Saturday, April 30, 2005

Oh, deer!

I walked into a party recently where I hardly knew anyone. A man by the door said hello, so I asked him how he knew the couple whose party it was. He said he worked with the guy. Oh, I said, it's her I know, I don't really know him - where do you work?

The Dairy Industry, he said. Oh, I said, coyly, I'm dairy-free!

No, he said. Deer Industry. Then he made antlers! I blushed.

You're not deer-free, I suppose? he said.

No, no, I said, trying to recover, in fact, I said, I had venison chippolatas only last week. I didn't talk to him again, in fact, I didn't even deer look in case he made antlers again...

This isn't flying kiwi, btw, this is her sister (the editter) , doing a guest post!

Thursday, April 28, 2005

I love Colombia, but...

I love Colombia, I really do, but I don’t want to live here anymore.

I love the tropical climate, but I could do without the mosquitoes and cockroaches.

I love that the people are friendly and interested in foreigners, but I could do without random comments on the street (today someone just said: “Mrs!” (yes, in English). What the…?).

I love that taxis are so cheap you can take them anywhere, but I could do without the taxi driver conversation, which starts with “Where are you from?” (and then they’ve never heard of New Zealand anyway), goes via “Are you married?” and often ends with “Would you like to go salsa dancing tonight?”.

I love that I can go swimming at lunch time at work for free, but I could do without the sunburn.

I love that the gym at work is free too, but safer equipment would be nice and I could do without the cleavage poster of Pamela Anderson on the wall (I think it’s supposed to be inspirational).

I love that I can look out my office window here and see tropical birds and flowers and lizards and lots of green, but I could do without the half hour plus commute from Cali.

I love the work I get to do here and (mostly) the people I get to work with, but I could really, really do without the work day starting at 7.30am.

I love the cheap rent and quaint houses, but I could do without leaking roofs, windows that don’t close and cold showers.

I love that I’m actually living between two cordilleras of the Andes, but it’s such a shame that it’s too dangerous to go most places in the mountains.

I love the diversity of this country, both natural and cultural, but again there are so many places that it’s difficult to go to, mostly because of the political situation.

I love the fresh tropical fruit juices, but I could do without the arepas and bandeja paisa and just about all Colombian food (I’m sorry, but it really does suck).

I love Aterciopelados and Juanes and other Colombian musicians I’ve discovered since living here, but I could do without vallenatos (think accordions).

I love my friends here. I couldn’t do without them.


Sunday, April 24, 2005

Would you pay US$15 for a can of Guinness?

This afternoon we had a charity auction for the British community in Cali - that is, the Brits were bidding, the proceeds were going to charity. A couple of friends of mine here work with a charity called Forming Futures Foundation, providing homes (and more) for former street children. I'd put a link but their webpage is down at the moment. But they do excellent work - if anyone knows how I can set something up to collect donations for them in the US, let me know.

Anyway, so we had various goodies at the auction. Tea, Bodyshop stuff, marmite, curry sauce, cadburys, baked beans, cheddar - the kind of things expats miss. I donated some Ghirardelli chocolate (from Trader Joes) , 4 cans of Boddingtons and 4 cans of Guinness (from Andronicos). I'm not sure how much the chocolate went for, but the bidding on the beer was vicious. I think one of the cans went for almost US$20.

A friend and I also spent the morning making sausage rolls and biscuit fudge, which I am happy to report sold like hotcakes (we didn't make hotcakes).

I don't know how much of a chance I'll get to blog while I'm in Colombia, and probably less to comment on other people's blogs - so if you're one of those reading this, apologies in advance.


Thursday, April 21, 2005

It would have been quicker to fly to New Zealand

Bogota, Colombia.

6.15am. Wake up. Cold shower. Brrrrr.

6.30am. Taxi to US embassy. Taxi driver drops me off at the wrong entrance so I have to walk all the way around.

6.45-8am. Stand in queue outside embassy gates.

8am. Get told the photo (taken in the US at a passport photo place, mind you) is no good - the background isn´t white enough and you can´t see enough of my ears. I have to leave the embassy to go get another photo taken.

8-8.30am. Get photo taken with white background and my hair tucked very carefully behind my ears. At least it was easy to find a photo place - there are 4 of them right outside the embassy.

8.30-9.15am. Stand in queue with number around my neck. The number has no discernable significance - nobody takes a note of it or anything. Hand over my passport and all my documents. Give back number.

9.15-10.45am. Sit in huge open space with over 500 other people. It is insane how many Colombians want to go the US. Of course, they need visas just to transit. I try not to read too much of my book (Motorcycle Diaries, which I bought not just for Gael Garcia Bernal on the cover) because it´s supposed to last me this whole trip.

10.45am. Get called to window 13. They take my fingerprints and tell me I´m group 491.

10.45am - 12.15pm. Wait. Listen to groups as high as 512 being called. Apparently the numbers are random.

12.15-12.30pm. Group 491 to window 7! The woman processing my application cannot figure out why on earth I´m applying for my visa in Colombia. Eventually she figures out the circumstances which lead me to being employed by a research center in Colombia, yet working in Berkeley. She disappears to find out whether she can give me a visa, and, if so, whether I need to return to NZ for 2 years afterwards as part of the conditions. While she´s gone a jovial chap behind the counter spots my UC Berkeley hoodie - he went to Berkeley, and wants to know if Cafe Milano on Bancroft is still there. It´s a bit difficult for me to match his joviality when I don´t know if I sm even getting a visa. But it is approved!!! And no two year clause! Huge huge huge sigh of relief.

12.30pm. Pay for my passport to be sent to Cali where I will get it in a couple of days´ time.

12.35pm. Finally leave the embassy. Hungry and in the pouring rain.

If you´re ever thinking of applying for a US visa, and you are not Colombian, I can´t stress enough that under no circumstances should you attempt to do this in Colombia. Next time (and there will probably be a next time, as they only gave me the visa until December) I would rather try and get it in Antarctica. But probably New Zealand will suffice.

So this whole experience has somewhat coloured my view of Bogota a little negatively. I did have a couple of nice experiences - yesterday I visited the Botero museum and the artisans stalls, and came away with these kickass mola shoes (I´ll explain later, too hard to find links in an internet cafe with slow connections).

And now I am off to the airport to fly to Cali, Colombia. Where all will be lightness and joy and no stress.


Monday, April 18, 2005

Yay for bureaucracy

So I rang the embassy this morning and launched into Spanish demanding to know whether it was true what was on the website and would I get a visa and why did they give me an appointment if I couldn't get a visa and what was true and and and...

The guy on the other end of the phone says: "do you want to speak in English, senorita?".

What an insult. I let the senorita slide cos he couldn't have know I'm doctora, but what was he implying about my Spanish?

"Don't you understand my Spanish?"

"Si, claro".

Somehow I didn't trust I would get the right information in English. So Spanish it was. Anway, he promised me the website is wrong and they give visas to foreigners all the time. I asked him about a dozen times if he was sure.

Him: "Do you have any more questions?"

Me: "Yes, are you absolutely sure?".

x 12.

So I got a new appointment for Thursday and managed to change my flights so I fly out tomorrow morning (Tuesday). I still won't relax until I have that visa in my passport.


Saturday, April 16, 2005

I am seriously F*CKED

Excuse the language. But OH MY GOD.

So, this was supposed to be a happy little post about how I'm going to Colombia tomorrow and how much I'm looking forward to it and oh I'm getting my US visa renewed while I'm there won't that be fun, followed by amusing anecdotes on US bureaucracy and Colombian inefficiency and all that. Seriously, it's been an adventure just getting this far, including four phone calls to the embassy call center, one change of flights (with fee) and a mound of paperwork.

So my flight is for 6.35am tomorrow. I'm in at work doing the final things - burning CDs, making sure I've got all my documents and work and all that. I go onto the website for the embassy in Bogota, just to look for a map of Bogota with the embassy marked on it.

I follow a couple of links and find myself in the section entitled "Interview with the Consular Officer - Frequently Asked Questions about the Visa Interview". Now I hadn't looked here before because, well, I'd been looking at all the things to do before the interview.

Right down the very bottom, I find this paragraph.

Third country nationals
A citizen from a country other than Colombia who has a Colombian resident visa with a valid national ID card (cedula de extranjeria), may apply for a U.S. visa in our Consular Section. If not, the applicant must return to her/his country of citizenship and apply for a U.S. visa at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

I am seriously F*CKED.

Let me reiterate that I have spoken to four different people at the embassy call center. Every single one of them noted down that I am a New Zealand citizen and don't have Colombian residency. And then they booked me an interview.

Just out of curiosity, I've just checked how much it would cost to fly from Bogota to Auckland return, not via the US (because of course, without a visa, I can't even transit the US). That would be $US2260 + tax. If I try and enter the US on the visa waiver program I get in trouble too.

If I get on that plane tomorrow there is a good chance that that is exactly what I would have to do. Of course, it's a Saturday, so I can't even ring the embassy to double check. Or the international scholars' service. At least the airline will change my ticket up to half an hour before departure (for a fee, of course). So I've got about 14 hours to figure this out.

I suppose there is the silver lining that I saw this today. But why not a couple of weeks ago? Huh?

Anyway, isn't a blog just the perfect place to vent frustrations. I feel better. And seeing as screwing with immigration is never a good idea, I think I'll be cancelling my flights (again). Which still leaves the question of how on earth do I get my visa renewed? I can't travel until I do. But I have to go overseas to get it. Stupid system.


Thursday, April 14, 2005


I now can't live without my hair straightening iron. I finally understand people who won't go swimming because they don't want to get their hair wet (won't stop me but I know I'll have bad hair for the rest of the day). On the upside, washing my hair is pure joy. You can't imagine. And I can part my hair wherever I want!

My dreads are still in a bag in my car boot.

Icecream social
I walked past an icecream social on my way into work today. I was imagining vanilla introducing chocolate to strawberry and the three of them having a menage a trois... neopolitan!

T Rex has new shoes
Our T Rex skeleton in my building had blue plastic bags on his (her?) feet the other day, I think they were painting the platform underneath in preparation for Cal Day (more on that later). I meant to take a photo because it was cute, but I forgot to bring my camera.

My bank wants to give me a digital camera
Ever since getting my credit card I've had so many offers for other credit cards, all kinds of schemes, and this latest one is some travel thing and you get a free camera if you fill out the survey. What's ironic is that it was such a struggle to get my first American credit card (no credit history in this country). This is boring. Next topic.

Parking ticket
I finally pushed my luck in the 2 hour parking zone too far. I've been progressively leaving my car there for longer and longer before moving it... 2 1/2 hours, 3 hours, 3 1/2 hours... on Tuesday I finally got a ticket. Dammit.

It is exactly 1km (1.6 miles) from my house to my office.
Edit: Sheesh. And I call myself a mathematician (actually, I call myself a GIS Goddess, but I did do my undergraduate in maths). Multiply, divide, whatever. 1.6 miles is in fact 2.6km.

Why does nobody comment on my blog? Am I that boring? :( I guess I need to go mingle more in the blogosphere. But I really, really appreciate those who do comment. I like you guys a lot.


Monday, April 11, 2005


This week is Songkran, the Thai New Year. And so going to the Thai Temple for brunch seemed like an obvious thing to do on Sunday. It's a bit of a Berkeley institution and I've been meaning to go there for ages, so luckily for me a friend did the organising and all I had to do was turn up.

I think I was expecting something a bit like Brothers' Cafe in Hanoi, where the Editter and I had a wonderful buffet lunch. But I think the only similarity was really that it was a temple. Oh, and there was good food. And the meal cost about the same in both places, which means that in real terms Brothers' Cafe is hella expensive (note: hella is a word I've been trying to work into my blog for ages, using it shows that I am becoming a real Northern Californian).

I found the Thai Temple without too much trouble, helped by the masses of people milling around outside and sitting and eating on the grass outside the tool lending library next door. The queue to buy tokens was hella (twice in one post!!!) long and I couldn't spot my friends anywhere. But as I was standing there I saw a different friend walk past. He walked straight past me. A minute later his girlfriend walked past and I had to practically jump up and down waving my hands in her face before she recognised me. I hadn't seen them since before I cut my dreddies off...

So I had my rice and pad thai and curry with them, and then managed to find the original group of friends for mango and sticky rice.

Happily there was no dousing with water by elephants as is the custom in Thailand.


Thursday, April 07, 2005

My house, in the middle of my street, la la

First up, apologies to anyone who stopped by yesterday and just saw random photos of my house. Blogger chucked a spaz as I was in the middle of uploading them.

Anyway, so a la Frally, here is a tour of my house. I've been meaning to take photos to show my family anyway, and having just rearranged my bedroom it was relatively tidy, so it seemed like an opportune moment. We'll start with my bedroom, shall we?

Here's my bed. I'm not normally a bedmaker (as my sisters, ex housemates, etc can attest) but the cushions and woven fish on my bed (from my aunt and uncle, along with the Underwater Alaska print on the wall and various other things) make me much more inclined to do so. On my bookcase (you'll have to squint here) are not one, but two graduation bears (you know, with cutesy graduation hat and all).

Here's my bedroom from another angle. It's a big room and many photographic angles are possible. Huge windows! Cool Colombian wall hanging (I thought it was authentic but I've seen the exact same hanging with the word Colombia at the top replaced by Ecuador)! Messy desk where I never do any work (don't even own a chair)!

Here's the view out of said bedroom window. The woman next door is our gardener. That's her greenhouse on the right. That's our cherry blossoms looking very pretty and springlike. I'm glad I took the photo yesterday, because right now it is pissing down and everything looks rather soggy.

Now, if you look really closely, and pretend that tree in the middle isn't there, you can see Golden Gate Bridge. When it's not foggy or raining. No really, it's there. Squint. OK, just trust me.

Before we leave the tour of my bedroom, here is the inside of one of my closets (I have two!). Of note: framed PhD degree hanging in closet, Fremantle Dockers football, rasta hat onto which I may sew my dreads. There are other gems in there like the wine bottle holder in the shape of a fireman, but they're a bit hard to see.

Here is the toilet room which is conviently placed right outside my bedroom. There are clouds on the walls. Note that these are not actual clouds. In the US it is apparently uncommon to have the toilet separate from the bathroom, but as this is common in NZ maybe I don't quite appreciate this fact as much as I should.

Here is the bathroom. It also has clouds. And Ikea furniture. And, look! There, on the chair! My new hair straightening iron. Aaah.

Moving on, we have the dining room. It is a grown up dining room. The kind of dining room my big sister would have.

The lounge (loungeroom, living area, living room, whatever you want to call it) is also quite grown up. There is no TV, which is wonderful. Except when I want to watch something.

This is our wonderful kitchen. There are teatowels on the bench (translation: cloths on the counter) because we are not allowed to put anything straight on the marble in case it scratches. A tad impractical. And especially for Violet: notice the lovely fridge.

This next one goes out to my ex-housemates. I have a washing machine and dryer. Nya nya nya.

So there you have it. There are other rooms; I have two flatmates. But it would seem impolite to take photos of their rooms and publish them on the web.


Tuesday, April 05, 2005

"New Music"

I like live shows, and I think supporting local talent is very worthwhile, but still, it never would have occurred to me to go to a performance of New Music, had I not known The Composer. Hell, I wouldn't even have known that such a thing as New Music exists.

Side note: I've decided it's boring to refer to people by their initials, so I need to come up with monickers for everyone. For D. I've considered MusicBoy (too general), ChoirBoy (he teaches choir, but still, maybe this gives the wrong impression) and ChoirBitch (he called himself that, but I don't want to lower the tone of my blog). I've settled on The Composer, which sounds awfully grand.

Anyway, so The Composer wrote a piece called “… t_ ho_d th_ fu_ure unt__ _he _uture _ade ba_k to th_ spot…” for piccolo, violincello, and piano. (Secretly I think it stands for "ta hoed tho furniture until she suture bade bark to thy spot", even though he claims otherwise). The title gives an indication of the, well, weirdness of the piece. I say this with the utmost respect. Lots of interesting instrument techniques like something called bowed piano which we all thought The Composer had invented himself but it turns out someone else did back in the 60s. It involves pulling things through the piano strings and sounds very atmospheric like the scary thing is about to happen in the movie.

While listening to the piece I was reminded of when my uncle visited last year. He was very interested in getting to know my housemates, and asked to hear one of The Composer's compositions. My uncle was full of praise until The Composer left the house, at which point he confided in me: "I like music with, well, melody".

Anyway, I feel very cultured.

Afterwards we went and had a drink or two (for drink read jug / pitcher), which made for a fun Monday night but a not so pleasant Tuesday.


Monday, April 04, 2005


Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

I figured I should just go ahead while the blog is still young. I've copied some of the recent comments, and it seems to have retained the old comments.

Next task: update the template to get rid of the hideous pink link.


New toys

I've got two new toys. On Saturday I bought a straightening iron, which I used for the first time this morning. Now my hair looks much closer to what it looked on leaving the salon last week, and less like a bouncy 80s hairstyle. What's most exciting is that I bought one that works on wet hair, so it makes a satisfying sssss on contact.

My second new toy is a Garmin Forerunner wrist GPS. I had a $70 credit with Amazon to put towards it, so it only cost me $15. Now I no longer need to worry about getting lost when I venture into Tilden Regional Park or even into the windy hill streets near my house (I have a terrible sense of direction and a half hour walk can easily turn into an hour as I wander aimlessly only to find myself in Downtown Oakland or something). I only just got it so haven't even put batteries in yet, but it looks like it will be a very fun toy. I'm not looking forward to finding out my running pace though - I'll probably find I'm just breaking the 40 minute mile or something.


Saturday, April 02, 2005

Maps make me happy

I was meaning to make this map when Violet posted it, but then forgot about it. Here is my map of the world with places I have visited (but not counting places I've only been in the airport in). I'll have to go to a big country next - Brazil, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, maybe Russia? - to make the map more impressive.

create your own visited countries map

As a comparison, here is a map of where people come from who have read my blog (or possibly not read but only clicked on randomly and then rapidly navigated away from). It's intriguingly similar. Some of the overlaps aren't surprising, because obviously I have friends in countries I've been to and I've told some of them about my blog. But still.

create your own visited countries map

I actually took quite a while to make these maps because I stopped to read the comments. There's some great ones like: "Why isn't Brussels on the list of countries?" Then there's all the debate on whether places like Palestine and Greenland are countries, Americans wanting US states separate but Europe as one country, and the Australian disclaiming Tasmania. Some comments are tongue in cheek but some are just hilariously dumb.

My favourites though are the series of comments debating whether Mexico is part of North America or part of Central America. This is an issue I vaguely mentioned in my PhD thesis; I was doing some socio-economic and biophysical comparisons of different countries in Central America, and ended up not including Mexico, and I stated quite clearly why I didn't include it, so it wasn't even an issue, and yet comment number two from examiner number one says: "Mexico is really a part of North America - not Central".

I think I ignored that comment in the end.