Sunday night we met up with Jake and Brandie, other insane immigrants like us who moved with their two young daughters from a comfortable and perfectly happy situation back in the States to the Wellington area this year.

We knew Jake and Brandie back in our previous life and by pure coincidence their moss-free rolling stone knocked into our own as we were preparing to leave the country in March and we reacquainted ourselves. We each arrived within about a month of each other. And we're currently living in apartments on the same street. Only about half a block away from each other. The similarities of our situations are quite remarkable.

I think it's cool that we can kind of lean on each other a bit as we get underway as full fledged Kiwis. They're driving cars already! That blows me away.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Milky Way Bars

Milky Way bars here are just like Three Musketeers back home: just whipped nougat.

There's no layer of caramel on top of that nougat, they just cover the nougat with chocolate and be done with it.

Weird.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Morning Parade of Faces

Since we're living in the city in a serviced apartment, my commute to work is along city streets (and not too many of them since we're so close) and past a lot of busy city people also walking to work.

When walking on a crowded sidewalk, you stay left---not right. In NZ they drive on the left, and the "keep left" mentality carries over to pedestrian traffic too. In fact, if you're walking straight towards someone who's also walking straight towards you and it's clear you'll need to step to the side to pass each other, the other person will step to his left---your right. This was unexpected the first time it happened to me, as I stepped (naturally) to my right and ended up doing a bit of a back-and-forth dance with the man which ended in apologies on both ends before going about our business.

I've been meaning to take a picture on Willis St. on a crowded sidewalk to post here, but haven't ever had my camera during busy sidewalk times so I took this picture I found on Google and flipped it (you can see "Taxi" reads as "ixaT" on the sign) to demonstrate sidewalk direction in Wellington.

I love my morning walk. I love the parade of faces going by on the right. These faces aren't the kinds of faces that I'm accustomed to seeing on the sidewalks. The shapes and colors and styles and adornments are fascinating and slightly exotic.

These are city folk. Many are gussied up for a day of Big Business in their dark suits, clacking heels and white collared shirts. Much of the hair is close-cropped and tidy. Younger men's faces have short hair spiked straight up with beauticians' chemicals or smoothed to a ridge along the middle of the head like the dorsal fin of a fish. Older mens' hair lines sport widow's peaks more often than not.

But sprinkled in with all of the business-attired are the various and sundry. And they vary a lot. I see earthy hirsute men AND women with hair in dreadlocks and tied up in the back into a bunch marching past me. There are youngish men and women in black clothes, pierced and dyed and buckle-strapped into leatherwear heeling it down the thoroughfare. There are doughy middle aged guys in T shirts and jeans like me. You could say the same thing about the morning crowd on the streets of San Francisco, actually, and you'd be spot-on there too.

But somehow these faces are different. The features are different, the colors are different, the hair and hems and heights and drapes and dresses and d├ęcolletages are notably different.

And every morning it's fascinating to walk past all of these faces and be bombarded with these images as my brain is still slowly grinding into gear.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Cheers, Mate!


Something I'm finding useful down here is "cheers." It's a common Kiwi utterance that's used in all sorts of situations. If you complete a sale with a cashier, it's common to hear "cheers." If you pick something up off the ground that someone dropped and hand it to them, they'll say "cheers." Someone getting into an elevator you're holding for them can say "cheers" in place of "hello" and "thanks" or they may wait until they get off to say "cheers" as a sort of "thank you" and "goodbye."

It's a sort of friendly linguistic spackle used to mend cracks in conversation or to put a friendly sort of sentiment into situations that normally don't require speaking. I like it.

It's kind of like everyone's walking around engaged in an extended round of toasting with pints of beer, only they've set their beers down to go about their business but are still in the mood.

"Mate" is added to the end of "cheers" a lot. I don't know if women get referred to as "mate" though I suspect it's a guy thing. Total strangers refer to me as "mate" even though it has an air of familiarity about it. It's kind of like "man" in the states if "man" were more appropriate in all situations. Saying "Thanks, man." to someone at , say, an Information Booth at the museum is sort of breaking through the layer between the air-of-professionalism and the air-of-familiarity. It might be a little weird if the guy is a sixtysomething art docent and you're in your thirties.

Here in Wellington I get the sense that there's no such layer. It's pretty normal for people, where there's a situation calling for professional distance, to call me "mate" or say things like, "Cool." to indicate that things have worked out satisfactorily and we're done with our interaction.

There's a sort of comfortable informality that's disarming. I'm working on adopting a few of the patterns of speaking that contribute to comfortable informality. It's fun to spread it around.

Cheers, mate.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Windy Wellie: 1, Cheap Umbrellas: 0


The girls and I took the bus out to Ngaio today to turn in the school paperwork and meet the girls' teachers. When we were there last Friday Zoe's teacher was out all day at a training, and they hadn't yet decided where to place Haley. Both teachers are young and warm and were very sweet and assuring to the girls. Their classmates were dying to talk to the girls and show them the classrooms, and several bemoaned the fact that the girls wouldn't start until after the break.

On our way from the bus stop to the school, we got caught in a brief but formidable rain. We had come prepared in our rain gear and an umbrella for that extra layer of protection. Hahahaha! The flimsily made umbrella (I picked it up at the 2 Dollar Store) was no match for the gale force winds. Up until this point, I had commented several times to Steve how no one around here ever carries an umbrella, and now I think I know why. The wind here laughs at umbrellas. I swear it delighted in it's destruction as my poor, pretty, pastel-colored parasol succumbed to forces greater than were intended for it's purpose. I only wish I'd had the camera with me to show you what became of my poor umbrella, it's metal ribs contorted and bent, and it's tips come undone from the fabric. Oh, well. Lesson learned. They don't call it Windy Wellie for nothing.

First Contact With NZ Microbes














I'm the proud host of the first NZ common cold. I had a couple days where I wasn't getting good sleep, was really stressed out, and was going to the gym every day. An unfortunate confluence of factors and now I'm midway through my family's first official head cold in the New World.

If you're curious about the picture of the little blue fella up there, that's a plush microbe representing the Common Cold. You can buy these (at least the ones in stock) at www.thinkgeek.com.

They have a whole bunch of great diseases available for purchase, though you'll have to wait 1-3 weeks if you want to get Herpes.

I popped in at the chemist on the way to work and picked up a box of Sudafed to help me keep both hands on the keyboard during work today. I also got some Kleenex brand, uh, kleenex to keep with me. The Kleenex was made in Australia.

It's REAL Sudafed too, not the new-fangled anti-meth-lab pseudo-Sudafed they sell now in the states. It's got a big sticker that says "CONTROLLED DRUG C5 KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN" that was applied to the box after manufacture. It's a New Zealand designation and part of their system for dealing with certain over-the-counter pharmaceuticals. It's an over-the-counter drug, and rather than take the drug off the market completely, they require you to provide ID and they register the purchase of the drug with a central authority which monitors such things. If I suddenly made a run on all of the Sudafed in the Wellington area, they'd no doubt have some questions for me.

When Joanne bought some iron supplements at a pharmacy, there was a similar sticker on it with a different designation. I don't think the pharmacies here are like the Farmacias in Mexico where you can just walk in and ask for prescription medications and get them directly from a pharmacist without a prescription or even a note from your doctor, but they seem to have a middle zone between buying things freely off the shelves and and needing a doctor's prescription. It's not a big thing, and it's not even that interesting, I guess. Sue me, I've got a head cold.

I imagine there's a line of microbes queued up behind velvet cords ready to try us out as hosts, here. I'm frankly surprised that it's taken this long for one of them to get a foothold. I was starting to think that in addition to NZ having no native pests (save the mosquito and a biting sand flea) they had no native germs.

In fact New Zealand has no native mammals at all, if you can believe that. And no snakes. Well, there bats and sea mammals, but no native LAND mammals. I can see why conservation is such an ingrained thing here... the ecosystem could get crushed by stoats!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Rainbow Warrior



Here is a slideshow of some of our yesterday (Sunday, for those of you who are livin' in the past, man.) We started by walking to breakfast. The girls took their scooters, Haley's festooned with poor Duck like some sort of fuzzy figurehead. You'll see my pics of my fruit, yogurt, and honey breakfast. Nummmmy.

Then later, after signing and sending our counter-offer to an offer we received on our house (crossing fingers, here) we walked down to the harbour to tour Greenpeace's flagship, The Rainbow Warrior. It was in town to promote their latest climate change campaign and they were offering free 45-minute tours by the crew, complete with stories from it's history and ending in a short movie with footage of many of Greenpeace's courageous acts.

Since I was a child, stories of the crew's heroics have captured my imagination. I remember when the French sunk it while it was moored in the Auckland harbour in 1985. Even before that, I'm not sure how old I must have been, but my mother indulged me by donating money in my name to them and I had Greenpeace stickers emblazoned all over my school notebooks and the mirrors in my bedroom. Later, when I had a bit of my own money I continued to send them small amounts when I could.

So yesterday when, at the end of the tour, the earthy young man asked our group if anyone would like to donate and become a member, my little Zoe shot her hand straight up out of the crowd and I was utterly feklempt. We gave small sums in the girls names for which they will be sending them t-shirts that say "Be a Climate Kiwi". As we were walking out, Zoe wanted to ask one of the crew members how old you have to be to join the crew. The young woman was very encouraging and sweet and Zoe left the ship just beaming, dreaming of joining the crew. I still get teary just thinking about it.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Save Those Wall Warts

WARNING:

Do not attempt this unless you know what you're doing! Don't even think about it. If you have a question in your mind, ask an electrician first. Don't set your house on fire, fire is not your friend.


So I got rid of most of my "power bricks" or "wall adapters" or, as I like to call them, "wall warts." They're heavy plug-in wall transformers that you use to charge your various consumer electronics devices. I got rid of all of mine, knowing ahead of time that: 1) the power sockets down here are different than in the US, 2) the voltage coming out of the wall is different than in the US (twice the voltage!) and 3) the AC frequency is different down here than in the US (50Hz instead of 60Hz.) That pretty much adds up to: my wall warts are going to be useless.

Just before leaving the states, we got a new Canon camera so we could take nice pictures during our travels and it came with a wall-wart style battery charger. It was a flat box that had a flip out power plug that plugged directly into a wall socket (USA format) and charged the lithium batteries that the camera took. It came with the camera that I ordered refurbished from an eBay reseller.



Since the camera and accessories arrived after our crate of boxes left for a boat, I packed the charger in the suitcase thinking that I'd see if I could find one based on the Kiwi power standards once I got here. The other day I took it out to read the specs to see if I could find somewhere in Wellington that sold chargers that would charge my camera batteries. The battery that was in the camera was almost dead from all of the shooting.



Upon closer scrutiny, I noticed the input power specs on the back of the charger:



100-240 Volts?! 50 *or* 60 Hz? Wait a minute, they designed this thing to work in just about any power environment. I got out a wall wart that fits the New Zealand (and Australia) plug format and looked at it.



I looked at the wall socket:








Hmm... I got out a pair of pliers:



Bingo!

I plugged it into the wall socket and voila! Worked like a charm. I was able to recharge my camera batteries with the very same charger that I was sure I'd have to throw away.

Why does this work?

Well, it only works because the charger was set up for dual voltage, dual frequency operation. Not all wall warts are. In fact, my Nintendo DS charger does NOT support up to 240 volts. Bending the prongs and plugging it into the wall here would no doubt start a fire.

I'm not recommending this to everyone, but I wanted to share this little revelation. You may be able to save a little money by retargeting your adapters with little more than a little metal-bending.

Americans in Paradise

That was the suggested name for a proposed social club of expats who know each other in Wellington. It was suggested by Leslie, the wife of an American ex-pat I work with. You may remember Jim, he's the one who loaned us his library card and has been essential in getting us properly oriented down here.

We swung by on Saturday afternoon and ended up staying into the night---possibly outstaying our welcome several times over along the lines of The Thing That Would Not Leave from first-season SNL (I think it was Jane Curtin and John Belushi?) We were having so much fun though, we kind of didn't care. The free and easy conversation and fascinating parallels in our lives kept us riveted to their various furnishings through several bottles of wine, some snacky foods and a big Indian Curry Dinner. In fact, at one point I said, "Look at us now, six Americans sitting in New Zealand eating food from India" and our host added, "Life is good."

When it came to settling the bill for delivered curry, we turned our pockets out empty. How embarassing. What mooches! Well, we believe that what comes around goes around and we all four had so much fun that we're hoping we can reciprocate really soon.

I was so proud of our daughters, too. They were genuinely having a good time, and felt very comfortable around our new friends. At dinner they were confident, articulate and poised and shared stories and observations about their experiences with clarity and humor. I feel like it could have gone the other way very easily and they'd be running off of only their lizard brains, tugging on each other and laughing uncontrollably and saying things like "No, you're a poopy POOP!" and falling on the floor in a heap. Really, I had no idea which side we'd see.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

School Visit

We visited Ngaio School yesterday, where the girls will soon attend. It's a gorgeous school of k-6 graders nestled in the lush, green hills of Ngaio. We visited Zoe's future classroom. Haley, who is on the cusp between two grade levels, will know what room/grade she will be in after the school advises with her first grade teacher back home.

When we visited Zoe's classroom, the principal introduced her to the group, and explained that she had just moved from San Francisco. The children all opened their mouths wide and an audible wave of excitement passed over the group. Zoe, who looked like a deer in headlights at the time, was later relieved and very pleased with her future classmates enthusiasm.

The school seems not unlike what we are used to at home. The physical building was similar to what you would see in the states. The entry paperwork was all the same sort of stuff. The biggest difference I noticed in our brief time there, was that the student's take their shoes off inside the school! So all around school children are running around either bare- or sock-footed. The girls, of course, think this is WONDERFUL. I just hope they manage to keep track of their shoes better at school than they do at home!

Here are a few other distinctions in no particular order: the students are all given training in the kapa haka, the traditional Maori dance; the school has a heated swimming pool for use in the warmer months; the older grade students are provided with laptops by the school; they offer private piano instruction during the day; students begin their first day of kindergarten on their 5th birthday; many of the teachers (including Zoe's) have the students call them by their first names; school runs from 9am-3pm; next month the school will celebrate it's 100th Anniversary.

The girls are very much looking forward to the start of school. Unfortunately they will have to wait until May 5th, after the two-week holiday. Hopefully we'll be all settled in our new house and neighborhood by then. So far this has been like an extended vacation, and we all look forward to re-establishing the home/school/work routine. (You all can remind me that I said this in a month's time when I'm whinging about missing being with my girls all day!)

Friday, April 11, 2008

Some Friday Night Pictures

There's a Pizza chain here in Wellington called "Hell." Their url is www.hell.co.nz, and their phone number is 0800 666 111. It's an EVIL phone number.

Their pizza box is covered with flames:



The box has a pop-out cardboard coffin that you can construct yourself:



It even has instructions for building it and it indicates that it's for your leftovers.



It's EVIL!

I thought it was cool enough to share with everyone. Somehow I don't think a pizza chain like this would fly in the states. It's probably too Dark Sided and there'd be some religious nut-jobs picketing out front until they closed it down.

Speaking of nut-jobs. Here's the kind of product our progeny have been producing during their down-time from school. I came home one day to discover that Haley had filled out a Mad Libs thusly:



UPDATE:

An anonymous friend-of-4kiwiwannabes tipped us off on this ad campaign for Hell pizza. I know for a fact this wouldn't fly in the states. 8-)

KUH-FADDA-FADDA

Kiwi English is kind of a foreign language.

It's fine when standing together and talking with someone, but over the phone it's just a stream of unrecognizable syllables.

The other day I got directions to the leasing agent's office, and the guy said the street name so fast I had to ask him to repeat it. I couldn't make out anything. He said it again and it sounded exactly the same and I still couldn't make out anything so I wrote it down phonetically in my notebook (I carry a tiny notebook everywhere and I scrawl phone numbers, addresses, names of shops, etc as I figure stuff out or get advice) and I wrote down "KUH-FADDA-FADDA".

When I got into a cab with the family 30 minutes later, the cab driver was trying to work out where we were going, and so I tried describing the route that he gave me on the phone but the cabbie was having his own english-barrier issues. Finally I took a chance and said "33 KUH-FADDA-FADDA." I could see something click for him and he said, "Oh. Ok, no problem." and put the car in gear. Turns out the street is called "Kaiwharawhara." It's a Maori name. In Maori pronunciation, 'wh' is pronounced like 'f' and 'r' is somehwere between an 'r' and a 'd' (it's kind of a single-rolled r.)

KUH-FADDA-FADDA.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Today at the Botanic Gardens

The girls and I packed a picnic and took it to the Botanic Gardens. On the way we walked through the Bolton Street Memorial Park, a cemetery of winding overgrown paths up and down the hills, where many prominent figures from New Zealand history are buried. The Botanic Gardens are home to many beautiful plants and birds, as you will see in this short video clip from our picnic. video

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Wellington Zoo



I keep forgetting to post these pics from the girls' and my trip to the Wellington Zoo on Friday. Wellington Zoo is excellent in that you can get very physically close to the animals. Additionally, the animals were very active and seemed as curious about us as we were about them. The two qualities made our encounters with the animals feel very intimate, and I look forward to visiting again very soon.

There's a Fungus Among Us



We spent our Sunday hiking around the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary here in Wellington. What a truly amazing place! Blocked off by a large mesh fence, plants and birds are protected from invasive and predatory species that have taken a toll on their populations in the wild. We hiked through some of the greenest, thickest, lushest forest I've ever seen - still eye-poppingly green after a long, dry, summer - and became acquainted with many of New Zealand's very special birds, bugs, reptiles and plants.

We were particularly impressed by the gorgeous fungi we saw along the trail, as you will see by their prominence amongst our pictures from the day. I used to give my Dad a hard time about all the pictures of birds and mushrooms and other inanimate objects he took. Well, Dad, I think we would do you proud today!

Some of the highlights have to include: donning hard hats to venture back into an old cave (leftover from gold mining in the 1800's) to look for wetas, the huge native crickets, using a red-light flashlight; seeing several kakas, a large indigenous parrot; sighting several tuataras, a very special ancient lizard-relative found only in NZ, and of course, the many brightly-colored mushrooms.

Oh, and I should mention that at the beginning of these pics you will see a picture of some 'succulent roast lamb and mint' potato chips that we had with our lunch at the park. They're so gross they're good. (Sounds like a slogan!)

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Historically Speaking

New Zealand is a young country, by modern standards. It's reportedly the last large land mass settled by human beings, and one of the last reached-for by the dubiously intentioned arm of western civilization.

As such, its history has a certain immediacy and relevance that even the USA's own young-country history doesn't have for me. This may be in part due to scabs formed around the wounds inflicted during the formation of a Sovereign New Zealand and the clawing and scratching at those scabs that continues to this day from both sides of the racial divide.

Joanne to a greater extent and I to a lesser extent have started to learn about New Zealand history. She picked up the book A History of New Zealand by Keith Sinclair and has been making her way through it. At the recommendation of Jim, a colleague and fellow expat, she checked out An Illustrated History of the Treaty of Waitangi by Claudia Orange which she finds much more enlightening and interesting. In the Sinclair book, however, I managed to find an unexpected treasure. The book is a bit dry and historian-ish and its dedication page is full of other historians to whom this historian is in debt for their works. One of these historians has potentially the greatest name I've ever found:

J. C. Beaglehole.

For the last week or so, there's been a lot of "J. C. Beaglehole" talk around the Mariotti compound. I've been trying to slip Beaglehole references into our conversation on a regular basis. I've come up a set of new aphorisms that are very Beaglehole-based such as "There's a little Beaglehole in all of us" and "What would J. C. Beaglehole do?" Sometimes when Joanne or the kids are grasping for the right word, I quickly suggest "Beaglehole?" It's kind of an obsession at the moment.

So when Joanne got back from the Wellington Public Library with a bunch of kids' books and The Illustrated History of the Treaty of Waitangi, she was able to slap this little gem into my hand:



It's a linen-bound light blue book that smells of age and has heavy, rough paper pages. It was printed in 1934 and is currently serving as my introduction to New Zealand history. I end each day now by sticking my nose into a Beaglehole and fighting my way through a few more chapters of his (short, so he says) account of New Zealand's history. I say "fighting" my way through because the entire book is written in a sort of flowery discursive style that buries the facts under a bunch of linguistic ornamentation and protracted tangents in the footnotes which often take up the majority of the page's real estate.

I enjoy the mental challenge, and no one ever said a Beaglehole was breezy.

Killed da Wabbit

And just when we were planning to regroup and head into the next batch of listings, relaxing our housing requirements along another axis and casting a wider net, we got a call from a leasing company. I got the call at work, where there aren't individual desk phones and phones are sort of shared every few desks or so. I'm still trying to figure out the system. Someone a few desks over said I had a call, so stood there and spoke to a really friendly guy named Jamie.

It was about the house in Ngaio. It was the one for which we'd tag-team applied two days earlier. Joanne got the leasing application mailed to her as a word document. I printed it at work, found no available fax machines in the building and set out on foot down Victoria St. towards Bond to locate a print shop that could fax. I faxed it over for $2 NZD and went back to work. I'd jumped on this particular task as quickly as I could and turned the faxed application around within the hour that Joanne had received it from the agents.

When I got the call at work, it was Jamie and he wanted us to "come down and go over" the application. There was no mention of actually being able to rent the place, but this sounded new to me so I told Jamie I'd call Joanne and get right back to him for an afternoon appointment. I couldn't raise Joanne on her cell after three desperate tries, so I called him back and offered to come down to their offices immediately and be sole signatory on it. It was 10:30am at that point. We scheduled it for 11am and I started frantically packing up my stuff so I could go run after a cab to Ngaio.

Just as I was about to walk out the door, Joanne called me back (on yet another co-worker's phone which rang a few desks in the other direction) and she and the girls were right outside my building waiting for a bus to the Zoo. We scuttled the day's Zoo plan and met downstairs and jumped in a cab. A short cab ride to Kaiwharawhara St. (pronounced KUH-FADDA-FADDA) later we were signing our rental agreement for our front running house in Ngaio!

It's a small, three bedroom house at the top of a big hill (so it gets lots of wind and sits in a misty cloud for most of the winter) but it's on the correct side of the hill for afternoon sun and we can see the girls' school out the front windows. It's perfect.

It's a five minute walk down lush overgrown well-staired corridors between hillocks to get to school, and another few minutes to the train station. I can walk the girls to school and then keep going and get on the train for town. It's perfect.

It lacks a fridge and washing machine, so we'll have to investigate getting used models from somewhere. It's a little musty-smelling in the downstairs and no doubt gets a little dank during the rainy seasons. It's got a yard, but it's split among several terraced levels.

It may not be perfect, but it's perfect.

And it's ours.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Be Vewwy, Vewwy Quiet...


...we're hunting wental pwoperties...

We're familiar with this process, because we rented houses in West Los Angeles.

We're familiar with this process because we bought houses during the boom period in Marin County.

We're familiar with the fleeting bits of joy and apprehension that you constantly cycle through while hunting for a place to live in markets where the houses move fast, stay on the market for only moments, and are snapped up by others before you can even get a look at them.

So we're familiar with the Wellington City Area rental market, even though we're very new here.

I'm sitting here wracking my brain trying to come up with an analogy for it. I think of the Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland where the soldiers had to run as fast as they could just to stay in place. It's kind of like that. It's also kind of like playing a game where you throw out all your high scores every day and start fresh. It's also a bit like juggling where some of the balls you're juggling explode and some clown (yeah) is tossing new balls to you now and then.

It's basically a full time job for two people.

A really nice place in Northland showed up on trademe.co.nz yesterday (the highest-traffic site for Wellington area rental postings) and Joanne and I jumped on it. We were out there at the open house by 2pm the day the listing showed up. We put in an application. But we weren't fast enough. Two applications beat us that day, and god knows what other sorts of back-channel dealings were going on elsewhere. No dice! We were good---really good---but not good enough.

One of the keys to this process is to not get too hung up on one particular rental that looks possible or even likely. Getting hung up stops you from being open-minded about new listings and takes some of the wind out of your sails. You'll need that wind to keep the flow of potential listings coming. There seems to be absolutely no way to tell which one will hit, so every new potential rental is at least as good as the last. Maybe better... if you're fast enough. And lucky.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Leaping From the Shoulders of Giants

Today I wanted to take a break from sharing all of the newness and the goodness we're finding around us and step back a bit and examine our whole enterprise at a much larger scale.

It's frankly amazing to me that we're here at all.

And when it boils right down to it, there really is no way we could have pulled off this mad mission if it hadn't been for a tremendous amount of support and hard work from those we love and who loves us back. This post is meant to be, in the lexicon of those half my age, a "shout out to all our homies" for solids done, support given and moves-to-NZ enabled. I could say "you know who you are" but that'd be a cop out.

Thank you mom and Ed for taking our pets and buying our van. Having our pets still in the family removed the heart-crushing blows of having to place them with families or subject them to months of shipping, quarantine and puppy-and-kitty-torture.

Thank you Ruth and Tim and Alex and Ember for storing our sentimental bits that we couldn't part with but didn't want to move. Knowing that my Apple IIe is safely tucked away saves me having to come to terms with how useless it is and that I should have chucked it years ago. Thank you for taking our various remnants with the intent of having continued garage sales of your own. Without your help in removing and dealing with the last bits of our belongings we couldn't have possibly gotten on the plane when we did!

Thank you Ruth and Sharon for helping us purge and organize our garage sale and hawking our useless crap to unsuspecting neighbors. You both came through for us hardcore during a time when we were overwhelmed by a tidal wave our of various and sundries and fighting to keep our heads above water.

Thank you Patty and family for letting us borrow your car(s) and for taking our children so we can knuckle-down on a few things here and there. Your generosity---especially during a time of crisis---is more than any friends could have asked for.

Thank you Sharon and Tim for helping us get to the airport and sending us off.

The list goes on and on. Without the support of all of you and more than I can even think to list right now, we'd not be here at all.

I just want you all to know that our even being here is a testament to your hard work, love and friendship and that we really are incredibly amazingly lucky to have you all.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Books and Coffee


If you know me at all, you know of my fondness for both books and coffee. My friend Kathryn, as part of a going away gift, mapped out downtown Wellington pinpointing all the coffee shops and independent bookstores. I knew from the looks of it, I'd be in heaven. But I didn't know the half of it!

Wellingtonians have brought the art of the latte (or flat white, or long black, or cappuccino or what have you) to a new art form. And if you saw the picture of my latte from the other day, you know I mean that quite literally. There've been pretty hearts and foamy fronds. It's like a frothy Rorschach of hot whole milk each time I order my cup o' joe. I'm pretty sure a person can sustain themselves on nothing but whole milk lattes, right?

And the books! Wellingtonians must love their books, because you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a bookstore. There's Dymock's, Whitcoull's, Unity and, of course, Borders. I thought I would have a heart attack when I looked at the prices, though! Luckily, I found Arty Bee's. Arty Bee's (or Bertie Bott's, as I keep calling it) is a fabulous, well-organized used book store with two locations near us. I recently finished Bill Bryson's travel journal In a Sunburned Country, and I was inspired by all his historical research and knowledge of Australia to pick up a copy of A History of New Zealand by Keith Sinclair. There were quite a few histories to choose from, so I chose the one that had survived the most editions, five since it's first edition in 1959, with the most recent revision in 1991. Thank you, Arty Bee's!

I also bought Edmond's Cookery Book, which, from what I gather, is the culinary Bible of the Kiwi kitchen. Akin to the American Betty Crocker Cookbook, Edmond's claims to be the best-sold book in New Zealand. It has all the old favorite (or is it favourite, Steve?) Kiwi recipes for scones, afghan cookies (how come no one told me about these little bits of heaven?!) the famously controversial
Pavlova dessert (there's a whole blog post waiting to happen on the Aussie/Kiwi rivalry over it's origin) and of course lots of savory, meaty pastries that I can't wait to cook up.

Well, that's all for me for now. Mr. Sinclair and the Maori tribal wars of the 1830's await me for my evening reading. Hope everyone is well. Keep up the comments. It's more fun for everyone that way!



Ngaio Rhymes with Pie-O

And many fish we'll fry-o.

Monday afternoon I took off early from work and rode up to Ngaio with the family to scout out an open house that Joanne found out about and we kicked around the area a little. It was a light drizzle pretty much all afternoon.

Where is it?

What is it?

What about the school?

Train station?

The Ngaio suburb borders on Khandallah.

It's named after a tree.

It seems like a nice area. What's funny is that we'd kind of "picked" it as a good area for us long before we set foot on Kiwi soil. Maybe we're still carrying those prejudices with us, or maybe it really is what we'd hoped it is.