Sunday, September 28, 2014

Buildings, Boardgames, and Birds

With housing sorted out, here are some other things we've been up to.

We visited our cat at the cattery, and he is doing fine. He loves eating the grass. As soon as I opened his cage door, he bolted out to the enclosed grassy area and started munching. No care that we were there to visit him. Typical cat.

We saw a building being demolished, and you so rarely get to see the innards of a building, I had to take a picture. Assumption is that there was too much earthquake damage to repair it.

Yesterday we went to another garage sale not far from here and bought a stand-up fan (for the few days it actually gets hot here), a new sweater for me, some Tupperware containers, and a small baking pan. I'm really hoping the number of sales increases as the weather warms up, because it's a real deal to get things for way under retail here because of the price of imports.

Next we went to an organized game day put on by the boardgame group that our homestay is a part of. We sort of got stuck with a nerdy high schooler, but he wasn't too bad. We played Salmon Run, Wasabi, Ave Caesar, King of Tokyo, Love Letter, One Night Ultimate Werewolf, and then a tournament game of Carcassonne (didn't win, unfortunately).

beautiful tulips
Today we went to the huge park here, Hagley Park, to see sled-dog races (without snow) as part of the opening of IceFest, Christchurch's way of celebrating its part in Antarctic exploration. There were all kinds of dogs, not just Huskies, and people were on bicycles and scooters tied up to the dogs so they could race around a track. The dogs not racing were barking up a storm wanting to be freed. It was cold out today and did rain on us a couple times while we out. We went to the Canterbury Museum for a little bit (it's free so we will be back to see the rest) and enjoyed the tulips and birds in the park. 

After coming back while sitting in the living room, we heard a "cluck" coming from outside.
A lone (wild?) rooster was roaming the streets, and a neighborhood cat was staring at it but then got scared and ran away. While we were getting in the car to pick up Domino's, the rooster came out from a yard and starting walking toward me with a purpose so I jumped in the car before its evil machinations could manifest themselves.
rooster near bottom, gray cat on walkway in the adjacent yard

at the park: different kinds of ducks here
black and white ducklings!
black swan with its gray babies

Winning the Housing Lottery

Has it been a while since I last posted? Yes.
Was it because I didn't want to have negativity about the awful state of housing here in my posts? Yes.

Thankfully, things are looking up since last weekend we won the Christchurch housing lottery! Or, at least it feels like it.

After an unfortunate series of events around one application accepted at an unaffordable place earlier that week which we turned down because I was told we would get to see another place going up for rent before it was listed it online later that week....only to get a text at the end of the week apologizing because the outgoing owners had already promised to rent it to a "close relative" in a "predicament"... after which we were thoroughly depressed and anxious about how long this process was going to drag out.... I started looking up places online again on Friday night and found two places that had showings the following day.

The first was a house on the other side of town where we had been trying to avoid looking at since it's far from the university, and the second was an apartment north of town. We showed up at the house at our scheduled block of time and there were at least six other people milling about, talking to the owners and looking around. [The owners had set up a 90-minute viewing window and emailed everyone a time slot to avoid overcrowding because they said there was a lot of interest. I imagine there were at least 40-50 people at this showing like the others we have been to, they were just more spaced out.] We checked it out and it seemed pretty nice. After going to so many of these showings, I had tried to devise a strategy for marketing ourselves so as to be the best candidates possible. We had spent an hour that morning trying to figure out how to print the application on the university printer network, so I had already filled it out and, as there is no room on the forms to put anything personal, I had written in a short paragraph at the top about how responsible we were and some other nice things.

So after you look at the place, you approach the owners and get your 15-second chance to make a good impression and hand in your application. We introduced ourselves to the guy owner (his spouse was busy talking to someone else) and I expressed how difficult it was for us to find housing in this market. He was sympathetic and said he was sorry that they only had the one place to offer and could only pick one to offer it to. He asked if it would just be us staying there and here I had my chance to talk about our cat. Attempting a sad face, I talked about how he had come all this way and gone through quarantine but was stuck at a cattery until we could find a home. I'd like to think this was what won him over. He lamented that they were only supposed to have one cat too, but his spouse had found two sibling kittens that needed a home and taken them both. We handed in our application and then drove to the next place after stopping at KFC for lunch.

The apartment was small and completely crammed with people. There were probably 30-40 people there looking around and filling out applications. I filled one out, not hopeful of our chances, and then we did our obligatory talk with the owner. He was wasting his breath asking each of the people if they liked the place and if the move-in date suited them, as if any of us would be there if it didn't, and as if he should care if someone didn't like the terms. The fatty stack of applications on the kitchen counter meant that he didn't have to bother with people who needed special requests. At least he took the time to email everyone who didn't get the place the next week.

That evening, I got a text from the lady at the house saying they had chosen us as one of three short-listed applicants and would try to make a decision by the next day. She asked if we would be okay with having to split some utilities with the person that lives in a separate unit on the property and I said we were used to it, having had to do it at our last place. It's not ideal, but we don't have the leverage to be fussy.

The next day, we were meeting with another homestay host to see if we could get out of our current situation (wasn't working and after a month there, tensions were increasing) when I got a text from the lady - they had chosen to offer the house to us!!! I was super excited, D not so much because of the distance from the school, but I said we don't really have a choice and I'm sick of the search so I accepted after we attended a lecture by his professor on some cool historical scrolls at the library.

We met with them early that week and got to meet the two kittens who were adorable - I cradled one in my arms for about 15 minutes while we were talking. We signed a one-year agreement and knew we had to wait three weeks to move in (now two weeks left). Here you put up a bond of 2-4 weeks' rent but it goes into a national trust reserve account to protect tenants. I think you're more likely to get it back at the end of the tenancy unlike the U.S. where landlords love keeping the deposit to pay for cleaning. We'll see how it works out.

So last Tuesday we moved out of our first homestay and are now staying with someone who we might have stayed with originally if I hadn't already confirmed the first place. He's a really laid-back guy with hundreds of board games who has a background in political science and history, so we talk a lot with him about mutual interests. His young kids stay over on weekends and they are pretty adorable (with accents too!). They are mostly absorbed in their iPad games, but the girl likes drawing cats and asking which of two things are your favorite, and the boy occasionally will ask us questions and seem interested in the answers about stuff in the U.S. Most of their info comes from Simpsons and Futurama which I think they are too young to be watching. It scares me that all some people know of the U.S. comes from our mass-distributed television shows and movies.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Buying a Car

Yes, we've only lasted 2 weeks before buying a car. But we bought a car! First one we've bought on our own. Fingers crossed that it turns out okay.
It was one of those butterfly effect things - we went to New World yesterday to pick up milk and I spotted an ad/posting board by the front door and checked it out. There was an ad for a Subaru station wagon for sale from someone who was leaving NZ soon. The price had been crossed out with another price hand-written in and then (negotiable) written next to that. So I smelled some desperation. I thought it wouldn't hurt to look at it, so I texted the number and we set up a time for her to drive it by in the morning. 

I did some research online for tips on buying and made sure it was priced around its Kelley Blue Book value and would suit our needs. Then I had three nightmares about meeting three different weird people selling their car, so woke up feeling like I'd already lived through the ordeal three times. Not so fun. She drove up and we asked questions about its history and test-drove it around the block. New Zealand requires a Warrant of Fitness (WOF) every 6 months for older vehicles so there's less of a chance that it could be a complete mess since it just had its WOF done. I haggled her down a little on the price which made me happy and we were off to the bank to get the cash and then the post office to change the registration. That's right - you just pop into the local post office, fill out 2 simple forms, send one off to the national vehicle licensing office, and the other is processed right there. Luckily I thought to bring my passport with me which they needed for ID. 

New Zealand doesn't require you to buy car insurance since it has a national insurance policy of sorts, but it is recommended that you buy third-party insurance which covers damage to the other person's car if you hit them or in uninsured driver scenarios. After driving the seller out aways back to the farm where she was staying/working(?) and driving to the cattery to check on our cat, we went to the AA office (just two A's here!) and purchased third-party insurance. It was only $137 since the car is pretty old and it's not covering replacement of it. We found out we can use our foreign driver's licenses for a year, so no need to buy a local license as of yet. We bought a membership as well (similar to AAA again) in case the car breaks down and we need some help. Nice to have in a pinch.

D did a good job of driving it all around for the first part of the day. Then I drove it out to an apartment viewing...and while turning right onto a side street from the main road accidentally went into the right lane!! There were a lot of pedestrians on the street corner and lots of traffic, so I was a bit under pressure, as well as a lone pedestrian in the median on the side street, and boy was he surprised to see me going the wrong way! D was raising his voice in exasperation and I hurriedly pulled back into the left lane shortly. Man, with no cars there, it felt so natural. Hopefully I will get the hang of it with practice - it definitely is strange having most of the car to the left of you while you're driving.

Ultimately, we decided to get a car for the reasons cited by other travelers online - New Zealand is really best explored with a car because otherwise you are stuck to buses and trains which restrict your travel to the places you want to go significantly. The Metro bus is limited to the main parts of the city and not super cheap - $2.50 per trip with a Metro card. While gas is around $8/gallon, now we can drive to some of the nearby natural attractions at our own pace and eventually go around the island when the summer comes. Let's hope this Subaru lives up to its brand and lasts.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Random Collection of Photos

I don't have anything positive to report on the housing front, so instead this will be a random collection of food items and things around the city.

Ducklings: these are cute anywhere they are in the world!

We went to a Little Britain store which had food and drinks from the UK and the US. Although they were horribly marked up, it was a fun nostalgic trip with things we saw and/or bought when we lived in the UK. We had been joking about them having Batchelors over here (I got the broccoli cheese flavor which didn't really taste that good but I had it about once a week over there anyway), and there it was in the Little Britain store! It's $4.50 but I will get it once sometime for nostalgia's sake. Tastes and smells have a strong tie to memory.

Cookies are called biscuits like in Britain. We needed something sweet and bought the cheapest pack we could find. Instead of chocolate chip, it's called choc chippie. Cute!

We haven't tried out the Mexican fast-food joint called Pepe's Mexican Grill yet, but we have successfully made refried beans in the crock pot, although it wasn't much cheaper than buying the $4 can. They did taste delicious though, and putting the jalapenos in made them nice and spicy. D has made quesadillas and burritos with them and the yummy cheese here. It's on our list to make tortillas next. Living abroad is no excuse not to enjoy quality Mexican food. :)

The street sign just sounds better than icy.

This "Groovy Glasses" ad made me smile and was unlike anything I've found in the US.

Sunday was a nice, clear, sunny day so we went to the Sunday market at Riccarton Racecourse. It was a mix of food trucks, dealer booths, and garage sales. D tried the New Zealand soda called L&P which is a lemonade-type soda. Then we took the bus to New Brighton Beach which reminded us a lot of Santa Cruz: a pier, lots of people on the beach, kites, and surfers in freezing water. On the way we saw the so-called Container City downtown which is essentially a shopping mall run out of containers since the buildings were destroyed in the earthquake. It's called Re-Start, a fitting name for returning life and commerce.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Great Meeting

I had a great first meeting with my supervisor today. We talked about my proposed project as well as a bunch of other things like life in Christchurch, differences between the British and New Zealand ways of doing things, weather, and some of the political goings-on in the department and university. It turns out it was fortunate that I met with the head of the school yesterday because he's the one who has the final say for funding decisions and other things that one might want to get through red tape. Also, my supervisor is already keeping me in mind for a class he's putting together on science and technology next year, and if I'm lucky, I'll get to guest lecture on my subject area which is going to be part of the reading list. Splendid news.

I also met another professor who came into the office holding a steaming mug with a cat on it, and I immediately asked him if he liked cats and it opened up a fun little conversation about my bringing my cat here and dog/cat people. Overall, I am impressed with the faculty I've met in my department and am going to work to build a good network for now and future needs. It's how the world works, so might as well get with the program.

The cul-de-sac in the neighborhood we're staying in has a brick-paved center where cars can park. It does make sense not to waste that area, doesn't it?

I discovered that there was "hokey pokey" ice cream in the freezer. Apparently it's a uniquely New Zealand flavor consisting of little toffee bits mixed in. I enjoyed the sugary goodness.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Coins and Things

While today was technically the first day of school for us, my professor wasn't available until tomorrow to meet. During D's meeting with his professor, I read a magazine and a book in the humanities student lounge which is quite large and takes up a whole bottom floor of a building, with some microwaves for preparing food and lots of seating and couches. I do miss the casual reading on couches that I did in college.

D's professor has helped us out a lot even before arriving, and he gave him lots of new information on working, timelines, conferences, and expectations for PhD students. We both chose desks in the postgraduate room to call our own - they even have little bookshelves! An academic must have books, and I was unfortunately not able to bring very many of mine since they weight so much. On the horizon is a trip to the used bookstores around here.

We stopped in to see the head of the department and chat. He likes the books I will be writing on for my paper - Frank Herbert's science fiction series Dune - and he remembers the details from them quite well. It was the first academic discussion I'd had on them for a long time, and oh so sweet. I need to re-read them as well as most of the other classics in the genre since I never took a class on them (but would have if I could have). Science fiction and fantasy are only beginning to gain recognition by the community as legitimate genres of literature, and as such classes and research on them remain relatively sparse.

Our homestay host's cat is gradually warming up to us. I took a picture of the different coin and dollar denominations. Apparently they got rid of the 1 and 2 cent coins by 1990 and the 5 cent coin in 2006 because of inflation. Good for me, as I don't have to learn as many new coins! I still don't like the lack of $1 bills though, as the dollar coins are heavy.