Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Tipsy Imperial Concubine (Parentage Unknown)

Yesterday, the sun was hot enough that we could justify spending the day at Bondi Beach, a famous surf spot with infamous riptides. We did not surf. I only toed the water and found that it was as cold as it is in Santa Barbara, though the temperature here would be measured in degrees Celsius, which makes me think it was even colder. Today, it's raining again and I think we will go to the Sydney art museum.

The only point I have worth noting is that the bus ride home from Bondi afforded us an opportunity to overhear and obnoxious American tourist -- the kind that defames all Americans away from their homelands -- loudly discussing her personal life, much to the chagrin of everyone on the bus. Topics overheard include that her boyfriend looked "just like Justin Timberlake, like his twin or something," that said boyfriend lost a ton of weight after this dumped him ("he looked anorexic or something"), that her friend's ring was "cute, but maybe too cute," that "it's totally crazy that they call bell peppers 'capsicum' here," that her friend is not a big enough bitch, that her iPod broke and she's mailing it back to her parents to get it fixed and then sent back again so she can listen to music, because "it's way hard to find good music." The then countered her previous statement by repeatedly singing the first line form the chorus of James Blunt's "Beautiful."

All statements were voiced in the stereotypical sorority rasp. Chatter was constant. I prayed that she might somehow die of kidney failure before my stop. My prayers were not answered.

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Idea of Growing Old

We've been good little tourists the past four days in Sydney. I can tell because my feet ache every night. Sure, we could bravely take on the Sydney bus system, save our feet the grief and still be good little tourists, but I'd personally rather feel every bit of horizon-broadening I experience, even if that feel that sensation in my feet specifically.

Really, finding our way around has been fairly easy, despite the city's size. Look on a map. It's a big one, with a number of suburbs that would make most major metropolitan California cities jealous. Initially, we had expected to meet up with my old roommate Moe at some point in Sydney, since she's planning on living here. Unfortunately, Moe had a bit of an altercation with a wombat as she was walking out of the Sydney airport. She's okay. We went to see her in the hospital and the doctor said there's been instance of people regrowing fingertips. Moe just wears sunglasses to cover up the rest. She's a bit lonely, though, since the hospital she's at is over on the bad side of town and it's not safe for her to leave. So if you think about it, give Moe and email and tell her your thoughts are with her.

KrisDina and I, who fared considerably better in Sydney, took a ferry over to the Taronga Zoo yesterday. It's like the Santa Barbara Zoo, in that strolly park-like way, but bigger. It closed earlier than we had expected, but we still managed to see all the Australia-specific animals that we might not have gotten a chance to see anywhere else. This list includes -- but is not limited to -- kangaroos of all makes and models, wallabies, emus, snub-nosed echidnas, swimming platypi, several dozing wombats, the Spindex Hopping Mice of central Australia and about five different koalas. I have the pictures to prove it, but you'll just have to wait until I get to my aunt's place in Townsville before I can upload them. That night, we walked to a touristy area called the Rocks and I ate a whole kangaroo pizza, in total disrespect to the animals I had cooed over only hours earlier.

Most of our time today was allotted to climbing the Sydney Harbor Bridge, which was neither as scary or as illegal as it sounds. It's city-sanctioned, quite expensive but entirely worth the time and money we spent. Luna Park, an attractive Coney Island-type boardwalk amusement park that has been recently restored, had closed early tonight and we saw none of it besides a blankly staring Man-in-the-Moon face that serves as the park's mascot.

Needless to say, I'm exhausted -- so much so that this, like many previous posts, will be appearing online without even a cursory spellcheck or grammar edit. Keep this in mind. Be well. And look forward to my safe return in just over two weeks.


Friday, March 24, 2006

Heard It on the Wireless

In Sydney. No one has uttered "g'day" yet. No koalas have been spotted. No one has instigated a game of Knifey Spoony yet.

We're staying directly between Kings Cross, which the natives abbreviate as "KingsX," and Darlinghurst, the hipster-gay-dressy bessy district. There's lots to do, and most of it is within walking distance of our little hotel cubicle.

By bedtime yesterday, we had seen a prison colony museum, trekked all the way to the Opera House -- and no, it doesn't resemble anything in particular up close, either -- and even caught a show there -- the Kranksy Sisters, this trio of musically inclined spinsters from the fictional Aussie town of Isk. They reinterpret pop songs they've heard on their radio. It's like if Allen and Grier and the Kulp-Mohan-Kulps were reconstituted as backwoods comediennes. I met one of them afterwards. She looked like Stephnie "No That's Not a Typo" Weir. She signed the CD I bought and was oddly deliberate about explaining that her last name was Kransky, which was odd since I had already had bought the tickets for a show that had her last name in the title. I liked her, though, and I'd like to think that she liked me.

The most remarkable thing happened in the lobby after the show, however. Weeks ago, KrisDina and I had this marathon dinner at the harbor and these loud-voiced, confused-seeming, senior Brooklynites approached us to ask us how we liked our dinner. The woman, louder of the two, seemed keen on telling us how her lamb "just fell off the bone." (She did not, tragically, say it was like "buttah.") These were the kind of tourists I usually dread, though they were kind of cute in their old, befuddled Americanness. So who do I see wandering around the lobby of the Opera House theater after the Kransky Sisters show but this same old lady. She was muttering "Where's my husband?" over and over again and she seemed to be mentally ill in a minor way. I can't believe she would have gone to see the same show as us, much less understood it. Still, it's nice to see a familiar face.

Nightlife here is good, in that it exists. (In New Zealand, it didn't, for the most part.) Dina tells me that these computers buzz out any words one might deem inappropriate, so let me tell you that the various party districts are rife with two types of people, alternately, depending on where you are. One of these people types sounds like "destitute." The other sounds like "undressed-ite." The words they sound like also kind of describe them. Needless to say, we got drunk.

[ lisa, watch your camera ]

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Fish Are Back

Since Kristen is presently mailing a bottle of New Zealand wine to her parents, I'm going to round out my posts from the Antipodes with a summary of food-related learnin' I've gleaned so far.
  1. The New Zealanders refer to bell peppers as "capsicum," though KrisDina and I can't help but pronounce it "capiscum." It's a far uglier word either way.
  2. From my time in London I learned that the default flavor for purple candy is blackcurrant, not grape. Upon trying a Skittles machine in our hostel lobby, I found that green here is apple, not lime.
  3. Coffee is strange here. A generic cup of coffee is a "flat white," and is buried beneath an inch of foam. I, for one, hate foam. I have tried ordering simply black coffee but can only get espresso, or, worse, a double shot of espresso.
  4. Tomato sauce, the condiment that best approaches American ketchup, tastes of cloves.
  5. "Kiwi" is an odd word when ordering food. I've frequently not known whether a dish bearing that name contains kiwifruit, kiwi bird or is simply something characteristic of the Kiwi people.
  6. Two words: hamburger rings.
  7. On the subject of burgers, it's not uncommon to get a slice of beet on burgers here.
  8. Pavlova is wonderful angel kibble imported from the nicer districts of heaven.
  9. A thing exists that is called ginger wine. And it is a good thing.
  10. A popular beer here is Monteith's, the brewery for which is in Greymouth, which we actually drove through two days ago. They have more varieties here than most mainstream American beers do. Two of note: Monteith's Radler, which has lemon zest in it, and Monteith's winter brew, which has a cinnamon aftertaste.
  11. The Minus 5 bar made several of its drinks with a variety of Absolut vodka that I had never encountered before: Absolut Pepar. And that's in the sense of jalapeno peppers, not peppermint.
  12. And, finally, Kristen was very pleased that the McDonald's apple pies here are fried, not baked as they now are in the United States. I, however, find the pies to taste like shit no matter how they're cooked.

I feel really full, to put it bluntly.

Jungle Japes

We fly out in a few hours for Sydney. It's the last leg of our trip, though it's larger than the previous two combined. This may be bad travel math, but I'm nonetheless set on breaking the trip down this way.

The previous post glossed over our time up the west coast, I feel. Frankly, the area was one of the most beautiful I have encountered and I enjoyed it, despite the considerable handicap of having no source of music until I finally broke down and bought an iPod radio transmitter in Hokitika. In lieu of any other entertainment — we had already realized that we didn't know the lyrics to sing-a-long mainstays like "Wonderwall" and "I Think I Love You" as well as thought we did — we devised a rudimentary game of shouting out the names of the area's many creeks as we crossed them. Whoever didn't notice the little yellow sign first had to echo what the primo shouter said, not unlike the last few minutes of the Parliament Funkadelic's "Flashlight." We crossed over countless creeks, and, adorably, each one is named, likely because the grazing and agriculture economies depend heavily upon riberian rights. Stoney Creek. Viney Creek. Drunkard's Creek. Drowned Man Creek. Friends Creek No. 1. Dizzy Creek. Dismal Creek. Kiwi Creek. Doughboy Creek. Dicks Creek. Kaka Creek. Dry Creek (which had water). Water Creek (which didn't). Rocky Creek (which could have easily been any of the preceding creeks). Flowery Creek (which wouldn't have fit any of them, especially in this early autumn weather). And, of course, Cripple Creek.

Though we passed through Franz Joseph Village in the quick manner than Californians often flee cold climates, we spent enough time in Hokitika to get a feel for it. It reminded me of Twin Peaks, if that fictional town had depended upon marine enterprises instead of logging. I feel like the people there could have all easily known each other in the quaint, folksy way that only exists when it's a town you don't have to live in. The town is also known for its jade and opal markets, though I neglected to buy a carved tiki, freaky though it may have been.

At Hamish's suggestion, we drove through the farm country to the Hokitika Gorge , which he had accurately described as surreal. The river here too glows an odd turquoise color, though even more brightly than previous bodies of water had. As if to add to the strangeness of the place, the gorge was deserted — no tourists, no bugs, no fish and only one bird that we actually saw. I felt like we were trespassing on something special.

That night, we tried to get dinner at a restaurant the guide book touted as serving a surprisingly good possum broth soup. We ran though the rain and arrived at a wholly different restaurant where the kind waitress showed us a better route for driving to our last tourist destination in New Zealand — the Pancake Rocks — and then back to Christchurch, where I'm typing this now. The food was good, maybe even the best I've had so far, and when I signed the guest book, the waitress explained that I could write as large as I wanted, since the place was closing at the end of the week. She said that she didn't mind us keeping her late, way after the dinner rush usually dies down in Hokitika, since she would not get to spend more time there in the future.

The next morning, I found that the Pancake Rocks looked exactly like you'd expect them to. Words can't really relate how rocks could look like pancakes — even rocks carved by the ocean from the most badass, most supafly mineral in the funkosphere, the one and only dolemite. Wait for pictures, I suppose. I can't help but think that the Maori name for the Pancake Rocks, "Punakaiki," is a transliteration of the word "pancake."

Tonight I'll be in Sydney. Wish me luck in the penal colony.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Swinging Down the Street So Fancy Free

I think Dina may be writing an unflattering blog post about me. Don't believe it. I am a good travel companion.

Please Be There


Upon being asked the very relevant question "What have you been doing, anyway?", I realize that I've been remiss in saying exactly how my time down under has been spent. Besides KrisDina, the Moleskine and some chatty waiters and waitresses, no one but me can say whether I've actually been spending this vacation well or merely sitting in the Auckland airport, thumbing through travel pamphlets of places I'd like to go but won't on account of this country being all crazy and backwards and funny shaped and who really needs two islands, anyway? In that light, I thought I'd share.

I guess I've been just a little reluctant to do so when the occasional internet kiosk affords me the opportunity because I feel guilty. You're there and I'm here and I didn't want to rub your nose in it. But I care and since I did leave, I thought you should know that I did so with good reason: to take advantage of the opportunity to see a new place and see it well.

(And, please, note that I'm doing this writing in none-too-cheap internet time. So while I will spare no detail, you must afford me the opportunity to lapse into stream of consciousness ramblings, commas and homonyms be damned. Also, the constraints of this computer have forced me to change my writing style slightly. For example, I cannot figure out how to type an em dash, and only you could fully understand how much that it presently killing me.)

Days zero through three: The Land of Auck
Despite a little research, I actually have no idea what the "auck" in "Auckland" means. It's an odd little syllable, and, in a way, Auckland is an odd little town. It's not the capital of New Zealand, though I think most people would bet that it is. And though it's a fairly large sprawl, complete with the skyscrapers and ethnicity-centered suburbs you'd expect from a large town, you can drive too far in the wrong direction a bit and suddenly find yourself in rural territory with sheep and cows and rhubarb and the like. In any case, the day after day zero -- the one I spent on One Tree Hill getting the full Auckland panorama, KrisDina and I went searching for this little breakfast spot her boss recommended. Trouble: the Atomic Cafe no longer exists. In its place was a still fully good restaurant called One 2 One, which served fejoia smoothies the likes of which I've never encountered. We walked up K Street, a central thoroughfare, past this weird shopping arcade that seemed entirely devoted to hipsterware. Had Brenna seen it, she would have had a happy little seizure, for sure.

We caught a ferry to Devonport, the part of Auckland that lies on the other side of the bay, and walked around in its suffocating quaintness and then hiked up Mount Victoria, which boasts a cannon that the Kiwi government installed to fight off the oncoming Communist Russian army, which never came. Odd place. A little man like a hobbit came by and showed us into an old bunker, which the Aucklanders have turned into the meeting place for the local bluegrass music players association. Like I said, odd. It rained like it hasn't done again until today, actually, and we decided that the safe, dry option for the night was to catch a movie.

The next morning, our Larry took us to Cousin Francie's strawberry farm, which sounds like the hokiest thing since taking your scoliosis-suffering cousin to a barn dance, I know, but was actually quite nice. I met a cousin of whom I had previously only seen photographs. Francie also let us pick as many strawberries as we felt like, which was enjoyable in that city kids-doing-farm-work-as-a-novelty, Marie Antoinette-playing-peasant kind of way. The we caught a bus to this tourist trap called Kelly Tarlton's Antarctic Encounter and Underwater Experience, where we gawked at penguins and sting rays the size of a Mormon family dinner table. Then we saw Auckland's harbor district, which is called the Viaduct Basin for reasons I do not understand. We wanted to go be all looky, but we ended up having one of those monumental ice breaker dinners, where everyone tells personal stories and becomes best friends. We ate mussels, but the things had little crabs buried inside their shells. Later, someone explained that the crabs were being digested by the mussels, which would account for the little guys' soft shells and blanched coloring. (We did not eat the crabs.) Funny thing about dining out in a country where tipping is not customary: the waitresses think nothing of letting you wait forty-five minutes for your bill.

It being dark enough at that point, we hiked over to the Sky Tower, Auckland's fairly new iconic structure, which lights up in neon green and purple at night. Picture the Space Needle as designed by a ten-year-old with a Buzz Lightyear complex and you get the idea. The deck has glass floors, which allow you to see the city your hovering over. We took lots of pictures. The snooty French hostess rejected us from the revolving restaurant at the top, so we had to settle for drinks at the cafe just below. There, we discovered L&P, a New Zealand-only soda that tastes like a deeper, more mellow lemonade.
Days four through six: Rotorua, the geothermal city
After Avis rejected us, we turned to the only car that Budget could offer us: a lemon yellow Volkswagen Polo. An ominous color, I know. The car's lameness was compounded by the fact that it essentially looked like a rolling Easter egg. The drive to Rotorua included a stop in Tirau, which bills itself as the corrugated metal capital of New Zealand. This lofty title is evidenced by several corrugated metal statues -- a sheep dog, a sheep, a shepherd and then a praying mantis, I presume to break up the monotony -- though I couldn't help but look at them and think of Ruffles potato chips.

The first morning in Rotorua, we went to a hillside reputed as a prime site for zorbing, that ridiculous extreme sport where you roll around in a big plastic ball. It was actually quite fun and well worth the $45 it cost -- kind of like falling, but roughly twice as pleasant. After that, we went down the street to the Agro-Dome. I remembered liking this place from when I saw it as a kid, but KrisDIna didn't seem all that stoked on seeing what essentially amounted to a sheep show. They quickly realized the error of their ways. I don't know how they do it, but they make sheep-rearing seem flashy and fun. A negative: the sheep do not stack up into a pyramid cheerleader-style like I remembered. Turns out they merely line up on a pyramidal stage. A positive: the sheepdogs they have do run up and down the sheeps' backs in an entertaining fashion.

We also went to a place called Kiwi Encounter. I finally got an up-close look at a real-life kiwi bird. They're bigger than I remember, but still essentially a potato with feet and a long beak. The people there help breed the kiwi bird and then release them into the wild, so we even got to see a one-day-old kiwi hatchling. Fun fact: the egg grows inside a female kiwi bird until it's roughly half her size, rendering her immobile, vulnerable and in a great deal of discomfort. I also found out that my beloved cassowary, relative of the kiwi bird, is native to Australia and now I want to see one, ride it, steal it, take it back to California and name it Charlie.

That night we went to a hangi, the Maori version of what is called a luau in Hawaii. The whole deal had this air of inauthenticity, however, since it was held in a hotel. The food was good, especially the kumara, which are tubers that taste like sweet potatoes should. However, I felt oddly guilty during the cultural performance afterward. Like the Native Americans, the Maori kind of got a raw deal. And they totally have the right to pedal their culture to tourists as much as anybody else, but I felt like they kind of sold our to these busloads of Canadian and Korean senior tour groups kind of in the same way that I feel like Chumash sold out every time I see their name affixed before the word "casino." The performance included a love ballad duet that told the story of a Maori youth and maiden you fell in love despite being from opposing tribes and thusly sang to each other from the opposite shores of a lake that separated them. But although the male lead was played by a suitable Maori man, the female part was played by a menopausal-looking woman who could have easily been his mother. I got kind of sad when I characteristically overthought the situation and guessed that this particular troop couldn't find a young Maori lass talented or interested enough to play the part.

We woke up the next morning and set out for Hell's Gate, a geothermal spa that had a good, proper Maori name until George Bernard Shaw visited and noted that the place looked too much like the afterlife his atheist soul was doomed for to be called anything else. The sparse foliage and bubbling gray mud has this allure that I guess I have to attribute to its otherwordliness, for lack of anything else. The best part was the mud bath and sulphur spa we took after. Supposedly the stuff has medicinal properties. I think it gave me blackheads. Fun and dirty, all the same.

Too late in the day, we found, we set off for Lake Taupo and then Napier, the city known for its art deco architecture. So well known, in fact, that they nearly didn't have any room for us. We chanced upon a hostel with a vacancy just before we would have had to push south to Waipukurau, luckily. Our first tase of down under nightlife. Bar music doesn't suck here, it turns out.
Days six through nine: Waipuk, where everyone's a Mackie
Funny how everyone in my dad's hometown looks like him: my dad fatter, my dad taller, my dad wrinklier, my dad balder, my dad as a lady. This whole stay was exactly what you'd expect from any occasion in which a relative from out of the country comes to visit. We pinballed from one relative to the next, for breakfast, lunch, tea, dinner, tea. All very nice. I got to see my grandmother, whom I hadn't seen in eight years. Everyone prepared me for her not remembering me -- she's in a home now -- but she did and I was very happy. Oh, also we got to ride four-wheelers around a sheep farm and eat lots of red meat.
Days ten through twelve: The aptly named Christchurch
We flew from Napier to Christchurch on the south island. This city has more houses of worship than I could count, and all of them looked a few centuries older than they possibly could have been. We stayed right near the central Anglican cathedral, however. We also overslept and only had time the next day to go see the city's art museum, which had lots of contemporary stuff I really liked, though the names of the featured artists all escape me now. That night, we ate at my cousin Hamish's. I don't remember meeting him, though we apparently did the last time my family came through Christchurch. It's so odd to see cousins not too much older than me living in the suburbs with a wife and kids old enough to have some concept of what "the cousin from America" means. They named their daughter Skyla, after the Minnie Driver character in "Good Will Hunting," so there's still a flair for pop culture-addled youth in them. He took us up to an overlooked called "Sign of the Kiwi" -- and yes, there actually is a wooden sign with a kiwi bird on it -- and the city looked nice from all the way up there.
Day fourteen through two days ago:
We picked up our second rental car, a tan Nissan Pulsar. There is not sadder phrase in English than "tan Nissan Pulsar." It was cheap, though, which was good since a rock cracked the windshield of the Polo and we had to pay through the nose. Kristen claimed to have actually compiled a list of the Pulsar's pros and cons, and the cons truly win. Worst of the worst: no functional tape deck or CD player.

In our shit-colored car of shittiness, we drove all the way down to Queenstown, which took nearly all day. Pretty country though, and finally stuff that doesn't look anything like countryside in California. Queenstown is this awesomely quaint little ski town and adventure sport mecca. We stayed at a hotel named for the owner's cat, which blew, then spent the next day testing our propensity for extreme intensity by taking a gondola to the city's overlook. It's quite beautiful. As with the rest of the glacier-scarred south island, sediment in the lakes makes the water a pretty teal color. Also, Queenstown is framed on nearly all sides by mountains, the most craggy of which are one of the only ranges in the southern hemisphere to run from magnetic north to magnetic south. Their name: the Remarkables, which sounds like a Motown group, I think.

Easily the best day we've had in the whole trip was the second one spent in Queenstown. We went over to Shotover Canyon, where we rode a jet boat through this seemingly dangerous rocky stretch. The drivers get off on making the boats veer as close as possible to jutty rocks and then pulling 360-degree spins. Quite fun and not as soaking as you'd expect. We did this when my family came through eight years ago.

Then we bungy jumped. At the place where the sport was invented, no less, a bridge with a long Maori name that commonly gets abbreviated to "K Bridge."

I'm not sure, but I think the drop is 43 meters, though that measure doesn't really capture how steep it feels when you're standing on the ledge. The girls went first, since they weigh less, and I had to stand up there alone, save for the bungy nuts who work there. The think about bungy jumping that's really scary, however, is that the harness isn't as comprehensive as you'd think. It's really just a few scraps of fabric cobbled together. Part of it is just an ordinary bath towel. And yet somehow this thing is supposed to prevent you from falling to your death.

So I'm standing there, listening to "Dyer Maker" play with its "Oh oh oh oh oh oh / You don't have to go-o" and when the guy finally counts down from five, I just stand there dumbly. So he tells me to look straight forward and then he counts again. And I step forward and as I start to fall, I see that there's this random sheep on the hillside opposite the bridge where I'm jumping. And it's nowhere near a grazing area and I my mind fixates on this sheep and the last thing I can remember thinking is "Oh look! a sheep!" And I've been in New Zealand for more than two weeks and I've seen more sheep than I've seen people and I'm bungy jumping for the first time and all I can think to say is "Oh look! a sheep!" And then I'm hanging upside-down at the bottom. I couldn't tell you what the fall was like. I think I blacked out.

That night, sore and dazed, we went to the Minus 5 bar, where everything is made of ice and you can only stay for a half-hour. They give you gloves, since the glasses are also made of ice. Things get blurry.
Whatever day I'm on now:
So here I am in Hokitika. I guess I won't see the glowworm dell, though writing this letter to you has been more fulfilling than that would have been, I think. The past two days have consisted of a lot of being in the car, driving though this lush scenery that looks like the backgrounds from Donkey Kong Country, though I don't think that will mean much. It's nice. Rain forest imposed on glacier country, with quaintness abounding. Franz Joseph Village was cold and the view of the glacier was obscured by this kind of low-lying cloud that hugs around mountain midsections and looks like moustaches. We're flying from Christchurch to Sydney on Wednesday, and it's hard to believe I'll be seeing a whole other country before I'll see you again. I hope, if nothing else, this letter proves that I've seen a lot and been making good use of my time.
Write back. Tell me what you've been up to. Go into great detail. I care more than you know.

And, now that I think about it, don't be surprised if I take up your post-as-open letter trend and put this on the Cereal Box. I don't think I can bare to trudge through all this again, at least not on a keyboard.

All my love,

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Dizzy Creek, Hostel Creak

Just found out how to post my bungy pictures. Please to look.

Not big, I know, but it's all I got so far. Yes, that's my green polo taking the plunge. My green polo! You can see what the bridge I jumped from was like by seeing the AJ Hackett page here.

Dum Daro Dum

I am not dead, contrary to what the level of recent blog activity might indicate. I'm writing this from a tiny, cold place called Franz Joseph Village. Glaciers and all that. We left Queenstown, the self-proclaimed adventure sport capital of the world, yesterday morning, when we were all just a bit sore from bungy jumping and a jet boat outing on a river named "Shotover." Grammatical note: people in New Zealand spell "bungy" however they feel like: "bungee," "bunjee," "bunjy," bunjie," "bungie." Who's even in a position to say they're right?

In three days, I'll be in Syndey.

The only one of us to successfully get photos online is Dina. I suggest that you all visit Dina's Flickr account here. It's not much yet, but it documents (a) me with short hair and (b) what the whole Shotover experience looked like. More to come, I promise.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Young Americans

I’m currently in a dingy email den in Christchurch, within full view of the very cathedral that gives the city its name. The carillon is playing loudly enough that I feel like I’m at the old office under Storke Tower again, and I can’t tell you how powerful the combination of nostalgia and homesickness can be.

The following is what I wrote in my handy-dandy travel-sized Moleskine journal only hours ago:

Somewhere over New Zealand, leaving the north island and quickly approaching the south. Mid-island, one might say. I might even say it. I’d say it before I’d write it, since I’m not sure if “mid-island” should be hyphenated. (I did hyphenate it, as some sharp-eyed readers have noted, but I’m not really sure if that was the right way to go about it. Like this, as it stands now: “mid-island.” See?) I saw a sign in Waipuk that hyphenated “ice cream.” Now that’s crazy.

Internet access has been infrequent — and when it’s available, it’s been either expensive or the slow, dial-up variety and on a sticky-keyed family computer. Or in some cafĂ© in some hostel where some lanky Nordic type has been using it to watch silly Flash animations and then leaves the area immediately in front of the computer smelling like a cross between Brut and maple syrup. Anyway, you may note that I haven’t been blogging all that much, especially since I left Auckland five days ago. The good news for you, dear readers, is that they’ve invented a new sort of non-electric bloggery that utilizes a mashed, bleached wood fiber and some sort of non-digital writing implement. And believe me, it works loads better than the waxen cuneiform tablet I’ve been trying to take photos of whenever the writing mood strikes me.

In short, KrisDina and I have completed the first leg of our journey. (With three legs, apparently our journey is the Manx triskelion or one of those dogs that suffers an accident only to bravely hop along on his remaining appendages and consequently make me stifle inappropriate laughter and the desire to touch his stump.) In a short time, we’ll be landing in Christchurch, the largest city on the south island and the most British in the entire country. After spending three nights in Auckland with Cousin Francie, we drove south to Rotorua, the geothermal wondertown whose faint-to-overpowering sulphur smell I found pleasant and familiar. We then drove south through Taupo, the north island’s Lake Tahoesque resort city and into Napier, which is reputed to be the southern hemisphere’s art deco capital. After a night there, we went east to Waipukurau, my dad’s hometown for a few days before returning to the Napier airport.

That’s it so far. We’ve seen everything worth seeing between here and there, but I just don’t feel like delving into the smaller details quite yet. In lieu of them, please accept the following alternate synopses for our trip.

My trip so far as measured by my hair

The morning before I flew out of SFO for Auckland, I asked my mom to cut my
hair. Short. With clippers. Like the kind of way that negated more than nine
months of growing it out and which could have been done six months sooner and
allowed me to escape the stress of windy days, over-shampooing,
under-shampooing, cross-conditioning, trans-conditioning, hat hair and the
nagging thought that having my hair long and all in my face made me look like an
aging hipster trying to grow his hair in an effort to combat my hairline’s growing
fright and dread of my forehead. Post-cut, my hair has grown slightly each day.
Most tests predict that it will continue to do so. I appear no less bald, I’m
glad to say, then the last time I cut my hair like this, which was two summers
ago. (Not a good synopsis, I know.)

My trip so far as measured by potato chips
On the second day in Auckland, Larry took us to the grocery story and I bought a
bag of lamb-and-mint potato chips. Lamb with mint sauce is a popular British
dish, hence the availability of it as a flavor for potato chips. (Following that
logic, one most conclude, then, I suppose, that Americans most commonly enjoy
meals including such dishes as pizza, barbecue, cool ranch, spicy chili Cheeto
and salt.) I first encountered this particular flavoring (flavouring) when I was
in London a while back and I came to enjoy the strangely fruitful marriage of
meaty-umami (uumami) and cooling-refreshing (coouling-refreushing). Everyone
else hated it. In an act of either revenge or competition, KrisDina bought packs
of ham-dijon and Greek-tzatziki, respectively. I found the ham-dijon chips to
taste only like the kind of ham flavoring found in Top Ramen packets, with only
the unnatural yellow color to account for the dijon mustard. The Greek-tzatziki
chips were good enough, but I was irritated by the redundancy of the name of the
flavor. (Again, an act of competition or revenge, depending on how you look at
it.) We thought we had found a uniformly agreeable flavor with the fourth bag,
garlic-feta, but the chips proved brittle and the flavor weak. A devastating
loss. The remaining lamb-and-mint chips, I should add, were eaten by a peacock.
My trip so far, written in a false and surreal manner
Dina, Kristen and I rode a whale to Auckland, which is made out of butter and
lizard scales. We became loaves of bologna that could fly, which was helpful in
escaping the many dragons that live in New Zealand. Trolls traded us rubies for
our eyes, but with the rubies we can see through walls and into your soul — yes,
specifically yours and no one else’s. Then we dined on sea food and rubber
trees, which cried a lot.
My trip so far, as marked my various relatives’ pets
At Francie’s we enjoyed the company of an as-of-yet unnamed Tonkinese kitten.
Its tendencies led me to name it “Nibbles,” though the Russian half of KrisDina
called the cat “Rat Baby” on account of its sleek appearance and short hair.
There was also a scabby tabby named Tiger, of which little to-do was made.
Though Rotorua was without Mackies — and, thus, Mackiepets — we did meet a flock of peacocks in the parking lot of a natural hot springs called “Hell’s Gate.”
Many pictures were taken, and I mentally assigned the name “Miss Queenie Maria
Muffinmush” to the flashiest of the males. Upon entering Waipuk, we made the
acquaintance of Claude, a fourteen-year-old terrier mix belonging to my cousin
Kurt. Claude liked me enough to ride with me on a four-wheeler during a tour of
my uncle’s sheep ranch, but his chronically shaky legs gave out on a sharp
corner and he flew off the bike. Claude seemed okay, if a little dazed, though
he declined to speak to me again for the remainder of my stay in his home. We
spent the following day, yesterday, with my Aunt Jeannie, whose Jack Russell,
Buster, attempted to swallow his tail and momentarily became this perfect
dandruff-ridden canine version of the Oroboros. On the way out of town this
morning, we stopped at my Uncle Doug’s. Pets of note include a Border Collie
puppy named Dot, which I particularly enjoyed since my folks adopted our Border
Collie a good six months past his puppyhood, and a “pet sheep” called Dolly.
Yes, like the cloned sheep or world renown but decidedly not a clone, lest there
be two contenders for the title of “world’s fattest sheep.”
My trip so far, as marked my often-heard music

I listen to my iPod when I can. As I write this now, I’m listening to Guided by Voices' “Everyone Thinks I’m a Raincloud (When I’m Not Looking).” More often, I've been listening to Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! and the album by Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins. I’ve also been using the heretofore underutilized “on the go” feature to build a playlist of appropriate songs for my folks that I can burn to CD when I return. As we lack the ability to play the iPods over the car speakers, however, I’ve purchased two roadtrip mixes from gas stations: A ’70s summer mix, as the cover states it, and the “Ultimate Bubblegum Pop Collection.” Just for your edification, the following songs inexplicably appear on both albums: “In the Summertime,” by Mungo Jerry; “Spirit in the Sky,” by Norman Greenbaum; “By the Devil (I Was Tempted),” by Blue Mink; and “Knock Three Times,” by Tony Orlando and Dawn.

You’ve heard all four and you don’t need to hear them again. Believe someone who’s heard them enough to know.

The flight is now descending on the Christchurch airport, and I realize now that I haven’t even related selected which journal passages most deserve to be posted online, which was where I was initially going with this whole entry. Then again, this post is long enough as it is — I’ve been writing the duration of this entire ninety-minute flight — so perhaps any conclusion is a sufficient one.

Rest assured: I’m seeing things and taking pictures and will, shortly or not-so-shortly, relate them in future writings.

[ Ka mate koe i te kai hikareti — Liam E. Tenrental. ]

Monday, March 6, 2006

What They Call Summer Love Is Happening in Spring

After dinner I walked to the end of Rangitoto Avenue, where my dad's Cousin Francie lives in an understatedly nice house that flows around corners and up and down and in ways that the building's outside appearance would lead you to believe were impossible. It's where I'm staying tonight.

I walked in a neighborhood strangely devoid of street lights, with only the glow of happy Auckland living rooms reflected beyond the front yards and to the sidewalk allowing me to differentiate between one house and the next. Though it was warm enough for people to be up and about, the street was deserted and I wondered if the humid last breath of this late summer day had perhaps driven everyone to sleep early. The one clue that anything else was alive in the neighborhood was the noise of crickets, which I noted sound exactly like they do in California. In the daylight, New Zealand affords travelers a different soundtrack altogether, what with a Darwin's rejects chorus of unfamiliar songbirds and abundant cicadas — or at least, what sound like cicadas or what sounds like how I think cicadas ought to sound. But at night, as near as I can tell so far, it's just crickets — New Zealand crickets, sounding exactly like American ones.

I had to remind myself that, for the purposes of my travel itinerary, today didn't count. Day zero. Our twelve-hour flight from San Francisco arrived in Auckland at about 5:15 this morning, and Francie's boyfriend Larry picked KrisDina and me up, a noble act appreciated all the more since the trip had reduced my body to a state not unlike that of a walking corpse that was quickly disintegrating into liquid. (Such a thing doesn't exist, I'm sure, but the comparison is nonetheless apt, believe me.) We slept immediately after getting here and I woke up at 11 a.m., initially not knowing where I was. Cousin Francie's house. In Auckland. New Zealand. On the other side of the world. I could have slept the clock around and I assumed KrisDina would be already dressed and waiting on me to get ready. Jet lag does funny things to your internal clock.

When we three were finally all equally awake, dressed, fed and conscious — and yes, the four states were achieved in that order — Larry took us on a drive through Auckland, a city I don't remember being in before though I know I have. The city is beautiful, and though it's genuinely unique — a special meeting of British colonial and Polynesian melting pot — it reminds me of California. People here move at the relaxed, picture postcard pace they do in Santa Barbara. And the city wraps around the ocean like how I imagine San Diego does. (Like Auckland, I have no real memory of San Diego, but I know I've been there.) Larry even took us to an overlook and former Maori hub called One Tree Hill, which tragically lost the one tree five or six years ago. In the end, he dumped us at the Auckland museum, where we learned only the info we could absorb into tidbit form. (At ten feet tall, the extinct moa, a large flightless bird similar to an ostrich or an emu towered over other New Zealand land dwellers.) We finished the city wandering around the Parnell area before returning back to Francie's for a Kiwi-style barbecue.

And though it isn't much, I'm particularly impressed with what we were able to do on our Day Zero, considering we were working on a minimum of sleep and could easily have spent the day in bed, prolonging our adjustment to New Zealand time. We hadn't planned anything for today, so the very presence of something that I could write about in this post pleases me.

What stands out most, however, is the crickets, which I can still hear, since it's warm enough that all the windows in the house are still open. I find that familiar electric drone of scores of chirping crickets very comforting at a time when I'm stinging from the desire to be with what I miss most. Cousin Francie, a woman I had heretofore known as "Francie the Berry Lady" is friendly and hospitable and wise in that she helped me realize how important this trip may be, in that it's my first chance to see where my dad came from with an adult eye. I'm ready and I'm genuinely excited.

Tomorrow, at least for what the itinerary needs to know, is day one.

End typing. Cue crickets.

Sunday, March 5, 2006

She Didn't Know What She Was Saying

I'm in Auckland. I'm also exhausted because an angry little girl on the plane kept yelling "I don't want to be New Zealand." It could have also been "I don't want to Zealand." Not sure. I would have gladly shown her the door, but that's all behind me now.

See you in 39 days, California.

Saturday, March 4, 2006

Where Women Glow and Men Plunder

i know it's late and it's for the best, since i won't be able to sleep on the plane anyway. this will be my last entry written in california for six weeks. it occurred to me just today that this trip has the potential to extend beyond a mere vacation and turn into one of those huge deals where a person goes on his own to the place his family comes from and learns something about himself. and that makes me want to gag and cry at the same time. (only, yes, kris-dina will be there too, but i can't pretend they're not, if i chose.) i can't believe how much i'm leaving on hold here in california and i'm pissed at how much i didn't get to do before i left. i guess you will all have to wait to hear my fun stories about the duck pond or how spencer and i veronica marsed our way into a tour of the hollister ranch. maybe i'll come back at those nagging little errands won't matter anymore. maybe i'll appreciate california more. maybe i'll appreciate life more. maybe i'll never watch "lost" again because i'm scared the plane will crash and who cares about claire's stupid baby anyway? and what of it if half of my loyal readership will be traveling with me? and what if i can't bear to be away? and what if i miss the lynx kitten more than i would have ever guessed?

wish me luck.

Friday, March 3, 2006

You Could Win a Rabbit

The results of the animals voting contest are in: With a whopping four votes, my new animal obsession is the axolotl.

Though to be honest, I'm disregarding the votes and going with my gut. My new fave is the noble potato.

Thursday, March 2, 2006

Variations on a Castle Theme

I'm going to miss home more than I expected, rough and rural and rocky as it may seem.

chilly day outside

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

The Charging Sky

I know I had the day off and I know I'm heading on this major trip and I know I should have loads to talk about. However, I couldn't think of a thing to say tonight. Thus, I present you, dear readers with this single bit of information: a mineral native to Sweden, South Africa and Scotland that is named for the town of Cummington, Massachusetts. The mineral is called cummingtonite. I laugh inside every time I pronounce its name.

Tomorrow, more combined excitement-anxiety-dread-joy at the thought of the quickly approaching OZ/NZ trip.

[ source: "QI" ]