Thoughts of a geek

12 May 2013

Visiting home

Filed under: Travel — Tags: , , , , — qwandor @ 3:02 am

Back in London! (Well okay, I got back almost a week ago now, but I started writing this post on the flight from Sydney to Dubai.) That was an eventful visit back to Wellington: rain, sun, an indoor picnic, dancing, a couple of walks, various dinners, chats and catch-ups, playing in a playground in the middle of the night, star-gazing, painting a horse-jump to look like a sailboat, several attempts at geocaching with mixed success, and wandering around Sydney.

Before you get bored with the wall of text, here are some photos (or on Facebook if you prefer). Follow along if you like.

I spent just under 3 weeks in NZ, so a bit over 3 weeks away from London. My flight out, rather depressingly, left London on Sunday night to arrive in Wellington on Tuesday afternoon. I did not visit Auckland this time around, as I did not have quite so many people up there to see any more, so my only trip outside of Wellington was a day in and around Palmerston North. I went up with my mum to have lunch with my grandparents, one of my cousins and an aunt in Feilding, and saw the house my grandparents recently moved into in a retirement village there. They seem to be settling in well, though it is a bit smaller than their old house. I then spent some time with my friends Daniel and Sharon, whose wedding I went back for last year. Daniel has spent the last few months working as a grounds keeper at an equestrian centre just out of Palmerston North, and I ended up helping him with a few things he wanted to get finished before going home. In particular, he was repainting the stands for a horse jump to look like a sailing boat on the sea, so I painted part of that. I then headed to a family dinner with a different set of cousins and aunt, and my grandparents again. My cousin Lisa, who works as a chef, made us a very tasty dinner. I was then back down to Wellington first thing the next morning and back to work.

On Friday night some friends who blog together on common topics from time to time had organised a dinner to get together and chat, so as I was conveniently in town I was able to join them. I think there were about 14 of us who made it to the dinner, including a few hangers-on, and we had some good conversations over Chinese food at Cha. After dinner some of us went for hot chocolate and coffee somewhere else, and then I continued on to my friend Emma’s birthday party. She lives in a bit of a hippy flat in Mount Vic full of vegetarians and green activists, which suits her rather well. As well as a couple of other friends, there also happened to be a guy there with whom I had been friends in primary school, and probably not seen since, so we caught up a bit and he told me about his radio play. Wellington is full of connections like that!

On Saturday I had hoped to go for a walk, but the weather was not at all up for it, so instead a few friends came over to play card games and catch up, and then we made pizza together for dinner. I went back to my old church, The Street City Church, on Sunday morning, but did not see many people I knew there any more. Afterwards I had planned to have a picnic at Freyberg Beach to catch up with lots of people, but again it was raining so we had an indoor picnic at my parents’ house instead. Though not quite as good as the beach I think we did a decent job, with picnic rugs out on the carpet and even a stone turtle. It was good to catch up with everyone all the same, though as always at big gatherings it was hard to have many long conversations with people coming and going all the time.

Monday night I caught up with some friends from Memphis (the old compsci graduate lab at Victoria University) and Innaworks for pizza, Tuesday was dinner with the Hornblows (aunt/uncle/cousins on my mum’s side of the family), and Wednesday dinner with my old flatmate Richard and his wife Sarah. It was great to catch up with Richard about what he has been up to, and his plans to perhaps start a small local brewery with some friends following his recent success with a home brewed beer of his winning an NZ-wide competition.

Thursday was ANZAC day, so I took a day’s leave from work and got some friends together for a walk. 4 people came in the end: Cat, Gael, Jill and my brother Tim. We started at Aro Park, in Aro Valley, and walked up through Polhill Reserve to the Brooklyn wind turbine. From there we continued along the fenceline of the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary (aka. Zealandia) for a little, before continuing off along the ridgeline to Red Rocks, then back along the coastline past Owhiro Bay to Island Bay, from where we caught a bus home (except Cat, who decided to walk the whole way). I made a map of our route, or as near as I could get it. We stopped to look for a couple of geocaches along the way, though only found one of them. The weather started out rather rainy, for the first couple of hours, but cleared up beautifully in the afternoon. Cat managed the first hour or two of the walk (uphill, on gravel and mud) without shoes, but eventually gave up and put his shoes on.

NZ visit 2013: A curious sign along the way to Red Rocks

Thursday evening was dinner with some of the Walbran side of the family.

Friday night I went out for some swing dancing to see how the Wellington scene was doing, though sadly was not able to convince any friends to join me. It was pretty small, only about 10–20 people I think. After a couple of hours of swing they had a woman named Elizabeth Wise who was over from the US to sing and play some blues for us to dance to. By this point there were only about 10 people and not many dancing, but it was good music, and I had a few nice dances before I headed home.

My second Saturday in Wellington had much nicer weather than the previous one. We started the day with brunch at a local café to celebrate my dad’s birthday. My little brother Mark was down from Auckland for a few days as well, so it was cool to have all 5 of us together in the same place. After that, my friend Michael organised a walk at Otari-Wilton’s Bush, and I invited some more friends to join us. There were 8 of us in the end, which was an excellent number: me, Michael, Melissa, Isabel, Matthew Kiernan, Enoch, Josh Baker and Polly. This was a much shorter and easier walk than the previous one, and the weather was great all day. We took a few silly photos at the end, and after a little car trouble all headed our different ways.

I went to the Makertorium exhibition at Te Papa, a one-day showcase of all sorts of creations from people, clubs and companies around NZ. It was pretty cool. There were a lot of 3D printers and quadcopters, but all sorts of other things as well. I took a few photos, though they do not really do it justice.

After that I went to a friend’s house-cooling party in Mount Victoria, then Richard’s beer launch party. The prize for the homebrew competition he won was to have a brewery in Auckland make a batch of his beer, and so he organised a bit of a celebration at the Kelburn Village Pub, which had it on tap. Most of the people I knew had unfortunately gone by the time I arrived, but I did see a few on their ways home as I made my way up, and also got to see a couple of people I knew still there. I then got a last-minute invite to another friend’s flatwarming party up in the far reaches of Brooklyn, so walked all the way there to hang around for a bit, then all the way back home to Hataitai.

Sunday morning I visited the local Elim church where a number of my friends go, then caught up with a few friends in the afternoon, walking around the waterfront and then meeting some others in the Botanic Gardens. Emily, Beth and Teresa were all in Wellington for a few days, in a happy coincidence, so I was able to catch up with them to varying degrees.

The next Monday night I was invited to a party which was partly to celebrate my friend Josh Thompson getting back to Wellington, so it was good to catch up with him and my other friend Daniel. Tuesday night was dinner at the Greenhaus flat in Newtown with Peter and Elaine. Peter, being his usual self, had ended up double-booking himself so was not able to join us for dinner after all, but I made some dessert for us to share when he got back a bit later in the evening and before he had to go out again. And I had a great long chat with Elaine, catching up on and discussing all sorts of things. Peter, Elaine and I (plus a bunch of others) all used to flat together in 2008, my last year of university, and Peter and I were also friends from college.

Wednesday night I was able to join in a regular ribs night that some of the ex-Memphis crowd have, trying out different restaurants around the place. This time was Uncle Mike’s Kansas City BBQ in Petone, which was good. Thursday night I was originally planning to do some night geocaching with a few friends, but it was all a bit disorganised and then it ended up raining so we decided not to go after all. My friend Jill dragged me along to a ballroom dance class instead, which was interesting.

Friday afternoon I went to the Xero drinks for a bit to catch up with Will and Donald. Will was a colleague of mine at Google London, who recently moved back to Wellington with his wife and young kids after having lived in London for many years. He seems to be enjoying being back. Afterwards I was catching up with Talitha, as I had not yet seen her by that point. As we were looking for somewhere to eat we happened to run into my friend Tim Best, so he joined us for dinner at a nice Korean Barbecue place. That certainly does happen a lot more in Wellington than it does in London! Even in the less than three weeks I was back, there were at least 6 times I randomly bumped into people I knew around town.

On Saturday I had a wander around my old university, VUW, to see what had changed. They have built a new building where the quad used to be, with several levels of space with seats, desks, shops and so on connecting to the library. It all feels rather different to how it used to. I met up with Felix and Tim for lunch in town; Felix had been back in China for a while so I had not been able to see him earlier. I then met up with Emma for a bit.

On Saturday night I dragged a bunch of my friends along to a contra dance, which was good fun in the end despite a few problems. There has been a monthly contra in Wellington for about 10 years, with a band called Chilli Jam. I had only been a couple of times, years ago, but wanted to see what it was like compared to London, and to dance with as many of my friends as possible, so invited a bunch to go with me. The numbers had always been fairly small, but little did I know it had been declining recently, and they were planning to stop this year after the April dance (i.e. just before I got back). Fortunately they got an excellent turnout in April, and a friend of mine happened to be there and told them that they should keep on going at least a bit longer as I was organising a group to come to the next dance, so they decided to keep running them for the time being. Anyway, so I had about 10 friends or maybe even a couple more who came along, which was great. There were only about 30 people dancing in total I think, so I knew almost half the people there. However, we turned up on the night, and the band and caller were there, but the church hall where we were supposed to be dancing was locked and we could not get in. Apparently it was also full of junk for some reason. Fortunately it was a nice calm mild night, and we were able to get some power for the band and caller, so after sorting ourselves out we formed up in a longways set on the footpath outside and had our dance there, to the bemusement of all the passersby walking and driving through Kelburn village that night. The combination of uneven footpath, background noise, about 3/4 of the people never having done any contra before and people walking through made for a rather chaotic few dances, but they were good fun nonetheless, and quite a unique experience. We even managed to get a few passersby to join in which was cool. Perhaps this is something to do more often! I have danced Lindy Hop and blues outside a few times in London last summer, but not contra before. Oh, someone took some photos of us dancing. And one of my friends says we were mentioned in the local newspaper, though I have yet to see this.

Afterwards Polly had the excellent idea of organising a bunch of us to hang out for a while, so we headed down to Freyberg Beach in various cars to play on the climbing frame there for a bit and watch the stars, before heading to Enigma for some late night coffee and gelato. All in all, an excellent last night out in Wellington!

Sunday I went to church in the morning, then joined some people for lunch from the Chaffers market in Waitangi Park, then throwing a frisbee around for a bit. Great weather again. I then headed home to pack and get an early night, before getting up at 4:00 am on Monday to get to the airport and catch my flight out. By this point it had started to rain quite heavily, and apparently there was quite a bit of flooding in town on Monday, along with thunder, lightening and even an earthquake. It seems I got out just in time!

I spent the better part of Monday in Sydney, as I had a stopover there from 8:10 am until 4:05 pm. I had a walk around Centennial Park, as I had not been there before, then went for lunch at Google to catch up with Arya (a friend from university) and stretch (who used to be on my team at Google London). It was good to see them both, though I lost track of time a bit and ended up leaving at about 2:30 pm, only just in time to get to the airport and catch my flight. I had not meant to cut things quite so close. Anyway, the rest of the journey home was fairly uneventful, some minor delays due to mechanical problems and air traffic control meant I arrived in London about an hour late, but otherwise everything was fine and I managed to nap a bit on the flights. I arrived in London around 7:30 am, headed to work, and did a fairly decent job of staying awake all day. And now here I am!

Starting this Monday I am going to try blogging every day for a week, as something I am trying with some blogging friends. I may find this a struggle.

Advertisements

5 May 2012

Visiting New Zealand (and being back in London)

Filed under: Me, Photos, Travel — Tags: , , , , , — qwandor @ 10:03 am

I have just returned to London after a month-long visit back home to New Zealand (well, okay, I am actually writing this from the aeroplane between Sydney and Singapore, but I will be in London by the time I post it). It was great to be back home! It was a pretty full-on month, as I was working from home for most of the time I was back then spending as many nights and weekends as possible catching up with friends and family and generally trying to make the most of being back in NZ. I did also take a few days off, as well as the two public holidays for Easter.

Arriving in Wellington on the afternoon of Friday 23rd March, I flew up to Auckland first thing on Saturday morning, where I stayed a couple of nights with my little brother Mark who has just started studying engineering at the University of Auckland. I slept on the floor of his room in one of the student hostels, so was surrounded by 18-year-olds. As well as Mark I was able to catch up with one of my cousins and 4 different friends who are currently living there, and also made it to the Saturday night of the New Zealand Swing Dance Exchange, which so happened to be on that weekend in Auckland.

NZ visit 2012: With my cousin Philip and brother Mark up in Auckland

Back in Wellington, I had a picnic at Freyberg beach (repeating the procedure from last time I was visiting Wellington), a barbecue, a board games afternoon (interrupted by a bit of sailing on the harbour), a walk on Easter Monday (the City to Sea walkway, which goes from Parliament to Island Bay via a series of parks, punctuated only briefly by sections on the road), and dinner with various friends. I ended up eating quite a few times at various Malaysian restaurants in town, of which it turns out Wellington has quite a selection, more than I had realised. Indian curry houses came a close second. I went night geocaching with some friends, which I had not tried before and was fun (we found 2 of the 3 caches we were looking for), and did some normal geocaching another day as well. I made it to Speakeasy (Wellington’s weekly and only swing dance social) 3 times, though only managed to get friends to join me for the last one of those times. I also went up to Palmerston North for a night to catch up with various family and family friends up there. Just wandering around the Wellington waterfront and central city was also good when the weather was nice. But the main highlight, of course, was to see all my friends and family whom I had not seen for a year or more.

One of my main reasons for visiting at that time of year was to attend the wedding of my friends Daniel Wilkes and Sharon McGowan. Daniel I knew from college, since my first year at Rongotai in 2001, and Sharon I knew from university a fair few years later. Both the wedding and the reception were well suited to Daniel and Sharon, as they are suited to each other.

I also had the opportunity to catch up with some of my friends and old colleagues, and my old boss, from Innaworks, the company I worked at until I left Wellington in 2010 to come over here. Innaworks has now (as of the end of April) closed down, which is a funny feeling — it rules out that option for returning to Wellington! (Correction: Innaworks has not closed down, but my old colleagues have left and it is nonetheless no longer an option if I were to return to Wellington.) It was interesting to have a bit of a wander around VUW too, and see how things have changed; both with all the new building work that has happened since I left, and with the new Engineering degree resulting in a lot of restructuring of what was the school of Mathematics and Computer Science. Sadly a lot of the student culture and community there has died, particularly that which used to be focussed around Memphis (the honours comp-sci lab) and Interface (the computer club). Hmm, that might be a good connection for the next blog post I am writing, about community…

Anyway, it is now over a week and a half since I started writing this, so I should probably get on with posting it. It seems like a different world over here, so far away from New Zealand. I do miss home a lot still, and I still need to work out what to do next year in that regard. The weather having been so cold and rainy here since I have been back has not enamoured me of London.

Oh, last weekend was fairly fun though, if rather exhausting: I went to blues dancing workshops (taught by Annette Kühnle, visiting from Germany) both afternoons, then socials both nights as well: Down Home Blues (with live music from Dan Nash) on the Saturday night, and Book Club Blues on the Sunday. Okay, I should not write sentences with more than one colon. This weekend I am going to the Saturday night of London Lindy Exchange, where there will apparently be a band battle between the Shirt Tail Stompers (from the UK) and Gentlemen & Gangsters (from Sweden). I decided against going to all the rest of the exchange as I have been too busy lately, and need some time to catch up on other things. Like blogging. And fixing my bike, planning my trip to the US and Canada in June (I have booked the international flights at last! I still need to sort out planes, trains and busses within North America though, as well as accomodation and such), perhaps finding a dentist, emailing various people, hopefully buying some shoes, and probably a bunch of other stuff I need to do that I cannot think of right now.

In the meantime, you can look at my photos from New Zealand (and one from Sydney) if you want. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention Sydney. I had about 8 hours in Sydney between flights on my way back to London (much like last time I made the same trip), so was about to go into the city and wander for a bit, then have lunch at Google with a couple of friends who work there now (a friend from Wellington, and one of my colleagues from London who transferred over there a bit over a year ago). Unfortunately it was raining pretty much the whole time I was there, but I nonetheless managed to walk through some of the city and the botanic gardens and make it out to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair.

That will do for now I think. Now to see whether I can manage to write anything about community.

6 February 2012

New Zealand here I come!

Filed under: Me, Travel — Tags: , , — qwandor @ 4:46 am

Hello dear readers! Those of you living in NZ may be happy (or perhaps unhappy?) to know that I am planning a visit back home in just under two months. I fly into Wellington on Friday 23rd March, and back out again on the morning of Monday 23rd April. I will be working from home for a fair bit of that time, but should be fairly flexible and certainly free most evenings and weekends as well as taking some leave, and also hope to visit at least Palmerston North and Auckland (and perhaps also Christchurch if anyone down there wants to see me) at some point.

So, who is keen to catch up, hang out, tramp / dance / bake / picnic / dine / converse? Is anyone keen for a weekend camping trip or anything like that?

While I am at it, seeing as I have not written anything here for a while, some things I have been up to lately (in no particular order) are:

  • Going to the Saturday night of TUX 5 in Toronto (great band, some great dancers, and great fun).
  • Going ice-skating for the first time in something like 20 years, also in Toronto (I was not very successful, predictably).
  • Learning the basics of Balboa dancing.
  • Sliding down a snow-covered hillside on inflated tubes in Kitchener with some Googlers.
  • Catching up with Teresa in Toronto, and Charlotte in London while she was visiting on her European tour.
  • Breaking one spoke on the drive side of my bike’s rear wheel, then breaking another while trying to fix it. (It is now sitting in a garage at Imperial College, I need to find time to go and fix it now that I hopefully have all the tools I need.)

Blog at WordPress.com.