Sunday, June 4, 2017

Winter is Coming! (Christchurch and Akaroa)



Before the winter kicked off (officially 1 June, as they say), we made one last trip to the South Island, which we learned has fewer inhabitants than Auckland alone. No wonder Auckland is bursting at the seams. We heard Christchurch was not worth visiting due to earthquake rebuilding progress - or lack thereof. Such statements always perk our interest. Our last experience in Dunedin was so good for a city ‘not worth visiting’ that we thought we’ll give Christchurch a fair chance. It did not hurt that it is only a 90 min drive from the most French region of NZ. Ok, I kinda admit it, Christchurch was a bit of an excuse...

You may recall that Christchurch experienced a devastating earthquake about 6 years ago. The whole downtown was shaken during work hours and 185 people lost their lives that day. A memorial made of 185 white chairs is a poignant reminder of the impact on the city. 
The 185 white chair Memorial
Walking the city was a sad experience seeing buildings still in need of major repairs and demolition. When we stopped by the main cathedral, a local (and earthquake survivor) was eager to share his experience and told us the current struggle the city is facing to decide what to do with the cathedral rebuild/replacement. Not long after the earthquake, they stood up the ‘cardboard cathedral’ as a temporary replacement, but the reconstruction of the original is at a standstill because the current bishop (a Canadian woman) wants to raze the original cathedral to rebuild a new one while the local kiwis want a restoration. It's a bit amazing to us that the decision would be not be an easy one to conserve the NZ history. Sometimes we feel NZ allows way more external input than they should. Did you know for instance that while we don't even have a permanent resident status we can vote?
The Main Cathedral still awaiting its fate
The rain was getting old in the city so we jumped on a tram (something like the SF street cars) to do a city tour hoping to learn more about the rebuild progress. Instead the woman tram driver pointed out all the new shopping malls sprawling as part of the rebuild. One of those malls is made of containers which happened to be a creative way to carry on with business after the event. If you think about it most of what comes to the country comes in huge container ships, so reusing those "boxes" makes sense. Some bank branches are still operating in containers. While we were hoping the tram tour would be more educational, we pondered if this was not the attitude locals had to adopt to deal with such ordeal. Many people have chosen to relocate north after the devastation. 
ASB bank container office
Artists were called on to help bring some joy back to the city and the street art they created was reminiscent of Dunedin's. We are hopeful Christchurch will become the most modern city in NZ, as it was pointed out to us by one of our recent hiking buddies. What they are rebuilding is modern, but it is just taking a whole lot longer than one would hope.
Street art in Christchurch
After a day in Christchurch we drove to Akaroa, the main town in the volcanic Banks Peninsula close to Christchurch. The peninsula is basically a big (really big) volcano crater with finger bays all around it. Quite a site from the air. I have been wanting to go there since we arrived in NZ as the French influence is apparently the strongest there. Akaroa has only 600 year-around residents yet it has 3,000 (yes three zeros) houses, most of them owned by Christchurch inhabitants. 

French bakery in Akaroa
The tourist season in Canterbury ends at Easter, but we decided to take a chance with the weather.to avoid the crowds, and crowds there were none. While the weather did not cooperate much, with heavy fog robbing us of what we read are spectacular views, we enjoyed muddy hiking in drizzling rain and soaked socks, followed by superb food for such a small place. 

Onewa hike (credit to the awesome Frenzy NZ guide)
What made up for the poor weather was access to the America’s Cup broadcast in our little La Rochelle’s motel room. In Auckland we only have the basic cable channel our landlords grant us so we have been keeping up via post-races online news reports which was less than satisfying. Having early morning live access from our hotel room meant we could deal with any weather after that. We expected a lot more excitement from kiwis about the Cup, but the lack of accessible covfefe (new word for ‘coverage’, we hear) has made the event barely an event here. Very sad.

Let's just hope the US stays true to this treaty
On our way back to Christchurch to catch our flight we stopped by the International Antartica Centre. Christchurch is known as the gateway to Antarctica, providing 5hr flights to the Scott Base for several nations, including the US. This is the location of the United States Antarctic program funded by the National Science Foundation. We got up close and personal with our favorite blue penguins as the Centre has a rehabilitation unit for those poor birds who could not survive in the wild. We got a bit more educated along the way; did you know Antarctica is the tallest continent (the Arctic is only floating ice) and that you only find polar bears in the Arctic and penguins in Antarctica, while seals are found in both?  Now that we exhausted our South Island options for the coming winter months (we are here to stay warm), the "should we buy a car while we are here" topic is coming back on the table with a vengeance. With the weather becoming finicky (and damp) in the winter, visiting the North Island will become our focus. Stay tuned....


Friday, May 12, 2017

Abel Tasman, Citizenship and 6 month Retrospective


Seal pups
It has been 6 months since we left Boulder. Bill has been clear as NZ beach water that we will retrospect at 3 months, 6 months, 1 year and 2 years, celebrating every milestone along the way and being intentional at deciding what’s next. The outcome of our 6 month retrospective is to stay another 6 months to see what this NZ winter is about. Everyone seems to be dreading it so we want to experience the misery.
Abel Tasman National Park
We celebrated this milestone with a trip to Abel Tasman National Park and Golden Bay on the most northern part of the south island. We booked a trip through an established touring company (they sure know how to organize trips - awesome!) and enjoyed kayaking and tramping (hiking) with 2 other kiwi couples and their 26 year old feisty independent daughter (she made us miss Shelby!). It was a real treat to share the adventure with kiwis instead of tourists. We absolutely love the northern end of the South island: sunny microclimate and all kinds of fun activities - biking, tramping, kayaking, wildlife, scenery, wineries, cute towns.


Abel Tasman National Park

Housing-wise, after considering a more private place, we decided to stay put in our little dwelling. The rental market is so crazy and our landlords are taking good care of us, pitying me when I was laying our bed sheets to dry on the outside drying rack that they are replacing our washing machine with a washer/dryer so we can ‘survive’ the winter damp.

In order for a froggy with a green card (yours truly) to stay in NZ longer than 180 days at a time (says the US government), I had to complete my US citizenship application in Denver this month. I was sworn in on Shelby’s birthday (so I’ll never forget the date), 30 years after arriving in the States. Ironically it just had not been a priority until we decided to stay out of the US for longer than 180 days (6 months). No, it does not mean I will start eating hot dogs and drink cheap beer, thank you very much, and for the record I am franco-american. The certificate of naturalization is a bit presumptuous at listing France as my “former” citizenship, like I would drop my French roots. Phfffft. I think I butchered the anthem but with the other 38 people from 21 countries singing along, don’t think anyone noticed. Work in progress. The best part of the naturalization ceremony was President Obama welcoming me (on video) as a US citizen. Thank goodness the new administration had not yet recording the new one yet. The icing on that cake for this long trip was to meet long-term friends and our kiddos, starting with Shelby in California who took me on a whirl of house showing as she and hubby David are looking into buying a house. Then spending time with Spencer buying tools at McGuckin and hunting for winter clothes in our garage packed with our stuff and our current tenants stuff, as they opted to un-furnish our house and put all our furniture in the garage. Sigh. Being back in Boulder was great fun I must say.
US citizenship celebration with Catherine and John

Work-wise, Bill is settled at Vesper, taking on a product owner role so he is my #1 client but does not pay me squat, as usual. He does enjoy cooking for dinner so I settle for that. As for me, I continue experimenting being an agile coach. It has been and continues to be an interesting ride. I did not quite know what I was getting myself into with that one but I still have a strong sense that at this point in my career it is time to pass on my experience to others. As Bill said in the previous post, asking powerful questions (the #1 skill of a coach I hear) does not quite come naturally to me :) so I took a 5 day breakthrough life coaching class, I am reading many books and blog posts, and I keep practicing. I am now solely working with the #1 health insurance in NZ, supporting their agile adoption. They are kind to me and eager to learn about agile from catherine@agileboulot.com.

We finally signed up for a rec center membership to exercise other muscles than the legs that take us everywhere. We still don’t have a car - which shocks many people - although we still have the itch to discover what’s driving distance from Auckland. Work in progress. In the next 6 months, we hope to find creative ways for our children to come visit us. They are already in the hum of active US working life with pitiful amounts of vacation time, so it is turning out to be a bigger challenge than we’d like.

Winter is officially coming in June. It is getting chillier, and we’ve seen several late season cyclones dump their remnants on us. Downpours are actually fun to watch... from inside…

Recent learnings and fun NZ facts:

  • Many kiwis look forward to an OE (Offshore Experience): spending a year or two in England or Australia as a way to experience life off the island. As a result, the card section in bookstores has an unusually large section of “Bon Voyage” cards.
  • Tourism just surpassed dairy as the #1 export income, with China now the largest tourist population just passing Australia. As a result, more cities such as Queenstown (the Vail of NZ) are suffering the same housing shortage we see in Auckland.
  • Kiwis use the F word a lot. For some people, it’s just as common as any other words. For people (like me) who taught my kids not to use that word, it takes some getting used to.
  • NZ has produce I have never seen anywhere else - feojas, tamarillos, persimmons. They also love smashed avocados!
A year ago we started this blog to document Alizée's story and other adventures we had no idea about at the time. Although we have done very little sailing since we arrived in the city of sails, we made some progress on the kayaking part of our dreams. The Alizée story published in the June edition of Woodenboat magazine filled out hearts with pride. Hope you enjoy it too!

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'
performance!
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.