Thursday, December 15, 2011

Culture Shock

About a year ago, some American visitors asked me about culture shock, specifically if I had experienced any. All I could come up with at the time was: "We heat our house with a wood burning fireplace..." In itself, this fact probably does not really represent culture shock, though if you try to discuss heating/insulation/house building with a local, then maybe it does qualify.

Anyway, we're going on two years now, and I think I now have a pretty good list (in my head) of shocking items. Well, not very shocking, but at least a little interesting. I will probably add to this post over time, so feel free to check back.

1) Documentation in patient notes. Example from a respiratory physician (who is not called a pulmonologist in NZ): "She denies much in the way of sputum production with less than an egg cup full of sputum daily which she describes as white and occasionally creamy."

You can learn so much about the culture from this sentence...most notably that people eat eggs out of egg cups here. [I only know what an egg cup is from hotel breakfasts in Europe.] Also, in case you hadn't noticed, people tend to be more polite in NZ as compared to the US; or at least they look and sound more polite to my ear (and eyes)...

2) Dining Out. At first glance, restaurants in New Zealand seem very expensive. But when you consider that tax is included in all prices and that tipping is unnecessary, restaurants in New Zealand are only a little expensive. Furthermore, very good restaurants are about the same price as mediocre restaurants. Case in point: Saffron, usually considered the best restaurant in the Queenstown area, and Sombreros Mexican Cantina...which would not pass for Mexican even in Indianapolis. I guess that's not a great example as you can eat for less than $25 at the Mexican restaurant, and you're looking at >$35 at Saffron; but hopefully you get the idea.

The culture shock comes when you are done eating and waiting for the bill. It will never come. [Except in very touristy areas like Queenstown where they are used to Americans expecting a bill to be brought to the table.] The reason a bill will never come is because 1) nobody in NZ caries cash--ATM cards are king, and a PIN must be entered at the cash register and 2) nearly every table is going to want its bill split into several parts--and this is best handled at the cash register. [I should probably type some sort of aside on dining out with friends in NZ...and someday I will. For now, let's leave it at: Don't pick up a check at dinner, and don't expect anyone else to, either.]

Friday, December 09, 2011

The best things in life are free

Americans: I know you are used to being able to spend your money everywhere you go, but do not count on being able to do that in New Zealand. Fortunately, there are money changers everywhere, including the airport(s). Using a money changer is usually a little cheaper if you're changing >$500 NZ (around $400 US), but they are still expensive (especially at the airport).

Instead, I would recommend bringing an ATM card and a credit card. Just about everybody accepts credit cards, but it is a good idea to have some cash for those that don't. I would strongly suggest that you ask your bank and/or credit card issuer how much it will cost to use their card here before leaving home.

Last I checked, you can use a Bank of America ATM card at Westpac ATMs at no charge. USAA should allow you to use any ATM for a 1% transaction fee.

Visa and Mastercard charge you a 1% transaction fee for all credit card purchases made outside the US. The credit card issuer will likely charge you something on top of this. If you have a USAA card, you will pay just the 1% Mastercard fee. Capital One is even better: they will cover the 1% charged by Mastercard/Visa...and if you have a cash back card, you can turn a profit of the transaction.
Jafaland II

Alternative title: Eating cheaply in New Zealand

Before getting sticker shock at NZ restaurants, remember that tax and tip are included...or actually, there's no tip, but your server is paid much better than he/she should be. GST (Goods and services tax) is 15%, but is already figured into the cost of everything you buy. If you make any big purchases to take home, the shop may be able to send it directly to the airport and not charge you GST). But I digress.

1) Have coffee and a scone (or cake) for breakfast. Order a flat white; you can only get them in NZ and Australia...some claim there is a difference from a latte... Just about any restaurant with "cafe" in the name will have a pastry case and coffee section (and just about any restaurant with "cafe" in the name will require you to order at the counter...then they'll bring you your food; if in doubt, a menu on the wall is a clue that you have to order at the counter). Expect to pay $7 to $10 for coffee and a pastry. If there's a sign out front that says $5 for coffee and cake, that's even better.

2) Pies!!! You can buy these just about anywhere (like petrol stations), but if they come from a real bakery, they're much better. There are bakeries everywhere. It's like a hand-held chicken pot pie (you can get other meats in them as well; mince=ground beef; if you find a vegetarian one, those are my favourite, followed by chicken and vegetables). $4 to $6 for a high quality pie from a bakery; less from a dairy, market, petrol station. Make this a breakfast and/or lunch item, as the bakeries close up in the early afternoon.

3) Fish and Chips!!! (or as they say in the NZ: Fush and Chups). Just about the cheapest thing you can eat, and probably the worst for you. I order them without salt in an attempt to make them healthier (they're not quite as good, but still seem to come with a lot of residual salt). You can find these everywhere...if the place also sells Chinese food, it probably won't be as good. "Two Fish and one scoop of chips" should feed two of you for a little under $10. (Battered fish is much better than crumbed, but probably worse for you.)

4) Ethnic food: NZ does Indian well and isn't too bad at Thai. These should be cheaper than Kiwi/European food. There are also Kebab places everywhere (virtually all Middle-Eastern food in NZ is Turkish...the locals seem to like it, but we've been unimpressed every time we've tried it).

6) Combine dining with something else. It costs $25 to get to the top of the Sky Tower. If you eat in Orbit or the Observatory, Sky Tower admission is included. The Observatory is a buffet ($42.50 lunch, 62.50 dinner); Orbit is a sit down restaurant (mains $30 to $35); we ate there with a group. It's good, especially if you keep in mind that you're eating there for the view. They serve high tea on Saturdays and Sundays...

5) More restaurants: Great restaurants do not cost much more than average restaurants. There's a giant collection of them (restaurants, not great restaurants) around Viaduct Harbour. They all turn into nightclub type places around 9, so don't wait too long to eat. Note: "Entrees" are appetizers; "Mains" are main courses. On the Viaduct, we've eaten at Degree (mains in the $20 to $30 range)--only in NZ will a restaurant put an 800 degree stone on your table so you can cook a lamb chop. Kermadec (mains in the $35 to $45 range) is supposed to be the place to go for fish/seafood. We ate there once during a rugby game, and it was obscenely busy. Can't remember much else about it--they have a few other restaurants in their building (all with Kermadec in their name): a brasserie, a tasting room, etc. These are all a little cheaper. We seem to end up at Fox's Ale House a lot. It's what I picture a British pub looking like, but you can eat for under $20 a person. We have not tried any of Auckland's best restaurants.

It's getting to be tourist season, so I thought I would post a few paragraphs on things to do in Auckland. [Note: I have not spent very long on this post, it is mostly a composite of a few emails exchanged with previous guests.] Auckland is not the greatest city in the world for tourists, and for many, it's probably a lot like visiting Los Angeles (and never leaving downtown). I find I like Auckland better the farther away I get from Queen Street.

1) I'll assume you've already done the stuff like walked around Queen Street and the Viaduct.

2) Explorer Bus $40 a day; I thought it ran for 14 hours, but it's only until around 4PM. It will probably stop at your hotel, or you can pick it up at the ferry building (across from the hotel). Feel free to make as many stops as you have time for. I'd highly recommend the following: Stop at the Auckland (War) Museum ($10 suggested donation). Walk across Auckland Domain (park) to the Winter Garden (or whatever it's called in German). Stop at Parnell Village (one of many Auckland suburbs, worth a walk around). From the satellite bus (which you pick up at the Auckland museum: Haven't been to Eden Gardens, but the description looks promising. Stop at Mt Eden (very good view of the city, and no walking required), You might enjoy a stop at MOTAT (museum of transportation and something--$14 eeeh...)

3) Auckland Discovery Pass. $15--good until 5AM the day after you buy it; You could do most of the Explorer Bus with this pass, but it would require a whole lot more planning. You can buy the pass at the Ferry building, on any bus, or probably a bunch of other places. (Buses are one of the few places that will need cash, but they do make change.) For starters, go to the I-site (information centre, they're all over NZ) in the Ferry building. Pick up a free "walking tour" guide for Devonport, then jump on the Ferry to Devonport, an old (and expensive) town on North Shore (which is the city across the bridge from Auckland). They leave about every half hour and run until midnight. The pass is good on the other North Shore ferries, but I don't know what there is to do once you're there (the ferries are for commuters who work in Auckland); the island ferries are more expensive, and not free with the pass. Walk around Devonport...the guide includes a trip up Mt. Victoria (more of a hill, really) for the best view of Auckland possible. Visit the free Navy Museum if you're not bored of Devonport yet. From the Devonport ferry station, you can take the 813 bus to Takapuna (which is the down town of North Shore), take a quick walk around, it's not very impressive. Catch one of the many Hibiscus Coast buses (looks like 893, 895, 898, 899 all stop there; about every 30 to 60 minutes). If it's been raining, it's a beautiful and green ride. We've been as far as Orewa Beach (about 50 minutes from Takapuna); this far north looks a lot like Hawaii. There's a very long beach with a hardened (dirt) path, and a few blocks of town (good place for a lunch break). There are several beaches farther up if you want to keep riding, but I haven't been to them. Probably a good idea to go back on the bus you came on (to get back to Takapuna), but anything going south will get you back to Auckland without more than one transfer (the bus driver will help you). From Takapuna, you can retrace your steps to the Devonport Ferry, or just catch a bus to Auckland CBD (central business district). I have not ridden any trains in Auckland (and some are currently under construction). They leave from the Britomart, which is almost across the street from the Ferry Building. Most of the Auckland buses also stop here. If you want to get somewhere from downtown, this is where to catch the bus. Another nice [and very short ride] is out to Mission Bay. This leaves from the Britomart (stop 7010 D3) every 15 minutes (buses 745, 756, 757, 769). The route is along the water, and Mission Bay is a nice place for a meal.

4) If you still have a day to kill, consider one of Auckland's many islands. They all require ferries to get to (circa $30 return trip), and the bigger ones require some form of land transport. Waiheke, well known for its wineries, is best seen by bicycle, but it does have a real bus service at around $8 per person. Don't forget Rangitoto Island, Auckland's newest volcano. You can walk to the top (takes about an hour), or there's a tram (pulled by a 4WD tractor) that will take you mostly to the top--there are a couple of hundred new stairs (with handrails) to get to the summit from the tram stop. Highly recommended for the best view of Auckland possible. The ferry is in the neighborhood of $25 round trip...I think around $45 with the tractor.

5) There's a lot more to see, but probably prohibitively expensive if you don't have a car. People will ask if you saw the glow worms. There are tour companies that will take you there from Auckland, but you're probably looking at $200 per person. Consider renting a car...

6) Nightlife: There's not a whole lot in NZ. Aside from drinking and gambling (Sky City Casino--by the sky tower), how about catching a show at the Classic Comedy Club. I think they're closed on Tuesday. $5 to $10 for most shows...don't sit in the front unless you want to get heckled.
It's been so long since I've posted, my blog is starting to look like Nico's. Does Nico even have a blog anymore?
Anyway, not much has been happening not related to baby pictures, and if you really want to see those, they are much, much easier to load on facebook...

But if you must have some pictures, here are a couple of my favourties.

Photo 1 is Jancie in her crib (taken with an ipod touch using natural light)

Photo 2 is Jancie in her rocker (taken with a Pentax K20D using natural light)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Jancie and the Prime Minister

Alternate title: Yes, that is my nose

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Thought I'd promote Napier a little with a live webcam (it's not mine, but the city does not seem to mind if I repost it).

View full webcam and images from the last 24 hours.

Monday, November 07, 2011

There is no space for what you need to know on the forms that I must fill out

On November 8th At 5:55 AM (NZ Daylight Time), Jancie Anahera Lasko entered this world. Weighing in at 8 pounds 9 ounces (height unknown), her hobbies include: Bob Marley, giraffes, and being wrapped in a bunch of blankets. Her dislikes are: zebras, loud neighbors, and flash bulbs.

PS: No, that wasn't a typo (or at least this time it wasn't).

PPS: Amerikiwi is not an official nationality.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Couch Surfing

Alternate Title: Yes, we do have a rugby team

In true New Zealand spirit, we set off on a cross country drive to see the United States play Ireland in round 1 of the Rugby World Cup.

One of our many stops was in the town of Hawera, about 70 km from New Plymouth (the home of the US during the tournament). Hawera is best known for having a very old and very tall water tower. I have no idea why I felt obligated to pay $2.50 to climb to the top.

A little closer to New Plymouth, Inglewood was celebrating the arrival of the Americans with this country band playing Whiskey in a Jar...which turned out to not be the strangest band we saw over the weekend.

In New Plymouth, the saying goes something like: "If you can see Mount Egmont, it's going to rain. If you can't see Mount Egmont, it's already raining." Here are a couple of rare photos of the Mount.

Interruption: Everyone act cool, it's the cops.

And on to one of the more unusual events of the weekend. The schedule read "US Marine Corp Band". I was expecting Taps and Stars and Stripes Forever.

I have a whole bunch of photos of cool bridges, but I should probably get onto the Rugby already. Only the grass was greener than the crowd.

This looks like my best photo of the game.

And a big thank you to Nigel and Christie for letting us stay in their mansion...even though we had only met once. Wonderful country this New Zealand. Here's the view from our room.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Now that spring is in the air

I really should be posting a little more about New Caledonia, but I thought I would first let all of my Northern Hemisphere friends know that it is no longer freezing down here.

Here is a rather giant Nicole looking like she remembers how to sail. This picture reminds me of my first Napier post (about 6 months before we first visited Napier).
I have a vague recollection of telling people I was going to live on this hill. We ended up pretty close: the hill in the second picture is to the right of Nicole's head...we live to the left of Nicole's head. [Sadly, the house is not visible from the water, but it's right by the abandoned hospital at the top of the hill.]

Back to New Caledonia: I don't think I've posted anything about Noumea yet. My favourite thing to do in Noumea was: sitting and staring out the window. One of the better views we've ever had from a hotel room. Sadly, I dropped my camera shortly after that photo was taken, so the picture quality will be going down from here.

A rather neat war memorial...and there's a McDonalds right beside it.

Here we are laying on the beach...we did a fair amount of this.

Here we are laying on the beach watching a wedding procession go by. (That only happened once.)

After we got bored of the Noumea beaches, we took a water taxi over to Ile Aux Canards (one of the many small offshore islands). Here's Nicole in a bikini. Ile Aux Canards has a neat underwater walkway, where we did our only snorkelling. The water was a little cold, but as long as I kept moving, I was able to stave off hypothermia. I would have some really cool photos, except I forgot the water proof case for the Sony.

Since I haven't gotten in trouble yet...

Should I mention: There is graffiti everywhere in New Caledonia. This is the entrance way to one of the nicer Noumea beaches.

Hey, it's my very favourite southern hemisphere band. Yellow Press Toy...I'm sure that doesn't translate well.

A parting picture of the reef from the plane.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Lost in Translation

Every job I have ever had (except possibly raking leaves for my father) has included some sort of training session involving something about communication. Perhaps this is because every job I have ever had has involved some sort of customer service aspect (except possibly raking leaves for my father). Every one of these communication training sessions has quoted some statistic that 80% of communication is non-verbal. There is no way this statistic is accurate.

Interesting thing about New Caledonia: Everyone speaks English. Even the people who don't speak English try to speak English. We had a waiter who asked if we would like a translation of the menu (it was a tapas bar; the menu a mix of French/Spanish, so we were mostly okay with it); we assumed he meant an English menu, and we're surprised when he read through the entire menu in his best English (making bleating sounds because he did not know the word for lamb).

Outside Noumea is another story. We spent two nights in the [former prison] town of Bourail. Our hosts Marion (spoke enough English to show us our room and sort of tell us what was for dinner) and Philippe (spoke only enough English to express disappointment that I could not converse with him in German) were quite welcoming at their little B&B a few km past town. At Dinner (a bargain at 3200 XPF for a drink, more food than you would ever want to eat, dessert and coffee) we sat at a large table of non-English speakers. I found the experience a good deal more enjoyable than Nicole (one would think she should be able to speak French and/or German)...probably because she was not allowed to partake of any of the French wines on offer. I can also tell you that at no time did I understand 80% of any conversation at the table.Later in our trip, I realized that I can pick up almost no spoken French, but if something is written down, I do pretty well.

There is a lot to do in Bourail...but with a big giant Nicole, your options are more limited. Bourail is known for 1) having the only surfable beach on the "mainland" and 2) some interesting rock formations.
The actual town of Bourail is not much to look at. Nicole used the words "failed colonialism" to describe it. I thought it looked a lot like Disneyland's New Orleans square if they stopped maintaining it for 50 years. This is a quaint little bakery, and it is remarkably devoid of graffiti.

Of potential interest to my Kiwi readers (Hi Misty!), New Caledonia's very own New Zealand war memorial/cemetery is just outside Bourail.

Monday, August 08, 2011

I thought I might start off with something useful

New Caledonia is expensive...I'm not sure if it's like Zurich expensive, or not, as we had a whole lot more money when we were in Zurich (and Zurich is indeed very expensive); so we'll just say that New Caledonia is also very expensive.

When arriving in New Caledonia, the expensiveness begins almost immediately: Tontouta International Airport is 45 km outside of Noumea. There are about 30 shuttle operators, each will want somewhere around 3000 Pacific Francs (XPF) to get you to Noumea; some might give you a little discount for two people (say 5000 XPF). [The Pacific Franc is used in New Caledonia and French Polynesia. It is pegged to the Euro at an exchange rate of 120 XPF per Euro. If you're bored, you should read about the history of why New Caledonia doesn't just use the Euro.] Anyway, 5000 XPF is about $60 (US) at today's exchange rate. In retrospect, that does not look very expensive, but it's quite a bit more in Kiwibucks, and Nico and I are but poor Kiwi folk.

But I digress. To delay the expensiveness a little, exchange a few dollars at the currency exchange at the airport. [Or use the ATM if you have a good American bank that does not make this prohibitive.] Then avoid the private shuttles and hop on the public bus (Carsud). I could find almost no web presence for Carsud, so I was a little afraid they were no longer in business. Fortunately, they are still running, and pick up at the airport every 30 minutes (roughly between 6:00 AM and 6:00 PM--don't quote me on that, but there are only like 3 planes that land/take off from Tontouta, and they are all well within normal bus hours). To get to Noumea, you will want line C (or C express, which has fewer stops, but still has so many you will wonder why it's called express). It's a 70 minute trip to Noumea (at a bargain price of 400 XPF per person). And unless you are staying in downtown Noumea, you will then have to catch a city bus to your destination. The city buses are quite easy to figure out, even if you speak as little French as I do. The airport bus will drop you off in the vicinity of Avenue Paul Doumer and Ru Du General Gallieni; you can then catch either a green line or yellow line bus to get to Anse Vata (where most of the resorts are). City buses are 210 XPF; 190 XPF if you buy your ticket in advance. There's a bus station office somewhere, but the only place I saw people buying tickets was from a machine in Place Des Cocotiers.

So that's how you save 4800 XPF during your first hour in New Caledonia.

PS: I sat in Place Des Cocotiers for quite a while to take a quality photo of some colorfully clothed Kanak women...the picture above was about the best I was able to do without looking like I was trying to take photos of colorfully clothed Kanak women.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Wow, it's been a little while. We're in the middle of winter, and not much has been going on. Next week, we're off to Nouvelle-Cal├ędonie. I promise to have more interesting photos.

If you really must know what I've been up to:

1) We finally made it to the National Aquarium (right here in Napier).

Not the most impressive aquarium I've ever paid to get into, though the shark tank rivals something you might see in Vegas.

2) I spent a weekend in Auckland at a pharmacy conference...and I ran into a celebrity.

I snuck out for a little while and went to Martha's Backyard...selling all things to remind you of home. They had no Jif peanut butter, and It was July 12th, yet none of the 4th of July stuff was on sale. If anyone wants to send me a container or two of junk, I am certain I could operate a better American store.

Dessert was fabulous.

3) I've been assembling furniture. This looks like something my mother would have bought around the time I was born.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

She said it's cold. It feels like independence day.

Alternative title: Do they have 4th of July in New Zealand?

Today my coworkers helped my celebrate America's birthday with a lunch of all things American.

I have pretty cool coworkers who brought: Coca-Cola, turkey and cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, Freedom (french) fries, sourdough bread, popcorn, an apple crumble, donuts, tortilla chips, an Hawaiian pizza.

PS: Of you haven't seen me in a while, I am not normally so goofy looking...though I probably am that pale.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

At or around this time, we made a healthy, informed, democratic decision to get
back on drugs as soon as possible. It took about 12 hours.

Sweet, sweet Nespresso.

Monday, June 06, 2011

We're on a road to nowhere

[Note: I've been receiving complaints that the layout of takealotofdrugs looks like it was done by a six year old. If I had to guess, I'd say I have not made any changes to the template in six years. I'll try jazzing things up a little starting now.]

If you could fly from Napier to New Plymouth, it would be a very short flight. But due to some mountains (and a general lack of roads), New Plymouth is one of the furthest places we can get without leaving the North Island. (I'm sure somebody is about to come along and name 18 places in Northland that are further...)

To keep things interesting, we decided to drive back via the Forgotten World Highway. I would like to be able to post some fabulous vistas, but the weather was not really cooperating.

Our first stop was the Bridge to Somewhere. Everyone at my work has corrected me with "Bridge to Nowhere" when I've mentioned the Bridge to Somewhere. The two bridges look pretty similar to me, except there are no roads leading to the Bridge to Nowhere; to get to the Bridge to Nowhere, one must walk for 2 and half days (or for the less adventurous, you can take a boat, then walk for 40 minutes to get there). The Bridge to Somewhere is a little more accessible, though it does not really go much of anywhere anymore.

At the halfway point (of the Forgotten World Highway, not halfway home), we stopped in the Republic of Whangamomona...a town which seceded from New Zealand in the eighties. Apparently, some drunk guys came up with the idea to promote tourism. As far as I can tell, the NZ Government has a sense of humour about this sort of thing, and did not send in the troops.

The highway passes by several ghost towns; Tangarakau Village once had 1200 residents. I was picturing something a little like this Old West Town. I had, of course, forgotten that Kiwis have a habit of moving their homes around.

Sadly, there was nothing left of Tangarakau Village...except these four houses, which might be recent arrivals.

Finally, we arrived at Damper Falls (the North Island's second highest water fall).

Although there are few signs of human civilisation on the Forgotten World Highway, the sheep are never far away.

The template is going to need a little more work that I had thought. I'll keep working at it.
Lonely and dreaming of the west coast

Our weekend in New Plymouth began at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery. They were running some special event where a bunch of musicians played "contemporary" classical music around the exhibits. Here's a sextet in the museum cafe.

After that, things at the museum got a little...weird; still, New Plymouth is certainly a city that cares about the arts. Here's a giant wind wand thingy.

I could have spent all day photographing the Te Rewa Bridge (photo stolen, as I came across it whilst running and did not have my camera).

One does not have to spend long in New Plymouth before noticing a vibe very different from that felt in Napier.

A short walk from downtown takes you to Pukekura Park. There are a bunch of fountains around the park...but you have to turn them on. Here's a waterfall in its resting state.

After a little button pressing...

The waterfall comes to life.

[Which brings me to an aside I've been meaning to write about for a while: Electricity is outrageously expensive in New Zealand. I would be embarrassed to let you Americans know how much an average electric bill runs us (and we are mostly off the grid for heating). I am constantly following Nicole around turning off the myriad of lights she leaves burning. I've been afraid to look, but I would guess our power bill quadruples when we have (American) guests. Every time we stay in a hotel, I feel like a character in a William Gibson book who can't figure out why she is able to take an unlimited shower in an expensive hotel (and assumes there's a meter somewhere measuring the water so that the hotel will be able to accurately charge the person paying for the room.) ]

Back to the post at hand: One of the best things about living in New Zealand is, there's always someone you know near by. Here's Cloudy, making her second takealotofdrugs appearance. She is the only person I've ever seen who can eat ice cream while driving. We were eating ice cream in the car because it never stops raining in New Plymouth.

Look at that, a bottle with my name on it.