29 October 2008

The Asian Store

When we were moving off to New Zealand, one of our primary concerns was food. Will we still have rice on our table, or change our diet to breads and potatoes? How about our bagoong and toyo and suka? Banana ketchup? A Filipino home, no matter where it is, won't be the same without these.

So imagine our delight at knowing that a couple of Asian stores are near us. "Asian Store" is an all-encompassing term for these shops that sell food items that are, um, Asian. For the stores we have here, one is owned by Chinese, and the other from India or thereabouts. The latter store understandably sells an abundance of spices as well. And a couple of racks for Filipino goodies!

Of course, these are now imported goods and so we buy these at a premium. A small can of sardines in tomato sauce, for example, costs $0.90. That's approximately P30.00. A bowl of instant noodles sell for $2.10, or about P68.00. Yep, imagine us mentally converting from New Zealand dollars to Philippine Pesos and imagine the faces we make. But still, there's nothing like a good can of sardines from our country after you have tasted their sardines here. Not that their sardines taste bad; think Century tuna in oil with no tuna taste; even a sprinkling of salt does not make a difference. It might be the type used in sandwiches? I wonder if there is a preparation to be made first with it, or perhaps we are just accustomed to strong flavors? But I digress.

Aside from the bagoong, toyo, suka (their vinegar here tastes different as well), they also have our potato chips and sweets on stock! And where the Filipino food are, the Filipinos are there. We have actually met a couple of Filipino families in the area so far and we end up chatting about life in general while the kids stay in the play area outside.

Thank goodness for life's simple pleasures. Now what I want to see is such a shop being run by a Filipino! Now there's an idea!

23 October 2008

How fast they grow!

Jo-Lo is attending Kindy starting 3rd November!

Kindy, or Kindergarten, is the stepping stone to formal education here in New Zealand. Going to school is mandatory for kids aged 5 and above. Education here til Year 8 (that's high school for us) is free in government-subsidized institutions, though there may be some donations that may be asked for school upkeep. Everything else is provided for. In Jo-Lo's case, all we did was bring along his passport for his "enrollment". Kids aged 3 can start schooling, so they are better equipped with social skills and get acquainted with a classroom atmosphere. Wonderful, isn't it?

He is slowly but surely gaining ground in graduating from his baby talk to phrases we readily understand. A couple of days back we were at Countdown and stocking up on biscuits. We have chosen a few packets when Jo-Lo suddenly blurted out, "Cookie Bear please!" It's a brand which even my wife and I love; the Hundreds and Thousands cookies remind us of Jack n' Jill Pretzels. So Cookie Bear went home with us. For cookies, juice, cereals... Jo-Lo's getting preferences and at the same time he now eats whatever we serve on the table; it was a challenge before in Baguio.

Jo-Lo's really adapting quite well here in New Zealand. And he's growing even faster.

20 October 2008

The Parliament, Civic Center and Te Papa Museum in Wellington

On the day we visited the Botanic Gardens, we also went to a couple more places at Wellington. Yup, it was a busy day for us as we maximized on the weather's sunny disposition.

Our first stop is the Parliamentary Building, an impressive structure that features a neo-classical architecture. Right beside it is the Beehive, so named because of its shape. It is the executive wing of the parliamentary complex. As such the place is abuzz with news and views; a fitting name the Beehive is indeed.

After the botanic Gardens, we made our way to the Civic Center. The central library is located here. I've heard that the library houses an extensive collection of books and multimedia. I would like to see this for myself one of these days.
Finally, we made our way to the Te Papa Musesum which is right across the Civic Center. This is our second time to the Museum, actually. But the photos were accidentally deleted, so I was not able to post about our previous trip.

Entrance to the Te Papa is free. There are some areas where you need to pay, but the majority of the sections are open to the public. It's not just a place with dioramas, bones and artifacts. There's a lot of interactivity in the museum. Kids will definitely have a lot of fun there. In fact, we found it difficult to make Jo-Lo leave the museum.

Te Papa currently features Our Space, a multimedia section where visitors learn about New Zealand and its people in a visually engaging way. We visited The Map, where a satellite photo of New Zealand is on the floor. Stepping on particular sections will invoke video clips and photos about that place.
The Wall, on the other hand, is a digital graffiti wall of sorts. You can place photos, videos, words on it. Nearby are kiosks with video cameras where you can have your 2 minutes of fame, so to speak. Then this file is uploaded to the wall. Using remote control wands, you can move the images about, resize, write on the wall, even duplicate your images. Cool stuff.

16 October 2008

Hot n' Cold in Camiguin Island

I would like to go back, for a blog post, to that wonderful island of Camiguin and its equally wonderful water attractions which we visited last March.

We took a dip in a hot spring, and then in a cold spring. Though the temperatures varied widely, the fun was all the same.

In our first night in the island, we immediately planned for a night out, and so right after hauling our packs into our resort cottages, we made our way to the van which brought us to Ardent Hot Springs.

I will always remember that time because it was the night of the Earth Hour initiative where the world was turning off their lights for one hour. We had a lone lightbulb for the entire party in the open hut turned on and we no longer asked for additional light.

Soon enough we were taking dips in the pool overflowing with warm, relaxing water. It was wonderful, just submerging yourself neck-deep in the water and thinking of nothing else but the fun you're having with friends.

In our day trip, we dropped by another of Camiguin's water attraction:  the Sto Nino Cold Water Spring.  We were literally just going to take a peep, take photos from outside, then move on.  But the entrance fee was so cheap we decided to enter and have our photos taken from inside.  But hey... the water looked so inviting, so... why not spare a few minutes and take a real quick dip?  So dip we did.  And they weren't kidding when they said cold springs!  You eventually become accustomed (numbed?) with the cold but wading out of the water made it even colder!  So stay in the pool we did, for about half an hour or so.

*sigh*  Those were the days.

[photos by friends Yoyo and Dave]

14 October 2008

Rubbish collection, New Zealand style

One of the first things we learned about living in New Zealand is their rubbish collection. Rubbish is more commonly known in our country as garbage. So if you're having a conversation and you hear them declare that what you're saying is a load of rubbish, it's not a compliment. Bwahuhuhu!

For an orderly rubbish collection, you need two things: a council bag and a kiwi bin. Council bags are huge, yellow plastic bags where you place your non-recyclables in. It costs around $9.00 for 5 pieces, and can be bought at grocery stores (ask for it at the counter). You are allowed to load up to 15kg per bag. More guidelines are printed on the bag itself.

Next is the kiwi bin. If you're renting a flat, your landlord should give you one. But if it's not available, you can buy this for $10 at the Library. It's a green, plastic container into which you place your recyclables such as paper and bottles (plastic and glass).

There is a schedule for rubbish collection; you need to ask about this from your landlord, neighbor, or from information centers such as the library. In our case, it's on Mondays at around 8:30AM. We bring out our rubbish after 5:30PM on Sunday. The collection team for general rubbish collection is different from the recyclables team.
For houses that generate a lot of rubbish, you need a bigger bin. This type is collected on Tuesdays in our area.

I believe that this method of rubbish segregation works because you have a visual of where to put your recyclables and non-recyclables. And since collection is once a week, people are motivated to dispose properly of their refuse or else they'd have a smelly kitchen or backyard.

Supporting the rubbish collection scheme are campaigns to make your own compost out of biodegradable stuff from the kitchen. Some gardening stores even offer tutorials and you can buy your supplies from them to start and sustain a worm farm of a compost heap.

The council bag and kiwi bin concept may not work in our country, but we can still follow a similar theme in garbage segregation and actively support backyard composting.

Oct 16 update: I learned that you do not need to buy a kiwi bin for your recyclables. A clear plastic bag will do, and they will collect it. I haven't seen a lot of transparent plastic bags, though. I wonder if the more popular white ones will do.

09 October 2008

Melamine scare

The first time I heard of the melamine scandal involving milk from China, I turned a quizzical eye to my wife and asked, "isn't it melamine is used for plastic tableware? What's it doing in milk?" The tableware came to mind immediately because we have some melaware (a tag used for such products) back in Baguio. Learning that some milk products were tainted with melamine and have made babies ill was disconcerting. An even higher cause for concern is that Sanlu - which manufactured the powdered milk products - is partly owned by a New Zea;and company. It is alarming because New Zealand has strict policies about having the natural ecosystem here disrupted by rogue organisms such as stray seeds, insects in wooden products, or animals and animal products. But, although this melamine scare happened outside New Zealand shores, its partnership with Sanlu certainly hit the country in general as well. And many here are concerned about the effects of such news.

Melamine was being added to the milk to artificially boost the product's protein level. In my research, I learned that Melamine in a small dose is relatively harmless. But ingested for extended periods of time can render it toxic, and the babies have been fed on this for 3 - 6 months.

More importantly, the innocents who are affected by this are unimaginable.

Book Heaven

One thing I admire about New Zealand is their literacy drive. Suburbs in and around Wellington have Libraries. The Library we go to is at Johnsonville. They have quite a collection of books and magazines. I like lounging about and reading Popular Science and Time Magazine. As for the books... you can borrow as many as you like and these stay with you for a month! Whoa. You can also borrow back-issues of magazines for a week. They also have DVDs that you can rent. It's $0.50 for kid's and young adult's, and $2.00 for other DVDs. And they're not your documentaries either. You can rent popular movies and Disney cartoons.

There are also internet terminals where you can browse for half an hour for free. The sites are restricted to government and library resources though. But you can also check the job website Seek.

So how do you avail of the Library Services? Simple. Approach their friendly librarian and ask for a library card. They will require you to fill-up a form, 2 valid IDs (we used our passport and driver's license), and proof of billing (we used our tenancy agreement form). And voila! You get your library card. Only it's not the library card we are accustomed to, where we write down the names of the books we borrow. It's a sort of ID card with a magnetic stripe and barcode at the back. See the cards above? Even Jo-Lo has one!

The library is kid-friendly, with bean bags, an assortment of beginner's books, and some toys. And they have book reading sessions every Tuesdays at 10:30AM.

They have a machine that you can use to check out the books yourself. Simply align the bar code scanner with your ID and scan the books out. Really nice.

We make it a point to drop by the Library whenever we are in town. We have borrowed an assortment of comic books, fiction, New Zealand information, cookbooks... you name it!

You can also return the books in another library. There is a charge for the transfer , however.

Friendly staff, nice collection of books, cozy atmosphere. You can truly get immersed in the world of books.

I heard that the Wellington City Library is an even more amazing sight, where you can listen to music and watch movies in the library itself. Hope we can check it out soon as well.

06 October 2008

The Wellington Botanic Garden

A bright Wednesday morning saw us walking along the Wellington City thoroughfares, our casual get-up a stark contrast from the dark coats of suits of the office workers bustling about. We were on our way to the Botanic Gardens to see the blooming tulips as it signals the end of winter.

The Wellington Botanic Garden features 25 hectares of unique landscape, protected native forest, conifers, specialised plant collections, colourful floral displays, and views over Wellington city.

It is classified as a Garden of National Significance by the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture and is an Historic Places Trust Heritage Area.

A 5-minute cable car ride goes up the Botanic Garden

Cable car tracks on the foreground, with a majestic view of Wellington beyond.

We visited a souvenir shop /museum nearby which showcased a cable car over a hundred years old!

Lots of people were up and about as it was the 2-week break from school.

Sure, I have seen tulips back in Manila, but they were always in small bunches or in flower arrangements in shops. The tulips in the Botanic Garden was amazing! Delicate colors of yellows and reds and even two-toned ones!

A short while later we were taking a leisurely walk to a path through lush vegetation with trees and flowers.

A pond was soon sighted to our right, with ducks swimming lazily about. We loitered for a bit, and enjoyed seeing other birds taking a bath in the flowing stream nearby.

The kids squealed with delight at the next bend. Jo-Lo did too as he saw the huge playground spread before us.

We had an awesome time at the Botanic Garden. I would like to come back again and see its other attractions such as the Planetarium and collection of cacti. Many thanks to Debbie and sons Diego and Miguel for the wonderful trip!

More photos at the Kaleidoscope World.

03 October 2008

Seton Nossiter Park

We were busy doing our laundry and cleaning up last Sunday morning when we heard a tap on the door. Bill and his wonderful daughter was outside! They were an hour early, we thought. They have invited us for lunch and were to fetch us by 12 noon.

When we remarked that they were early, we were reminded that it's DST on that day, and that we were to adjust our watches one hour in advance! We forgot! DST, or Daylight Savings Time, will last til April next year.

So we dropped everything we were doing and got dressed up in a jiffy. A quick drive later, we were introduced to the happy family and had a wonderful lunch. Their place boasts of a wonderful view of the open spaces and hills yonder. It turned out that just across their street is a nature preserve and nature walk! We simply have to see it.

So that afternoon, we crossed the street found ourselves in a wonderful stroll.

We didn't see Hobbits nor Elves wandering about though, but there were a couple of joggers about. It's a manageable 30-minute walk from our place to this park; we may go have a visit again one of these days.

[view other photos at the Kaleidoscope World]

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