Saturday, 18 December 2010

European Masters (18th December 2010)

Argh, sometimes I wish I had less hair! It takes forever to straighten it (about 20 minutes) which is why I hardly do so. “You have such long and strong hair – you really should put in the effort to make it look good, all the time…” said my new hairdresser Kim, somewhat aghast when I told her my hairstyle was au naturel, even though she too agreed I’ve got A LOT of hair and it takes twice the effort to straighten them compared to most people. I told you so! But I have to admit, it does look shiny and sleek when I do straighten it (plus Jono likes it too) so I promised myself I would make an effort to straighten my hair every time I washed it and today was one of those days – we’re going to be late meeting James and Carly at Te Papa for the exhibition!

Jono and I finally left home for Te Papa around 1pm, half an hour later than the time we agreed to meet James and Carly. Darn hair! Thankfully I had told James to go ahead without us which they did. This is SO not like me, being late!

Cost us $10 each for the European Masters exhibition at Te Papa that is on till the 27th of February 2011 (normally cost $22.50 but I got the discounted tickets from GrabOne). Finally we’re here and going to the exhibition! Jono and I have been meaning to head over to see it but kept putting it off doing other outdoor stuff during the weekends (can’t let the good weather go to waste!). The exhibition features 19th-20th century art from the Stadel Museum, featuring a collection of works including sculptures from 70 artists. We slowly worked our way through the exhibition, admiring the works that span from Neo-classicism, Realism, Impressionism, Symbolism, Nabis and Modernism. I really liked The Jealous Lioness (Paul Meyerheim) which had an angry lioness baring all teeth at the lion trainer who was stroking the male lion’s mane – a beautiful painting yet there was a dark side or feeling to it. Other amazing paintings on display included Goethe in the Roman Campagna (Johann H W Tischbein), Orchestra musicians (Edgar Degas) and After the luncheon (Pierre-Auguste Renoir). Well worth the visit to the museum to check it out if you’re a fan of European artworks!

2 hours later and no James or Carly in sight (they must have left – sorry guys!), we left the museum and headed to Mac’s Brewbar for lunch. It was a glorious sunny day and lucky for us, we managed to migrate from our shaded table to the tables set up near the waterfront in the sun to have our meal :) Mmm, green-lipped mussels…yum! We took a stroll down Oriental Parade and a short walk on the beach (eek, so many jellyfish washed up on the beach!) after lunch before heading home. A chilled out Saturday spent with Jono – ah, bliss :)

Friday, 17 December 2010

Alcatel-Lucent Xmas party (17th December 2010)

I’m counting down the days till the holidays – can’t wait, only another week to go!

I stayed back in the office after work (most of my colleagues have left for the day by 4.30pm) to catch up on my Mauri Ora assignment till about 7pm before heading off to meet Jono at The Grand for his work Christmas party. It’s ironic that I’m attending Alcatel-Lucent’s Christmas party when I’ve boycotted my company’s party this year; Telecom has always been known for throwing the best Christmas party in town but disappointingly, that won’t be the case this year. For the first time, we were allowed to bring along our partners PLUS up to 3 kids to the party themed ‘Only in NZ’ that is held during the day (12-6pm) on a Saturday – it’s just going to be a family day event!! Many of us were looking forward to partying it out after slogging hard for a year and though it is great that we could bring along a ‘+1’ this time round, I doubt the party would be as fun as previous years. No offence to those with families but seriously, you can’t really p-a-r-t-y when you have kids in tow, you know…

Around 7pm, I headed to The Grand to meet Jono (the party started at 4pm and partners can only attend from 7pm). You must be wondering if this was the same The Grand that was on Courtenay Place several years back. Yes, indeed it is – having changed ownership several times, this 3-storey bar has had several name changes: The Grand, Shooters and back to The Grand again (not sure if it was re-purchased by the original owners thus the change of name back to The Grand). The whole bar was booked out for the Xmas party (all 3 floors) and this year, the theme was ‘GLOW’. Almost everyone at the party was wearing glow sticks as bangles, chokers and a few creative ones manage to twist the glow sticks into glasses. Most of the attendees weren’t dressed in costume which seems the norm with the ALU bunch – they aren’t as costume crazy as Telcomers at parties. Hmm, I’m not sure how does an Avatar and Native American red Indians fit into the ‘GLOW’ theme but they were there…Jono and I had on our brightest clothes, him in his bright pink polo shirt and me in my red dress, an eyesore for others when we stood next to each other haha! Definitely fit the meaning of glow = brilliance or vividness of colour :)

Joel and Shane too work for ALU and brought Yayi and Ella respectively to the party so we hung out as a group with several other common friends at the party, chatting and laughing together over our free drinks and food available throughout the evening. It was interesting to see 3 white boys with their Asian girlfriends (3 of us girls from 3 different countries) in our group of 20-30-somethings. In fact, our group kind of reminded me of the youngsters from Beverly Hills 90210 TV series, only minus all the dramas seen in the lives of the characters in the TV version ;)

“Quick, come on – there’s a photo booth downstairs!” said Emma excitedly as she rounded up the girls to follow her to the photo booth located somewhere in the building. The husband and wife team from WE DO Photography & Design have set up their photo booth on the ground floor and us girls (Yayi, Ella, Emma and me) had a ball having our photos taken. We managed to squeeze into the 1m x 2m booth, pulled the curtain close and pressed the green button for the camera to take our photo with us changing poses and positions every 4 seconds (4 photos, each taken 4 seconds apart). Silly faces, sticking out our tongue, even a show of cleavage shot!! There was also a box of props available in the booth filled with geeky glasses, feather boas, masks etc. for us to use if we chose to.

“Let me see, let me see!” We were all eager to see the outcome of the photos, standing outside the booth for the machine to ‘spit’ out the 6” x 4” photo sheet that had the 4 photos taken minutes ago. We cracked up laughing as we looked through them. It was so much fun that we did it AGAIN! Frankly speaking, the photo booth concept is great for parties, even weddings – gives people the privacy to capture their photos (and silly antics) at the event and have something to take home with them on the same day.

Girls Emma, Ella, Yayi and I having our photo taken at the photo booth


We headed back to the top floor and split into couples to play a round of pool. A live band was playing cover songs on the 2nd floor and several people on the dance floor boogieing to the band. Talking became more like shouting with the mix of noises as more and more people arrived, filling up the venue. Alcohol still free-flowing though strangely, they started serving curry and rice around 9pm, which was after they served dessert of ice-cream, cheese and fruits. Hmm, curry and rice to absorb all the alcohol so one can drink more??

“Come on, group photo, NOW!” called out Sam to the gang and everyone headed downstairs. The booth that usually accommodates 2-4 people was now jam-packed with 8 of us squeezing and pushing against one another to get into the photo. It was hilarious when we tried to shuffle ourselves in the tiny space within 4 seconds – some photos only had parts of us, or one or two missing from shot. So what do we do? REPEAT! 

Group photos of the gang - in the midst is Joel, Jono, Sam, Lee, Yayi, Emma, Ella and me

Me and Jono with our silly antics :P

How many people do you think we can squeeze in here?

One final photo before they take down the booth!

Jono and I headed home around 11pm as the party began to die down. We walked to the bus stop and bussed home, adorned with glow sticks – Jono picked up a stack from the table on our way out of the bar and put them around my neck! We’re going to ‘glow’ all the way home :P

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Hot stone massage at Mallary Rainey Massage Therapy (16th December 2010)

I’ve recently purchased from Dailydo a 1-hour hot stone massage session from Mallary Rainey Massage Therapy for $39 (normally cost $65) and headed over to 124 Vivian St today for my 11am appointment with the massage therapist. I’ve always been interested to find out what hot stone massage would be like and this was a great opportunity to check it out for a reduced cost :)

I had expected Mallary Rainey Massage Therapy to be somewhat like a relaxation centre (several masseuses working in their rooms, maybe a chiropractor or physiotherapist on site as well) but it turned out to be a room on the ground floor of the Trades Hall building (infamous Wellington building where a suitcase bomb was found in the foyer back in 1984). Hmm, the room didn’t feel very welcoming or relaxing (something about the interior gave a dark and damp feeling, and why do the massage therapists in Wellington like to play Jack Johnson songs?? Relaxing, yes, but not ideal for massage) though I was greeted by a friendly and chirpy young American woman, Mallary Rainey herself.

I was given some time to undress my top half and laid face down on the massage table. On return to the room, Mallary popped several stones into a special massage stone heater (looked like an oversized slow cooker) and while we waited for the stones to heat up, she started working on my back, her well-oiled and strong hands massaging away, working on loosening the knots on my shoulders and upper back. The heated stones have a smooth and flat surface, and Mallary would hold the stones and use them to massage areas of my back. When the stones first came to contact with my skin, the heat felt too hot but gradually eased into the body and relaxed the muscles. I think I was half asleep when she put the stone on my lower back at one point – my whole body jerked, surprising us both!

Mallary continued massaging my back after using the smooth hot stones and it was then that I really felt the coarseness of her hands on my skin (probably coarse from playing female rugby). For the price I paid, I would say that the massage was good despite a few minor setbacks. Her normal hour-long massage cost $45 which is cheaper than most places in town so if you outright just want a massage with no care for ambience, Mallary’s your lady!

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

BI Team Xmas party (15th December 2010)

10 more days till Christmas!

Around 4.30pm today, everyone stopped work and gathered in the office kitchen area for drinks and nibbles as part of the team Xmas celebrations. There were about 20 of us who stayed back after work which was an awesome turn out – that’s half my team! As we stuffed ourselves with Subway sandwiches, Nando’s grilled chicken tenderloins and chips and our choice of beverage from the selection available (wine, beer, juice and fizzy drinks), coordinators Rachel and Rick split up the group into 4 teams for the Xmas team quiz. I was in Team Prancer (the team names were all Santa’s reindeers) with colleagues Peter Jones, Jesse and Sean. Teams were given a sheet of questions and 15 minutes to answer the questions in their own groups. “No Googling!!” warned the coordinators. Oh bugger :P With beers in hand, we found ourselves an empty meeting room and worked through the questions together. Most questions were of dates and events that had happened in NZ or in the sports world (obviously Rick’s questions) while others were from gossip magazines (Rachel!). I’m not able to answer most the questions since I didn’t grow up in NZ or read gossip mags!

“Time’s up!” Rick called out and everyone gathered back in the kitchen where our manager Chris read out the questions and the nominated representative of each group called out their answers. A point was awarded for the correct answer and each team could pick one question for a double score – my team picked the question “How many seasons are there in Outrageous Fortune?”. I was sure the answer was 6 since I’ve just bought the final season DVD! “6 is the correct answer!” said Chris. SCORE!!

It was interesting to see that each team only had a female – just shows how big the male to female ratio in the BI team! And from the answers, we know who’s been reading gossip mags before bed…hehe…

Round 2 of the quiz was slightly different, this time a point deducted for incorrect answers with one opportunity to pass on the series of questions compiled by Chris. My team was the last in Round 1 – not sure we can turn the tables around in Round 2 when quizmaster Greg is in the current winning team…

At the end of the quiz, scores were tallied and it was Team Dasher that had the highest score (surprisingly NOT Greg’s team) – congrats! Around 6.30pm, everyone pitched in to help clear up the mess we’ve made in the office, then walked over to The Lanes on Wakefield St for bowling. Chris had booked The Loft (VIP upstairs lounge) so we had our own private area with 4 bowling lanes and a dedicated bar/waiting staff serving our drinks booked out for the hour. A selection of gourmet platters were served as we bowled (unlimited bowling) and drinks were on a bar tab (yes, all company paid for). Awesome!

It was such a laugh bowling with my colleagues and watching how each of us had our own bowling techniques – some rolled the ball with both hands, some just dropped the ball on the lane (ouch!) and others tried the pro bowler style but only ever got the ball into the gutter. Personally, I thought I did quite alright and even scored a few spares :) At one point, we were competing for the slowest bowl (based on the speed of the ball) – it was a cracker watching the ball spin oh-so-slowly down the lane. Photos taken this evening here.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Running along Oriental Parade (10th December 2010)

I can’t believe I’m actually trying to get into the habit of running...Frankly, I’ve never liked running as a fitness activity (though I seem to enjoy 100m and 200m x 4 relay runs in highschool…) – it’s just so hard on the knees! But when money’s tight (near breaking the bank with all the Christmas gift-shopping), I have to find other cheaper means of exercise and running is literally free as you can do it anywhere. Well, I guess I’ve got no choice but to give it a go and hopefully like it once my body gets used to it...

So I did a bit of research on the internet and found Running & Jogging which had loads of information on running including proper running form (landing midfoot, relaxed hands and shoulders, straight and erect posture) and running schedules for various running levels and goals. I selected the 3 weeks to a 30-minute Running Habit plan which I reckon would be a good start to get my body used to running and eventually able to run non-stop for the whole 30 minutes.

Day 1 of the plan had me running for 1 minute then walking for the next minute, alternating for 20 minutes in total with 5-10 minutes warm-up and cool-down at the start and end. I did the run along Oriental Parade all the way towards the road leading to Roseneath and U-turn back – nice view of Oriental Bay though the northerly winds were pretty strong and I was unable to open my eyes at times to see where I was going. And having to work harder running against the wind! Grr, the wind can be SO annoying sometimes...

I was somewhat surprised I could manage the running part (I had expected my body to retaliate with muscle spasms but it didn’t – huh, so I’m not as bad in shape as I thought!) and actually felt a great sense of accomplishment when I completed the 20-minute running session :) Knees feel ok so far but we’ll find out tomorrow if they hurt post-running. Hopefully little to no pain and I can continue the run plan next week!

Monday, 6 December 2010

Hot Express class at Hot Yoga of New Zealand (6th December 2010)

It has been a long time since I last went to Bikram yoga and with Freyberg Pool and Fitness Centre closed for the next 7 weeks for refurbishment, I needed to look for other ways to get fit during this period and decided to check out the hot yoga express class at Hot Yoga of New Zealand located on Wakefield St during my lunchtime today.

Located conveniently a block away from my office, I headed over about 15 minutes before the midday class to sort out registration and payment. Cost me $6 for the class (usually $18 for casuals but first-timers only pay $6) and $2 for mat hire (they do not provide mats – you bring your own or hire them). The centre itself was much smaller than Bikram Yoga (the other hot yoga centre in town located on Tory St, one I used to frequent when I lived in Mt Victoria) and had 3 different class types to choose from: Hot Yoga (for a total body workout), Yin Yoga (concentrates on floor postures) and Power Vinyasa (‘flow style’ class).

Upon entry into the heated yoga room, I was delighted to find that the room had polished wooden floors AND didn’t stink of sweat! This is just amazing!! The one thing I didn’t like about Bikram Yoga was the fact that every time I entered their yoga room, I felt confined in heat, dampness and worse of all, the stench of sweat. And that was at the start of the class! I’m feeling somewhat nauseas just remembering the smell…yuck. I reckon it is their carpeted floor because it soaks up the dripping sweat from the people in the room and with only a 15-minute window till the next class, it is impossible to rid the smell let alone clean the carpet; wooden floors are way easy to clean and having the fans in the room also helps with ventilation. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed my classes at Bikram Yoga and the instructors are great! It’s just the smell that really gets to me :/

There were about 18-20 of us in the class with still enough room for some personal space (depending on what session you go to at Bikram Yoga, you may get your neighbour dripping sweat onto you while you’re holding your poses…). During the 60-minute class, we followed Theresa through a series of postures which was a mix of sun salutations (e.g. downward-facing dog, raised arm pose, prayer pose etc.) and some poses from Bikram yoga, with the emphasis on deep breathing and engaging our core muscles when carrying out the poses. Meditation music played softly in the background which adds a nice calming and spiritual touch to the class.

I’m not sure if it is because I haven’t learnt the sequence of the poses or the fact that it was an express class but it felt as if we were rushing through the poses and we only did the poses once so there was no opportunity for me to watch what the others were doing to then carry out the move the second time. Hmm, maybe it’ll get better when I’ve attended a few more sessions…The posture series ended with the lights dimmed and everyone lying in the corpse pose, quietly ‘melting’ into the floor with each breathe. After about 3 minutes, we were brought back to reality by Theresa with 3 warm bell tones (Theresa stroke the soft mallet 3 times on a singing bowl). And like at the start of the class, we resumed back sitting cross-legged, hands in prayer position and humming ‘om’ as we exhaled. OMmmmmmmmmmmmm…

Had a quick shower and got dressed (it was a bit weird to share the showers and changing rooms with the guys even though they were all separated by thick curtains), then back to the office to work. All the sweating always makes me feel much lighter and gives me a nice healthy glow :) I’ll definitely be coming back again for their lunchtime classes – such a convenient time and location so no excuses not to attend the class!

Sunday, 28 November 2010

My Dream (28th November 2010)

Jono and I had seen a poster for the show My Dream during our recent travels in Australia and decided we would check out their Wellington performance so went to St James Theatre this evening to see show. Cost us $60 each for A reserve seats and you wouldn’t believe where we ended up sitting – right in the middle of the front row in the stall seats downstairs! And there were LOTS of Wellington-based Chinese in the theatre tonight, that’s for sure!!

My Dream is a performance of Chinese poetry, music and dance by The China Disabled People's Performing Art Troupe presented by 50 physically impaired performers from throughout China. The one-night only show started off at 6.30pm with opening speeches from newly appointed Wellington mayor, Celia-Wade Brown who sadly had another engagement and couldn’t stay for the show, as well as the representatives from the Chinese embassy and NZ Charitable Association.

Lights dimmed and a spotlight tailed the beautiful deaf and dumb host, Jiang Xintian, as she walked in elegant poise in her evening gown to the middle of the stage and began presenting the troupe and tonight’s show using hand-language. Her hands moved in sync with the English narrative coming out from the speakers and I wondered who was following who – the narrator speaking in accordance to Xintian’s hand movements, or was some sort of indicator for Xintian to know where she was at with her signing?

The first dance, Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, had the audience in awe and mesmerised – the dancers moved so fluidly in unison and those arm movements were amazing! Absolute precision in time with the music (don’t forget, these dancers can’t hear), arms ‘growing’ out or flicking in various directions from the bodhisattva, with the bodhisattva led by deaf-mute dancer and the troupe’s Art General Director, Tai Lihua. Though we sat at the front row and had plenty of legroom for us to stretch our legs, it was not so great visually, especially when watching the dancers move around the stage (they ‘disappear’ from peripheral vision). But we did get a real close look of them and the dancers all looked very young (18-24), good-looking, fit and full of zest. Oh, and if you were wondering how the dancers ‘hear’ the music, there were two stage assistants standing behind the curtains at the top corners of the stage signalling to the dancers the tempo and the actions. Quite fascinating to watch their aerobic-looking actions turn to graceful dance moves by the dancers :)

There were also two large projector screens set up, one on each side of the stage. Throughout the show, the screens would light up as necessary so the audience could follow song lyrics, translations in English and context of the performances. The visually impaired singers were guided on stage and sang with such gusto, even singing Maori songs such as Pokarekare Ana and Tutira Mai Nga Iwi. I really admired their ability to pick up local songs in foreign languages so quickly (they sing the local songs of every country they visit, IN THE LOCAL LANGUAGE). And not forgetting the brilliant visually impaired musicians who played some of the songs sung as well as other Chinese and well-known hits with a mix of traditional Chinese and modern day instruments. Jono was most impressed with the Chinese flute player’s solo and the guy behind the drum set; I kept my eyes peeled on the piano player whose hands were running up and down the keys. You would not know of their disability if you closed your eyes and just listen to the music they played. Very impressive and flawless orchestral group that wore cool-looking sunglasses on stage. And they also did a short skit with walking sticks and square grass-like boards, a long rope encircling their waists so they were always an arms length away from each other. Yes, they were performing on stage their dance WITHOUT anyone guiding them!

More dancing, singing and music, each segment introduced by the host – the audience were entertained with a dance duet depicting the Butterfly Lovers (Chinese equivalent of Romeo and Juliet), a Pointe classical ballet dance of a graceful swan, Latin dances (the cha-cha dance was brilliant!) as well as more traditional Chinese dances and music, ending with everyone on stage for the final bow. I thought using song ‘Conquest Of Paradise’ to close of the show wasn’t appropriate, giving it a grim ending. Well, it didn’t deter the crowd giving the performers a standing ovation and everyone clapped enthusiastically as the performers walked towards the front of the stage and bowed again.

The show was 2-hours long with no interval and truly amazing – highly recommended you go see the show if they come to your town. Given their disabilities (hearing and visual impairment and physical disabilities), the performers showcased their extraordinary talents with such grace, beauty and precision that makes one admire their strength and determination to overcome their difficulties to pursue their dreams. I left wondering who the handicap really is, me or them, for what I’ve done and achieved to date seem miniscule compared to what they had gone through in life. Hmm…makes me really appreciate my life and my independence to do even simple tasks on my own…

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Otari-Wilton's Bush (27th November 2010)

Another amazing day in the coolest little city in the world! Jono and I caught up with Hew and Edmund at Caffe L’affare on College St for lunch around noon today, sitting outdoors in the sun as we chatted over our food and drinks. So nice and warm! It has been awhile since I last caught up with Hew and it was great to see her again and to know that the family is doing well since her partner Jonathan (ah yes, it does cause quite a bit of confusion when we are talking about our bfs as they have the same first names AND both also known as Jono) moved to Australia for work (Hew and Edmund will be moving over shortly to join her Jono). And Edmund’s grown a lot more since I last saw him – he was so engrossed with his handheld game that he was hiding under the table so he could shield his screen from the reflection of the sun while the adults yakked away. Cute :)

Around 2pm, we said our goodbyes and Jono and I headed out to Wilton to Otari-Wilton’s Bush for a walk. Neither of us had been to this native botanic garden and forest reserve to date and it was too nice a day NOT to be out in the sun! Besides, it’s free so why not? ;)

We started off from the main entrance and carpark on Wilton Road, walking past the Kauri Lawn (a few people were lying on the grass enjoying the sun) towards the Information Centre which is open from 8am-4pm daily. We decided to skip the Information Centre and picked up a self-guided Nature Trail brochure outside, following the trail as outlined. Our walk began with the 75-metre Canopy Walkway which soars 18 metres above the forest floor – a fully accessible tree-top experience of the area. I sure can see LOTS of trees and plants from here!

We continued on the Nature Trail into Cockayne Lawn and Brockie Rock Garden, stopping to take photos of native plants along the way. There were many interesting and strange-looking plants, mostly quite spiky…I wonder why…hmm…Native birds like the tui were chirping happily, flying around and chasing each other. It was such a laugh watching Jono trying to photography a dragonfly close-up – he had to get down on his knees and moved slowly (and quietly) so as not to frighten his photo subject! Careful babe, you don’t want to fall into the pond…

Somewhere in this reserve lies an 800-year-old rimu tree so we went in search for it, taking a detour from our Nature Trail, walking through the Circular Walk that brought us to Troup Picnic Lawn. Groups of people were gathered in the lawn, having picnics and making use of the free BBQs available. That’s so cool! We should get a group of friends to come here on a nice sunny weekend with food for the BBQ and drinks – it’ll be awesome!

“Are you sure we’re on the right path?” I asked Jono after walking another 40 minutes or so, crossing over streams running through a steep forest valley. Wearing flip-flops for the walk was not such a great idea for slippery paths (well, I wasn’t expecting such a long walk in the first place)…It turned out that we had taken a wrong turn and ended up walking the whole upper Yellow Trail, no where near our tree! Argh!! We managed to work our way back to where the Yellow Trail and Blue Trail splitted, this time, taking the Blue Trail walking past mature rimu trees through kohekohe-dominated (kohekohe = New Zealand mahogany) forest. Do not be fooled by the huge rimu trees you see along the way in the first 10-20 minutes of your walk – you will know that you’ve found THE tree when you see a large sign next to it which states ‘Rimu 800 years old’. Neither of us could put our arms around its trunk (of course, we expected that)! On average, rimu grows 25mm in diameter every 10 years thus this would make the tree approximately 2 metres in diameter, which was about right as I worked out that it would probably take 6 of me with outstretched arms to circle the trunk. HUGE! Standing there looking at the towering tree, I was at awe at how the tree could survive living eight centuries through all sorts of weather conditions, earthquakes, wars etc. and still manage to stay erect until today. Wow…

Around 4pm, we backtracked towards the car, stopping for a short lie down in the sun at Kauri Lawn before heading home to crank up the BBQ. Photos taken at Otari-Wilton's Bush here.

If you haven’t been to Otari-Wilton’s Bush, you should go check it out. Wear proper footwear though – some places were steep and slippery so I wouldn’t recommend wearing flip-flops like we did. Oh, and make sure you take with you some water and snacks, just in case you end up walking for a few hours than initially planned ;)

Friday, 26 November 2010

Arbitrageur Wine Room & Restaurant, Wellington (26th November 2010)

After having a few drinks with boys Jono, Shane and Lee at Dockside Restaurant & Bar in Queens Wharf, Jono and I headed over to Arbitrageur Wine Room & Restaurant located on Featherston St for dinner around 7.30pm. Neither of us had been to the Arbitrageur before and Steve had mentioned about it to us several times when the topic of food came up – an expensive restaurant that serves quality food. Since it was one of the restaurants listed in our Entertainment Book, we decided to check it out tonight. After all, we only have to pay for 1 main as part of the deal!

On entry into the elegantly designed restaurant, we were met by a French maitre’d who showed us to our seats – at the bar table. Well, I guess we were to blame as we didn’t book in advance so got the worst seats in the house. It wasn’t that bad, just we were on bar stools and had other couples sharing our long table (they probably didn’t book in advance and walked in like us too). Sitting at our table, we slowly took in the grandeur of the place, its extensive wine list (rated “One of the most outstanding restaurant wine lists in the world” – Wine Spectator Magazine 2005 & 2010) and the two menus of European cuisine to choose from: A La Carte, or their Avec Menu where wine is matched to the food. We settled for the A La Carte menu but couldn’t decide on what to get as they all looked so good (not to mention expensive – thank god we have the Entertainment Book!). Jono rang up Steve to get some recommendations and he settled for the rabbit dish while I ordered the Angus beef steak served with triple cooked chips, slow roasted tomato and green beans (the waiter serving us said it was very popular), and we shared a side dish of roasted pumpkin.

Freshly baked bread rolls were served as we sipped our glasses of red wine that Jono picked out from the wine list. Hmm, the bread was delicious, with or without drizzling it with olive oil! And French red wine – yum! Our main and side dishes were served promptly and oh my god, my medium rare Angus beef steak was DIVINE! I’m doomed – after tonight, I’m not sure I would settle for bar steaks anymore. This is just so, SO good (I’m drooling as I’m writing this…). I’m in steak heaven ahh…Jono’s rabbit dish was also very nice and I was surprised that the black pudding slices in his dish didn’t taste as bad as I thought. Tasty! Great food, nice ambience and awesome company (my baby, of course!) - I’m loving it :)

To some extent, sitting at our table felt a bit like punishment and made us feel the need to return to the restaurant another time, booking a table in advance. And despite being fine dining (i.e. costly), they were not short of patrons – the place was packed! We were quite full from our main meals but couldn’t resist when the waiter asked us if we wanted to have a look at the dessert menu – yes please! We ended up ordering 2 flat whites and shared a pistachio crème brulee served with almond biscotti.

Our dinner cost us $85 (and that is after we have taken off the cost of one of our mains). Expensive but well worth the experience. I highly recommend the Arbitrageur for a romantic evening out (hint, hint – Valentine’s Day or anniversary celebrations)! Oh, and they even have a cellar downstairs housing over 1000 bottles of wine (you can do a tour). We will need to come back another day with a small group of friends to try out the Avec Menu – that way we’ll get to sample a variety of wine and food! 

View from our seat to the entrance of the restaurant

Check out the wine selection!

Jono and the Christmas tree

Arbitrageur Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Thursday diving with The Dive Guys (25th November 2010)

We’re going diving, ON A THURSDAY!! Jono suggested we join The Dive Guys for their Thursday dive this week so we left work early and headed to the dive shop to meet Steve at 5.30pm to sort out our gear hire. Clear skies and no wind – it’s gonna be AWESOME! 

Cost us $50 each for gear hire and tank (1 dive only), this time sharing the large plastic box instead of having our own. As usual, we had to check to make sure we had everything and pack them in the right order back in the box. Steve was all laid-back and not in a rush to go diving, talking away with us and 2 fellow divers who were also at the dive shop. Oh look at those stubby tanks – they are SO cute and would work perfect for me! Sadly, they are a rare find and very unlikely that dive shops would have one for hire (the two Steve ordered in were bought by 2 female divers). Hmm, a bit pointless to buy one unless diving regularly in Wellington…can’t exactly pack it up on trips overseas, can I?

As previously mentioned, the dive site changes from week to week subject to weather conditions and divers only find out the confirmed dive site on Wednesday or the morning of the dive. Around 6pm, we headed to Island Bay – cool, a new dive site for us! Jono and I zipped off ahead of Steve and arrived in Island Bay only to find no one at the car park. Turned out they were in the car park next to where we were but we couldn’t see them as they were hidden behind the hedge separating the two parks. “Thought you kids were a bit over confident, shooting off without me,” teased Steve. Next time we’ll follow you, just in case…

There were 13 of us ranging from new to experienced divers with a few in dry suits. The fish are going to get a shock of their lives having 13 ninjas trespassing haha! Everyone was busy getting kitted up, going through their buddy checks (Jono and I buddied up this time) and headed towards the water. Though the water temperature was 16 degrees Celsius today, I still wore my thermals ;)

It was much easier to get into the water from this car park as it was close to shore – yes, I don’t have to work so hard to get in and out of the water! In pairs, the experienced divers swam out and began their dive while the rest of us waited for Steve and descended in a group. The weather had turned cloudy and visibility was about 6 metres in the slightly murky water. Still clearer than our dives on Sunday which was only a mere 1.5 metres!

Personally, I couldn’t fully enjoy my dive this time and was having issues in the water – upon descending, I very quickly realised that part of my regulator mouthpiece had been chewed off, a small bit dangling on its end (I was fearful that it might snap and I would end up swallowing the rubber) and I had a hard time securing the regulator in my mouth so had to prop it with one hand all throughout the dive. “You idiot – you should always check the mouthpiece!” went a little voice in my head. Argh! I’ve heard stories from other divers that this is common with rental gear and it always pays to check the mouthpiece BEFORE getting into the water. Never thought it would ever happen to me – a good experience and lesson for my oversight. To some extent, I was glad that it was me who got the broken mouthpiece than Jono so that his first diving experience after his course is a good one (of course, no broken mouthpiece would be even better). ALWAYS check the mouthpiece in the future!

I couldn’t quite keep up with the group and was somehow draining my tank very quickly today – it felt hard to breathe, as if I was low on air. I wondered if it had anything to do with the mouthpiece, air leaking each time I took in a breath. Hmm…Oh-o, my right fin had just come off…Gah, why do I always get into so much trouble?? “There, now you won’t be going anywhere…,” I thought to myself, fastening the strap real tight. Hey, where did Jono go? I looked around for Jono and he was nowhere to be seen (though there were other divers around). He must have followed the group and I’ve no idea which direction they went! I waited for a bit and thankfully he came back looking for me – yay! We lost each other a few times but still managed to find one another. For our first buddy dive, we did pretty well (still have a few things to work through but we’ll learn of each other’s dive styles in due course) and with the challenges I encountered today, I thought I did well not freaking out underwater and managed to get through the dive.

Jono was picking up rubbish from the seabed as he comes across them, showing me his ‘collection’ as he went. Cute :) Our dive today was 37 minutes long going down to a depth of 11.5 metres, swimming through the kelp forest and some pebbly patches at the bottom. Saw several red moki, a few sea urchins, and strange yet colourful sea creatures on the odd blade of kelp. I would have to agree with Jono that the dive at Princess Bay last Saturday was much better – more colourful and lots more fish.

Time to head home for a hot shower and dinner!

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Day 2: Scuba diving refresher complete! (21st November 2010)

Urgh, I can’t believe I got woken up so early again…on a Sunday! Jono had set the alarm to ring at 7.45am instead of 8.45am – no wonder we had spare time to kill before Ben turned up in his van to get us. Jono…

Hmm, weather today was colder and looked rather grim with dark clouds looming. Not sure it would be much fun diving but we still had to get into the water regardless. The 3 of us headed to the dive shop to meet Steve at 10am, got all our gear checked and repacked like we did yesterday, and around 10.30am, headed over to Scorching Bay for our dives. Brr, it’s cold and windy out here – just look at the waves! :(

Before we headed into the water for our first dive, Steve talked us through how to use the compass and navigating our way to a target and U-turn back to where we started. Once we were clear on how to read the compass, everyone kitted up, did our buddy checks and headed to the beach into the water for our first dive. Oh god, the water was a tone of brown with shifting sand in the mix due to the wind and visibility, a poor 1.5 metres, exactly the type of diving condition I remembered from previous diving experiences in Wellington bays. Not liking this at all but I kind of expected it when I saw the incoming choppy waves. Guess we’ll just have to stick together closely. Worse case scenario, if we did lose one another, we would then search around underwater for 1 minute before surfacing and wait for our buddy to come up.

Steve got us to swim and navigate towards a buoy on the surface, having us use our compass and at every 15th kick, stop and take a look to see if we were still on course, making amendments as necessary to get back on track. I was struggling to stay on track with the waves pulling me off course and was hyperventilating by the time I got to the guys, exhausted from breathing through the snorkel and swimming against the current. We had a short rest on the surface to catch our breaths then gathered closer before descending to a depth of about 6 metres to the sandy bottom. Oh, this is just terrible – I can hardly see beyond arm’s length! We repeated the same swim and navigating exercise underwater, this time just 15 kicks towards the buoy, surface, do a U-turn, descend, and swim back to origin, all the time relying on the compass. And Steve was not coming with us since he was the ‘origin’ so we were on our own. I guess given we could hardly see each other, we had no choice but to put our trust on the compass and carried out the skill independently – Ben and I couldn’t see Jono after waiting at the bottom for awhile (turned out Jono was still descending and by the time he got to the bottom, we had already took off – oops!) and at some point, I lost both the boys but found them at the end. The brief moment when I couldn’t see anyone was rather terrifying but I was really glad that we found each other and were able to carry our exercise well despite the challenging water condition.

Back down to the sand patch, we continued on with the skills, doing the fin pivot and the boys had to do a mask removal, replacement and clearing which I was spared from doing. Phew! We did a tiki tour of the area, saw several spotty fish and loads of starfish scattered all over the seabed. I was constantly trying to keep up with Steve in fear of losing sight of him underwater and totally swam past an eleven-armed sea star. Thankfully Jono grabbed me on my arm and pointed it out to me. Wow, it’s huge! My baby must be feeling more confident and comfortable scuba diving since he was doing things like mask clicking me (bump masks) and swimming above and hover down to hug me. Aww, cute :)

Argh, WTF?! I got a fright when I saw a shoe emerge into view from the left corner of my mask. The first thought that came to mind was if it was a body – gulp! It was actually Jono showing me a shoe Ben found but I didn’t notice his outstretched arm holding the shoe, just one end of the shoe ‘floating’ towards me rather eerily…

Headed back to shore and Steve told me I had completed my scuba tune up – yippee! I could choose to sit out the final dive but thought since I’m here, might as well log another dive. Had a quick snack, warmed my hands using Steve’s hand warmer (I couldn’t feel my fingers and Steve had a hand warmer handy), swapped tanks and chatted about our dive and what was left to finish up the day. Only the guys went back into the water with weight belts, mask and snorkel to do their weight removal exercise; I stayed back to watch our gear at the car park :)

“Hehe, you look cute with the tank dangling behind you,” teased Jono as he watched me shuffle my way into the water for dive #4, the huge cylinder bobbing behind my back and you could see the end sticking way past my butt to about my knees. Seriously, there should be shorter tanks for people my size, AND lighter ones too! The water condition got much worse this time round and it didn’t help that my hair was all over the place, getting caught in my mask – each time I put my head underwater, my mask quickly filled up with water. After several attempts trying to descend with much difficulty, choking and drinking too much salt water with Steve calming me down, I managed to descend to the bottom to join the boys but spent the rest of the dive having to clear my mask so often that I wasn’t able to enjoy the dive. Gah, darn hair! The hover was the last skill we did in the water – we couldn’t quite tell if we were doing it right as we couldn’t see how far we were from the bottom and surface. Obviously did something right because Steve shook our hands to congratulate us!

We continued on diving, going through the kelp forest, no new creatures seen (still heaps of starfish and the odd sea worm that ‘disappears’ when you go near). Around 2pm, we surfaced and headed back to the car park. Congratulations Ben and Jono – you are now certified Open Water divers! YAY!! The boys were already hi-5-ing one another as they walked to shore, all excited about their recent achievement. I’m so proud and happy that they have both successfully completed their course :) Pretty proud of myself too that I completed my refresher – I wouldn’t done it if Jono hadn’t suggested I come along this weekend. Thanks baby xoxo! The refresher did help me build my confidence underwater plus work through some skills I’ve forgotten but most of all, I had fun diving in Wellington (even though the dives today were a bit s^%t). I guess it makes a huge difference when diving with people you know and trust, and also have more fun talking about the experience afterwards :)

Brr…it was much warmer in the water than out…We quickly washed all our wet gear at the outdoor shower by the public toilets. Gah, the water was freezing cold! Packed up everything and got changed, and by 3pm, headed back to the dive shop. Steve took us to The Realm Bistro & Bar in Hataitai Village where he bought us all a round of beers to celebrate and helped us complete our dive logs – thanks Steve for everything! I really like Steve (he’s laid-back, easy-going and all about diving) and highly recommend that if you intend to take a diving course and/or go out diving that you do so with The Dive Guys. Will have to go out diving with them on one of their Thursday/Sunday dives (the dive school holds regular weekly dives in various Wellington dive sites during summer)! Now that Jono is a certified diver too, that means we'll be able to dive together - woo-hoo!

Home to shower and around 5pm, Jono and I walked over to Monterey on Rintoul St to meet Ben and Rissa for an early dinner. I’m starving! I’ve never been to Monterey before and was expecting it to be a typical pub but it was nothing like that at all – the small venue had a welcoming feel as if entering a bach with décor from the 60s-70s (old radios, typewriters, books and scales etc.), music from the era playing in the background. We joined Ben and Rissa at their table that was covered with newsprint paper and crayons available for all your drawing pleasure. How cool is that! You can play cards and other board games and puzzles, or indulge in a magazine or book as you enjoy your drink and meal. And speaking of books, the menu was stuck in the front pages of old books scattered on the table (I didn’t know that until I saw Rissa so engrossed with her book and realised she was looking at the menu haha!). Serviettes were placed in opened sardine cans! Such an interesting place and their burgers and coffee were pretty good too :)

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What a weekend this has been! I’m going to sleep well tonight from all the workout…

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Day 1: Scuba diving refresher course (20th November 2010)

Boys Jono and Ben have been talking about doing the Open Water scuba diving course together for awhile and finally booked in their practical course for this weekend. Awesome! Both Rissa and I already have our Open Water certifications so once the boys have theirs, we’ll be able to go diving together :) The boys have chosen to take the course with The Dive Guys, a small dive shop based in Hataitai – they had to first complete their e-learning course and pass the final test, and obtain a medical clearance before the practical sessions which included 1 pool session and 4 dives in the sea. When I did my course with NZ Sea Adventures back in 2006 when they were still based in Kilbirnie, there was no e-learning option so I had to attend a full day of classroom work, going through a textbook full of new information and take the test at the end of the day (god, it felt like such a long day…); I reckon the e-learning option is way better as you can study the modules at your own pace in the comfort of your own home and take the final test when you’re ready. Jono and Ben spent last weekend studying most of the modules together, discussing any sections they weren’t clear off together and occasionally ask me or Rissa questions when unsure. I would ‘secretly’ test Jono before bed, slotting in random dive questions in our conversation and have him explain them to me, just so I know he’s understood and remembered what he’s learnt ;) The boys completed the last few modules on their own and Jono took his test earlier this week (we worked through the dive planning questions together, comparing our answers before he submitted his final answer to the online objective test) passing with flying colours. His doctor signed off his dive medical so all he needed to do now is complete the practical part of the course!

The last time I dived was in early 2009 when I went did a live-on-boat diving trip with Helbert in the Great Barrier Reef, and with all the talk about diving in the last two weeks (including my fear for water and buoyancy issues in most of my dives), Jono suggested that I take a refresher course to sort out these problems so I would feel more confident and enjoy my future dives. Hmm, that’s a really good idea though when it comes to diving, much like snowboarding, I’m often apprehensive about attempting the sport due to previous bad experiences or accidents. With diving, even though I love life under the sea, I still have my moments when the panic button flicks on because of my previous drowning incident when I was 18 (was fished out from the deep pool in a water theme park in Malaysia) – I’ve since learnt to swim and swim regularly but I guess with me being much older when the incident occurred, the memory lingers in the back of my mind, triggering the panic attack without my control at times when I’m in the water. Plus I often break into hives or couldn’t sleep the night before diving the next day just because of the fear. In saying all that, I do want to sort out these problems so I can truly enjoy diving. I have fears but I’m not one to let them stop me from doing something. “Come diving with us this weekend for your refresher. It’ll be good for you before we take the Advanced Open Water course together, maybe this summer,” Jono suggested. Hmm, well, if that’s the case, then I had better do the refresher BEFORE the Advanced course. So I contacted The Dive Guys to find out whether I could do the Scuba Tune Up course this weekend while the boys were doing their practical – Steve Journee, PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer and owner of The Dive Guys responded promptly to my email and said I could do my tune up with the boys for $160. That’s $160 which included full gear hire, a pool session and 4 dives, which is a really amazing deal given the Scuba Tune Up course is usually a one-on-one course with only 1 dive. Well, looks to me I’m going diving this weekend!

“Argh, stop annoying me…let me sleep…” I grumbled and pulled the sheets over my head as Jono drew open the curtains and started to tickle me at 6am on Saturday morning. “You lied…you said we’ll be up at 6.30am…argh! Stop it – fine, I’m awake now!” Grr…Normally I’m the early riser and have no issues getting up early; Jono must be wide awake from all the excitement. We made ourselves porridge for breakfast (for slow release of energy) with coffees, then packed up our bags with a towel and clean change of clothes. A quick stop at Jono’s office for him to print out his test results and collect his dive medical, we stopped to pick up Ben before heading to Freyberg pool to meet Steve at 8am. Interestingly, most dive masters I’ve met to date are quite big in size (think rugby player) and have rather broad chests (more lung capacity), and Steve was no exception. Ben, Jono and I were the only students today – cool, small group means more face time with the instructor :) Steve seemed like a really cool guy, briefing us on what we will be doing today and talking us through the skills he would be showing us and later testing us on. Oh no, he’s getting me to do them too as part of my refresher!!

“Alright, let’s get our gear together and into the pool,” said Steve and we each went to our designated tank that had already been assembled in advance. Brave Jono didn’t have swimming trunks so stripped down to his Icebreaker Men's Beast Brief for the pool – I would be blushing in embarrassment if I wore my bra and undies in the public pool, even my nicest ones, but he didn’t care at all…Okay, so long as you’re comfortable in it…

Geez, remind me again why I’m doing this? I had forgotten how heavy the tank and all the gear were and it didn’t help being small in size. I felt so clumsy, trying to get to the edge of the pool with my gear and having to bend down to pick up my fins and mask. So much effort! We spent the next hour or so going through a series of skills – Steve would show them to us first and one by one, we would repeat the skills until he was satisfied we did them correctly. I had a major freak out in the water when it got to my turn to do the mask removal, replacement and clearing – water was going up my nose and I felt my throat choke, the panic button immediately triggered and my automatic response was to head up to the surface. My head was going “I need to get out of here, I need to get out of here” all the time when I was in panic mode. Sigh, why is it that I’m still so afraid of the water? Steve managed to calm me down on the surface and we returned to the bottom of the pool and continued with the other skills, leaving this one for later. Strangely enough, when I had to do the no mask breathing exercise i.e. swim underwater without the mask towards Steve, I was alright and replaced and cleared my mask with no issues. Huh, I was expecting another freak out…Check and check – passed more skills! My fin pivot wasn’t as good as I would have liked (I didn’t seem to go up much when I took in deep breathes) and had to do it several times before Steve shook my hand (when we successfully carry out each skill, Steve congratulates us by shaking our hand). I managed to do the hover and a somersault though the latter got water shooting up my nose causing a brain freeze-like sensation. Ouch. Oh, and we had to do the tired diver tow on the surface which was hard work for me even though I towed Jono, who was the lightest of the 3 men. That really got my heart racing and warmed up – I was beginning to shiver in the heated pool (that was because we were underwater and not moving all that much most of the time). I was spared the 10-lap swim (thank you, Steve!) and got out of the water to warm up, wrapping myself in my towel while I watched the boys do their laps with mask, snorkel and fins.

Woo-hoo, pool DONE! The boys did a great job with the skills in the pool – they were naturals, carrying out the skills with ease. Great job! We left the pool around 10.30am and headed over to the dive shop in Hataitai, stopping at the nearby bakery to pick up some pies and pastries before meeting up with Steve again around 11.30am.

The dive shop is tiny! This is by far the smallest dive shop I’ve seen to date!! Most dive shops would have a wet area to wash and dry the used gear, a storage area and a retail shop – this shop was all of that condensed into a small garage. Less items, of course, and the shop gave a feeling of “Let’s go diving” rather than “Check out what we have in store” which is a plus because it really is about the enjoyment of diving, not so much forcing the students to buy gear and sign up for more courses. Oh, and you wouldn’t miss the shop driving into Hataitai Village because it’s purple!

Each of us were given a large plastic box with dive gear and were instructed to check that we’ve all got everything by taking all the items out and putting them back into the box in order of what we would put on first in last – fins, mask and snorkel (I had my own – most rental masks do not fit my Asian nose), gloves, wet suit, vest with hood, reg-gauge and lastly, BCD. Weights were kept separate so that the heavy leads wouldn’t destroy our gear. I was given 9kgs of weight (same as Jono) though Steve reckons I probably only need 7kgs (rule of thumb is 10% of your body weight + 2kgs which makes 7kgs sound about right). And because I don’t consume much air, I would be using a cylinder with 150-bar for my dives today instead of the normal 200-220 bar.

Around 12pm, we headed to Princess Bay where we would be doing the dives today, the first, a leisure dive just to get used to being underwater and the 2nd dive for some skills. I wore my Icebreaker Merino long-sleeved top and pants on top of swimsuit before putting on the wetsuit – that should prevent me from feeling cold in the 15 degree Celsius waters. Gah, the wet suit was rather tight for a size 10 (I’m usually a size 8!). “We don’t get many female divers your size so the wet suit hasn’t been properly worn in yet,” laughed Steve as he watched me jump around to get myself into the wet suit. Argh, I can’t get my hand through the sleeve!! Help, please…

OK, I’m all kitted up now...Next, buddy checks following the BWRAF acronym for Buoyancy, Weights, Releases, Air and Final check – there are many memory joggers you can use for this acronym like Begin With Review And Friend or funny ones like Bruce Willis Ruins Action Films or Big White Rabbits Are Fluffy (or Bangkok Women Really Are Fellas, though I’m not sure Thai divers would appreciate the joke). As we waited for each other to get ready, a Jack Russell pup came along to check us out, playfully licking Steve’s face when he goo-gooed the dog and walking around, sniffing us and our gear. Hey, don’t lick my mouthpiece! Eew, now I’ve got dog saliva on my snorkel…The pup proceeded to sit on Jono’s snorkel, at the mouthpiece too. The little devil! Its lucky I’ve got so much weight on me that I couldn’t run after it…grr…Ben was laughing his head off at our predicament only to stop short because the mischievous puppy had run off with his gloves! Haha, brilliant!! We cracked up laughing as we watched Ben chasing the pup on the beach. The dog owner was most apologetic for her puppy’s misbehaviours, informing us she’s been trying hard to train her dog. "That was a first!" laughed Steve. Indeed unexpected and so funny!

The great thing about diving in Wellington is that you don’t need a boat to go diving BUT it also meant diving off the shore, having to put on all your gear and walk into the water, then swim out before descending. I was shuffling my way carefully on the beach to the water with all the extra weight on me, and by the time I was in the water, I was already huffing and puffing from the effort. And I’m NOT even underwater yet!

The first dive was cruisy, mainly for us to get comfortable in the water. It was quite calm today and visibility of 10 metres underwater which was fantastic. 15 degrees Celsius didn’t feel too bad – the Merino kept me comfortably warm, and the hood and gloves helped too :) I was panicking at the start as water kept leaking into my mask. Turned out I had to tuck the lip of my mask under the hood. Ah-ha, learn something new everyday! We did a tiki tour, swimming to a depth of 9 metres, checking out the underwater surroundings of kelp, sandy patches and a variety of fish including scarlet wrasse and blue cod. And we saw not 1 but 2 octopi (I spotted the first one)! This was the first time I’ve ever seen an octopus underwater, a sea creature I’ve always hope to see during my dives but had never seen in my past 23 dives – yes! The scarlet wrasse was funny, swimming up so close to Steve’s mask, ‘kissing’ it (I’m not sure if it was a sign of affection or aggression from the fish). I’m very impressed to see how much Princess Bay has changed over the last couple of years – it was once a barren and lifeless dive site (I did 2 of my Open Water dives here in 2006 and it was dead and gray) but since it became part of the marine reserve, it is now filled with life and colour. Just shows how much can be restored if we protect our waters :)

I needed the boys to help me up the steps to the van as I just wasn’t able to step up with all the weight :/ We were back on shore after the 23-minute dive, chatting away excitedly about what we saw as we swapped tanks, had some food and a break during our surface interval before dive #2. Photos taken during our break:

Boys Ben and Jono chopping away on their sandwiches

Diving - YEAH!

Having a fun day diving with the boys :)

Back into the water and this time, we swam out towards the dive flag then descended to about 8-9m onto a sandy patch were we did our skills. Jono had problems equalising so was stuck near the surface with Steve helping him out while Ben and I were hovering on the sandy bottom watching the fish. The blue cod was funny, behaving like a dog on guard – it would swim quite close up, then stop, planting its fins on the sand, securing a stance and just glare at you, as if protecting its territory. Quite amusing! Once Jono was at the bottom, one by one we did the skills as indicated by Steve. Oh no, mask clearing… I shook my head “No” when Steve gestured to me to flood my mask with water... he wasn’t going to let me off that easily. I had a mini-freak out doing so but he grabbed hold onto my BCD so I couldn’t swim to the surface and waited for me to calm down, knocking on my mask to tell me it’s ok to open my eyes. All is ok, all is ok, breathe...ok, I'm ok now!

We did a few more skills including air depletion exercise where we had to use our buddy’s alternate air source, as well as surface skills like cramp removal, gear removal and tired diver tow. Hmm, so nice to be towed by Jono, gradually floating in the water and have the sun shine in my face. Not so nice having to tow Jono (though better Jono than Ben or Steve) and I was quite tired after working out the whole day so we were worming our way to shore. I can’t go any faster…

We had to wash all our gear in the unisex toilets near the car park and help Steve pack them back into our boxes. Brr, it’s cold – I need a hot drink and shower! Everyone got changed and chatted more about our dives today. Steve’s a really cool guy and I enjoyed diving with him and the boys today. The boys did SO well for their first time underwater – I’m so proud :) Two more dives to go tomorrow and we’re done!

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Everything Is OK (17th November 2010)

I rounded up a group of art-loving friends (7 of us – me, Jono, Liviu, Ben, Rissa, Rebecca and Lars) to see play Everything Is Ok tonight, another production from BATS theatre’s STAB 2010 season – I thought it might be quite an interesting play since it was held in a 600m sq warehouse located opposite Te Papa on Cable St instead of the usual BATS theatre. Shows at BATS are a hit and miss – I’ve seen some very good ones and some pretty terrible ones. Hopefully this one would be good, now that I’ve a group in tow. Ooo, and I wonder what the setting would be like in the warehouse – would it be on several small stages where we walked around or a sit-down show? Hmm… 

On arrival to the warehouse around 7.45pm to meet the rest of the gang, lots of people have gathered in the waiting area chit-chatting and purchasing drinks from the makeshift bar on site. The waiting area looked and felt very much like a construction site with large roles of white cloth playing images from a projector separating us and whatever was hidden behind those sheets. Cost $20 per person for the 1 hour 20 minute show and like everyone else, Jono and I gathered in the waiting area as drib and drabs of our group arrived. 

It was hard to tell where exactly we would enter the ‘theatre’ since we couldn’t really see the stage from where we were, yet we could hear shouting and some guys fighting or playing a game coming from behind the sheets. Around 8pm, the ushers ‘drew the curtain’, pulling to the side the sheets in the middle of the warehouse, as the audience shuffled in, showing the usher the stamp on their hand as they passed (we got stamped when we paid for the ticket). Oh my god, just look at the place – shipping containers, mashed up installations from discarded industrial waste including a crushed up car, old TVs, metal frames etc. – the place was like a rubbish dump! No time to settle into the new environment and check out all the bizarre and rust-dusty installations – the audience were told to stand outside the white dotted lines on the floor (the white dotted lines frame the installations) while actors Hadleigh Walker (seen in Downstage show, The December Brother) and Jeremy Randerson continued to kick ball (the ball was a crumpled plastic bottle) pushing through the sardined audience. Ah ha, so the show has begun and we’re IN it! 

The first part of the show brings the audience through a rapid psychedelic trip through the lives of the 5 people working in television. Hadleigh and Jeremy moved from their football game to a skit where they pretended to be a car salesman and potential buyer test-driving a Cadillac. Of course, the car was the beat up, crumpled, rusting metal but the two actors portrayed their role so well, admiring the beauty and speed of the car as if it was real. I can’t help but think about how much red rust dust the guys were getting their clothes on. Eek...The lights then flitted over to Tim Carlsen, who played the character of a motivational speaker (I’m not sure what motivation he was selling) – he reminded me of Jim Carrey’s character as Ace Ventura, acting all cool in his shades, ripped suit and obnoxious behaviour, AND those hip grinding movements that made me laugh and felt a tad embarrassed watching (but everyone else had eyes on him as he was in the spotlight!). Aroha White was the model for all the infomercials selling all sorts of items – as she gave her sales pitch, another actor would angle the mini-camera towards her and her face would be seen on the projector screen on the wall as well as in all the old black-and-white TVs piled up in a heap where she was standing on. And Jessica Robinson (previously seen in Circa Theatre play, The Great Gatsby) was a Martha Stewart-looking lady, teaching the audience how to cook a duck (her ingredients were all bits of industrial materials – rusty chains, part of a door etc.) and teaching good dining etiquette, playing the strict, no-nonsense mother of 4. And the spotlight flits around all these moving characters – standing in the audience, we had to constantly move about to change focus and occasionally, I had stand on my tip toes as I couldn’t see the actors (gah, the person in front of me is blocking my view!). At times, the actors were SO close to us (and they didn’t seem to care), in fact too close for comfort, that the audience would automatically make way for them. Huh, funny that… 

Oh my god! Jono got splashed!! What had happened was during the dining etiquette skit, the children (all the other actors) had to follow certain protocols as taught by their mother, and after the toast, they would all empty their glasses (the glasses were tin cans) by tipping them backwards and the mix of wood shaving and sawdust would land on anyone standing nearby. Thankfully Jono only got a bit of wood shaving on his jacket but the lady standing to his right must be pissed that her black coat now had bits of wood shaving and sawdust stuck to it! Thank god I was NOT standing where she was! Oh, but the sawdust was annoying, stuffing up my nose and making me rub my eyes now and again, though the actors didn’t look bothered with it at all, welcoming the wood shaving-sawdust ladle of soup as mother came around scooping the ‘soup’ into their mag wheel bowls. All hell broke lose when Hadleigh started to misbehave at the dinner table, causing all the other children to rebel, wood shaving and sawdust flying all over the place! What a mess! 

It was fascinating to watch the audience’s behaviour and as the actors disappeared to the back of the warehouse – everyone automatically proceeded towards the last remaining actor, as if beckoned to follow him. The second section of the play brought us further back to the warehouse where the audience got to sit for the rest of the show. Jono immediately went for seats in the front row! Hmm, I’m not sure that is a good idea, babe, after the wood shaving incident…oh well, fingers crossed! The stage was set up with 2 opened shipping containers, one stacked on top of the other depicting an apartment block of 4 shoe-box sized units where we visited the lives of the inhabitants living in today’s modern world, how they are struggling to cope with their lives, pretending all is right. Hadleigh played a man in the verge of committing suicide; Aroha, a telemarketer cold-calling to sell Freedom (I couldn’t make out if she was selling a service or a store card – her sales pitch were all about breaking free and getting the things you want); Jessica and Jeremy played a couple who has fallen out of love yet continued to live together; and Tim, a former child TV star still trapped in his own childhood stardom. Daily routines were portrayed in dance, showing actions of taking a shower, putting on mascara, drinking coffee, and eventually walking out the door. Similar to the first part of the show, the spotlight focuses on each of the units, pausing much longer this time to look into what the characters were doing: Hadleigh was packing up all his stuff into boxes and making recordings of himself speaking as if he was attending his own funeral while Aroha was constantly trying to clinch a sale. Tim was seen acting out scenes from his previously aired TV series, using cut-out cardboard stands of the characters in his TV series, reviving his character within the four walls of his room. Jessica played the character of a woman full of disgust for her jobless partner and wanting to run away from their relationship, gradually showing the cracks of the relationship climaxing to an aggressive brawl and ending in tears. There was a moment where Jeremy took his pants down, flashing his butt cheeks to the audience as he used them to ‘talk’ to his partner, trying to cheer her up. Got a smile out of her but not enough to save their relationship with cheek-talk. 

The show is a satire of modern life that will challenge your sense of living in the modern world. An interesting play that is part interactive and well-portrayed by 5 brilliant actors, it is worth checking out (season runs from 6th – 20th November) though do not expect to walk out feeling upbeat and happy – this is not one of those happy-ending plays. Oh, and be prepared to be pushed around and possibly receive a cupful of wood shavings and sawdust!

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Vector Wellington Orchestra Presents 1710 - Organ Symphony (13th November 2010)

The week is just filled with events – we’ve been going out too much! I’m not complaining as I’ve enjoyed all the events we’ve been to; it just so happened that they were all on the same week and it felt like we were out every night! Tonight’s event was yet another free event (for us), again, courtesy of The Dominion Post – I’ve won us a double pass to Vector Wellington Orchestra Presents 1710 - Organ Symphony :)

The Vector Wellington Orchestra presents a series of concerts in Wellington and as part of their 2010 Subscription Season, they have showcased great works connected with the years 1710, 1810, 1910 and 2010 with the one from 1710 being the last of the 4-part subscription. I’ve not seen this orchestra perform – I guess I never saw myself as a classical music fan (even though I spent years playing classical music on the piano) so never actively sought out such events. Great for me to score free tickets (normally $56 per person) as I get to sample new things and in the process, find out if I like such things/events or not. I’m definitely looking forward to see the Town Hall organ in action tonight, something I’ve never seen before!

Funnily enough, the last time we attended an event at the Wellington Town Hall, we were in a rush to get there on time and tonight, despite leaving home early for the 7.30pm concert, we STILL got there late (by a couple of minutes) but thankfully they have not yet close the doors when we arrived so we could get to our seats without missing the start of the performance. Phew! Plenty of others were like us, rushing to get in and I was impressed to see such a large crowd tonight, with the audience ranging from young children to senior folks. The concert opened with the overture from Le Temple de la Gloire by 18th-century composer Rameau, with the full orchestra led by music director Marc Taddei, and this was followed by harpsichord Concerto in D Major, F.41 from Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (JS Bach’s oldest son) performed by gifted harpsichordist-pianist-organist Donald Nicholson. This was the first time I’ve seen a harpsichord and it looked quite similar to a piano though smaller and somewhat fragile-looking. Widely used in Renaissance and Baroque music, this was the instrument that gave rise to the piano. According to Jono, the key difference between a harpsichord and a piano is that when a note is played, the string is plucked on the harpsichord instead of being hammered on (like the piano), and as a result, no matter how hard you played on the key, the loudness of the note would remain the same. How interesting…It was fun to watch Donald perform – he looked like he was having a ball playing the song, moving his whole body expressively to the music. We were sitting on the 8th row from the stage in the stall seats downstairs and despite a smaller orchestra (half of the orchestra left the stage for the harpsichord pieces), the sound from the harpsichord sounded rather soft; I wonder if the audience far back and upstairs were able to hear much. Poulenc’s Concerto "Concert Champêtre" was played next, this time on a modern harpsichord (apparently made in Auckland and only 13 of its kind ever made) though I couldn’t hear much difference between the two harpsichords, both still of a delicate tone. Ah but the modern harpsichord had 6 pedals, making it much more challenging an instrument to play! I kind of wished we sat upstairs so we could actually see what Donald was doing, his fingers playing with tremendous speed, especially when he was performing his encore, a continuous set of tremolos, showing off his agility and superb skill on the keyboard. Doesn’t his fingers and hand get tired doing that?!

Oh my god, guess who I saw walking out of the hall during the interval? Jack Body, the composer we shooed off our seats a couple of weeks back when we were here!

The concert resumed after about a 20-minute interval, this time with Saint-Saëns’s organ symphony, Symphony No 3 in C minor "Organ", with Douglas Mew on the organs. We giggled watching Douglas getting ready for the performance, checking his teeth and smile in the mirror above him (the mirror is there so that the organist can see the conductor’s hands while playing back facing the rest of the orchestra). I was expecting a sudden loud tremor from the organ (hands ready to cover my ears) but it started off rather mellow, eventually climaxing to a deep, earth-shattering vibration. Not only can you hear the vibrations from the gigantic pipes of the organ, you can actually feel it go through your body – it was a strange yet pleasurable sensation, as if your soul or insides were given a good shiver.

Ah-ha, I thought I heard the sound of a piano! I was looking around to see which instrument was producing a piano-like sound since we couldn’t see a piano on stage – were my ears playing tricks on me? Turned out the piano was at the far back, hidden behind the violinists. All I could see from our seats was a bit of the opened lid and you had to really look hard to find it. So I wasn’t imaging the piano sounds!

The audience, at awe with tonight’s performance, clapped, stomped and cheered for an encore but none was given – the musical director was plain evil, teasing us by re-entering the stage and making his orchestra bow but not play and after about the 4th or 5th time, the audience got the gist and stopped their applause.

We left for home around 10pm and I must say, I may have found new love for classical music :) I really enjoyed the concert and look forward to see more concerts by this orchestra next year!