Saturday, February 16, 2008

Babies! (Not ours, luckily!)

Well, last Friday my sister Fia had her first baby, Jayden Rohan, at 11pm! Apparently she was only in the hospital for 20 minutes before she had it! So it was a reasonably quick labour, with no painkillers which is pretty brave. I swear he looks exactly like her with the same lips, nose and hair! Congrats, Fia!

So, today I got a text from Dad who has finally managed to go and visit. Quote: "Jayden is gorgeous and Fia is smitten"! Actually, I think Dad is smitten! Which is great. It's the first grandchild in our family, and my grandma now has two great-grandchildren! (My cousin Anneke and her husband Wouter also have a gorgeous little boy called Gawain who is 6 months older than Jayden. ) Fia is at her home in Fielding now if any NZ family and friends wish to visit, I'm sure she'd love to see you all.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


On Valentines' Day for the past few years, hundreds (if not thousands) of people have come to the corner of Market and Embarcadero streets in San Francisco, armed with pillows. On the stroke of 6pm, as the clock in the Ferry Building strikes, the whole place erupts into a huge pillowfight! Feathers fly everywhere and everyone shrieks and laughs and waves their cameras. The rule is that you can't hit anyone with a camera, and you can only hit people with your pillow. It's very fun. People dress up.

Anyway, Monica (my new intern who is awesome) and I rushed down Market Street after work, getting there just as everything started! We met Brendan who was carrying the pillows, and rushed into the fray. I want to show you all the videos, but it's probably best if I just do some photos for now....

It was a bit like a mosh pit....

Monday, February 11, 2008

Unexpected and Surprising Revelations about America

A survey from AIPT (the company that manages our visas) asked me "What are some of the most unexpected or surprising things you have learned during your program?".

Obviously I couldn't think of everything off the top of my head, but here is what I wrote:

  • American audiences really love to get involved. It's hard to get a New Zealand audience to do much more than clap.
  • Americans in general are very outgoing. I actually can't recall meeting an American who would be "shy" by New Zealand standards.
  • Almost every major recreational activity has a specific set of foods associated with it. You can't buy Eggnog at any time other than Christmas, and no-one wants to shell their own peanuts unless there's a baseball game going on.
  • Even Americans are sometimes confused about when to tip, and how much. Am I really supposed to tip the postman at Christmas?
  • When you have an accent, wait staff are always relieved when they realize you intend to tip them.
  • A surprising number of Americans believe New Zealand is in Europe.
  • You cannot live without a car in San Jose.
  • Californians spend a lot of money on new cars.
  • You can get a full license in about a week (for over-18's anyway). In NZ this takes two years.
  • Living in America, you actually matter to those big well-known websites. Amazon delivers overnight, Google Maps will give you directions to almost anywhere, and all those tech products which take forever to make it to NZ are right there on
  • A small soda in MacDonalds is the size of a New Zealand large.
  • The physical distance between safe areas and dangerous areas of a city can be frighteningly small.
  • In many ways America is like 50 small countries in one. Generalizations and stereotypes rarely apply everywhere.
  • You can buy 2000 straws at Costco for the same price as 20 straws at Safeway. Costco is a wonderful store.
  • Labels in supermarkets usually list the price-per-pound of things, making it much easier to compare.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

A weekend in Tahoe... or The Snowed-Out Trip!

Last weekend we went up to Tahoe... a lot of things went wrong, but we still had fun.


I got up at 6am and started work at 7am, managed to drag myself off at 5pm. The joy of 10 hour days with no lunch. Costco had no suitable car batteries, so the guy suggested I walk "a block and a half" down Potrero Road. Now I knew it was a dangerous area.... but it was early evening and I really needed the battery so I decided to go there anyway. It was closer to six blocks along the most dodgy part of the area, between 10th and 16th streets, filled with homeless guys who stared at me as I walked by in the half-light. It was getting darker and darker, and I almost went into a shop to check I was going the right way. But just then I saw an auto shop up the street and went inside.

Luckily for me the bus stop was right across the road, but I still had to carry everything about 4 blocks home, along from market street to the cable car, up California street and home. All 25 pounds of battery plus some tools. Ouch.

So we installed the battery and set off to find chains.... and looked... and looked... we must have been to most of the Walgreens, garages and Rite Aids in the area because we drove around for 3 hours before conceding defeat. :( Heading home, a parking spot was waiting for us. :)

Saturday we got up at 5am and left at 6.30am. We tried to find chains in Vallejo, but every shop there opened at 10am. Luckily the next town wasn't quite as hick, and sold us chains. Finally!

By the time we arrived in Tahoe it was around 11am, so we decided to just play in the snow and go sightseeing.

Which was fun, except that most of the roads were closed as there was so much snow! It was impossible to drive along most of the roads around the lake.

We drove around the Nevada side instead, looking for a place to stop and take pictures. It seems that everything is very commercialized - everyone has private property around the lake so there's almost no public access, just resorts and restaurants. We drove up as far as Glenn Point before we realised that we weren't going to find any nice places to go, and even if we could, there was far too much snow so there would be no roads down there. Only the main roads / highways were actually plowed, and some of the streets. Everything else was under about 5 feet of snow.

This is the "street" the chalet was on - the driveway is on the left. Yes, this is an actual street.

Here's Lake Tahoe. There is quite a bit of melted snow in the water!

The side street we parked on by Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe on Sunday when the sun came out!

It's quite funny - right on the border between California and Nevada, are casinos. On one side is a picturesque small town, and the other side is huge casinos! Financially irresponsible signs along the road exhorted visitors to "Cash your pay, spin the wheel!"

However, we also had a minor car incident! We were driving along at about 30 mph when the car in front of us suddenly decided his exit was coming up, but he couldn't stop, so luckily he decided to keep going! Brendan tried to stop, but we also kept sliding! For a long horrifying moment it looked as if we were going to hit the car in front of us, but then we turned into a snow bank and came to a stop. (Luckily all the snow was so soft and powdery that the entire time we were driving around, it was safe to hit into and bounce off! We saw this happen to lots of cars, including ours.) Sitting in the car feeling relieved, I looked out my window and noticed another car's bonnet beside us, not 10cm parallel with our car! The people behind us had also been unable to stop in time, and had grazed our bumper before coming to rest in the snowbank beside us! Luckily no-one was hurt, and nothing was damaged. I have the whole thing on video too! That will be interesting to watch later....

Americans, it seems, not only drive badly in the rain, but also the snow. They keep their following distance at half a car length or less, but drive slower, as if that's going to avoid accidents! It just slows everything down (see post below about rain driving) and causes lots of accidents.

So we went back to the chalet we were staying in with friends from IBM. The owners of the chalet were into bears in a big way... there were 18 figurines of varying shapes and sizes in the lounge alone!

Here is the interior of the chalet - with one of the bears on the left...

Here is the chalet on Saturday.... with Brendan throwing snow

Here is the chalet on Sunday!

Overnight, it snowed so much that our car was completely covered. It snowed all of Saturday and most of Sunday as well. We got up at 6am to go skiing, but the roads were closed. All the skifields were closed. On the bright side, the sun came out for about an hour. We were glad we put our chains on the night before when there was around 5cm of snow, because when we came out in the morning there was 2 feet of snow on and around our car! Talking to the neighbours, they said it was the heaviest snowfall in about 30 years. Insane!

Spot our car! (It's the line on the right.)

Brendan digging out our car - luckily we put the chains on the night before!

Here's the view from the bedroom window in the chalet - lots of icicles.

Eventually around 12 noon on Sunday, the snow plows went through, and we tottered off to Safeway (supermarket) to buy skiing food (i.e. nuts, dried fruit and rice cakes - just like when I was a kid). We also walked a block down the road to see Lake Tahoe while it was actually sunny and a bit clear, which was more than it had been the day before.

Finally we were on the road around 12.30, and it took us until 1.30 pm to get to Sierra snowfields, what felt like 10 miles away. We crawled along, with traffic pretty much at a standstill the entire way. So by the time we actually got to Sierra and put our snow chains back on in record time so we could park in the parking lot, it was closer to 2pm. So we just pottered around and had coffees and looked around and planned for the next trip!

Brendan at Sierra

The weekend coming up is Presidents' weekend - the worst possible time to go. (Long weekend - everyone and their mother will be there.) But hopefully we can go up in a few weeks again.