Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Doctors' visits

I've been feeling off-colour for the last month, so yesterday I forked out a whole pile of money for the doctors', but they can't find anything wrong. The doctor thinks I might have gallstones, so I have to fork out more money again soon to have an ultrasound. Sigh. Hope not, cos that would require operations. Which would not be happy.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The First Big Trip to San Jose and Beyond

We went on a trip to Ikea in East Palo Alto, to get the rest of our house stuff, on Sunday. We took the light rail (lucky Brendan gets a free pass from IBM) to San Jose, and a bus from there to Ikea. Which is huge, and I liked it. You go around the top floor in the "showroom" - basically a whole pile of made-up rooms and furniture, and in some cases whole apartments worth, right down to the cutlery and picture frames, so you can see what it looks like. Everything has a little tag and numbers - you go downstairs when you're finished and take a big flat trolley and try and weave your way through the warehouse to pick up your couch in a box, and find the pretty chairs you liked. And fight other people for the last one. (Kidding!) Then you discover there are no chairs and everything you need to make the couch is there: pillows, mattress, couch cover - but no frame. So you rush upstairs and ask the couch department when the frame will arrive, and they say six weeks. Instead, you decide to get another couch. You look longingly past the small dingy couches and at the pretty black leather ones, but remember you can't really take it home with you anyway. And get the smallest couch there is.

So today our couches and coffee table and table arrived, and Brendan and I played with the Ikea lego. They are very pretty (the couches not so much - grey-blue.) And now our house looks a bit more like a house.

Things we learned this weekend:

  1. San Jose's streets are lined with trees. Where does all the water come from to keep them all?
  2. Light rail is called "light" cos it's small and travels along the streets next to the cars with no barriers. The heavy rail is called the "CalTrain" and has two stories, kinda like Sydney's.
  3. San Jose seems full of people with hoodies. What is it with the hoodies?
  4. Pita Pit is a yummy alternative to Subway and they have feta cheese.
  5. Many many streets are named after tech people - it's as if the computer geeks designed a city. Streets like "Woz Drive" after the co-founder of Apple, and "Java Drive". Traveling around is like playing a who's who of tech companies.
  6. Station names are funny. I can see how America gets place names like "Beaver" - a sample of stops on our train included "Great America" and my favourite, "Lick Mill".
  7. Ikea is like adult lego - but you can only make one thing, and you get to keep it afterwards.
  8. If it's not in stock at Ikea, on the ground floor, then it's not in stock, no matter how many people you get to look for it.
  9. Sometimes the difference between a safe area of town and an unsafe area of town is an overbridge.
  10. Weird people travel on buses late at night.
  11. People can run faster than the light rail (or at least two kiwis can).
  12. Having no car is a PAIN.
  13. Delivery people do not have a sound knowledge of world geography.

Nominations for Top 10 Places to Get Drink, Drink Drink and Be Drunk in Wellington

Hello all, this is collecting nominations for the Top 10 Places to Get Drink, Drink Drink and Be Drunk in Wellington. We're looking for the best Bars, Clubs and Alcohol Stores in Wellington, at least for people our age. You can make as many suggestions as you like, just post a comment with:

Name of Place
Reason why it's great.

Here's a few to get you started:
  • The Shack. It's tiny, it's scungy and it exists primarily as an addendum to Bazu, but it serves the cheapest shots (made from the cheapest alcohol) in Wellington. Unlimited $3 doubles.
  • Moore Wilsons. For the small inconvenience of signing up for a Moore Wilsons student card, you can gain access to some of the best bottle prices available.
EDIT: Will leave people a couple of days to post their ideas.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Sure Catch Trout

On the way to work there is a place called "Sure Catch Trout". It is a small lake where you can pay a fee to fish for trout which have been specifically put in the lake for you to catch. I find this a little odd, since surely the whole point of fishing is that you're not sure of catching something, and your incredible manly skill saves the day. But nonetheless, it seems like a peaceful way to spend an afternoon if you enjoy that sort of thing.

Or at least it would be, if not for a couple of minor details. The reason I can see this place on the way to work, is because the lake is 10 meters from the highway. Beside the lake is a huge, coal-fired power station, and the entire thing is also surrounded by a 2m high chain-link fence. There were a couple of fishermen attempting to make the scene look rugged and idyllic. Needless to say they were failing.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

It's raining!

Today and yesterday, it rained. Big fat raindrops falling from the sky. We had just bought a bed, and had to call Duncan to come and pick us up. It would have taken a half-hour to walk home.

(Photos of our new apartment will be posted.)

It only rains a few times a year in San Jose.

The rest of the time, it's sunny.
But a haze hangs over the hills and in the light. I think it's dust and pollution. The sky was a lot nicer and clearer afterwards.

Friday, January 26, 2007

The Salad Bar Delusion

On my first day at the office my supervisor and I went down to the cafeteria for lunch. The cafeteria includes a number of smaller shops serving different kinds of food, and amongst these is a Salad Bar. Steven informed me that as he was on a diet, that was where he would be getting his lunch.

There seems to be an impression that anything you eat will be healthy and slimming provided you acquire it at a Salad Bar. In search of customers wanting to feel like they are eating healthy without having to actually deal with all that unpleasant leafiness, this salad bar exploited the Salad Bar Delusion to it's fullest potential. While there was certainly salad available at the salad bar, there was also:
  • Mini Pizzas
  • Those folded over pizzas I can't remember the name of
  • Fried, Crumbed Eggplant
  • Fried Chicken Wings
  • Deep-Fried, Crumbed Mozzarella Nuggets
Now, while I understand that all salad bars do this to some extent (I distinctly remember getting shrimp crackers at more that a few salad bars), deep fried mozzarella is evidence enough that the US is still comfortably leading the world in this regard.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

We have an apartment!

So: all about our apartment:

The day before we were due to move in, we finally got confirmation of our apartment. It's a one-bedroom one. I'm pretty excited, as it's our first 'proper' house. We moved in last night, after spending an hour signing our lives away at the leasing office.

So we went on something resembling a shopping spree at Walmart last night. After all that time NOT buying house stuff - I feel a bit sad cos I can't buy pretty stuff to ship back to NZ.
There is so much space! The kitchen is huge - we can't possibly fill all the cupboards. After our time flatting, to have a house just for us seems almost a waste. That said, we don't have much to fill it with yet.

I'm excited because the possiblity of buying a cheap piano has suddenly occured to me, as we won't be needing it after. I would love to have another piano to annoy the neighbours with. Ingrid also used to play piano, which is good. We have scarily similar backgrounds in some places.

More on Walmart later - just for you, Kat. This one was a mini-Walmart. We spent time earlier making "The Definitive List" of what we needed - but I forgot it. We bought around $800 worth of stuff, including two kitset "offices" consisting of a desk, little bookcase and what will become our bedside tables. We finally finished making one set today - I'm exhausted. I don't really want to look at the other set just yet.

And, amazingly, we only forgot two things on the entire "Definitive List".

People also looked at us really strangely in the shop because Brendan and I had four trolleys. Four! Also today when I mentioned to various people that we had bought stuff at Walmart cos we needed an entire house worth of stuff, they looked at me strangely. It was only later I realised it would be like telling someone you went to the Warehouse and how they had all this stuff there! Oops! *blush*

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The importance of Social Security numbers

No-one can do anything practically in the States without a Social Security number. It's your credit, identification and general acceptance by society all rolled into one. If you don't have one, you are automatically on the fringe.

I've been booking different utilities in preparation for moving into our apartment soon (which hasn't yet been approved by the apartment manager - we're getting slightly scared), and everyone is charging us extra-exorbitant fees and "extra" deposits because we don't have ours yet. We had to wait a while for AIPT to organise this from their end as well. And it still takes several weeks to have the number itself processed and turned into a piece of paper we can use.

Today we went to the Social Security office, got our bags checked for illegal weapons by the policeman there, took a number and sat down. Brendan got his number, along with a number of tourist recommendations by the friendly clerk. And then I discovered because of my visa type, I had to have my work permit before I can get a social security number. Which takes three months. At least. GRRRRRRR.

Send me ideas on what I should write my book on while I'm here. Three months feels like forever.

Monday, January 22, 2007

First Day of Work

I had a letter telling me to go to "600 Harry Road" at 8:45am and report to a guy named Ray. The other kiwi interns informed me that the facility was called "Almaden", and everyone goes there on their first day to get all the "HR stuff" sorted out. They assured me that Ray was very nice and that he was good at making you feel welcome, which was very heartening. Then they grinned secretively amongst themselves for a bit, which was not.

As it turned out Almaden was what I had (from Google Earth) assumed to be the Silicon Valley Lab (SVL), and arriving there made me wish it had been. The word for Almaden is "flash", but while I'd love to describe it, I can't really be bothered right now (detailed descriptions of places are Tina's job), and while I'd like to show you photos I didn't take any and now I probably can't get through security anymore. None of the SVL security cards worked at the gate and the only way we got through the first time was by telling the security guard we were dropping off a new recruit and giving the HR person's name.

Once inside things started to go wrong. Introducing myself at reception (while the car drove away) an incredibly happy woman greeted me, informed me that she had no record of the meeting I was supposed to be having, and told me that Ray usually only saw new recruits at 12:45, not 8:45.

So, in the meantime I called my supervisor, Steven, who seemed almost as astonished as I was that I'd made it. He said to take my time, that I would probably be with HR for at least a few hours anyway, and to just turn up when I could.

A few minutes later, I made a friend. His name was (something Indian I can't remember) and he was also an intern starting that day, but he had already completed an internship last year, and hence knew where he was going (which was very comforting). Luckily we didn't have to wait until 12:45 as soon enough a man almost as happy and friendly as the receptionist (although also slightly irritated at "those new people" who had sent us inaccurate letters) appeared and whisked us away to his office.

Ray's office (like the rest of Almaden) was flash. Unlike the rest of Almaden, it was also covered in pictures of Ray's children, and had 90's R'nB playing on a tiny stereo. This somewhat lessened the degree of flashness, but was (as promised) very welcoming. It was at this point that the second crisis of the day occurred. As Ray was preparing to guide us through our piles of paper, I discovered my passport and my certificate of sponsorship were both missing. Needless to say, a solid form of photo ID was both the first thing they required, and the one piece of documentation they couldn't proceed without. (It turned out that a couple of hours after I had very carefully placed the passport prominently at the front of my folder, to ensure it would be there the next day, Tina had very carefully taken it out for safe-keeping).

So a slightly less happy Ray organised for me to fax them through later that day (phew!), and told me that if I didn't there would be trouble. Filling out the forms took another hour, even with Ray kindly pointing out all the places we needed to write and sign and tick, and then finally we were finished and realised we had no way to get to the SVL, which was several miles away. In the end Duncan (who will be mentioned many times in the following posts as he has been kind enough to drive us everywhere) was called and we proceeded to SVL via the apartment (Tina was very apologetic).

SVL (which I will post photos of at some point), is a pretty big place. It houses roughly 2000 employees and would also look flash, if only this were the mid 90's. The site is layed out as two clusters of + (cross) shaped buildings at each end of a large open courtyard. A, B, C, D and E buildings are at one end, F, G and H are at the other, K is the cafeteria and J appears to have become lost somewhere, much like I did immediately upon arriving. While the + shape has the obvious advantage of maximising the amount of light and the number of corner offices, they do make navigation pretty hard, especially when some (but not all) buildings are joined together by glass walkways on some (but not other) floors, around 1/4 of the complex (maybe more) is partially underground, and all the buildings are exactly the same size and shape (except, the cafeteria and, presumably, the missing J). The different buildings are colour coded (in bright, innovation-inspiring colours), but this is less helpful that one might think. G, H and F buildings, for example are coloured Green, Blue and Greeny-Blue. Not exactly maximizing recognition there...

With the help of my fellow intern guide (whose name I still don't remember), I found my way to Security (where I was issued a badge/swipecard with my name and photo on it), and eventually to a "print room" where I was able to fax off my ID. Then we got a coffee and I went to find my boss. Finding his office proved quite difficult, partly for reasons I've already mentioned, and partly because his door was covered in so much paper that I twice mistook it for a noticeboard until I noticed the handle. Steven (who was just as friendly in person and assures me people just post things on his door without his knowledge) was very keen to know all about my trip and travel arrangements, and to talk about all the exciting things that were going on with the Collaboration Portal, the project I would be working on.

Around 1:30pm, my PC was due to be delivered and set up in my office, so we went to find it. My office mate Lucy is very nice and very quiet (which I'm told describes many of the people in SVL, although none of the ones I'd met so far, who were all very nice but could not possibly be described as quiet). However my "corner office with a view" turned out not to be as Lucy keeps all the blinds pulled down, presumably to keep the glare down.

My PC was surprising. I was presented with a very nice, new laptop, but soon discovered that if you wanted to use an external mouse, keyboard and screen (as most people do), you have to go find these on your own. "Finding" them involves a trip to the PC Store (which is a store in the sense of somewhere you store things, rather than somewhere you buy them), where an incredible amount of ancient computer gear is distributed to anyone foolish enough to ask for it. I asked for two screens (no-one really uses dual-screen here, but I wasn't going to give that up), and they were brought out to me on a cart, which was just as well because they were 15-year-old 20-inch CRT's which weighed about 30KG each. After delivering them to my office, I came back 10 minutes later to get power cords, which apparently no-one thought to include. I did manage to score a reasonably new keyboard and mouse, but the fact that this seems like an achievement worries me.

And after all the carting and organizing, along with a teleconference with my manager and various other people involved in my project, it was time to head home. At around 5pm Duncan sent a message helpfully telling me to meet him "by the stairs". My last minute in my new office was spent contemplating just how many sets of stairs there are in SVL which might be "the" stairs.

This post ends the "stuff we did today" series. From now on (now that we're up to date) we'll generally be posting shorter, more specific stuff.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

First Impressions of San Jose

Duncan, one of the Vic students already over here, kindly agreed to pick us up from the airport. This was a very good thing as it would have taken us a considerable amount of time to find our "way to San Jose", let alone the issue of 40kg of luggage. Each.

On the way to the apartment, we saw just how easy it is for people to "miss" San Jose (presumably what makes it so hard to find). From San Francisco to San Jose is one continuous urban/suburban sprawl, most of which you don't even see because the freeway is walled on both sides. But at least now we both know the way to San Jose: go south of San Francisco on the 101 and keep going 'til you see the off-ramp.

San Jose, as we've experienced it so far, is mostly suburban, although it has a highway running through it, so it doesn't really seem as sleepy as, say, Levin (although Levin also has a highway running through it, it still counts as sleepy because it's full of old people). The apartment complex is pretty flash and pretty damn big. Unlike the apartments we imagined, Santa Palmia is quite spread out and none of the buildings are more than 4 floors. It has a great big fountain outside the central entrance, a pool, spa and gym in each of the three main subdivisions, and around 20 buildings total, each with 15 apartments of varying sizes. The whole thing is styled in a very Mediterranean theme. Will post photos when we get our computers.

So first off we decided that we should go out in search of basic supplies, something to eat and a sense of direction. So after getting directions to the nearest block of shops, and being hastily warned only to cross the roads on pedestrian crossings (more on that another time), we sallied forth. Our first stop was a predictable one: McDonald's, which succeeded in its mission to always be the closest source of nutrients (for some description of nutrients) to any given location. Also we thought it would be slightly treasonous for our first meal in the US not to be takeaways. The meals tasted like they always do, the drink was slightly larger than an NZ size, and the service was the same with the exception that we were given order-number tickets. The only hint that we were indeed in America came when I ordered us two Double Deluxe Quarter Pounders (or something like that), one of which was a combo, and the server then looked earnestly at Christina waiting to hear what her order was. Evidently ordering two huge burgers for one person is quite standard now that they've taken away the Super Sized meals.

Having dispensed with that tradition, our next stop was a store called "Rite Aid", which was essentially a diary expanded to roughly twice the size of New World Metro. Despite being this large, it didn't appear sell much more than a standard dairy, it just sold more of it. More on our adventures with Rite Aid later, but we left the store with two packets of noodles (which were to be our dinner), a gallon of milk, and some cereal named Smart Start, which we foolishly assumed to be reasonably healthy because it slathered itself in vitamin-sounding things.

We also paid a visit to Radio Shack (which was like a smaller Dick Smiths, complete with a staff of two geeky 20-year-old guys who appeared visibly exited by the presence of a girl in the store). In the end we picked up two plug adaptors, mostly to ensure we wouldn't be without our own geeky toys for too long.

And that was, more or less, it. An extremely kind Duncan cooked dinner for us (note to Blaise: Duncan is a member of the evil forces of vegetarianism, but we escaped unscathed and satisfied), we organised bedding (one couch, one pillow, one mattress, two sleeping bags, you work out the possibilities), read for a few hours while desperately trying to stay awake long enough to go to sleep at the "correct" time and stave off jetlag, and then got some well-deserved sleep.

Long Hauling

Our transfer at Auckland was only one hour long, so although we reached the security check-in with time to spare, we were a little nervous. Unfortunately, all the rushing, combined with the (unexpected) requirement for alcohol to be purchased 90 minutes before a flight to the US, meant that not only did we not get any 42 Below to onsell at exorbitant prices, Tina also missed out on perfume. Tina was very disappointed on both counts.

The security check-in was actually less of a drama than we expected, it was more-or-less the same as domestic and Australian security, but with the added usage of one incredibly sensitive metal-detector paddle. To give you an idea of just how sensitive it was, it beeped when passing over the rivets in my jeans.

San Francisco was the longest flight either of us had been on, so we were enthralled with the size and features of the plane, but mostly we were happy we had got a free seat beside us so that we could have both the window and the aisle. Upon sitting down we immediately noticed the LCD screens set into the back of the seats in front of us. It took a little longer to realise that the buttons provided on the side of the seat, actually came right of the seat and became a remote control. More on that later.

The first thing we saw on our little screens was a 10-minute advertisement for Business Premium, Air New Zealand's first-class service. Actually, it was the safety video, but the frequent shots of suit-clad passengers with expensive laptops, enjoying their several feet of leg-room complete with power-plugs, Internet access, a fold-out screen, a fully-reclining seat you could lie down on, and an ottoman to put your feet on, soon had me blatantly ignoring my own personal safety and daydreaming instead. When you fly coach, space is a sweet and frequent daydream.

Both of us found the remote controls very entertaining. Quite aside from controlling the onscreen entertainment (a selection of movies, TV, games and music), it could be flipped over to reveal a (presumably very expensive) telephone, or turned on its side to become a game-pad (the four colourful buttons and the side-triggers had me anticipating all sorts of gaming wonders, but unfortunately the selection was entirely made up of very simple kids games (I'm not sure what this says about me)). Lastly, along the edge was a small credit-card reader. While we later discovered this was used to pay for the telephone, we found our initial conclusion (that there was indeed pay-per-view porn available on the flight) much more entertaining.

After the obligatory movie, and a quick look at the terrible selection of games (the first airline to bring out in-flight multi-player console gaming for long-haul flights will have my undying loyalty), we each settled down to the difficult business of sleeping. Sleeping on planes is something that some people seem to do very well, and everyone else seems to suffer. Here are our scores for the night:

Tina: 1 hour
Brendan: 20 minutes... maybe, but I might have just been dozing.

Not particularly impressive numbers all round. At around 8am California time (5am NZ time) we gave up and I watched a stand-up comedy routine while Tina took photos out the window (we were told off for letting all the sunlight in and waking everyone up, so Tina resumed with a blanket covering her head and the window).

After that, it was only a few hours wait before we were approaching San Francisco. It was very odd seeing all the places we had already viewed from Google Earth from a much closer perspective. Luckily for us it was a very nice day, which made for some beautiful photos, although the brightly colour desalination pools (salt-drying) turned out to be a lot less colourful in real life. What looked like fluro green an orange on the satellite, turned out to merely be slightly different shades of brown. Perhaps we caught it at the wrong time?

US immigration was fairly straightforward. Tina cunningly managed to come up with the answer to the official's one and only question: "What is your partner's name?", and then we were home free (or away free). Customs was even simpler, they just asked if we had anything to declare, asked a couple of questions about food and medication, and then waved us through. Our bags didn't even get scanned!

Much to our relief, we managed to find Duncan in the airport lobby. It occurred to us that he had no idea what we looked like, and vice versa. Luckily for us, kiwis are somehow easy to spot...

And now, here's Tina to tell you about pretty things we saw from the plane (I only mock slightly, the sunrise was actually amazing), and a few other bits and pieces I'm not sure of...


Distance crossed: 10,676 km
Flight Time: 11 hours 45 minutes
Highest altitude: 11887m
Lowest exterior temperature: -65 degrees C

The sunset leaving Auckland Airport was really lovely. It was a narrow rainbow band along the edge of the horizon, and the colours reflected onto the clouds and from the wing of the airplane like a trout's fin. As we crossed the Bay of Islands, the colours became banded, interspersed with dark lines, and finally the wing reflected red and purple. Gorgeous.

Around 5am NZ time, I woke up to Brendan shaking my shoulder and whispering, "Tina, look at this." He pulled up the little blind in front of the window
and I was blinded for a moment as it revealed a tropical sunrise - the horizon was a band of bright orange, and the sun peeked out of the corner. On the window, the frost crystals glittered and sparkled. I jumped up and grabbed the camera out of the overhead locker, and took a few pictures. Then we were told off.

Once we were officially allowed to open the blinds, the sun was hot against my skin and on the window pane, but the temperature outside registered a steady -64 degrees C on top of the world.

Next time, though, I will heed my colleague Calum's advice and bring earplugs. It would have at least given me more sleep. Behind me, a family of 5 little children screamed and the one behind kicked my seat for the last two hours of the plane (I thought there were only going to be two somehow making that much noise; but oh, I was mistaken. Why do kids scream for no reason?). The only thing stopping me from turning around was that their mum also sat in the middle seat, and smiled thinly at me every time I turned around, well aware of the reason. Maybe that was why we managed to have our extra seat - no-one wants to sit next to screaming toddlers!

Also, on a strange note, I do wonder what happens if you are morbidly obese and have to use the bathrooms on the plane. Even I had trouble squeezing into the tiny narrow gallery where the toilets were on each side, through the tiny wee door and into the tiny bathroom.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Pre-Flight Entertainment

All about the lead up to leaving from Auckland:

Final packing has been a blur of cardboard, bits of paper and random stuff on the floor (e.g. popcorn kernels!), cleaning, and trying to pack stuff in suitcases and play 'guess the weight'. Jane was surprised when she came over on Sunday and lent us her scales - we weren't panicking. Mostly I think this was because we have been packing pretty solidly for the last week or so, and we had a (Brendan's) Mummy to take boxes away as we generated them and help with other assorted things. Very much appreciated.

Pictures of the now spotless study and bedroom will be posted when we get our own computers back, hopefully by the end of this week.

We couldn't fit all the people and all 4 large bags which had accumulated during the final two days into one car, so Geoff kindly offered to take his car as well. Ida and Jonny went with him, and took our camera. Dangerous. The first part of the trip was punctuated by Ida dangling an expensive camera out of the window and taking photos of our horrified faces looking back at her. And ignoring our texts to "be careful!"

Then we overtook them. I watched Ida's face behind us. It was on. A car race to the airport. Phone cameras and digital cameras alike were brandished like weapons of war. Both sides pulled ahead, then gained and lost, gained and lost - it was so close. Who would win? But suddenly, oh no! Geoff's speed dropped and he was lost behind a cafe tractor and a Subaru Legacy. He couldn't regain his momentum. At the critical moment he was tailgated by a van, then passed by a motorbike. The Mummy won with a clear victory lap around the airport car park.

We've booked aisle seats for the flight to San Fran, still hoping to get a free window seat (but still unsure if it will happen)...

Waiting in the airport. And waiting. Suddenly we looked around - where was Geoff? Not too far away: he had assumed the cricket-watching stance classic to all men. Several others joined him, registering similar reactions as the game progressed. Finally, a whole line of men were watching the screen gods... and swiftly dispersed. Only Geoff was left, in the front of the line, still watching the cricket.

Then, again: where was Geoff? A quick glance at the cricket area indicated he wasn't there. He reappeared from out of nowhere and thrust something into each of our arms, gruffly -"Here". It was a girly magazine for me and a computer magazine for Brendan, his gift for us to read on the flight. The girl at the counter apparently thought he was buying it as porn, because the girly one was hidden under the other.

"This is the last call for passengers for flight NZXXX... "we were being called! We grabbed our stuff and rushed to the security checkpoint, hurriedly shoved our jackets and bags into the little trays and into the x-ray machine and tried to grab as many people as possible to hug while the security people looked on disapprovingly.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Sparse Posting for a few days...

Well, our computers are getting packed up and sent away today, and the internet gets cut off tomorrow, so our posts may be a bit limited for a while.

We're now in the final stages of packing. The bulk of the smaller, boxable items have gone and what remains are primarily large items (bed, desks, computers) which are being picked up today. Sad as we are to finally give up our computers, they are being taken to the freight company at some point before 5pm today.

Other than that, we have:
  • Clothes to wash and pack
  • Generic bedroom stuff to pack
  • A few bits and pieces in the kitchen
  • Bedroom cleaning
  • Whatever other cleaning we end up doing
So, unless I decide to post a quick update tomorrow, the next post you get will be from America :)

Cheers to all the people who have been helping us out with packing and organising of late, and to all the people who have gone out of their way to come say farewell over the past few days (even if we often have no time to see them!). Also, special thanks to mum for making so many trips to come and take all our crap away to storage, and to dad for providing the trailer for the big stuff going tonight.


Recently, people have been saying to me, "How exciting that you're moving!" My response has always been, "No, it's scary!" I thought about this for a while, and thought it probably reflected something about my mental state at the moment. Then someone at work pointed out that it was exciting and not stressful in their minds because they didn't have to organise it!

I am so tired right now. And not really functioning. So is Brendan. Haven't been for days. Last night we had our flat reunion at a new Vietnamese restaurant recommended by Snow - Gallery Deli (very nice and reasonably priced). But when we got home, due to both of us having limited sleep recently, I was just too tired to do much. There is so much to do, although we're slowly getting on top of it, we need more time and I'm really worried we won't finish it all.

I've been trying to figure out what to do with my huge, hulking great computer desk. It really needs 6 normal people or two heavy-lifting muscle guys to lift it, it's almost solid wood. Or at least, we needed 6 normal people to get it into our flat, Brendan and I coudl only carry it in about 10cm-bursts. So I rang the Salvation Army to pick it up. They refused to take it until next Wednesday. Refused to carry it out of the house, since it needed extra people. Refused to pick it up if it was on the street for a few days. When I pointed out that I had bought it from that shop a year ago, and therefore if they had been willing to pick it up from someone else's house a year ago it must have been OK, the man reluctantly agreed to pick it up. Maybe. If I managed to get my hostel to help me sort it out. They knew all about my hostel. I guess they get lots of business there.

Geoff's friend saved me all this bother. He walked into the study yesterday as Geoff was showing him Brendan's screen, saw my desk and told Geoff he wanted it as he had been looking for one like that for ages. He's even willing to come pick it up. Porblem solved.

Last day at work today.

Brendan's Dad comes tonight to move all our heavy/ large stuff. Need to send our computers by 5pm today. Brendan is very sad cos he can't take his speakers, they would cost too much to ship.

5 DAY FORECAST - San Jose - all sunny and getting warmer!
Thursday 57°F (14°C) 35°F (2°C)
Friday 61°F (16°C) 39°F (4°C)
Saturday 58°F (14°C) 40°F (4°C)
Sunday 63°F (17°C) 40°F (4°C)
Monday 63°F (17°C) 39°F (4°C)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

the couch has appeared

Two days ago, we also found the couch. Mealz didn't believe me when I saw her today - her mouth made an 'O' and she said, "Really?" a few times. The office looks pretty bare. I will post the photos, I just can't work out how to do it yet.

Brendan was officially awarded his first-class honours last night. I don't htink I'll find out if I have Distinction in my diploma or not until I actually apply to graduate.

Lingzi came round last night with Leo and bought Hells pizza - yay! I felt bad though cos Brendan's mum arrived at 10pm and we hadn't done any packing, so we ended up sending her off at 1am with half a car-load, and she drove all the way from Levin and she brought champagne and yummy things to eat.

We've spent quite a lot of time and money (on phone calls) looking for a house in the States. Brendan has rung quite a few apartment blocks to find out if they have rooms available, and they don't. The only ones we've found so far which have free apartments are The other interns live here, and they recommended them. It's very flash, though, and kinda expensive for our budget, and I just want a simple furnished apartment which doesn't cost too much so we can save a bit of money. The other interns all flat together, so it's not expensive for them. I think it's better to wait until we're there and can make a better judgement.

It doesn't feel very real, though. I'm counting the sleeps, but it isn't working. It doesn't really seem to get closer, except on a conceptual level. Though I doubt that is working either. I'm very tired.

Sunday looks like a really warm day in San Jose - high of 16 degrees C and a low of 4, compared to the recent highs of 8 and 12 degrees C. America is currently experiencing a huge ice storm whicfh is doing lots of damage, and it's killed most of the fruit crops in California - something like 70 or 80 percent. Which means fruit and vegies will be much more expensive the whole time we are there. :(

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Our visas are here!

Finally, our visas have arrived. And they are pretty colours. Brendan's first comment was, "I look like a criminal [in my photo]!" I think my passport one's worse, I like the one on my visa much more. I don't look "angry", to quote Geoff. Brendan's has an envelope from the consulate stapled into it, saying, "TO BE OPENED BY IMMIGRATION OFFICER AT PORT OF ENRY". Scary! Wonder what it says? Probably just Brendan's certificate of sponsorship. I doubt they would give us a visa if they thought we were bad people, everything is so tightly controlled. I thought we'd given them to the consulate, but he almost had kittens when he disovered he couldn't find them, poor thing.

It suddenly hit me this morning that we were leaving in just under a week! (Probably along with the realisation of how much work I still had to do - it grew exponentially today.) I was so excited!! (More than slightly scared, too, but mostly excited.) I wanted to bounce, but people were watching. Wish Mealz was here - she'd bounce with me.

Saturday went well. (We have great friends. Even if I give some of them three hours' notice.) And it was fun to write our names in the dark with sparklers. Many many many spirit bottles sit in the recycling... Two people who shall remain nameless stayed up to 6am with us and drank the rest of the tequila with coke almost all by themselves... well done. And thank you everyone for drinking up all our acohol for us. we didn't want to waste it on Geoff - sorry Geoff but you know you mostly drink beer. But at least you don't drink Ranfurly.) Must remember lemon sorbet, lemonade and feijoa vodka is very nice... and Fia, don't worry about the bathroom at all. Honestly.

Brendan's looking at Google Earth at the place we're going (and the apartment block we want to live in). There's a gym and a library and lots of food shops opposite. We are going to have to work very very hard not to get fat. And it's right next to the motorway, which probably explains why it's cheaper. When we said we wanted to go there, the guys from Vic at San Jose thought it was a very flash place, and that the price we would be paying was cheap.

San Jose currently has a high of around 9 degrees C, is partially sunny, and has a low tomorrow morning of -2 degrees C. Yucky.

Mad at American Express (Tickets Update)

Purchasing the tickets has been a small nightmare.

Firstly, we booked through Travelocity ( as their price was about $300 cheaper than booking directly through Air New Zealand. Everything appeared to go smoothly, but then an email arrived which said the ticket would only be processed if I called them (in the US) to provide some "additional information". As it turned out, it was actually nothing to do with me, Air New Zealand simply didn't provide electronic tickets to them for some reason. To their credit, Travelocity offered to waive the charge for printed tickets and send them to me, but the 7-14 day delivery period didn't really suit for a flight leaving in 7 days. Not to their credit, they still appear to have charged me the $20 booking fee.

So we cancelled the booking with Travelocity, and went direct to Air New Zealand. This is when the credit card troubles started. After paying for the trips to Aussie, I didn't have quite enough credit to pay for the tickets to the US, so a few days ago I had put some cash on the card just to ensure I would have enough credit for the tickets. BUT NO, apparently (at least with American Express) you can't pay off your balance ahead of time, only when you are billed at the end of the month. So although I have more than enough credit on the card, only a small portion is available to me until I get billed in a few days time. I've received mixed messages about whether this is the same all credit cards. Ida for one thinks it's pretty much standard, while James from work says his credit limit is too small and he does it a couple of times a month with no problems.

The problem was compounded by the fact that the Air New Zealand website will never tell you your card was declined. It will tell you there was a "Temporary problem processing credit card details". I assumed there was a problem with the website (because I "knew" I had enough credit), so I called tech support (as the error advised me to do). So after the tech support guy also tried it several times (and also didn't know if it was declining or whether there was a bigger problem), I was eventually transferred to telephone sales to see if it would work on their system. It didn't, and it wasn't until out of desperation the operator called American Express to manually put the payment through that we finally worked out the card was declining.

I called American Express, and they explained the situation but couldn't do anything until Monday when the Credit Team was back on duty. Long story short, I called the Credit Team this morning, and although they refused to do anything about it they did take the time to admonish me for trying to put the transaction through seven times, and to query me on my suspicious change in spending habits.

So despite the fact there was money in the account, I put the fares on Dad's card, and we didn't get any reward points, and Amex didn't get their $120 commission. Works out all round really.

But at least the tickets are booked now, which is a big relief and very exciting :) We are flying out 6pm Sunday 21st Jan, Wellington to Auckland to San Francisco, arriving at 11:15am EST, Sunday 21st. For those who like details:
  • Boeing 777
  • Aisle Seats near the window (SSS SSS TBS), and possibly a free seat by the window allowing us to move around a bit.
  • Tina is having "Asian Vegetable", I'm having "Seafood".
We also been in contact with the other Vic interns who are already in the States, and so we have a place to stay when we arrive, and someone to pick us up from the airport. I also learned that IBM gives free passes to their employees to use public transport throughout the bay area. Yay!

So now, back to packing... We have now not only found the floor, but have also found the couch! The first load went in mum's car last night. Time to start filling the hallway with boxes again.

Friday, January 12, 2007

We have found the floor!

Once upon a time, Tina and Brendan did their assignments and kept their computers in a study. In the words of their friend Duncan McCann, hot contender for Mr. Mount Maunganui (aka "The Hairy Beast" -, on the study floor was "paper, and more paper, and more paper, and then chairs!"

But last night, that all changed. In the space of four short hours, intrepid explorers Tina and Brendan found the floor. It was still the same non-descript brown, designed to cover all manner of stains of dubious origin, although it couldn't hide the bubblegum on the floor of the bedroom left by the previous occupants, which Tina routinely stepped in by accident while trying to get dressed in the morning - yuck. Blaise was called in to inspect the floor which had magically appeared, however he deemed it needed "a pick-up, and then a vacuum" and thus was not entirely clean. Military intelligence (and couch-lifting) indicated the existence of more paper underneath the couch, in far greater quantities than previously supposed. This vast amount of paper would prove to be too much for the intrepid explorers, who at the early hour of 12.30 decided to retire, leaving it for the next day.

In other news, today tickets were bought from NZ to San Francisco (and credit card companies were very happy, while Tina and Brendan bank accounts were not). Once again leaving Wellington at the awful hour of 6.40am next Sunday, we will fly to Auckland and spend 10 hours there before the big flight - over the entire Pacific ocean. We will arrive in San Francisco 4 hours earlier than when we left Auckland, strangely enough.

Leaving San Francisco at 9pm on the 9th April, we will arrive in NZ at the lovely hour of 5.15am, 11th April, thereby gaining two days at once and suffering intense jetlag.

Our visas still haven't shown up, though I am assured by the courier company that they are en route and will arrive Monday.

EDIT: Flight time is now 6:00pm Sunday, rather than 6:40am Sunday. Yay!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Visas at last - an Auckland tale

What Brendan didn't say is that after going to bed at 12, we dozed until 5am, when we got up to catch our flight. As we stumbled bleary-eyed around, Geoff came home from a night on the town and was surprised to find us still awke. He also fed us still-warm chips from Well-come takeaways, his favourite fish'n'chip shop (not least for the funny name), which was much appreciated.

I love looking out of the window in planes, we went past New Plymouth and the mountain looked lovely still all covered in a bit of snow, with a perfect circle of green. And I saw whales in the water, they were jumping. Very cool.

The consulate was a bit scary, but I can understand them wanting to be a bit careful. I still can't work out what I was wearing that set off the metal detector! Must have been my watch. Though the wait times that other people described were minimal for us. In fact when we arrived at 9.30, (for our 10.30 appointment), there was no-one there! Someone else arrived just after us with an 11am appointment...

I had a sudden thought we hadn't asked for a multiple-entry visa, and wouldn't be allowed to come home for the wedding! Luckily I think they are automatically granted now. We got back to the airport just in time for our plane back - we agonised over whether to change our flights in case we missed our flight, for ages.

And we got Dunkin Donuts for Ida. I'm hiding them from my workmates... I think they suspect... 'What's in the present?" Sorry guys!

Visa Applications Accepted

Well, after a very early morning trip to Auckland, we now have our visas completed. We should receive them in th email tomorrow. Nice to get that finally taken care of!!

Now all we have to do is pack the house :(

Monday, January 08, 2007

Visa Appointments

Well, we have an appointment booked to get our visas at 10:30am on Thursday. Lots of forms to fill out and paper to take.

Another Geoff Adventure

When we arrived home from Oz, one of the first things I noticed was that my computer was on. Not only that, someone had changed the background on my desktop, to a slightly blurry photo of a police car. We assumed Geoff was home, and thought nothing further of it. Until we looked closer and realized that sitting in the front seat was a slightly blurry and unhappy looking Geoff.

From Geoffs Crash

Last night we found out the story. A couple of nights before, at the same place the photo was taken, there had been a very dramatic crash involving a milk truck and three houses ( This is what Geoff saw as he drove past:

From Geoffs Crash

And he was so distracted by wondering what the hell happened, that he rear-ended the care in front of him.

From Geoffs Crash

Now the police car pretty much explains itself :)

Geoff assures us that the insurance will cover it.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Monday morning blues...

Back at work, I feel very tired. We got in at around 11.30 last night, and dragged ourselves to bed at around 1.30. Ellie's boyfriend Ryan picked us up at the airport, which was good.

On Brendan's computer, we found a new background had been added. A police car. Looking closer, we saw a very grumpy Geoff sitting in the police car next to the police officer. Hmm. This has the makings of another Geoff adventure...

And, the US embassies seem determined to make everything as hard as possible to get a visa. It costs $3.50 per minute(!) to call them to make an appointment, and you can only visit between 8am and 12pm, and you can only ring during business hours (and I can't make toll calls at work, especially not one THAT big!) and within NZ. They must live in the dark ages. Surely it would be much easier to use email?!

Friday, January 05, 2007

Drunk Relatives Singing

(The night of the Wake) From the house next door (where the main party is going on) I can now hear "Yesterday" by the Beatles being sung by what sounds like every member of the Poynton family. It's so loud I honestly wondered if a second, larger, party had sprung up all of a sudden somewhere else nearby. Where did the stereo come from?!

It sounds like they're having fun ;-)

Luna Park

At the foot of the Harbour Bridge, a huge gaping mouth with teeth welcomes visitors to Luna Park. If I was a kid, I'd be scared and run away.

Luna Park is a small-ish amusement park, which apparently was opened in the 1950's, then closed, then re-opened. Ellie and I decided to share an armband for one ride, as we have similar sized wrists.

I decided to make the ferris wheel my ride, as it had a great view of Sydney from the top. When I got into the little cage (which rocked alarmingly), with two other girls, the attendant looked at the two other girls' wrists with their very loose armbands, and took them off and ripped them up. He told them they would have to go back to the entrance and bring their receipts for new armbands, as the band was void if it coudl be taken off. I pushed mine futher up my arm, and the attendant said, "See, you need a tight one like that girl's," (meaning mine). Which was not tight, as Ellie and I could both wear it. I was scared he'd pull on mine to check it.

The cage wobbled even more with just one person in it, but it was a pretty cool view from the top. Even if it didn't seem that high.

When I walked out of the ferris wheel, Brendan and Ellie immediately reached for my wrist and started pulling on the armband, Ellie loudly saying, "give it to me now!" I was like, "Shut up! He'll hear you!" and had to explain it once I was a safe distance away.

Brendan and I also had a go at the "hitting the hammer to test your strength" thing - don't know what it's called. We had a different hammer each which accounted for being male or female. But we both got the same scores - 92. Which was actually pretty good because we watched lots of other people doing it and they did around about the same scores or lower. I was scared I would miss!

Brendan was very annoyed becuase we took lots of touristy photos by the Harbour Bridge ad then he discovered I had been taking photos on the lowest resolution, 2 megapix (cellphone quality) to get more on the card.

The roller coaster was very scary. It raced forward in straight lines, turning at right angles at the last second before it seemed you would be thrown off the track. So it went something like, wheee! (jerk!) then wheee! (jerk!).

Roy was annoyed cos he had to wait an hour for us to meet him, with his suitcase. He made Brendan carry it on the way home. (Who of course, denies that he was made to carry it but instead offered.)

Tina & Brendan's Big Sydney Adventure

Thursday (4th) was more or less a free day for us. While there was a lot going on with funeral preparations, there wasn't really a lot for us to do except a) get in the way, b) lounge around and read or c) do random chores and cleaning. so we decided we might as well make use of the time and go see the "real" Sydney.

First major surprise was that an off-peak fare to Syndey and back (for "students") was only $4.50 each! I have no idea how much the non-concession fare was, but we convinced ourselves that if we were asked for our tickets we would feign ignorance and claim we thought NZ student ID's were valid.

After arriving at Wynyard station (and enjoying a meal at "Hungry Jacks", AKA Burger King), we began the surprisingly difficult task of finding our way to the waterfront. We didn't really know what we wanted to see or where we wanted to go, but we figured the Opera House would make a good start. This was the first really warm day we'd had, so even with sunscreen on we felt compelled to weave our way down the streets, ducking from tree to tree, so as to spend as little time in the sunlight as possible. Once we arrived at the Opera House we realised that there was no shade whatsoever, and that we were getting roasted, so we decided we needed hats (and I needed sunglasses). To Australia's credit, the prices in the nearby tourist shop were surprisingly reasonable. $10/20 hats and $25 sunglasses. Sydney was much more enjoyable once I knew my head was not going to turn pink (much to the amusement of our Aussie hosts).

Random tidbits from our wanderings:
  • Never realised the roof of the Opera House is made up of hand-sized white and grey tiles, arranged in a pattern.
  • The botanic garden had bats in the trees. Hundreds of them, in broad daylight. And they were they noisy enough to drown out the cars, the sea and the chatter of tourists.
  • What are those random chicken-sized birds with the long curvy beaks which walk around all over the parks? They can't be very good to eat or they would have been extinct by now.
  • Air conditioned shops are wonderful.
  • I should have worn shorts. Bloody jeans.

On behalf of Ellie we also checked out Sydney's malls. She had bought a present for her boy, hi Ryan ;-), but it had fallen out of the bottom of a plastic bag, so we were tasked with buying a replacement (which we failed at). While the malls in Sydney were substantially larger, they were also much more densely packed. You could easily get lost and wander through 3 separate malls and a couple of department stores before you found your way out. Lots of choice, but much more confusing.

At around 6 we met up for a drink with my (current) boss, who happens to be in Sydney on business. Long story short we ended up being taken to a very nice restaurant (Victoria Room) by a client and her boyfriend, all paid for on the company card. The food was an assortment of different styles, and came served in a number of small portions which were then shared amongst the table. The food was wonderful, and the wine flowed freely and I'm glad I wasn't paying for it :)

Side Note: Sydney's homeless (a contingent of which was waiting outside the restaurant) seem to be a lot more persistent than Wellington's. The "scuze me, do you have a couple of dollars..." guy from Courtenay Place had nothing on this lot.

We arrived home very late (around 1:30, hooray for the Sydney train system for still being open), and apparently had missed a long session of family bonding (primarily involving an expensive bottle of Whiskey and 2 bottles of Baileys). I'm still deciding whether I should be disappointed about that...

The funeral....

Today was the funeral. The reason for our visit. The kids and their mum and her partner went in a black stretch limo. We played a low-tech game of car-chasing as we were following Donna who was following the limo to the funeral home. No-one had any idea of where they were going, and the limo drove really fast. Our car was the second in the line, and every time we were on the motorway and another car pulled in between Donna's car ahead and our car, there was a general exasperated sigh and a yell at the offending driver. We drove through the country around what I can only assume is the Blue Mountains (complete with minature, un-signposted national parks), and around to some city called Ryde.

Twice on the way back we had a small run-in with people cutting in, once with a woman trying to merge into a narrow one-lane road, and once with a guy who cut in front of us, giving Antonia (who was driving) the facial expression equivalent of the fingers before speeding in and out of traffic just so he could be the first at the lights.

But I won't subject you to that. Instead, a funny thing that happened: on the way there, I was sitting in the back seat and looking out of the window. I noticed a large (OK, huge!) orange-pink spider about 5 cm across was crawling across the outside window next to me. It was very hairy. Then it crawled across to the next window, where Julie (Brendan's mum) was sitting. We told her to look out the window. She screamed very loudly, and she and Ellie refused to come out of the car when we arrived til Brendan, Antonia and I were very sure the spider was gone.

I think everyone was amazed at the maturity of Mark's kids - they organised the funeral ceremony themselves. The eldest, Siobhan, (who is 16; Roy is 14 and Tomlin is 10) played and sang her own composition, they all gave tributes and showed no signs of cracking almost the entire time. Dan also played a song which he had played for his mum's funeral as well, so that was very poignant. I bawled the whole time, I'm really sensitive and cry at everyone's funerals even if I don't know the person. It's embarrassing.

Afterwards, Tomlin walked up to Brendan and I, and said quietly, "The smoke has stopped. It means it's finished," referring to the cremation which proceeded the ceremony. It was said with all the finality of death - yet so abstract at the same time, as if someone who once had emotions and thoughts had become an 'it'.

The cemetry was nice. It looked like a beautifully laid-out garden, with lots of little rows adn little lawns and different styles of garden - then you noticed the little plaques dotted everywhere around it. There were so many - every tree, rosebush or shrub had several next to it, in every part of the garden. The walls outside were covered in plaques.

In a way, it was nicer than a cemetrary with tombstones - I think this one only did cremations because I saw no tombstones. Brendan wants to be cremated, but I still haven't made up my mind. I still think buried for me. But it was more like a garden than anything else, and so it wasn't as, well, obvious.

But what made me feel kind of icky was that around the walls inside the hall were what I initially thought were wrought-iron wall decorations. When I looked closer, I saw behind the wrought-iron gates were shelves with urns stacked on them, with inscriptions. Why would you decorate a funeral home with urns of actual people?

2 cars needed jumper cables after the service, ours included, since we'd forgotten the lights were left on for the trip there. Oops.

The kids were so excited that they were going in the limo back to have a party at their house, they had all invited heaps of friends all waiting to see them step out of the limo when they got back. (Donna almost ran them all over.) They got out and waved like royalty to a crowd of awestruck kids.

And I finally got to meet and talk to Dan properly, because I haven't really managed to before! And yes, he is as cool as everyone says he is. He didn't remember Cabbie though. (Sorry Cabbie). He's invited us to stay with him in Cambodia at some point, which sounds really fun. (That said, given what happened to the last person...)

As we were sitting outside, a huge bug flew around and flew into the house! Oh it was soooo huge, I will have to post a photo. It's apparently some sort of soft-shelled beetle, well it certainly looks like a beetle! It elicited many screams of horror and excitement and everyone ran over to it and pointed at the doorframe where it was, kinda funny really. Then it flew onto someone, and crawled up her leg and onto her back, she was freaking out. But it was as big across as the width of my hand. Really large. I thought it was cool.

As I write this, huge cheers and come from the other house where the rest of the family and assorted randoms are getting drunk. I already have a headache. They sound like a pack of chimpanzees who have found a tasty banana tree, although I suppose if you equate the bananas with whiskey instead, this would be more true. I suspect feats of great (drunken) ingenuity are being performed, judging by the high-pitched rise and fall of the voices and the clapping at odd intervals - ooooOOOOOOOoooooo!

Oh no, the singing's started.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

noisy birds

This morning a flock of cockatoos flew over. They're so LOUD. But I slept through the hyena kookabarras and woke to magpies instead, much nicer. Reminded me of being at my Dad's house in the Wairarapa. Everything here has sharp beaks, and they stare disconcertingly at you.

I keep hoping the weather will be hot, so we can go swimming. But it's been disappointingly cloudy every day so far. Will probably be boiling on the day of the funeral when we are all wearing our black suits though, according to Murphy's Law. The Aussies assure me we are lucky and this is a good thing. Perhaps they're right.

Noctournal Occurances

During the night, Tina managed to burn her finger while attempting to read. It's better if I don't explain ;-)

Also, we had mangos for breakfast today. Real mangos, not the crap ones you get in NZ (no offence to any NZ mango importers out there, I'm sure you try your best). Despite having been squashed and bruised in a backpack all day (during Tina and Brendan's mall adventure), they were still as wonderful as I remember them. Hopefully in the days to come we'll be able to have a non-squished one, which will actually cut properly rather than just degenerating into delicious sticky mush.

We have booked our flights back to NZ, we're departing 6:15pm Sunday, arriving in NZ at 11:25pm. Still uncertain as to how we will get back home from there, probably just the airport bus. Hopefully it runs that late.

Sheep are terrible climbers

I know this because sheep are falling from the sky on the computer I'm writing from. They appear at the top of the screen, fall rapidly to the ground, and then bounce (exactly like real sheep don't). They then frolick around at the bottom of the screen, before dying for any number of unexpected reasons (exactly like real sheep do). One time an alien appeared and took one into its spaceship, but mostly they die from eating things, bumping into other sheep, or standing completely still. Every now and then one will try to escape the deathtrap that is the taskbar, and climb up the screen to freedom. This always fails, and then the sheep dies.

I'm telling you about computer sheep mainly because I thought I should probably post something, and Tina already talked about more or less everything we've done so far... so I'll try to fill in the gaps :)

What is it about being overseas that makes you want to buy things? I'm picking that on average prices aren't that much cheaper here than in NZ, and there's not many things you could find here but not at home. I fully intended to buy pretty much nothing but food and other essentials in Aussie, but as soon as you set foot in foreign country, everyday objects such as clothes and watches become dramatically more appealing. Even simple things like buying lunch somehow seem new and exciting. The iskender I had for lunch was pretty much the same as the ones in Wellington, except it was called a "Kebab Plate", but it somehow tasted better. This is a long way of saying we spent a whole lot of money on things we could have easily bought at home, but enjoyed it much more :)

... wow, there's some sort of glitch with the sheep. Two dead sheep have somehow merged and are sort of bouncing off each other towards the top of the screen.

The flight over was much more enjoyable than I remember my last flight to Australia being. Even though this flight was much earlier (6:30am, check in 4:30am), and I hadn't slept all night, the whole thing was made much more enjoyable by about 2 extra inches of leg space. You never really appriciate just how much of a difference a little extra leg space makes until you've been on a place for a few hours. In this case it made the difference between being able to stretch my legs, and having the seat in front of me pressed into my knees. Last time I was flying Freedom Air, this time it was Air New Zealand. Thank-you Air New Zealand, from the bottom of my aching calves.

Sydney's train system was a real highlight. It's initially confusing simply because the network is huge, but the whole thing is so efficient and well organised that you can't help but be impressed. To be fair, I think Wellington's public transport system is pretty damn good, but it's a good few billion dollars away from Sydney's. The central station has around 25 platforms, and as you're rolling in you can see multiple levels of railway track built over each other. Each platform has a large plasma screen which annouces all the details of the next train (including every station it stops at, its' arrival time (which must update automatically as all the trains pull in right on time), and the names and arrival times of next two trains. And to boot, all the trains are double-decker, and have huge hydraulic doors which open automatically at each station. It makes Wellington station look like it was designed during the dark ages (which, in some cases, is pretty accurate).

One of the most obvious differences between Aussie and New Zealand is the architecture. Australia is into brick in a huge way. I'm assuming Kiwis avoid building with brick for much the same reason as people avoid playing Jenga on washing machines. The lack of earthquakes has made the average Australian neighbourhood look just different enough to remind you that you're not in NZ anymore. Naturally, one of Tina's first thoughts about this was that all the old brick factories and warehouses would make wonderful apartments. Developer in the making that one ;-)

Despite being warned of an impending roasting, the weather so far has actually been very mild. I almost want it to heat up a bit just to confirm I am actually in Australia. For Tina's sake I hope we get one piping hot day so she can see what it's like to going swimming at a beach with genuinly warm water. While I generally prefer cold weather, swimming in the late afternoon of a really hot day is certainly a major payoff for all that tiredness and sweating.

Right, now I can hear a very interesting game being playing the room next door, so i'm off to commentate ;-)

P.S. We will add some pictures once we get home and upload the photos.

P.P.S. Ida and Tara, there is still plenty of room in that suitcase, but if you predicted that Tina would buy a sh*tload of clothes, congratulations.

Giant shopping malls... and bugs

Well, the second time I stepped outside yesterday I got bitten by something. Now everywhere I walk outside I watch the ground carefully to check if it moves.

We didn't sleep at all on New Years' Eve so the 6.30am flight was a bit tired-ness inducing. But the next day was OK. The flight even made it there early. Gorgeous views of the entire of Sydney from the plane. It's kinda weird being in another country, because it feels only subtly different. But it smells slightly different, and it's lovely and warm. Cloudy and slightly breezy. I hope it's hot tomorrow.

But setting up cellphones has been a nightmare. After ringing Vodafone NZ internationally (luckily a nice Vodafone promotional person at the airport was giving out free international calls to publicise a new phone - we took advantage of the offer!) they told us the roaming network was totally overloaded internationally (i.e. thanks text-happy people in Europe - Karen M, I know it was you). It only came online at 6am NZ time, so at 4am this morning Brendan and I were woken to the sound of many texts loudly announcing their arrival on our phones, each of which, we discovered later, cost us 50c. So please people, don't text us cos it costs!!! It also costs us 75c to text, so I think I'll keep my phone off. Also, figuring out the international codes to text and call was a slow process, and the network seems to be patchy in Sydney.

Then we were woken around 6am to the sound of kookabarras. They sound like hysterical monkeys, really odd. One was posing for us in a tree so I took pics. I also saw galaas eating something on the grass by the road as we drove past. Brendan's cousin has promised to take us snake-hunting, no way! I think we're safe cos the cousin doesn't get up til 11am, and you need to go at 6am to see them.

Brendan bought an Aussie SIM for $2, which means NZ texts might be only 25c for us, so we will probably all text from his phone.

Today we went to the biggest mall either of us have ever been to, in Hornby. It had 4 floors of shopping, and when we thought we had been around the entire thing, we walked along a bit and discovered we'd only been in one half! In terms of shopping, this was the best time cos the entire mall was on sale, most shops were 50% off or more. There was an entire clothing shop (and yes OK I think it was the ValleyGirl twin - it was called LovelyGirl/Hipster) which sold only clothes under $10.

(Ida and Tara, your predictions are probably coming true. Stop laughing. You'll choke. There is still plenty of room in our suitcase.)

Brendan and I bought a set of matching watches for $50, instead of $399. We're wearing them now and waiting to see if Julie (Brendan's mum) notices. In a few hours, she hasn't. I also bought a cute pink one for $30 instead of $200 (and resisted the urge to buy the one with pink diamantes) as it was the only one I saw which had each individual second timed. I'm a bit geeky - I need it for the gym. Brendan bought some ipod speakers, and got bored when Ellie and I went shopping in yet another clothes shop. (Women's clothing shops - about 30. Mixed - 10. Men's clothing shops - 3.) He would go away for however long he estimated we would take, then come back each time to find we were far from finished. Ellie was a bit sad though cos she lost the present she bought for her boyfriend.

Ellie was saying "This mall has everything except the $2 shop", just as we walked past something similar. There are 2 supermarkets and 4 department stores, and the random organic/asian/vege food shops. (They call them stores. Think I'm picking up on it.)

And they had a pet store. They had birds just sitting on a perch out of their cages- they didn't fly off. I want a mini lop rabbit, I held their one and it licked me...

Apparently, this isn't the largest mall in the area. That honour belongs to the one in Parrammata ([everyone else's] sp?), with 9 levels. I understand how you can actually spend an entire day in the mall - its not really possible in New Zealand.

Tomorrow we're apparently going on the sight-seeing tour. Funeral arrangements are still being made. It's a small cloud hanging over everything.