Thursday, January 30

Hey honey I'm home

And in a way, Wellington does feel like home. I guess it's because turning up in unfamiliar places has become the norm for me, whereas here I got to the airport with some dollars in my pocket, and knowing where to go. I am missing having a home at the moment, far more than I'm missing any actual place.

Anyway, I feel terrible after spending too much time travelling (and a stressful journey too - the travel agent cocked up my NY - LA booking so I was damn close to not making it, and that was just the start), so I'll write properly tomorrow.

Sorry about the longer than planned absence. For now, here's another photo.
posted @ 11:27 PM -
Melaka, Malaysia

typically Malay houses, though it is an area that's been tarted up somewhat for tourists

December 20th 2002
posted @ 11:21 PM -

Sunday, January 19

Both of the last 2 years there's been lots of news about bushfires near Sydney, and I've wondered if a scare was about to turn into a huge disaster. In Canberra, it just has.
posted @ 7:18 PM -

New York, New York

is very, very cold right now
posted @ 7:06 PM -

Thursday, January 16

One thing I forgot to mention, just in case it affects anyone: I won't be able to answer my NZ cellphone or pick up messages on it until I get back here on the 31st.
posted @ 2:20 PM -
Te Papa (from across the harbour), Wellington, New Zealand

Te Papa - New Zealand's national museum.  I really need to take some better photos of this because it's an impressive building.

January 10th 2003
posted @ 2:19 PM -

Signs of the times

  1. While I wait for a plane in a small provincial airport (Wellington may be the capital, but Auckland is the only big city in NZ, and this airport is about as busy as Shoreham) I can spend my time online. It may be a bit slow and overpriced, but internet access is readily available.
  2. One of the papers (a weekly ex-pats' edition of a UK tabloid, I can't remember which one) had a story about London getting heavy snow, and was trying to make the point that it's the first time many children have seen snow like this in their own country. Not that long ago the qualification wouldn't have been needed, but travel's become so cheap these days....
Some people are still surprisingly primitive though. In booking hotels for the US (the country with the highest internet useage in the world), nowhere I can afford has had online booking (fair enough in itself), or been willing to do everything through email. One place insisted on faxing directions through, even though that involves them making an international call and me having hassle receiving them somewhere, and another has simply used their email to give me a 1-800 number to call. Great, except that you can't call a 1-800 from outside the US....
posted @ 2:18 PM -

Wednesday, January 15

Danger! Will Robinson! Dust bunnies!

Twice in a week I've found myself reading about automated vacuum cleaners. Once on Andrea's page, because she decided to mock the publicity material for the Trilobyte (quite rightly too - it was asking for it), and then today because I did a 'where is he now?' search on an academic, only to find that his company is pushing the Roomba.

I suppose to a lot of people this must sound somewhat bathetic after all the hyperbole that gets aired, not only in science fiction, but also by some of the less scrupulous members of the real AI research community about cyborgs taking over the earth and all, but this really is the way AI is going to get into all our homes. Not necessarily vacuum cleaners, but through increasing numbers of mundane applications. Quite apart from the fact that we now have the technology to do things like this, as opposed to being far, far away from creating anything recognisable as humanoid intelligence, there's just far more point to these applications. We already have a perfectly well established mechanism for creating new humanoid intelligences (and if the Raelians turn out to be for real then we have another now), and there's just no need to imitate what we already have. What we need are simpler machines to take individual drudgerous (is that a word?) tasks off the hands of people, who can then be free to do more interesting things with their lives.

As I find myself explaining to people, again and again, Artificial Intelligence is an extremely arrogant name for our little field. It's just a lot more catchy than making machines do cleverer things than last year, with less human intervention....
posted @ 7:07 PM -

Freedom is Slavery

Information Minister Khalil Yaacob says he understands that without jokes and impromptu banter, live programmes become cold and stiff.

However he wants such spontaneity regulated.

Remarkable how he doesn't notice a contradiction between those two sentiments, eh?

BBC News: Malaysia to vet live radio shows
posted @ 3:42 PM -

Talk nicely to your machine

Do you ever find yourself swearing at your computer? Shouting in aggravation when it just doesn't seem to co-operate? Fighting the temptation to put a brick through the monitor?

You're not the only one, but when a man in Boulder, Colorado started waving a gun at his machine and threatening to kill that bitch, a SWAT team was called in.

So just remember, children: pointing a gun at your computer causes all kinds of trouble.

Link courtesy of Blather.
posted @ 3:40 PM -

A long way to travel

Tomorrow I will leave New Zealand for a couple of weeks, and go to the USA to talk to a potential PhD supervisor. I must admit I'm very nervous - it's like an interview, only worse, because I've taken the initiative so I have to go and present myself to him - but I'm also looking forward to it in a way. It doesn't take me very long to miss the academic environment, plus in the best case scenario (which for various reasons is unlikely) I will leave knowing exactly where I'll be for the next 5 - 6 years, which would be nice if it did turn out that way.

Anyway, I don't fly directly there - I'll be going to New York first, where my cousin lives, and my parents will meet me there. I'll be travelling for about 24 hours, and I'm trying to get my head around the effect of the international date line, which I have never crossed before. I think it goes something like this:

I will leave Wellington at lunchtime tomorrow, and transfer in Auckland tomorrow afternoon, sensibly enough. I'll then fly to Papeete (Tahiti), arriving this evening (Thursday). After transferring there I fly overnight to LA, and then I have a day flight to NYC, finally arriving only a few hours after I left, but having spent far too long inside aircraft along the way.

On the other hand, the way back will take me 2 whole days (not counting the one night stopover I have in Tahiti).
posted @ 3:14 PM -
Maitai River, Nelson, South Island, New Zealand

A river at a low level because it's summer, with hills and trees in the background.  My favourite thing about Nelson is that this is from the middle of town, but you can't really see 'town'

January 5th 2003
posted @ 2:35 PM -

Tuesday, January 14

While I try to find a job, I'm also catching up on 4 months of technical news and academic papers, partly because I'm interested and partly so that when I interview it will be clear that I am keeping myself up to date with such things. I was particularly struck by a short piece I've just read in the last-but-one Economist Technology Quarterly, about the correlation between how trusting a society is and the speed of its internet uptake.

One thing the story doesn't mention (probably because it's rather hard to quantify or back up with real facts) is how astonishingly gullible a large proportion of internet users are. Next time I get an obviously hoax virus alert or chain letter I'll bear this in mind: it is in the nature of the internet's skewed sample of the world population that the very trusting are over-represented online.
posted @ 7:46 PM -

Bra fence?

There was an item on the radio news this morning that caught my ear, so to speak. It was about a supposed UFO sighting (looking at the photo it looks like dirt on someone's lens), but that wasn't what got my attention. It was the location, which I had to check in written media before I could be sure I'd heard it right: over Cardrona's famous bra fence
posted @ 3:49 PM -
The last I saw of the South Island, New Zealand

the headland at the tip of the South island

January 7th 2003
posted @ 3:42 PM -

Monday, January 13

Windy Wellington

There are certain drawbacks to living here - today it is difficult to walk around the waterfront because the wind's so damn strong, and apparently this is fairly normal.
posted @ 3:09 PM -

Sunday, January 12

apparently 15 people have found this site by searching for the phrase manly halal.
posted @ 3:32 AM -

A note to web developers

Usability does not only mean making it as quick as possible for people to do what you expect them to do on your site. It is intensely irritating to spend half an hour searching for flights on a US website, only to discover that when it won't accept my credit card (because it's billed to a UK address) I have to start the process from scratch with their UK partner site. I won't name any names, but you know it would have been really easy to get one site to send data to the other. If it wasn't for their competitors quoting me double the fare, they would have just lost a sale. Grrrr....

[Added 5 minutes later] It is even more intensely irritating when the UK partner quotes over 600 POUNDS for flights that would have been US$350 or so via the US site. One of the advantages of the web should be that it no longer matters where I am. They have just lost a sale because I may as well take the 24 hour train ride (Boston - Cleveland) if it costs that much to fly.

Incidentally Auckland - London costs slightly less than 400 pounds and is in the region of 20 times the distance.

[Added the next morning] Actually this is not a web usability problem, but one of profit maximisation. Expedia (I will name names now because I'm very annoyed about this) replied to my email asking why I couldn't buy these tickets from the US site, and made it clear that it's because they don't want me to. I'll find a US travel agent who can accept my credit card, and Expedia will lose my business, because they were too greedy and tried to make me pay the UK rate for 2 hour-long flights.
posted @ 2:57 AM -
minor technical detail - I have finally changed the settings on yaccs so that comments are timestamped in the New Zealand time zone, matching the posts themselves, rather than GMT. It's a retrospective change, so it shouldn't be too confusing, but if it seems like my friends get up in the middle of the night just to read this page, bear in mind that most of them are in the UK, so they are up in the middle of the night NZ time anyway.
posted @ 2:17 AM -

What travelling does and doesn't do for the traveller

It is a cliché of middle class British youth that school leavers who want to postpone their having to deal with the real world go travelling to either find themselves or somehow make themselves into better people. I remember thinking that maybe I should do such a thing at the time, deciding not to for an extremely bad reason (it was on account of a girlfriend; not necessarily a bad reason, but in this specific case we split up a few months later), and then getting to university and finding that those who had been travelling were in no way better people. I did envy them the good times they had had, but I didn't feel like I was in any way stunted by not having travelled in the same way myself.

Now that I have done it I can confirm that if you are an 18 year old looking for personal development you should get on yer bike and get a job. It's not that I wouldn't reccommend travelling to others - far from it - but the traveller circuit is such an unnatural environment that it does absolutely nothing for personal development, whereas I definitely feel like the things that have made me grow up the most were the first few proper (as opposed to temping or work experience) jobs I had.

On the other hand, if you are looking to have a lot of fun, experience a blissfully complete lack of responsibility to anyone but yourself, and learn something about the world outside your home patch, you should definitely go travelling, alone, for as long as you can afford to. It is important to plan certain things properly - the people I met who had under-budgeted were not having much fun - but it's really very easy to get around much of the world, and not that much needs deciding in advance.

I didn't go travelling expecting to find myself, partly because I'm not sure what that means. I did learn a certain amount about myself at the very worst point - after being bitten by that dog and convincing myself [wrongly, in case you were worried] that I had been given a useless rabies vaccine - but that was basically a negative lesson. I learned that I am not invincible, and not the rock of total self-reliance I liked to believe I am. I also learned one positive thing, which was that when I have a real problem (as opposed to when they invent a problem to worry about on my behalf) my parents are more helpful than anyone else could possibly be. Strange that I had to get very far away from them to realise this, but many things don't make sense in parent-child relationships.

I did expect to become more self-assured through travelling, and I did expect a certain broadening of the mind. I've already written about how few of my beliefs were challenged en route, and how that actually worries me a little, but I do still feel it's good to go and see how different peoples' lives can be in different places. However, anyone setting off in search of that should be warned: there aren't many places that are easily accessible where people live lives radically different from Europeans. Mongolia is the only place where I really feel like I saw a completely unfamiliar lifestyle, and that is the main reason why I still consider it the highlight of my trip, even after all the fun I had in south-east Asia.

The big disappointment, though, comes on the self-assurance front, which was the one way in which I thought the experience really would improve me. After a little practice I found it really easy to cruise into a new hostel, make myself at home, and find people to hang around with for as long as I would be in town. That in itself is both good and unsurprising, but I was really hoping this would transfer to the rest of my life. In fact, part of the reason why I did the travelling on the way here, thereby exposing myself to the coming southern winter (rather than flying to NZ at the end of winter 2002 and setting off on the reverse of the journey I've just done as NZ starts to cool down this year), was the idea that it would make the fresh start here easier.

Instead, I have been more prey to the general did I just say something stupid insecurities that always crop up when meeting new people. I've been trying to work out why this is, and I think it's actually because making short-term friends quickly on the travellers' circuit is so extremely easy. The most artificial thing about travelling is that it really didn't matter what other people thought of me, because if no-one liked me in a particular town I knew I wouldn't have to hang around there for long. Paradoxically that makes it much easier to make a good impression. It also means that far from having become better at making friends in a 'normal' context, I am rather out of practice. I don't think I'm doing anything stupid, and I think I'm a pretty easy person to get on with, but I just keep questioning silly little things, because suddenly I care whether these people will still want me around next week.

I'm sure this will pass, once I am more settled and have a job, but for the moment I'm finding the excitement of the new just about cancelled about by this pervasive insecurity.
posted @ 1:25 AM -
Civic Centre, Wellington, New Zealand

a silver ball floating above the Civic Centre grounds

January 10th 2003
posted @ 1:08 AM -

Some belated New Year's Resolutions

I don't normally bother with New Year's Resolutions, because the 1st of January is never a significant milestone in my life. This year, however, the transition from travelling to looking for a job and house marks a really major transition, and I do intend to use this to set myself in some of the good habits that are so much easier to start at times such as this than in the normal flow of life. In the spirit of Andrea's (not) smoking journal, I think it might be useful to put these online as a way of holding myself to account:
  • Eat less crap. The odd greasy take-away is fine, but I used to mar a healthy basic diet [as in, the food I ate at home was reasonably healthy] with far too many chocolate bars and packs of crisps. Just replacing them with fruit should turn my diet from over-fatty to quite a healthy one, because my home cooking is good for me
  • Eat less take-aways and ready food. More for financial reasons than health - a lot of my take-aways in Brighton were sandwiches for lunch, and they weren't too unhealthy, but a week's worth of those is one less CD I can afford to buy myself, and I know which gives me more pleasure
  • Get back into martial arts. Not just join a club, but also train regularly on my own, something I haven't done properly for a few years
  • Travel to and from work under my own steam. This is a matter of continuing the good habit I was in in Bristol, which made a noticeable difference to my health and how alive I felt in the mornings
  • Write to or phone everyone who counts regularly enough that they know they count. I have a lot of catching up to do with this one. I would like to end this week with no-one left who I feel I unfairly haven't written to in ages. I doubt I'll manage, but I am trying
  • Publish my photos. I have a couple of thousand photos on various CDs, and the main reason I wanted a digital camera in the first place was the ease of sharing them. Not much use while they are all off-line
  • Make some progress with my grandfather's Jewish history notes. I started this project in good faith, but also knowing it would take me years. That's no excuse for having made no progress at all in the last 9 or 10 months.
  • Learn another language. I'm not sure whether it should be Turkish (my own heritage), Maori (the culture of this land) or Spanish (because I want to travel in South America when I next get time), but I should start with one soon because the activity itself is rewarding anyway
  • Explore New Zealand. I have seen too little of the UK in spite of living most of my life there, and I know that once I have a job here it will be easy to spend every weekend being lazy in town, but the beauty of this land is one of the main reasons I'm here, and if I don't get out and see a lot of the country it will be one hell of a missed opportunity
I'll look back at this when I leave New Zealand. I wonder how I'll rate my performance then....
posted @ 1:03 AM -

Saturday, January 11

Some people may recognise the mugshot in this article: Obscure unpublished novelist joins the elite.

Thanks to Sam for pointing this one out to me.
posted @ 11:23 PM -

Returning to normality

Since Friday I've been staying in a spare room in a very nice house, with spectacular views, in Roseneath (see map), with some friendly people, one of whom is a friend of a friend, and therefore my closest contact in Wellington. Unfortunately I can't stay there long term because they don't want to let that last room out, but just living in someone's house rather than a hostel has helped me feel a bit more settled. I'm deriving an unusual amount of pleasure from simple things like cooking, just because I haven't been able to do them for a while. I started with biber dolma for all the 'family', which seemed like an appropriate way to thank them for lettnig me stay.

The people here are being very nice indeed, inviting me out with them, showing me around town, and providing generally useful advice on such things as finding a job and a place to live longer term. All the same I am feeling a little insecure, having no job, no permanent address, and no friends within a reachable distance who I've known for more than a week. I knew this would be inevitable when I took myself so far from home to start afresh, and I was sort of prepared for it (actually I'd go so far as to say that making myself face this and deal with it is one of the reasons I'm here, having been a little too comfortable for the last few years), but I expected the 4 months of travelling to make it easier, when if anything it's making it worse. More on that later.

Still, I have taken a step in the right direction by getting out of the hostel, because although it was a reasonably good one and conveniently located, it was making me feel too temporary. Now I can start budgeting more carefully and eating better, and just generally setting myself in good habits I want to keep while I'm here, rather than the lazy habits of a traveller.
posted @ 10:37 PM -

Friday, January 10

You can't make this stuff up

The plan was as audacious as it was spectacular: snatch the yachting America's Cup, speed off with it up Waitemata Harbour and hold it for ransom - perhaps as much as $1 million.

Police reveal plan to hijack America's Cup
posted @ 8:47 PM -

Thursday, January 9

The Star Ferry, Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong

a cute little boat that runs continuously from early morning till late at night, getting people between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island in 7 minutes

November 28th 2002
posted @ 2:20 PM -

Big boys' toys

DARPA have recently announced a race for fully autonomous vehicles. If only I were a US Entity I could try my hand at this.
posted @ 4:58 AM -

It's not all work, work, work

This will be my last post about the search for a job until I either find one or run out of time and have to go home. Partly because I don't think routine I knocked on some doors today posts can stay interesting for more than a few days (if they were even interesting to begin with), but mainly because I don't want to prejudice possible interviews. I give my portfolio URL on my CV, and it's not hard to find me from there, so an employer who is really interested in me might well read this page, and I don't need company x reading that competitor y is where I really want to work.

I'm signed up with 4 agencies now, and that will probably do for the time being. I've had to radically re-write my CV twice in a week - once because the version on this website is very much geared towards academic applications, and once because the CV writing style here is very unlike what I'm used to. I've always had it drummed into me that my CV should not spill over more than 2 sides of paper, because otherwise overworked personnel managers will just bin it. Here, because the market is so much smaller (both fewer jobs and fewer applicants), there's an expectation of more detail, to the extent that my 2 page CV was being seen as suspiciously thin. It's actually much easier to write a CV kiwi-style; in fact I think what I have now is a clarified version of the first draft that I had written last year, which I then had to whittle down to half the size. I feel like it tells a more coherent story as well.

The agencies here seem to do business in a much more open way than in the UK. I've had no-one try to tell me I should go exclusively with them (a common ruse among UK employment agencies), and they actually tell me who they are going to send my CV to. This has two distinct benefits - it saves me cold-calling places that have already seen my CV (which is a waste of time for me and embarassing to the agency), and it means I can look up information about that company and decide whether it's a good place for me. In the UK they would never give out a client's name until actually sending me for an interview, because they were far too afraid of being cut out of their commission, but it also meant that a lot of time was wasted by booking me interviews for jobs I then realised I couldn't do.

Anyway, my CV should be sent out to 5 training providers tomorrow, though I'm not sure whether this is a speculative approach by the agencies or a response to specific vacancies they know about. I think I'll finish knocking on doors tomorrow, and after that just be more focussed on looking through newspapers and websites for job adverts. That isn't a full-time job in itself, so I might even have time for a trip out to the hills of middle-earth Wellington's hinterland next week. I mustn't lose focus on looking for work, but it is also important to remember why I'm here.

Meanwhile I am trying to treat myself with one piece of sightseeing after each day of jobhunting. Today was the first of what will probably be several trips to Te Papa - New Zealand's national museum. It's a very cool modern building that dominates a section of the Wellington waterfront, I've heard good things about its permanent exhibitions, and today I saw a temporary Lord of the Rings exhibition with loads of cool behind-the-scenes displays and interviews. It will be visiting London, Boston, Singapore & Sydney in the near future - take a look if you live near any of those places.

Hopefully tomorrow I'll take the cable car up the big hill behind the CBD.
posted @ 4:52 AM -

The world's biggest book club

I used to follow new developments in the blogging world with some excitement, until I realised that really we (bloggers) are a bunch of self-important nerds, who at best are articulate, but often downright dull. However, here is one new development that does seem worth watching: Samuel Pepys' diary is being published as a weblog, one day at a time, with space for readers to annotate.
posted @ 4:16 AM -

Wednesday, January 8

Manchester - so much to answer for

or: they talk funny here #3

Spotted in a cafe: We are collecting clothes, bric-a-brac and manchester for the womens' refuge

Apparently Manchester means bedlinen and tablecloths and the like. I guess it's because a lot of such things used to be made there, but it still sounds pretty odd to me.
posted @ 8:17 PM -

They talk funny here #2

I had a far more productive afternoon than my morning had been, and am now registered with 3 agencies. None of them had anything for me right now, but they were all willing to give a lot of advice out, and were reasonably encouraging about my chances. They were even willing to suggest that agencies might not be the best way for me to get training work (as opposed to programming, which is the other thing I can do), but that I should go direct to training places. However, one of them reckoned that Wellington businesses are not usually very receptive to people who front up and I should phone or email to get an appointment first. It took me a while to realise that front up was Kiwi for cold call....
posted @ 12:42 AM -

Tuesday, January 7

It seems I haven't managed to leave behind every bad thing about home: NZ commuter railways can't handle normal summer heat.

It is worse in Britain though. Incidentally the short hop shop chopper isn't as far-fetched as it sounds - one of the reasons why the UK rail infrastructure is so pants is that in the 60s ministers reckoned that no-one would use railways in future because we'd all have our own personal helicopters.
posted @ 11:58 PM -

While you were out

I was told about this when it happened, and had asked a couple of people in Brighton if they could get hold of digital cameras and send me photos. For some reason it didn't occur to me until today to search the web:

West Pier RIP, Brighton, UK

Brighton's West Pier is now even more derelict than before

December 29th 2002

The day I was soaking up the sun on the tranquil Andaman Sea. Correction - I've just realised (9/Jan/02) that I had the wrong date on my Andaman Sea photo. I was actually in the Blue Mountains that day, there was a bit of a storm in Brighton, and this is what happened. If you want to know more, there's a bigger and better picture elsewhere, and there is a press release from the West Pier Trust.

Meanwhile things aren't going so wonderfully for the Palace Pier either. They are run by a bunch of cowbows, and this story about people being put on the rollercoaster while it was in pieces for maintenance just doesn't surprise me as much as I'd like it to.
posted @ 9:18 PM -
for *&?!s sake! A German may be about to face jail for writing something that supported the September 11th attacks. Whatever happened to all the Bushies' rhetoric about defending freedom?!?
posted @ 5:44 PM -
Why do internet cafes the world over have to put music on at high volume with thumping bass? Right now they're playing High by the Cure, which is a song I really really like, but it's giving me a bloody headache while I try to work. I need a home with a computer I can keep files on and work in a more comfortable environment where it's easier to concentrate.

I managed to speak to Immigration today, and they were fairly helpful, but they won't give me any sort of 'approval in principle' that I can show potential employers, so I need to get a job offer first. Once I do that, the work permit should be a straightforward formality.

The only trouble is that so far I've had no leads on the job front. No reason to take this too negatively, but what I've learned in one morning is that cold-calling is not a good strategy for me at this moment. It's a shame, because I actually quite enjoy doing this, whereas my experience with agencies in the past has been mostly negative, but there are a few problems. For a start people are much less friendly to cold-callers here than either Nelson or Brighton. Most aren't gruff or anything, but they just finish the conversation as quickly as possible, whereas elsewhere (especially Nelson) people were very chatty and encouraging, and eager to suggest other places I should try. The attitude here makes it slightly less easy to keep my energy going, but it's not too bad. The real problem is just that there aren't huge numbers of vacancies, which also means that if I do find somewhere they might not be able to take a foreigner on. I got my last training job by cold-calling because it happened to save the company from having to advertise the post, but for work permit reasons an employer would need to show that they have made reasonable efforts to get local staff, which means really they have to show that they've been either advertising the job or dealing with recruitment agencies for a while.

So now I'm hitting the agencies (I'm online to get some addresses), who are probably my best hope. After that it's time to respond to specific adverts, and if that still gets me nowhere I go back to walking up and down streets looking for potential prospects.
posted @ 5:33 PM -

They talk funny here

The word hoon is a verb in NZ, meaning to go for a joyride. I don't know why they feel the need to invent words when English has quite enough already, but it makes the UK Defence Minister's name a matter of some amusement....
posted @ 2:44 AM -
Koh Muk[?], Trang Province, Thailand

the perfect tropical beach, with white sand, palm trees and a crystalline sea

December 11th 2002
and not the 29th as I had written originally
posted @ 2:40 AM -

What do poms call gumboots?

Location : Wellington
Visited since last post : ferry through the Marlborough Sounds
Mood : really quite nervous about getting my work permit. I'm actually quite enjoying looking for work (bear in mind that it's only day 2), but this one thing could throw a very large spanner in the works if it doesn't go right.
Weather : Another beautiful sunny day, quite warm, though the Cook Strait was very windy. I hope the brits are enjoying your snow!

Wellington seems (on the strength of my first evening here) to be a really nice place, and it does feel like somewhere I could enjoy living. It helps that I'm in a really good hostel (with a private room as well, because that makes life far easier now that I'm out in office hours and trying to be more organised than is necessary as a tourist), but also the city has a pleasant atmosphere, and the bit I've walked around so far has a bunch of inviting-looking restaurants, pubs and cafes. It actually has a slightly smaller population than Brighton & Hove, but being the capital it feels more city-like than Brighton does, with quite a few head offices and government buildings. I have a feeling finding work here shouldn't be too hard, but I can't overstress the importance of my meeting (hopefully tomorrow) with Immigration - if I get bad news from them I will have no choice but to change my plans.
posted @ 2:08 AM -

Sunday, January 5

What Nelson is Like

When I went to Penarth some years back, I remember being stuck at a crossroads for a while because the car in front of me and the car coming the other way were so eager to let each other go first that neither were moving. The whole thing was just a bit too sweet to be irritating. The way people are around Nelson reminds me of that - everyone is just refreshingly nice to each other. I wish I could stay here.

Unfortunately it's also so small (40,000 people or so) that in a day I have knocked on every potentially useful door, and got no real leads. I have learned a lot about what might be available in the future, and even been given a few phone numbers to try for Wellington, and spent much time chatting to people who had nothing to offer but weren't eager to just send me packing like I remember when I last looked for work in the UK. All in all it was neither a useful nor a disheartening day, so not bad for day 1, but it does look like I may be in a catch-22 whereby the Immigration Service tell me to get an employer to sponsor my work permit application, and employers tell me to get the work permit first because they don't want to deal with all that paperwork and uncertainty.

I'm off to Wellington tomorrow; hopefully there should be more than a day's worth of leads there, and that's where I can actually speak to Immigration directly.
posted @ 7:36 PM -

The End of my Holiday

Location : Nelson, NZ
Mood : a bit nervous
Company : Tom & Caroline, Tom's family, their friends
Reading : job adverts in newspapers
Weather : blue skies, hot days, strong sun, but also very windy

Well, this is it. My holiday is now officially over. For the rest of this month I have to divide my time between looking for a job here (primarily in Wellington because Nelson's too small, but there are a couple of leads I need to pursue here tomorrow), and convincing one of a few top academics in the US that giving me one of their precious few PhD places would amount to a good use of their time and resources. Wish me luck.
posted @ 3:09 AM -

Saturday, January 4

Blue Mountains National Park, New South Wales, Australia

some water.  Falling down some rocks.  With some ferns and stuff around

December 29th 2002
posted @ 4:18 PM -

Friday, January 3

Today's mess of posts starts here

Oh, and my Aussie number is out of action. I was hoping to check it for the next few days just in case anyone sent SMS to it, but it won't connect to anything here in NZ.
posted @ 2:14 AM -

catching up

this place is about to close, and I still have a lot to write, so I'll just quickly catch up once again. I started to enjoy Sydney a lot more after the last time I wrote, for various reasons: the weather improved, I left the British lager lout crowd behind, I found some much nicer parts of the city than I had seen before (I still maintain that Bondi is a bit pants, but Manly is great, and not just because it has a ridiculous name that is responsible for such things as the Manly lifesaving club), and got out of town to see some of the remarkable Australian countryside. Then Lynn arrived, and the day she left I managed to catch up with Toby. Things with Lynn get better each time we meet (which is not very often), and New Year's Eve was particularly memorable, spent as it was at the Opera House. It made for a start to the year which was better than I would ever have dared hope, and I had been pretty optimistic about it to begin with.

So far (it's only been about 6 hours) my fresh start in New Zealand has not been so auspicious. I had some difficulty convincing immigration to let me in, then I got to Christchurch and discovered that buses to Nelson only leave early in the morning, so I couldn't get to where Tom & Caroline are just yet, then the phone number I had for them didn't work, and then there seemed to be no room at the inn for this night. I have sorted things out one by one (booked a bus for the morning, found a space on a floor at a hostel, checked email and updated the phone number), but I guess I've been a bit spoilt because the past 5 or 6 weeks have been so unremittingly easy.

I was also toying with the idea of moving to Hong Kong and trying to get a work permit there, but it looks like that won't be feasible because the rules there are far less accommodating for people who want to turn up first and then find a job. I'm still tempted, and I'm still doing research, but it looks like I probably will stay in New Zillund.
posted @ 2:11 AM -

The Logical City

On the theme of things I've changed my mind about recently, the past year or two has seen me radically change my ideas about cities. For one thing I've stopped reflexively hating them; a process which started with me growing increasingly fond of London (where I have deliberately avoided living for the last few years, but would probably now enjoy), was helped along by my being very impressed with Helsinki, Amsterdam & Montréal on short visits to each, and sealed by my unbridled enthusiasm for Hong Kong. But there's a bit more to it than that. I had been (and still am) very convinced of the importance of cities being well-planned, but whereas I used to think a purely rational planned city was an ideal to be aspired to (without making the connection that Milton Keynes (my idea of hell) was the only example I knew of such a place), I have now grown to appreciate the bits of disorder that make each city distinctive, and the 'organic' growth that leads to this.

The point when I really understood this was some time over the weekend I spent in Singapore. I actually had a good time in Singapore, but that was in spite of not liking the place a great deal, and really should be credited to having some nice people to spend time with. Singapore itself is quite creepy.

You see, if you had given me, a year ago, an island and a free reign to design the ideal city there and make my own laws (as a sort of Sim City Raffles - don't try to think about that too much), it would probably have looked quite a lot like Singapore. The buildings are pretty and colourful, the public transport is fast, efficient and cheap[ish], the streets have lots of trees, finding one's way around is fairly easy, everything is very clean, and for all functional purposes the city seems to run very smoothly. But there's something missing; the sort of something that no planner could foresee or design in. It just feels a bit soulless.

After a little while wandering around I saw a driver drop some litter from their window, and it seemed like cause for a celebration, just because it was the first time I had seen anyone break ranks. I found it hard not to photograph every crack in any building's paintwork, just because there were so few. The tarmac just seemed too black, the paint too white and the lines of cars too straight. Even the bloody hookers looked so respectable that when I had wandered into the red light street it took me a while to realise I had done so.

I feel strange criticising a city in this way, because it just seems to be one illustration after another of too much of a good thing. I want places to be clean, I don't want to turn a street corner and be confronted by heroin-haggard hydras, I want finding my way around to be easy. But I also need to feel like there is something to a city that has grown up by itself, controlled by the collective will of a mass of people, and not just a central authority that thinks (just as I probably would have done in their place) it knows best. And I'm very, very glad I saw Singapore, because it helped me realise this.
posted @ 2:01 AM -

Cosmetic security measures

Oh dear oh dear oh dear. This is the sort of stupid thing I could see myself doing.

Incidentally, I carried a large weapon undisguised on a plane today. Just because it happenned to be a clichéd souvenir of Australia (a fighting boomerang) and brightly painted doesn't change the fact that it does have a sharp point, is meant for injuring people, and wouldn't take much skill to knock someone out with. But of course my inch-long blunt penknife had to go in the hold baggage....
posted @ 1:38 AM -

Was the Empire all Evil?

The other thing that Malaysia made me re-think somewhat was the role of the British Empire in determining the fate of its colonies. In tune, I think, with a lot of British lefties, my feeling used to be that this was entirely negative; that the Empire was so purely exploitative, and had so few redeeming features, that it could only be held responsible for problems in its former colonies and that the few successes were in spite of the British involvement.

I spoke to a few Malaysians about this for one reason or another, and they all disagreed quite strongly. They seemed to have quite a high opinion of the British, as an empire which had obtained colonies by trade and persuasion rather than pure brute force, and while clearly exploiting them also building enough infrastructure, providing enough education, and where possible leaving in a planned enough manner not to leave chaos in their wake. It clearly hasn't been like that everywhere, but looking at Malaysia I can see their point. A caricatured version of the argument runs like this: we are richer and more modern than Thailand because the British built infrastructure and left us with plantations that provide valuable exports, and we are a much better organised and more stable society than Indonesia because the British ruled with some sense of responsibility and didn't leave without making British Malaya into a potentially viable state, unlike the Dutch and Portuguese who just raped and pillaged and left abruptly when the tide changed. When I still didn't seem too comfortable with this, a couple of people went on to say things to the effect of: look at Hong Kong, and look at Guangzhou. Why is one a far better place to live than the other, to the extent that there was a steady one-way stream of migration for decades? There's only one major difference - during the worst years of the Peoples' Republic of China, Hong Kong was ruled from Westminster.

I don't really know enough about the history of the region to argue much of this any further (except to say that I am convinced Hong Kong benefitted hugely from escaping the Cultural Revolution), but I just found it a real eye-opener to hear people in a former colony speak in a positive tone about the former colonial masters. They should, after all, have some idea what they are talking about.
posted @ 1:31 AM -

One blood

I feel like I've taken a lot in on this trip, but sometimes I question whether I really have been any more intelligently receptive of new impressions than my backpack. It's partly just because I've been through a lot of places so fast that I feel I must be jumping rashly to conclusions, but also a lot of it is because there are so few places where my prior expectation has been wildly wrong. That probably sounds like an odd thing to self-criticise about, and I suppose it could just be that I was reasonably well-informed to begin with, but I can't help feeling that I've been selectively aware of things that fit my pre-conceptions.

Malaysia was different. Actually I didn't have much of an idea what to expect to see in Malaysia, but what surprised me is that it's made me re-think some of my ideas about racism and integration (and also about British colonialism) somewhat. The thing is that three very different cultures (the Hindu Tamils, the Muslims (Malays and a minority of the Indians) and the Chinese) live on top of each other, and it works relatively well, in conditions that I would previously have expected to be a recipe for disaster.

I have always maintained that ethnic communities (including my own) have to be willing to sacrifice a degree of cohesiveness if they want to integrate well enough with their neighbours to be seen and treated as individual human beings, and not just an amorphous, mistrusted them. I have also been struggling for a while with the contradiction between that and my belief in the importance of keeping traditions alive, and of each person knowing where their roots lie. In short I'd been in favour of assimilation to the extent that racial differences become invisible, at the same time as wanting to see everyone maintain their own sense of identity in the face of this assimilation.

What I saw in Malaysia - in fact one of the best things in a country that I generally have a high opinion of - was that there were 3 seperate communities, with distinct identities, each doing their thing in their own way, but still managing to get along. And it wasn't just a matter of not throwing things at each other - the Malays eat in the Chinese restaurants, the Chinese eat in the curry houses, and there are mixed groups of friends hanging around. But all of this happens at the same time as the distinct groups go to seperate schools where they learn their own languages better than the language of the country (something I would have expected to be a particular barrier to integration) and use English (which is a second language to all) for communication between groups. At the same time as many of these people are religious and worship their different gods in different ways (another thing I used to associate with intolerance and poor neighbourly relations). At the same time as each town has a distinct majority of one particular groups, and Malays are the minority in several places.

There are flaws, to be sure. The most glaring is that all of this apparent harmony rests on a foundation of discriminatory laws, which make a lot of things (buying a house, getting a loan, &c.) easier for bumiputra than for the [generally wealthier and better educated] Chinese or Indians. These laws are a perversion of justice - essentially penalising 3rd-6th generation immigrations for the success of their parents & grandparents - but they don't seem to be as resented as I would have expected, because I think a lot of the Chinese (the generally richest group and therefore the most discriminated against) see enriching the Bumiputra, even at their expense, as a necessary cost of keeping the peace. For all the lack of tension that I perceived, it's worth remembering that many adult Malaysians can remember vicious and lethal race-riots in the first 2 decades of independence.

Still, warts and all I did feel that what I saw in Malaysia was a picture that gave me much ground for optimism about the ability of different communities to share one land and get on; something which I have been quite pessimistic about since the riots a year and a half ago in Northern England. It doesn't have to be that way, and the harmony evidently can be achieved without people forgetting who they are, where they came from, or that they are different.
posted @ 1:00 AM -
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