Thursday, September 16, 2010

Thank you, America

Americans have a tendency to stand out, sometimes its for good reasons and sometimes bad.  But there seems to be an endless number of things to use for friendly banter.  Afterall, we are a nation of ridiculous lawsuits, selfishness, and Hollywood, but there are a few things that stand out over others to poke fun at.

For example, I can't count the number of times that it's pointed out to me that the World Series of Baseball doesn't actually have many teams from around the world.  "Why is it called the World Series if other countries aren't actually invited?"  Laughing politely I typically point out that somehow Canada was sneeked in.  I act like I haven't heard it fifty times before or even thought of it myself - long before I came overseas.

And a few of the other comments I've heard at least once or twice:
  • "Why is everything so big in the US?  Why do you need five gallon jugs of milk and tubs of popcorn?"
  • "I've seen Cops, I know how things are done in the US"
  • Three words:  American Reality TV.  It just provides endless material.
  • "Oh!  You're from Chicago...that's the one with the governor...what's his name?" "Blagojevich."  "Yeah, that's the one!"  Wonderful.  Halfway around the world and they know my former governor for all the wrong reasons.
Weekend plans:
I'm off to Raglan on Saturday.  A popular surf town on the West Coast just South of Auckland.  In the meantime, the largest storm currently on the planet is sitting in the Tasman sending huge swells and large wind gusts across New Zealand.  The forecast:  50km winds and 18ft waves.  I'm at least hoping for some good photos.

Things to be thankful for:
- The Super Bowl is the Super Bowl and not the World Series of Football.  I'd never hear the end of it.
- Plenty of Americans to back me up
- Being an American.  I may get aggravated with my country, but there's plenty to be happy with too.  For one, I have the freedom to have an opinion and the ability to do something about it.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


I woke up this morning and it was slightly overcast, cool but without too much of a breeze...a perfect day for a 14K run.  Which was a good thing, since I had foolishly registered and paid for said 14K.  Only one problem, I didn't feel up for running and haven't for two months now, so this was going to be a feat.  Whatever, the money had been paid, I would muster through.

I started the run.  There was a lot of walking involved but I was still making it up and down the hills without too much of a problem.  The course was set up in 7K loops, which meant I had to go right by the finish line and force myself to keep running to start off the second lap.  I made it through...lap 2 here I come!  And I had a few people around me that were going at about the same pace.  The last 5 kilometers seemed to last forever, I focused on my opponents.

During the last three kilometers I was regularly trading places with another runner.  I couldn't hold the lead, but neither could she.  That's fine, I was on to her game.  As we approached the final kilometer I had some distance to make up.  I picked up the pace and then slowly, slowly I started to make up some ground.  My enemy was in my sites, I pulled from my reserves to pass her before turning into the stadium for the final lap. With a burst of speed I tore ahead, she wasn't going to be able to catch me now, the devil woman.  I crossed through the finish line and looked back at the dust I had left behind.  I sure showed that 65-year old what was up.  Better luck, next time.

Fourteen kilometers down, next up, a 16-kilometer run in three weeks.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Earthquake Watch

Seismic Activity in NZ:
Last Saturday as millions of Americans were getting ready to start their Labor Day weekend, New Zealand was hit by a 7.1 magnitude earthquake just outside of Christchurch.  Many of my wonderful family and friends sent emails and messages to make sure I was ok (thank you).  But on the North Island we didn't even feel it.

What's incredible is that three days later the area is still feeling the aftershocks.  This morning a 5.3 aftershock shook the area at 7:50am.  At the office we get regular updates because we have a warehouse located just outside the city.  Apparently over 300 aftershocks have occurred since the original quake.  Imagine how that would affect a person.  You wouldn't be able to sleep and you are constantly worried about when the next quake will hit, where you might be and what kind of damage it will do this time.

The media isn't sensationalizing the event, in fact, from what I hear we aren't even hearing about the worst of the damage.  But it has monopolized the newscasts since it occurred and will probably continue for at least the rest of the week.

Even more amazing still is that there haven't been any casualties, as of yet.  (By comparison, a 7.0 earthquake in Haiti killed more than 200,000 in January 2010).  In true Kiwi fashion everyone is really stepping up to help out the people that have suffered from the event.  And in true Jessica fashion, I have to restrain myself from getting in my car and heading to where all the action is taking place.  I had a similar urge after Hurricane Katrina in the United States.  Like then, I'll probably have to settle for reading about everything from a distance.

I started looking into earthquakes in New Zealand and found out that they are quite a common occurrence.  Here are a few of the facts I uncovered:
  • Over three hundred 4.0-4.9 magnitude earthquakes occur each year - that's approximately 1 per day
  • On average a 7.0-7.9 magnitude earthquake occurs once every three years.
  • The last major earthquake was last year in Dusky Sound (7.8).  In 2007 an offshore quake collapsed buildings in the Gisborne down town area (6.8).  The largest earthquake prior to that occurred in 1987.
And cool websites:
Our own warehouse in Christchurch has passed structural engineering inspections of the building and the shelving on the inside, but we made out well.  Below are pictures from a warehouse of food that was heavily damaged by the quake.

A food warehouse near Christchurch.
Another shot of the food warehouse.
 Things to be thankful for:
- A solid foundation in Auckland (or at least one that doesn't shake quite as close to the earth's surface)
- A talent for being just close enough to the action is happening without being in danger
- Never a dull moment in the land of adventure

I received an email today from a co-worker in Christchurch.  Here was her description:

"It has been, and still is, a very nervous time for us all but we are supporting each other and the continuing contact and support is helping keep morale and spirits up as each of us know of someone who has lost everything.

Although it is difficult to put into words I thought I would try and give you some idea what it was like. If you do any boating/ sailing at all it was like being at sea in a 60 knot gale in a 10 metre yacht being tossed around but we were in a house that was moving like that with the walls moving in and out!! The noise was incredible! Very very scary!"

This mornings paper has the following statistics:
  • There have been 355 aftershocks since Saturday.
  • The 5.1 one at 7:49am yesterday was only 6 kilometres deep and situated between the Lyttelton Road Tunnel and Hillsborough - practically underneath our warehouse!!
  • Saturday - 39 minutes of tremors - 5 above 5.0 magnitude and 20 between 4.0 and 5.0; Sunday - 49 minutes; Monday - 40 min; Tuesday- 21 min.; Wednesday - 20 min; Thursday - already 7 shakes today (at 9:20am) with 3 between 4 & 5 magnitude

Monday, September 6, 2010

Tonga Photos are In!

Beaches, whale watching, bike rides, bars, even a trip to church, it's all here. I have finally put together some of the photos from our trip.  Click on the album to see a slideshow of the images (double-click to open it in a larger window).

These photos are compiled from the cameras of everyone on the trip.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Tonga Part 3: Getting Home

The rest of Sunday was relatively uneventful.  We had a nice dinner on Sunday night and then woke up on Monday morning to take a bike ride to the blow holes.  The blow holes occur on several of the islands in the South Pacific where water shoots up through holes in the cliffs as the waves come crashing against them.  If the tides are right and the waves are big it can look like a small geyser.  

Janine and Amanda enjoying a slush
The five us used old school bikes (the kind that don't even have hand brakes) to ride 45 minutes to the blow holes ala a new age Von Trapp family.  We traversed the Tongan roads avoiding pot holes, chickens, pigs, dogs and people.  Finally, we arrived at the blow holes which were cool but the ride itself was easily the most fun.  We stopped along the way back at a roadside shop for what we had hoped was a fruit slush, what we got wasn't really what we were expecting but at least it was cold and refreshing.

Like the rest of my experiences over the last few months, we met people everywhere in Tonga.  We became friends with our host, Sven from Germany, and his wife, Calolina from Tonga.  We met Calolina's brothers who worked on the property during the day.  We got to know the other people staying at the lodge too - a family from New Zealand, two German backpackers, and a Canadian woman who sailed up from New Zealand among others.  So it's not really a surprise that we met a few Tongan guys too - Toni and Teveta.

Teveta showing us how to climb a palm
On Monday afternoon, after cleaning up and packing up our things, we went back to Bill Fish to kill some time before our flight left (it was an 11:40p flight so we had plenty of time).  Teveta came to meet us.  After a bit of time he said he needed to go to the airport and he could take one person with him...I was the lucky nominee.

We made a few stops along the way before arriving at his family's house.  As it turned out it was two of his relatives that were flying out so the entire family was going to the airport to say farewell.  He introduced me to about 8 kids (all under the age of 17), and a few of them followed me around a bit.  Teveta explained that they hadn't really interacted with a palangi (white person) before.

Teveta and I along with his nana and aunt got into an SUV and followed a pick up truck packed with the rest of his relatives, the kids were all sitting in the back loudly chattering as we pulled out.  After about five minutes (driving at 40kph the whole way), we started to hear synchronized yelling from the back of the truck - the kids were singing at the top of their lungs.  What were they singing?  None other than Justin Bieber.

We got to the airport and a few of the kids rushed up to my door to greet me.  Then the cameras came out and they wanted pictures and to ask me questions: "How are you?" "How did you like Tonga?" "How did you meet Teveta?"  "Where are you from?" "When are you coming back?"

Just proves what I already knew, people are the same the world around, and most of them are pretty wonderful.  Maybe I will go back to Tonga...afterall, I was invited for Christmas.