Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Makeover

Well, I decided it was time to switch over to the new version of Blogger. Hopefully this one is a bit more co-operative for uploading pictures than the last one. Anyhoo, take a look at the nifty new features:
  • a visitor counter,
  • a world map showing where people are accessing this blog from, and
  • links to other blogs, written by groovy people we know!

Hope you enjoy the changes, and more improvements should be on the way. In the meantime, hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas, and have a great New Year!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Christmas Eve...

Christmas preparations have been full on here in the South Pacific for the last couple of days. Santa's workshop has had to take exceptional measures to ensure certain individuals aren't too clever by half (as they tend to be) about finding their presents before the great man arrives this evening:
















Those affected by these measures were saddened. But they know that Santa knows best (heh).







"But I'm so cute and innocent! How could Santa embargo me so?"












As a final precaution, however, a grumpy reindeer was posted outside the workshop's door to ensure absolute security. My, isn't he a fine looking speciman!








"Merry friggin' Christmas, all right? Now keep it movin' elf-boy."











Merry Christmas everybody! Will be back again tomorrow with more stories and pictures!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Phew!

Ever since our return from Oz, things have been nonstop.

At work, I was plunged into organizing the annual Stats New Zealand methodology symposium, otherwise known as the Professional Development Offsite event. I had never organized anything like that before, and to a large degree was on my own to do so. Luckily, some very kind workmates were able to lend hands here and there, which made an immense difference; the task was reduced to being difficult and unweildy, rather than simply impossible. All the same, I have a newfound respect for people who do this for a living!

So, after a long week of getting the event plans set and ready, Dave and I whisked off to Auckland for the long-awaited U2 concert. U2 has been a favourite band of mine for well over a decade, and for various lame reasons I've had to miss their tours in the past. But not this time! Needless to say, I was psyched.

The warm-up act (Kanye West) was fun, the weather was cooperative, and the concert was amazing. The band focussed on its hits, old and new alike, and particularly memorable was The Edge's searing guitar solo to "Bullet the Blue Sky". The most striking thing, though, was a logo scorched across the stage-spanning screen during "Sunday Bloody Sunday" with a simple, splendid message...

"Coexist". Amazing.

So, after the concert, Dave and I returned back to Wellington. The airlines were all sold out, so we took a 12 hour bus ride back. While it may sound uncom-fortable, it was actually quite pleasant -- we both welcomed a chance to sit and do nothing but enjoy the view.

Upon returning, I was immediately thrust into the insanity of the SNZ event itself, and making sure everything went off without a hitch. Or at least, as few hitches as possible. All in all, it was a complete success (insofar as the talks happened, people were fed, everything occurred reasonably on time, and people seemed to be enjoying themselves). I even succeeded in getting some colleagues to do a statistician's Haka, which was possibly the most amusing thing I've seen all year. ;-)

Immediately thereafter was Dave's birthday, as well as the arrival of Ben and Chris Hume. We went to Dave's favourite restaurant -- Cafe Bastille -- where we were treated to champagne by the waitress for waiting so long for a table. The food was well worth it, though, and the company could not have been better.

The next night was the SNZ Christmas Party, where I got a chance to wear a new dress, and I found a new dance partner. Dave and I skipped out a bit early so we could spend more time with his folks, which was a nice way to end the night.

10AM the next morning saw me on a flight to Rotorua, where I spent the day Zorbing and lounging in the thermal pools. Zorb, as some of you may recall, is the inflateable hamster ball I mentioned in a previous post. They put a bunch of water into it so you slip and slide around, no different than a waterslide. It was an absurd amount of fun. Later I went to Rotorua's famous thermal spas and watched the sun set. It doesn't get any better than that.

Next day, 7 sharp, I'm on a bus headed for Waitomo Caves to meet Andy Quigley, a fellow Stats Canada-ite here for a visit. We meet up, gear up, and do a 100-metre abseil (rappel) into a chasm known as The Lost World. From there, we trek through over 2 kilometres of black caves against incredible currents of varying strengths and depths. (I learned that, for those of us who are "buoyant" in the hip region, dragging oneself through small crevices against deep, gushing water is damn near impossible!) The cave walls were so rough, I'm still waiting for the skin on my fingertips to grow back. The experience itself was amazing, though, and I'm glad Andy suggested it. Aside from being a completely cool thing to do , we saw galaxies of glow-worms, and even made friends with an eel.

After that, Andy and I indulge in some much-earned beers. He hands me an envelope, in which I find a Christmas card signed by the StatsGang, and it damn near makes me sobby. I miss those guys.

Next day is the bus to Auckland, from where I'm catching my return flight. We happen to be on the same (only) bus as an Australian couple we befriended, and so it is a lively bus ride back. We arrive with just enough time to do dinner before I need to dash off to the airport, so we find a cute Lebanese place that'll let us drink Andy's wine there. The food was good too. ;-) I say a temporary goodbye to my Stats buddy, and a few hours later, I'm back in Wellington.

You lost track of the days yet? Me too. So I'm at work, trying to concentrate over muscle pain, skinless hands, and a general and persistent feeling of disorientation. Somehow, I manage to be productive enough to dig myself out of the work that had piled up during my involvement with the PDO event. Then I find out that both the other people working on my main survey will be leaving in the next month, thereby leaving me, for the foreseeable future, as New Zealand's foremost official statistical authority on disability statistics. Scary.

The workweek is further shortened by a trip out to the lovely Queenstown, which is our Christmas present from the Humes. It was a fabulous time, but I fear that our Christmas present to them will not be as exciting...? :-\ Queenstown is very tough competition for most things, gifts and destinations alike. It is a little like Banff -- picturesque, brand new, and full to the brim with international travellers (yet strangely devoid of locals). We enjoyed a stay in a lovely lakeside villa, from which we would walk into town to enjoy the restaurants and shopping. Most importantly, though, we saw Milford Sound, arguably New Zealand's most cherished and most beautiful park. It is a rugged area carved entirely out by glaciers, leaving behind unlikely-looking mountains and fantastic waterfalls. We took a cruise though the main pass, which was positively breathtaking. Pictures to are here.

Also of note was the contest of wills between Ben Hume and the scourge of the southland, the car-eating snow parrots known as Keas. One was eyeing up our rental car and approaching it intently, only to see Ben's steely glare and slink guiltily under a nearby car. It would reemerge slyly, hoping to go unnoticed, slink ever closer to our car... and then stop and retreat again when it made eye contact. Luckily, we were able to get out of there before our car became a meal.

The following day, before leaving, Ben and Chris took Dave and I on another, much wilder boat ride. In the shallow, gold-bearing river of Shotover Canyon, we all had a most exhilerating jet-boating experience, complete with breakneck speeds, 360-degree turns, and the occasional near-collision. It was a great time.

Next stop was Kawarau Bridge, a historical monument of sorts. It is the very place where a man of dubious sanity named A. J. Hackett invented the sport of tying elasticized cords to one's feet, then flinging oneself off a high place. Sadly, this historic bungy-jumping establishment was completely booked, so no one among us was able to partake in the madness. It really is a shame. I even resisted the temptation to Photoshop our heads onto other bungy jumpers so we could gain bragging rights. ;-)

Then, back Dave and I went to Wellington, whereas Ben and Chris continued their travels via Christchurch and Kaikoura. This has left me with just enough time to catch up on sleep, let my liver recover, and get the house properly cleaned in time for the arrival of BOTH sets of parents. (Mine are due to arrive in less than 48 hours, and I would much rather my mother not meet the army of dustbunnies currently threatening to conquer my house.) And somewhere, in all these things to do, I still have a full-time job to keep me busy.

Luckily, this weekend is shaping up to be a treat. The six of us will be heading up to Martinborough, the lovely wine region nearby. We have a house rented that promises to be a nice, secluded place to put our feet up, read a book, recover from jet lag, and probably drink a lot of local wine.

Sounds like bliss.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Oz Trip, Completion

Dave and I are now officially back from our trip around Australia. Between the time difference (3h) and the extended-holiday brainspace, we were both rather discombobulated for our first day back at work. Luckily, there was no drama at my work while I was gone, so I got to ease into being back. So far, so good.

Back to the holiday itself, lots has happened since my Airlie Beach / Whitsunday post. We headed onto the cruise, and it was splendid. It was a catamaran that sleeps 30, but just barely, so it was a bit tight. Luckily, the others on the boat were sufficiently amicable that this wasn't uncomfortable. Nonetheless, I'm still very glad Dave and I sprang the extra bucks for a private cabin.

By day, we would alternate between snorkelling and scuba diving. I'm glad I did both, because each is such a different, if not totally incorparable, experience. Snorkelling is physically exhausting, but requires little to no mental computations... meaning, more brain power can be used on actually observing the fish. Furthermore, it's harder to bump into people while snorkelling, and if you do, it's annoying rather than potentially life-threatening.

Scuba diving is entirely different. Because you are wholly submerged in water, moving around is much easier. All the equipment becomes totally weightless, and the slightest arm or leg movement moves you forward in an organic and graceful manner. While not physically demanding at all, the sheer notion of breathing underwater was one that my body, at first, rejected outright in the form of unadulterated panic. First, you must get over that, then you start noticing the increasingly unbearable sinus and ear pain. Then you have to control that properly. Then, once you're at a depth, you have to think and move AT ALL ANGLES -- left, right, up AND down -- which is wholly unnatural. Then you have to watch that your long flippers don't accidentally hit any coral and destroy hundreds of years of irreplaceable growth. Then your buddy glides by, nearly kicks you in the face with his flipper (and thus nearly dislodges the thing you BREATHE through!) but it's nobodys' fault, because it's tight to move around in, and chances are, you've probably nearly kicked him in the face, too.

Somewhere, in all this thinking, you're supposed to notice and appreciate your surroundings. It took a couple of dives before I really could. Luckily, towards the end, things were much better.

We saw sharks, turtles, Nemos, angelfish the size of dinner plates, parrotfish, massive tropical lobsters, giant clams... more than I could even name. The coral seemed much more beautiful in the Whitsunday edge of the Great Barrier Reef, and the fish certainly were more curious and friendly. Some of the big ones were a little TOO curious and friendly, though... on my last snorkel, I was fairly edgy about the deep channel I had to cross to get back to the boat. Now, you don't have to see "Open Water" to know that inter-reef deep channels can (and should!) be nervewracking. So here I am, making the best time I can back to the boat, and I breathe a big sigh of relief when I'm about a metre from the boat ladder.

Then I see a giant, black thing lurking in the shadows UNDER THE BOAT. Eep. Before I could make up my mind on what to do, it came close enough to tell that it was clearly some sort of fish, not a shark. All the same, it was probably the better part of 1.5m long, completely black (which is odd, considering all the bright colours in a reef), and structured exactly like any small fish you'd find on a restaurant plate. Overlarge eyes, puckered lips, almost round in shape from the side, and very narrow. And he was approaching me with the benign but persistent curiosity of pedestrians coming across a movie set barricade on their daily commute. Luckily, he stopped about 2 feet from me, and held his distance while I slowly went for the ladder. Meeting him was definitely a great experience, but man, was I ever happy to get out of the water!

So that was the reef. There's plenty more stories, but this post is already long enough. The boat also visited two unique beaches in the Whitsunday Islands. The first is known for having sand that is 99% silica... meaning, it is pure white, and as fine as sugar. The beach is shallow for a long, long ways, and because of its warmth, families of stingrays live there. Dave and I saw several beauties, including one that was asleep. We were able to get respectfully close and watch him awhile. It was magical.

The other beach was Finger Beach, so named because the beach itself juts out a distance from the island such that the ocean surrounds it on both sides. There I followed an unamused turtle as he swam in the nearby shallows. He was cute, if antisocial.

So needless to say, the boat trip was an immense success. It was the sole (but ample) redeeming factor of the township of Airlie Beach, or as I like to call it, "mega-attitude-toting obese bad-bleach-blond monoculturalized no-culture American-chain-food nickel-and-dime-ing tourist Hell".

If I hadn't been so grateful to leave Airlie Beach, I might have minded more when, upon arrival to Melbourne, the early-evening temperature was EIGHT FRIKKIN DEGREES. Waaah.

Flashback to Karla packing: "Hmm, I'm going to Australia in the early summer, so I won't be so silly as to pack any long pants!"

Again, waaah. Serves me right for forsaking my Winnipeg Folk Festival roots -- dress for all weather, no matter what. Anyhow, cold or not, Melbourne was worth the trip and then some. The city is stunning, the people are beautiful, there's no end of cultural events to take in, the fashion is sublime, and I haven't eaten so well so cheaply since my last visit to my beloved Montreal. Because of all this, Melbourne has become one of my new favourite cities.

We did some sightseeing, some partying, and on our last night, we saw a concert. It was a free "Make Poverty History" concert featuring some top acts, such as Eskimo Joe, Jet, Sarah Blasko, and even an appearance by U2. It was a great time, and an even better way to wrap up a fantastic holiday.

Ok, so enough of me blabbing. I've uploaded a few pictures here, and another perspective on the trip can be found in our good friend / travelling companion Tomas's blog. Enjoy!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Sad News

Before going into the details of the trip, I would like to share some sad news I received.

I just learned that a deep kinship spanning over a decade of my life is schedueled to end in May, 2007.



Since the age of 15, when life was much, much different than it is now, I fervently followed the lives and adventures of Francine and Katina in the series, "Strangers in Paradise". This internationally-recognized and wildly-acclaimed series has captivated the most diverse audience in the comic book industry. More impressive still is that it is written, drawn, and published by a single person.

The appeal isn't in superhero storylines or talking animals -- rather, it's in the realism of the subjects and characters. One girl struggles with weight, self-esteem, and bad luck with men, whereas her best friend is a loveably obnoxious artist recovering from alcoholism. A myriad of supporting characters rivals the full cast of The Simpsons in number, but in depth and heart, they are in a league of their own.

For more than a decade, we've grown together, we've laughed and cried together... and now, it is officially coming to an end. As of May, it will be no more.

Let us have a moment of silence for the girls, their friends and family, and all those that will miss them. I sure will.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Oz Trip Continued

Hello everyone!

Well, since the last post, Dave, Tomas and I have made our way to the northernmost territory of Australia, Queensland. But don't let the word "north" fool you -- down here, it's positively tropical. The three of us have had a perpetual sweat-sheen for the entire duration of our stay thus far... and it is WONDERFUL. It's a most welcome change to the "temperate" climes of New Zealand, or even our weekend in Sydney.

We landed in Cairns on Monday, and have since done rainforest trekking, swimming in pristine waterfalls, and of course, the majestic Great Barrier Reef. The Reef has been a goal of mine since the tender age of nine, when my father dragged me off to snorkel in Belize... it was so astounding, that once I learned there was an EVEN BIGGER reef to be experienced, I vowed to see it. And now I have! It was stunning, and a loooong post in and of itself. All I'll say in the meantime is that we all tried our hands at scuba diving... and it was incredible. Also very scary, alien, and immensely claustrophobic, but that's a part of the challenge. We went down to about 12 metres and saw the most amazing things. With luck, we will get to do it again soon.

Since Cairns, we took an overnight bus to the Whitsunday Islands, where we will soon be departing on a 3-day 3-night cruise in the somewhat lesser-travelled extension of the reef. After that, we're flying to Melbourne for some much-needed urban relief. (God bless nature and everything, but I could really use a mochaccino!!!) ;-)

Anyhow, I'm thinking of all of you, and big thanks on the comments -- miss you all tons! :-)

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Sydney!

Am sitting in the studio apartment of one Mr. Tomas Ernst in the King's Cross area of Sydney, Australia.

Last night Karla and I flew in from Wellington, saw the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. Both are beautiful.

It's been great catching up with Tomas as well. It's been a while--nearly a year!--but we picked up no problem and are having a great time. He's living the student life and loving it. His place is minutes from the water and downtown. He's got a nice set up here.

Today we went to the Sydney Aquarium and it was fantastic. There were all kinds of sharks, seals, a crocodile, penguins, and loads and loads of fish. It's one of the best I've seen--the tanks were massive, and you could walk into glass tunnels that made you feel you were right in the water. Not that you'd want to be. You should have seen the teeth on some of these sharks, even though none of them were man-eaters.

The difference between Wellington and Sydney is striking too. You really feel like the world is happening here in Sydney. The corporate headquarter skyscrapers are everywhere, and there is a real international buzz about the city. Wellington, while fantastic in so many ways, just isn't the metro that Sydney is.

Karla has been taking many many snaps, as usual. Will share as soon as we can.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Kaikoura

Last weekend was New Zealands' Labour Day weekend, so Dave and I decided to take a trip to the south island. After taking the ferry across the channel, then driving for about 2 hours, we arrived at Kaikoura, the most magnificent place I've seen thus far in this spectacular country.

There will be a blog post going over the trip itself, but first are the pictures! I uploaded some here, but then my flickr account ran out of room, so I had to borrow Dave's for the rest. Enjoy the pictures!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Apparently, it's Hallowe'en soon.

This is the first year, in the entirety of my existence, that it has completely and utterly snuck up on me. I usually plan for it for weeks, sometimes months -- what costume I'll wear, whether I'll make it or cannibalize it from parts of other costumes, what I'll do, where I'll be... this would always be so exciting. And it still is. I'll dress in theme to virtually anything that warrants it. Frankly, I'm still cheezed that I'm not allowed to trick-or-treat anymore. It seems that fully-grown humans going trick-or-treating tend to be greeted with suspicions of being a mugger rather than candy. I much prefer the candy.

Nonetheless, Hallowe'en is only five days away, and I only just realized it last night.

But it seems like such an absurd holiday here. I mean, spring is in the air, so everything is fresh, green, and very, very damp. (But luckily, mould DOES wash out... hooray!) Nothing here is Halloween-ish at all, as we all know that the following are absolutely mandatory prerequisites for the holiday in question:

* the darkness falling earlier and earlier,
* the eerie crunching of leaves underfoot,
* the dry, dusty bite of cold, late autumn air, lightly perfumed with stubble-burning smoke,
* the thrilling suspense about whether you'll have to wear a snowsuit under your costume.

But it is nothing of the sort here. To be honest, I'm not even sure if they celebrate Halloween here -- it might be more of a Guy Fawkes country. On the other hand, I have never known Wellingtonians to pass up an opportunity to dress up, so we'll have to wait and see.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

O Negative

As many of you already know, the Kiwis invented many of the world's extreme sports. Apparently there's something in the air here that makes people want do strange, adrenaline-inducing activities such as bungee jumping, or running down a hill in a water-filled plastic hamster ball.

Getting into the spirit of the local culture is a very high priority for me. Granted, I may yet go bungee jumping and hamster-ball-ing, but what to do now? Of course, my courage is nowhere NEAR enough to do the kind of extreme-adrenaline-pumping sporting that my extremely brave friend Lisa does... specifically, she gets her rushes from singing the national anthem at university basketball games! Eeep. I can jump off a cliff, but forget about THAT level of courage. ;-)

So, in contemplating what else might bring me to the brink of terror (and preferably do so frugally), I came across a bulletin board notice at work. It was New Zealand Blood Services calling out for donors. My blood froze at the mere thought.

Which, of course, meant that I had found exactly what I was looking for. Extreme terror, pushing of physical limits, no cost whatsoever, and hey, maybe even saving a life. And free cookies. Sign me up!

(For those of you who don't know, I am the single biggest BABY with needles... I've been known to cry, whine, see spots, and usually faint when getting one. Hence the unadulterated terror.)

Anyhoo, I managed to give a whole half to 3/4 pint before nearly blacking out! The blacking out part wasn't so fun... or at least, I don't think it was fun, but I can't really remember. Nonetheless, I took the ransom out in cookies, and had an excellent excuse for being spacey in my meetings that afternoon. Quite a good experience, and I think I'll shoot for the whole pint next time.

Plus, I got to learn my blood type! O negative. The Japanese use blood types as horoscopes... Apparently O's are like this. Weird, eh? ;-)

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Finally, more pictures

So after having argued to, wrestled with, and copiously cursed at Blogger's flakiness in picture-uploading, I decided to look elsewhere.

With any luck, this link should work. It contains pictures of the trip to Auckland and the Coromandel Peninsula that Dave and I took some weeks ago. It was a great deal of fun, and we learned the following:

  • * Helen Clark was in the Koru Lounge (NZ equivalent of Maple Leaf Lounge) with us, but in a different part than the standard Koru Lounge riffraff (i.e. us)
  • * We ran into a movie star on the plane! "Sione's Wedding" actor Robbie Magasiva was on the plane with us.
  • * Auckland was lovely, and we found a great garden-mansion hostel to stay in. The weather was much warmer! The plants seem to like it better there too...
  • * All-you-can-eat sushi buffets are a great idea... except for the being-so-stuffed-you-feel-like-you're-gonna-die part.
  • * The roads in Coromandel Peninsula are downright scary. Sharp turns at top speed, teensy narrow roads, vanishing corners, major slopes, steep cliffs and hungry abysses, all at once.
  • * Sheep are less scared of cars than they are of people.
  • * Coromandel Town serves fresh half-shell oysters at $20 per dozen. You eat them while overlooking the body of water they were caught from that very morning.
  • * Shiraz is called Syrrah here.
  • * Coromandel Town is also known for its clay hills, used as a raw source for many local potters and sculptors. One even built a railroad into the clay hills, excavated clay along the way, and has since turned the railroad into a tourist attraction.
  • * On the opposite side of the Coromandel Peninsula is a famous beach. At low tide, magma-heated water seeps upward through the sand, making nice, toasty pools of water to rest in. It needs to be mixed with normal seawater, however, as the heated water can actually burn one's skin.
  • * A set of caves near Hot Water Beach include Cathedral Cove, an aptly-named cave with a gigantic opening and a massive domed interior. It is simply spectacular. Also, the sand on the beach is actually pink!
  • * Calla lilies grow everywhere, wild and untended. Given that they are an incredibly posh, popular, and very expensive wedding flower, it's neat to see them growing by the roadside like weeds. Interestingly, they are the New Zealand symbol of women's suffrage.
  • * Nearby Thames town, there is a greenhouse dedicated entirely to raising orchids and exotic butterflies. Witnessing them flying free is positively mesmerizing to watch.
  • * The atlas moth has a wingspan of nearly a foot, and the beating of its wings has sufficient force to seriously disturb any unstable surface the moth may be attached to... such as a shirt.

Enjoy the pictures -- short descriptions can be obtained through clicking on the "Detailed" view. Let me know if this works for you!

Friday, September 29, 2006

MOULD

My summer clothes have grown MOULD.

Mould. How gross can you get? What is WRONG with this country?!?!

It's been bad enough that, for the past 7 months, I've had to limit myself to outfits suitable for sustained (indoor!) exposure to 15C. A damp 15C. I'm a central-heating-phile Canadian... how many friggin outfits like that do you think I own?!?! Maybe 10?

So, much to the disgust of my fashion sense, I've been wearing and rewearing (and rewearing) these ten outfits. FOR SEVEN MONTHS. I look like a homeless fashion victim. My workmates must think I'm living out of a backpack.

But that's ok. Because warmer weather is coming, and maybe one day -- one day -- I'll be able to once again express myself through my beloved clothing. My beloved, painstakingly-chosen, often expensive, and absolutely integral-to-my-sanity clothing. They plead to me, "Karla... Karla... when are you going to wear us again? You havent forgotten about us, have you? We love you!"... to which I, with a heart full of sadness, must say "Soon, soon. The weather is warming, and soon we can be together again."

Today, it was finally a bit warmer. Not warm enough for summer clothes, mind you, but I just couldnt take waiting any longer. I don't care, I'll just be cold. My poor clothes...

So I gleefully pull out all my summer clothes, only to see... green spots? Brown fuzz?! What the -- ?!?!!?

New Zealand's shoddy infrastructure has violated my beloved clothing. My inner sanctum is covered in MOULD. THIS IS NOT OK.

So now, I get to spend my weekend lovingly resuscitating (hand-washing) my beauties. As if I didnt already have enough to do. Mould... what is WRONG with this country?!?!!?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Canada in 45 minutes

I got to my desk yesterday morning and found a very interesting email.

"Hi all,
Unfortunately we haven't got any body to give a talk for our next SM seminar.
Rather than cancelling it, I am wondering if any body who has given a talk/presentation to people outside of SMS recently and is willing to share with us.
If you are keen, please contact me by 12.00pm tomorrow (29/09/06) at x4160.
Cheers,
Nellie"


No presenter, eh? I thought back to the last seminar I attended, which was a colleague speaking of her experiences working for the Office of National Statistics for the UK. She spoke about the project breakdowns, the power structures, and even what the work environment and the building itself were like. There was so much interest, latecomers in the audience had to scavenge chairs from other conference rooms. People were jammed together to listen to this talk.

Surely, I thought, a similar talk on a Statistics Canada experience would be interesting...? Before I knew what I was doing, I talked to Nellie, and she thought it was a great idea.

Gulp.

So now I'm committed... the email notification has gotten out, and I hope there's some degree of interest. It would be embarrassing if no one showed up. :-/

And of course, it's completely impossible to describe vital Statistics Canada philosophies such as complete geographic centralization (despite the vastness of the country) and its utter devotion to bilingualism (an alien concept here), without going into some history.

Augh, History, my old nemesis... what a detested subject! And yet, fairly unavoidable. I guess I'll just leave in the parts with war, drunkenness, beaver-chasing, and burning down the White House.

...Wait, that's all of it, isn't it? ;-) Maybe history isn't so bad after all.

Anyhoo, wish me luck! D-Day is this Thursday.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Pink Ginners Prize Giving

Last night we had the team dinner, where they handed out awards for the year.

I got two! Best Foreign Player and a certificate for my 'player of the day' performance a while back.

Karla got one as well...Best Foreign Supporter. She is a totally deserving recipient of such an honor.

In short, she rocks!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Crazy, nasty politics

Some of you will be astonished that this is my first post about politics in all the time that we've had this blog. I've tried to spare Karla (and you all) from my junkie ways. But what's been happening in NZ politics has been too crazy to resist posting about it.

There's a lot of background I need to explain before the really juicy/crazy stuff. So please stick with me.

To start at the beginning, last November there was an election here. During that election, the Labour Party, led by Helen Clark, mailed out a big batch of what they call 'pledge cards'. Basically they're wallet sized cards that had the key planks of the Labour platform on them, with Helen Clark's picture on the front. These were sent out a few weeks before the election, which Labour eventually won.

Trouble was, it turned out Labour used public money (their parliamentary funding that all parties are entitled to help them function in Parliament) to print and mail out the cards, rather than their own political party money, which is meant to be used for election related expenses. The Chief Electoral Officer said, 'Poor form'. The Solicitor General said, 'Poor form'. And in a leaked report, the NZ Auditor General here has said, 'Very, very poor form'.

The AG's report not only implicated Labour, though. It also implicated all the other parties: the National Party (the main opposition, basically equivalent to the Tories back home), the Greens, United Future (centre rightwing), New Zealand First (rightwing), and the Progressive Party (leftwing).

According to the leaked AG report, the Labour Party had 'misspent' about $400 000, National about $10 000 and the others at amounts somewhere in between. When the controversy broke, the National Party oh so nobly paid back the ten grand that they spent improperly. They then went on a 'pay it back' campaign in parliament and the media to try and force Labour into coughing up the cash, saying they had 'stole the election' using taxpayers' dollars.

Labour replied that the AG was wrong in his assesment, blamed the administrators of the fund for allowing them to use the money improperly, and publicly mused about changing the law to allow publicy funded election campaigns, retroactive to the previous election. After several weeks they said that they simply weren't going to pay the money back, no matter what.

All this gave National all they needed to start calling Labour corrupt, which really ticked Labour off. One of their cabinet ministers, Trevor Mallard, said that he had a bunch of dirt on National MPs and was going to reveal what he knew if they didn't cool it with the corruption talk.

This is when things got really bad. Shortly after this news broke that the leader of the National Party, Don Brash was taking some days off of his duties in Parliament to attend to 'problems in his marriage'. There were rumours that Brash had been having an affair with a very prominent business woman, and that some in his caucus had questioned him on whether the rumour were true. None of this was helped by the fact that Brash had met his current wife while still married to his first. Lots of people were wondering if Brash would survive as leader of National.

Helen Clark and Labour went on the offensive. Clark said that she was looking forward to reminding Brash about 'integrity' in their next question period. Parliament had turned really nasty by this point, and hardly anything could be said in the house without the one side shouting the other down if they were trying to speak.

So pretty ugly right? It gets uglier.

Last weekend a newspaper ran a front page lead story asking if Helen Clark's husband, Peter Davis, is gay. They had a shot of him hugging and possibly kissing another man (a close friend, apparently) at a victory party following Labour's last election win. It then came out that a National activist had written a letter to a newspaper raising questions about Peter Davis' sexuality, though it wasn't clear whether his letter was the catalyst for the barely substantiated front-page story.

Obviously the PM was furious about the report, and blamed National for planting the rumours. National has been furious about the treatment of Don Brash, and blames Labour for stirring up the rumours about his alleged affair. Right now, things seem to be just plain viscious.

The whole sordid series of events seems to be doing tons of damage to the system here. Who would ever want to step into public life if they have to put up with rumours about extra-marital affairs and the sexual preference of their spouses? Most commentators here are calling it a 'new low', and I'm inclined to agree. Even BC politics isn't this mental.

Friday, September 15, 2006

It's Official

...Dave and I have officially felt our first New Zealand earthquake. Or in my case, my first earthquake ever.

We live on a busy street that feeds into a highway, so I had just assumed it was a rather large truck passing. Dave came in, excited, and told me it definitely wasn't... apparently earthquakes feel slightly different than trucks, and anyways, no trucks go by here at ten to midnight. Makes sense.

Apparently earthquakes are very common here, and probably more than a dozen have happened in the last few months, but they have thus far been so inconsiderate as to occur in the middle of the night. For those of you who know Dave and I, it takes a lot more than a little earth-shaking to wake either of us, so we've missed them all.

But not anymore! Hooray!

Monday, September 11, 2006

Beefing up

So before Karla and I left on our holiday, I entered a raffle to support a work colleague's chorus. She and her chorus are raising funds to be in a choral competition in Las Vegas (not a topless choral competition, I was assured).

So, for five bucks in exchange for three tickets, I entered. The prize? A quarter of beef. What's a quarter of beef? Here's a quarter of beef:



Help a friend out, right? Not that a quarter of beef would ever fit inside my apartment sized fridge/freezer. I mean, that would just be a joke, right? Right. But five bucks towards a worthy cause and what are the chances, right?

Well the joke's on me my friends. A lovely woman named Liz left a message this morning while Karla and were still away to let me know that I've won "a huge amount of meat" after being one of the names drawn in the raffle. I have the honor of travelling out to a factory in Petone to claim my prize some time this week.

The question is: what the heck am I going to do with all this beef? There is NO WAY it's going to be able to stay here. Can I rent freezer space? Another thought might be a 'beef party', where we give away free meat after making people enter silly competitions.

Please, any other thoughts? I'm in a fix here, since it is now clear that no good deed goes unpunished.

Help!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Coromandel shout out

Really quick post to say Karla and I have been holidaying in the Coramandel peninsula, near-ish to Auckland. Very pretty and rural with lots of seascapes and mountains. Even thermal springs right on a beach! The only downside is rain rain rain rain rain.

We had a beautiful first day but since then it's chucked it down. We're still having fun though! Tonight we're in Thames, and tomorrow we're back to Auckland for our flight home. Will have lots of pics to share once we get back to Wellington. Karla has been taking some fantastic shots (and I even have a good few in there too). Talk soon!

Friday, September 01, 2006

A Very Good Week

This has been a very good week. Work's been very busy, but it's nice -- the days go by quickly, and it's a welcome change of pace to the still-only-learning mode. My project proposal has gotten approved for funding for the coming year, so work will start on that next week. That will be very exciting to get started on... writing the definitive set of standards and guidelines for Editing & Imputation for all Statistics New Zealand is such a great opportunity to be involved in, let alone leading!!!

More tangibly, however, several other events have made this week especially good. For one, humanity has once again survived SkyNet day (Aug 29... and if you get this reference, you're a nerd too!) ;-) Today, Sept 1, is officially New Zealands' first day of spring, and the weather's been incredible. Bright sunshine, a mellow, dry wind, and a balmy 15C collectively do wonders for the human spirit. You can even see, on the busy streets, people actually smiling and wearing bright colours -- the latter being especially surprising for Wellington, the official capital of black.

Another neat thing about Sept 1 is that it is now exactly 1 year until the wedding. Somehow, it seems realer now. (Naturally, that's a good thing, except for that nagging feeling that I shouldn't be procrastinating as much now!) ;-) Dave, being the romantic gentleman that he is, began the celebrations for our "-1st Wedding Anniversary" by showing up at my work with red roses. He's so great. In another hour, we're getting dolled up to continue the festivities at a fancy restaurant, Logan Brown.

And, as if that wasn't enough reasons to be happy about Sept 1, there's one more... it's the effective date of the PROMOTION I snagged!!!! ^_^ I had kept my application, endorsement procedure, interviews, etc. more or less quiet so as to avoid jinxing anything... but yesterday afternoon I was told that I got it, and with good supporting feedback to boot!

What this means for the job is that I'll be doing essentially the same job, but with more responsibility, more autonomy, and higher expectations with respect to leadership, initiative, involvement and overall job performance and quality. Apparently there's also a bump up in pay, too, but I did this mostly to stretch professionally... and something tells me I definitely will be, soon!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Surprise!

So not many of you will know that this past week, we had a visitor: one Wayne Helgason, father of the lovely Karla.

After busting through customs with some possibly illicit Canadian beef (just kidding--it was totally legit--sort of), Wayne met Karla for her birthday at one of her favorite Wellington eateries: Crazy Horse Steakhouse.

All of this was part of a devious plan concocted by the aforementioned Wayne Helgason and yours truly. See, Karla had no idea her Dad was coming to visit.

Here's how the whole plot unfolded...


  1. Wayne has been making plans to come to New Zealand for quite a while now. Almost every time we chatted on the phone, I'd hear: "Looks like things are coming together for my little trip...". This put me in a tough position --I couldn't tell Karla what was going on. But then it's kinda fun to pull a fast one on the one you love , isn't it?

  2. As the day approached and the exact scheduling became clear, I had to make sure of that she didn't decide she wanted to go to Fiji or Australia or somewhere far away to celebrate her birthday. Occasionally she would send me 'hot deals' emails from Air New Zealand about warm, fun, faraway places she wanted to visit. I countered with: "I am deciding what will happen for your birthday. Plans are already advancing. Leave it to me, Missy." Happily, I think she liked my manly decisiveness rather than second guessing my intentions. Crisis averted, in any event.

  3. The next thing I had to contend with was Karla's announced intention to take the day off around her birthday. Originally, it was the actual day of her birthday, August 14th, which fell on a Monday. "No problem," I thought. "She'll just have the day to hang out with her Dad." But then things changed. "I have so many meetings on my birthday!" said Karla, about a week out. "I think I'll take the Friday off instead." This posed a problem, since Wayne was scheduled to arrive on the Friday, and we'd already decided we wanted to suprise her at the restaurant. The last thing we wanted was for them run into each other at the house before the restaurant surprise--that'd just be no fun at all. Cunningly, I'd already made plans to send her to a spa on the day she wanted to take off, so I had a perfect excuse to get her out of the house on the Friday her Dad arrived. Crisis averted, yet again (am I good or what?).

  4. With plans in place to have Karla occupied and out of the house on the day Wayne arrived, I now had to secure the cooperation of the restaurant to make the ruse complete. What Wayne and I had talked about was to get him dressed as a waiter, and then bring out the water/bread etc at which point Karla would see him and be super excited. As it turns out, my friend and workmate Alisa is great friends with the owner of Crazyhorse, and she arranged for us to all sit down and talk about "the vision" Wayne and I had concoted. Luckily, John was more than pleased to help out, and we spoke to his manager, Rebecca, who was also really keen. I also had a brainwave: what if Wayne could bring in some Canadian steak? Would they be willing to grill it for us? Karla loves and misses her Canadian beef, so I thought this would be a nice finishing touch on top of everything else. John said they'd be happy to, which was really great. All this took place while Karla thought I was at rugby practice, so I had to make sure that I looked properly dishevelled when I came in while also being fully dressed. I told her I had been 'out for beers,' which was true. It's just that the beers had happened at Crazyhorse, no more than a block from our house.

  5. Having set all the pieces up, the rest of the time before Wayne's arrival was spent trying not to knock them over. Honestly, keeping myself from letting the plan slip was the hardest part of this whole thing. It was the mundane thoughts and conversations that were the really dangerous ones. Looking at our liquor cabinet one day, I mused out loud: "Geez, I'm going to have to pick up some rum." Karla looked at me funny: "Why? You hardly ever drink rum. You're a beer guy." This is true, so I made some lame excuse about missing the rum slurpees that me and the boys at 222 Gladstone used to drink over the summer. Luckily, she seemed to accept this. But I didn't end up picking up the rum since I knew she'd be wondering what I was up to. Aside from this little episode, there were a tonne of times I wanted to say, "When your Dad is here..." but managed to bite my tongue. Phew.

  6. Finally the day arrived. I hadn't told Karla anything about what was happening to her that day, insisting everything would be a surprise (which made her sort of nervous, I think). So I arranged breakfast and a little card for her that gave her instructions about where and when she was supposed to be, and when I was going to pick her up. I'd also borrowed Alisa's car (she's so nice!) so that I could pick up Wayne from the airport.

  7. The airport took a little time, since Wayne had to do some fast talking to get the Canada prime ribeye steaks through (yumm..). New Zealand customs is notorioulsy tight about plant and animal products. But the regulations were on his side, so he managed to make it through with steaks intact. We then went on our way home, got cleaned up and headed to Crazyhorse. After catching up with Rebecca and the chef, Carlos, I went and got Karla from the spa, while Wayne made all the final preparations at the restaurant.

  8. Karla looked radiant when I picked her up. She looked happy, relaxed and (as usual--I am such a lucky man) drop dead gorgeous. There was a sudden rainstorm that nearly soaked us, but we managed to get a cab to the restaurant without too much trouble.

  9. So we arrived. The manager, Rebecca, called Karla by name, which worried Karla: "Do I know her?" she whispered to me nervously. They seated us at a table near a window, with Karla facing away from the door where Wayne would emerge. We'd also hidden a video camera that Wayne had brought under the pillow where I was sitting. After Rebecca had told us that our waiter, Wayne, would be out to tell us about the specials, I pulled out the camera and started filming.

  10. The next thing we heard was, "Where are those Canadians?" in a booming voice from the back of the restaurant. Karla turned around, already dazed and confused by the appearance of the video camera, to see Wayne strolling towards her. It was a magic. She was so surprised and so happy to see her Dad. She'd even said, just a few days before, how much she was missing her parents and family. I still haven't been able to wipe the smile off my face from helping to give her such a good birthday. The "best ever", according to the lady herself.

Anyway, that's enough from me for now. I'll try and find a way to post the video of the surprise with a little help from Wayne, and provide a few more details of the week. Will be back again soon!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Ok, yes, I'm kinda getting into this...

My favourite website for checking current times around the world also offers a customizeable countdown tool.

I always swore I wouldn't be one of those brides-to-be who could talk of nothing but wedding planning... but who'd have thought the topic was actually so interesting.... ^_^

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Winter Gardening

Maybe it's my Canadian Prairie blood, but there's something downright peculiar about plants growing, and even blooming, in winter.

After spending the remainder of our summer tweaking the garden out back, it is finally starting to take shape. I'm glad I followed the advice of the saleslady in getting some "winter-flowering" plants -- "Winter flowering!" my inner voice had retorted, "Pull the other one, eh?". But sure enough, midwinter is here and the white native jasmine is a monster, and a happily blooming one at that. It definitely brightens up the garden.

There's also this wild, purple weed that is in bloom, and it is terribly cute. The picture just doesnt do it justice... it's this lovely light purple colour with darker purple around the edges. And yet, it's a weed here! (Note, that cute weed is NOT the same cute weed marked in my garden... that one is an autumn-flowering hot pink daisy that can and will grow anywhere, but still responds favourably to being removed from one area to another.)

Other than that, the garden picture speaks for itself... except for, perhaps, the zombified herb garden. We buy potted herbs, and watch them die slowly and horribly on our sunny kitchen windowsill despite our best efforts to pamper them. When the plant death-rattles start, we put them out of their misery by burying them in the backyard. Then, lo and behold, they come back, livelier than ever! The oregano and chives are doing well, but we're still waiting on the basil to rise from its grave. Hooray, undead seasonings!

Sunday, July 30, 2006

As it turns out...

...apparently Dave, Brian, Nathalie and I were on TV during the All Blacks game. How cool is that? I guess good seats do pay off, eh? ;-)

Sunday, July 23, 2006

View from the Cheap Seats

Yesterday, Dave and I headed to the All Blacks test match with Brian and Nathalie. We were very excited to see the match, as this was the only game the All Blacks would be playing in Wellington for the entire year, and nothing really beats seeing such a cool event live. As could be expected, obtaining tickets took some doing -- Dave and Brian had to co-ordinate efforts on the morning of the tickets' availability. Dave stood in line whilst Brian attempted to connect to the ticket office online. In the end, their efforts were rewarded and they were able to purchase four tickets to the coveted event. The tickets sold out rather soon thereafter, which is especially impressive given that the stadium seats 40,000 people!

The weather was fairly co-operative -- no rain, but pretty cold once night fell. The no-rain part was key, however, as part of the reason why our seats were cheap was that they were "uncovered". But no matter... as a true child of the Winnipeg Folk Festival, I know how to dress to the elements. ;-) All the same, it was nice to only deal with a bit of cold air, rather than winter-Wellington in all its fury.

We arrive, and to our great surprise, our seats are right on the pitch, next to the try zone! Better yet, the direction was even ideal, as we got to see the Haka (LIVE!) performed facing us. It was even more powerful in person, and the leftover smoke from the national-anthem fireworks lent a rather eerie effect to the spectacle. What a great way to start, though! The crowd went totally wild.

The South Africa Springboks did fairly well, scoring the first try. That was way on the other end of the field, though... but that means that when the All Blacks score their arguably inevitable first try, it would be RIGHT IN FRONT OF US! So, in the very last minute of the first half, the All Blacks finally came through for that try, and got it handily. The picture is here... how cool is that, to be so close? I can't believe these are the cheap seats!

In the second half, the AB's dominated and won by a 20-point margin. Most of that action happened on the other side of the field, though, as they had switched sides at half-time. Now that we already had our pictures, and that victory was certain, we had more attention to look around... and see a rather familiar-looking flag on the other side of the stadium! (Follow the blue arrow.) Also of note was the stadium victuals, which were a far cry from the Corel Centre's $9 water-beer and $8 hot dogs; for a mere $5, you can get some delicious fish & chips, or a proper-sized, bottled beer. Yum! ^_^

The remainder of the evening consisted of instigating a raucous "Happy Birthday" to a complete stranger, a seat-pillow fight between Nathalie and Dave, and Dave temporarily tailing a guy wearing exactly the same raincoat. Much fun was had by all.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Test Match!



Tomorrow is a very exciting day.

Tomorrow, Karla, Brian, Nathalie and I are going to see an honest to goodness All Black's game here in Wellington. The heroic ABs will take on the South African Springboks tomorrow night at 7:30pm.

The forecast is for a pretty cold 9 degree high and 5 degree low, though the rain (and hail and wind and icy rain again) is supposed to stop tomorrow afternoon. With our uncovered seats, we'll be bundled up good. Will keep you all posted on the results!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

South Larf

The other day, in my regular reads of political-type blogs like Calgary Grit and Warren Kinsella, I came across the Frog Lady who has created South Park portraits of Liberal Party leadership candidates. Par example, the estimable Joe Volpe:



Or Patrick's favorite, Hedy Fry:



All eleven of them are there, so definitely check them out if you follow politics at all. Anyway, Karla and I thought these were really funny, so we got busy creating our own portraits. So here, for your amusement, are Karla and I all South Parked out:





















You can try this yourself at the South Park Studio. More to follow, I promise. This has way too much potential. And yes, I'm looking at you Michael Kim.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Viva Italia!

Today, Dave, myself, and many, many New Zealanders woke up at 5:30 AM on a Monday to watch the finals for the World Cup. It was all worthwhile, as a drama-packed game ended with my beloved Italy taking home the Cup after a 5-3 penalty shootout. Well done!

(Now, if only someone could tell me what the hell Zidane was thinking, with that head-butt that probably cost France everything? What was THAT about?)

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Trip to the Zoo!

As yesterday was the first nice day in weeks, Dave and I decided to go to the zoo.

(Note of Karma here, because the LAST nice day we had was the one I posted about earlier, where I have the laptop in the backyard. Since then, the rain had been SO bad, the MINISTRY OF DEFENCE was on alert -- apparently, several days straight of heavy winds and rain can cause serious flooding, as well as small landslides. No worries about us, though, as the most part of our rain-related distress was having to walk to work in it. On the bright side, though, Dave and I are now both able to sleep through the ruckus of winter rain, sounding much like endless handfuls of small pebbles being thrown at our windows.)

So, the moral of the story is, I'll avoid bragging about the weather in the future. ;-)

The Wellington Zoo has been a place I've been wanting to go for awhile, partly due to the great ads they have. So, I took Dave on a surprise date, and we went.

One of the neat things about going to foreign zoos is getting to see not only new animals, but often some really familiar ones, too. The first exhibit in the zoo at Rome's central park, Villa Borghese, was a gleefully familiar beast -- the Canada Goose! There weren't any Canada geese here in Wellington, there were some otters, ducks, ostriches, and even a bear. The bear, however, was a Malaysian Sun Bear, which is quite different from our bears. He was smallish, sleek-furred, very skinny, and had a tongue that was probably over a foot long! (For digging bugs out of tree-burrows, apparently.) Very weird... I had no idea there were bears so different from our big, fat, shaggy ones. ^_^

We also saw the Australian versions of both the pelican and the magpie. The pelican was, no joke, as big as Dave, and his bill can hold 13 LITRES of water at any given time. The magpie I had seen before, on a roadtrip, and had wondered whether such a gigantic bird could still be called a magpie. From beak to rump, he's easily two feet. Including the tail gets you another six inches or so. Another interesting difference is that, while both magpie species are cheeky birds, this one has a lovely call. How did we get jipped? ;-)

There were a ton of beautiful creatures to see, but not all of them in cages. Tuis -- New Zealand's national bird -- were everywhere, and we got to hear their very strange calls. (Here and here are some examples...) There were so many sounds in each call, from door-squeaks to flute ditties to video game blips and bleeps, it was hard to believe that all the sounds came from one species.

Other than that, we saw some wild dogs from Africa being fed. In spite of being made minorly ill, I still applaud the fact that they were fed proper carcasses, whole. We got there after they'd been working at it awhile. It had been possibly a kangaroo or a possum. It was nice to see that humans running a zoo would respect wild animals' proper, natural state of eating, but I wasn't unhappy to leave that exhibit behind.

Some animals were more cooperative than others when being photographed. The Red Panda had nothing to do with us at all (all we could get was pictures of his butt), whereas our Sun Bear friend was a downright diva. Another flirt was this green parrot, who came right up to the bars when I got close. Then again, given the "Watch out, he bites!" sign on his cage, it might not have been to say "hi". ;-) Still, he was very cute.

There were a series of riots at the chimp house (which Dave would always rush back to go see), a great view of the city, zebras, lions, tigers, baboons, giraffes, and even a rare form of Australian sheep. Dave made up funny stories about some of the animals, and even enlightened me with his interpretation of the Egyptian heiroglyphs outside of the baboon grounds -- apparently, the story is that of "The Pharoh's Sacred Underpants", to which he is pointing.

It was a great time, but my favourite part was this particular peculiar duck. After walking around for the whole day, we were almost completely ignored by the animals. (Naturally, this is what should happen... but one always dreams of having that moment between oneself and a beautiful creature...) Anyhoo, we make our way to the aquatic birds section, and walk by indifferent ibises and aloof kookaburras, then arrive at a rather large but seemingly empty cage allegedly holding the Mandarin Duck. I spot him waaaay at the back, but then become totally shocked as he barrels straight for us!!! I don't think I had ever seen a duck run before, let alone run AT me, but it was a scream. He then talked to us, posed up a storm, and followed us around a bit. What a darling.

So, totally exhausted, we ended the day with a large bowl of fries in the attatched cafe. What a great time!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Comments

Heya all! I've figured out how to set the comments page so that anyone can do it, account or no... hopefully I'll hear from a few more of you. :-)

Chocolate Fish?

I'm only just starting to get used to Kiwi slang. For instance, our own slang of "rooting for" a particular team cannot be used here, as "root" is slang for the verb-form of the f-word. And thus, saying you are rooting for the Italian footy team gives ENTIRELY the wrong message. ;-)

Another oddity is the New Zealand chocolate fish, which is a term for a generic, trivial prize for getting a task done, or figuring out a problem. It's been said in casual situations, but also in meetings and even in some courses I've taken. "A chocolate fish to the first person to figure out this complicated mathematical proof!" (Sadly, though, that proof was so scary that I would have needed a lot more incentive than even chocolate to try wrestling with it.) :-/
Indeed, there are actual chocolate fish, and whether the saying or the product came first, one can only guess. These are usually pink-marshmallow fishes covered in chocolate, and are frequently served with hot, sweet beverages of either the caffeinated or non-caffeinated variety. (And allow me to say, nobody does mochaccinos like the Kiwis! It's like mega-chocolate overload in a cup, with a faint but distinct coffee undertone.)

But all of this is background, so that I might tell you about one of Wellington's most famous caf├ęs -- The Chocolate Fish. It is on a secluded peninsula, inhabited by incomprehensibly rich Kiwis on one side. On the other side is the hub of Wellington's film industry, where much of Lord of the Rings, King Kong, Narnia, and a number of other films were based out of. Needless to say, The Chocolate Fish gained extra panache when all those movies' stars would frequent there during filming, and even rave about it in interviews. Liv Tyler is the restaurants' most vociferous fan... personally, I'm shocked to discover that she eats at all. ;-)

Surely all this publicity and popularity has ruined what might have been originally a hip and obscure gem of New Zealand. Coupon book in hand, Dave and I set forth to find out for ourselves.

The only way to get there is by car, and luckily enough, we were able to borrow one from a friend of Dave's. Of the two routes to get there, we took the shorter, but far more harrowing option that involves all kinds of hairpin turns, blind corners, and sheer cliff-like drops gnawing at the sides of the road. (Next time I'll push for the lengthy but ultra-scenic around-two-bays-and-the-whole-peninsula route!) We finally arrive nearby and park, but I had underestimated the amount of walking to the address of the restaurant. Luckily, it is a beautiful walk. One one side is a secluded beach with big rocks that look more like movie props imitating what beach rocks should look like. On the other side of the one-lane road are stunning houses with well-kept gardens and expensive cars in the driveways. Apparently Peter Jackson, who is considered with all the same nearly-irrational level of awe and reverence by Kiwis as Wayne Gretzky is by Canucks, lives in this district. It's pretty obvious why. ^_^

Having only an address to work with, we had no idea what kind of building to be looking for. We did know we were getting closer upon seeing an unusual road sign, "Waiters Crossing". After chuckling a bit, we found our destination.

The Chocolate Fish is noticeable first for its colour -- the whole building is painted a vivid greenish turquoise, which contrasts with the grey winter day, and most definitely clashes with its stately neighbours.

Despite the cold day the place was still a flurry of customers, and Dave and I were lucky to get a table right away. The first thing I noticed were the chairs, which were individually hand-painted according to zany themes. Dave's favourite was the Cookie Monster chair, whereas I was particularly bemused by another seat -- the Austin Powers chair. Equal parts comic and disturbing, the backrest has a groovy ultra-60's paint job of his catchphrase, "Yeah, Baby!", while the seat itself sported a stylized caricature of Austin Powers'... face. I can just see it now... some couple on a date, getting seated, and her looking down and exclaiming,

HER: "Honey, I seem to be sitting on Austin Powers' face!"
HIM: "Better you than me!"

Yes, while there are plenty more witty responses possible, we were far too hungry to dwell on them. I went to the counter to order, as is usually done here, and dealt with an extraordinarily jovial waiter. He wanted to hear all about Canada, how we were finding NZ, whether this was our first time at The Chocolate Fish, etc, and then upon taking my coupon, slyly informed me of their lesser-known sister cafe, The Chocolate Frog, which is positively wonderful, I really should go, and did I know that there's a coupon for that in the same book? I walked away from that encounter feeling energized, overwhelmed, and with a curious need to go visit The Chocolate Frog... (I never have been able to resist shamless plugs from restauranteurs -- they almost invariably have such good taste.)

The food was delicious. Dave had some sort of Ultra-Breakfast sandwich, and I had pancakes with seasonal berry coulis. The coffee was great, and they even have little amaretti cookies to go with them. Mmmm...

Then I recognized the decor... the bright, hand-painted menu signs, local artists' works of all styles and colours, a large, stylized mirror so everyone could enjoy the view of the water, and crazy chairs scattered throughout. The Chocolate Fish is precisely the New Zealand version of The Glass Onion! (Point of info: The Glass Onion is the cafe where I worked during uni summers, from which I gained an inordinate number of fun and zany stories.) Something tells me that if Fokke and Cathie had started a restaurant here, it would have been The Chocolate Fish.
:-)