Saturday, 31 May 2008

Matiu/Somes Island, Wellington (31st May 2008)

Matiu/Somes Island is a scientific and historic reserve just a short trip away by ferry from Queens Wharf (Wellington). In the 7 years that I've been here, I've never visited this island and I've made it one of the items in my "to do" list for the year. Have been trying to get on the Saturday ferry to the island but haven't had a calm, fine Saturday so far. Boy was I happy when I got up at 8 this morning to see the sun shining brightly with no wind! Quick, quick, pack up and go! I was meant to organise a trip with a bunch of friends to visit the island together but as the trip was weather dependant, it was quite difficult to schedule when everyone was available - sorry guys! Didn't deliberately leave you all out...

On a fine day, Wellington is such a beautiful city to be in :) It was about 14 degrees Celsius today but I still had an extra sweater and my jacket on in the event the weather changes during my time at Somes Island. Photos taken at the harbour on my way to the ferry:

At 10am, I hopped on The Dominion Post Ferry to the island. Cost me $18.50 for an adult return ticket and I had to decide which return ferry I was getting back on. Was told by the lady behind the ticket counter that since I was going on my own, 2 hours would be more than sufficient for me to walk around the whole island. So that means I get on the 12.50pm ferry - sweet!

Matiu/Somes Island has served as a human and animal quarantine station, an internment camp and a military defence position. The island is pest-free so on arrival, all visitors had to check their bags for unwanted pests in the quarantine building located next to the main wharf. According to the ranger, they once found a dead mouse in a visitor's bag - apparently the visitor's cat was notorious for putting dead mice in its owner's bags. Eew...After about 10 minutes and a briefing of the island, visitors were free to explore the 24.8-hectare island on their own.

I began my little exploration through the Circuit Track where I walked all around the edges of the island, stopping to snap photos and just enjoying the peaceful sound and smell of nature (I felt as if I was back in Tasmania!). Photos taken at Somes Island:

It was a lovely walk even though by the end of my 1-hour walk around the island, my socks were damp (yuck!). For those of you planning to come here, several key things to note:

1) visit the island on a fine day and make sure you wear good walking shoes, have enough clothing to keep warm and cope with rain and/or wind, a spare pair of socks would help too
2) pack your own food and drink as there are no catering facilities on the island
3) bring along some hand sanitiser or disinfectant to clean your hands - there are toilets on site but only at the main wharf and visitor/field centre
4) bring a rubbish bag for your own rubbish - you can take only photographs and leave only footprints on the island

It's worth the visit for those of you who haven't yet been there!

Sunday, 25 May 2008

New and interesting experiences (21st - 24th May 2008)

Wednesday, 21st May 2008: I'm a curious creature and would give pretty much anything a go, at least once (legal, of course). And the curious me have always wondered, what do the other single people in Wellington do when they are not hanging out with their own social networks?

Some time back, I saw in the local newspapers contact details of 2 social groups for singles to get together for social events, including movies, sports, dining, outdoor activities etc. The first one (off the top of my head, I don't recall the name) I contacted told me that they wouldn't mind me joining them though I would be the black sheep of the lot as everyone was in their 50s or older and I was no where near that generation. Right...guess I won't be going to this one then...

The other one I contacted was called The Wellington Group. Now this one was somewhat intriguing in the sense not any Tom, Dick or Harry could join in - you first need to get in touch with the organiser who will meet up with you and put your through what seemed to be like a screening process i.e. ask you a series of questions before you get 'invited' to join. I had the privilege to be a guest at their Club Night tonight to check out whether this was a social network that suited me. Oh, and it cost me $10 as a guest (which I didn't think was very nice when the members didn't pay for the event). Anyhow, I went to meet up with random singles at a bar called D4 on Featherston this evening. A nice upmarket bar on Featherston Street that I've not been in.

I guess I had expected to not find anyone of my age group in the gathering (I was kind of told so beforehand) so wasn't at all surprised when most of the people whom I had conversations with tonight were either divorced or widowed. Some of them were new to the group; others have been members for awhile. One of the rules of staying in the group was that you had to remain single; once you were attached, out you went. Plus, there is a membership fee of about $230 a year, which ain't cheap. According to one of the women I spoke to, she had been to another group in Wellington which didn't cost anything but most of the members were non-professionals, some even jobless (and on the dole). I guess it didn't quite fit her social network or potential partner criteria so a paid group somewhat guarantees other singles who have income. Ok, I can make sense of that. Events are held twice a week and most at additional cost of $20 on top of the membership fee. More if the events require travelling out of Wellington.

It was very interesting to talk to people and figure out their reasons for joining (some were really on the prowl for a partner) though sad to say, this was not a social network suited for me. Perhaps if my circumstances were different or if I was in my late 30s, it might suit. Besides, my social agenda seems to be pretty packed these days - can't see how I could incorporate this into my already crazy social life!

I didn't stay too long and left after 1.5 hours (I kind of had to go because a man old enough to be my dad was trying with much effort to buy me a drink). It was a nice surprise to get a text from Chris, a traveller from Sweden that I met during my trip in Tutukaka earlier this year - turns out he had just moved to Wellington this week so I caught up with him and I took him out for a drink. It was nice to catch up and listen to his travel adventures. Hitch-hiking? Man, you are brave! Honestly, I didn't think I would see him again after Tutukaka so was really happy that he contacted me :) We need to catch up again soon - perhaps you can coach me to dive too (by the way, he's a qualified dive master)!

Thursday, 22nd May 2008: I find myself feeling jittery from anxiety due to a busy work week and social life - I'm just running to too many places/events and have little time to breathe!

After a busy day at work, I shot off for a quick swim and then to Te Papa to check out another Brazilian gig, Alda Rezende and Friends. This is again another band I've never heard of (are the Brazilians suddenly taking the NZ music scene by storm?). I couldn't stay very long at The Marae for the gig but during the 45 minutes that I was there (the gig was for 2 hours), they played some pretty unique jazz songs with ethnic beats (can't really dance to the song but pleasant to the ears). Very nice!

Alda has such deep, powerful voice - I wouldn't imagine such a voice coming out from her. Guess looks can be deceiving ;) Bumped into a few friends there too. Hehe...Wellington is so small...Standing at The Marae listening to the music reminded me of my time in Chicago where I went to see a few cultural gigs and how much I enjoyed doing so. I hope Alda and group will perform again soon in Wellington - we need new blood in the Latin scene and it's fantastic to know that there are Brazilian bands tapping into the Wellington music arena.

Rush, rush! Went home, had a coffee and then off to samba gafieira practice at Christian's place till about 10pm. We now practice the dance at his place on Thursdays and mine on Tuesdays with a bit of salsa thrown in at the end of the night.

I need to exhausted...

Friday, 23rd May 2008: If you didn't know, Friday is usually the busiest work day of my week with lots of meetings and reports due before the end of the day. I didn't hang around for drinks with the lads tonight because I had signed myself up for the NZ Tango Festival beginner's course starting this evening.

The NZ Tango Festival, like the NZ-Pacific Salsa Congress, is a 3-day dance fest with workshops and performances held at Te Whaea Dance and Drama Centre. The organisers of both events are the same and since I was in the salsa congress mailing list, I received an email from organiser, Heidi, about the free 5-session workshop. The free course wasn't widely advertised but the 70 spots for beginners got snapped up pretty quickly!

I've never done tango before and as you know, I have a keen interested in latin dance so thought, I might as well check it out to see if I like it. It is a beautiful dance, one danced very close with your partner and oddly enough, with little rules (or so the teachers said so). My first session started at 5.30pm today for 1.5 hours and we were taught the basics of posture, the embrace and lean-in position and danced to a few songs on the dance floor.

Honestly, I felt a little odd being there - it was deja vu being back here at Te Whaea, only in a totally different dance world where I literally knew nothing about the dance or the people. But I was sure glad to see a familiar face, Grant (he was my rueda teacher and definitely not a beginner in tango), and we had a nice tango dance together. It's always fun to dance with Grant :)

Hmm, one thing though, I think some of the guys do have to adhere to Heidi's rules about dos and don'ts at the course i.e. the whiff test. At least with salsa dancing, the dancers break apart to do shines or moves but in tango, we seem to be dancing cheek to cheek all the time and it gets quite uncomfortable when your dance partner has bad breath, or hair and/or clothes that stink. Save me, save me! I think I'm going to faint...I sure hope it gets better in the next 4 sessions over the weekend...

Rush, rush again for me after the workshop. I had agreed to babysit Edmund tonight while Hew and Jonathan went out to celebrate Jonathan's birthday. I have never babysitted someone else's kid in my life so this was a first and I have to admit, I was somewhat excited and afraid. I guess I didn't know what to expect being left with a 4-year-old for 5 hours while his folks are away.

2 hours passed and the boy is still sound far so good. Jonathan had told me earlier that Edmund may get up and I'm really hoping that he'll sleep through the night...

As if on a timer, Edmund really got up 2 hours into my babysitting and told me he was hungry. Oh dear...We rummaged the fridge and found him some leftover noodles. I wonder if he was testing me out, knowing I have little to no experience in babysitting, and periodically asked me where his parent were. I kind of lied, telling him his folks went out briefly to get me dinner, since I wasn't sure what his reaction would be if he knew I was the only adult around. I'll just twiddle my thumbs and pretend I didn't hear his question...

Some 45 minutes later, I successfully had him fed, brushed his teeth, read him a storybook and put back to bed. Yes! I think I did pretty well for my first time babysitting Edmund (it was a first for him too) and was quite pleased with myself :) Even got some blogging done while I was there. Hew and Jonathan returned just before 12 and we chatted for a bit before I ended my night. I'm glad they had a nice night out and I didn't have to interrupt their night. In fact, I think babysitting tonight was a favour to both parties - they wanted to go out, and I needed to unwind from a crazy and busy week so it fitted everyone well. Will see you guys later for dinner and CATS (yep, we are going to CATS tonight)!

Saturday, 24th May 2008: This afternoon, I went back for the 2nd day of the beginner's tango course and though it was fun to learn something new, I was quickly bored with the lesson. Perhaps I've picked up other dances in the past so the pace of the course was somewhat slow for me - I was ready to learn more! I'm not sure if I'll come back for another day tomorrow - the next session after lunch would probably be the last for me.

Stuck around during the lunch break and ended up chatting with fellow salsa dancer, Kanaka. We were both quite surprised that despite going to the same salsa events, we have never danced with one another to date. We'll have to have at least 1 dance later at the salsa ball!

My tango lesson continued on at 2.30pm and around 4pm, I rushed back home to shower and got changed for dinner at 6pm with Hew and friends. Hew had organised for a group of friends to have dinner together at Lone Star before we all headed to the Opera House to see the musical, CATS. Hmm, I've never been to Lone Star and the serving here is HUGE! Served mostly steak and ribs (you know, country/western food) - you should see Hew and her plate of ribs. The stack of ribs could nicely hide her head!

Why is my week so rushed all the time?? We had 10 minutes to run to the theatre for the show!

CATS is an award-winning musical composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber. I wasn't sure if I would enjoy the show because I've seen it on TV when I was a teen but I loved it! Ok, maybe not where I was seated (part of my view was blocked by the lady in front of me that had huge curls) but the show was definitely better seen on stage than on TV. I could even remember some of the songs, especially Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats and the one sung by The Rum Tum Tugger, the tom cat with a wild mane and leopard spots on his chest (and the Elvis Prestley hip action move...hehe...). Thanks Hew for organising this - it was really nice!

The show was about 2.5 hours long with an interval. I went to pick up Kalwant after the show and we headed off to The Loaded Hog Wellington where the Black and White Salsa Ball was held. It was so cool that most of the dancers dressed up in black, white or a mix of both! I had a laced black and white skirt worned like a tube top so it looked as if I had a miniskirt - ain't I creative :P I had lots of wonderful dances tonight, including one with Kanaka.

I'm going to take it easy tomorrow, sleep in and keep warm. The weather has been real crappy the past few days (where is the sun?). And I'm not even going to look at the pile of work I've been putting off week after week...

Sunday, 18 May 2008

More drinks and farewells (16th - 18th May 2008)

Friday, 16th May 2008: Tonight was the last work drinks with Francois - why, why, are you leaving us???? It so happened to also be the day our team was moving to another building so the day was somewhat 'unproductive' with all the commotion (well, it was Friday too...). :) We are still located on Tory St but just in a different building.

Drinks at work started at 3pm (gosh, that was early!) and Ashvin did a fantastic job getting most of us to chip in for drinks and pizza. Hmm, our last drinks in this office...ah, the memories...

Around 5pm, we moved on to Kitty's and continued on with drinks and nibbles. Francois bought a round of tequila for everyone - woo! After 2 beers and this, my head was beginning to feel somewhat light. I need to get some food soon!

I had another drinks function at El Horno, a Mexican themed bar just a few doors away from Kitty's with friends from salsa. I've walked past several times and often hear salsa, merengue or bachata music playing but never got around going in. I don't think the others have been there either so when Ramnish suggested we all went over for drinks before heading out dancing, I thought "YES!". So goodnight boys at Kitty's, hello salsa people!

I believe the staff at El Horno (this is such a weird name, suggests "the horny" though I highly doubt that is what it means) had not seen patrons dancing salsa in the small bar but we did it anyway. Caught a few stares from other people but we had a ball dancing :) It was nice to dance here despite the congestion - it was just a different place than the usual Latinos Bar. We should do this again, gang!

Caught up with Kalwant and Sharon who came along for drinks and with Ron headed to grab a kebab for dinner before heading to JJ Murphy's, another Irish pub on Cuba Mall, where the girls met up with their workmates for more drinks. I didn't stay long as I've had a long day. Besides, I wasn't going to drink anymore since I've a swim session with my coach tomorrow (yeah, I've started private lessons now on a casual basis to work on my strokes). You guys enjoy yourself!

Saturday, 17th May 2008: Around 2pm, I headed to Southern Cross Bar on Abel Smith Street where Brazilian band, BraZealand, was playing a 2-hour gig. This is the first I've heard of this band (other than Batucada, I don't know of any Brazilian band in town) and I'm quite curious to see what songs they will play. According to the details I got from friends, BraZealand is a 5-piece band featuring Brazilian and Kiwi musicians. They will perform a variety of Brazilian rhythms, including samba, bossa-nova, forro, baiao, coco e ciranda. Sounds like my kind of band :)

Caught up with several friends of mine whom I've not seen for awhile and even managed to dance some forro. The guys, Christian and Ramnish, got me dancing gafieira with them too :) I hope BraZealand will be playing their gigs regularly in Wellington - it would be nice to have a Brazilian band and a place in town to dance more forro and gafieira.

The evening was spent at Joel's flat where he had an ethnic cooking feast and friends over. I've not seen Joel since we met up when I first got back to NZ so went to see him in Northland tonight with my friend, Sergio. It was interesting being at Joel's place, talking to people mostly from the IT world but more so just being in a Kiwi party. I don't remember what a Kiwi party is like for I've almost always been to Latin-themed events. It was nice to do something different and was great to catch up with Joel :)

Sunday, 18th May 2008: Sam invited several of us from work to a potluck dinner at his place in Ngaio tonight. Sam and Anna lives in a nice house with their cat, Molly, and Priscilla and Francois were putting up the night at their place before taking off to France the next day. Not many of us were there - it was just Sam, Anna, Jeremy, Sheila, Luke and family, Priscilla, Francois and me. Anna made homemade baguette and this really fabulous kumara salad (Anna, you have to give me the recipe for it!) - yum! I'm sure she's a great cook - lucky Sam! And Ashvin's wife made a tasty Indian rice (Ashvin wasn't with us tonight but dropped off the food - how sweet of him!). Oh my, I ate too much! Food, glorious food...we should do potluck more often...hehe...

This was officially the final goodbye to Francois and Priscilla - have a great holiday back home and we'll see you again soon! Keep in touch :)

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Drinks and farewells (9th - 11th May 2008)

Friday, 9th May 2008: I love Fridays! Friday is the day I have drinks after work with the lads in the office and I do enjoy being one of the 2.5 ladies in the group - I say 2.5 because it's me, Joanne and Francois, whom we are unsure which side of the fence he sits on ;P

Tonight's drinks at our usual hangout, Kitty O'Sheas, was a farewell for our colleague, Steve Clarke. Steve, it has been a pleasure working with you (despite me having to take out my ruler to smack your palm on several occasions when you timesheet to the wrong codes)! Best wishes in your future undertakings! It was also nice to see Rose there - I've been trying to catch up with her for awhile but somehow never seem to be able to meet up. You should come join Andrew and the rest of us at Kitty's more often :)

Ops, better run - I'm supposed to be at Annie's house around 9pm and Ken's coming to pick me up. But my god, it's pouring outside! RUN!

Annie invited friends over to her place in Thorndon for drinks. Several of us car pooled to her place and it was nice of Ken to drive me, Ron and Willy-John to Annie's in this crappy weather. Though poor Ron - he was drenched by the time he arrived at my place but there was no way we could contact him to pick him up (he doesn't have a mobile phone). Sorry, but there wasn't anything we could do!

Most of the salsa gang were at Annie's by the time we got there. Lots of catching up to do as I've not seen some of them for awhile (thanks Annie for bringing us all together!). Christian had brought along his ipod and we were entertained by his Zouk and Kizomba songs, 2 new rhythms of music that is now taking the latin dance scene by storm. I recall seeing the Australian performers dancing to such music at the salsa congress - very sexy and seductive (it was like watching hot, steamy sex on the dancefloor). I'm looking forward to learn the new dance moves when it arrives in Wellington ;) Just need a willing man to dance sexy with me!

No Friday night for the salseros and salseras is complete unless we end the night salsa dancing. Load up the cars, people! Most of us headed down to Latinos Bar for a few dances with band Los Guagua playing tonight. Gee, my dance moves were rusty from not dancing for awhile...

Saturday, 10th May 2008: Saturday as usual was a day for housework, weekly food shopping and swimming. I even managed to bake a cake for Francois's farewell party tonight in my busy day! It was a orange carrot cake made with much love (yep, including cutting my own finger...sob, sob...).

Francois threw a farewell BBQ party at his flat in Hataitai and everyone brought a little something. Oh, I laughed so much tonight! The jokes and silly antics made me grin from ear to ear. I was somewhat disappointed though that we couldn't convince Jeremy to do his fist-in-mouth stunt. Boo...

I'm not too sure who's idea it was to make a farewell video for Francois (and I think it was both fabulous and hilarious!). Everyone was taken to Francois's room individually and video-ed on his bed...yes, I know what you're thinking...I have to say that Adrian did a great job directing (including instructing Sam to set the lights at the right angle) and filming us. One wonders if Adrian had a different career some point in time...hmm...Here's the end product of Adrian's hard work:

What's with people leaving Wellington these days anyway???! I've only started to know Francois and girlfriend, Priscilla, better and they are leaving for Melbourne! How could you guys leave? Please keep in touch and come back to visit - you'll be dearly missed :(

Sunday, 11th May 2008: My day of rest and recovery before another long, busy week...

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Colm's and Kim's birthday celebration (3rd May 2008)

Today was a full day of birthday celebrations, starting at 2pm all the way till late. It was a combined birthday for 2 - my friend, Colm and his friend (my new friend), Kimberly. Happy Birthday to you two! :)

Our celebrations began with an hour of Indoor Grand Prix - Karting at Kaiwharawhara, about a 10-15 minute drive out of Wellington City. I picked up Kalwant from her place around 1.45pm and we headed over to meet up with the rest of the group. Ahhhh! So hard to find a park there!!!

After our quick introductions to new faces, it was time to battle each other on the race track. We went for casual racing, which cost us $10 per person for 15 minutes. Everyone had to put on a tissue cap, strapped on a helmet, and then given a briefing before we went to our karts. We were told that we weren't allowed to bump another kart or deliberately "push" anyone to the sides of the track - where's the fun without all that?? Ok, I'm just being a real meanie but it was good fun racing around the short track though I have to be frank, it does get a little boring after 5 minutes or so - we just went in circles! But the company was great and I haven't done this for years so it was fun to do this together :)

Hmm, perhaps because there were only 2 guys and the rest of us girls - I don't recall any name callings during the race :P

Emily and I sat out on the 2nd race as we had been exercising earlier today (her to the gym; me, swimming) - driving the kart was hard work and I could still feel my arms shaking from gripping on the steering wheel! We decided to play cameramen instead. You guys were zipping by so quickly - it was hard to take a good snapshot of anyone! Photos taken this afternoon:

A few hours to head home, shower and dress up before meeting again for dinner. Brr...what's with the weather???!! It was so cold at night, even my toes felt frozen numb in my boots! And I thought Tasmania would be colder - no way! Wellington's WAY COLDER!! And it's not even officially winter yet!

Dinner was at Istana Malaysia on Allen Street, a Malaysian restaurant that I've never stepped in despite having lived here for nearly 7 years (and I wonder why...hmm...). Got to know a few more people at dinner who were not at the race track earlier - cool! We chatted and laughed over our wine and delicious food. I ordered 1/2 dozen mixed satay for entree and nasi lemak for my main - the staff there were really nice to serve me nasi lemak on request (it was not part of the menu) and it was the best nasi lemak I've had to date in town! Hehe, I have Sharon to thank for recommending it to me (she had requested this dish before on previous visits). Yum! :) Cost me $30 total for my entree and main but well worth the cost.

No birthday is complete without singing the birthday song and cutting of a birthday cake. Amyliz made a beautiful cake for Colm and Kim! Urgh, I'm feeling so full now...ate too much! But the food was so good!! Photos taken at dinner:

A few of us had to leave early but those remaining headed to Alice for drinks. Alice is a bar on Forrester Lane (alleyway just off Tory St near where I work) and again, another place I've not been in. Gee, lots of firsts for me tonight, huh? It's a rather new bar (probably only opened last year when I was abroad) located behind Boogie Wonderland (Wellington's disco pop nightclub) and serves plenty of exotic cocktails. Saw some patrons trying the Mad Hatter's Tea Party which comes in a dainty China tea pot with two tea cups. Sure looked like they were drinking tea but it ain't alcohol-free!

I didn't stay on too long into the night and around 12am, left with Kalwant for home. Thanks for having me at the birthday bash, Colm and Kim! I had a great time and look forward to catching up again soon :)