Wednesday May 10, 2023
It's finally Spring in Toronto. The plants and flowers are well and truly springing from the ground, but the weather has been bouncing back and forth unpredictably too. Last week, we had a solid run of six continuous days of rain, finally broken on Friday with some beautiful sunny weather. I was able to bike through High Park and see the tulips, magnolias and cherry blossoms, before heading down to the lake shore trail to Cirque du Soleil, now located in Mimico. I saw Kooza, which was fantastic. I had sweaty palms through several of the performances, just watching and admiring the stunts and acrobatics of the show. The good weather continued on into Saturday, but it rained heavily again on Sunday. This week is much more pleasant, with temperatures set to reach over 20C at the end of the week.
Emotions have been up and down over the last few months as well, for various reasons. I'm slowly getting back to full health with my back injury, and have started playing squash and badminton again. Gym is slowly getting there too, it still hurts a bit to bench press, but the fact that I'm able to lift things again is deeply gratifying. My friends and I have planned a trip to Newfoundland in August, which is incredibly exciting; work was supposed to have a meetup in Vancouver in September, but that got changed to Los Angeles today because Beyonce is in Vancouver at the same time and finding accommodation was difficult. I'm still supposed to go to the S Club 7 concert in London at the end of October, even though Paul Cattermole, one of the Seven, passed away tragically at the start of April. Today, I learned that my mother's eldest sister passed away at age 85. She lived a good life, and I have fond memories of her playing mahjong with my mother when she visited New Zealand. There's a nice photograph of all six sisters on her Facebook page that made me a bit emotional.
It's been nice catching up with various people as well. Lina came in from Singapore for a couple of weeks, there's been meals with ex workmates, I went and saw Avenue Q as well. I got 20 out of 20 on my Canadian citizenship test, and I'm still waiting for an invitation to the oath ceremony, although IRCC strikes may have impacted the timing on that. My social calendar has been nicely busy for the last month, and as the weather warms up, it'll get busier. There's plenty to look forward to as summer rolls in. There's been some sad times too, but heaps of my friends have banded together to support me during those times, and for that, I'm truly thankful.
A Series of Unfortunate Events
Sunday March 12, 2023
Last Friday, there was a big snowstorm to welcome me home to Toronto. As a result, I didn't leave my building on Saturday but by Sunday I was bored enough to venture out to meet up with my badminton friends for dinner. My back was sore but manageable. On Monday, while I was showering, something spasmed and I lost feeling in my left leg. It was so painful that I basically did not leave my bed for two days. I managed to see a physiotherapist on Tuesday afternoon and from then on, I was able to sit down for a few hours at a time and do some work, but I was still in a lot of pain. A heating pad that I ordered arrived and that has helped with mitigating the pain, slightly.
Yesterday, there was another snowstorm. My router bricked itself and I had to order a replacement from Best Buy. My bedroom lightbulb also blew for some reason. I can't stand up for more than a minute before my leg starts to tighten up and I get a sharp pain in my back. I've been using Lyft to get everywhere, even to the physiotherapist 7 minutes walk away. I've been moderately stressed with studying for the Canadian citizenship test as well, but thankfully my new router works and I'll be able to sit the test at least. Even the router setup was stupid, I had to create a Netgear account and allow all these permissions for my phone so it could access the router using the mobile data connection.
Next year I'm not coming back to Toronto until April.
Monday March 6, 2023
The position of the driver's seat in my parents' car that I was driving around the Bay of Plenty caused my back to tighten up quite badly and when I went to pick up my luggage, full of Whittaker's chocolate, I put my back out, right before we were supposed to go to the airport. I was in agony the whole trip, but work had booked me a Skycouch to myself, which helped a bit. Some dork tried to claim one of the seats for himself before I told him I was entitled to all three seats. I did manage to sleep a lot on that flight, but it felt awkward because I'm not used to sleeping scrunched up. I like stretching my legs out and I was always afraid I'd stick them out the end of the seats into the aisle. Nevertheless, the flight went by so quickly that I didn't even have time to watch a movie, and then I was out into Houston airport for a five hour layover. My flight to Atlanta was delayed because the passenger bridge at IAH broke down, causing the incoming plane to be redirected to another gate so the passengers could deplane and we could board. Eventually I made it to Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, the world's busiest, just before midnight on Sunday.
In an effort to readjust quickly to Eastern Time, I was up relatively early to go to Atlanta Zoo with Pete, my fellow Kiwi workmate. We got a breakfast sandwich from a cafe just down the road and then took an Uber to Grant Park. Though it rained a little bit during our visit, it was nice to see lots of different animals out and about, especially the flamingoes, tiger and giant pandas. However, many of the signs around the zoo had world maps on them... without New Zealand.
We had lunch at Mary Mac's Tea Room, an Atlantan institution for over 80 years. The waitress asked where we were from and immediately opted to dial down the sugar content of our iced tea in case we got diabetes. When our fried chicken came out, it was a bit dry but we did that New Zealand thing where we just said it was fine when she asked us how the meal was, and then continued complaining while eating the rest of it.
We went our separate ways; I went to the aquarium since Pete had done that the day before with the World of Coca Cola. I took a behind the scenes tour which took me to the top of the large fish tank holding manta rays and the massive whale shark, the largest fish in the sea. I saw otters, puffins, penguins, hammerheads, jellyfish, seals and sealions, but the aquarium closed at 6pm so I had to wrap up my viewings pretty quickly. I met Pete again for dinner at 5Church, around the corner from our accommodation, for a delicious steak dinner.
The next few days I attended the Prytania Media Live conference, where I got to meet most of my workmates in person for the first time. It was a wonderful occasion reinforcing all the fantastic qualities of care and respect that the company was built upon. I managed to catch up with a couple of ex-Ubisoft colleagues as well, now at Possibility Space, my sister company. On Thursday, it was time to return to Toronto and I was met at the airport by Emilio and Sarah, who had graciously come to pick me up because of my old man back problems. It was dark and it was cold, but it was nice to be back. Sorta.
Auckland and the Bay of Plenty
Monday February 27, 2023
I can't believe it's been three months since I left Toronto. Working remotely makes it feel like the days go by so quickly, and there's been so many things to do and so many people to see that it really feels like I've maximised my time in New Zealand. Of course, there's been a few interruptions - namely some devastating floods and a severe cyclone tearing through the North Island - but on the whole, I kinda prefer that to -20C weather.
I left Wellington and returned to Auckland in time for Chinese New Year. Though my sister and stepmum weren't back, I was able to spend the day with dad, going for a short hike on the Upper Nihotupu Reservoir track in the Waitakere Ranges before checking out Arataki Visitor's Centre and The Olive Kitchen for lunch. No one was more excited to see me than Sam, my sister's cat, who was meowing loudly at 2am because he'd been starved of attention the previous fortnight.
The following weekend we celebrated dad and my nephew's birthdays with a quiet meal at my sister's place, though the torrential rain was already in full force that day. We drove through four rivers on the road to get to her house, we didn't realise how bad it was in other parts of Auckland. I've never seen it this bad before and it's really a wake up call that we should be taking more action against climate change. I continued to catch up with heaps of people over February - too many to list - but there was always good company and good food. I managed to squeeze in a bit of karaoke as well!
I did a road trip with my parents to the Bay of Plenty. That was really fortunate because we were originally planning to go to Napier, since I'd never been, but accommodation was super expensive that weekend due to Art Deco, and it's not really my scene, so we chose to go to Tauranga and Whakatane instead. The weekend before we were supposed to go was when Cyclone Gabriella hit the North Island, causing widespread flooding and damage to the Hawke's Bay. Thankfully the Bay of Plenty was spared heavy damage, and by the time we got there, the sun was out in full force so I could work on my tan. On the Saturday, we drove down towards Rotorua, stopping in Tirau for lunch. We did the Redwoods Canopy walk and visited the Blue and Green Lakes before heading to Whakatane and Ohope where we checked into our Airbnb, right by the beach. On Sunday, we visited the Farmers' Market and walked along the mouth of the Whakatane River. Dad and I wanted to go kayaking so we left my stepmum in town to wander around the shops, but we found out that there weren't any kayaks available, so we went to the Kohi Point Lookout and walked to the edge of the ridge for a spectacular view of Moutohora/Whale Island and Whakaari/White Island. As I understand it, White Island remains closed to all visitors after the fatal tour a few years ago, and even when we were visiting, plumes of steam could be seen rising from the island.
On Monday, we drove to Tauranga, stopping by Te Puke and Kaiate Falls along the way. Though the road to get there was pretty rough, the falls were pretty spectacular and worth the drive. Part of the trail had been washed away due to the cyclone damage, but thankfully enough of it remained for us to walk around. We stopped by Patrick's Pies when we got to Tauranga, who have multiple awards and have been New Zealand's pie winners for several years, and I caught up Andrew and Richard and their families in the evening. On Tuesday, we climbed the Mount - no easy feat for my parents - and then headed back to Auckland.
I've honestly enjoyed my time here immensely. It really did feel too short, and I'm not ready to go back to freezing temperatures quite yet. My next leg of the journey is to Atlanta via Houston, for a work conference, and then back to The Six on Thursday.
Thursday January 26, 2023
I arrived back in Aotearoa New Zealand on Christmas Day, an emotional return to my homeland of thirty years. All through the last hour of the flight I had a Kiwiana playlist on repeat: Brooke Fraser, Nesian Mystik, Bic Runga and of course, Dave Dobbyn's Welcome Home. We circled around the Waitemata Harbour with Rangitoto and the Sky Tower in full view before touching down in Auckland International Airport. I was out within 30 minutes, a record time.
I spent Christmas Day in Pukekohe with the Palmers, then on Boxing Day, it was dad's turn to come back to New Zealand. I had a week of holidaying before I had to start work again, so I tried to catch up with as many people as I could. Quite a few fellow expats were back in the country too, it was great to reunite after all these years, even if we only lived 500km away from each other. The weather was absolutely stunning and I was lapping it up. I visited Auckland Grammar and the University of Auckland to see the new buildings that had been constructed in my absence. I spent New Years at Mat's house on the Shore, playing Loveletter and Rockband. There were brunches and fried chicken and desserts... and badminton too!
After New Years, the North Island was hit by two cyclones, bringing some inclement weather to Auckland. I flew to Wellington on the 6th of January, where the rain continued for that weekend, but a few days later, that beautiful scorching sun was back. I spent two weeks there, working from an Airbnb near the Embassy with my colleague Pete commuting in to work with me from the Official Crop Circle Games Wellington Office. Every day, I finished at 4pm and was able to enjoy the afternoons in the sun. The city hasn't changed much, physically, but friends have moved away or out of town, or they've got children and aren't able to hang out as much. But I really missed that Wellington lifestyle of living downtown, being able to walk around to all the good restaurants. I visited all my favourites and got to try some fantastic new ones as well. In fact, when I went to Little Penang, Uncle Keith recognised me and gave me a hug, it was truly wholesome and I was so interested to hear how he had been and how they had navigated the last few years. I saw friends I hadn't seen in six years, eight years, ten years, and each time, it felt like I hadn't been gone at all. Conversation flowed so naturally. So many people made the effort to come and see me as well, and for that I'm truly thankful.
I even made it to Zealandia, and was able to explore the vast expanse of greenery. What a great place - I wish I came here more often when I lived there. We saw some Tui, Kaka and Tuatara. I climbed Mt Vic, walked around Oriental Parade, had hot pot in Brooklyn, went for Spicy Food Thursday, played badminton and on my last day in the city, I even did an escape room about Atlantis. I had such a great time in Te Whanganui-a-Tara, and I wish I could have stayed longer.