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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas in Palmy - Young Heart, Easy Living

As per usual, I was the first one awake on Christmas morning. Not that I bolted awake at the first hint of light to race downstairs and see what Santa had put under the tree.* No, it was probably because the night before I really pounded the water at bedtime in a vain attempt to head off my hangover at the pass. Now my bladder was forcing me awake, its complaints mixing uneasily with the first pangs of a headache, announcing itself in a self-righteous manner, as if to say 'See, I told you so!'.

Bloody keg beer. Apparently, it's all that carbon dioxide keeping the beer nice and foamy that makes you more prone to having a wicked hangover when you consume beer from a keg. Not that knowing the exact mechanism of the culprit helped to make it go away any faster.

I shambled into the kitchen of my friend Sarah's home and fixed myself a tall glass of cool clear water. After downing that and pouring myself another, I helped myself to the toaster and began putting together a little breakfast.

Soon enough, Sarah's stepfather, Peter, joined me in the kitchen making us the only two having arisen in the household thus far. He reminded me again as they had told me the night before to make myself at home and to make full use of the kitchen. He then set the jug to boil and I realised caffeine would also be a nice thing to throw at my headache.

You see, once again, my friends Sarah and Simon came to my rescue. Last time, it was on the slopes of Mount Doom (I mean, Ngauruhoe) when they helped egg me on all the way to the top, Simon graciously taking my pack off my hands. My friend Iain gets the assist here as well, for he and Si would not take no for an answer when it came to me giving in!

This time around, Sarah and Simon extended an invitation to spend Christmas with them and their family in a little town to the north called, well, Palmerston North (hereinafter referred to affectionately as 'Palmy').

(There is a Palmerston and it's on the south island but that's another story for another time.)

This is where they got married back on November 1st so it was nice to be returning to such a lovely setting. Having moved out of Wellington a couple of weeks ago now, Sarah and Simon were living at her childhood home in Palmy with her mum, Sue, and her stepdad, Peter. They were all such generous hosts, making me feel right at home the entire time and when they offered me to stay even longer than I already had (three days, two nights), I was sorely tempted to take them up on it.

Sarah and Si won't be around these parts much longer, as they take off for England for a couple of years then likely another year after that spent somewhere else, perhaps Aussie. Eventually they will return to New Zealand and hopefully the lower North Island (hint, hint), but for now anytime I can see them is a bonus. I was also shown every courtesy while staying with them for the Christmas holiday, and now that I'm a holiday orphan it really is quite overwhelming to be invited in to other people's homes at this time of year.

The Kiwis in general would never see this as an imposition as they are a happy, social and sharing lot. Yet to me it means a great deal as I am able to not only soothe the homesickness that comes naturally at these times but to also experience a holiday in the style of another country. Admittedly, it's not like I'm having to speak through a translator or take malaria sickness pills just to be here, but they do things a little differently down here for Christmas.

For starters, it's summertime right now. I realise that in Texas and Florida and other generally sunny and warm climes in the States this is part and parcel to their Christmas holidays (pun intended). But for me, coming from southwest Virginia where we're used to cold if not white Christmases, it's a new experience. I still feel like it's time for fireworks and not mistletoe at this time of year but I'll come around eventually!

They also have the delectable Christmas pavlova, Boxing Day, Christmas crackers (although I remember them becoming more and more commonplace back in the States), some bubbly and of course they fire up the barbie if the weather's decent outside, which it usually is. I've covered some of this already in my post about my first Christmas here in New Zealand, so I won't rehash it all here.

After I chatted with Pete a bit over some toast and coffee, I poured a second cup of joe and left him to check his email while I wandered out towards the big living room at the front of the house. Still not another soul besides us was stirring, so I gazed through the large bay window out onto Dahlia Street.

There was a little girl, probably all of 8 or 9 years old, riding around on what appeared to be a flash new scooter. It had pink bows near the top and she seemed to be quite happy with her now toy as she rode up and down the deserted street in front of her house. But that wasn't all she was doing - she was also talking on a little pink cell phone!

I barked a laugh and realised how the times have changed. It was all of 8:30 in the morning and here was this kid: up, dressed, outside playing and not with her friends but talking to them on a cell phone. As I thought about it, I figured of course she's up right now - she's a kid and it's Christmas morning!

And who doesn't have a cell phone these days? Not only that, who doesn't have a Bebo/Facebook/Myspace page? I'm fairly certain she had probably already uploaded pictures of her new scooter to whichever page she has active and may have been making a comment on her 'Status' via Facebook Mobile.

I'm pretty sure this little girl wasn't making day trades. I mean, it was Christmas Day, all the markets were closed!
* I mean, I'm not a naive little kid anymore or anything! There really was no downstairs where I was staying. The rest is all real, though. ISN"T IT?!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

"I am waiting for Vizzini."

Wow, has it really been over two months since I've written here?

That was a rhetorical question, since I can see clearly from here the time and date stamp on my last post. Sorry 'bout that.

I do have an excuse, however: I've been really busy. And in a good way!

So what have I been up to, exactly?

To quote my good friend Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, "Let me 'splain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up."

I was fortunate enough to be comped a one-night stay at a flash hotel in Auckland (Sky City Grand) by the drug company Pfizer. They have a new, long-acting injectible antibiotic due out early next year and they were giving out free vials for us to 'test drive' before the product launch. So they paid airfare, hotel and had an open wet bar on the night plus a full catered dinner.

Our plane was late taking off from Wellington due to mechanical problems, so we missed our shuttle to the hotel when we finally arrived in Auckland. I met up with two other lost souls headed to the same meeting, one of whom turned out to be a long-lost friend from the south island. This was Katy, a vet originally from Romania, who now lives in Blenheim with her husband Raz. I blogged about meeting them in one of my very first posts here.

So we all got to the hotel, and with the Pfizer meeting already 30 minutes gone, we agreed to quickly freshen up then meet back in the lobby. This we then did, and when we got to the right room for the meeting, most of the dinner tables were full up and the talk was in full swing. I skulked along until I mercifully came to the lone table in the back with any spare seats. Quickly and quietly, I took my seat, turned my chair sideways in a lurching but silent manner, and had a squizz at the menu.

Deciding upon what I'd have to eat (the scallops, of course!), I then looked up from the menu placard to behold, sitting directly across from me, my first boss from the south island! I'm sure she was as surprised to see me as I was to see her. How funny and cruel fate can be sometimes. But, New Zealand is a small country and the veterinary population an even smaller subset within it, so I should not have been shocked to have seen her again at such a big meeting.

She smiled pleasantly at me and said hello, and for this I was much relieved as when we last parted things were rather tense. I smiled and said hello back and it was actually quite an unexpected relief to have seen her and have it gone so well after all this time.

So that happened. The meeting went well, there was much hobnobbing and the trip back to Welly went much more smoothly.

A funny thing occurred whilst I waited at my gate in Auckland for the flight back home. I had arrived fairly early so I grabbed one of the few remaining seats, snapped open that morning's paper and began to digest all the news inside.

After about fifteen minutes or so, the woman to my left very meekly asked me a question.

"Excuse me, sir? Can I ask you a big favour?" she said in an American accent with a southern twang.

"Hmm?" I said, looking up from my paper at her. "Oh, sure. What did you need?" I was mildly curious as to what the favour could be, as she must have been agonising over this request for some time, given how long she had been sitting next to me in silence.

She then went on to tell me how she had just gotten in from the States, had been traveling for close to 36 hours now and was due to fly out to Christchurch next (this was starting to sound familiar...). The woman, whose name turned out to be Joanie, said she was so tired she was having a hard time thinking straight but she was getting concerned about her son, whom she was on her way to see. She hadn't heard from him before she left Texas, which was unusual because he usually called, and now that she had been airborne for so long she was not able to contact him at all. Being in New Zealand now, she was unable to ring him on her American mobile phone as they did not have any service towers leased in this country.

Joanie really needed to get in touch with her son, she said, because she had a voucher for a free shuttle ride to her hotel so she wanted to tell him to meet her at the hotel and not the airport, where he was currently expecting to find her. At least, so she hoped, as she hadn't heard back from him since emailing him these instructions!

"So, do you mind if I use your cell phone to try and call him?" Joanie asked me.

"Well of course I don't mind!" I said as I handed my Nokia brick over. I was touched by her predicament, as I had been in a similar situation a couple of years ago regarding the long travel and sudden lack of contact options. (But that's where the comparison ends. I don't have any sons living in New Zealand). She reminded me of my own mum in that she loved her son very much and missed him, yet she wasn't in a state of panic about her current state. Just moderate distress.

I noticed with some alarm that I had exactly one bar (out of like ten) remaining on the power for my phone. What a dick! I knew I should've charged the phone before I left Wellington.

Joanie tried in vain a few times to raise her son on the phone, but her calls weren't even going through. I knew they should, since she was now using a New Zealand mobile to try and call a New Zealand landline. After some fumbling around on my part (hey, it was early) I finally got through... to her son's voicemail!

I quickly handed Joanie back the receiver before my battery died and she left him a message letting her know she had arrived safely and was due in Christchurch soon and about her change in plans. Before she broke the connection I told her to tell him my number in case he got the message and wanted to call back. This she then did, and I could see she felt a lot better and I was only too glad I could help - weak battery and lack of common sense notwithstanding.

We chatted a bit and it turns out she has three boys, two of whom run a sheep ranch in Montana, having grown up on a sheep ranch themselves in Texas. Joanie's youngest son, the one in New Zealand, decided to strike out here after college and do something a little different from his older brothers's plans. He knew he could always go back to the States and be a successful rancher on either farm, but he wanted to pursue a little world travel first while he still could. I'd say he picked about the best country he could have, and he did me one better as he was living and working in Queenstown!

Joanie mentioned how two of her sons had graduated from the University of Texas, while she herself and her youngest son, the one here in New Zealand, had gone to Texas Tech. The very next day, both schools were due to play in an epic college football game and we joked how no matter the result, either way she'd be on the winning side. (Tech won that game, for those of you keeping score at home).

It was about that time that my phone rang, and seeing the number I handed the phone to Joanie as it was her son calling back. She was thrilled to finally talk to him and hear that he was well. After singing my praises about the 'very nice man at the airport' she hung up with him and handed the phone back to me. Even though Joanie looked tired, gone now was the weary look she wore when we first started talking.

Right after that, Air New Zealand announced over the gate's intercom that my flight was now boarding. So I said my goodbyes to Joanie, wished her all the best on this her first visit to New Zealand, and I knew that the next three weeks for her would be awesome. She purposefully didn't learn any of her son's plans for their trips around the country, wanting to be surprised wherever they went.

She bade me a very sincere and grateful goodbye, and with that our serendipitous little meeting was at an end. So, Joanie from Texas, you will have been to New Zealand and gone back by now, and I hope your trip here was an unforgettable one!

I've got more to report but this post has become dangerously long (so much for the 'summing up'). So 'well done' to you if you've made it this far, and thanks for reading! More to come later.