Sunday, January 28, 2007

Anniversary at the Races

This Saturday, the 27th of January, marked the anniversary of our arrival to Wellington. It was precisely one year ago that we disembarked from a very, very long plane ride; so thankful were we to be on solid ground and breathe non-recycled air that the newness of the environment took a good while to sink in.

We flopped into a city-shuttle, figuring it was our cheapest option, as well as a good way to see the city. Sure enough, we were the last to be dropped off, and in the course of the ride, we saw all kinds of Wellingtonian suburbs. In particular, we saw many suburbs located high in the hills, up lush green cliffs on hairpin-turning roads. I might have been nervous, but luckily I was far too exhausted from the journey to worry overmuch. It was a beautiful day, complete with bright sunshine over the sparkling blue bay.

Though the weather wasn't as ideal one year later, the day was certainly more eventful. The Wellington Cup Races were taking place that weekend, which is how we chose to celebrate. The Races are a big deal in Wellington -- men and women alike dust off their best outfits (hats and all), and climb aboard a crowded train, and upon arrival to the racetrack they join thousands more in betting and general merrymaking.

Dave and I started our day at the races with a champagne breakfast with friends. Between us all, we had brought a little too much champagne... this might give you an idea of the theme for the rest of the day. ;-) We then made our way to the train station, where we met up with more friends, drank MORE champagne, and eventually got onto the train. Once we got there, we staked out some great seats and watched the event unfold. The races themselves were great, but the genius part was, between races was a fashion show -- or more specifically, a best-dressed competition among the attendees. Unfortunately, entry to the competition was limited to those who had registered already, thus rendering Dave and I unable to compete. Ah well, we looked great anyways... there's really nothing like getting dolled up for an outdoors event.

We placed some bets, and overall came out ahead. My modest bets had won a bit more than they lost, but the big winner was Dave, who had a half/half win/place ticket on a dark horse (no pun intended) that ended up taking the race. Thus his $10 became over $80. Such a thing calls for celebration... in the form of Chinese food, and of course, more champagne.

However, all this excitement, fresh air, and getting up at early hours (for breakfast) had us tidily asleep at the ungodly hour of 10:30. All said, though, it was a wonderful day... one of the best here I've had yet.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Sunny Napier

Five hours from Wellington is the world's greatest collection of Art Deco architecture outside of Miami. The place is called Napier, and Karla and I just returned from a couple of days by the sea and among the grape vines at some of New Zealand's oldest vinyards.

Yesterday, we ate lovely fish, saw the new James Bond movie, and sampled some Hawke's Bay wine. Today we went to the beach, saw a shearing show and drove back home.

Cool thing: Eric Clapton is playing at Mission vinyard (the aforementioned New Zealand's oldest vinyard) next weekend. Napier is fully booked in preparation for 25 000 new people to land on a town with a regular population of 50 000.

Another cool thing: we finally had lots of sunshine and it finally felt like real summer. The temp was about 26 degrees the whole time, and Karla and I actually got sweaty just by standing around. Of course, when we got back to Wellington--surprise, surprise--clouds and rain. Things should improve though. It's staying in the twenties celsius pretty regularly now.

Next weekend should be fun: it's our 'one year New Zealand anniversary' on Jan 27th, and also Wellington Cup race day. So we plan to get all fancied up and place some bets on some fillies.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

And the New Year Begins

There are a number of rituals associated with the bringing in of a new year. There are resolutions, there's coming back to work and routine after a long break, there's thinking ahead to what's to come and reflecting on what's passed...

...but for me, the most important new year's event is the second-week internet search for the best movies of the passed year. Not the Oscar nominations, mind you, but the amalgam lists that put together all the ratings of the top hundred critics. The movies are ranked according to the number of mentions received, as well as their placements within each critic-list. The result is a list -- a super-list, if you will -- that covers every genre, every taste, every level of fame and obscurity, and a near-perfect success rate.

Well, maybe it's somewhat less than near-perfect, but for every listed dud (say, Primer, or, heaven forbid, the travesty known as The Brown Bunny), there's four or five more that are wonderful, and you wouldn't discover otherwise. Walk on Water, Mirrormask, The Squid and The Whale, Happy Endings, Millions, Hustle & Flow, Me and You and Everyone We Know, Godzilla: Final Wars, and Mondovino were all brilliant, underrated and largely unnoticed gems that I would have passed over without the sage intervention of former years' lists.

And, as of now, I have another 232 movies comprising 2006's finest to add to my "To See" list. (Luckily, I've already taken away the four we've actually already seen... only 228 more to go!)

Then again, given how busy this year will be, perhaps I'll exercise discretion and maybe NOT see Final Destination 3...? ;-)

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

I am SO Visa-tisfied!

Big news of late is that after much worrying (some would say fretting) on my part, I am now the proud owner of an official New Zealand work permit and multiple entry visa current until September 30th 2007. Karla would not have been happy if they'd thrown my butt out of the country, lemme tell ya.

My current permit/visa was going to expire at the end of the month. So it was bit of a pinch, but I managed to get my old passport renewed, all my info together (believe me, it's a lot) and in. Within a couple of days, I was approved thanks to a terrific immigration officer named Andrew Webber.

I gotta say that as a government service delivery nerd, Immigration New Zealand rated pretty poorly until I met Andrew. I couldn't get any definitive answers to my questions, people made me feel mightily vulnerable, and I just felt I was in the dark a lot of the time.

It wasn't until I got the State Services Commission (the government agency I'm contracting for) to start making inquiries for me did I really get some traction.

Even so, Andrew's boss (and his minister) will be getting a letter from me saying how great he was: he was empathentic, authoritative, confident and efficient. And frankly, he made a big difference in my life and for my peace of mind.

Public services make such a difference to people. Andrew sets the bar for how good they really can be.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Moms & Dads, Christmas and New Years

Sooo much has been happening this last little while. Karla and I (with an emphasis on my own slackness where the blog is concerned) are admittedly way behind. Here is the 11 point update on what's been going on:
  1. My mum and dad (Chris and Ben) arrived in New Zealand just in time for my birthday at the end of November. We went out for a lovely dinner and I got lots of neato gifts, cards and phone calls from all the really lovely friends and family in my life. I'm so lucky!
  2. Mum and Dad run off to see New Zealand during the week, while Karla and I work our butts off finishing projects. We see each other on the weekends, exploring Wellington, and also Queenstown, where we have a great time seeing Milford Sound (amazingly beautiful) and jet boating at 75 km/h down a really rather narrow canyon.
  3. Karla's friend Andy arrives, and they head off together to see the massive caves and marvelous glowworms at Waitomo.
  4. Me and Dad head to a car auction to look for a car. After feverish bidding and $1800 we are the proud owners of a 1996 Mazda Familia. Giddy up, we got wheels people!
  5. Karla's mum and dad (Margaret and Wayne) arrive shortly after my mum and dad get back from Christchurch and the South Island. We all head out to the Wairarapa region to a beautiful countryside cottage we'd rented, and drink way way way too much wine following tours of the plentiful local wineries. It was great to get out of the city and show the folks some rural New Zealand. You should have seen the stars. Breathtaking.
  6. My mum and dad leave November 18th, and me and mum nearly start bawling at the airport. It was so great to have them and share a little of our life here. I miss them lots and Karla does too.
  7. Karla's mum and dad (so thankfully) are here to chill out for at least a little while. So we don't do much of anything for a few days. It's great to just hang out after lots of running around, though there's still Christmas shopping to do...
  8. Christmas! We drink champagne on Christmas eve, and have champers and orange juice for breakfast Christmas day at Wayne and Margarets apartment. Presents fly everywhere! We receive lovely gifts from all over Canada (thankyou everyone!!). Big Santa score for Davey: Karla is taking me to Tahiti in February! Holy moly I'm lucky!
  9. A flurry of organization by Wayne, and we are off to Christchurch for New Years. Wayne scores us an amazing apartment at the Holiday Inn in downtown ChCh, right in the heart of the action. One night, I nearly got carried off by drunken Kiwis at an Irish bar after an amazing time at a place called Octagon, that specializes in Jazz and blues. New Years Eve, Wayne, Margaret, Karla and I head out to one of those Japanese places where they cook dinner in front of you (Teppinyaki?), which was SO cool. We rang the New Year in at a bar called the Stock Xchange, and the party continued until about 4am.
  10. Next day we head off through Arthurs Pass to Hokitika, famous for its jade. We have a great time inspecting the wares, and then head off up the West Coast to Picton, where we head home.
  11. Yesterday we went to Kapiti Island, a nature reserve that only allows 50 people per day admittance. We saw wonderful scenerary (ie New Zealand as it probably looked 500 years ago), and met lots of native birds who were pretty curious about their visitors. All that walking left us pretty tuckered out, but Wayne and Margaret still managed to find themselves in Maori family gathering, where they were telling stories, and ensuring that everyone was well fed. They even managed to get us an introduction to a genuine All Black who played for NZ in the 80s.

So that is the story to date. We have lots of pictures too, so those will be up as soon as we can get them up at the magnificent HelgaHume Flickr site.