Monday, September 17, 2012

Welcome to Paradise...Again!

Jay and I have just had the most awesome month, living on beautiful Waiheke Island!

So one day after work, in late July, I was checking my email and lo and behold, there was one from Peter back in Onetangi. (For some background info., check out my previous post.) Basically, Peter asked us if we wanted to go over to Waiheke for a month and housesit for him while he and his family went back to Newfoundland on holiday. Living in a lovely house, near Onetangi Beach on beautiful Waiheke Island, for free...with Peter's old Cruiser to drive around in? "Yes please!" we said. So on July 25th, we hopped on the ferry again and headed back over.

The island life was very good to us. I spent most of my days writing (some of which was paid, some just for fun) and reading (and watching the Cosby Show of course!), while Jay worked on his own thing. Here's a snap of him, at the "office."

Jay working away on Peter's deck. 

Our first week on the island, my lovely Swedish co-worker from SkyJump, Martina, and her Irish boyfriend Paul swung over to visit us. We all went out to Stony Batter, which has a bunch of gun emplacements and maze-like tunnels from WWII. The tunnels look like the kind of place where the zombie apocalypse will eventually go down, which is a direct contrast from outside the place, which is peppered with beautiful rolling green farmland and (very friendly) sheep everywhere!


Martina and me...say hello to our little friend...

Hey little dude! 

Paul and his new, furry friend. Looks like love at first sight! 

Another highlight from our time on Waiheke was the weekly Ostend Farmer's Market, where you can buy everything from fresh honeycomb and handmade soaps to pizza, fresh German rye bread and assorted bric-a-brac.

Our haul from the Ostend Farmer's Market. My first time trying fresh honeycomb! It was soooo good...

We also got to visit Whittaker's Music Museum, where a lovely volunteer named Reg played some tunes for us (we were allowed to play the instruments too!) and showed us all the instruments - everything from an "antique jukebox" of sorts to the pianolas (a self-playing piano that uses pneumatic pressure - very cool) and much more.

Reg tickles the ivories, or um, wood. 

Another cool place is the Waiheke Woolshed Museum and Historic Village. We only planned on spending a half hour so there, and ended up staying around two hours! They have lots of cools stuff...but here are a few pics of their more quirky items.

Forget How to Train Your Dragon...It's How to Train Your Moustache! 

Check out the classy gentleman!

An antique laptop!

This one's for my mum...antique vacuums! 

Mmmmm...tasty tasty ox tongues!

Another one for mum - an antique dishwasher! 

But the absolute highlight of our time on the island, however, was getting to witness the dissolution of the sand mandala of the Medicine Buddha. Basically, a group of Tibetan monks spent two weeks at a Maori marae making this mandala out of tiny grains of coloured sand. It is said that anyone who looks upon the medicine mandala receives good health.

At the dissolution ceremony at the end of August, the monks then swept up (literally) the fruits of their labour and then sent it out to sea - a metaphor for the impermanence of life. (Click the images to watch the videos.)

The ceremony consisted of lots (and lots) of chanting, and at the end, everyone joined in a large circle and held hands for a huge hongi (the Maori greeting that consists of touching your nose and forehead to the other person's) while they sang Maori songs. It was quite the experience and we felt so lucky to be a part of it. George Gardner at the Waiheke Marketplace was kind enough to send me this photo. Jay and I are pretty much in the middle.

Peter and Tanya arrived back August 31 and we spent the next two weeks at the beach apartments again.

Now, we're here in Auckland, getting ready to fly out to Bangkok tomorrow, then onto Cambodia...then the rest of Southeast Asia!

I'll do the best I can to post regular updates, though they won't be as rambling as usual. Until next time!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Livin' On the Edge'd I get on with that job interview you may be asking?

Just dandy!

After bidding a fond farewell to our fellow inmates the morning after my birthday, Jay and I busted out of the clink for the last time and ran down Bluff Hill (bags attached to our back and front!) and caught the Naked Bus, again, back up to Auckland.

I had my interview the next day, on June 21. I was asked the usual questions: Where are you from? How'd you end up in New Zealand? What the heck were you doing in prison? Etc. etc. ... and then finally, at the end of the interview, one of the lovely interviewees, Amy, turns to me and says, "So, we're going to get you to do a jump now." And this is what happened.

(Click the image to watch the video.)

That afternoon, I got a call back and was offered the job, which I quickly accepted.

The next day, I got another call asking me to come by the office to sign some forms and to try out the company's other "product" - and the best part was that they invited Jay along for the ride. He was a bit hesitant at first, but, being the good sport he is (and after a bit of prodding from me) he went for it - and I think he's pretty happy that he did.

Good ting dis floor's some tick 'n' tough, 'by! 

Now, what the hell is this "job" you might ask?

Well, I'm what they call a groundie and I'm the lucky person who gets to suit people up so that they can fling themselves off Auckland's iconic Sky Tower - 192 metres straight down to the ground! You might've seen the Sky Tower featured last year in an episode of The Biggest Loser - and if you're ever in Auckland, you can't help but not see the tower. At 328 metres, it's actually the tallest man-made structure in New Zealand and the tallest free-standing structure in the Southern Hemisphere.

I first learned about SkyJump back home in Newfoundland. I had already tried skydiving and zip-lining, so when I found out that people could actually jump right off this big honkin' hunk of steel, I made a mental note to check it off my list. SkyJump is best described as "base jumping by wire" and you fall for 11 seconds, at 85 km/h, landing directly on your feet on the platform below. When we actually arrived in New Zealand back in January, I was very tempted to do the deed then - but I'm so glad I waited!

Jay snapped my picture on my first day of work, just like a proud dad taking a pic of his kid on their first day of school, haha...

So basically, my job consists of greeting clients; ensuring that they've emptied their pockets and stashed their belongings; making sure their shoes are tied tightly (we wouldn't want them to go flying off their feet and hitting someone in the noggin' down below!); and getting them into their jump suits and fitting them with a harness (along with quelling their nerves if they seem really scared or knockin' 'em down a notch or two if they seem too brave. : ) And last but not least, I wait below on the landing platform and catch them after they've taken their giant leap of faith.

I've suited up and caught kids as young as 10, senior citizens (SkyJump's oldest jumper to date is a 91-year-old woman!) and entire families. I've seen people overcome their fears, a guy come in blindfolded, not having a sweet clue as to what was going on (his "friends" bought him the jump as a birthday gift!) and pretty much every emotion under the sun.

But the most fun part of the job? When it's a bit slow-going, I have to do demonstration jumps throughout the day (hence why I was made to do one during the interview). And lucky for me, since it's winter here now, there are lots of slow days. One day I jumped 10 times and pretty much went up the elevator, came straight down again, went up, came down, etc. etc. etc. for the entire afternoon. For some people, this may seem like a nightmare, but for me, it really is a dream come true. Jumping off a building every day...and getting paid for it? It feels like I've won a contest!

Most of my days at work look pretty much the same, but there is one day in particular that really sticks out in my mind. On this particular day Jen, the manager, called our regular morning meeting to order and informed us that "the Biebs" was coming. Because of her Kiwi accent, and the fact that she was going to have her baby any day, I thought she had said that the "babe" was coming. Silly me! Once that was cleared up, we went on with our day, waiting for Bieber to rear his perfectly coiffed head. In the end, Bieber never made it - but that didn't matter to the gaggle of teenage girls who had gathered around the platform outside. They got wind that Bieber was coming and they were not leaving their post - which they were stationed at the entire day. Funny thing was, that same day, there was a huge protest going on just outside (something to do with the National Party annual conference and a speech that Prime Minister John Key was to give at Sky City that weekend), so the place was crawling with cops, whom I think the Beliebers thought were there to guard their hero. And, to make matters worse, we were also visited by a Japanese film crew who was filming one of their own (the host perhaps?) doing the jump for a segment for a Japanese morning show, so there were cameras everywhere as well. (As it turns out, I'm the one who ended up catching the host while a cameraman filmed it, so I guess I made an appearance on the Japanese morning show as well!) I also made it onto some paparazzi pics, as there was a guy across the street with a big ass long-focus lenes snapping pics of me as I jumped that afternoon. Guess he was also pretty disappointed that I wasn't the Biebs!

My absolute favourite time at work though, was when the fog rolled in. On some days, it was so heavy that whenever I reached the top of the tower and gazed out the window, I could've sworn I was high up in the clouds, as all I could see just below me was a thick blanket of fog. Jumping through that fog was an otherworldly experience. I will never forget it.

About a month into work, to mark the milestone of my 50th jump, I (along with my co-workers Bruno and Jared) had a bit of fun...and look what I brought along for the ride!

Why is it that after every time I jump, I crave burritos? : )

Guess I should explain a little. You see, I used to write for Downhome magazine. Downhome regularly prints photos of people posing with the magazine in far-flung and exotic locations all over the world. So, I thought my old workmates would get a bit of a kick out of it if I brought the Downhome with me as I took my 50th flying leap.

I did this jump backwards because I was demonstrating for a jumper who was watching at the window and who was going to do the same. I jumped four more times directly after this, bringing my grand total to 54. (That must be some kind of Newfie record!) Click the image to see the video.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Birthday Behind Bars

So, today I celebrated the big prison! (If you have no friggin' clue what I'm taking about, check out my earlier entry about my time in prison, here.) Needless to say, I will definitely remember this birthday for many years to come.

Jay and I spent the day strolling around Napier, snapping pics of the Art Deco buildings and all the street signs with author's names (of which there were many).

We stopped for lunch at our favourite sushi place...and then onto our favourite cafe, Cappadonna, for birthday cheesecake!

Waiting to dig into some sushi, sporting my birthday gifts from Jay (a Ramones hoodie and a lovely tiki necklace made from New Zealand jade, aka "greenstone." Thank you, Jay. : )

Some time ago, I joked about how, for my 30th birthday, it would be cool to have a proper party with party games and hats (you know, just to to show how un-30ish I am). Later in the evening, we were all sitting around the TV room when someone flicked the lights off. Then, lo and behold, Liesil whipped out the party hats (even managing to get one on Basil!) and everyone started singing as Sheree came through the door with a cake full of candles - so many that I was starting to get a bit overheated! You know you're getting old when your birthday cake makes you sweat more than sitting in the dentist's chair waiting for a root canal (which I've never had, but I can imagine it would be quite the sweat-inducing procedure).

Tomorrow, sadly, Jay and I are leaving the prison...but for good reason. I have a job interview in Auckland on the 21st (but more on that later)!

When we came to Napier Prison back in March, we were asked to stay for three weeks...but we loved our time here so much we ended up staying for almost four months! It would take ages to write about every little thing we've seen and done since we've been here, so instead, here are a few highlights:

Ringin' in the Roaring Thirties with my Prison Family! The evening before my birthday, we got all the prison gang together (those of us who were still around, anyway) and went for dinner at one of our favourite restaurants, a delicious Turkish place called Kilim. (The people who work there are super nice and ever since one of the employees found out we're Canadian, he asks us about Vancouver almost every time we go in, haha...he seems a bit obsessed with the place. This guy has also given us free Turkish delight and baklava on occasion, so he's ace with us!) It was indeed a very international birthday dinner.

From left: English John, Irish Joe, Jay, Me, Tomas and Nacho (the Chileans), Sheree and Grace (the Kiwis), Liesil and Steve (the Americans), and Swedish Ylva. 

Discovering Hell Pizza. Hell, I guess you could say, is the "hottest" pizza joint around. Hell is a New Zealand-based pizza chain (with a location, I just found out, in Vancouver, BC...wooooo!) with sinfully delicious food. Their standard pizzas are named after the Seven Deadly Sins (Lust, Greed, Envy, Wrath, Pride, Sloth and Gluttony...with cheese!) while other pizzas have names like "Mordor" - a nod to Lord of the Rings and my personal favourite. Hell has the coolest marketing and the pizza boxes even fold into lil' cardboard coffins for you to stash your leftovers! Eating in Hell while living at prison, close to Cape Kidnappers. There's something wrong with that, idden dere?

Hell Pizza box!

Check out Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi and Osama bin Laden on the front window. 

Fun and Games. Just because we're "inmates" doesn't mean we don't have a good time. Sometimes we played Cops and Robbers (how fitting!) at night around the prison's dark grounds. Sheree always had something up her sleeve, like the "Prison Olympics," where she made us play catch with water balloons; Fluffy Bunny with pink and white marshmallows (which seem to be the only colour of marshmallows you'll find here in NZ); eat melted Snickers bars from diapers (which looked gross but tasted delicious); and more - sometimes, I think, for her own twisted entertainment! Sometimes, we managed to bust out of the prison for a bit of fun. Every Thursday evening, we would all go to the "Cri," located in Napier's largest Spanish Mission/Art Deco style building, for the weekly pub quiz. Some of us went for the booze, others for the free squid rings, fries and fish, and others just because we like trivia. Whatever the reason, we always had a great time - and a couple of times, we even managed to snag the bar tab.

The Thursday pub quiz crew, looking very intense (from left): Greg (a random dude who floats from team to team each week); Irish Joe; Jay; Me; and German Stef. Photo courtesy of Stef G.

Much More Music! Not too long after I arrived in prison, I started getting into the ukulele (Sheree is mostly responsible for this, as she always seems to be toting one around and we sometimes had lil' jam sessions in the office). So in April, toting bags full of groceries, I caved and popped into the Music Machine and finally bought one. A nice bloke from Liverpool helped me out, and sold me the uke and a hardshell case for a few bucks off. Besides sounding pretty, the uke is also a nice souvenir from New Zealand, as it's decorated with the country's flag.

The tuning pegs are connected to lil' dolphins on back...Awwwww : )

Discovering the Kiwi Touton. One day, Jay was chatting with Sheree when she started describing a type of Maori fried bread that you could buy at the Sunday market just down the street. Jay, thinking it sounded strangely similar to a touton, went down to check it out and lo and behold, there it was!

All the Cuddly Critters. Sometimes, the prison felt like a zoo of sorts. While Basil is the "top cat" around here, Marion's adorable dog, Finn, often tried to steal the spotlight.

Oh Basil!

Hanging Out on the Marine Parade. The Marine Parade is probably one of Napier's most beautiful features. There is a paved path running right alongside the ocean that Jay and I used to run on every second morning. Around here you'll also find the Pania of the Reef statue, which is apparently "one of the most photographed tourism attractions in the country.

The Saturday Farmer's Market in Clive Square. Clive Square has a beautiful park, which includes an automated set of chimes, shaped like a harp, that plays the most beautiful music throughout the day.

Creepy Days and Spooky Nights. Living at a supposedly haunted prison, you know there's lots of spooktacular fun to be had. One night, we even had a team of local paranormal investigators camp out at the prison. We followed them around a while as they investigated the hanging yard and other supposedly haunted hot spots with all their high-tech gear in tow. On a few occasions, we were asked to help out with the nighttime ghost audio tours. A handful of us dressed up in scary garb and hid in the cells and hallways throughout the prison, in the pitch black, waiting to jump out at unsuspecting tourists. It was good fun while it lasted and a couple of visitors were so freaked out they never even made it into the prison proper - so we must've done a good job!

Calum the Scot, scary Sheree, creepy Cat and me (in the white dress with glowing eyes) wait to terrorize unsuspecting tourists! 

Jay, looking all demented, as usual, hehe....

As I said before, I could ramble on about my time in prison (that never ceases to sound funny to me) for ages...but I'll stop here and just say it's been awesome - and the main reason for that is my fellow inmates aka, my prison family. Thanks for making this adventure so much fun, and I hope we all cross paths again!

From left: Jay, Me, English Cat, German Stef, Little Nacho (the Chilean), Minnesota Bill, Big Nacho and Tomas (the other Chileans), and Steve and Liesil the Americans.