Thursday, December 22, 2011

Minnesota Christmas

We head back to Minnesota for Christmas tomorrow, and I am SO EXCITED!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Bali Part 5: Rice Fields and all the Rest

OK finally this will be the last Bali post.  It's kind of a mish-mash of what's left and the photos are largely about rice fields, landscapes, and more photos with us in them.  (Sorry.)

Rice is grown all over the place in Bali and the Balinese can largely sustain themselves on everything they grow there without having to import any more.  So many of our walks, drives, and treks involved rice fields and rice terraces in one way or another. They are so green and so beautiful set amongst the jungle or mountains or whatnot.  Very picturesque and peaceful.

As you can probably gather from previous posts we were very taken with Bali and it was such a memorable trip.  One area of disappointment I had was that the Balinese don't really seem to care that much about taking care of the beautiful place they live. Too often there was trash and litter along roadsides, sidewalks, rice fields, ravines, what have you. An eyesore yes but also a little sad to see.  And so many houses and buildings are in a state of disrepair.

My favorite things in Bali?  Probably the mountain treks, the beautiful temple visits, and the food. We had SUCH good food.  And so much fresh fruit and juices. Yum.  And everything is so amazingly cheap!

We figured with our new proximity to Asia it offered a good reason to start exploring it. We had actually decided on Thailand as our first venture but the flooding there over last few months put the brakes on that. But Bali was a perfect choice and we're so glad we went!

Click here for the last set of photos.
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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Bali Part 4: Temples

Pura Taman Saraswati
Although Indonesia has the largest number of Muslims of any country in the world, Bali remains 95% Hindu and religion is a key part of everyday life for the Balinese. So there are temples everywhere, from the most simple of structures to amazing places that need to be seen to be believed. And many that have literally been around for centuries.

Guests are usually welcome to enter temples but it common to require the wearing of a sarong for everyone - men and women. So no making fun of photos with Jeff in a "skirt".  :-)

One temple we visited, Tirta Empul, was in the midst of preparing for a giant celebration which meant we got to see a very active place with music, gatherings, elaborate offerings, and people dressed in traditional garb.

We visited another, Gunung Kawi, that was set in a deep jungle valley with stone structures and massive carvings on the rock cliff faces from the 11th century. Given the fact that it started raining and there was no one else there at the same time it made for an amazing experience. It was one of my memorable places in Bali.

Goa Gajah (Elephant Caves) stood out not only because of the centuries-old cave and beautiful setting but also because a "caretaker" of the temple named Made gave us a personal tour with explanations and insights into Hindu which were quite fascinating. Instead of simply a walk around a lovely place, he tied the structures and setting to the beliefs and traditions of Hindu. One that stood out was their acceptance and tolerance of others who are non-Hindu, embracing them just like anyone else. And this was exemplified by the fact that half of this beautiful setting was shared by a Buddhist temple as well.

Although the structure itself of Pura Uluwatu was not terribly impressive, the fact that it sits 300 feet up on the top of a cliff that rises vertically right out of the ocean is a sight to behold. Just amazing. And it has its own population of resident thieving monkeys to keep you on your toes, too.

There were others we visited, too, but these stood out the most. And getting to see this side of Bali was extremely interesting and always so peaceful. And this is no revelation to the ladies out there but walking up steps in a long skirt is quite difficult. :-)

Click here to see more photos.

Finally, the Gamelan is a popular musical instrument in Bali and often used in temple celebrations. Here is a video clip from the visit to Tirta Empul to see and hear the Gamelan played by many people.

video

Monday, November 28, 2011

Bali Part 3: The Balinese

An offering at the ocean
The cultural observations and interactions were some of the most memorable parts of visiting Bali, and so this round of photos and comments is about the people of Bali.

We had read that it is not unexpected that a procession of people going to a temple celebration could happen at any given time or place, and sure enough within a couple of hours of arriving in Bali and being driven to Ubud (where we stayed the first four nights) we encountered one as we drove into the village.  Traffic stops and a line of men, women, and children dressed in traditional garb carrying offerings and gifts make their way through the streets.  Very glad to have seen one!

Whether it was someone driving us around the island, someone guiding us on a trek in the mountains, or someone showing us around a temple - we got to hear some wonderful insights and knowledge about what we were seeing and about Bali itself and its people and religion.  Just fascinating...and it really added to our experience.

I'm so glad we took the time to learn a few words and phrases in Indonesian. The old saying is very true - they really do appreciate the effort even if you get it wrong. We got several comments on it and they really did notice, even if they also spoke English.  Highly recommended.

Just seeing and experiencing the bits of everyday life in Bali and seeing just how amazingly different it is to ours (or Western life in general) was eye-opening and mind-opening.  Maybe it was watching workers in the rice fields, people in temples (more about the temples in the next post), vendors, the crazy driving (crazy to anyone not from there, anyway), or just walking through villages...it was such a great experience to see a way of life so completely different from our own. And that was a key part of the choice to visit Bali - to experience these differences and to intentionally be a bit uncomfortable so far out of our element.

Click here for some more photos of the Balinese.
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Friday, November 25, 2011

Bali Part 2: Flora & Fauna

Bali butterfly
The next batch of photos are of the various birds, bugs, butterflies, animals, flowers & plants we encountered in Bali.  It was really interesting getting to see plants and insects we've never seen before - or seen anything LIKE before. And so many butterflies!

Rice farmers keep 'herds' of ducks around because they eat the snails in the standing water - and it was rather unexpected to see this association of ducks and rice fields. Who knew?

On our guided hikes in the mountains we were shown things we might never would have noticed, like vanilla, clove, nutmeg, lemongrass, cacao, and coffee trees/plants.  And got to smell and/or taste them right there. Fun!

The cats were shy but all seem to have very short stub-tails.  Lots of free-roaming dogs, too, that just wander around but apparently belong to people.

Many interesting birds, but most a bit too quick to get caught by my camera. Frogs with sticky feet were seen but we mostly heard the frogs - including one kind we heard at night that sounded like a very loud squeaky toy. I would have loved to see what it looked like!

We saw some lizards here and there, but most often were the little tan ones skittering across the ceiling at some restaurants. Everything is open-air, after all - no doors or walls to speak of - so this is quite common. They keep to themselves and we live happily together. :-)

Exotic plants and animals/bugs are often what make an exotic place memorable (especially derelict monkeys), and Bali didn't disappoint!

Click here for more photos.
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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Bali - and the Monkeys

We traveled to Bali, Indonesia a couple of weeks ago as our first venture into Asia and our first real try at experiencing a very different culture and language.  It was really something!  Difficult sometimes, eye-opening other times, and overall just a great experience. Really great.

The cultural experience and interaction was probably the most memorable and rewarding.  The ultra-cheap *everything*, walking in rice fields, eating on the beach, and being hot most of the time are others.

I kept delaying by blog entry on the trip until I got my photos ready. Um, yeah - there are SO many and it's going to take a while to get everything to my satisfaction. So instead of waiting and waiting and then springing way too many photos on you, I'm instead going to do some themed Bali posts as I go through my photos.

The first theme, as you might guess, is monkeys.  They are quite prevalent on Bali, and especially so where we saw them around some certain temples and forests. And even though they tend to congregate in these areas they are all wild and quite ambivalent to people. It's almost a little eerie that they'll just walk right by you going about their monkey business or give you that evil monkey stare and these are MONKEYS people!

And they do have some evil in them.  Or maybe it's just mischief.  We were warned to secure anything loose like cameras or sunglasses because they are thieves and will steal them.  And they do.  One jumped up on a woman and took the earring right out of her ear and proceeded to destroy it. Another took the eyeglasses off a little girls head. The glasses were just ransom, though, because when offered some fruit it gladly gave the glasses back. Nothing was stolen from us, but one did jump on my back briefly and another hopped right into Anne's lap for a bit. (See video below.)

So yes, being amongst monkeys was a first for us and quite interesting to say the least. And quite fun. Click here for a few more monkey photos. More posts coming as photos get done! And here's the video:

video

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Gannets Galore

Gannet Colony
Via some fellow photographers I found out about a huge colony of gannets living on the rocky cliffs of Muriwai Beach just 35 minutes away.  Who knew?

So we spent Friday evening trying to photograph the soaring birds and there was certainly no lack of subject material.  They were everywhere and seemingly enjoying the bit of breeze to soar on.  Pretty cool to see!

Click here for some more shots of these beautiful birds.
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Monday, October 17, 2011

Anne & Rugby

Anyone who knows Anne knows that the idea of her getting excited about any given professional sport or watching sports on TV is ridiculous.  Which is why I think it is so adorable that she's NUTS about the All Blacks and the Rugby World Cup.

Yesterday was the big semi-final match with the All Blacks playing Australia.  The Wallabies are a very good team - they are ranked second in the world.  (Any guesses who is first?  That's right.  New Zealand.)

All week long and the day of the game she would turn to me with this worried look on her face and say, "I can't stand it!  I really want them to win!  What if they don't win?  They gotta win!" or my favorite: "Those Wallabies are gonna get spanked!"  She was so nervous leading up to kickoff.  Adorable.

I think it's so great she's really into it.  I am, too!  And the All Blacks are so good.  SO GOOD.  It's hard not to be!

In case you're wondering, the All Blacks handled Australia mightily with their dominant play and won 20-6.  New Zealand is in the final next week!!  The whole country is abuzz.  So exciting!  They will play France (who we HATE) next Sunday for the Championship and I don't know how Anne is going to get a wink of sleep all week.  :-)
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Monday, October 10, 2011

RWC Quarter Finals

This weekend marked the start of the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals, where the top 8 teams from the tournament started their journey towards the title.

First and foremost the so impressive, so dominant New Zealand All Blacks beat Argentina to move to the semi-finals.  Man, they are so good!  And fun to watch.

Australia barely beat South Africa (the reigning champs) and they will play the All Blacks next week in the semis.  We hate the Wallabies (Australia) and here's why.  First, as New Zealanders we are required by law to do so.  Second, their uniforms are silly yellow.  Third,  did I mention the omnipresent rivalry between NZ and Oz?  They must go down!

The other quarter final matches saw Wales beat Ireland (really good game - both teams played well) and France beat England.  We're glad about that, too, because the English team is a bunch of brutes and are all, "Ooooh, we're so awesome" and they win all the time so they needed their comeuppance.  I said it!

Now we hope that Wales (the underdog) beats France next weekend like a mule and of course that the All Blacks show the Aussies a thing or two about rugby and make it to the finals.  Oh, man, New Zealand will be in a frenzy if that happens.  WANT THAT.
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Sunday, October 2, 2011

Rugby Experience

England gets the line-in
I had the BEST time at the rugby game last night!  Anne didn't want to go so I went with a friend and it was such a great experience - I'm so glad I went.

Walking to the stadium with gobs of fans was very fun and then being amongst the revelry outside the stadium before the game was such a treat.  So many people adorned in paint, costumes, and flags having a REALLY good time.  And no, there were no shortage of kilts to be seen...

Sure, England and Scotland are bitter rivals but the fans are well behaved yet fun.  Most of the time you'd see Scots and English walking side by side yelling for their teams.  Very cool.

It was a great game to watch. England was heavily favored yet Scotland led right up until a heartbreaking try with 2 minutes to go put England ahead and they won 16-12.  It was a must-win for Scotland since they were tied for second in their pool and only the top two teams in the pool advance to the quarterfinals next week.  Argentina (who they were tied with) is favored to win against Georgia today.  England has now locked up first place in their pool.

I wanted to experience world class rugby on the world's biggest stage - the Rugby World Cup - and I certainly succeeded in that.  Great night, great experience, and a great time!

More photos here.

And here's a video of the players coming on to the field that gave me the chills when I was there seeing all those fans go nuts.

video

And don't forget: Watch New Zealand vs. Canada on Sunday at 2pm Central Time on NBC!
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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Hooligan Central

This happy boy now has tickets to see the Rugby World Cup match on Saturday between England and Scotland.  My high expectations for sightings of hooligans, Scottish or English, are likely to be fulfilled.

I'm really, really excited to get to see what I'll go ahead and name "Braveheart II" and experience world-stage rugby in a stadium full of rabid fans!

England currently has the best record in their pool (which also includes Scotland, Argentina, Georgia, and Romania) and Scotland, tied for second, needs to win this last pool match to ensure it advances to the quarterfinal knock-out rounds.  Makes for some good rugby!
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Sunday, September 25, 2011

NZDT

It's spring in New Zealand which means the clocks they are-a-changin'.  We've sprung ahead for Daylight Saving Time which means the time difference for Central Time is now 6 hours instead of 7.  Plus a day of course.  Good on ya, mate.

Friday, September 23, 2011

USA Rugby

USA vs Russia, September 15 (USA won)
For all you Americans out there, if you get a chance I highly recommend catching a Rugby World Cup match with either Team USA or the New Zealand All Blacks.  NBC/Universal Sports will be carrying the USA games plus a NZ/Canada game plus all the quarter/semi/final rounds.

Your next chance is Friday's match between USA and Australia.  The Aussies are a powerhouse so it will be fun to watch.  It's only on Universal Sports which is available on DirecTV (ch 625) but probably not Comcast or Dish.  Check to be sure.  It airs live at 3:15am Friday morning or re-airs at 7:00pm Friday night.

The next match that will be on NBC will be New Zealand vs Canada which airs (delayed) on Sunday, October 2 at 2:00pm Central Time.  The All Blacks are awesome so try and catch this one - you won't be disappointed!

The rest of the TV schedule can be found here.

For those of you not really sure how rugby works, click here for an overview.  But in short, 15 players per side advance the ball by running, passing, or kicking.  Passes cannot be forward - only lateral or backwards.  The other side tries to stop them by tackling or turning the ball over.  A player being tackled does not stop play - they merely give the ball to another team member and play continues.  If the player reaches the try line (endzone) and touches the ball down on the ground a "try" is scored for 5 points.  A 2 point conversion kick follows.  During play a player can also drop-kick the ball at anytime trying for a field goal worth 3 points.  Penalties may stop play which is restarted with a scrum.  Got it all?  Good.  It's oversimplified of course but you get the idea.

What's great about rugby is play stops infrequently and the clock keeps going most of the time.  So it's nonstop action that can be very exciting.  There are two 40 minutes halves and the game overall is usually done in an hour an 45 minutes.

Hope you get a chance to watch - enjoy!
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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

My Day

Here's a page from my "new life".  I rode Francesca (the scooter) into work.  Catalogued German, Spanish, and Elementary Education; discussed the Rugby World Cup and the All Blacks' chances at morning tea with my international colleagues; catalogued some more; scooted home; went for happy hour (Jeff and I call it "cinq a sept" so we sound oh so continental) at one of our favourite restaurants, Pure; then walked up for a wine tasting at our neighbourhood wine shop.  Not a bad day!

Follow Us

OK, so we haven't been blogging as much lately it seems.  We're working on that.  But there are now a couple of new features on the site to help you get notified when new posts are added so you don't have to randomly check every so often.  Assuming you haven't bailed on us already...

The "Followers" section over on the right allows you to use your Google, Yahoo, or Twitter ID to "follow" the blog - meaning posts will show up on the respective dashboards.  If you have one of these IDs, please add yourself!  If you don't, you can either create an ID or simply use the "Follow By Email" box just below Followers and have new posts get sent to your inbox.

Disclaimer: I haven't used either of these new features so I really don't know the particulars of how they work.  But leave some feedback if it's good, bad, or ugly.

More frequent posts coming your way - both here and on Facebook.
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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Land of Oz

We recently went on our first journey "across the ditch" to Melbourne in the land of Oz.  The "ditch" of course being the Tasman Sea and Oz being the sweet-as nickname for Australia.

We only had a limited amount of time to travel because of work but we spent four days in and around what turned out to be a really, really great city.  (Say it like the locals now - "Mel-bin".)

The city is full of life and character and oozes with culture, charm, and parks galore.  Electric trams are the dominant form of public transit and they are really handy and easy to use.  Although you could say there are hints of other fine cities in Melbourne like New York, London, and San Francisco, it really has its own identity and character.  Great food, too!

We were treated to mild late-winter weather (daily highs around 20C/68F) which we expected since it is at nearly the same latitude as Auckland. But although winters are similar, the summers get hotter there and hence it is a drier place with plants and wildlife to match.

One of the days there we rented a car a drove an hour and half to the Mornington Peninsula area with beautiful coastline AND the chance to visit a sanctuary of sorts where we got feed and pet tame kangaroos and wallabies (really fun!) and see koalas, wombats, emus, and birds.  It was a highlight of the trip.



So I can't recommend Melbourne enough as a great place to visit.  It usually seems to take second chair to Sydney when one thinks of Australia but we found that most people prefer Melbourne.  Nevertheless we'll make a point of going to Sydney next time we head across the ditch.

Click here to see some photos.

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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Rugby World Cup 2011 - Opening Party

The long anticipated Rugby World Cup, hosted by New Zealand for 2011, has started with a bang.  Friday night was Opening Night and a H-U-G-E party was put on in downtown Auckland on the waterfront.

I decided to take my camera and spend a few hours in the excitement along with tens of thousands of others.  There were so many people!  Streets were closed off and a huge stretch of the waterfront was a dedicated "party zone" that the city did a brilliant job with.

Everyone was having so much fun, many dressed in their team's colors, waving flags, and making the most of an absolutely beautiful day with sunny skies, calm winds, and mild temps.  The atmosphere was nothing short of electric!  (Anne, not being a fan of masses of people, stayed home and watched it on live TV.)

Before the All Blacks took on Tonga at Eden Park in Auckland at 8:00pm downtown was lit up with a massive fireworks display with fireworks being launched from boats in the harbour, off of buildings in the city, and from Sky Tower. Simply amazing!  And the best part is that New Zealand beat Tonga - actually more like dominated.  Very fun to watch!

The cup goes on for 6 weeks - there are 20 teams and 42 games played all over New Zealand.  Not sure how crazy the city will be during the coming weeks but whatever inconveniences there may be will hopefully be offset by witnessing the excitement 100,000 international rugby fans brings to a country.

I'm excited to be a part of it - and proud of my adopted country.

See more photos here.

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Snow?!?!

It is snowing in Auckland.  I kid you not.  It is very patchy and isn't accumulating, but it's real, actual snow.

Friday, August 12, 2011

New Zealand Wintertime

Compared to Minnesota, winter in Auckland is barely even a blip.  The temps are cooler, but daily highs are still around 60F (15C).  One can expect the occasional rain shower on probably 5 of 7 days in a given week, but there is a lot of sun in there, too.  Everything is still green and going out and about simply means a jacket and/or umbrella just in case.  Do I think that's pretty awesome?  Yes I do.

It is still cool enough to make me eager for summer where temps will be more like 75F (21C) everyday with long days and lots of sun.  So that's still fun, too.

Winter, though, still has some oddities.  The biggest one is probably that many people celebrate a "Mid Winter Christmas" in July.  And why not?  The days are shorter, the weather is colder, and it's more the time of year when you feel like having a good roast or casserole.  In the summer for "real" Christmas, people go to the beach, have barbecues, and do lots of travelling right after because the kids have off school through January.

We've joined the winter tradition as well, lighting candles and sitting in our chairs in front of the big picture windows overlooking the water with our iPad "fireplace" roaring and our space heater keeping us toasty. (Very few houses have central heating in NZ.)  Having some wine and cheese, listening to Christmas music.  In July!  Crazy.  But it feels right, so we do it.

Although it was supposed to happen earlier we are going to join some friends for a big Mid Winter Christmas feast later in August.  At least two of the kiwis there have never had a baked ham or pumpkin pie.  I know, right?!?  So that is what we're bringing to the mix.  And there will also be roast lamb for a bit a kiwi tradition as well.  Yum as!

Now we'll just work on getting used to another winter oddity, and that is how people love to leave the door open after coming into a restaurant.  "Oi!  It's not THAT warm out!"

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Reflections on Year 1

July 22 marks one year since arriving in New Zealand so I thought I would share some thoughts about the experience so far.

To put it simply - this is something everyone should do.  Not necessarily New Zealand, but live in another country for even a year.  It's eye-opening.  It's made me realize two key things about the U.S.  One is just how different Americans are compared to other nationalities.  That can be good and bad.  The other is just how prevalent - and important - American culture is elsewhere.  Again, that can be good and bad.  But mostly good.

American TV, music, and movies are everywhere.  Why?  Well, because they are some of the best around - and I'm glad to still be able to have access to it all.

Americans generally are perceived outside the U.S. as loud and abrasive.  Why?  Because a lot of us actually are.  But it's kind of fun trying to be a better representative of the U.S. by trying NOT to be those things and maybe even change some people's minds.  But it's really hard when even the few Americans we see out and about being loud and abrasive!  Stop that!  :-)

I find another thing fun to do that I think anyone who moves to another country should do, and that is doing everything you can to adopt the cultural/language nuances that are either important to those in that country or are important for being understood.  It's a challenging thing to do, don't get me wrong - there are a LOT of things to constantly be aware of but that's part of the fun for me.

So I find myself saying rubbish instead of garbage, motorway instead of freeway, footpath instead of sidewalk, holiday instead of vacation, toh-mah-toh instead of toh-may-toh, 'cheers' as a way of saying 'thanks', and dozens more like that.  All to better fit in and more importantly be better understood.  If they call what I know as beets 'beetroot' then why should I impose my way of doing it just because it's the most familiar to me?

Auckland has a high percentage of residents who are also from other countries, so that is helpful in not feeling as foreign.  But believe me it is a very new experience to be instantly recognized as a foreigner the second you start talking because your accent stands out.  Kiwis are so nice and never make me feel like an outsider, but they will almost always ask where I'm from and/or guess than I'm from "North America".  We always find that amusing because they don't want to guess "American" in case I was Canadian.  You see, as Americans we don't mind being confused for a Canadian.  But Canadians do NOT want to be assumed to be Americans!

On the odd occasion a Kiwi will ask if we're Irish after hearing our accent.  Wha?  But I guess I can see it - the hard r's and long o's.  Heck, I'm still embarrassed by the fact that I have a hard time distinguishing the Australian accent over the Kiwi accent.  And I won't ever admit that to a Kiwi because Aussies and Kiwis have a friendly rivalry and to think a Kiwi is an Aussie is big no no!  :-)

I love that we live in "the city" where we can walk to all our favorite places or take the bus or scooter if needed.  We drive our one car very little, which is awesome.  I get more exercise now (Auckland is nothing but hills) which is good because we eat out a lot more which I love.  And drink more wine - New Zealand has so many good wines!  It's so great having regular "spots" to frequent where the cafe owner or waitstaff know you and are so nice.  Chain restaurants are a thing of the past - the small, family run places are so much better!  And New Zealand is full of them.  Love that.  And trying new places all the time is lots of fun, too.

Living in a place where you never far from the ocean is quite a change and sooooooooo great.  We already are spoiled with access to oodles of wonderful, fresh fish and seafood.  It's so good!  And seeing the ocean everyday has a lovely, soothing effect.  It shocks Kiwis when they learn I was a whopping 10 years old when I first saw the ocean.  It's just a part of life here - and that's neat.

This is no shocker but I love being in a mild climate with no big extremes.  No snow, no freezing temps, no crazy hot.  I think I would have gone mad having to go through last winter in MN and this wild summer.  I love nice weather and it abounds here - it makes me happy.  :-)

This is no secret - but making friends in a new place is HARD!  To anyone who's seen "I Love You Man" (and if you haven't - highly recommended) many things in there are so true.  It almost feels like dating sometimes!  "How long should I wait before calling him back?"  And so forth.  Not having a Kiwi job yet has made the friend finding that much harder, but that's OK.  We've met some great people and are building a few good friendships.  It takes time, though.  That much I know.

So yes - the experience has been very enriching despite having ups and downs.  I feel like I've grown as a person more in the last year than in the 10 years before that.  So put away all those convenient excuses and make some plans to live somewhere else for a while!  Not because it is easy, but because it is hard.  You'll thank me for it.  :-)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

GigANNEtic

I have always considered myself an average sized person.  I'm 5'6" and am medium-sized, medium-framed, and neither heavy nor skinny.  But here in the Cataloguing Department at the University of Auckland EVERYONE is petite!  And not just the people who hail from Asia -- even the Kiwis and Europeans are diminutive and slender.  What's more, the other day I finally realized why I'm having such a lot of trouble with the stairs:  my feet don't quite fit on them.  This is probably an everyday occurrence for, say, Jeff, whose feet fit his tall stature, but it's a first for me.  So here I am, twanging away with my accent, an enormous American stomping into work with my huge clown feet.  I must seem like quite the novelty.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Oui Oui Bastille Day

Happy Bastille Day - the day where everyone can be French.  It seems to be a bigger deal here in NZ but maybe I just wasn't as aware of it in MN.  Lots of French-themed "doings" around and yes, the Sky Tower is blue, white and red at night!

We're making the most of our time zone and celebrating twice - once when it's the 14th here and once when it's the 14th in France.  A two-fer!

Last night was a French themed dinner at a favorite restaurant called Pure and tonight is a Bastille Day themed dinner at an actual French cafe - another favorite of ours called La Cantine du Torchon.

And of course French wine!  Both at the restaurants and at home.  I think a nice Burgundy will lose its cork very soon.

So enjoy being French for a day - c'est bon!  (It's good!)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

They Like Me, They Really Like Me!

I have been told that the University of Auckland Cataloguing Dept. is now able (and, seemingly, eager) for me to work full-time!  AND, they are 90% sure that they can keep me on next year.  Yay me!  The only downside is that I have really, really enjoyed having every weekend be a three-day-weekend.  Oh, that daily grind.  I think I've gotten soft.

This calls for some celebratory new boots!

Monday, June 6, 2011

I Like to Move It Move It

Lemur Flasher - Auckland Zoo
We visited the Auckland Zoo for the first time yesterday - along with about a million other people as it turns out. It's a holiday weekend (Queen's Birthday) and the weather was sunny and balmy after two days of horrible wind and rain.  So everyone came out to the zoo!

We were actually very impressed with it.  Not too big but big enough.  Looks great, it's clean, has interesting animals, and they really seem to care about their well being.

A favorite was this Ring Tailed Lemur (pictured) who decided to "flash" us.  Another favorite was finally getting to see actual Kiwi birds. They put them in a mostly dark enclosure because they are nocturnal. Funny little creatures! And we are also now well-versed in Kiwi "whoopee" techniques as are about a dozen other surprised zoo visitors.

Friday, June 3, 2011

On the Street

In my ever-increasing knowledge of how to say things the way Kiwis say things (e.g. "how are you going" for "how are you doing", "rubbish" for "garbage", etc.) I have learned another new one that I just can't quite get myself to say.

Instead of saying, "I live on Main Street" you would say "I live in Main Street".  Now technically neither one of these are actually true - I don't actually live on the street nor do I live in it.  But nevertheless it seems a bit odd to say I live in a street.

Oh, well.  I will do my best to adapt to this one.  But I don't like it!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Adrenaline Man

I wasn't sure I could ever do it but with 40 coming up this week and Ryan from MN visiting it seemed like the right time to try throwing myself off a perfectly good bridge.

We each did the 40m (131ft) jump from underneath the middle of the Auckland Harbour Bridge with Anne up there watching, too!  Although shuffling up to the edge made my heart race the entire experience was amazing and exhilarating. I feel like I could do it again - and I'm sure I will!

Highly recommended, even for someone with a bit of a fear of heights like me. It's fantastic. Here are a couple of photos and a video as the proof!



video

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Posting Comments

Some of you have seen our blog and wondered how to comment on certain postings.  For those of you who are unsure how to do that, here is a quick guide.

At the end of one of out postings you'll see something like "1 comments" as a link.  Click on that to see any existing comments or to post a comment.

At the bottom you'll see the "Post a Comment" edit box and underneath that will be a drop-down labeled "Comment as:".  You have a few choices there and if you happen to already have any of those types of accounts then select that.  The most likely candidate is Google Account and if you already have gmail or a blogger.com blog account already then you already have one.  If you don't have any of the choices (that you know of ) then I would suggest creating a Google account.  It's free and you don't need anything other than an email address and a password.  And it doesn't have to be a gmail address - it can be anything.

Click here to create a Google account if you would like to create one.

Once you have created your account then select "Google Account" in the drop-down and type away.  Click the "Post Comment" button when you are done typing.  You may be prompted for your email and password.

That's it!  Post away.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Ain't Kiwis Great?

My contract at work it stipulates that the University MUST provide its employees with tea, coffee, sugar, and milk.  Not just the opportunity to buy it, mind you; they must provide it!  So upstairs in the break room there is a wealth of free beverages:  three different kinds of milk, filtered water, coffee a'brewin', tea bags, constant boiling water, and hot chocolate, not to mention spoons and cups.  All replenished daily.  Not too shabby...

How to Speak New Zillund, Part 3 of 3

In the A - Z of figuring out the vowels and other nuances in the New Zealand accent, here is part 2 (S - Z)


S is for Sucks
The number after five.



T is for Tin
The number after nine.



U is for Undies
West Undies. Good at cricket.



V is for Volley
Area between two hulls.



W is for Windy
A girl's name.



is for Xylophone
It's the same in any langwudge.



Y is for Yuppie
An expression of delight.



Z is for Zed
How you pronounce the letter Z.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

How to Speak New Zillund, Part 2 of 3

 In the A - Z of figuring out the vowels and other nuances in the New Zealand accent, here is part 2 (J - R)


J is for Jug
Type of Irish dance.



K is for Ken's
Popular holiday city in Queensland, Australia.


is for Lust
Something you write before going shopping.



M is for Milburn
Capital of Victoria (Australia).



N is for Nutter
To have a yarn.



O is for One Doze
A pane of glass in a wall.



P is for Pigs
Found on a clothes line.



Q is for Quad
Slang term for a British pound note.



R is for Rung
Piece of jewelry.




Monday, May 9, 2011

How to Speak New Zillund - Part 1 of 3

I saw this on a clever poster at a shop and loved it so much I figured I better pass it along.  In the A - Z of figuring out the vowels and other nuances in the New Zealand accent, here is part 1 (A - I)

A is for Arm
Uttered when thinking.

B is for Bull
What you're charged for the meal.

C is for Cuds
Children.

D is for Donut
Long version of don't.

E is for Ear
What we breathe.

F is for Fush
Sea creatures.

G is for Guess
Used for cooking or heating.

H is for Hull
Land which isn't flat.

I is for Ice Cream
What I do when the All Blacks lose.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Royal Nerds

If you've stopped laughing yet here is the tale of the photo.  Oh, need more time?  OK.

So we were invited to a friend's birthday party.  His last name is King and wanted to do a king/queen/royalty themed party.  So everyone was supposed to dress up.  So as usual we went overboard and went to a costume store and decided on the Beefeater and Anne Boleyn getups you see here.  Despite your mocking we looked pretty good, *I* think!

Other costumes included the birthday dude as a king (naturally), his wife as the Queen of Hearts, a woman in a very convincing Prince getup, a woman as Michael Jackson (King of Pop), a queen bee, princes and princesses, and The Lion King.

And here's the thing - these people aren't even nerds like us!  Just regular people who like parties and adult beverages!

OK, fine.  We're still nerds.  But CLASSY nerds.  :-)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Last Set - Taupo

"Craters of the Moon"
After leaving Tongariro National Park we spent our last night an hour away at a B&B in Taupo overlooking the giant Lake Taupo (bigger than Singapore and a volcanic crater itself).  The weather was too foul to bother taking any pictures of the lake, but we did go a few places in the wind and rain.

The poorly named Craters of the Moon (sounds like a tourist trap with gift shop knick knacks and overpriced admission for something lame-o, right?)  It's a pocket of active thermal activity that was actually very cool to see.

Between that, a brief visit to Huka Falls, lots of relaxation, and power failures due to the wind blowing trees on to power lines, it was a fun last day!

A few photos are here.

-

Monday, May 2, 2011

More Tongariro National Park

What is this new devilry?
I've posted another set of photos from around Tongariro National Park (other than the Crossing from the previous post) here.

We hiked on several trails and saw waterfalls, rivers, wide open lands, and forests.  And of course the volcanoes.  We also went up to where the rocky ski fields of Mt Ruapehu will be in winter and were enveloped in clouds but it made for some very atmospheric surroundings amongst the craggy rocks.  Does anyone else think it odd to ski on an active volcano??

Coming soon: the last set of photos from the Lake Taupo area.

Tongariro Panorama

Click to enlarge

As a supplement to the posting below, here is a panorama of the area the trail goes through. From the start point shown the trail winds up the valley towards South Crater which in the saddle between Mt Tongariro and Mt Doom.  Getting to South Crater takes about 2 hours so there is a lot left after that. The trail continues on the other side of Mt Tongariro (and out of view).

Mt Ruapehu (farthest away) is the largest and tallest volcano of the three (9100 ft/2800m) and is a ski area in winter.  It last erupted in 2007 and just weeks before we arrived the water in its crater lake heated up significantly so they raised the alert status one notch - but it has since cooled and so no worries. :-)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Tongariro Crossing

Mt Doom - The Tongariro Crossing
 We took a long Easter holiday weekend and drove to Tongariro National Park.  The highlight was doing the 8 hour Tongariro Crossing, called the best day hike in New Zealand.  Tongariro is in the middle of the North Island and has three prominent, active volcanoes and The Crossing traverses between two of them.  (One of them is the forboding cone shaped Mt Ngauruhoe which is used as Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings.)

It's an amazing area and the hike was absolutely a wonder.  I've never seen anything like it.  I've posted some photos from the trek here so take a look if you like.

Coming soon: photos from the rest of our Tongariro trip.

Emerald Lakes - The Tongariro Crossing

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Days of (No) Thunder

Having gone through our first summer, I found it interesting that although there were rainy and/or windy days, there was never a thunderstorm.  Not single bit of lightning, not a single roll of thunder.  Which as it turns out is quite normal.

There have been exactly two days we've heard a rumble of thunder, and they were last winter during some rain.  Just one far off bit of thunder then that was it.

Do I miss it?  I can't think of any reason why I would want it to thunder.  So no.  I don't.  :-)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Kiwi Thingies

Learning a new vocabulary for many things - even more than expected - has been part of adapting to a new culture.  One of the things I love is how Kiwis take a word, shorten it, then add "ies" to the end to make a sort of slang word for everyday things.  It's kind of fun but hard to keep up with because I hear new ones all the time.

Here are some examples.  There are way more.

Rellies:  relatives
Posties:  postmen
Subbies:  subcontractors, like for construction
Bickies:  biscuits (cookies)
Lollies:  any candy or sweets
Wellies:  gumboots
Prezzies:  presents
Boaties/Yachties:  boat owners
Cardies:  cardigans
Aussies:  Australians
Brekkie:  breakfast

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Another Time Change

Here we go again - New Zealand is now off of DST so the time difference has changed.  It's now 17 hours, or to make it easy just subtract 7 hours from Central time and it's that time here, but tomorrow.  Yada yada yada.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Immigrants!

At work, I am just one immigrant among many which is a new experience for me and is really quite neat.  The other day I looked around at the people I was sitting with and there were two people from Hong Kong, one from China, one from Serbia, one from Singapore via Pakistan, and me, American.  I also realized that I was the only one there for whom English is my first (and, as it happens, only) language.  What an advantage to be bilingual!

While I have heard English spoken with Chinese, Serbian, and Pakistani accents before, I was having a more difficult time than usual understanding people.  Finally I recognized that it's the added element of the Kiwi accent that was tripping me up.  My colleagues are, naturally, speaking Kiwi English, not American English.  That was a real "Duh!" moment for me.

Now if I can just keep in mind that "rubber" means "eraser" and not what I think it means, it will be smooth sailing!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

One Tree Hill

The One Tree Hill obelisk
We finally took some time to visit One Tree Hill, part of a large park in Central Auckland.  For any U2 fans out there, this is the place the song One Tree Hill from The Joshua Tree album refers to - written in memory of Bono's personal assistant Greg Carroll, a New Zealander.

The single tree on top of the hill is long gone, but there is an obelisk for some dead guy and many walking trails.  So we took an afternoon on a beautiful day and explored!

There are great views at the top and sheep roam the hill.  At the bottom of the hill is Cornwall Park with lots of trees, recreation areas, and on this day...weddings.  We tried to get some sheep to crash a wedding but they're very uncooperative.

Taking in the view at the top

Looking west

On the sheep offensive


Sunday, March 20, 2011

My First Week

I am really liking my new job!  The cataloguing department is on the 1st floor (for us Americans, that's the 2nd floor) of the main library on the U of Auckland campus.  There's a nice staff room with a great view of Albert Park and I work with some very nice people.  An interesting thing is that so far I've been working most closely with other New Zealand immigrants.  I sit with Lai (Hong Kong), Fang (China), Jane (China), and Kazumi (Japan), and my boss is Ksenija (Serbia).

The project I'll be working on involves records that were dumped into the catalogue from the Epsom education library back in 2004.  At that time, the Epsom library wasn't automated, so they had a week (!) to create records for their entire collection.  They got people from a temp agency to do it -- not cataloguers, not librarians -- so the records are really, really bad.  My job will be to either upgrade those records on Voyager (their catalogue) or to start over and create new ones on OCLC Connexion.  Now, I really like correcting other people's mistakes and making things all nice and neat, so this sounds right up my alley.  : )  I also think that Ksenija will use me for other projects like this.  This past week I've been getting used to Voyager (which I've never used before) by doing some copy cataloguing and original e-books.  So far so good.

The biggest hassle so far with work is just getting there.  I take the bus downtown to Queen Street and then walk through Albert Park to the library.  I think I've mentioned before that the Auckland bus system could use some work.  It's frustrating when the bus is late, but it's maddening when it's early.  I leave the house at the same time each day, but sometimes I see the bus go zooming past when I'm still halfway to my stop.  And it would be nice if I could take a bus all the way, or close to all the way there.  Albert Park is very nice, but it's really, really steep -- by the time I'm across it, I'm huffing and puffing and I've already sweat through my clothes.  Not my favorite way to start the day!  Ah well, if that's the least of my worries then I'm quite lucky.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Scuba Duba

Overlooking the area we dove in
After being delayed one week because of tsunami warnings last week, we finally got to try Scuba diving today.  In short - it was awesome!

We drove an hour north of Auckland to the Goat Island Marine Reserve where several dive shops operate and did a half-day "try dive" so we could see if Scuba is something we would like to do without yet committing to a certification course.

After a bit of classroom safety and equipment orientation we went right out to the beach and did our 30 minute dive from there with an instructor and two others.  It took a little bit for us to get used to the buoyancy but the breathing came quite easily and we were gliding through the fishes and rocks in no time.  We went as deep as 4 meters / 13 feet.

It was great!  It was a perfect day to do it - sunny, warm, and calm - and although visibility underwater wasn't superb being closer to shore (about 5 - 6 meters) we saw lots of fish like snapper which are actually quite colorful and friendly.  And one was a good 2 - 3 feet long.  Also saw some Red Moki and Goatfish.  The water temp isn't tropical by any means - about 22C/72F - but quite comfortable once you're in it.

So we think we might be hooked.  We will look into a certification course to see if we want to pursue that. I didn't get any pictures of us in our gear, but maybe that's for the best.  :-)

Goat Island in the background, the waters we dove in in the foreground