Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Silent Crossing and the Countdown to Death

One of the most infuriating things we discovered when exploring America (or at least San Jose) on foot, is that the pedestrian crossings really do not try to help you in this endeavour.

Firstly, although this is likely just a different convention, the buttons to cross the street are not positioned on the side of the pole facing you as you look across the street, but 90 degrees around the corner. Needless to say we initially spent a considerable amount of time waiting for the little white (not green) man to appear, only to realise that we had pressed the wrong button.

Of course normally you would realise your mistake quite quickly when the wrong crossing signal went off, but here roughly 75% of the pedestrian crossings are completely silent. So not only is there no feedback when you have pressed the wrong button, there's also no feedback that you have pressed the right one as the little red "stop" hand is there permanently. This results in many, many cases of looking up from your ipod/cellphone/conversation, only to realise that you have already missed the crossing and you must now press the button and wait again. If you do manage to catch the crossing before it finishes, it helpfully displays a large red "countdown" to let you know how much longer you have before the SUVs are allowed to mow you down.

I truly pity for deaf pedestrians in America. Not only do they get no clues as to when it's safe to cross the street, the Californian Drivers Handbook (the road code) has to explicitly tell prospective drivers not to honk at blind people. Then again, the handbook also begins with a message from Arnold Schwarzenegger... that's got to count for something.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Vacuum cleaner salesmen and Miss Philippines....

Today there was a knock at the door. An earnest young guy stood there, offering me a free carpet-clean. Naturally I was highly suspicious at first (as most 'free' things in America suddenly sprout hidden costs or are selling you something). But I eventually decided that since I was about to vacuum anyway, and there were many small black dots scattered around the carpet from our invite-making, it would be worth it for the laziness factor. He promised to come back at 4.

So at 4, there was another knock at the door. The same earnest-looking guy stood there, with another guy and lots of boxes. Once inside, they proceeded to tell me all about the magic 'Kirby' vacuum cleaner which did so many amazing things, and dragged out much more dust than the average vacuum cleaner. Then the second guy disappeared, leaving his colleague to vacuum the room, showing me all the little circles full of dust and dirt that it had picked up on our supposedly clean floor. I asked him about college degrees in America, and every so often, when I said something he found surprising, his eyes would grow big and round and a quick little smile would come. I got the feeling he had a highly sheltered background, living with his grandparents.
He also did the mattress and the cushions - luckily we only bought our furniture a few weeks ago, so it wasn't particularly dirty (for the shock sales value). And didn't contain hordes of dust mites to give us non-existent asthma, as much as he insisted it would. And we don't have pets. So the mighty power of the $1800 vacuum cleaner was somewhat wasted on me, and my mostly-clean house.

However, the second guy was quite interesting. He was a lot more personable, was from Malaysia, had met lots of Kiwis and Aussies before when he worked in the UK, and we discussed computer games. He said he used to be friends with the girl who lived here before us, Michelle de Leon, and helped her move her copious amounts of stuff out of the apartment. He also showed me the carpet square they replaced when she had a hookah party, and someone spilled ash on the floor. We assumed it was new carpet, but obviously not!

Michelle's a well-known model, and has been in China competing in the Top Model of the World competition as Miss Philippines for the last few months. She won the first runner-up prize, missing out as the winner by .2 points. Here's another picture of her. So a top model used to live in our house! Quite exciting, really.

So, what's there to kill in New Zealand?

A few days ago I had lunch (purely by an accident of musical chairs) with a guy whose primary interests were hunting and football. Actually, "primary interests" is probably too weak a phrase. I think for all intents and purposes these were his only interests and he had honed them to gleaming precision by siphoning away the mental energies most people spend on things such as work, relationships and maintaining a BMI lower that that of a walrus.

Here's a summary of our conversation:
  • After asking what part of England I was from, he told me (with a considerable degree of pride) that unlike most Americans, he knew exactly where New Zealand was. To his credit, he didn't think it was in Europe and was aware that New Zealand and Australia were different countries, however some of the finer details eluded him, such as the fact that there is an expanse of ocean between the two, and that NZ isn't "right alongside Australia, and up a 'lil bit".*
  • He then took the time to explain the culture and tradition around sporting events (apparentely the Superbowl is coming up). I was surprised to find that none of this was at all new because we've all seen American TV. Essentially there is a mass migration to the house of "he who owns the largest TV", and everyone who does not own the TV brings beer and chips. I asked him (jokingly) why they call it the "World Series" when the rest of the world isn't invited. If he saw the joke he didn't indicate it, but did seem mildly agitated that I had introduced a second sport to the conversation (for those who aren't aware, the World Series is baseball).
  • He did seem genuinely interested in the New Zealand terrain (and was surprised to know it's not very tropical looking at all). I started to explain that it was becoming popular for movies because of the variation, but it turned out he just wanted to know if it would make for interesting hunting.
  • He also wanted to know what there was to hunt in New Zealand, and if it was difficult to get permits. He was very surprised that koalas and kangaroos had never migrated into New Zealand, despite my insistence that the amount of ocean between the two really is quite large. He was also disappointed that despite looking "pretty much like a chicken", it was not common to eat "Kiwi Birds". Apparently my lack of knowledge about the NZ hunting scene didn't go down well as the next five or so minutes were spent on a very well rehearsed lecture on the right to hunt and the benefits thereof.
All and all, a very entertaining lunch break :)

* I'm not actually conceited enough to insist that everyone should know where New Zealand is (my best guess as to the location of, say, Kyrgyzstan would be "somewhere between Russia and India"). It was his confidence in his vague and inaccurate answer that I found entertaining.

Our philosophy... blah blah blah

On his recent tour of NZ, the travel writer Bill Bryson was asked how he got away with mocking so many places and so many 'challenged' people in his books. His answer?

"You make these observations," he said, "then go away to a safe distance and write it." (Quote courtesy of the Christchurch Press, 23/02/07.)

So in that tradition, our blog has also sought to discover little 'quirks' about America and the other places we travel to. Except in this case, we rely on being able to write relatively anonymously rather than being in a 'safe' place to write it!

I can't help feeling it's slightly ironic that one of our favourite writers is in NZ right now, while we are here...

Monday, February 26, 2007

You know you're a Westie when...

In the grand tradition of American Rednecks and of Valentines Day, we bring you:

American Redneck Jokes. (They did come with peanut butter cups, but we ate those.) This is apparently the perfect present to buy your partner for Valentine's Day here - it comes in a heart-shaped tin. Ah, Redneck love...

However, these cliches also apply equally to West Aucklanders, or "Westies". So, you know you're a Westie when....

... your truck won't fit through the bank drive-thru... or MacDonald's
... you start a fight in a bar and your wife finishes it
... you have to mow your grass around a refrigerator
... most of your in-laws are outlaws
... your mailbox is made out of old auto parts
... your kids trip over the Christmas lights while hunting Easter eggs
... your dog and your wallet are both on a chain

Saturday, February 24, 2007

San Jose nightclubs

An article in the San Jose Mercury News about how they're trying to make San Jose nightclubs more safe. I think its cos there are generally not that many white people there... ah how much I hate how race comes into things here in America!

When I asked the other interns about the clubs here, they said they don't go that often, and the ones they went to were "dirty" - as in Shooters dirty.

I want to go dancing sometime though- maybe Onita will know. She likes dancing too. Of course, the San Francisco ones are supposed to be much, much better...

Today we went to Costco (kinda like Moore Wilsons) and back to Ikea to pick up our chairs. Yay! We have actual chairs for our table now!

And Alex, the last intern, has come over now. He's pretty cool. He used to work with our friend Matt, though we hadn't met him before. It's funny, everyone here kinda knows each other or knows people who know each other. Wellington is so small.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Computer: RIP(ieces)

Well, as of last night I can confirm my computer is officially dead. The data has been irrecoverably lost from all four hard drives (although my music collection is safely backed up on my iPod), and the drives still in working order have been formatted. I felt it was very important to format them once I realized there was truly no hope, otherwise I would spend the next month trying to think up increasingly creative ways to get the data back.

For the technically minded, here's how it went. I have (had) four hard drives set up in a pair of RAID 0 arrays, two 120GB disks, two 250GB disks. A RAID 0 array allows disks to work together to improve speed, but if you lose one of the drives in the pair, you lose the data from the other. Given that all four disks had come loose from their brackets and flown around the case during transit (I would scream obscenities about Qantas, but it's too early in the morning), this was already a recipe for disaster, but there was another factor I hadn't considered before. RAID controllers are not standardized. You can't just take a RAID array from one computer and put it into another computer which also supports RAID. The two computers would need to have the exact same RAID controller chip, right down to the version number in most cases, otherwise the array won't be recognized. Sometimes not even then. To even get into my data, I needed my old motherboard.

Unfortunately my old motherboard is screwed. I managed to get it working very briefly, and for one glorious moment I even booted into Windows and saw Geoff looking miserably at me from a police car (see Another Geoff Adventure). Then one of the disks died, with a very disheartening noise that made it quite clear it wasn't going to be coming back for one last epic battle with the protagonist. So that was one pair of disks down, but it mostly contained program files and a few movies, so I wasn't too concerned. However, as I tried to get the other pair of drives working, the motherboard continued to get increasingly unstable until eventually it refused to turn on at all. It was only then that I realized the entire quarter of the board containing the CPU and all the plugs and sockets was so hot I could barely touch it. Even the power supply cord going into the area was dangerously warm. I let it cool down but it still hasn't booted since, and without that board the other RAID array is unfortunately useless. Before you ask, that particular board isn't on the market anymore and a quick search on eBay/trademe revealed nothing.

So let us recount that which has been lost:
  • 1 case, crippled and deformed in a brave attempt to save the rest of the computer.
  • 1 Motherboard which, after a valiant struggle, finally succumbed to its wounds (i.e. hard disks being repeatedly thrown into it).
  • 1 hard disk (possibly more)
  • 2 RAID arrays, 500GB of data.
    • Many gigabytes of pictures, most of which Tina luckily had copies of
    • Every essay and assignment I prepared during four years of university and my last two years of high school. Luckily, many of these (such as my Honours project) survive in other places, such as in my email and in hard copy.
    • Ridiculous numbers of movies and applications (which were of course not pirated).
    • My music collection, thank god it's all on my iPod.
    • Countless other bits and pieces which I don't remember now but will go looking for one day only to find they aren't there. "Ohh bugger, that was on the old hard drive..." will be a common refrain for the next few months.
There are a couple of components I'm not sure about:
  • 1 CPU. I have no way of testing it because it will not fit in either of our computers.
  • 1 Soundcard. Haven't got around to testing it yet, but it certainly doesn't look too healthy.
And of course, the brave survivors:
  • 3 out of 4 hard drives (so far as I know... this may change later), which is astonishing considering the beating they received.
  • 1 video card, which I didn't hold out much hope for. It had accompanied the hard drives in their in-case flying lessons. Well see how it holds up under stress.
  • 2 DVD drives.
  • 1 GB of RAM, which is now in Tinas computer (taking her from 512MB to 1.5 GB).
So all and all I've had to replace about 75% of my computer. I choose to look on the bright side and see this as a "forced upgrade". At least now I'll be able to play Supreme Commander at a decent frame-rate. And this time when I set up the computer, I will still be using a RAID array, but it will be RAID 1, which creates an exact backup copy of everything on a drive.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Super-size me Alcohol

At Rite Aid, the normal supermarket (the nearest one to us is called "Nob Hill", which I thought was a posh suburb of San Francisco) and at any other type of dairy or food-selling place*, you can buy alcohol. Not just wine and beer, either. You can buy huge 1.75 L bottles of any kind of spirits you like, mostly things like vodka and tequila and brandy and rum - all the "basics". And it's insanely cheap. As in, expensive tequila sells there for around $25. A huge bottle's worth. 'Table wine' (i.e. not that good quality) from Rite Aid, comes in, well, not just magnums, but 4 L glass bottles! For $10!! A small bottle of Baileys is $15.

Kat and Matt did tell us it was insanely cheap to buy alcohol here. They were certainly not kidding.

* I digress. Rite Aid doesn't actually sell food any more than Starmart does: it sells preservatives and sugar. Which aren't actually food. Though it does also sell milk. It's like a mini Walmart- it sells medicine, but also random things like cosmetics and hammers and alcohol and socks. And lots of plug extenders.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Ten Unexpectely Defective Things in America

(Note: I've been adding to this since I first arrived, so a few things are out of date).

When planning to come to America, there were many things I expected would be defective or otherwise difficult (at least from the point of view of a foreigner). I anticipated that many of my electrical devices wouldn't take the correct voltage. I understood that the measurement system would befuddle me. I had been told that all the money is the same colour, making it impossible to tell the values of notes at a glance.

But there are also a few things I didn't expect (although in some cases should have). So here are my Top 10 Unexpected Defective things in America:
  1. My nice black folder, which bends everything I put into it because the paper is a different size.
  2. My cellphone, which accepts the correct voltage and has all the correct bands, but refuses to roam on the Cingular network (happily, we have them connected now).
  3. Trolleys ("carts") which are often impossible to drive straight because they frequently have all the wheels unfixed/turnable or, perplexingly, only the back wheels (as I discovered while attempting to transport two hefty CRT monitors from the storage room to my office).
  4. My credit rating, which isn't accessible here. Hence no financial institutions trust us, and we get charged exorbitant deposits (such as for our rent, where the deposit went from $100 to $1300).
  5. My Razor, which was the one piece of electronics I assumed probably would take the right voltage. I was wrong.
  6. All my warm clothes. Cheers to Tina for her predictions of icy doom. I have likened the daytime outside temperature (many times) to that of a nicely air-conditioned room.
  7. Our computers. You all know why... Sobs quietly.
  8. The water. Ok so this is probably just San Jose, but the water is so full of calcium (or what I assume is calcium) that even I (who roundly mocked Tina and Mealz for their reliance on a water filter) don't drink tap water. All our pots and pans, are already covered in white calcium deposits.
  9. Deodorant. Oddly enough, the spray cans are very hard to find here. Deodorant "sticks" seem to be all the rage. Of course if you want pheromone sprays ("Sleep Less - Score More"), then you're in luck.
  10. Pennies. Coming from a country that just recently ditched it's 5c coin, pennies are an absolute pain. You accumulate these little copper buggers at a phenomenal rate, and they are impossible to get rid of unless you want to stand there counting them out when you pay for something. We are taking our revenge by turning many of them into souvenirs in the numerous penny-squashing machines scattered around tourist destinations.
Also, as an aside, a link for the day. You'll realize why I like it when you get there :)

Sunday, February 18, 2007

San Francisco! We loves!

We've just this minute got back from San Francisco. I loved it, and so did Brendan. We could definitely live there. It's very glamorous. I can imagine being a San Francisco girl - living on one of the hills in a tiny turn of the century apartment, wearing very high wedge heels and a tiny skirt and walking my tiny glamorous dog. I guess it's a city made for small, elegant people.

I loved pretty much everything about it. The teeny, tiny boxy apartment houses, clustered so tightly, each one with ornate security gate and windows and other decorations. (An architecture student's wet dream.) The incredible views from most hills we drove up or down. The funny little cable cars - so old and clunky - decorated with Victorian advertisements for chocolate (1800's) and filled with tourists clinging on tightly and swinging from the back as they ground up steep hills. The bustle of Chinese New Year in Chinatown, with constant firecrackers - the first day of the New Year. (There are 15 days.) The sense of overwhelming scale as we drove in on the freeway/ motorway - I felt like there was too much to take in at once. How the shops in the financial district sold clothes which screamed, "Bankers!" The clothing... mmm.

Yes, I would love to live in San Francisco. I just don't know if we could afford the rents. US$1.25million for a studio apartment! It reminded us heaps of wellington - a dirtier, bigger, more vibrant Wellington.

One of the first things we saw when we arrived on Mission Street was a homeless man walking through the centre of the waiting cars on the street with a sign - "please give money for coffee". I thought you only found that in Wellington....

We also drove down Lombard Street - the world's (or is it just the US?) most crooked street. It was full of tourists taking pictures, and cars waiting all along a steep hill to drive down. A cable car stopped at the top so the tourists crammed into it (most barely hanging on with one hand) could use the other hand to take pictures. Driving down Lombard was quite odd - I felt as if we were a toy car being pushed back and forth by a toddler.

Our friend's mum drove us, which was great. Our friend lives with Stefan - she told us he wears special toe socks with one big toe shaped into them, so he can wear them with jandals. As much as I think this is a fashion crime and should be outlawed, I am informed by some people in New Zealand that this is considered acceptable. Ew. Reminds me of high school - roman sandals and knee-high socks were de rigeur at my college/high school for so long.

Anyway, our friend bought some bright green fluorescent ones to wear with her jandals/sandals, to tease Stefan with. People stared at her feet a LOT. It was funny to watch. She looked like Shrek. Proving it IS a heinous fashion crime. (You know who you are...)

Before we could grab lunch, we had to park! The joke is that you know you're a true Californian when finding a parking space brings tears to your eyes. This was true. We went around Chinatown for a long time trying to find a park so we could have lunch. Eventually we went to Fisherman's Wharf and parked there instead, and had lunch at Fisherman's. It was very touristy, and the smell of fish filled the air. Crabs sat packed on top of each other in a big glass aquarium next to where we ate, motionlessly awaiting their fates. I felt bad for them.

We wandered around the Piers for a while as well, feeling touristy (and buying socks). We also walked past the wax museum! I need to go! You can see the wax models of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt right there as you walk past.

Just as the sun was starting to set, we went and drove over the Golden Gate bridge - the sunset was amazing, looking over at the city - it was alight. I felt bad because our friend told a woman standing next to us taking pictures to move so we could have a photo with no-one else in it! The Golden Gate was very impressive, and the area was gorgeous. Alcatraz - the impenetrable fortress - we could have reached out and touched. It must have been so heart-wrenching for people imprisoned there - the city, and freedom, looks so close.

Lastly we wandered around Chinatown and found dinner. Firecrackers went off all the time - kids ran around stamping on little ones. It had a disturbingly high number of strip clubs in that area. Including a place called "Showgirls".

We really need to go back. There are so many things to do, you need to make many trips.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Why we should do arts degrees instead of business degrees....

I love this article in the NZ Herald. I have to admit I appreciate my arts degree. Even if it makes me analyze everything! Business rationale is still occasionally foreign to me, even with a business post-grad diploma. (Think: business degree squashed into an honours year. Without the accounting.)

But it cheered me up. I really really want a PR job, I am going nuts here but I still have to wait three months to get my work permit. Which is depressing really.

Luckily I have wedding planning to do, and my book... but I'm a bit over that right now. There's only so much excitement one can sustain continuously, even about one's wedding.

Today I went to the mall with a really lovely lady I met here and her cute baby, (NO! No babies!) and got the rest of the stuff needed to make invites. Yay! It's taken a lot longer than I wanted. Looks like we're going to be a bit busy this weekend...

On a side note, it seemed to be "Moms at the mall" (as my friend put it) today. Lots of (teenage) mothers with small kids and prams. I saw almost no old people or (non-mummy) teenagers. Guess they're all at school still. (It's Friday here now - 5pm.)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Valentine's Day Obsessions

America is totally and utterly obsessed with Valentine's Day.

The bundles of junk mail we get every week sprouted strange red leaves.

The shops were filled with screaming kids and harassed mums saying, "Well, if you get the train ones for the boys in your class and... Michael! Put that down!"

Blogs and news articles all over the web muse on the commericalisation of Valentine's Day and statistics showing people spend around $100 each on average on it. Women spend less than men - whether this is because it's hard to buy gifts for guys or whether women place more importance on the day, I don't know.

Rite Aid had a whole section devoted to Valentine's Day cards, and another to candies - it looked like a red and pink explosion. Or, as Brendan so nicely pointed out, the aftermath of a suicide bomber. Icky.

The day after, one entire row of shelves are stripped bare, with a few remaining snatches of red on the other. It's as if a horde of panicking dads ran through the shop, grabbing at every pink thing in sight that morning in an effort to get their significant others something 'significant'.

We just bought cheap chocolates. And laughed.


Today I forgot to take a piece of fruit to work for breakfast. So I idled down to "Cafe Ritazza" and bought something called "Yogurt Parfait". It had a truly surprising number of strawberries hidden in it. Tina would have liked it. They were surprise strawberries.

The reason the "Yogurt Parfait" caught my attention was that I had no idea what Parfait was (and presumably still don't since this was only "Yogurt Parfait"), but it gets mentioned in Shrek during the "ogres are like onions" speech. So I partially satisfied my curiosity, and decided to let Wikipedia do the rest. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who gets my information from children's movies.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


Walmart is Katrina's favourite shop. And since we find Walmart amusing, I think it deserves its own post. So, as promised: Walmart.

Walmart: the over-sized, big brother of The Warehouse. Selling almost everything you could possibly imagine - from sewing to furniture to groceries to house items to garden stuff to car parts...

It also has a gift registry service. This is odd, since shopping for a wedding present at Walmart must be like having a pot-luck wedding, or having a gift registry at The Warehouse. I think it has a similar reputation. It has a number of amazingly cheap things for sale, such as $15 vacuum-cleaners.

However I think we'll spend a bit more [time] at Ikea, I think it's pretty. In fact, Ikea is very close to chicky nesting heaven. The dilemma - buy more expensive pretty things and ship it all back to NZ, since we can't get them here yet - or buy cheap things and sell them/ get rid of them later? Auckland is about to get an Ikea next year, but is it worth shipping things from Auckland to Wellington?

We went to Walmart the night we moved into our house, to buy "house-stuff". For $800 we ended up with four trolleys - people looked at us like we were mad until I explained we were moving house - then they gave knowing looks and said, "Ah." For this $800, we managed to get: an "office set" consisting of tiny desks, even tinier bookcases and what we made into our bedside tables; pretty computer chairs; 4 pillows (2 for $10) and a duvet and sheets; an entire set of crockery and cutlery and pots and pans and miscellaneous kitchen ware; and a matching toaster and blender and jug. (Yes, I know.) And...

... Placenta shampoo. Yes, I thought it was the label too. But, on closer inspection - it actually says it is made from placentas. Really. It has "placenta enzymes" in the ingredients list. Funny. And disgusting.

The best part is, it says you can get a $2 rebate... it only cost around $3 to begin with!

A present for Geoffrey - a nice car!

This sexy car is just an example of the sort of cars people in our apartment complex drive. Seriously! Peeking into people's garages and looking at the car park is like a who's who of late-model/flash cars. Everyone drives a huge SUV or a late-model Mustang or something else very flash with names like "Cougar" on the end. Geoff would be so happy here.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


In a hypothetical parallel universe, Tina and Brendan are homeless and complaining much more loudly than they did about their computers.

Walking home recently, I starting seeing worrying numbers of police cars on the road. Then flares. Then fire trucks. Then finally crowds of onlookers, a big plume of smoke, and a what appeared to be almost every fire truck in the region (there were around 10-12 of them parked outside, and another five or six coming or going at any time). The Santa Teresa apartments down the road from where we live (map) were on fire and had been for the past couple of hours.

Here are a couple of new stories from the day: one, two. If it asks you to sign up, you can just sign in as, password fake123.

I like the way that top article is careful to mention a "scared" little old lady, and the fact that the firefighters rescued three cats, two dogs, and a cage of birds. That's some nice journalism right there.

What's particularly relevant for us is that before we got to San Jose, these were the apartments we wanted to live in. They're around $300 cheaper per month and are closer to work. The only reason we didn't move in there was that when we called to apply, they had recently filled their last single bedroom apartment. "Gutted" we thought at the time.

Monday, February 12, 2007

America's answer to Vic

Finally - America's answer to Victoria University's terrible (and much-mocked) advertising slogan: "It makes you think."

National University: "The University of Values. "

Really? Who would have thought a university could teach values?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Nominations for Top Ten Places to Drink Coffee in Wellington

In the spirit of the last post re: best places to get/be drunk at in Wellington, I thought we should also offer Best places to Drink Coffee.

So, here's a few to get us started:

Espressoholic. Usually great coffee, sometimes not. Open from 8pm to late at night when almost nothing else on Courtenay is. Nice, if pricey, food. Especially good is the chocolate silk cake, but very rich - you need to share it among at least two people. Very busy usually - the outside courtyard is nice enough if you can handle the smokers.

Midnight Espresso. On Cuba St, competitor to Espressoholic. Also open 8pm til late. Makes great iced chocolates. Look out for the guy who comes in around 11pm to play Pinball (correct me if I'm wrong, Blaise.)

EDIT: We've decided to make this one exclusively Cafes (sorry Lina, they'll go towards the next one). Wellington certainly has enough of them to make it worth it.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Monterey Aquarium - THE tourist attraction

Last night Duncan (one of the interns from last year) had his 23rd birthday party (though I understand the birthday was a while ago). Stefan, the next intern to arrive after Brendan, has just moved in with a woman called Onita, she's very nice. She offered to drive Stefan anywhere he wanted to go, so she got to go sight-seeing as well, and was surprised that he didn't seem keen to take her up on his offer. So she offered to be our taxi service on the weekends instead. Which is great, cos it really sucks not having a car.

So today we went with Onita and Stefan to the Monterey Aquarium, about an hour south of San Jose. Everyone whom we've talked to from the US has raved about this aquarium, so we thought it would be nice to take a look. (Check it out, including the live webcams, here.)

I really loved it. The first place we went was the penguin feeding - we timed it just right. 200 people stood crowded around the glass, jostling me as I tried to video and take pictures, and the two feeders fed the penguins. It was quite cute actually - one was so friendly it came up and wanted to be petted by the trainer a lot! I suspect it thought it would get more food that way. They fed them anchovies, and counted each by name and how many fish each was allowed. I took way too many photos of penguins.

There was a huge 3-story wall of glass with different fish behind - it was a typical kelp area apparently. Small sharks and fish floated along - it looked like they were hovering in mid-air.
At one point we came back and there was a diver in the tank, feeding the fish!

There were touching tanks for kids, with things like starfish, and shellfish with huge long tongues.. they looked quite disgusting! And a whole pile of really cool little tanks with different fish in them, like rock pools with glass on top. There were so many!

At one stage, I heard a whole pile of kids shouting, "It's Dory! It's Dory!" I looked, and I assume it must have been "Dory" from Finding Nemo, as there was a lovely wall of tropical fish:

One of my favourite things (part from cute penguins) was the rooms full of jellyfish. They were incredible - walls of jellyfish all lit up with lights so you could actually see them, floating about. When their tentacles touched each other, they glided across, but anything else- ouchy! From huge ones to the tiniest deadliest box jellyfish (about 1cm in diameter and kinda square), they were very cool. One room contained mirrors and a huge wall of jellies - it looked like it had them all the way around, and Onita walked into the mirror by accident!

Lastly, they had cute otters, with their own routines - they know they are making people laugh! The next room had wading birds just standing there - I coudl have reached out and touched them. One really tiny bird hopped madly about, which most of the rest stood around or swam. It was funny. Small stingrays swam in the pools around these wading birds - you could reach out and touch them. Brendan and I each touched a few - they were kinda slimy actually. They had their spines trimmed so they weren't dangerous, and they were only a foot or two across, so not huge. One large ray in particular did a circuit, coming back each time and lifting its head out of the water completely to look at us.

Brendan and I walked up to the top of the building, where there was a huge machine making the waves for the tanks. The aquarium is right on the shoreline and has its own rockpools, presumably to get fresh water every day for the fish, and keep the water nice.

The last thing we liked very much was in a room with this huge wall of glass. Behind it, enormous sharks and tuna and two sunfish floated round and round. I thought that was COOL. These tuna were huge - some were at least as long as me, I would estimate! but the coolest thing about this tank wast the sunfish. Huge, alien and like mournful clowns, they drifted around the tank and came up to inspect the people several times. I loved them - they were just so strange and unusual. And they had odd human-like eyes and a mouth in a permanent 'O' shape. They looked made of silvery rubber. I've been trying to upload the photo of it (it looks like the girl is kissing it!) but I can't get blogspot to work. :(

Friday, February 09, 2007

My computer works!

Yay! Brendan has done miracles. I have a computer. And the best part - my hard drive with my photos seems to have been OK - my C Drive was the broken one, and it mucked up my other hard drive. So I am pretty happy about that.

It's rained here about 6 times in the last three weeks. That's apparently quite a lot. It's almost never very heavy, but I'm sure in 6 months I will be very keen for rain.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Student Life

I'm writing a book called The Student's Guide to Everything (working title), in an effort to do something more interesting while waiting the three months for my work permit than watching American daytime TV.

(I lie - we don't have a TV. Or currently, even a computer. I suspect I'm developing a reputation here at the 'business centre' as the girl who always hogs the one good computer!) I also realised we have only 2.5 months until our wedding, and a LOT of things have yet to be done. We found a photographer yesterday - yay! But I can't do the invites unless I manage to fix my computer. I now have a new screen (it arrived an hour ago) and a new hard drive, and windows xp home edition, so will see what miracles Brendan can perform.

Anyway: to all my student/ex-student friends, I need to pick your brains. The target audience is the 17 year-olds and 18 year-olds who have just finished high school and are about to go to uni. What do they need to know?

- What were you unsure of when you started uni? What did you really need to know abotu student life? What's it actually like being a student?
- If you could give your younger selves some advice about uni and life in general, what would it be?
- What are the mimimum basic ingredients every student needs in their cupboard to cook healthy-ish meals? What about when you only have a few dollars left for food? What did you buy to tide you over? Send me your recipies for cheap food! And no, 2 minute noodles only counts sometimes.
- Student dating - are there certain rules?
- How do you organise a party?
- study tips - how to avoid going to the library? How to get away with handing in stuff late?
- any generic tips about being a student?

Basically, I want to hear your opinions! Our student years were relatively sedate - I need a wider range of experiences than just mine and Brendan's. So tell me anything you think will be even remotely useful.

Ellie's counting on you!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The American accent

Trying to get around the American voice-recognition system to book 'uilities' was a bit of a nightmare. I tried talking in an American accent. That didn't work. I tried talking in my normal accent. That didn't work. The guys here told me later the fastest way to get around it is to swear at it, but I didn't think that was an option I wanted to pursue. Eventually, after going round and round the menus, (and calling back three times!) I heard what I thought was a computer - until I suddenly realised it was a normal person. She thought I was from Australia, but was very sweet and called me "honey" lots. She also thought 1.5 mbps in DSL broadband was super-fast. I didn't like to point out that our NZ ISP, (NZ being the home of the telecommunications company considered to be holding back broadband in NZ to speeds far below the rest of the world,) offered us 3 mbps. I very foolishly temporarily signed up for it too, having no idea of why it was so slow. Although the high prices did have one good deal - NZ international calling. For $5/month, I could call NZ for 8c per minute. Without the deal, I could call NZ for... wait for it... $5.13 per minute!

I think in general our accent is unusual for them. They find it hard to understand, and we are acutely aware of it. The girl in the leasing office called it 'cute'. I don't think Brendan appreciated that.

Other things we have been called are South African and, for Brendan, German. At the IBM SVL where he works there are a lot of German interns, so all the Chinese interns assume Brendan's German cos he is white but has an accent.

But in general - everyone thinks we are English. Kathy (who lives in Washington) did warn me of that, but I never thought I had a particularly polished accent. I always thought it was very typically Kiwi, and that Brendan was the one who was thought to have an accent, even within NZ.

Here, "What part of England are you from?" is what I hear a LOT. Although the taxi driver when we were taking our computers back, said that he had heard other NZ accents and mine wasn't like them - it was more clear. I tried to do a Maori accent and explain that it was the other type of "accent" in NZ and he said, "yeah that's it". Also, I often have to stop and think about making a really big effort to be easy to understand here, such as talking slower and clearer.

Sometimes people just hear our accent and don't even try to listen. It's quite frustrating. They immediately think, "oh that person has a weird accent" and get stuck. Which happened to me while I was at the doctors' - I went to the "drugstore" to ask them where the ATM was, and the woman couldn't understand me. Eventually I showed her the ATM card, and she still didn;t understand what I wanted. It made me very upset because I thought I couldn't communicate - and I place quite a high value on good interpersonal communication, being a PR person. My already high respect for the international students who come to another country where they don't know the language much, increased a lot more.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

My First Driving Lesson

As most of you know, my driving experience is limited to a few very brief sessions in dune buggies (and one in a jeep). So yesterday night was essentially the first time I'd driven properly, ever.

It was in a white Mini Cooper, in the dark, and my driving instructor's grasp of English extended only slightly beyond "Left", "Right" and "No!".

The lesson begun with driving in circles around the park outside our apartments (map). Actually, that's a lie. The lesson begun with the instructor showing me how to start the car, how to indicate, asking disbelievingly if I had really never driven before, and then unexpectedly putting the car into drive. I gave the brake pedal what I thought was a friendly nudge, and the driving instructor almost banged his head on the dashboard. Then we put the car back into park and learned about how stopping suddenly will "get us both be kill".

After that things went more smoothly (apart from during starting and stopping of course, that took a bit longer to get smooth). We drove around San Jose practicing turning, signaling, stopping and starting smoothly at intersections, give way rules, lights and other important things. Luckily for me, it appears that being a driving instructor doesn't actually require much more than "Turn Lef here", "Turn Ri here" and "Look you mirror". Whenever he felt I hadn't understood something correctly, or wanted to explain something in more detail, he would tell me to pull over and would explain the concept with drawings. I soon discovered that it was best to remain silent during these explanations as any attempts to assure him that Yes, I did understand, were generally interpreted as arguments or confusion, resulting in more explaining.

Nonetheless, he did manage to get his message through most of the time, and by the end of the lesson I was driving reasonably well. On thing I had particular difficulty with was the fact that the mini was, shall we say, "zippy". The pedals required a more gentle touch than I was easily able to deliver. So every time I started turning a corner (remembering to check mirror, mirror, blindspot beforehand) and suddenly sped up dramatically he would say "Ay! Not soo fas!". I tried to assure him that I was honestly trying to go slowly, but he just said "No! Even though your foot is very heavy you MUS NOT GO SO FAS!".

I'll have to remember that next time.

Driving lessons...

Brendan had a white, brand new Mini. I had a slightly less flash Toyota Corolla 2000. The cars had two brakes and one steering wheel. And they were automatics! No more manual hell for Tina.

I just got back from my lesson now. (First we had to find the instructor - I think we need to give special directions for our house. There are too many unmarked streets.) We drove round San Jose for a while. There are so many schools all clustered together! We even drove on lots of expressways. I was very proud. And she said I was doing very well by the end. Given I tended to approach driving quite nervously, I did OK. But lots of Americans are rude drivers, apparently - people kept on cutting me off. I did u-turns and backing and parking and kept stopping when I didn't need to - you only have to if there's a stop sign, otherwise the DMV marks you down. Which seems a bit odd as it's safer. I need to remember mirrors. I'm really bad at mirrors.

Unlike Brendan's first driving experience, I'd been driving Dad's van for a while as a teenager learning on Wairarapa country two-and-one-lane roads. I mostly remember a vague sense of panic that we were travelling along in something that I was, in theory, controlling, and a more urgent sense of panic at trying to work out the intricacies of gears. Ah, gears! How distracting I found thee! After crashing aforementioned van at 17, I decided to give driving a rest for a very long time. Luckily for us, Wellington perfectly accommodates that sort of behaviour. In fact, I next drove Geoff's car round a certain New World carpark in an incident involving trolleys....

So I told the instructor I hadn't driven before either. Halfway though, she looked at me very carefully and asked again, "Are you sure you haven't driven before?" Maybe I gave something away. Also, I think by both instructors' reactions, almost everyone in America has driven illegally at some point in their lives, when they were really young. She didn't explain anything about the car to me at all when I got in - I was expecting at least an explanation of the indicators etc. I certainly felt again the vague surge of panic when she just handed me the keys and said, "Start." Trying to indicate, I promptly put the windscreen wipers on. I did this more than once.

We only went around the park once, and into a dead-end street, where I turned around. I got told off for driving too much to the right, until I realised we didn't have to drive around all the parked cars as much... Then we hit the main road, and I spent the next hour and a half being totally disorientated and mildly nervous. I also took an hour to work out the whole mirror, mirror, shoulder thing meant you only had to look at the mirrors in the direction you were moving into, and turn your head only a very little bit. Not turning your head right around to look backwards.

We practiced driving around lots of schools, at different speeds, being cut off by rude American drivers, stopping and starting in intersections (I liked that for some odd reason), weaving in and out of traffic on the expressways, and negotiating intersections. I found I keep stopping at places where in NZ you'd have a stop or "give way" sign - but I saw none similar here. Stop signs, yes; but no "give way"s. Or even "Yield"s, the American word for it.

So my main things to watch for are the mirrors, and working out intersection yields on the red light, and also whether to stop or to slow down at the intersections.

The instructor was very interesting - she told me San Jose and California in general are very very overcrowded and there are lots of illegal immigrants, but people don't like apartment living. (Which for me would be the obvious choice. Look at Wellington!) Instead, they build on the hills which are on earthquake faultlines and which get mud slides. And then cry when their house falls over. Apparently lots of people have moved to the Caribbean instead, but it's almost as expensive there now.

And the homeless people tend to chose it or be that way because they can't afford the housing, so lots live in their cars. It's so expensive to live here, though. I can't get over how much energy and water is wasted - our complex alone has two spa pools and a pool, and the spa pools are on all the time with no cover on them. People just don't care. The water all comes from the Tahoe and surrounding ski fields apparently, but Californians don't want to build more reservoirs even though it's practically a drought already right now. (It was once a desert here.)

And all you uni people, be grateful we don't have the American "college" system. Here you have to do lots of volunteer work or paid employment while you are in high school, then you need high SATS (grade point averages) to get in, then you have to write letters to universities all over the country practically begging them to take you because you "can do so much for them". (??? I thought they were supposed to help you!) And there's no such thing as a student loan or allowance. Your parents pay, or you take out a HUGE $100,000 loan on normal interest rates. Ouchy. I am definitely going to have to write my book about NZ students rather than students in general. Student's Guide to Everything: NZ Edition.

So, interesting social commentaries aside, I felt my driving lesson was a success. Especially so because I didn't have to negotiate the gears as well, I could actually concentrate on driving. So my family, don't laugh. I'll let Brendan tell you about his separately, cos it was kinda funny.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Oh Dear God...

I just found a vending machine at my work that sells microwave popcorn. It's 2 minutes walk away. No good can come of this.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

My Top 10 Favourite Things About America

Actually, I lied. These are probably not my top 10, they are simply a collection of things I've noticed and loved. In no particular order:
  1. You can buy a (non-brand) can of drink from vending machines for 25c.
  2. You actually matter to those big well-known websites. Amazon delivers overnight, Google Maps will give you directions to almost anywhere, all those tech products which take forever to make it to NZ are right there on for your consumption.
  3. All the broadband plans are unlimited. Stupid Telecom.
  4. Cellphone charges are dirt cheap. 10c a minute and 5c text on prepay. Contract rates are even better.
  5. You can get a full license in about a week (for over-18's anyway). Of course that assumes you already know how to drive...
  6. The toilets, which seem incredibly wasteful of water but don't splash you when you flush because the water all just disappears down the hole and then fills back up.
  7. 1750ml Smirnoff: $15. 1000ml Baileys: $13. 750mls of Agavero: $30. Enough said.
  8. Customer Service. Perhaps it's just our accents, but people in shops really do seem to go out of their way to help you. Even the ones who don't expect tips and can't be on commission.
  9. The weather. I can't say the weather has been perfect, we've apparently had more than our fair share of rain over the past weeks, but is extremely dry (low humidity).
    I like dry, it means less sweating.
  10. "2 for $3.00" does actually mean "1 for $1.50" here! Not only that, supermarkets include the price-per-pound on all the labels for easy comparison. Of course, this is somewhat offset by the hidden sales tax and an incredible number of mail-in rebates, but I'll take what I can get.

Rite Aid!

About 15 minutes walk away from where we live is a little shopping mall bit. It has a few shops in a little strip on two sides of the road, things like takeaways. It includes the largest shop called 'Rite Aid'. There are similar shopping mall areas all over the place - perhaps one every few streets (about 2-3 miles between each, I would say.)

Rite Aid is like an over-sized dairy or starmart. It's supposed to be a "drugstore", which means something different here. It's very very large, and sells random stuff - but nothing fresh at all. It screams preservatives and unhealthiness! Rite Aid sells, for example:

- ice-cream and Berkley milk - Mealz, you will be happy to know that all the milk we can find is labelled "without RTD(?) growth hormones" - but I can't seem to find proper unwhipped cream anywhere
- very very cheap alcohol! More on that later - but suffice to say you can buy huge 1.75L bottles for a very small price - usually about $15 for that amount of Smirnoff vodka or something similar.
- hammers and electrical outlet extension cords (lots)
- cosmetics
- basic pharmaceuticals (with a more specialised pharmacy at the back) like asprin
- vast numbers of weight-loss pills - seriously people! They DON'T WORK! It's called EXERCISE and HEALTHY EATING! Sigh.
- lots of instant noodle meals and cans of soup - basically any sort of food that can be stored indefinitely. If you were under threat of nuclear winter you would go there to stock up.
- Socks and undies
- "seasoning" - consisting mostly of lemon pepper, garlic salt, salt and pepper together, chicken salt, "seasoning salt", parsley salt, and basil. Wow, basil! Except they pronounce it, Bay-sil.
- very sugary cereal.
- lots of lollies!

Basically, there's nothing that you could eat there really if you were trying to eat healthy,which we are. And amazingly, it is possible to find takeaways which are more healthy than Macca's.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Top Ten (OK, Twelve) Places to Get Drink, Drink Drink and Be Drunk in Wellington

After many comments and much deliberation by the judges (i.e. Tina and myself), we have narrowed the list down to the Top Ten, plus a few honorable mentions.

A few notes on how we judged:
  • Good first-year haunts were given some positive bias, but this wasn't necessarily meant to be the Top 10 First-Year Haunts, even if it is indirectly intended for an up-and-coming first-year.
  • Nominations not directly related to Getting Drink, Drinking Drink and Being Drunk (all in the alcoholic sense) were generally left off. However, we do promise there will be a Top Ten Cafes post in the not-to-distant future (Tina started writing it a while ago), and possibly somewhere for all the strip-clubs to go as well. So keep those ideas fresh and don't be afraid to re-post when the opportunity arises.
  • Points were awarded for accuracy of description. More points were awarded for hilarity of description. Descriptions have also been shamelessly stolen where we felt it was appropriate and/or easy.
  • We decided, in retrospect, that it might be best to break up the list into its three main components, simply because it makes no sense to compare bottle stores to takeaway shops (although the two are most certainly related). We have also extended the list slightly to 12, because only four bar recommendations just isn't enough. So we have:
    • Three places to Get Drink
    • Six places to Drink Drink, and
    • Three places to Be Drunk.
    • And yes, we are aware that most good bars are a mix of all three. Meh.
So without further ado, here are our recommendations.

Top Three Places to Get Drink
Probably the easiest section to judge, this section lists the top places in Wellington to buy Alcohol, other than bars. Entries were judged primarily on Price and Selection.
  • The Mill (Map)
    Nominated by: Geoffrey

    How could we not mention The Mill. Located just up the road from Unicomm and the closest decent liquor shop to Vic House and Weir, it is the student liquor store. They even have a bouncer there on Fridays and Saturdays. The Mill has an impressive range of spirits, wine and beer (the beer is in a huge walk-in cooler all of its own), all at very reasonable prices.
  • Moore Wilsons (Map)
    Nominated by: Brendan
    For the small inconvenience of signing up for a Moore Wilsons card (free for students), you can gain access to some of the best bottle prices available. Excellent selection of Wine and Spirits, although the Beer selection is somewhat lacking. Also good for buying bulk snacks for the party.
  • Petone Pak'n'Save (Map)
    Nominated by: Superblaise
    Better wine selection than is reasonable, all at better prices than anywhere else. Of course, we're not advocating that you get drunk inside the supermarket, but we're not condemning it either. Of course if you live in central Wellington, it is a a bit of a trip.
Top Six Places to Drink Drink
Bring on the bars! For many of our student friends, having bars on the "Drink Drink" list is a little inaccurate, as most students prefer to drink at home and go into town nicely prepped. Nonetheless, these are our top picks:
  • At Home (insert your own map)
    Nominated by: Brendan
    In honour of all those students who are a) too poor to pay bar prices or b) not attractive, female and lacking in conscience, we recommend Home as a brilliant place to Drink Drink. Take advantage of one of the fine establishments listed as Best Places to Get Drink, organize a get-together with a few mates, and let the games begin.
  • Mount Street Bar and Cafe (Map)
    Nominated by: Superblaise
    Makes the list purely because most of our friends are Vic students. Some people still insist on calling it Eastside. It's overpriced, but it's on campus and open during the day. Perfect for lunchtime drinking before afternoon lectures. The only place to be seen drinking while skipping lectures. (Well, there's Matterhorn if you must).
  • Red Square (Map)
    Nominated by: Ida, Tina
    House music! Big leather couches to sit on outside! Big velvet couches to sit on inside! Chandeliers! Ice Bar! Pretty people behind the bar! Oooooohhhhh! Yes, we know it isn't cool anymore. And it is the home of Hallensteins Boy and Glassons Girl, but it has the feel of a Russian Bordello, and we like it. So there.
  • Matterhorn (Map)
    Nominated by: Ida
    A Wellington institution. Many a film star has been spotted here. Home of the legendary 'Falling Water' cocktail (as served at most of our parties). Great music. Great bartenders. Great clientèle. Good luck finding a table. In fact, good luck getting in on some nights.
  • The Big Kumara (Map)
    Nominated by: Geoffrey
    Mocked by: Superblaise
    Basically, the main student bar of wellington and the first port of call for most of my mates on a town night. Attractions include drink specials (Wednesdays $3 most drinks, Friday and Saturdays 2 Redbull and Vodkas for $10), toilets that seem to always have a pool of urine (or soapy water poured in there to clean the pool of urine), live Premier League football after midnight on Saturday nights, sticky feed on all surfaces, being let in on Friday night with t shirt, shorts and jandals, and live music that always plays the same songs, with 30-y/o+ band members that pack up at the end and prowl the dance floor.
    There is meant to be an apparently Kiwiana feel to the bar. Plastic cups are used because when patrons finish their drinks on the dancefloor, they simply drop the glass and keep dancing.
  • The Shack (Map)
    Nominated by: Brendan
    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.
Top Three Places to Be Drunk
Actually quite a difficult list to narrow down, primarily because it includes both "great places to eat when drunk" and "great places to have fun while drunk".
  • Wel-come Takeaways (Map)
    Nominated by: Geoffrey
    Always tasty, always greasy.
    Consists of a counter to make your order and one seat. Its opening hours are 8pm-8am - this takeaways shop is not even open for dinner. Located in the heart of Wellington's red-light district, Wel-come is dwarfed by prolific neighbors Liks strip bar, the Adult Shop, and Blue Note bar and Valve across the road. With such neighbours and their opening hours, their target market is comprised of drunks from town, emos and goths from Valve, Bums from Cuba St, scummy men from Liks/Adult Shop, and prostitutes from Marion St and Vivien St.
    Prices are cheap, food is surprisingly decent and varied, and the staff are friendly and don't mind if you write on their (two) walls.
    • Wel-chicken Combo $5.50
      1 Wel Chicken Burger (chicken patty, lettuce, tomato, mayo, bun)
      1 scoop chip (thats whats written on the board)
      1 Coke brand can of your choice
    • Chicken Chow Mein $6.50
    • Wel-Come Chicken Burger $4.50 (Huge)
      This is making me hungry...
  • Cuba Kebab (Map)
    Nominated by: Ida
    There are many other fine kebab establishments throughout Wellington, but it's nice that one finds the kebab establishment that they are happiest with. This one is mine. Conveniently located on Cuba St. Near an Irish bar. Beware the drunk and rowdy patrons on a Saturday night. Since it is also near a variety of good bars, the chances of you seeing people you know are pretty good. The staff are also very nice, and if you go there enough times, they remember your order. I like their falafels with hummus. Open till around 3-ish on Friday/Saturday nites, and around midnight for the rest of the week.
  • Cue Room (Map)
    Nominated by: Superblaise
    Although technically a bar, more a place to be drunk than to get drunk. Great for nights when you've hit it a little too hard a little too early: turn up with a friend, play five frames of pool, then go to Hadi Gari for the excellent kebabs. If the night still be young, start again, if not, go home knowing that you've had a decent if unspectacular time.
    Remember that it is not necessary to win every game, but you must sink at least something if you wish to maintain your pride.
Honourable Mentions
  • Manners Street Burger King (Map)
    Nominated by: Brendan, Geoffrey
    Manners Street Burger King is going to be somewhere along the route home for almost everyone. It has bright lights and cheap, greasy food. It gives you what you need, right when you need it. Also open until around 3-4am on most Friday and Saturday nights.
  • Kitty O'Shea's (Map)
    Nominated by: Superblaise
    Because there isn't an Irish pub on our list, and there really should be. Of Wellington's three major Irish pubs (Murphy's , Molly's, and Kitty's), this is the roughest and the best. Contrary to popular mythology, it is possible to get turned away at the door. Drink on the balcony during summer for a slow-burning night.
  • Curve (Map)
    Nominated by: Ida
    Small, out of the way, is frequently dead. BUT it has regular dance gigs (expect to pay anywhere between $5-$20 to get in, though) and when this happens, the bar closes at 6. YAY! Party till the sun comes up, and the sound of chirping birds makes you feel slightly guilty. The bartenders are great and easy to talk to. Beware the Bhangra Nights, for there will be many angry, drunk, disgusting men who will grope you. Unless you actually enjoy this, in which case, you should go to Shooters.
  • Mighty Mighty (Map)
    Nominated by: Ida
    For it is cool. Go now, before it stops being cool. Nice cocktails. Lovely clientele. Full of kitsch goodness. There can be many hipsters, but they come in waves. Still, go check it out, even if you are wary of hipsters. I also heart the music. Go listen to the music!
Dishonourable Mentions
  • Shooters (Map)
    Nominated by: Mealz
    Mocked by: Everyone else (sorry Mealz)
    Where freedom-crazed Supré-shopping first-year girls go to be preyed upon by lecherous middle-aged men. Does have decent drinks prices at the bar downstairs on a Wednesday night.

Friday, February 02, 2007

The Saga of The Dumpster

(Warning: In-Joke. If you don't get it, don't worry.)

The Dumpster, a superhero of Kelburn, with the ability to produce stool of incredible density and resilience. Posing as a mildly irritating marketing student by day, The Dumpster emerges at night to help rid the world of the evil forces of hygiene, flush-toilets, and bandwidth.

While many have heard of his deeds, few know the origins of his terrifying power. Raised downstream from an abandoned Agent Orange dumping ground, The Dumpster's body became mutated, allowing him to absorb internet bandwidth, transforming it into nuggets of super-hardened porcelain death.

His parents, fearing for their lives and for the future of the country's internet backbone, smuggled him into the backwater nation of New Zealand as a foreign exchange student. Here, they hoped, his terrible hunger for bandwidth could be controlled by the powerful Queen Telecom and her Scepter of Monopoly.

There, languished at the end of a dial-up connection, The Dumpster was studied by the undercover scientist known as Snowflake. Over time, Snowflake warmed to his dumpish ways, and a secret romance developed. Finally, no longer able to watch his immense suffering, Snowflake freed The Dumpster from the laggy clutches of his dial-up cage, and brought him to great Hall of Everton, where he could feed.

And feed he did, processing great swaths of bandwidth into one of the most incredible toilet submarines ever created. But The Dumpster vowed that he would use his incredible powers for the good of humanity. He trained, day and night, perfecting his technique, enhancing his already monstrous powers of dumpage.

With the aid of Snowflake, The Dumpster forged in the mighty fires of Mount Vic, the Breeches of Density (+5 attack against porcelain), allowing him to concentrate his stool into deadly clumps of supersonic turd.

Tune in next week to hear about The Dumpster's mortal foes: Special Agents Tyna Twirly and Mealzita Morena of Queen Telecom's Bandwidth Utilization Taskforce (BUT), and Malice McArthur, leader of the Porcelain Rebellion.

We have our learner licences!

We got them on Friday morning. Now shut up about our driving skills. We are having lessons. We REALLY need a car.

Geoff, now you can start looking again for one for us.

The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is always very very busy - we had an appointment at 8.20 in the morning and they still had a huge line of people waiting!

Our driving lessons start on Monday. Brendan gets to drive a mini.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Our Computers are Ng'd...

Last night we went out to the airport (courtesy of Jonno and Ingrid) to pick up our computers. On arrival, we were told we couldn't have them (but they were there) cos Customs had to see them. Problem: Customs was shut. While the cargo company was open until 9 pm, Customs closed at 4 pm. And was only open on weekdays. So we went to Fry's instead and bought a modem and a router (which cost $17!).

I went back this morning to go to Customs. After navigating around between the different terminals (you can't walk, it's too far, so you have to take the bus;) I arrived at the International Arrivals building, where Customs was. It was locked. No sign, nothing. Yet the hours posted on the doors were 8 am to 4 pm. So I walked back and forth for a while trying to find any other entrance into the Arrivals building, which only let people exit, and getting rather frustrated since I had come all this way and the office should have been open.

Eventually, an official asked me what I was looking for. (I did walk up and down quite a few times.) He called Customs but couldn't get through. So he called another number for Customs, and still couldn't get through. So we walked over there, and I proved it was definitely shut. So he called the head of Customs, who said he was only 10 minutes away and would come down himself. This is something which has really struck me here - American kindness and customer service goes beyond the ordinary in a lot of ways. People are very kind and willing to help even if it is a bit out of their way. I really like that about Americans.

So I waited for around 20 minutes, while another woman came over as well to wait, and said that it was also closed yesterday. Suddenly a big burly security officer came up, and opened the door; he was a customs officer. About a minute after that, another burly man in casual clothing came up as well. He was the Head of Customs. He and the other guard went into the office, and I heard them talking about why the person who was supposed to be there, wasn't, and where was he and why was he taking a sick day without telling them?! I just needed my piece of paper signed, so that was OK.

So I took the buses again back to the cargo area where our computers were, and got a taxi over there to pick them up. I signed the piece of paper, and they went to get the boxes. They were wet!! And Brendan's was all banged up, and so was mine. I was NOT happy, but I loaded them into the taxi anyway and went home.

Brendan was very upset when he saw his. It had several large dents in the top; it was very damp as well, and the entire cage which holds the hard drives etc was severely bent out of shape. It was obviously banged around a lot and dropped. Meaning that all of the hard drives had come unplugged and every single cord was out of its socket and all of the video cards and hard drives were scattered around the bottom of the case. So basically his computer is totally Ng'd.

(technical rant coming)

Worst of all, all his hard drives are in RAID array which makes them faster, but means if you lose one, you lose both as half of the data is stored on each one. And we have almost certainly lost at least one drive. He needs to buy a new case as well. We have no idea how we are going to get this sorted, because we can't even test his computer parts on my computer cos they don't fit the motherboard on mine.

One of my hard drives fell out as well, and the other one makes a ticking sound when it works, and doesn't really work that much. It keeps failing. The one with the photos on it. I am very worried because I put my photos on Brendan's computer for "insurance" - there are around 33 GB of photographs so it's not something you can easily store, and I REALLY don't want to lose them! If his doesn't work, and at the moment it certainly looks like it won't, mine is the only other option. It breaks whenever you try and use it (such as putting new photos on). The main problem with our insurance is that I signed the form before I saw (and felt) the packages, and its hard to prove with photos that something has been water-damaged. Luckily I did take a photo before we opened them though. But we are royally Ng'd.

On the bright-ish side, Brendan does get an excuse to go back to Fry's. And at least his screen still works. I need a new screen anyway. Geoff, you would LOVE Fry's; but I've promised Brendan he can talk about it.