Sunday, 12 September 2010

Still Not Prepared

Despite my claims last week that I was going to put together a survival kit, I haven't.  This even despite the fact that since the big South Island quake hit last Saturday, here in Hawke's Bay we've had three good sized shake ups

I've made two main adjustments in my life because of the increased worry of a big earthquake hitting:
1)  I charge my cellphone more frequently, never knowing when I'll need it to last for awhile without electricity.
2) I keep my eyeglasses in a case on my bedside table now, instead of loose on the window sill in the bathroom like I used to.  The Christchurch earthquake hit a 4:30 in the morning, and I'd hate to think how long it'd take me in the dark to find my glasses down the hall in the bathroom and probably busted having fallen onto the floor.

I really should get a working flashlight, but luckily, my awesome old school Nokia cell phone has an LED torch, so keeping it charged at least will give me some light.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

The Big One

Napier is far enough away from Christchurch that we didn't feel the huge 7.1 earthquake that hit there early this morning.  But it's certainly a wake up call for us all here in New Zealand, because such a quake could happen anywhere, at anytime.

Napier's all ready been virtually destroyed one, back in 1931 by a 7.8 earthquake and a fire that followed it.  That history doesn't give us an all clear, though, so it's prudent to be prepared.  Thankfully there were few serious injuries from the Christchurch earthquake, but the damage to the city infrastructure was severe.  The possibility of being without power or water for several days, if not longer, is very sobering.

I've seen the ads on TV here telling us to prepare for the worst.  The handy website tells you what to do. A few months ago I started making an effort to stockpile bottles of water, but I never got to the recommended 12 litres of water per person, which for our family of 4 would be 48 litres!  We've got a basic first aid kit, but that's about it.  We don't even have a working flash light.  Time to get on that.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

US Expats must keep the IRS informed

One of the many joys of being a US citizen is that you get to file yearly tax returns to the IRS for the rest of your life no matter where you live!  Most people know that little tidbit, and obviously heaps of people decide to move overseas regardless.  So April 15 continues to be a day of reckoning for us expats.

Less known is that there is another date to mark on your calendar as a US expat: June 30.  This is the date that your TD F 90-22.1 is due.  Now, not all US expats have to file this form, but if you happen to open any bank accounts in your new country of residence, and at any point in the year your combined balance goes over $10,000 (US), then the IRS wants to know about it.  And you use the TD F 90-22.1 to tell them.  Here is the IRS website's handy page on the matter:,,id=218835,00.html

And if this is the first you're hearing about it and you meet the requirements for 2009, then you better get on it quick, because the due date is Wednesday.

Due June 30
The annual due date for filing Form TD F 90-22.1, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR), is June 30. The FBAR must be received by the IRS on or before June 30. Unlike tax returns, the FBAR is considered filed on the day it is received by the IRS. Postmarks are not considered evidence of timely filing.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Flippin' Frost!

In New England (the region in the north-east of the United States composed of 6 states: Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island and my home state - Massachusetts) there's a saying attributed to Mark Twain...  "If you don't like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes."

I knew this to be true of New England, but I didn't think it would be the case in New Zealand as well.  But it is!  Though not to the same extremes.  We don't have sunny shorts and t-shirt days devolving into snowshoe days, but we do have sunny shorts and t-shirt days that devolve into huddle around the radiator nights.

Which leads to this in the morning:
(The grass in normally green, even in the winter.)

Which wouldn't be such a problem, but in January, the middle of our summer, we took a gamble and planted a tamarillo tree seedling.  I knew that here in Napier we get a frost or 2 a year, and that tamarillo trees are subtropical and can't handle frosts, but I figured I'd be able to protect it on the rare occasions.

Well, this winter frosts are not such a rare event.  We had 1 or 2 early frosts and I could feel the chill in the air as night descended, so I covered the tree with an old bed sheet.  And it did fine.  As recently as last week I took photos of my thriving tamarillo tree to show my mom back home.

And then we had the frost to end all frosts, which struck quite unawares, bringing to mind the Mark Twain quote above.  I didn't cover the tree since it had been so warm during the day.  And then last night we had another surprise attack.  When I went to bed it was raining, and everyone knows it can't frost when it's raining.  But apparently it can frost when it stops raining in the middle of the night and a cold front moves through. This is our tree now.


Monday, 7 June 2010

Surcharge, Yeah Right!

Wandering around town centres in New Zealand today, a recent expat might wonder what's with all the "No surcharge" signs outside eating establishments.
Let me clear up the confusion.  A New Zealand national labour law requires employers to pay employees time and a half for working on public holidays.  Today is Queen's Birthday, one such holiday.  Unlike the States where waitstaff are frequently paid a pittance and make most of their money in tips, all restaurant and cafe staff here must be paid at least minimum wage, currently $12.75 per hour.  So on a public holiday they're paid at least $19.12 per hour.  Some places of business claim this is a reason to charge their patrons an extra fee on public holidays, saying they wouldn't be able to otherwise pay their staff the extra wages.

Commonly, you'll see food shops trying to differentiate themselves by posting that they don't charge a holiday surcharge.  See a few examples of signs that were out today in Napier.

And as another cultural note, note the Heaven's Bakery sign.  Kiwis use sarcasm as humour way more than Americans in my experience.

Monday, 31 May 2010

New Zealand is not as safe as you think it is

Well, in a way it is, in a way it isn't.  It's true that we are relatively safe from violent crime here.  But the level of petty crime seems to be proportionally much higher.  And no where is safe.  Even the "good" neighborhoods have regular break-ins and burglaries.

This post was prompted by this story in the Dominion Post (a Wellington newspaper).  An American expat couple living in Wellington left all their belongings in a van outside their house, and it was broken into and everything stolen.  Including their $15,000 bicycles.  And they didn't have insurance.

The only time in my entire life that I've ever been robbed from was last winter when staying at a rented bach (pronounced 'batch', a small vacation rental) in Ohakune near the Ruapehu skifields.  It was pouring rain, so when we returned to the bach from dinner, we ran inside and I forgot to lock the car doors.  Later in the night we went to get back in the car to go out for some drinks, and as I got to the driver-side door, it burst open and a young hoodlum jumped out, yelled "booga booga!" and ran off.  Luckily we disturbed him, or he probably would have taken all our CDs.  As it was, he only got a pair of sunglass (nice ones, though, so it still sucked).

So when you move here, don't be complacent.  Lock your doors.  Don't leave anything valuable in your car.  And for goodness sakes, insure your valuables.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Learn the Kiwi "as" slang from a 6-year-old

You won't be in New Zealand long before you hear someone exclaim, "Sweet as!"  Soon you may even find yourself sticking random "as"es in at the end of sentences.  Here my 6-year-old daughter shows us expert usage.  (Actually, this was found in her top secret diary, so don't tell anyone I showed you.)

As you can see, she's listing members of her class, and denoting them either "cool" or "cool as".  (Names blurred the names to protect the innocent.)  In Massachusetts the equivalent would be labeling friends as either "cool" or "wicked cool".  The last 3 are her family members.  It's nice that she's still at an age where she thinks her parents are awesome.

Basically, you can add "as" in after any adjective to add emphasis.  As far as I know, New Zealand is the only country that utilizes this turn of phrase.  Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.

Friday, 14 May 2010

News Flash!

Update on the Napier central city supermarket situation!

They have painted the dark green Countdown the same color as the light green Countdown, so there is now no way to tell them apart.

And since I have a hard time remembering which was there first, the "old" and "new" monikers are useless.  So if you tell someone to meet you at the Countdown in Napier you've got a 50-50 chance of picking the right one.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Ice Cream

For some reason a lot of people here are under the impression that New Zealand is internationally known for having great ice cream. On multiple occasions when the fact comes up that I don't like New Zealand ice cream I hear, "But New Zealand is supposed to make the best ice cream in the world!" Maybe a news show did a report once stating this? Maybe Kiwis learn it in school? Maybe the dairy industry has put subliminal messages in advertisements?

Whatever the reason, I'd like to state my opinion for the record that the ice cream here kinda sucks. Yesterday I was talking about this to my co-worker (my one and only co-worker, unless you count my 2 bosses who bring the company total to 4) because of this story about New Zealand's most popular ice cream brand Tip Top.

Me: Tip Top is so icy and watery and light and fluffy. When it melts it turns into watery foam!

Co-worker: Yeah... what's wrong with that? What does your ice cream turn into when it melts?

Me: Cream.

Co-worker: ... Ew.

You can get Häagen-Dazs for a small fortune, but I've decided it's just not worth it. So I don't eat ice cream anymore. Instead, I'll just save up and gorge on Ben & Jerry's when I go back to visit the States.

Monday, 7 September 2009

3... 2... 1...

Central Napier has 3 super markets, all within spitting distance of each other. As you can see in the photo above, 1 is a Pak 'n Save, and the other 2 are Countdowns. Yes. You read that right. There are 2 Countdown supermarkets, directly across the street from each other.

Apparently, one of them used to be a Woolworths, which was bought out by Countdown. So they rebranded the supermarket. Never mind the fact that there's already a Countdown DIRECTLY ACROSS THE STREET. To avoid confusion, they can be referred to as the "old" Countdown versus the "new" Countdown. But as the months and years go by, people forget which is which of those, so now Napier has the "dark green" Countdown versus the "light green" Countdown.

And now you know.