Monday, March 27, 2017

Tertile retrospective on New Zealand life

I'll save you the trouble; "tertile" is a third of something. Like a year. As in four months. As in how long we've now been breathing the fresh New Zealand air and mixing it up with the Kiwis. If you want to street view us or send money (preferably the latter, living in Auckland is frightfully expensive) check out 7 Emmett Street, Auckland. Nice house. We live in the basement. Yep, we're literally bottom dwellers, as it were.

Apparently Kiwis are the 8th happiest folk in the World, probably due to their laid back, noncommittal nature. Chill reins. Though I'm sure it happens, we have yet to hear a word raised in anger and nary a toot on the horn in what is world class traffic. On the other hand, sometimes it is a little hard to know where you stand with a Kiwi because they express commitment in muted tones compared to the US. It's kinda like trying to taste subtle differences in Pinots after participating in a jalapeño eating contest. We've been given a working theory by a helpful local couple based on three states of commitment: yea, nah, or eh. If the sentence ends in an enthusiastic yea, you're golden. nah? Ain't happening. Watch out for the eh: shaky ground. You have to be listening for it as the sentence trails off. It means, usually, no but I don't feel comfortable saying "NO!". Sometimes, there's waffling and you'll hear "Yea, nah, eh." in one quick diminuendo. It is absolutely critical that you know whether you ended on a nah or an eh. Sometimes, eh works to your advantage. I bought a 3D printer here months ago and have yet to be billed. We must have ended billing terms on an eh.

John and Catherine from across the
street and across the world!
We've had a host of visitors pass through Auckland, not to see us mind you, just passing through. Friends and neighbors from Boulder. The Boston contingent. Esteemed colleagues. All have been good sports as we did our best to play local tour guide during their brief sojourns. The irony of working in NZ, is that our dear friends have now seen more of New Zealand than we have. We are working on it though.

That we have no wheels, of any sort, has not deterred us from visiting the terminus of just about every ferry, train, and bus. People complain about the Auckland public transit and while it ain't Paris or DC, it deserves more credit than it gets. Sometimes we find a one man tour operation that will shuttle us where we want to go and leave us alone otherwise. That's how we saw the beautiful volcanic beaches of Piha and the neighboring KiteKite (say KittyKitty) falls. We took one train to the Tasman Sea and walked back to the Pacific Ocean! Sounds more impressive than the five hour urban volcano hopping hike that it was, but still very cool and a chance to see new parts of the Auckland area.

Dunedin street art
We took our biggest trip (since the Queen Charlotte Track in December) flying south, south, south to Dunedin, the first New Zealand city with Scottish flair. Our Aucklander friends had us wondering why we would bother with Dunedin (Dunners they call it), but, in fact, we loved it. Playing hide and seek with first class street art murals was a great introduction to the city. The food and cafe scene was tops, better than Auckland in many respects, and the train station? Wow! That's just the town. Get out to the Otago peninsula for killer hiking up grassy bluffs and through pine tree stands. And then there's the beaches! Now the water is, well a bit chilly. Make that blue balls cold. After all, this is penguin country where we watched some eighty blue penguins (a rare, very small penguin) come home from the sea in the chilly dusk.

The blue penguins of the
Otago Peninsula
To tour Dunedin area we did what we've been dreading since we arrived four months ago: we drove. (NZ drives on the right. Or is it left? At any rate, opposite the US.) Before we drove, we maxed out the rental insurance. Then we drove. In the end, no worries and no damage. I think all that walking we do has taught us where cars come from and where they go. You see, as a pedestrian, if you don't learn quick you're dead. No two ways about it. Cars have priority. It's not like the drivers are malicious, they just do not see you. You can tell from their eyes that, as they are running over your toes, they look right through you to check for traffic. Pedestrians are absolutely invisible.

A beach to remember
Being self-employed, it's taken awhile to fill the pipe (especially given the summer break), but Cath is off with a bang now. Too much really: time to slow the pace to a more sustainable trot. The new Cath has a pretty good hold, but struggles with this new coaching role thing. She would prefer to just tell 'em what to do rather than engage in socratic tedium to guide them along, but those of you who know Cath know that already!

Life, in general, not just people, like the climate here. Plants grow like crazy and keep a small army of ground keepers in business. And along with the plants, we have insects. The mozzies (mosquitoes) are around, but hardly a bother. But larger creatures lurk. We have no dryer, so we leave our clothes to dry outside on a rack. I grabbed a pair of shorts from the the rack and slipped them on on my way out. Yow! I stripped right back down licketeysplit and shock out those shorts. Out fell the biggest freakin' insect I have ever seen! After a little investigation, turns out it was a weta. Still gives me the shivers ...

We still enjoy the easy breathing, wrinkle erasing humidity, though that may wear thin in the winter when it becomes just damp. 25°C (77°F) feels pleasantly warm, almost hot, even with the near constant breeze. A/C (almost always reverse heat/heat pumps here) is not common, so inside buildings can be toasty given enough people or equipment. At least that's the excuse Cath gave me for buying a new wardrobe!

Even the grocery stores have French grade produce, particularly the fruit. No need to worry about the seasons for each one because you'll only see them in season. Cherries, mangoes, kiwiberries... often make an appearance for only a couple of weeks. Get 'em while they have 'em: yummy. We still go to the farmers market on the weekend for some specialities like smoked salmon and hand made ravioli. Typical local fish are snapper, salmon, lemon fish (a small shark), and monkfish.

We have not yet found our exercise rhythm. We've done a bit of biking on the weekends, but this isn't Portland or Boulder and riding for fitness in the city is a challenge. Kiwis are fitness oriented, however. There's a gym on every corner. Over lunch and after work we see groups in the parks doing everything from yoga to boxing to touch rugby (figure that one out). We don't have a great situation right now for storing toys like bikes and kayaks, much less transporting them. We'll see: a work in progress.

Adele live in her last 'dry'
March 25th was a special day when we cashed in our Adele tickets bought in a hard fought battle back in November. It was a crazy good show: we were lucky to have the chance to see her in one of her very last tour performances. Even more so since the very last performance, on the following day, was in a real sky fall: non-stop torrential rain.

Our adopted sailing team needs all you guys to channel energy to make those pedals spin for the America's Cup. She's all alone here in New Zealand while everyone else is warming up in Bermuda. It's been kinda a rough road of it this year with tight funding compared to the giants in the field. But hey, who doesn't love the underdog!

We continually work on our Kiwi vocabulary, phraseology, and pronunciation. Now repeat after me. "You walk with your leegs and stand on you heed." Say "yees" a lot. Really a lot. The snapper fishing tourney started on a cracker of a day, which is way better than fine and unlikely to ever go to custard. Those are pretty much the three key states of weather: cracker, fine, and custard. And then there's "deck". Even the Kiwis know they can't say it right, so they make a joke, or an advertisement, of it. I'll duck out and leave you with that brilliant one ...

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Wellington, Marlborough, Onward to 2017

The Cook Strait ferries are huge sea
going ships. They have to be to keep
operating in the frequent gales in the area.
Since most kiwis take an extended break at the start of their summer (Dec-Feb), which coincides with the end-of-year festivities, we decided to play kiwi and enjoy some time away from the city.  Because we don’t have a car, we pieced together public transportation to take a peek at the South Island: flight to Wellington (the capital), then ferry across Cook Strait to the Marlborough Sounds in the northwest tip of the South Island. 

Windy Welly
Nicknamed “Windy Welly”, Wellington is officially the windiest city in the world. Kiwis who live here love it and don’t seem overly bothered by the regular gale force winds. When asking whether those winds are maddening (we are used to Boulder Chinook winds that make everyone pissy cuz no one can sleep at night), kiwis just shrug and tell you you get used to it, though occasionally an older person is thrown to the ground and breaks a limb, that's all. Kiwis are tough people. Speaking of crazy mother nature, we missed the opportunity to experience a 5.5 earthquake that happened in the area. Our airbnb host and landlords were so excited for us to have the experience but, alas, we were on a water-taxi at the time. Pity. Somehow I think there'll be another chance.

One of the greatest creations
out of Weta Studios.
We enjoyed Wellington, which is small (walkable) yet has lots to do: mountain biking and hiking straight from town (and many out of town), a town beach, the museum of New Zealand (free of charge), and Weta Studios. Next time you watch a movie with special effects - Avatar, Lord of the Rings, Contact, etc.. - , notice the Miramar credits at the beginning. I always though that was the California Miramar, but nooooo.... Miramar is the Wellington suburb where the Weta Workshop and 4 other companies dedicate themselves to creating those special effects. Weta is "New Zealand's coolest little monster, a bizarre and prickly prehistoric cricket" but when we toured their workshop, they joked that Weta stood for “We Employ Total Amateurs”, as in anyone obsessed enough with fantasy stuff to want to work here gets the job! Peter Jackson, who hales from Wellington, is building a museum to put many of his movie props on display. Most props are otherwise destroyed since NZ is too small to store them all and they can't be reused because IP protection - except rocks, apparently. No movie director can claim the rocks made for their movies, some of which we learned are made of toilet paper rolls (most are model-sizes)! Wellington also had a few of the Lord of the Rings filming locations, so we had fun trying to locate them and identifying matching movie scenes.

On the Queen Charlotte Track (QCT)
high above the sounds.
After Wellington, we took the three-hour ferry to the South Island to visit the Marlborough Sounds, which has the famous 3 to 5 day Queen Charlotte Track along one of its peninsulas. What makes this track so popular is the option to stay at lodges each night (with hot showers and dinners with Marlborough wines) and have your luggage schlepped by water taxi to the next lodge so you don’t have to carry a full pack while hiking. Now that’s my type of hiking. You can even opt to kayak a day to rest from hiking, which we did of course. Hiking provided incredible views and the weather cooperated after showing sign of dumping heaps of rain on us.

A "day off" hiking means kayaking!
While hiking the QCT, we met an Australian couple from Adelaide who relocated to Auckland about two years ago, going against the trend of kiwis moving to Australia to earn “less sucky” salaries. Come to find out Dave works two doors down from Bill in Auckland. Dave is an landscape architect and Felicity is a government policy advisor. Both got a job without issue and they have been adapting to life as kiwis. We learned a lot from them, and plan to reconvene in Auckland. Social life here we come! We learned that we may be referred to YAFAs (Yet Another F*ing Aucklander) when traveling outside Auckland. For my French readers, kind of an equivalent to “parigots” (Parisian visiting the countryside with their accent and ways of being). We also learned that we should buy a car NOW, and not wait like they did eighteen months. We have been struggling with that one - considering Bill commuted everywhere by bike while in Boulder and I grew up with public transportation in Paris. Well, Auckland ain’t Paris nor Boulder it seems.

We continue to expand our kiwi vocabulary. Here are the latest additions:
  • Your kids may be wagging (skipping school). That one gives a whole new meaning to the "Wag more and Bark less” bumper sticker.
  • You get meds and insect repellent at the chemist (pharmacy).
  • When bad weather is coming, the weather is fine until it turns to custard.
  • Don't forget your sunnies (sunglasses).
  • A landslide is just referred to as a slip. It’s all relative when you have earthquakes as a regular occurrence!
  • You can have trim milk (skim) or full cream milk (whole). Reminds me of “butter croissants” - what else would croissants be made of and do you really have to remind me before I indulge and enjoy? Fun sucker….
New Zealand has a very young population. Sometimes we wonder where we fit. Thankfully the humidity softens wrinkles. Quite a few folks came with holiday work visas, which we learned are quite easy to obtain: just need a little youth and enthusiasm. They work for nine months and travel for three. Lucky for me, most of restaurant staff have been young adults from France. We hardly run into any Americans, except our kayak guide from Spokane, WA. 

A view from the trail on Mount
Victoria, just outside of Wellington.
When you move to another country, you notice how the world is getting more global every day. Two services could really use an upgrade though: video streaming and banking, with phone plans a close third. It took us over a month to figure a legal way to stream movies, each attempt creating bouts of anger at being misled with one solution or another. Amazon, Netflix and HBO really need to experience the pain they create to watch movies in one country from a subscription bought in another country. And banking, well, let’s just say that for the foreseeable future, you need a warm american body to initiate a wire transfer from our US account to our kiwi account. That must be their idea of security. Wow! Google Fi has been serving Bill well - mostly that he enjoys giving out my local phone number instead of his US number, but standardizing the format of phone numbers world wide would be a huge win across the board. Here, mobile numbers come in a variety of formats, none of which look like the land line numbers.

The summer is short here, so many work places close shop from Dec 23 thru Jan 9. Consulting work stalled late November and will not pick up until late January. That means we still have a couple of weeks to visit places before everyone comes back from the beach ready to resume work. 

We are happy to report that we finally found tenants for our house in Boulder. After two months of low to no activity, we had to settle with dog owners which likely will destroy our hardwood floors. We would have preferred kids and cats but beggars can't be choosers. Oh well.

2016 has been quite a year -  from Spencer's graduation, Shelby's graduation, Alizée's graduation to our NZ adventure. We wish everyone a happy and adventuresome 2017.  

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Installation Complete

IRDs (the Kiwi SSN), bank accounts, driver's license, bus/ferry pass (because we're scared to death to use a driver's license), health check, (one of us has) paycheck, an address that actually receives mail, and some loose change to boot: after almost a month, our installation is complete. The acquisition of each has been a process, some more pleasant than others. The banking system is easy and user friendly. Kinda like the postal system and the government backed banking systems in France are commingled, Kiwibank and the Post here are collocated. You can open a business account and send a package from the same line, I mean, queue. Unlike France, the folks at Kiwibank are nice and at least try to be helpful.

When checking out of the grocery, restaurant, or whatever, you just wave the bank card around in the air, say "levieosa", and voila you've paid for something. I'm not sure the "levieosa" is required, but it adds a certain flair. Unlike in the US, you don't need a physical address, security clearance, and a hair from your first born (anyone who's read Name of the Wind understands how precious a hair is to a loan shark) to open an account. A "smart" card that you have to insert into the machine still works here, but are sooooo yesterday.

The driver's license was more challenging, especially for Cath. For me, it was the eye test. "William, they are all letters, no numbers, or names of water fowl. Give it a go again." Eventually, I made it through. Cath's French passport again caused problems. A few silly countries in the world always use someone's maiden name, rather than married name, as the primary name on the passport. Since married names can be rather, well, ephemeral, this convention has a certain logic. Still, it tends to throw most bureaucratic system into a tizzy. Included among these are Australian visa (don't ask) and the Kiwi AA (not what you're thinking) who issue driver's licenses. After some stern over-the-phone consultation with "superiors", "We need a paper trail of your name change. If it's in French, it must be translation by an approved translator." Oh God, not the "approved translator" thing again. What a racket. In this case, the approvee was a uni-directional translator of questionable origin working out of her home, with an obviously disgruntled husband scowling down all that would pass the threshold of his dominion to participate in this racket that is probably the only thing paying for the beer he's drinking: in the morning. As with all such things, persistence and patience trumps all and things worked out in the end.

View from the trail
We've also been working the socializing end of things. That's right you dolts, Cath & Bill are actually socializing. Theron gave us the advice to always say "yes" and we've taken it to heart. Last weekend we signed up for a trip with an Auckland tramping (hiking) club. The group is representative of the Auckland international melting pot: Germany, Australia, Indonesia, China, Russia, Zimbabwe, Somalia, France, Auckland, South Africa, and one lonely 'merican (me). We were cautious because we heard through others that Kiwis are no whimps and don't sugar coat it for you. If they say it's hard, there's no sand bagging; it really is hard. This particular hike was a 3.5/5 from Pakiri Beach to Matakana and the invitation was full of cautionary clauses, which gave us, me in particular, pause. (We later learned that the only 5/5 hike this year left them stranded on a cliff after dark above a high tide.) I looked at the route. The wicked climb was an out-and-back, so I figured if I couldn't hack it I could just take a nap and meet folks on the way down. Only when it came to it, we ended taking a different route. After the first climb, the leader suggested that anyone currently in need of medical care, which was half of us, should just stroll back down to the cars and chill for the afternoon. Pressed on we did, pride intact and body failing. I heard "shit" and "what the f**k" more than once. I might even had said it myself. Talk about writing a check you can't cash. We hacked through bush and slogged through mud, up inclines so steep they benefited from 4 limb drive. I wondered why many of the hikers wore gloves. In retrospect, we had a great time with some stunning scenery, but a price was paid. I even had my first sand fly bites. "These aren't so bad." Yeah well, I didn't sleep much that night. Scratch, scratch, scratch ...

Waiting on the lawn for
the movie, projected on
the silo, to start.
Friday evening we walked back to a wharf area called Silo Park, for the silos left over when this was a working commercial harbor. It's a fun place in the evening with kids running around, parks, vendor stalls, and food trucks. Each Friday they show a movie on one of the silos at the head of a grassy area. We took a spot out of the chilly wind to watch at least the beginning of "When Harry Met Sally", our favorite New Years movie. It was fun, but they left out the best scene in the whole friggin movie! Something's up with that. Clearly there's something we don't yet know about the culture here.

Auckland Sky Tower for
Our landlords, Chris and Jason, upstairs have more-or-less adopted us, probably out of pity having seen our social ineptitude first hand. They had the pool all warmed up for us after our hike last weekend and collected us from down the hill to bring us home. Saturday they even invited us to a party with all their old friends. We met folks from all over, even one from Texas! Everyone was so friendly and welcoming, which is a little different from the norm. We can't quite put our finger on it, but, with a few appreciated exceptions aside, kiwis have been very friendly and helpful without being terribly welcoming. We're not quite sure that's the right word, but something like that. It could be that we're migrants and to be kept at a distance until we've proven ourselves over time. Everyone we ask seems keen on the idea of migrants, provided they bring in skills of value. Most countries would have much more push back or even resent migrants. Dunno, just kind of curious and it might just be us.

Hiking through Albert Park
Our hike this weekend with the group was canceled, so we did the urban hiking thing exploring Auckland. The city is very walkable with many interesting areas and no danger of wandering into a rough neighborhood or some such. Auckland also has heaps of beautiful parks with lovely walking paths. (In Kiwi, it's never "many" or "a lot of". It's "heaps" or "shit loads", though I never knew "shit" to be a unit of measurement: must be metric.) Given that Auckland sits on a bunch of hopefully extinct volcanoes, walking around town is even plausible exercise: up and down and up again. I can't imagine anywhere else in the world with happier trees! These guys are old, huge, complicated, and gnarly.

The ultimate destination today was the Auckland War Memorial museum. It was free for us since we're, ahem, Aucklanders. (We brought proof of address since we figured, correctly, they wouldn't believe us.) Wonderful exhibits, less about the wars than the history of Aotearoa (New Zealand). So much to see that we lost both ourselves and each other. I finally had to page "Catherine Connor" to reel her in.

This week was also time to sign up for the medical system here. First I blew my appointment by forgetting that it's day/month here, not month/day. "That's alright dear. It happens all the time. Shall I reschedule you for Monday.?" I'll bet it doesn't happen all the time, but thank you for being so nice. After the nurse gave me a going over and frowning at my habitual glass of wine at dinner, she said I should schedule to come to the surgery next week. The surgery next week! I had no idea it was that bad! The "surgery" is just the doctor's office, as it turns out.

Here's a another introduction to Kiwi vocabulary. Chris was explaining with great exuberance how, when faced with the potential crisis of warm beer while touring an island, they found a cardboard box, lined it with plastic, filled it with ice, and no problem for the rest of the day. This short story says sooooo much about Kiwis that it could be the basis for a blog in and of itself, but for the present purpose, Chris had improvised a "chilly bin": an ice cooler. Everyone needs a chilly bin going to the beach, which we hope to do shortly!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Biking in Auckland

Lots of fresh and cheap veggies
Saturday we checked out the French Market organized every weekend by a French bistro on the other side of town. While public transportation is not extensive, we find buses clean and convenient to get us to most places in and around town. The market was impressive in its variety of ethnic food and low prices from local businesses. We saw oysters, Montreal bagels, paella, crêpes, turmeric juice, patisseries, and many many fresh veggies. We'll be back next week to fill our groceries bags for the week.

Even French desserts. Yummy!

Bike usage counter
The Auckland Transport organization was at the market too, collecting feedback from Aucklanders interested in biking in and around the city. Ironically Bill was wearing one of his Google Bike to Work Week t-shirts, which caught their attention as their leader is from... well, uh… Boulder :)  
They are actively recruiting citizens to design the right paths and think it should take them about two years to get Auckland bikeable. For now, some of the current bike lanes are a bit funny: Bike Lane Starts Here sign promptly followed by a Bike Lane Ends Here sign 200 meters further with a counter in between to measure how many people actually use the lane! Way to collect feedback on the ground. After meeting with the bike folks at the market, we decided to rent bikes to check out the options, and seriously considered going back and forth, and forth and back all afternoon to increase the count as the lane was sadly very empty.

Practicing a real commute
Rangitoto volcano from the
bike path
Mostly we wanted to see how possible it would be to get around by bike, and testing a commute route for Bill from a beautiful bluff where we could never, ever live. Apparently, you absolutely must have a Maserati in the driveway. We opted for one of their existing bike paths that follows the harbor to some of the beaches. The bike path at times merged with the footpath (sidewalk) which did not seem to create big issues. Pedestrians while unaware of bikes were friendly. The views are absolutely splendid, with emerald water, boats, paddle boarders, and even the volcano we hiked last weekend.

Somebody wonders why he is
not sailing
Without a car and the lack of public transportation to get out of town, we are starting to itch to discover NZ on the weekend. Working in Auckland just does not feel like we are on this gorgeous island(s) in the middle of the Pacific ocean. We're going to fix that! More on the fix later!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Forward We Go

Week 2 has been going through the skilled migrants arrival list; find longer term housing, find a job, register for a doctor (so you get the subsidized cost), get a NZ drivers license (so you have a card with your picture on it), etc...

Warning sign: our Airbnb is at 9C !
Housing: we booked two weeks in an Airbnb to give us time to explore various neighborhoods before picking where we would live the coming months. We are now ready to move out of the Airbnb as the mildew caused by the humid winter is getting to Bill's lungs. The sign by our entry door was a clue to our discomfort. Luckily, the heavy rain has stopped so the place is more livable now. NZ houses are notoriously poorly built and we experienced that first hand. Many apartments we looked at have no AC and no heat. We read about the housing crisis in Auckland but we were not prepared for how quickly apartments are snagged. Once we figured out the neighborhoods we would consider living in (took several days of walking and busing around), securing a place was a bit of a shock. Even when you secure a visit and fill out an application, most often you are told someone beat you to it.  
Nice commute view to work
Fortuitously, the owners of the house next door just put up their newly renovated downstairs for rent. We detected their posting early enough to get ahead of the crowd and secured the place. Phew. We are told we are staying in the most-prized neighborhood of Auckland, some say posh. Downstairs of a two level house owned by a gay couple and their dog Bobby. It even has a small pool for the summer and a hot tub for the winter which are all very rare in rentals. Even better, because they can’t separate their utilities from ours, they include them in the rent! We signed the contract and are moving in next week. This morning, they invited us to watch the All Blacks - France rugby game at their place! How serendipitous! As JimH said, sometimes you look too far for things that are right there.

Jobs: while Bill is getting comfy at Vesper Marine, I accepted an offer to join Nomad8, an international family of agile consultants. I’ll get to work with an Olympian who played for the Austrian handball team in 1992, as well as consultants from NZ, UK, and Nepal. Recently, the NZ immigration reduced the number of migrant applications due to concerns about the load valuable skilled migrants place on the social system, especially later when, perhaps, their skills are not so rare. I am taking this concern to heart, launching into the consulting world to transfer my agile expertise to the NZ market. I will be going to Hamilton (2 hours South of Auckland) for my first business trip next week but I won't get busy quickly as New Zealand is hitting its summer and businesses are taking a major break until January: akin to Paris in August.

Hiking on volcano
Fun: despite trudging through the list of to-do list to establish ourselves here, we are remembering to enjoy life. That's why we came here after all! It is fun to see everyone get excited about the summer (the winter has been quite rainy so kiwis are very ready for sun this year). The New Zealand Christmas trees are turning colors (blooming red). Today, we did our first hike on Rangitoto Island, the youngest of the 48 volcanoes surrounding Auckland. While the South island has earthquakes, the North island has volcanoes (mostly extinct). Rangitoto is a 20 min ferry ride and the only thing to do there is hike!
NZ Christmas tree

Imagine this, you're a Maori living in the what-will-be-Auckland some 600 years go. The ocean starts boiling, steaming, and finally spewing ash and lava. And it does this for some 200 years - generations pass within spitting distance while this beast is belching fire. Finally, the thing settles down and, presto, you have a new island in the bay. No wonder that they never built any villages there. I wouldn't trust it either, except for a short trek.

We are typically not concert-goers but there was so much excitement for Adele's first and only concert in NZ that we decided to give it a try. While dire-hard fans were devastated with their online booking experience, Bill managed to snag tickets and boy was it traumatic to get those boogers. I guess we will be here through March :)

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Auckland First Impressions

We made it to our first weekend! It has been a week of discoveries and enjoyments. Upon landing and the disinfection of our camping and hiking gear by the border authorities (they do it to everyone, we’re not particularly infected), we took a UberXL (which barely fit our 6 bags) to an Airbnb, only to find out that our host thought we were arriving the next day. Oops... Poor soul felt so bad, but we were happy to go walk around for a couple of hours while she tidied up the place. 

Uber seems, uh, uber popular in New Zealand. Apparently the mandatory background checks that forced Uber and Lyft out of Austin did not phase the kiwis.

Bill reported to work the day after we landed, right on time to attend Vesper’s Christmas party. Why wait for December when you can have a party in November! The party involved taking a ferry to Waiheke Island, drinking beer at a winery, and competing in archery and team building contests. While Bill was frolicking, yours truly walked and walked and walked around town apartment hunting for longer term lodging. 

The housing market is crazy: so hot, sellers auction their houses to the highest bidder. Everyone relies on the NZ eBay equivalent and apartments rent like hot cakes. Apartments are small and we question whether kiwis actually cook in them given the diminutive size of the kitchens and the conspicuous absence of dining tables. Maybe because the local food scene, while expensive, is outstanding?

Auckland feels like a city bursting at the seams with construction everywhere and snarly traffic. We had no intention of buying a vehicle, but it has been made clear to us that a car will be a necessity as Auckland is spread out and public transportation is not keeping up with the growing population. Cars have right of way over pedestrians. Jaywalking is not legal and not common, no wonder why! Crossing the road is a bit scary, especially as we get used to looking right first, then left, then right again. To add to the confusion, at first take it looks like no one is driving around here since the driver is in the right seat where we expect the passenger to be. Having to actually think about this makes us a little uneasy and we do silly things like walking into each other when one looks left while the other looks right. Geesh.

It has been raining quite a bit, and raining funny with sheets of water coming down out of nowhere but folks seem to just deal with it, momentarily dunking under an arcade for the short duration. It always blows over in short order and on we go. Similar to Boulder, Auckland’s sun is strong but the kiwi sunscreen label makes it abundantly clear that this is serious business down here under the ozone hole.

We are learning kiwi vocabulary along the way. Here you:
  • Flick an email (send)
  • Use a footpath (sidewalk)
  • Press the hash key (#)
  • Reply to “thank you” with “no worries
  • Order a short black (espresso) or a long black (americano)
  • List whiteware (kitchen appliances) on apartment rentals
  • Park your car at the carpark (parking)
  • Get paid fortnightly (every 2 weeks)
Although there is a strong Asian flair to Auckland (39% are native kiwis, with a large majority of immigrants from China, and the Philippines), I have been surprised by the French presence, from bakeries to restaurants to the way women dress in the CBD (City Business District, aka downtown). It has made the transition so unexpectedly enjoyable.  Food-wise, we are finding pretty much the same items as in the US, some reasonably priced and others less so. We’ll pass on pancakes as maple syrup costs NZ$20 a small bottle, and we’ll do without grapes at NZ$9 a bag. We ventured to bake lemon fish, which is really lemon shark. It was yummy.

We are getting up early tomorrow to watch the All Blacks- Ireland rugby game so Bill does not look too ignorant at work Monday :) Neither of us can get excited about cricket, although it is fun to see the parks filled with players.

While Bill is at work, I spend my days walking around visiting apartments and meeting prospective employers. By next weekend, we should have selected our longer term housing arrangement, my new employer, and maybe be lucky enough to secure tickets to Adele’s first ever and only NZ concert

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! No holiday for us here!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Time to Skedaddle...

Time has come to leave the US. Talk about timing, huh? The election results make it both easier and harder. Easier as we feel lucky to be able to escape the aftermath of this historic election, and avoid drowning in the surge of US applications to NZ. Harder because we leave behind friends and family who will deal with the aftermath.  When we visited New Zealand last year, right after the Paris massacre, we got so much sympathy from kiwis. This time, I am not sure if we’ll get sympathy or plain WTF looks.

Bill and I were prepared to travel separately, should the US citizenship process keep me in Denver longer than expected but I received notice to show up for fingerprints the day before Bill’s flight so we are getting outta here together on Armistice Day. Everything fits in two checked bags and two carryons, including camping and hiking gear, which have been properly cleaned to pass the “sediment” inspection upon landing in Auckland. 

We’ll spend the weekend in California to hug our daughter Shelby and son-in-law David goodbye, and pet their newly adopted dog Lucy.  

We’ll be staying in an Airbnb for the first 2 weeks with a mission to locate a more permanent apartment by Dec 1 so we can settle rather earlier than later. 

Bill migrated his phone to Google Fi, the new wireless service from Google, to keep his current number, while I’ll do the usual SIM card swapping, picking up a NZ phone number along the way. 

Let the kiwi blogging start!