Sunday, 31 December 2006

Annual Camping Holiday

There are a few things that makes the Kiwis, Kiwis. One of them being camping. As we discovered last year, the Kiwi camping is not quite how we camp in Malaysia.

Instead of pitching and breaking camp every few days like we did last year, we decided to go to one campsite and spend most of our time at one location. We chose a campsite by the sea in the Bay of Plenty at Ohope Beach. What attracted us to this site was the amount of activities they had for kids during the Christmas - New Year holidays.

It was a 6 hour drive from Paraparaumu and we headed off with the Odessey all packed to the brim at half past five in the morning. We reached the campsite as my trusted GPS said we will, at 11.18 am. We got a site perched on a hill over looking the sea. Beach front property! Prime Real Estate! What a way to holiday!

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When we arrived on the December 23 half the campsite was empty. There were tents scattered all over. Then the exodus began on Boxing Day. There were endless flow of campers, trailers, campervans, caravans of all makes and sizes and soon by evening, the whole campsite looked like some third world refugee camp!

The campground owners had lined up all sorts of activities for kids starting from scavenger hunts to talent shows and even water slides.

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Ashwini took part in the talent quest. Although being the youngest to take part, she did not win anything as the others were well prepared for it and were a lot better. Here is a video of her performance. Not sure how it will turn out in a blog.

After a few days at the camp everyone made friends including the kids. We adults found out we were camping next to an older couple who were also from Paraparaumu.

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Here is the other Kiwi tradition. What would a camping trip be without some Barbeque?

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And barbeques are definitely men's territory! Here's proof!

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Of course women can multi task which men can't. Ashwini seen here riding her scooter, eating breakfast and clinging onto her new underwater camera!

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Just before leaving, we just booked for another stay at Ohope for next Christmas at a choice sea view section. We were advised to book latest by March if we wanted a slice of this view.

Happy New Year everyone!

Saturday, 23 December 2006

A blast of light from space

Yesterday afternoon Vera came running and said this must be the most incredible display of lights in the sky. Somewhat a rainbow but with no rain. In fact it was a bright hot summer day. I decided to capture this amazing display in my camera, right in front of our home.

Here it is...

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This morning, I was reading the Dominion Post (our local newspaper) and this is what we discovered it was.

" It looks like a rainbow that's been set on fire, but the solar phenomenon is as cold as ice. Known in the weather world as a circumhorizontal arc. This multi coloured arc is caused by light passing through wispy, high altitude cirrus clouds which contain fine ice particles. This optical phenomenon is said to be reasonably rare.

Though similar in principle to a rainbow, the hexagonal ice crystals that make up the cirrus clouds are shaped like thick plates with their faces parallel to the ground. When light enters through a vertical side face of an ice crystal and leaves from the bottom face, it refracts, or bends, like light through a prism. If cirrus srystals are aligned just right the whole cloud lights up in a spectrum of colours.

Thursday, 21 December 2006

Christmas Lights

It's that time of the year where tree is lighted and presents abound. In the neighbourhood we live in there is also a competition for the best decorated home. Read that as the most lights! Since it gets dark only about 9pm, we were not able to capture some of the homes at their best. Here are some of the pictures I took. All we had at our place was a lighted Christmas tree and even that was inside, so no one would have known.

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At all of these places, the streets were packed with cars, parked on both sides of the road, and in some streets you had to actually wait to get into your drive way. One of them was ours, as our neighbour who won the competition for 2 successive years had their lights all up and people were parking on our drive way.

These are the ones of our neighbours.

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What we did not capture was the national winner of the best decorate home. This family won $10,000 for their effort in putting up 42,000 lights in their house. I can imagine where most of the ten grand is going to end up in!

Merry Christmas everyone as we will be heading for our annual pilgrimage, camping!

Friday, 17 November 2006

An orchard in the making

This is apparently the time of the year to plant trees, flowers, shrubs, grass... anything that grows actually. So last weekend off we went to a local nursery in search of fruit trees to line our back yard.

We were quite surprised at the variety of fruits out there. We were thrown at growing fruit trees we never would have imagined every growing in the tropics! All we wanted was an apple tree and an orange tree. When we went looking, we found at least a dozen varieties of each. Then there were apple trees that had two varieties in one! That made process of deciding all the more difficult.

With so much choice, we decided to ask someone there for help as it how they taste as they are going to end up in our stomach sooner or later. After all those facts thrown at us, we decided on an apple tree with two variety "braeburn" and "royal gala", and an orange tree that is supposedly sweet called "blood orange". Together with that we bought a lemon tree and just couldn't resist a kaffir lime tree or in Malay we call it "limau purut". More Tom Yams on the way I was assured.

When we got home and planted them, I did a search on the trusted web to find out what the varieties were like. I discovered that there were at least a thousand varieties of apples. There is even a website that is dedicated solely to apple growing and tracing each varieties' anchestry. And to my horror, the bllod orange actually looks like blood! The tree has yet to fruit but I can't wait to see the fruit and even more, taste it! I took this off the web, take a look at this picture of a blood orange!

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Sunday, 5 November 2006

A sure sign of spring

I wish I had a shot gun this morning although I am usually against guns and violence.

Spring has arrived but with a vengeance. There are lots of flowers around and the grass is rapidly growing. Together with this, weeds have also decided to take over our lawn. Where there are no bald patches on the lawn there are weeds. Weeds of all shapes and sizes.

Now where did the guns come into the picture? Well, you see… with spring comes flowers and with flowers come birds. With spring, the sun rises earlier each morning and the birds start their day early as well. Behind our home, there is a rather huge lifestyle block. Life style blocks are a little like living in the country. This particular one has lots of trees, a lake and animals. While it is a lovely landscape from our bedroom window, it is also where birds congregate each morning, rain or shine.

By 5.30 in the morning, the sun takes a crack and this is when Birds Anonymous chooses to have their morning meeting, sort of like a pre flight briefing. I am sure it is accompanied by free flow of bird booze and beak food, as it surely sounds like they were high on something. Trying to stay in bed on a weekend is really quite a challenge when you hear these pesky birds all talking at the same time.

I woke up and went to the window and I could literally see them staring at me, eyes dazed from all that drinking, I'm sure. Seeing that they outnumber me and that I am in no position to climb over the fence and knowing all too well that a base ball bat is harmless when it comes to creatures with wings, they continued even louder. If I could understand beak language, I am sure they were all laughing at me!

That is when I wished I had a shot gun!

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for nature and animals but just like we respect their space, they should respect ours.

Over the coming months, as the sun rises even earlier each morning and the more I get used to all that bird talk, I will probably be able to sleep through all that noise. And eventually the noise will turn into melody and then all too soon, I will be missing the chirping in the morning. I might even throw some fresh grubs on the lawn in the morning just to wake them up, entice them, to listen to them. That is when I guess they’ll wish they had a shot gun!

And then when I have gotten used to the sound of silence over autumn and winter, it will start all over again!

Guess that is one way of looking at the circle of life! How exciting!

Saturday, 4 November 2006

That familiar buzz

I am awake at half past five this morning for several reasons. One being it is about the time I wake every weekday to get to work. Now, even without the alarm blaring, I am still up at that time. Two, it is approaching summer and it gets bright by then. The sun is up and the mercury is slowly rising above the 10 degree. And lastly, I am awake because of a strange but familiar buzz.

When I heard this buzz in my ear, I almost thought I was back home. Wait a minute, that isn't quite right! Then I realised what that buzz was all about. Mosquitoes!

I have not heard that for almost 2 years! All the time we lived in Tawa, we had no trouble with mosquitoes. We encountered the odd ones when we were in Auckland last summer.

Our place in Tawa was 260 meters above sea level (at least that is what my watch says) and our present place in Paraparaumu is 1 meter above sea level. Is that reason why we have mosquitoes? The temperature here is often 1 or 2 degrees warmer than Tawa. Could that be the reason why we have these ancient creatures lurking around? Tawa is in the mountains while Kapiti is by the sea! Maybe that's it!

Gosh I wish I knew why, so I will know how to get rid of them. I will even if they were endangered! As I hate mosquitoes! I am not going to start my collection of mosquito cocktails, Mortein, Ridsect, Shelltox, Vapemat.....

Tuesday, 31 October 2006

That Kiwi tongue

The other day, our kids were talking on the phone with their grandparents in Malaysia. After about five minutes on the phone with the young ones, I took over, and my parents said they had no idea what the two of them were saying. Mind you, they were speaking English and not Maori.

After about a year in New Zealand, the kids have picked up so much of the Kiwi accent and the odd Kiwi phrases which only a Kiwi could understand, let alone appreciate. Even as parents, we have to stop them mid way in a sentence and ask them what they meant or ask them to repeat that is a form understandable by whose ears have not been tuned to Kiwi. For this reason, Anil and Ashwini both tease us saying we are not Kiwis and will never be one!

Some of the ways certain words are pronounced make it very Kiwi. An example is the word seven. In English we pronounce it as "sev"-"en". But the Kiwis pronounce it as "see"-"ven". Then there is the word ten. In English it is pronounced as it is written, ten. In Kiwi, it sounds more like "tin".

Then there are the phrases. When someone says "thank you", in English we tend to respond with "you are welcome" or "not at all", but in Kiwi, you respond with "that's alright". In English you tend to wish someone "have a good day" or "have a good evening" but in Kiwi, you say "have a good one". I ask, one what?

When I was young, I was used to saying "my one" and "your one". And my parents often corrected me by saying the proper way to say it was "mine" and "yours". But in New Zealand, every one says, "my one" and "your one" and my kids say it's perfectly correct to use those words. We use to learn in school to say "expensive" when you mean something costs a lot of money. But here people say "dearer". I have yet to hear a Kiwi use the word "expensive".

Maori or locally known as Te Reo is widely spoken in New Zealand and is one of three New Zealand official languages. The others being English and the New Zealand Sign Language. However Maori is not a written language and hence there are no script. It uses Roman characters to write. As a result of this, the pronunciation of some of these words is rather "odd" to a native English speaker. In English the letters "ph" sounds like "f" but in Maori the letters "Wh" has the same effect. So Whangerei is pronounced as "Fangerei", Then there are other names of places like Whakatane and Whakapapa which I rather not translate here or this blog would turn out to be some X rated site.

Then there are some names with a "wh" but does not have the "f" sound. For someone new to New Zealand, that would be real tricky. So a suburb in Wellington called Whitby is not pronounced as "fitby", because we were told it originated from an English word! Is that confusing or what? If one assumed that everything else is pronounceable, then think again. Petone is another Wellington suburb pronounced as "pet"-"toe"-"nee" and not "pet"-"one". An Auckland suburb Onehunga is pronounced as "O"-"nee"-"hung"-"ah" and not "One"-"hung"-"ah".

There are some words in English that are considered impolite or outright rude when used in any context but here it is perfectly acceptable. You see advertisements and commercials using the words "bloody". And phrases like "bastards" are quite commonly used. I was quite confused when I heard this phrase, "... he was a bloody good bastard." Was that a compliment or the opposite? Apparently it was the former.

This is a serious “lost in translation” thingy!

Note: thingy is another common Kiwi word to denote “some thing”.

Monday, 30 October 2006


Tomorrow marks the last day where 5 cent coins are legal tender in New Zealand. From November 1, 2006, 5 cent coins will be taken out of circulation and the remaining coins with the exception of the "gold coins" will take a new form.

See the new set of coins below.

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The notes changed in 1999 when polymer ones were introduced. These polymer currency notes apparently have one of the most advanced security features that nobody actually bothers to check its authenticity, unlike in some countries.

Most of the notes in circulation have the signature of the Central Bank or here it is called the Reserve Bank Governor's signature on them, Alan Bolard. This morning I was shown a $20 note that had the previous Governor's signature, Don Brash.

For those of you not familiar with New Zealand politics, Don Brash is currently the leader of the main opposition party in New Zealand. The note is still legal tender so nobody actually bothers. But how many countries in the world would have the leader of the Opposition guarantee the value of its currency? Interesing indeed!

Saturday, 28 October 2006

The day the ghouls came out to play

It was that time again when the ghosts and ghouls came out to play.

The neighbourhood where we have now moved into invited us to its annual Haloween party. Main aim being we get to know each other. Since New Zealand is positioned to see the first sunrise and all, I guess that must have been the reason to celebrate Haloween earlier. The actual day is October 31.

The kids were all eager to trick or treat and got dressed up. Anil being the blood sucking vampire who scared the hell out of himself when he saw his costume in the mirror and Ashwini, the mini Bewitched witch all geared up with the latest Nimbus 2006. All costumes exclusive to the "Two Dollar Shop", in case you want to stock up on these items after readiong this blog.

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There was no trick or treating as that is apparently an American thingy and there were no Americans in our neighbourhood. They weren't too dissapointed as there were other lollies on the table.

We adults had our gear but were too shy to put them on but when we arrived, we saw other adult warlocks, sorcerers, witches an ghouls all dressed up. There were an array of different models of broom sticks all stacked in a row. With all the witches congregating in one place, the spells must have had an effect as the home we went to was warm and cozy on the inside while the cold bone chilling rain was pouring on the outside.

The get together was quite good as we got to meet the other neighbours and the guy that built our home, Bob. Immediately I had this tune running in my head "Bob the builder....can we fix it...Bob the builder...yes we can". Thankfully, this Bob was quite a nice chap and did not cast a spell on me when I told him what was running in my head. We found out we had quite a few things in common. Building was not anywhere near the similarities. I demolish more than I can build.

We called it a day or rather a night when it was about time for the real vampires and withches to come out, and headed back home in the rain.

Sunday, 22 October 2006

Never too early to get into business

While it used to take a lot to start a business in the old days, it takes just a few clicks of the mouse to start one now. Online buying and selling has made businessman and businesswomen out of the average Kiwis. How is this relevant to this thread?

This morning, Anil, just used his pocket money savings to buy his first investment, a television off Trade Me (an online auction site) for $25. And at the same time our 5 year old daughter cleared her toy chest and placed a whole lot of her used toys on Trade Me for auction. Will she be able to rake up the $25 spent by her brother? Time will tell! As they say "one man's meat is another man's poison".

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Monday, 16 October 2006

The modern day nomad

While I have been quiet the last two months, our lives were far from hushed. Since the last post, we sold our house in Tawa, packed and moved up north to Paraparaumu. Below is a picture of our new house.

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Paraparaumu is a nice little suburb up north of Wellington. While it is part of the greater Wellington region, it is not part of Wellington city. So, some of my friends say we now live in the country. Which is in a way not entirely untrue. The place where we live used to be farmland just 2 years ago and now has been developed into residential living.

There are still lots of farmland scattered around where we live. it is kinda nice living in a sort of a small town with a rural feel to it. For starters it is far far away. The ride to the city, where I work, takes close to an hour on a good day by train. Can you imagine what it would be like on a bad day? I took a taxi to the airport the other day and it cost me $192 one way and the airfare to Auckland from Wellington is only $140! So go figure!

The journey to the city is quite picturesque travelling past lush farm land and the rugged coast. October being the lambing season, the journey is dotted with white little lambs running after its mother in the mornings. They are quite relaxing to see. Then there is the fantastic coast line the train crosses. It climbs up a steep hill and from the train window the South Island can be seen among the morning mist. And on the return journey, a postcard perfect sun set awaits!

I will one of these days post a picture of the sceneries along the way.

Is it a surprise that Vera calls me a "Modern day nomad"? We have moved 9 times in the last 11 years we have been married! Is that a record or is that a record?

Friday, 4 August 2006

Kiwi obsession with sports

Since we have been here, one thing I noticed with Kiwi's in general is - they love their sports. Probably the word "love" is an understatement. Kiwi's are obsessed with sports. Any kind of sports will do as long as it is a sport. Let me explain the obsession.

The hour long evening news on the local television has about twenty to twenty five minutes of sports news. The remaining half hour covers local news, the war in the middle east, international news, politics, business and the weather. The morning news which is about fifteen minutes long has sports news and "other" news divided equally. Sports news back home mainly covers soccer and any sports that has local participation. Over here, it covers every and any imaginable sport there is on the face of the earth. But to be fair, the twenty minutes sports news has at least ten minutes of rugby.

On a Sunday afternoon, if one did not have Sky, and if one is not obsessed with sports, like me, then one is doomed! Either resort to watching a video or read a book. If you turned on the idiot box, you will have sports in one form or another in every free to air channel. It is either rugby, soccer, golf, biking, running, walking, swimming or simply some commentary of some sports somewhere on earth. It is simply amazing!

The obsession with sports just does not stop there. It goes beyond that. All my life in Malaysia, all I can remember about athletes are a retired footballer and some over the hill badminton players. My 7 year old son on the other hand, within a year in New Zealand, could name at least half the All Blacks in a line up. My 5 year old daughter recognised Tana Umanga before she could make out how Helen Clark looked like. Now, my son's school homework has an element of sport in it, all in the hope that they do not end up as couch potatoes.

If you thought that was taking it to the extreme, read on. In mid winter when the mercury can drop to almost freezing point, you can still see people playing rugby. This is just not adults, even junior teams from the various suburbs and schools partake in winter rugby. Most of the main rugby matches are actually held this time of the year. We went to one "Hurricanes vs Chiefs" at the Westpac Stadium. The temperature then was 5 deg Celsius and winds of up to 30 kmph but that did not keep the fans away. People came out in the thousands all dressed up in their favourite team colours to support their teams.

Due to where New Zealand physically is (the other side of the world), when games are played in Europe, it is the middle of the night here. That did not keep Kiwi's away from sports. The last World Cup had people into pubs at 5 am to watch live matches and still go to work after that.

Kiwi's continue this sports culture by continuously looking to create new adventure sports. If bungee jumping was not enough, you now have reverse bungee, where you are propelled upwards instead of jumping down. Another variant is a 143 m jump from a cable car suspended over a canyon or jumping off a parasail high above Lake Waikatipu. If white water rafting was not scary enough, you now have black water rafting and rafting in a cave in darkness. What else can you do in a river? Oh yes, white water sledging. Then there is the "fly by wire", where you fly yourself, powered by a 60hp engine, across a valley at 170 kmph! And the legal speed limit on New Zealand motorways is 100 kmph. That's not all! There’s also sky diving, paragliding, hang gliding, heli-skiing, skiing and snow boarding, jet boating, mountain biking, 4wd motorbikes, quad biking (some designed especially for kids), the list goes on.

Where do you find all this? Not in Auckland of course! Not the administrative capital or the business capital but the adventure capital of New Zealand, Queenstown. Actually, I think it is probably the adventure capital of the world! If you can possibly think of a way you could pay some one to scare the crap out of you, you can probably do it in Queenstown.

In short, if you are obsessed with sports, New Zealand is the place to be!

Saturday, 17 June 2006

The "bug" that kept us awake!

For the past week we were kept awake at night wondering what that chirping noise was. It was not the typical continuous chirp but one that was like a second or two apart. It was also something that sounded like a bird trapped somewhere in the house, or was it an insect or a bug?

We had no idea what it was but the fact that it only sounded at night when there are no movements around the house got us suspecting it was an insect of some sort. But it sounded like a bird and was way too loud to be an insect.

This mysterious sound went on for over a week and we were quite curious to find out what exactly it was. Everything and anything came to mind.

This morning when we woke up, it sounded again! I said to Vera, whatever it was, it is begining to get hungry and is now making its presence known during the day. So, off we went on our search for the elusive creature, equipped with a broom stick, bug spray, gum boots and a torch light. We went under the house, then in the garage and tried to follow the sound.

As I was following the sound it sounded like now coming from the hallway upstairs. That got us worried. I stood at the hallway, right at the stairs and there it went again! It came from above my head. The second chirp, that gave itself away.

It was our smoke detector that needed a battery change!

Coming from a place where smoke detectors were not common, we had no idea what it was and how we would know when it was time to change batteries. And all this while, we had sleepless nights thinking a giant weta or some dark creature crept into the house at night waiting to pounce on us!

Tuesday, 13 June 2006

The wicked weather

The north had a blackout, the south had a whiteout and we in the centre of the country had a blowout!

Literally, that's what happened. On the same day, the weather played havoc. We had lots of cold Antartic wind blowing from the south and that caused much of the South Island covered in blanket of snow. Some up to 60cm thick even on the beach! That resulted in roofs giving way due to the weight of the snow and power lines being cut off. As I write this some, 2 days after the storm, some folks in the South Island still have no power.

In Auckland, it was not the snow but the wind that brought down some lines in the main backbone of the country's power grid. That caused shops, business and homes in central Auckland, New Zealand's biggest city to come to a stand still.

In Wellington, being prone to strong winds, we experienced even stronger winds. Winds of up to 140 kmph in some exposed places. It blew off roofs and caused damage to homes.

The weather is getting colder by the day. We have so far recorded the lowest temperature in Wellington since we arrived! 0 degrees Celsius. Although we did not get the snow, I did see ice on the steps and even on the car windscreen this morning. The wiper had to scrap through the ice. The end result was something like shaven ice used for "ice kacang"!

Saturday, 20 May 2006

Kiwis don't want your money

This is kind of the opposite end of the spectrum when you compare businesses in New Zealand to businesses in Malaysia. Businesses here place a lot of trust in customers and they are not out to take your money. I am sure there are businesses here that does the opposite but my experiences so far are that they don't take your money unnecessarily.

If one walked into a post office or post shop as they are called here, you could just help yourself to all the stationery, envelopes and what have you without having to pay on the spot. Often I have taken envelopes, written on them, went to the counter to buy a stamp and I have to tell the lady at the counter that I am also paying for the envelope because she had not included the envelope in the bill. How weird is that?

Once we were going to pave our backyard with pebbles. So we went to the local Mitre-10 to buy pebbles. I wanted enough pebbles to fill a 4 square meter area. Mitre-10 sold the pebbles I wanted in small bags and it would take quite a few bags to fill that area. So I enquired if they had bigger bags or how I could buy larger quantity. Instead of taking my business, they told me to contact their supplier and said I will be better off buying from their supplier who could also include delivery with the price. They gave me the name of the supplier, the phone number and the likely cost!

Last Friday, as I was walking along Lambton Quay, my shoes gave way. I had a meeting to catch and I had 10 minutes to spare. I went to the nearest cobbler and asked him if he could get it fixed. He said it would take him 2 hours, for he needs the glue to cure and could not do it sooner. So, I told him I needed a quick fix and did not have 2 hours. He took my shoe, placed some glue on the soles and nailed it in and took him all of 5 minutes. When he was done, I asked him how much I owed him for that. His reply was "if I can't guarantee it will stay, I can't charge you mate". It is now about a week of walking around in these shoes that could not be guaranteed by the cobbler and it is still as good as new.

Go figure!

Monday, 15 May 2006

Becoming a Kiwi

This morning right after my alarm clock rang me awake at 5.30am, there was another kind of alarm! An earthquake! Yes another one. Usually at this hour of the day, quakes are not as a result of the earth's seismic activity but the rumble of Vera's washing machine. I knew this time it was not my clothes rocking the earth as Vera has not yet started playing with the "big girls" toys.

This must have been quite a shocker as the house did wobble a wee bit for a few seconds. We later found out that it took place 50km North-West of Wellington out in the sea and measured 5.0 on the Richter scale. The star in the picture below shows where it took place. See the proximity to Wellington!

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The last time we went through this, we went out and looked if anybody was evacuating and checked if the kids were alright. But this one was quite different. We lay in bed, as though nothing happened. I asked Vera "was that an earthquake?" and she calmly responded "yes, it was". After about ten minutes, we went to check if anything was amiss and apart from some figurines having moved from their original place on the display cabinet (probably out of shock), nothing was out of the ordinary.

Then I sat there thinking, if this was indeed a major earthquake, what would we have done? Then again, thinking how we reacted this time and how we did the last time, we knew we were getting used to being in New Zealand. Or becoming one!

But the fact of the matter remains! What would we do if it was a real serious quake?

Friday, 5 May 2006

Minister of what?

The other day Ashwini's school had an open day for parents to come in and mingle with other parents and teachers. We were told to bring some fish and chips for snacks. The meet was scheduled at 5.30.

Of all days, I had to miss the train that of all days, had to leave on time. Then the train that I caught had to be late. To cut a long story short, we all were late because of me.

Anyway, we bought that fish and chips and took it with us but when we arrived which was close to half past six, others were wrapping up their left overs. So we decided to take ours home to eat.

As I was standing looking for other parents to speak to, I noticed this man approaching me. I said my "how are you's" and introduced myself. He asked me what I did for a living and I told him... then my turn to ask. He said he was a minister. I was stunned! I am standing there speaking to a minister? Wow! So I asked him which government department he worked for. He immediately blushed and said "no, I am a minister at a church". It was then my turn to blush. But thankfully, I was too dark to show the redness through my face. He turned out to be a priest at a local church!

Is there a difference between being a priest and being a minister?

This afternoon at a meeting with one of my auditees, I was introduced to someone who said he was from the ministry. Being a Friday, most offices dress casually. And this bloke was dressed in a Mao suit (a white shirt and a black collarless jacket buttoned all the way up). It really looked like a what a priest would normally wear.

Not learning from my previous mistake, I automatically asked him which church he belonged to. He started laughing and said I was not the first person today to say that. Dejavu! You know what happened after that...

I later found out, he works for Michael Cullen, the Deputy Prime Minister who is also the Finance Minister.

Thursday, 4 May 2006

The sun still rises from the east but...

I remember when I went to school, we learnt that the sun rises from the east and sets in the west. That fact of the matter was never doubted for an instant. Every morning, I would clearly see the sun rising from the east and without fail each evening the sun will set in the west.

When one bought a house in Malaysia, he or she will see to it that the house was facing east so that the house gets much of the rising sun which is not as hot as the setting sun. That said, most houses in Malaysia are linked or in Kiwi terms town houses. That means one would only need to worry about the front. In all likelihood if it is not an end unit, both the sides are somebody else's problem and the back as well. When I mean somebody else's, I mean there would be another unit on all the other sides. And if you don’t belong in the “circle”, in all likelihood, the back unit will be so close you can whisper the latest gossip and still be heard - that’s how close it can be so no sun will get in there!

In New Zealand, what one looks for in a house is very different. Well, we heard about this and somewhat knew this but until today, it did not really hit me. In New Zealand, the fact that the sun rises from the east and sets in the west has holes as big as the sun all over it!

When one buys a house here, it is important that it faces north! That is because over here, the sun does not travel the half circle over your head but takes a rather gentle curve rising from the east and setting in the north. I also learnt in school that at noon, one can't see your shadow because the sun was over your head. That may be true elsewhere but you may need to lean like the tower of Pisa to get no shadow here. So that explains why my sun dial did not give me the correct time. This was why I was at work before 7 every morning. The days I am in at 8 are when I used my trusted battery operated watch.

Being in a cold climate, one would want to heat up the house as much as possible. So, the house needs to be facing north to get as much of the setting sun as possible. And since most of the houses here are detached, the movement of the sun is important so that a house gets most of the sun as it makes its day round.

Earlier I said it did not hit me till now. That is because I am currently working in an office in Auckland, seated in a room 27 floors up with a view to kill for and also one that gets the rising sun. For some reason, the rising sun in Auckland is just as hot as the setting sun. Anyway, when I came in I thought “hey”, when the sun moves to the other side I won't feel so hot. How wrong I was! The sun travelled from one window on my left to the other window on my right. All the time the sun was on my back, literally.

Now after being in this building for a week, I mean in this sauna, I not only had a crash course on the sun, I think I have also developed a tan on the back part of my head and neck!

Saturday, 1 April 2006

Bluff Oysters

The Bluff oyster season just started last week with a lip smacking festival ( last weekend which of course had to include oyster opening and eating contests. There has been numerous newspaper articles and TV reports about people slurping their prized Bluff oysters.

When I was in Auckland last week, I came across places selling 1 dozen of these fat succulent Bluff oysters for $110! That is almost $10 a piece. They better had included some pearls for that amount of money. It is outrageous but people still bought them or they wouldn't sell!

For those not from New Zeland or not familiar with New Zealand geography, Bluff is a small town at the south end of the South Island. It is located at the bottom of the South Island, in the province of Southland and is the 'Gateway to Stewart Island'. It is also the begining of State Highway 1.

When we first arrived in New Zealand, the oyster season had already started then. So all the hype ended before we arrived. Each time, we passed by a sea food shop, we saw them selling Bluff oysters. And each time we asked ourselves, why would anyone in their right mind buy bluff oysters when you can buy real ones for the same price. Then one day, when I related this to my office colleagues, everyone had a good laugh. Then we realised why they were called Bluff Oysters.

This year, we are going to sample some of these reknowned oysters before the end of the season. Some call it the finest in the world but we are determined to buy them at down to earth prices.

Tuesday, 28 March 2006

The Not so Jamie Oliver style of cooking

I am on assignment in Auckland this week and have been generously offered an upgrade to a one bedded suite at the Citylife Auckland. It is not your average chic boutique hotel (far from it actually) but is close enough to the office which is all but 2 long minutes walk and a stone's throw from the downtown Foodtown supermarket.

This is my fifth stay at this particular hotel and as a gesture of my patronage, I was given a personalised luggage lock. It is quite large for an average lock but still no where near the size of the luggage lock my colleague in Wellington uses. You really don't want me to get into that, so I won't.

Since coming to New Zealand, I have tried my hand at the barbie, baking, and grill and it turned out quite well. As this week I will be spending away from the main chef of the household, I thought I'll try some cooking myself. So, off I went to Foodtown and bought myself some steak, bacon, eggs and fruits. When I reached the hotel, I realised that I had no oil or butter to cook the stuff.

I thought "hey", if I can grill steak in a barbie without oil, why can't I do that on the stove. So, I cooked the steak on a pan over medium heat. As it got cooked, it also got stuck to the pan, after turning it a few times, I am sure I lost at least 100g of meat on the pan. It finally turned out quite well although less than what I had paid for in weight.

After transferring the steak to a plate, I took the pan and splashed water over it under a running tap. That created an incredible amount of smoke in the room, which triggered the smoke detector, which caused the front office downstairs to call the room and simultaneously alert the housekeeping on the 8th floor to come to my room. I had to explain 5 different times to 5 different people on my cooking skills and why the rangehood did not function as intended. Hello! It would have if it was installed above the sink!

Just when I thought I could sit down with my 100g less of a steak and a glass of wine with Desperate Housewives on TV, I had another phone call from the Hotel Manager who so generously gave me the personalised luggage lock earlier, I am sure at this stage thinking if he wanted me for the 6th time at his hotel. I explained all over again what happened and he offered me a $20 voucher to be spent at the coffee house. Now, is that an insult or what? Me being me, accepted his generosity, but the cooking won't stop!

Saturday, 18 March 2006

Community Service

In order to raise funds, schools around New Zealand have all sorts of activities from selling chocolates to having a ball. Businesses give generously to these events and so do the public. Which is an amazing contrast to where we come from. Doing this in Malaysia would involve getting a police permit and not to mention raised eyebrows from the general public.

This morning Ashwini's kinddie (Kiwi for kindergarten) organised a fund raising barbie (Kiwi for BBQ) and parents were asked to help out. We took turns to do some work at manning the stall for an hour throughout the day. Yours truly was cooking sausages for this event!

For this fund raising project, the venue was at Bunnings Warehouse in Porirua. They provided the BBQ set with gas for free in addition to allowing the kinddie to use a prominent space at the entrance. The sausages were provided by local butchers and parents. Bread was supplied by a local bakery in the dozens. Even divine intervention was available! The Man upstairs made sure the sun was up and the sky had nothing but blue skies throughout the day.

We charged $1 for a BBQ sausage on a slice of bread. All proceeds went to the kinddie. I am not sure how much we raised eventually but during my one hour shift, we sold about 30 sausages.

Going away from the community a bit, the fund raising concept is a bit of Kiwi thing to raise money for whatever reason. I have seen kids playing a musical instrument of some sorts by the train station, street corner, markets, to raise money for one reason or another. Once a family of 4 kids played music at Cuba Mall in Wellington to raise money to buy new instruments for themselves. There was this one kid on Lambton Quay during the school holidays playing his violin to go for a holiday. He played exceptionally bad, but had a sign saying, "I may not play terribly well but at least my effort deserves a gold coin donation". And people gave generously. At the weekend market, we see kids playing one instrument or another with a hat filled with coins. Just as we were going back from this fund raising event, we saw another barbie stall just round the corner raising money for a school trip to Italy!

Anil is seriously looking at learning to play the cello. He has mastered “Hot cross buns” after 3 lessons. Even if he does not get paid to perform at the New Zealand symphony orchestra, I know he will be able to raise some money playing on the streets.

Despite the intentions of these "fund raisers" I applaud New Zealanders who give so generously. Can't see it happening anywhere else, really!

Saturday, 25 February 2006

Husband for hire

Before anyone gets any funny ideas, this is a real business in New Zealand. It started from an allegedly off hand comment made by a woman envious of her friend's handy husband. "My hubby is hopeless around the house," she moaned, "I wish I could hire yours for a while!" The seed was planted and Hire a Hubby is a serious business catering to people without the time, tools, skill or inclination to tackle jobs around the home and garden.

When I was back in Malaysia, I was more handy than an average Malaysian with my "tools" that comprised at that time - an impact drill and several wrenches, screwdrivers, nuts and bolts, a high pressure water blaster and an electric grass cutter. Hardly anyone in Malaysia cuts their own grass! I remember when a friend of ours shifted to his new house, I helped him fix all his lights and hang his paintings. I wonder if his wife moaned "I wish I could hire him for a while!" Guess not!

When we moved to New Zealand, I proudly packed all my "tools" into 2 boxes. When the New Zealand Border Control checked our package, they let it pass without a fuss. Knowing they are particular about tools coming into the country with possible contamination, I wondered why they were not too concerned with mine. Then, when we started knowing people, I realised that the average handyman here has at his disposal, several varieties of power saws, welding guns and tools I can't even pronounce let alone spell! The work I undertook to rebuild the bathroom, made me realise that I am nowhere near the average New Zealand husband.

We had a leak on our roof and judging from the state of our "rebuilt" bathroom, Vera decided we should call for a real husband... oops I mean real handyman.

Sunday, 19 February 2006

Apples just harvested

We planted an apple tree 5 months ago in our yard and the first bunch of apples are ripe for harvest. The tree we planted have two variety of apples, braeburn and royal gala.

These are the first and we have no idea which variety these are but they are simply great! Not too sweet yet. We were told that it takes a lot longer than 5 months.

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There are a few more on the tree and we are hoping those will taste a lot sweeter.

Tuesday, 14 February 2006

Animal rights in New Zealand

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Crayfish is similar to lobsters we get in Asia. As it is in Asia, it is also a delicacy and expensive here in New Zealand. There are various ways to cook them and one of the most popular methods was to boil them while still alive. Most are sold alive anyway if one didn’t catch them. There was an article in the New Zealand Herald this morning about how one should legally kill a crayfish or crab for consumption. It seems that under the Animal Welfare Act, it is an offence and can be prosecuted if caught inhumanely killing a crayfish or crab, even for consumption.

The article said that it is inhumane to stab, drown or boil a crayfish, and that it is also against the law. The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has issued a reminder on the kindest way to despatch seafood delicacies such as crayfish and crabs. The ministry says that it was also equally cruel to try and kill them with a blow to the head or other part of the body because they did not have a central nervous system but a spread out one. Drowning in fresh water was also inappropriate and caused "severe osmotic stress". The most humane way of killing a crayfish or crab was to chill it at between 2C and 4C until it was "insensible" and safely immobile. It could then be killed with a sharp instrument either by head spiking between the eyes, or chest spiking through the chest wall from the underside.

While there are still people being brutally killed in some parts of the world, activists here and internationally, are now debating on whether fish felt pain. I wonder where we humans are in the food chain.

Tuesday, 31 January 2006

The price for a better tomorrow

Vera took our Honda for its routine maintenance today, which included the regular oil change, oil filter. When I saw the bill I was shocked. Not that it was expensive but the breakdown of it was so out of this world.

The cost of the oil for the Honda was $35.00 and the cost of disposing the used oil drained out of the Honda was $36.50! It cost more to dispose the oil (I am assuming it is because of the environment and all that) than to buy 4 litres of new engine oil.

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There I go again, making comparisons to Malaysia and Indonesia. In Malaysia, most garages (Kiwi for workshop) will store the oil to be disposed off in a proper manner..hopefully but don't charge you. In Indonesia most garages will make money out of selling the used oil to some entrepreneur who will convert it to something saleable and sell it. So they make money from selling you the new oil and again from the sale of the used oil.

If you had followed my blog, I bought a Ford Laser sometime in November last year. I filled it up (the tank I mean) a few days after I bought it. It has been 2 months since and the price of fuel has gone up 5 times and down twice and my tank is still not empty! How economical is that?

Wednesday, 25 January 2006

The hidden valley

The last leg of our holiday, we stopped at Rotorua, New Zealand's thermal capital. Almost the entire city of Rotorua smelled of sulphur, an acquired smell.

This place we went to is caled Orakei Korako or The Hidden Valley and is said to be the oldest and one of the finest in the world... or so the brochure says.

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Friday, 20 January 2006

Lots to do in Auckland

These are some of the things we did in Auckland, in between my work assignment.

This is Goat Island Marine Park where fish swim between your legs in the water. I don't have an underwater camera so cannot see the fish but trust me they are there. Big, small, long, short, blue, green...all shapes, sizes and colours were there.

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This is a typical new Zealand beach. Even in Auckland, beaches are not crowded. In Asian terms, this would be referred to as a deserted beach.

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We went for a bush walk was at the Kaitakere Forest Ranges where the largest Kauri trees can be seen. The oldest was over 1,000 years old with a 13 metre waistline. Giants of the forest as they are called.

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How could we complete a visit to Ackland without a visit to Sky Tower?

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No bungy jump for us. Even watching people jumping off makes one's heart skip a beat.

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Again, a New Zealand holiday would not be complete without a Maori performance.

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And one from a neighbouring Polynesian island.

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Tuesday, 10 January 2006

Auckland here we come

After 2 nights in Waitomo, it was time to head for creature comforts in Auckland.

Along the way, I saw this long bath right in the middle of no where!

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We had communal showers while we were camping but an outdoor bath like the one above gave the word communal bath a whole new meaning. And later as I was walking back to the car, I saw a cemetary next door. Guess who uses the bath?

Just before we reached Auckland, we stopped for lunch, Kiwi style at a park in Hamilton.

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Monday, 9 January 2006

The sun comes out to play

After all that wind and rain, we decided to abandon the idea of tenting and went for a cabin instead at the next stop, Waitomo.

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Just when we decided to take a cabin, the sun decides to come out. We had really nice weather from then on.

Saturday, 7 January 2006

Next stop New Plymouth

We still have 4 more nights before reaching Auckland so we still needed a tent. At that time all the cabins were full. We headed off to The Warehouse for tent hunting and got this new Kiwi tent but made in China. For $290, we thought it had to be good, if not better than our previous tent.

Next stop, Onaero Bay in New Plymouth. What a beautiful campsite that was! And what a spacious tent we have.

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This is the campsite where the river met the sea and it was absolutely beautiful and the playground was a child's dream.

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We were amazed at how some of the Kiwi tents looked like and what some of them had in their tents. Some had refridgerators, microwave ovens and some even TV's. The lanun camping we had in Malaysia looked like child play.

This tent, however, had other problems. It held the wind which started to slow down quite a bit since Wanganui. This time it rained more and the tent started to leak. The last night we had to put a raincoat over the tent to keep the water out.

Since it was only 4 days old, we decided to take it back to The Warehouse. Told them the tent was defective and they gladly refunded the full purchase price and even offered a 20% discount on another tent, which we politely turned down.

Tuesday, 3 January 2006

The Great New Zealand Camp

On New Year's day we began our camping expedition.

All excited, we started our journey north to the River City, Wanganui.

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We brought with us a 6 man tent that we used in Malaysia. Since there were only 4 of us, we thought that was more than sufficient to house all of us. We also thought that a tent was a tent in any language meaning one used in Malaysia would be just as good used in New Zealand. So we arrived at out first campsite.

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No drama there! No bridges to cross or rivers to cross that my Honda could not handle. When we pitched the tent, it was all calm and sunny.

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The following day, the weather took a turn and gale winds developed reaching 140 kmph. Our dear old tent was taking a beating. At one point, the tent was at a 45 degree angle. I seriously had doubts about where we might be sleeping that night. By the next day, part of it started to give way. By the third day, parts of our tent started to disappear and part of the front was missing the pegs. That is when we realised that we had to get something else.

Some of our "neighbours" still had their tents in tact standing and some did not even move in the wind. They used canvas tents and they were rock solid.

The fate of our tent...

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Sunday, 1 January 2006

New Year Holidays

It is the 1st day in the year 2006 and we are setting off for our holidays.

We can no longer afford overseas holidays but our aim to go somewhere we have never been to still remains true.

Today we head north for the New Zealand River City, Wanganui and along the way visit Vincent in Palmerston North. Although Wanganui is a River City, we planned to stay at a beach campsite in Castlecliff for 2 nights before leaving for our next destination Onaero Bay in New Plymouth. The Onaero Bay campsite is by the river on one side and the sea on the other. What more could one ask for? After 3 nights there, we will be off to Waitomo, famous for its glow worms. And after all that camping to creature comforts - Auckland.

I end my annual leave then and go back to work. Since my first assignment for the year is in Auckland, the troops follow me and stay at the hotel where I will be staying for 2 weeks. On the return drive to Wellington, we will be breaking our 10 hour drive at a campsite near Rotorua.

The weather this morning indicated gale force winds tomorrow and pretty much rubbish weather the remainder of the week. With all that wind and rain, this is no doubt going to be one heck of a holiday!

This blog is going to take a break for the 3 weeks we are away as I will not have access to upload blogs or photos. Back in full swing end January.

Happy New Year from all of us way down under!!!!