Still alive

Another couple of big aftershocks yesterday – a 5.5 and a 6.0. Big enough that we evacuated our building at work after the first one (the 5.5), though there wasn’t much real damage that I could see – just the usual ceiling panels down and a bit more plaster falling off the walls. Still, it’s good to know management take these things seriously enough that they want to have an engineering check before we’re allowed back in.

After the first one, once they announced they were closing the campus for the rest of the day (and today as well, as it turned out, so another unexpected day off), I walked home. I thought about taking the bus, but the traffic had already got so heavy with people trying to get home or to schools to pick up their kids that it was approaching gridlock, so walking seemed the faster option.

I spotted some real damage on the way home:

(not a great quality photo, sorry – I didn’t have my proper camera with me, so had to take it using the little camera in my mp3-player)

This block of shops has been closed since the February earthquake when its roof was damaged, but the big hole in the side is new (as you can tell by the rubble on the footpath). It’s amazing nobody got hit by it, because although that stretch of footpath was originally cordoned off, the cordons had been moved (probably by people who’d found it too inconvenient to have to cross to the other side of the road right beside a busy intersection), so I’ve often seen people walking along that bit.

I got home, where H told me of his adventures (he’d just left the supermarket, and was about to get on the bus, when the bus suddenly started bouncing up and down). And then the shaking started again, and got bigger and bigger and just kept on going. We could hear things crashing down all over the house – it actually sounded worse than the September one.

Thankfully, once the shaking stopped (or at least settled down to a low rumble – it didn’t really properly stop all afternoon) we discovered that we’d once again somehow got away without damage. Most of the crashing sounds had come from the pile of CDs H had stacked on top of the CD player in the kitchen, which went flying across the room (we’re still finding CDs in odd places, but so far none broken). The laptop fell over, but fell on a soft surface so wasn’t damaged, and the medicine cabinet came open in the bathroom so its contents were distributed across the floor and sink, but again no breakages.

So apart from a bit more wear and tear to our nerves (we’re getting little aftershocks to the aftershocks every couple of hours, the biggest so far a 4.something), we’re ok. George has even come out from under the bed 🙂

Assorted things

Another big aftershock this morning. 5.5 – big enough to shake half the CDs off their shelf, but no damage. George, as usual, slept through it while MrPloppy and I cowered under the doorway.

I’ve had a very constructive weekend, for a change. Managed to get a whole load of little jobs done that have been on the “must get round to that sometime” list for ages. Like finally framing and hanging a few souvenirs I brought back from America:

A Native American sand painting miniature I bought at the Grand Canyon

More Native American art, this time from Mexico, which I got at the Smithsonian’s Museum of the American Indian

This is turning into my wall of the Americas – the other two pieces are from Canada and Hawai’i, from my 2008 trip

And some “found art”: a cheap plastic carnival mask I bought in New Orleans and thought was worth mounting – I reckon it looks quite impressive now 🙂

As well as lots of boring jobs (like sorting out MrPloppy’s accounts so we could do his tax returns), I managed another bit of creativity too: I finally pulled my lace pillow back out of the cupboard (where it’s been since the September earthquake, after which I wasn’t feeling all that creative), and started playing round again. I’ve had to pretty much go back to square one, having forgotten a lot in the meantime, but it’s coming back to me reasonably quickly (I just have to keep looking things up in my books).

The pink one is one I did in September trying out some new techniques, and the grey one and the one on the pillow are what I’ve done this weekend, using the same pattern but with slight variations.

In other news, my ESOL student has moved house, and is now just too far away for me to walk there, so I’ll have to take two buses. That should be fun, given how erratic the timetables are at the moment. I’ve told her we’ll give it a few weeks to see how it goes, but if it works out to be too difficult to get there I’ll have to ask them to find her a new tutor who lives closer. I hope not, because we’ve been working together for a couple of years now and have become good friends. We’ve got our first lesson since she shifted tonight, so hopefully I won’t have to spend too long standing in the cold waiting for buses…

After a lot of emailing back and forth with United, they’ve finally agreed to reimburse me for my expenses in LA. Well, most of them… they’re paying for the hotel, the taxi, one extra meal (they seemed to think wanting three meals over a 24 hour period was extremely extravagant of me), and a whole three minutes of my 14-minute phone call to NZ. Better than nothing, anyway (though I’m reserving final judgement until I actually get the money – apparently the cheque is in the mail…)

Oh, and to apologise for the inconvenience they gave me a 20% off voucher for any United flight in the next year. Yeah, don’t think I’ll have a use for that, somehow… (but if any of my American friends are planning on flying anywhere and are brave enough to risk United, it’s transferable, so let me know and I’ll send you the code).

I discovered something exciting (and a bit scary) last week: I’m only one paper away from finishing my degree! Because I’ve been studying part-time for so long, and the regulations keep changing, I wasn’t entirely sure where I was up to. So I asked one of the student advisors to have a look at it, and she told me the paper I’m planning on taking next semester will complete my BA!!! So if I do make it to Dublin next year I’ll have to plan my trip around being back in Christchurch in time for graduation 🙂

The other exciting part is that I’ll qualify to start Honours in February! I’ve been talking to one of the linguistic lecturers about it and getting very excited about the possibilities (and a bit scared – being an undergrad is nice and safe and easy – postgrad sounds all very grown up and intimidating!). So watch this space 🙂

From my travel journal: Tuesday 19 April 2011, 4.30 pm

It’s Wednesday in New Zealand, 11.30 am, which means that theoretically I should be home by now. The observant among you will have noticed that the date at the top of this entry doesn’t say Wednesday though. That’s because I’m still in America. In Los Angeles airport, to be exact. And the reason I’m an ocean and quite a few time zones away from where I should be? Because I travelled with United from DC to LA.

I can’t say I wasn’t warned. When I told people I was flying United they all told me it was a bad idea. But United code shares with Air New Zealand, so the travel agent told me it would make transferring smoother. Yeah, right…

At first, everything about leaving DC went smoothly. Newk was on the same flight to LA as me, so offered to share a taxi (actually a limo) to the airport. There was a bit of confusion with checking in, because they had a weird self-check-in system that nobody could figure out how to work (and my screen didn’t work at all), so it took twice as long as an ordinary check in while everyone waited for the two staff members on duty to scurry back and forth trying to help people. And it was a bit of a worry when the trainee assigned to check me in when the machine failed mixed up Oakland and Auckland (ok, that just possibly could be to do with my accent :-)), and had to ask me what the airport code is for Christchurch. But eventually it all got sorted out, I was checked in for the correct flights and my bag checked through to CHC (good thing I’m geek enough to remember things like airport codes ;-))

Once through security, Newk and I took turns looking after the bags while the other explored the food and shopping opportunities of the airport (I found a Borders, which was extremely dangerous to my carry-on weight limit!). After one such expedition, I got back to the gate to see a lot of worred faces – they’d just announced that our flight was delayed because of a mechanical problem. Newk asked at the desk what would happen about our connecting flights, but was basically told “don’t worry, we’ll sort it out, now sit down and shut up” (but in slightly prettier words, of course). So we sat down and shut up, and waited, and waited… an hour and a half after our original departure time they finally found another plane, and loaded us onto it. Again we asked the staff what about our connections (and I pointed out that there’s only one flight a day to Auckland from LA), and again we were told not to worry. As I would now have only have about 30 minutes to get to my flight, and Newk about 45, we were worried. But there wasn’t much we could do, so I trusted to United (you may laugh uproariously now) and went to sleep.

Four and a half hours later (and having been further slowed down by bad weather) when we landed at LA, the cabin crew asked other passengers to let those with tight connections off first (yeah, fat chance of that – Newk managed to run down the aisle before it got blocked too badly, but I had to get my bag from the overhead locker, and the few seconds that took was enough to leave me trapped at the back of the plane) and that passengers on the Auckland flight should meet the agent on the airbridge. I assumed that meant they’d organised a cart to get us over to the Air NZ gate on time, but no. They didn’t even bother to request a cart until we were all there (about 15 of us), by which time there were none available. And by the time they figured that out it was too late for us to just run to the other gate. So that was annoyance number one: surely given that they knew when we left Dulles how late we were running and how many of us there were, they could have organised everything in the four and a half hours they had until we arrived???

With no hope of catching our flight, the agent told us to go and see the United service desk and they’d rebook our flights for today and sort out a hotel. So we trekked for miles around the airport trying to find the correct desk (the agent didn’t bother to come with us or anything, of course), and then had to wait for ages in a queue while the agent there tried to figure out where we were going (cue the same Oakland/Auckland mix up, even though I’d shown her my boarding passes – surely my accent isn’t that thick?) A lot of the passengers were getting very angry at this point, because she wasn’t at all sympathetic to any requests for re-routing to get to their final destinations quicker (one woman standing next to me was connecting to Sydney from Auckland, but even though there are several direct flights from LA to Sydney every day, the agent wouldn’t even look for one for her, but said she had to take the flight to Auckland). Eventually I got through the queue and got my re-booked tickets, and a voucher for a hotel, and vague directions on where to catch a shuttle. After a lot of searching (and getting totally lost and having to ask directions twice) I eventually found the shuttle, plus a few of the other stranded passengers, and we headed to our hotel… where the clerk said there were no rooms left, and that United hadn’t even contacted them to let them know we were coming!

He was very sympathetic though, and said United do this sort of thing all the time. He said there was no point in going back to the airport, because their service desk would be closed by now (it was after 11pm by this time), so offered to ring around a few hotels to find us rooms. We had to take a taxi to the new hotel (I made sure we got a receipt – United is going to be paying for this!), but of course they couldn’t accept our vouchers, because they were made out to the other hotel. So we had to pay for the rooms ourselves ($145!!! I definitely kept that receipt!)

Finally I could collapse into bed (but not before I range H – at horribly expensive hotel rates, so it cost me a fortune, but it was worth it to hear his voice and be able to tell him what a horrible time I was having). My suitcase was still at the airport, so I didn’t have any toiletries or clean clothes or anything, but by that point I really didn’t care.

The hotel was kind enough to give us a late check-out, so I could have a long sleep in (I needed it!), and then got a breakfast from room service (the first time in my life I’ve ever used room service, but I’d seen from the shuttle the night before that we were in a wilderness of airport hotels with no other alternatives for eating (other than the hotel dining room, which I didn’t quite feel up to with no comb and no toothbrush!). Not the cheapest breakfast I’ve ever had, but a necessary luxury (and I finally got to try a breakfast burrito!)). Oh yeah – to add insult to injury, despite the fact that we’d have a 24-hour wait for our new flight, United gave us each a single meal voucher for $15. So generous…

I had to check out at 3pm, so, with nothing to do in the vicinity of the hotel, and not being brave enough to try and get into the city, I’ve come to the airport. The terminal Air NZ leaves from is pretty small, so there’s only a handful of shops and restaurants, but I’ve got several books with me (thank goodness for that visit to Borders at Dulles :-)), so I should be able to keep myself entertained until my flight boards at 10 pm.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. When I got to the airport this afternoon and checked in, Air NZ had no record of my booking – United had stuffed it up yet again! Luckily they managed to get me on the flight though (and from the look on the Air NZ agent’s face, he will be having words with the United agent). After all this, I’ll be amazed if my suitcase makes it home to Christchurch with me…

PS. Yes, I know there are a few days missing – suffice it to say, the convention was brilliant and I didn’t have a spare second to journal (actually, this unplanned stopover is a bit of a bonus, because it actually let me catch up on some sleep!). I’ll have a go at getting caught up in a while. Probably.

From my travel journal: Friday 15 April 2011, 8 am

I am being incredibly brave here – I’ve passed up the safe (and expensive!) option of a hotel breakfast and ventured out on my own to find somewhere to eat. Not very far, admittedly – just across the street to the Metro station where there are various little shops and fast food places. But still, I’m on my own in a big American city for the first time 🙂 So I’ve found this little sandwich place that does breakfasts, and I’m having pancakes the American way with butter and syrup (which is growing on me), and orange juice out of a carton, and I’m surrounded by rushing commuters and military people of every conceivable type (we’re quite close to the Pentagon here, so there are a lot of uniforms around), and feeling almost like a native* compared to how I felt in San Francisco!

*Ok, maybe not quite like a native – it still took a lot of rummaging through a handful of coins to remember which was a dime and which was a nickel before I could pay for my breakfast. And I turned down the offer of sausage with my pancake…

Got to be back at the hotel by 9 to meet the group going on the first release walk of the weekend, so I should stop writing and start eating 🙂

From my travel journal: Friday 15 April 2011, 12.20 am

Washington DC*

After diligently keeping up with my journal for almost two weeks, I’ve failed at the final hurdle, and not managed to write up the last few days. I would do it now, but it’s after midnight and I’m very very tired, and it’s going to be a big day tomorrow. So time to catch up on some sleep. Catching up on journaling will just have to wait. Maybe over breakfast tomorrow…

*Note the next morning: I discovered we’re not actually in Washington here at all – the hotel is actually in Virginia. But it’s close enough 🙂

From my travel journal: Wednesday 13 April 2011, 8 am


Our last full day of travelling today – by early tomorrow afternoon we should be in DC. It’s been such a wonderful trip that despite the lure of the convention and seeing so many friends again, I’m really not looking forward to getting to DC – I don’t want this all to be over.

As is probably evident from the gap in the dates of these entries, it’s been a busy couple of days. Monday was an especially full one. We spent Sunday night in… arrgh, the dreaded blending together of too many motels! I can’t actually remember where it was – somewhere in Florida, anyway (DOS just reminded me – Gainsville). We got away reasonably early and headed to Cape Canaveral. We’d been debating in the last couple of days how to best use our day in Florida. Skyring, DOS and I were keen to visit the space centre, but FOS really wanted to go to Disney World, so we were trying to figure out the most efficient way of dropping her (and possibly SOS, who was undecided about which he most wanted to see) off on our way to the Cape, then picking them up later, and it was all getting horribly complicated. So in the end we decided to attempt the impossible, and all do both in a single day.

We started with the Kennedy Space Centre. Driving in, the first thing we noticed was the massive Vehicle Assembly Building on the horizon – seriously huge.

(Taken from the tour bus later that morning – it doesn’t look that big from here, but the driver told us the bus would comfortably fit within the width of one of the stripes on the flag…)

A long time after we spotted the VAB we actually reached the Space Centre (sorry, “Center”). In the entrance were a full-size replica of a shuttle and its tank and boosters, plus assorted rockets – that was enough to get me smiling 🙂

Because we had limited time, we went straight for the tour bus that took us out to the viewing platform where we could see Discovery sitting on the launch pad ready for her final flight in a few weeks. Or rather, where we could see the tip of the big fuel tank – the rest of the shuttle was hidden by the scaffolding they put up around it while they’re preparing it for launch. It was still pretty cool to see it, though 🙂 and to see the vast crawler that had transported it there from the VAB. I was surprised to see that the road (or roads – it travels on two parallel roads, one track on each) the crawler uses is gravel, not paved, but I suppose that makes sense – those huge tracks would destroy a paved road pretty quickly.

There’s a shuttle under there somewhere…

The crawler

Next the tour bus took us to a building housing a Saturn V rocket. We had to sit through a couple of presentations first, though. The first was pretty boring (video presentations in museum-type places always annoy me – if I wanted to watch TV I could do that at home – I want to see the actual stuff!), but the second redeemed itself slightly by being in the mission control room for the Apollo launches. The presentation replicated a launch with voice recordings, and lights lighting up on the various control panels, and images on the giant video screens (which somehow I suspect weren’t there in the 1960s…)

Finally they let us through into the main hangar area, which elicited “Wow”s from most of us – there suspended from the ceiling were the huge exhaust nozzles of the Saturn V, towering way above our heads.

Then the rest of the rocket came into view, hanging horizontally and taking up the entire length of the hangar – another one of those “almost too big for the brain to comprehend” moments. There were a few other displays off in side rooms (another chance to touch a moon rock!) but the main attraction was the Saturn V, which dominated everything and kept drawing me back. I sat under it to have my lunch – lunch was horrible (luke-warm hotdog and dry chips) but the setting was pretty good 🙂

The second-worst lunch of the entire trip…

… but with one of the best views 🙂

When we got back to the main complex we had a quick look at the rocket park and the shuttle replica, but didn’t have time for much else before we had to leave for Orlando and Disney World.

We obviously weren’t going to have time to visit all the various Disney parks, so decided on the Magic Kingdom park as being the most iconic. I wasn’t sure how much I’d get out of it, as the idea of Disneyland hasn’t really interested me since I was about 10, but I was happy enough to tag along with the others, thinking it would at least be an experience.

I was wrong – it was actually great fun! It may have been the company, of course 🙂 DOS, SOS, and FOS made it clear pretty quickly that they didn’t want the oldies tagging along, so Skyring and I set off at random into the park. The one ride I was vaguely interested in doing was Pirates of the Caribbean (because I’d read that they’d updated it after the movies were so successful to better reflect the movies, and a ride based on a film based on a ride sounded like a interesting cultural phenomenon), so we decided to try and find that. We of course immediately got lost (I think I’ve got too dependent on the GPS on this trip – I seem to have forgotten how to read a map!), and found ourselves at the entrance to a haunted house ride which promised a waiting time of only 5 minutes, so we decided to give it a go. Actually, the queue turned out to be almost as much fun as the ride – there were all sorts of interactive gravestones lining the path – one with bas reliefs of musical instruments that played if you touched them (including a cat that screeched :-)), a bookcase with sliding books, and all sorts of cheesy rhymes and puns. At the end of the queue we were ushered into a room which descended into the ground, and thence to the actual ride, which depended greatly on projection onto glass to produce the illusion of ghosts (including one clever bit where the cars went past mirrors and it looked like a ghost was sitting in the car with us :-)). There was a nice sense of humour to it all, so we were laughing madly by the end.

Ghost horse 😉

Still in search of pirates, my eye was caught by a water ride featuring a big drop into a splash pool at the end. Seeing as I’ve never been on any sort of roller-coaster type ride, I thought it might be fun to try it… Skyring looked a bit worried, but gamely joined me in a slightly longer queue than the one for the haunted house (actually, the queuing system is very clever – they have the queues winding around in and out of buildings and things, so that you can never see the entire length of the queue ahead of you, which makes the wait seem shorter. There’s usually things to see and do along the lines too, which helps pass the time even more). By the time we got to the head of the queue I was feeling a lot less confident.