“I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can't see from the center.” Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Zombie taffy

I was hoping this taffy, made in Pakistan, would turn me into a zombie. Drat, it didn't work. Maybe it takes awhile.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

ANZ bank hates me

Hooray, Darin is here! What a relief to be together again. He is doing a good job of keeping me warm at night. The photo is of Eric and Barb on the left, and me and Darin on the right. We celebrated our reunion on Friday with dinner at the Hunting Lodge. It was quite good- the guys had the venison, I had pork, and Barb had the beef eye fillet. We also enjoyed the starters, kangaroo, scallops, and oysters.

We have been busy trying to get things done. Our first business was to have my name added to the bank account he opened while visiting in August. They would not accept a notarized copy of my passport, because it was done in San Diego, nor my CA driver’s license. My passport is currently in a file with a bunch of other original documents at New Zealand Immigration, because I submitted my Application for Residence about a week ago. I have no idea when I’ll get it back. The bank teller could not have cared less. Their policy is to not accept anything other than an original passport as ID. She also did not care that my paycheck had been deposited into the account, and the name of the company on the copy of my work visa in my passport matched the name on the bank’s records. I said that is a totally unreasonable policy, and we glared at each other, and I asked for the manager. The manager suggested she call NZ Immigration, and she was able to verify the passport copy was valid. She told the teller to go ahead and add my name, but by this point, despite our thankfulness, she took it personally and delayed the process so that it took an hour for us to get out of there. She also told us, when we asked about getting checks, that few places will accept them. Which is total bullshit, because we needed a check for our new car the very next day, and we will need one to pay for our new bed, too. We had to go back to the bank on Sat. for a bank check (cost $5), which first required the moving of money from one account to another. The teller cannot do this if you ask. Instead, you have to go to the phone and use their telephone banking system to move the money. To top it all off, the bank (ANZ) sent me my new EFTPOS card (a debit card) with my name on it, but they didn’t transfer my pin # to it, so I can’t even use it. In the letter sent with it, it says to bring it in to any branch to change the pin #. Grrr! The concept of customer service is totally lost on the banks here. You might ask, why didn't you just use a credit card? The answer is that my US credit cards will charge a fee of 3% of the total cost, and we can't get a credit card here yet, because we have no credit history in NZ. One would think that the banks would be happy to take our money. I realize now that I totally took it for granted in the US. We had awesome service at the banks there, and had accounts at about 3 different banks.

I don't like to complain, but I did want to give a fair warning about the banks to others who may be planning to immigrate to NZ. We didn't expect this move to be easy. We're up for the challenge. As the saying goes, if it were easy, everyone would do it. We came here knowing that NZ can be very difficult to get residence, due to the socialized medicine. It's just my perspective, for what it's worth.

On the bright side, we did buy a car. We couldn't commit to a hybrid, and instead opted for a fuel efficient small car, a Toyota Corolla hatchback, 2005, about 39,000 km. We also picked out a new bed, a latex matress with wool pad on top. Delivery on Tuesday.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Other Americans in Auckland

Here's a photo of Bethell's beach. It's just 25 min from my sister's house. I went yesterday morning, and there were guys going out to surf the giant scary waves (this is the Tasman Sea, West coast). The sun did come out later that day, but it's back to raining today. The good thing about it being cloudy and overcast is that you don't have to wear sunglasses and you can worry less about sunburn.
It's so great to meet other Americans here, because you can communicate so much easier. Here are links to blogs of my new friends here, Adam and Roberta, and Holly. They are good role models (along with my sister and her husband), and genuinely nice people. Who doesn't need more friends like that? What is bizarre is that Holly works with my sister, also owns a Rhodesian Ridgeback, and came from the Bay Area of CA (as did my sister). Small world? Or is NZ a popular place to emigrate to? I think the latter. The country is in demand for skilled labor. I took a big pay cut to come here, but we're expecting the quality of life to be better.
I have to talk about food again. This is a big part of the adaptation process. I enjoy good food, you could call me a "foodie". I'm not terribly picky, but prefer to eat good quality food. The best way to know your food is of good quality is to verify that it's fresh and clean, and you can do this by growing/raising it yourself, or going to the farmer's markets. You can get good dairy, veggies, juice, and meat, but watch out for the sausages! They grind the meat into pudding before stuffing it in the casing and it's scary, not knowing what is in there. I have found a couple good sources of sausages though. One is the EuroDell, where I got a really nice pepperoni, and the other is Nosh, one of the few gourmet grocers in Auckland. Holly served me a chorizo sausage from there that was really great.
As far as restaurants go, I've had great food and beer at Hallertau brewbar and restaurant, and you can get great Thai and Indian food here. Lots of sushi places too, but I haven't tried any yet. We don't eat out too much because we like to cook, and it's cheaper to eat in. Not that it's too expensive to eat out, it's not. What's great about eating in a restaurant here is that there's no tipping, and sales tax is included in the cost of everything. When you finish your meal and are ready to go, you don't have to wait for the waitstaff to bring the bill or make change, instead, you get the bill while you're eating, then take it to the cashier at the front when you're ready.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Quarantine= Jail for pets

Poor Fargo. He is in dog jail. The kennel is all concrete, has a solid door with a tiny window for a person to peek in at the top, and a wire door at the opposite end, looking into an empty sidewalk and wall. He can't see any other dogs or people walking by. You get 2 hours to visit in the middle of the day. I brought a newspaper to sit on, some treats, the stuffed purple dog toy, and his rubber kong, which can be stuffed with treats for extended treat extraction activity. He can't understand why I don't take him with me when I leave. He can't leave this kennel at all for 30 days. This morning, my new friend Holly (also from CA) took me to a dog park/reserve, so I told Fargo he can look forward to going there with me. I told him it would be worth the wait.
The cats have a better situation. Their cages are upstairs/downstairs, they have a scratching post, and can see their neighboring cats. Plus, they are housed together for company.
The boarding facility seems to be taking good care of them. This whole process is totally unnecessary. Both cats and dog are required to have two rabies titer tests before they travel, as well as numerous other tests and treatments, so they are completely healthy and disease-free. The whole point the New Zealand Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry is to make it so difficult and expensive to bring your pets here, you won't do it. It's not that they care about animal welfare, as they poison possums, infect wild rabbits with calcivirus, and allow the sale of puppies at petstores (not cheaply either). Yeah, I'm a little bitter right now.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Why we moved

This is the sunrise seen from my sister's window. I am up before dawn daily.
There's no point in arguing that the US has become more crowded and spoiled, and we have made enemies of much of the rest of the world. Corruption seems to be everywhere, and all anyone cares about is acquiring more stuff. This distracts us from the bigger issues. It's not that Americans don't care, but most of us can't do anything about it. We're too busy trying to pay the mortgage or put gas in the car or whatever. Meanwhile, the middle class keeps shrinking and I worry about our future.
One of the reasons we moved to New Zealand was the opportunity to live a more sustainable lifestyle. The appeal is to eat meat, eggs, and vegetables of which you know the history. Part of the reason our populations are getting fatter is the distance between the food and the consumer. By minimizing that distance, you support the local economy and have greater control over its production. For example, Barb and Eric have 2 cows. They are fun to watch, have lots of green grass to eat, and only mineral supplement and parasite preventative added to their beastly lives. Barb and Eric will have them "home killed" and will get delicious beef that is as good as it gets. Also, chickens are pretty easy to keep and highly entertaining and beautiful, even. I think it is so much better to get fresh eggs from backyard hens than from battery caged hens, whose lives are about the most horrific I can imagine. I too love the idea of having chickens, goats, and cows, maybe emu and alpaca, who knows? Granted, I still have a full-time city job, so fulfilling this goal will be a challenge.
Another goal is to travel, and maintaining livestock is somewhat at odds with this goal. New Zealand is (relatively) close to Fiji and Austrailia, both lovely places to visit. And of course, New Zealand itself is amazingly beautiful.

been shopping

New Zealand, Eric says, is "sometimes open". Most shops, even the malls, close at 5 or 6 pm. The big groceries and "dairies", what we would call a mini-mart, will be open later than this, though. Thursdays are an "open late" night, and you can do your business until, gosh, 7 or 8 pm! Tonight after work I raced into Henderson to pick up my boot at the shoe repair shop. Their idea of extended hours is to close at 6 pm instead of 5. The door was already locked, but the proprietress inside came and let me in. I gave her my pick up slip, and she said “this says Wednesday.” I wasn’t sure why that was relevant, so I said, “yeah, today is Thursday.” I’m so glad to have my warm furry Ugg boots back, and it only cost $6.50 (tear along seam).

My next step was to hit the mall (it’s tiny) and find an electric blanket, because I am still cold. The houses here are generally un-insulated and have just a wood stove for heat. I went into Farmer’s, which is like a Mervyn’s only not as nice. They didn’t have any, so I debated buying a wool duvet insert. I just couldn’t justify it, because I have nice down comforters coming over in the shipping container. That should arrive just in time for summer. I checked with the clerk at the Bed, Bath, and Beyond (a 10th the size of the one in my old neighborhood), and she says they’re out of season. After all, summer is coming, so they say. Tonight the wind is howling, so I’ve taken the portable oil heater and put it in my bedroom to try and warm things up. I’m skeptical though- no insulation.

Some of the shops I’ve been in, I can’t figure out how they stay in business. They have worthless crap for sale that I cannot imagine anyone in their right mind spending hard earned money on. But, you can find some good shopping. Yesterday I discovered the shopping district of Newmarket. There must be more out there, but I haven’t had time to explore. Barb and Eric took me too Avondale market, held on Sunday mornings. Due to the popularity and size of this market the parking costs $2. But you get great deals on fresh produce. I’ve attached a few photos: the little bananas are called Ladyfingers, the kiwifruit are big and delicious, and a general scene. The carrots and asparagus are huge.

Another thing worth mentioning about grocery stores: they have a huge selection of yoghurt. I snapped a photo in the big Foodtown grocery, but this big selection is the rule, not the exception. Barb likes to shop at the little markets (one for fruits and veg., another for meat, another for staples), but I find it comforting to go into the big grocery stores since they're familiar. I found some yummy jams at a local market, and I mix that with plain yoghurt and muesli for breakfast. Delicious.

I have looked but not found plain, non-iodized salt. I’ll ask my Mom to bring some when she visits in February, since I will need to follow the Low Iodine Diet again within a year. I bought a selenium supplement today, because the soils here don’t have much. Selenium has demonstrated effects as an antioxidant and anti-cancer agent.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Moving on

Here is Cerebus, my sister's rescued Rhodesian Ridgeback (ridgeless). He'll have to put up with me while Barb and Eric are celebrating their 40th birtdays and wedding anniversary in Vanuatu. Now I'm really alone out here in the west hills of Auckland, unless you count the 8 chickens ("chooks"), dog, and 3 cats. We are all in transition now- my dog and 2 cats are on a plane from LA to Auckland tonight, my husband is staying with a friend in Phoenix, on his way from California to North Dakota. Our house in San Diego closes escrow tomorrow.
So I've been here just over 2 weeks, and have been trying to settle in. I started my job within a few days of arrival, thinking that I have a lot of catching up to do, because I'm 2 months later than they expected. Instead, my supervisor has gone to the US for 2 weeks, and there's much that I can't do without his approval or signature. There is a new work space at the medical school, where we share facilities, in which the protocol for sharing rooms and equipment has not yet been established. According to my co-worker, the planners and managers did not fully think it through when setting it up. In addition, it can be difficult to get information. I assumed that there would be a health and safety policy at the company, though it's small, because it's referred to in the employment contract. But no one seems to know where that is. I really like my office-mate and co-worker, fortunately, and he's being as helpful as he can be.
Adjusting to the climate has been a challenge. I know I'll sound like a spoiled SoCal brat saying so, but it IS COLD HERE!! It's spring, and we've had wind, rain, hail, and more wind. There is no central heat in Barb's house, so I wear my pyjamas, a fleece vest, and a wool hat to bed. Yes, I had to go buy a wool hat and scarf because I expected warmer weather and packed shorts and short sleeved shirts. The wind is incredibly strong, blows out of Antarctica I think, and reminds me of living in the great plains of North Dakota. Only instead of vast open prarie, the wind comes over vast open ocean. The good thing about this is that the air is clean and fresh. But there are no barriers to tame it, so it is wild. I assume it will get milder as summer comes.
I seem to be making a lot of assumptions here, but it can be hard to get information here. I find I have to be very persistent. I will get information that is tangential to what I ask, but not a straight answer. I feel like I'm being pushy and impatient, because most people here are so laid back and easy going. The pace is much slower that what I'm habituated to, and simple things seem complicated and inefficient. It's really frustrating. I'm so glad I have my sister here to talk to. And soon my husband will be here too- October 25th! I'm so excited to see my pets this weekend! They will be at the quarantine station for 30 days. I can't bear to think of the huge expense to bring them here, so don't ask me about it, it's a sore spot. But I wouldn't come without them. Here they are, Jazz (chocolate ocicat), Latte (white domestic), and Fargo (rottweiler).

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Bad timing but good luck

When I found out I had thyroid cancer, I was upset. Thyroid cancer is referred to as "the good cancer", but it's no walk in the park. As I said, I found out about it just 10 days before I was to leave for Auckland and begin my job. I had left my San Diego job the end of June, and was unemployed. Fortunately, I still had health insurance through my husband's job.
I had to make an appointment with the ear, nose, and throat doctor. I was conflicted, because I was still thinking I was going to get this treated within 10 days. Ha! Then I learned the first appointment was just a consultation. They didn't have an appointment available for like 5 weeks. I freaked out, crying to the nurse on the phone, because I was afraid I'd lose my job in NZ. She kindly fit me in for a consultation within a few days, after I told her I am trying to leave the country and go to a new job. With the help of the ThyCa website and email group on Yahoo, I learned the treatment is partial or total thyroid removal followed by radioactive iodine (131I). Luckily my doctor turned out to be experienced and talented and a nice guy. Although very busy and overscheduled, he fit me in for surgery on July 14th. And so it happened that instead of flying to Auckland on that date, I was in a hospital recovery room, on IV fluids because it hurt to swallow, getting morphine every 4 hrs. I couldn't sleep on account of the woman in the bed next to me moaning in agony. Whatever they were giving her wasn't working. I felt lucky, again.
My entire thyroid was removed. Fortunately it was encapsulated within the thyroid, and was about 1 cm- we caught it early. They released me the next day, since my parathyroids were all identified and saved during surgery, so my calcium levels were good. I had the giant bandage removed after a few days, and the stitches came out in about another week. Then I developed an allergic reaction to the internal stitches, which was pretty uncomfortable but treated with topical steroid cream.
My job in Auckland was informed of my delay prior to the surgery, and they kindly held the position for me. 6 weeks post-surgery, I had to swallow 100 mCi of 131I and stay away from my pets and sleep separately from my husband for 5 days. It was like being in jail. I had to become hypothyroid AND follow a low iodine diet for 2 weeks before the treatment, and that was a real drag! Once I was able to start the synthetic thyroid hormone medication, I started to feel better. I ended up having just a 2 month delay in departure due to the thyroid cancer.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

How I got a job in NZ and thyroid cancer

Just prior to our visit to Auckland, I did a Google search for "pharmaceutical Auckland". I stumbled upon this small drug development company that happened to have a single job opening that perfectly described my skills. I thought it was too weird, and decided I needed to explore this further. I inquired about the position, sent my resume, and arranged a meeting during my weeklong visit. It turned into a 2 hour interview, and they offered me the job 2 days later. I guess the lesson is, be cautious about where your curiosity can lead you. I was actually really freaked out and sad when I got the job offer, because I wasn't prepared to consider it.
Now, in the US, if I wanted this sort of job, I'd be competing with a lot of other talented people, references would be checked, and I'd probably have to give a scientific presentation. For the Auckland job, I didn't send any references, because I wasn't really looking for a job, and they never asked for any. The other difference is that the benefits are weenie.
Obviously, I accepted the position, but the decision was not easy. This whole transition continues to be a regular reexamination of my choice, but I'm so grateful to have the choice, and the ability to choose. My decision, along with my husband's agreement and consideration, actually led to an important health discovery. You see, New Zealand Immigration requires a full medical exam (and background check by the FBI, and evidence of education, etc.). During this exam, my doctor found a nodule on my thyroid. He said, don't worry about it. Lots of people get these as they age, and they are usually benign. Only 5% are ever malignant. But, let's do an ultrasound and schedule the endocrinologist follow-up visit, just in case. Well. The doctor himself had to call to request the appointment with the endo., because they are very in demand (you know- diabetes being so prevelant and all). I had applied for and recieved my NZ work permit, had the ultrasound, and had booked my flight to Auckland by mid-June. I was told that the nodule would require a follow-up FNA (fine needle aspiration) biopsy at the endo. visit, based on the nodule being solid, not fluid. The FNA was more painful than I'd expected. The doctor put 4 needles in there- one painkiller, and 3 biopsies of tissue. I wound up with a deep purple/green/yellow bruise on my neck. I hadn't told anyone about it outside my family, and was hiding the bruise with makeup while visiting friends in the Seattle area. I was at the Tacoma Glass museum when I got the call from the endo. telling me the pathology report was "suspicious" for papillary thyroid carcinoma. This was 10 days before I was scheduled to fly to Auckland.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Introduction, Part 2

As a scientist in a fairly unique field, behavioral pharmacology, jobs are located in limited parts of the United States. As I work in industry, as opposed to academia, basically the jobs are in the San Francisco bay area, San Diego, Chicago, Indianapolis, Seattle, Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey. I really loved San Diego. We moved there after I finished graduate school at Purdue in 1996. I hated my first job, but it led me to my next job, also in San Diego, which I really liked. I never seriously considered leaving that job, because I didn't want to live on the east coast or in the midwest (where I'm from), and the SF bay area was too expensive and cold. That left Seattle, and there's a spare handful of potential companies up there. I did think about my options as the company grew, and policies and management changed. The company was going through growing pains, but seemed to be doing well, and I really liked my supervisor. My attitude changed after my husband and I visited my sister in Auckland in March of 2006.

Saturday, October 07, 2006


Welcome to my blog! I moved from San Diego, CA to Auckland, New Zealand the end of September 2006. My husband and I are submitting an Application for Residence to NZ Immigration in October. I am working in the central business district (CBD) of Auckland for a small pharmaceutical discovery company as a result of serendipity. How did I get here?
My sister, 3 years older than me (I'm 37), married a Kiwi (he has a NZ citizenship) while living in Oakland, CA. He convinced her New Zealand is a better place to live than America, and they moved here in April 2005. She says she loves it here. I thought she was a bit crazy. I mean, as an American, we are led to believe that it is the best country in the world. We have immense resources, and generally don't travel to other countries to study or work. But, this is how it starts- an idea, an experience, and an opportunity. More later.