My cousin recently introduced me to Geoguessr.com, and I think I must have spent the last 20 minutes looking at StreetView pictures and guessing where in the world they might be. The best I did was 12’388 points, but I’m sure that can be outdone!
Only Brisbane this time. Arrival at about 11pm. The taxi driver who took me to my hotel said his business was down about 30% due to people travelling less. One thing’s for sure: the economic crisis provides a universal topic of conversation. The Grand Chancellor is overrated and overpriced. Never have I written as many critical comments on the comment card. Good thing I only stayed there two nights and then moved to Mark’s house.
I spent two days with our distributors getting to know new people, showing them our system, and visiting customers with it. They had organized two presentations at the main universities in Brisbane – a good start and an efficient use of time.
The weekend at Mark’s consisted of a fabulous outing to the Noosa headlands, a church service at the Sherwood Uniting Church where his mother preached, and noontime in the city and South Bank with Mark’s sister. Brisbane was hot, but not as hot as I had feared, and I feel like with a little more time there would have been plenty more to do.
Flat Stanley digs Noosa.
We flew into Auckland on Sunday evening and spent the night near the airport. Monday we drove down to Rotorua and set up our booth. The drive and its vistas made me want to see more of the country, but a visit every other year is about as much as is reasonable given the market size. If only we could sell microscopes to sheep! One of the little towns we passed, Tirau, seemed to be the corrugated sheet capital of the country, with most signs and several domestic fixtures made of corrugated iron.
Rotorua announces itself by gentle wafts of sulphurous (IUPAC: sulfurous) odors. Your eggs could go off in this town and you’d put it down to the local air. The upside is a plethora of spas and baths, of which I tried the Polynesian Spa, a bit expensive indeed but ever so enjoyable late at night after a day at the booth and a big dinner. Of course, it’s not Japanese style, so now my bathing suit reeks of sulfur.
The conference once again distinguished itself by its aura of familiarity. This is indeed a small, tight, and friendly microscopy community, a group of people excited about microscopy and happy to hang out with fellow microscopists, wherever they may be from. As usual, I have a photo of dancing microscopists.
Dancing Microscopists in Rotorua.
On Thursday we had the afternoon off and headed down to Wai-o-tapu, where the local geological instabilities reminded me of just how fragile our earthly existence is and what a mercy it is to be sustained day by day.
The mud pots.
The Champagne Pool.
Wai-o-tapu has a mind of its own.
More from the Champagne Pool.
The next day it was up early and off to the Rotorua airport. This is an airport where the planes taxi up the runway, u-turn at the end, and then take off along the same runway. My plane was a 19-seat Beechcraft 1900D, and I was seated in the second row and therefore got to watch the pilots all the way. Here’s a picture of us landing.
Landing at Auckland Airport with a Beech 1900D.
See how the plane’s longitudinal axis is not at all parallel to the runway?
I haven’t yet transferred many pictures from Japan to my computer – most are still on my camera – but here’s one that also is the quiz of this post: What is in the below bag?
More later – going home now. It’s about time.
Friday, September 14, 9:08 a.m.
weight unknown (v.g.), calorie intake unknown (v.g.), thigh circumference unknown (v.g.), cigarettes 0 (v.v.g.), alcohol units unknown (but >0, hence only g.), predictable plot twists 2
I boarded the Skybus late because stuffing my stuff in my suitcases took longer than intended and apologized to the driver. I don’t think it would have changed which bus we boarded at the Southern Cross Station terminal, but I still felt embarrassed. At the airport, I checked in, proceeded with no delay through customs, and went to claim back the GST from my opal purchase. The girl working the TRS booth started peeling the cover off my passport, which nobody had done so far at any customs station, then, when she realized it wasn’t easy, handed it to me and asked me to remove the cover. Confused by the request and annoyed at the prospect of having to stuff the passport back in, I asked: “Why would you need that?” She took the passport back. “Oh, right, I don’t. I’m used to being over there,” she said, and pointed to the customs booths. She went to work on the computer, and I was left to reflect on my question and my tone. “I’m sorry if I was rude before,” I finally said, belated and still not fully admitting guilt. “No worries.”
After getting my documents and passing through the security check two officers pulled me aside for a random check to pat me down and swipe a detector for explosives residue on me and in my carry-ons. I’m quite sure the TRS girl had nothing to do with that. I passed the search and continued on to the gates, all located in a circular hall with stores in the nexus. I bought a lemonade and a rocky road at the only coffee shop and sat down to read. The book I held in my hand was “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” but the real reason for reading lay in having registered “Prey” at Bookcrossing before and indicated this coffee shop as the drop-off point. I thought it was quite clever to read another book and placing “Prey” in full view on the table, because that way I could pack my things and everyone would see that I was packing a book and hopefully infer that “Prey” wasn’t mine. It worked, but I think the subterfuge was wasted on the loud Chinese around me who clearly had other things in mind than hollering after me that I’d forgotten my book.
The plane was a bit late boarding and then even later leaving. A Qantas flight to Auckland on to L.A. was delayed by about two and a half hours because it was waiting for a missing part from Sydney, and the passengers bound for Santiago de Chile got reshuffled to our flight in order to be able to make the connection to Chile in Auckland. I fell asleep in the waiting plane, only to wake up to the sound of the purser’s voice announcing that boarding was complete.
Friday, September 14, 1:00 p.m.
Runway, Melbourne Tullamarine
We took off into a patchy sky and circled over the plains west of Melbourne. Through one opening in the clouds I saw an area with a surprising number of O shapes, possibly horse-racing tracks or something similar. It looked like a giant piece of retro appliqué with earth tones and elbow patches arranged at ninety-degree angles to each other. We flew right over the CBD, so I saw nothing of it. After that came the ocean, and I turned to the entertainment program and watched “Surf’s Up,” which I enjoyed as a fun divertissement, noting in the process that Zooey Deschanel has a lovely speaking voice.
Flying into Auckland just after sunset the colors turned magical: soft hues of steel blue with orange highlights in the clouds, intense aquamarine and turquoise with sandy swirls in the water, and rich green with darker woods across the landscape. The guy next to me caught sight of my Hawthorn scarf as we got ready to deplane, and said that had he known I was a member we could have spent all flight talking. Instead of voicing my gratitude for the way things had turned out, I quickly admitted to being a rookie member and a fake one at that, but I think the scarf alone and the reminder of the great game the previous weekend were enough to cheer up this guy who had clearly not enjoyed the delay we’d had. (Note: Hawthorn lost this weekend against the Kangaroos and is unfortunately out of the competition. Now I have a beef with roos.)
Friday, September 14, 6:45 p.m.
Auckland International Airport
Auckland airport once again seemed convoluted for so small an airport. We passed security first thing after leaving the plane – even those carrying on to SFO on the same plane – and then walked round a corner up a flight of stairs into the main departure hall. I passed the chapel on my way to the bathroom, turned in, and found a pulpit with a Bible on it open to 2 Kings or something similarly exciting and approachable. To the side, a compass sat fixed to a wooden pillar, with an outlined T above the needle, the crossbar facing east-west and the upright pointing north. Below, on the railing, a small plaque with an arrow pointed to Al Kaaba. Above, in the main hall, I ordered sparkling water and received Coke without the syrup. I hurried up with drinking because the display proclaimed 10 minutes until boarding for my flight, although even so apparently the gate was yet unknown. Soon it switched to proclaiming five minutes until boarding, a number it stuck to for a quarter of an hour. When Gate 8 appeared on the board I walked over toward the gates, where two officials sat behind a trestle table in front of three sheets of paper taped to the wall. Two papers seemed semi-permanent and indicated the way to the gate; the third looked more improvised and more ruffled and read “LAX Gate 8” in two-tone highlighter. After the airline employee checked my ticket, two officials again asked me to step aside for a random search. I passed again, amidst quips about being used to it because of the search in Melbourne. I must have been the safest passenger on board that plane.
I read more Bridget Jones and wondered if just as Jones is annoying to me because of her scattered flightiness, I am annoying to other people because I curb and hedge my enthusiasm. Somehow my thoughts meandered off and ran to being on the beach and needing suntan lotion, and I suddenly realized my suntan lotion was still in my camera bag. 60ml of liquid smuggled on board just like that!
I found it harder to sleep on this flight. Air New Zealand served lamb (darn good for airplane food) and after a few hiccups provided a decent entertainment selection. I watched “The World’s Fastest Indian,” a delightful quirky story that makes a man want to build his own motorcycle, “Ocean’s 13,” with a plot of such basic simplicity and such byzantine contortions that I’m not sure I followed it, and an episode of Top Gear. I finally fell asleep, only to be woken at breakfast by the flight attendant moving my seat back into the upright position.
Friday, September 14, 1:35 p.m.
We land. Taxiing takes a long time, as does waiting for baggage, which shows up on belt 6 instead of 5 and gets taken off the belt by an eager official before it makes the round back to where I stand. My smaller suitcase has sustained damage, par for the course for flights to the US. The walk from the baggage claim to the exit is short, the arrival room looks like a proviso with the ATM standing in the section that’s inaccessible once you’re out of the double doors. I wait, armed with not a single dollar, and a few minutes later Heather arrives to pick me up.
Jetlag weariness keeps me from relating the rest of the weekend now.
I got up at 5:00 New Zealand time, checked mail, showered, packed, and almost missed my shuttle for being late. The driver blamed the hotel because they wouldn’t call me and drove the van with its trailer like a little Schumacher to the airport. I checked in and even checked the poster this time, as fragile, so I only carried on two bags on to what turned out to be a half-empty 767. Then, I paid my departure fee.
The check-in lady insisted that one paid a departure fee everywhere, that the departure fee in Australia was over 70 dollars, only it was hidden in the airfare. Maybe so. I still don’t understand why I need to pay 25 dollars to leave the country.
In duty-free, I finally found a map of New Zealand and bought it. I’d read a cartoon on Waitangi Day that bemoaned that New Zealand takes its name from the Dutch and its flag from the Aussies who ripped it off from the British, so I offer here in gratitude for a pleasant stay a bold new name for this beleaguered country to express its identity: Ovinia.
As usual, departure card in New Zealand, then the useless Australian entry card where the fields are white rectangles on a pale yellow background and near illegible in a plane. Apparently it doesn’t matter if one writes off center – they let me in anyway. Their main concern was my food (chocolates) and soil (dust from Rangitoto) that they then completely ignored when the Asian guy in front of me had to have his baggage searched for noodles and rice.
Beat picked me up and drove me to Cremorne, where I met his wife Muoi for the first time. Their daughter Elena soon woke up and made a silent appearance, shy and sleep-weary. We went to Balmoral beach, where I took a quick dip in the water and a lot of pictures of Elena. I wasn’t staying out long after Saturday’s sunburn. Elena was sad to leave. She likes the water and the seashells and kept playing with the ones she’d collected, now suddenly transformed into a garrulous but cryptic one-and-a-half-year-old. (That looks odd with five hyphens.) We had excellent Asian ravioli and noodles courtesy of Muoi’s culinary arts and I was stuffed when Allie Beckett drove up to pick me up for the evening service at Beecroft Presbyterian.
Allie and her husband John studied at Regent College with Cornelia, as did James McFarlane, assistant pastor at Beecroft, and his wife Amanda. John was on a trip to Kenya, and Amanda home with her son Thomas, so I did not get to meet them, but it was fun to continue what’s now fast becoming a tradition of meeting Cornelia’s friends from Regent. We were a bit late to the service, because (a) intermittent showers of driving raid slowed us down, (b) Allie was unfamiliar with Cremorne and I even more so and (c) in Sydney, the shortest distance between two points may still be a straight line, but there’s no way you can legally take it.
That evening, James spoke on the blessedness of those who mourn and those who are meek. Before, after, and in between the two, we sang. After the service, there was a spread of munchies, but I was still well full from the ravioli, so I stuck to drinks. One of the announcements struck a chord: people were being asked to sign up as hosts or guests for “Someone’s coming to Dinner,” an effort to get people from the three different services to intermingle and build community.
The drive back saw even more torrential rain, and back at Beat’s I gave a short private demo of our AFM.
Monday morning, Beat dropped me off at the North Sydney train station on my way to work. I took the Northern line all the way out to Hornsby and there figured out that the North Shore line might well have been faster. From then until now, the weather has alternated between patches of sun and downpours. Of course, at this basement internet café I can see neither.
It’s getting late, but I’ll get this one off.
I’d been telling all the microscopists who wondered what I’d do on my day off that I’d probably head to Waiheke Island for the wine festival, and then in a breathtaking but ultimately irrelevant display of inconsistency I changed my mind this morning and headed to Rangitoto, if only because saying “Rangitoto” is much more fun. Björn Heijstra, a converted Dutchman, had suggested Rangitoto to me and it seemed more appealing than crowds of people. Of course I met Allan from the conference on the boat.
I also met Ashley, a Californian fresh off the plane, and the two of us decided to walk the island together. We headed out along the road to the causeway to the neighboring island, Motutapu. After a short spell exploring the beach we took the coastal trail back to the main wharf, which started off a sealed trail, only to turn into a meandering roller-coaster of basaltic rock piles. Every now and then, a strange plant caught my eye – mostly because of color. Closer inspection would have revealed that nearly all plants there were strange to me.
After about three hours of walking we arrived back at the wharf and tried to find a water fountain. Neither food nor drink is for sale on the island, and we’d both run out of water. We approached a bach (pronounced “batch” – see also in this dictionary) under restoration and they offered us water from their tap. After chatting with the volunteer workers for a while we headed up the mountain to the crater summit, which gave us a wide view across the Hauraki gulf. The Canadian we met who compared Auckland to Vancouver wasn’t far off.
We were quite possibly the last ones off the mountain – the last ferry was to leave at five. We made it down at 4:30, sunburned and tired. That an avid ultimate frisbee player and outdoorswoman like Ashley was tired I put down to her jet lag – my tiredness to not having hiked in ages. We parted in the Auckland drizzle, her to check in at her hostel and me to get a dinner after missing two out of my last three meals.
Now I do need to get to bed so I make the morning flight.
On Tuesday, I lugged my stuff down to the site and set up my booth, then got to move it to a less breezy location where I was able to measure. I met some organizers, some co-exhibitors, and then some delegates at the mixer that evening. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc in particular impressed me that evening, as did Colin Doyle’s delicacies. (Not the Birmingham City goalie, nor the Vonage NLL MVP, nor the actor, but the Colin Doyle from the RCSMS at Auckland University, which I probably shouldn’t even mention because they don’t use a Nanosurf AFM.)
On Wednesday, I bought water and snacks at the convenience store and readied my booth, then went in for the first round of talks, the “gristle talks” as an unnamed member of the RCSMS put it. They centered (or centred, in New Zealand) on ovine this and ovine that. Ovine spine, ovine ovaries – it seems that after rugby and beer Kiwis care most about sheep. (And yet, at the time of writing, I have yet to eat lamb or mutton here.) In the afternoon, I stayed at the booth, talking to delegates, and measuring a CD stamper (the tool that stamps the little pits into raw CDs) on the shaky little table of mine. The display company obviously had no idea what a microscopist understands when he hears “stable table.” In the evening there was a poster session and a trades evening, and people did indeed stop by and marvel at our cute AFM, but did seem to prefer the dinner we collectively sponsored. Who am I to blame them?
I believe it was on Thursday that in a conversation I was introduced to bryozoans by a visitor to our booth, whom I will refer to as “Lady Bryozoan” to protect the innocent. Bryozoans are allegedly fascinating living blobs (“a phylum of predominantly marine, clonal, sessile invertebrates,” i.e. marine couch potatoes) randomly equipped with “avicularia,” the function of which has yet to be determined (which Lady Bryozoan dreams of doing). These bryozoans form colonies (albeit neither commonwealths nor cricket tournaments) and, mysteriously, some colonies have no avicularia, and in those that do have them their location cannot be predicted. (I propose a division into “Monastic” and “Big-Mouth” colonies.) Later at the dinner in Auckland harbor Lady Bryozoan gazed forlornly off the deck at the crustacean grime on the pilings opposite and voiced her regret at not being able to climb down there and check for bryozoans or at least the diatoms they grow on. The real shocker was being able to mention bryozoans in separate conversations with two other people without them batting an eye.
Ah, yes, the conference dinner. Excellent steak, excellent wine, and dancing microscopists. You didn’t really think microscopists were that different from your likes, did you? The floating pavilion offered a great view of Auckland as the backdrop and made even teetotallers sway.
That night I slept badly. Whether it was jet lag’s last attack or something in the food or not being prepared for Friday’s talk, I tossed and turned and woke up at 4:15 after three hours of sleep. I prepared my presentation just in time to leave for the last day of the conference.
In wise foresight, the organizers had set the starting time a bit later than the other two days. The time people showed up stood in a rough inverse proportional relationship to the time they had returned to their lodging. Maybe that helped the Annual General Meeting go faster.
My talk went well, although I really wanted to go to the bathroom at that time, but I wasn’t running out and missing being called up. I enjoyed that whole session, with two talks on metallic materials and one after mine on telepresence in microscopy use. Then, after a phenomenally short closing address (“Thanks for coming, come again in two years”) the conference ended, and I took down my booth. It was a small conference, but one where I enjoyed the sense of mutual encouragement and collaboration between microscopists in very different fields. I also noticed that of the organizing committee two thirds were women, and so was a large number both of trades delegates and regular delegates.
Obviously, after a long day and a short night I was tired, and so when I got back to the hotel just before seven I decided to take a nap. When my alarm woke me from that nap I lost no time deciding to skip dinner and just go to bed.
It took me until 7pm, but I did leave the hotel. Around lunch I saw snitches of the Super Rain Bowl – lunch was at the hotel. My first business meeting was in the hotel lobby. For my second one we ventured out, two newbies to Auckland, and found the Queens Ferry Hotel, where we tried Monteith’s Original and the honey-flavored summer beer along with fish and chips. I prefer the Monteith’s Original to the gummy-bear sweetness of the honey brew. The review I link to above is right on the money – we picked the Queens Ferry Hotel because (a) it was Kiwi food Kiwi beer Kiwi this Kiwi that according to the signs, (b) there was space and (c) it looked pleasant. After 9:30 p.m. they dimmed the lights, but we couldn’t figure out why – the lone guy reading his book at the other table hardly could have been their reason for romantic mood lighting.
On the way back to the hotel we walked up an absurdly steep street that proved to me that this part of Auckland hadn’t been built before the advent of motor cars.
And in that order, too. I left on the 4:40 a.m. train from Basel to Zürich with four pieces of luggage. At check-in I got permission to take three of those as carry-on items. Believe me, I never enjoyed having three things to carry, but none of them I wanted thrown about like my suitcase.
It seemed like for most of my trip I flew over clouds. Between Zürich and Vienna some craggy peaks poked out of the cotton candy layer. In Vienna I got my seat on the next plane changed to a center aisle seat so I saw very little out the window. I was impressed by the quick transfer in Vienna but not so much by the Austrian Airlines entertainment system, because the movies didn’t have individual starting times. Instead of at least three movies I only saw two. “The Departed” is a well-told story without a real point but with a lot of shooting, dying, bleeding, and cursing. “Talladega Nights” entertained me more with its light humor (“It’s Spanish for, like, a fighting chicken”). We arrived in Kuala Lumpur at 4:50 a.m. local time amidst disinfectant aerosol and warnings of the death penalty, walked a quick loop to the waiting area, watched the shuttles with the bold claim “World’s Best Airport” zip by, and boarded again. I’d forgotten my pillow, eye cover, and book in the plane, but they had not been removed. On the flight to Sydney I read in “Babbitt,” slept, watched the great uniformity that is Australia pass by underneath on the onboard camera, and noted that most geographical features in Australia seem to be preceded by the same qualifier: Great Sandy Desert, Great Artesian Basin, Great Dividing Range, Great Barrier Reef. We dove through the clouds and landed in muggy Sydney.
The transfer in Sydney ranks among the least efficient I’ve ever been through. I waited for at least half an hour with no more than 30 people in the line in front of me. On the flight to New Zealand I was seated next to a retiree from Tennessee wearing a T-shirt saying “May the God of your choice bless you.” I asked him what his choice was, and he said he hadn’t decided yet – so many options! He was traveling to New Zealand to visit friends he’d made while living here for three years because he wanted to be around for the America’s Cup and to explore the South Island. He spends his summers volunteering for the British Columbia Land Conservancy out of Victoria and travels south for the winters; he recommended the Sauvignon Blanc and Speights Old Black or something like that.
Auckland welcomed me with a balmy night and sweet smells similar to wisteria. The Australian guy that sat behind me on the SuperShuttle commented to his girl how it didn’t look much different from Australia, to which she replied that it was because it was midnight and one couldn’t see the landscape. I was tempted to point out that we had also not left the airport parking yet. The girl next to me on the shuttle with a frizzy ponytail, a large nose and an endearing smile turned out to be from Slovenia, and I embarrassed myself by asking if she was from Bratislava. That would be like asking me if I was from Stockholm. When she joked that I’d been very impolite, I partly redeemed myself by guessing Ljubljana. The rest of the way until she got off at the Youth Hostel we spoke in German, because she’d studied in Freiburg im Breisgau, not an hour from Basel. I had to chuckle when she complimented me on my German, which she hastened to assure was a sincere compliment, because she often found Swiss hard to understand even in High German.
At about 1 p.m. I checked in to the Hyatt Regency and wrote an e-mail home confirming my safe arrival. I’m on the 16th floor with a great view of all the other 16th floors of the surrounding buildings. The Hyatt left some fruit out for me – the orange tasted limp and the apple not at all, but I haven’t had such a fruity banana in a long time.
The nice thing about traveling to New Zealand is that I need not change the time on my alarm clock, at least not this time of year.
In the morning I unpacked my suitcase and noticed that indeed some baggage inspector had broken off the plastic hook that held one of the cloth side pockets in place. It seems every time I fly somewhere, something breaks on the suitcase. I think I’ll try to get away with carrying on three items again for the rest of my trip.
I also, for the first time in my life, weighed myself in stones.
After a whopping three hours of sleep I’m up, it’s 3:25 a.m. and I need to catch to 4:40 train to Zurich. Tomorrow at 23:30 local time I should touch down in Auckland (after I change planes in Vienna, stop in Kuala Lumpur for gas, and change again in Sydney) and find the shuttle bus to the hotel that I reserved in advance. Even though it’ll be noontime for my biological clock something’s telling me I’ll be tired enough to sleep, and likely too tired to worry about internet and writing another entry.
Let’s hope the Austrians have good movies.