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Saturday, August 26, 2006


Something that's become quite a phenomenon for me since I've been over here in NZ is my constant mis-identification as a Canadian. More often than not, when meeting a new Kiwi (mostly clients at work), they will guess that I am from Canada. At first I thought it was just an innocent mistake, in that to the rest of the world I do have a 'North American' accent. But as more and more Kiwis think I'm from the Great White North it is starting to make me laugh!

I mean, not only am I not from Canada, but I am from the South and have a definite southern twang. Whenever traveling outside of the South in the USA, I would be called on it, often mocked. Perhaps Virginia's own brand of southern accent is close to sounding Canadian to the rest of the world? Would they use long 'i's when they pronounce something like "I am from Virginia" as "Ah'm frum Vajenya"? Am I subconsciously starting to shed or hide my southern accent and coming across as Canadian?

Either way, it does not bother me in the slightest, I just find it a bit odd, is all. When I've met Canadians in the past, it seems to me that they have no discernible accent for the most part, except with certain words like 'aboot' ("about"), or the nearly-inaudible 'eh' that finishes some of their sentences. I definitely don't go 'eh' when speaking, so I know it's not that!

Who knows, perhaps after living over here for a few years, when I return home, everybody in the States will think I sound German or something.


Update 9/8/06 - I still get the "Are you from Canada?" thing, today from another American no less!! He's been over here 35 years, but still... The longer this goes on, I'm going to start having an identity crisis, eh.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

They say a picture paints 1,000 words ...

... but in this case, a hundred or so words will have to do.

You see, my absentmindedness got the better of me once again. Here I am, at the beginning of my trip down the Southern SCENIC Route, and I go somewhere without my camera. I even thought to myself, before leaving the hotel room, "Will I need my camera at the restaurant? Nah!"

So picture me this (pun intended): I park on the oceanfront, in front of a restaurant called The Esplanade. It's on a street named - wait for it – The Esplanade, and it overlooks the Pacific Ocean. It’s 7 o’clock at night, there is a dense, moody bank of clouds obscuring most of the night sky except for a large, trapezoidal hole about ¼ way up from the horizon out over the ocean. Down through this hole shines a bright patch of moonlight from a full moon, illuminating a strip of seawater with silvery light. The water looks this cool silver-greenish color in the moonlight. I've never seen anything like this before and it was pretty spectacular.

The silver lining here (again, pun intended!) is that in reality I probably would not have had enough light to get a good picture. There was also a lot of backlight from the restaurant and streetlights as well, so I probably would not have had much to show for it. At least, that's what I keep telling myself.

In short, you just had to be there. Nonetheless, it’s one of many captivating moments I’ve had while here in New Zealand, and I’ll remember it always.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Channeling Herriot

There were some good things about my first job in Ashburton. One of them was a house call I made my second week on the job.

There's a certain Ms. Anderson, a wee little thing probably in her mid-70s. She has a good dozen or so cats, and like most cats here in New Zealand, they roam free inside and outside of the house. Being that she's not able to get around as easily as she used to, and having so many cats that each lives by its own rules, Ms. Anderson requested that we come out to her house to catch several of the cats up on their vaccines.

Ms. Anderson had been to see me during my first week with one of her cats who was having a tooth problem. She had a really positive opinion of me after I worked on Sofia, who needed a tooth extracted, and she asked that I be the one who come out to her farm to take care of the other cats.

So one afternoon, just after it had stopped raining, Lana (one of the nurses) and I took the practice truck out to Ms. Anderson's farm. Before I continue, there is something I should say about this experience that made it meaningful, at least for me. I know it may sound cliche, but I've been a big fan of James Herriot and his stories for a long time. One of the funnier stories that was featured in the television mini-series involved his trips back and forth to visit an eccentric client named Mrs. Bond. This woman had close to 100 cats, all running around her overgrown large farm estate. James and the other two vets had a hard time trying to catch and treat one of Mrs. Bond's cats, a mean tom named Boris. Each time they were there they would find cats in nearly every available space inside and outside of the house, but they never managed to catch Boris.

Ms. Anderson's farmhouse proved to be similar to Mrs. Bond's, insofar as it was a nice large house but overgrown with vegetation. There also was no Boris and instead of dozens of cats Ms. Anderson just had a dozen, but even then they were coming out of everywhere. One of the cats, Bluebell, she had managed to trap in a large pantry. After I finished examining Bluebell, she ran terrified back to her hiding space in the pantry and we were after the next cat. This was Crumpet, a very large and friendly tomcat who had a pretty severe case of hydrocephalus but he had done very well and made it to the age of 12 and he looked good for his age. Raggerty was the next cat, corraled out in a shed, and he was a large black tom who was semi-wild but thankfully let me examine him and give him a jab (his shot). Muffin was the final cat of the day, and Ms. Anderson's friend and caretaker brought him to the main house from the stable in a wheelbarrow. Somehow, she kept him in there with only a tarp thrown over the top and he never jumped out, at least not until I tried to grab him.

Well they all looked good but since all were middle-aged or older cats, they all had teeth as bad as Sofie's, so I knew we'd be seeing Ms. Anderson again soon.

Certainly nothing as entertaining as what happened to Herriot happened to me on this trip, but the similarities were there and it was pretty cool to have an experience like that. It felt like a true, 'old school' veterinary house call should and it's times like that really make me glad all over again that I do what I do.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Doubtful Sound

One of the big places on my list of things to see here in New Zealand was Fiordland National Park. Within this park are many fiords, which are lakes carved out of mountains by glaciers. The one fiord I wanted to check out most is called Doubtful Sound. The more famous one is Milford Sound and it is very pretty, but Doubtful is supposed to be bigger and afford a much better chance of seeing wildlife.

I stayed in the small town of Te Anau the night before, right on the edge of Lake Manapouri at the entrance to the park. The park is huge, taking up nearly the whole southwestern tip of New Zealand's south island.

On the day of the trip, there was a blanket of fog covering the town and the lake, and as the sun came up in the morning the fog slowly burned away, making for some good pictures. Many of the lakes here give mirror reflections of the sky and mountains, too.

We started out by taking a boat across Lake Manapouri which was pretty impressive in and of itself. Once we got to the other side of the lake, we all boarded a tour bus and headed down the other side of a mountain to get to Doubtful Sound. Along the way I met an Australian couple named Roy and Val. They had done Milford Sound the day before and said that they actually enjoyed the 3 hour drive to the sound more than the sound itself, although both were very picturesque. They had three grown kids back home and sounded very glad to be away for a couple of weeks on their own.

The bus ride down had some good spots for taking pictures, and the driver on the way down told us that the boat on the fiord held up to 150 people but that there were only 37 of us that day. It was a clear sunny day, and he said that actually the fiord was best viewed on a rainy day because then there are dozens of waterfalls in action that you would otherwise never see. I could see his point, but all the same I was glad I could actually be out on the observation decks and able to see for miles as opposed to huddling in the cabin hoping for a glimpse of some waterfalls.

The Sound was awesome, and one of the best parts was when a pod of Hector's dolphins saw our boat and decided to swim over and check it out. There were probably fifteen or so dolphins, and it was very hard to get a still shot of them but I got a few videos of them as they swam by. They liked to swim with the boat and also to jump in the air whenever they got close. Soon after, they got bored with us so the boat pressed on.

The crew took us nearly all the way out of the Sound and into the Tasman Sea where, perched upon some rocks at the inlet, lazed a bunch of seals. They weren't half as impressed at the sight of us as the dolphins were, and I'm not sure they ever even noticed us, they were so sluggish.

They steered the boat back into the Sound after that and went up another branch of the fiord, called Crooked Arm. As we reached the back end of this branch, it formed a wide cove, with patches of ice floating on the surface. Here, they killed the engines and you could finally see the mountains and sky reflected perfectly in the water. Now you could also hear all of the birds singing and calling to each other, as well as the sound of a distant waterfall. It was a nice, quiet couple of moments, and aside from the boat full of us tourists there was no hint of civilization anywhere.

While moving about the boat taking pictures, a guy noticed the jacket I was wearing.

"So you went to the College of William and Mary, eh?"

This was Charles, and he and his wife Shannon were on a two-week tour of the south island before heading over to Australia. Shannon is from northern Virginia and Charles from Bethesda, Maryland, so they had heard of my school. They met in central Asia while in the Peace Corps several years back, and were now married and living in Vietnam. It's a curious thing, but these days Vietnam is rapidly becoming a popular tourist destination, even for Americans. Charles and Shannon told me that, by and large, most Vietnamese have moved on from the war and want to continue to become part of the global economy.

Charles is in the Foreign Service and is with the U. S. Consulate in Vietnam, and Shannon works for a non-profit encouraging the exchange of students in higher education between Vietnam and the United States. They have until April of 2007 in Vietnam and then they are going to spend a year in Pakistan. They seemed a bit uneasy about it, and I couldn't blame them, but I wished them well and they took the Pakistan assignment because that would allow them to have an even better pick for the assignment after that. They were thinking of actually coming to New Zealand for that one, and would probably be doing these Foreign Service assignments for another five years before coming back home to the States to start a family.

They were a really nice couple and after the cruise to Doubtful Sound was over, they invited me out to dinner with them that evening back in Te Anau. We ate at a great Italian place called La Toscana. Charles and Shannon were very curious about the veterinary profession. I wanted to ask them a lot more about the Foreign Service and where they had been but I spent most of my time talking about being a vet. I didn't mind in the slightest and was flattered that they were so interested in what I do for a living, but they felt bad and laughed when they realized they had both finished their meals and I had barely started mine because I was talking so much.

Before we parted ways, we exchanged email addresses and I gave them my copy of the map of the Southern Scenic Route, which they would be taking the next day. The next day luckily did turn out to be another sunny day for the most part, so I hope they got to see all they wanted to along the way to Christchurch.

It's funny that on my trip to New Zealand so far I've made more American friends than Kiwis, but then again I've spent more time vacationing here so far than actually working! I'm only too glad to have met such nice people and I look forward to staying in touch with all of them. I certainly will think twice now about visiting Vietnam, as it sounds like a really good place to go now (the dollar sure is strong there), and until next April I have some good contacts right there in Ho Chi Minh City.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Southern Scenic Route

One of the things I wanted to do before I left the south island was to take the scenic route. Literally. Along the southern rim of the island, there is about a 8-12 hour drive you can take and see some of the most impressive scenery the country has to offer.

Southern Scenic Route and Doubtful Sound

That's a link to pictures from this trip, but it's in reverse order so it starts out where I ended up: at Doubtful Sound.

I started my trip out in Dunedin, which is a nice city at one end of the Route. I usually take my camera with me everywhere I go, but regrettably I left it in the room when I went out for dinner the night before my drive. It was a full moon and I parked right on the oceanfront. The restaurant I was going to is called The Esplanade and it looks out over the water. There was a cloudy sky but just above the horizon there was a roughly rectangular break in the clouds. Moonlight shone down through this window in the clouds and illuminated a patch of ocean, just off shore. I'm not sure that even if I had the camera it would have had enough light to capture this image, but it's one I won't soon forget. Definitely better than any rainbow I've ever seen, it was very pretty.

The next day was sunny and a perfect day to take this drive. Along the way I met two German girls at the lighthouse on Nugget Point. They were on a 3 month vacation and had been to at least half a dozen countries already and still had a few more to go after New Zealand. I asked them if they had seen anything like New Zealand in their travels so far, and they looked at each other and laughed.

"No, we haven't," one of them said. "New Zealand is really unique."

They were also doing the same scenic drive I was doing but I never did see them again that day. Here and there I'd see different people and chat with them, but I never saw the same people more than once.

One of the things I wanted to see, Cathedral Caves, was closed because sea level was too high and you couldn't get to the caves. Another trail to a waterfall was closed but I absentmindedly drove right by the sign saying it was closed and drove all the way up the mountain to the trailhead before I caught on.

It didn't matter, though, because there were plenty of other great stops and as it was I very nearly ran out of daylight in the end. I saw another waterfall along the way and checked out the remains of an ancient petrified forest that fortunately hadn't gotten covered up by high tide yet.

At the end of the Route, at least where I got off, I stopped by Slope Point. As I pulled up to the marker, which was off of a gravel side road well away from the main road, there was a middle-aged couple there staring at the sign. The man had an Irish accent but the woman was American (or maybe Canadian, heh) and they didn't want to make the hike and have to drive back in the dark. I guessed there was probably about 30-45 minutes of daylight left, which was plenty of time to hike down to the point and back.

"Are you sure you don't want to make the trek? It's going to be dark while you're still on the Route at this point anyways."

"No, we'd rather not, but good luck to you though!"

I thanked them and went off to hike down, but then stopped. There was a sign, marking the beginning of the trail to Slope Point, but no obvious trail, just a huge open pasture that opened onto the sea. Finally I realized that on the other side of the open gate was a sign saying to follow the yellow markers, and every fifth post on one fence had a yellow tip painted on it.

I was able to hike down and back, and nearly made it off the Route to Invercargill before it was totally dark. The full moon made for a cool sunset as I drove through the hillside, making for a very scenic trip indeed.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Frank & Kate

I was lucky enough to meet up with Frank and Kate today, two Americans working over here in New Zealand. My mom works with Frank's dad and as soon as she found out they were over here she put me in touch with them.

Turns out Frank and I went to the same high school in Lynchburg, Virginia, so it truly is a small world. He and Kate live together in San Francisco now, and they're over here in Wellington for a 3-month stint. Kate is an architectural engineer and specifically works with designing buildings that can withstand earthquakes and tsunamis. Her parent company is based in Wellington but she works at the San Francisco office. Most Kiwis rotate out to the States to work for a few years, but she's the first American to come over to NZ to work. Frank had just left his job at Sony, where he worked as a video game designer, so he managed to find work doing the same sort of thing here in Wellington.

Sadly for me, they're only sticking around another two weeks before their time is up here, and then they'll be heading back stateside. Still, I feel lucky to have been able to meet them and hang out with them for a day. Been getting a little homesick and they're the first Americans I've met since I've been over here.

They took me out to lunch at a great Thai place, and although I've already forgotten the name of the place I remember exactly where it was located, so I'll be sure to go again. They then invited me to go with them to the Karori Wildlife Reserve, right there in Wellington. There's about two kilometres deep of forest set aside just for these many species of bird and the reptile called the tuatara, and it's all inside the city limits.

Welly is a very hilly city and it sits towards the top of one of these hills. I wish I had my camera with me that day but it was once again really overcast and anyways it was very hard to get a still shot of any of the birds. It was much better to listen to them sing and chatter, and there was one species (the tui, I think) that sounded an awful lot like R2-D2.

There was an old gold mining tunnel you could go into, and at one point you walk across the top of an ancient dam right in the middle of the forest. The tuatara is the oldest living reptile ancestor to the dinosaurs, although to look at him you'd hardly run the other way. They're pretty docile little things and about the size and shape of a water dragon.

We also saw a grotto of glowworms, which are a pretty cool feature that as far as I know is unique to New Zealand. They glow a soft white light but you can only appreciate this in near-total darkness. They're not really worms, either, but the larval stage of a certain kind of fly that weaves these sticky coccoons and sticks to the underside of exposed logs, roots or caves.

Turns out not only did Frank and I go to the same high school, but like me he had also done a lot with the theater program, so it was cool to catch up with him about that. He and Kate met at Stanford, I think, where they were both in grad school. They are really nice and it was cool of them to pay for my lunch and let me tag along to the wildlife reserve. They were going to spend the last two weeks or so of their time over here exploring the south island, so I hope they saw and did a lot down there and I'll certainly stay in touch with them. They also have a blog of their time over here which I'll try and link to.

So thanks again, guys, it was great meeting you and someday we'll have to meet up again - whether it's here or in Frisco or who knows, maybe even Lynchburg at Christmas time.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Were you aware?

The gas stations (they call gas petrol, though) over here are full-service.

I don't get that nasty painful shock when I get out of the car down here, unlike back in the States.

They love Queen here. Also, the Foo Fighters. And the Red Hot Chili Peppers. But man do they love Queen.

The nutrition labels on the food and drink here don't list things in calories. They list them in 'kiloJoules'. Huh?! Man, why didn't I keep my physics textbook! Paging Bill Nye the Science Guy....

At the Halswell Lodge in Wellington, they had pay-per-view movie capability in the room. There were four channels set aside for this, but on each channel it was the same movie being offered: Conan the Barbarian. How freakin' cool is that!!! (nerd alert)

"Please don't gong the gong": sign posted over, well, a GONG in Larnach Castle. Talk about asking for it ...

Seen and heard outside a yakitori and sake bar in downtown Wellington: "Come on girls! It's only one shot! One shot, that's all we ask!" Hahahaha, famous last words...