Wednesday, January 27, 2010

They Say Their Name

At last, this trip to the wrong side of the world has given me the extra summer I had wanted all along. It's doubly good, because had I not been up, still reading in bed because I couldn't sleep on this hot night, I wouldn't have heard the kiwis making their strange calls outside. I'd heard these potato birds lived out in the brush here, and now I know it's true: As I type this, they're saying their own species name to each other --- two syllables, spoken a little sadly --- and waiting for others to say the name back.

I've never heard them before.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Report From the Adventure Sport Capital of the World

As I write this, I'm on my way out of Queenstown, the birthplace of bungee and now a mecca for thrillseekers worldwide. And while time and financial restraints meant that I had to forego many of the city's main attractions, I was fortunate enough to partake in a new offering that's being billed as the next craze in adventure sports: gobsmacking. As were many of the others in the area, our hotel gave us a discounted rate to try gobsmaking out. We were not disappointed.

The way the sport works is like this: You get picked up at your hotel at about 7:30 in the morning and then driven out to a hill overlooking the city. Staff briefs you on safety procedures and suits you up in all necessary equipment. Then, around 9, you trot to the top of the lookout, where a big Scottish guy named Angus punches you in the face a hard as he can.

The idea behind the sport is that it's the ultimate test of fortitude. Unlike bungee, which offers the illusion of danger without any significant chance of injury, the harm is guaranteed with gobsmacking. By participating, you have to supress your body's most primal need for self-preservation. The result is an unforgettable battle between your voluntary and involuntary impulses --- and thrills aplenty.

Those up for repeat gobsmacks can opt for different arrangements. For example, Angus can also punch you in the chest and then make fun of you. And for the truly adventurous, there's the option of letting Angus punch you and then toss you down a five-foot embankment.

The cost of participation --- $430 USD, with our hotel discount --- may seem steep, but it was entirely worth the cash dropped and blood shed to get an early jump on what is sure to be the next big thing in adventure sports. If you're in Queenstown or plan to travel through soon, ask after the original gobsmacking package. (Or, if you want, look for the dozens of similar offers sure to spring up in its wake. Already we heard of a similar deal up the road where these kids from Peru come an throw rocks at you.) It's your chance to prove that you'll let nothing stop you from living on the edge --- even the promise of certain bodily injury.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

New Zealand, Land of Sexiness

Three more mementos from Kiwi Land, none of them being particularly representative of the nation or culture.

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Proof that rules about house appearances aren't as stringent in New Zealand as they are in America: an otherwise innocently odd house painted to look like boobs.

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Who needs blackened lungs when you can warn against smoking with a limp dick?

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Thunderpants. The name says it all. Actually, now that I think about it, this one might actually be representative of New Zealand after all.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Kiwifruit Sundae with Kiwibird Topping

Not so big on words lately, so I'll instead offer something else as proof of my trip: photos of things ignored by all the other slack-jawed, camera-toting tourists.

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A wine box. It's sound in the geographic sense, but I can only think about it in the aural sense. And laugh. Also: a good name for a perfume for cougars, even if those dusky sounds would be coughing and creaking joints.

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Because the term toothpaste didn't sound elegant enough, I guess. I have no idea what this product does or why someone might want to buy it.

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This is how signs warn you against letting your dog relieve itself in public areas. If the term dog fouling wasn't entertaining by itself, the squatting dog rendered in the blocky style of restroom gender symbols made it even better.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Sheep Are Trying to Tell Us Something

But what? I think their unsophisticated sheep communication abilities are only able to give us the first two sounds in what would otherwise be a valuable message. "Bahrain"? "Bafflement"? "Badminton"? Perhaps we will never know. However, that first syllable is so clearly "baa" that I must take a moment to chuckle at what various other cultures think sheep say: fwaah (French), maham maham (Spanish), googoogoowah (Chinese), and worst of all ¡vivilaravi! (German).

Seriously, despite having the collective brain power of shower mold, sheep herds do find ways to communicate with nearby humans. For example, they remind us all of their status as grazing, cellulose-processing powerhouses by burping, farting, shitting and pissing at all times, even when they're actually consuming more plant material that they will utilize as energy for future burps, farts, shits and pisses. Standing in front of a herd of sheep, then, is sort of like watching a bunch of people eat at Burger King. (I make that joke realizing that no one reading a blog that specializes in video game etymology and sexually perverse subtext in obscure pop culture has eaten at Burger King in the past decade. Stay with me here, snobs.)

The wooly-backed masses have other ways of communicating. They stamp their feet when angry. They pant like dogs when hot. And, when released from fenced-in prisons, they are prone to jumping in the air only to kick out their legs in brief but jubilant displays. However, there is one more thing that sheep do, and it does not make me feel any better about them or myself. When shoved into a corral, whether at the request of humans or dogs, they tend to anxiously breathe through their noses in unison.

Picture, if you will, stepping up to a wooden fence behind which stand a hundred sheep that have just been pushed from their cushy pasture land to a new, smaller pen that leads to God-knows-where. The sheep turn and look at you with their stupid, yellow eyes and for a few seconds it's quiet enough that you can hear a noise that sounds almost like the ocean. It's actually the whole lot of them breathing in unison, furiously and quickly. It's the panicked breathing of idiots that don't understand what's happening but know on some level that they should be afraifd. When Thomas Harris wrote about the silence of the lambs, he clearly hadn't spent enough time around the species to know about something worse: panic breathing in unison.

Today, the breathing stopped only when the sheep had been loaded onto a truck that transported them to a magical place that makes them into dinner. I point this out not to drive home any vegetarian point --- I do eat sheep --- but instead to point out the irony in these animals having panicked with good reason on the day they died. Sheep, being dumb, do this panic breathing whether they're lined up to be tagged or flea-dipped or dressed in oversized British lady clothes for humorous birthday card photos. These sheep doubtlessly did so every time they were pushed into a corral out of a primal dread of death that somehow overrode their primitive brain circuitry. Today, however, was the first time this instinct would have proved correct.

There's something in that, I feel, and there's something in the reaction of one lucky ewe that, upon my uncle's second inspection, proved to be too young for the slaughterhouse. Being deprived of its flockmates, it bleated like it had been the only kid in class not invited to the party. In a way, it was that tragic figure. Only it was too dumb to know it had dodged a metaphorical bullet --- and a literal bolt gun. Its panic breathing had been rendered unremarkable by virtue of being a solo effort --- and unprophetic by virtue of it having survived today.

The sheep are trying to tell us something, and that message is a lot more complex that they could ever understand.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Yin, Yang and John

New Zealand, as a nation, likes making an effort at being green. Failing that, it likes making an effort at seeming green. The telltale signs are everywhere. Case in point: the toilets.

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We have these flush activators in America, with the buttons each being composed of one part for little flushes and another for bigger ones. But here they're everywhere --- homes and hotels --- as if the entire toilet-using population of New Zealand is in on the effort to conserve water whenever possible. The funny thing about these buttons is that they are composed of two organic, interlocking halves, which means they essentially form a yin-yang symbol. The one above --- found in my hotel bathroom --- even has little eyes, though one is weirdly winking. (Ol' Winky is for when you don't need to clean out the whole bowl.) And because I see these buttons every time I use a toilet, I get reminded of the Taoist symbol for spiritual balance between three and six times a day, depending on my fluid intake.

Toilet philosophy, of course, is nothing new. The bathroom is maybe better suited for pondering than any other room in the house. But in this case, the fixtures are mapping bodily functions onto existing philosphical concepts. Inadvertantly, yin (dark, negative and feminine) gets associated with the bathroom activities that require a full flush and yang (light, positive and masculine) with the less intrusive expulsions.

And, being male myself, I find these associations funny. But I'm pretty sure that I'm the only person to pass through New Zealand bathrooms and have this thought, so I guess the joke will remain an inside one.

As far as other matters go, the weather is fair but the kiwi birds remained hidden.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Maori Word for Deja Vu

The first day in New Zealand, the first day in the Land of Auck. "Auck auck auck," I say to people on the street. They don't respond well. Must be my American accent. (The auck in question is supposed by some to be a form of hawk and not auk, deserving of honor though the latter may be.) We did essentially what a different we did in Auckland four years ago. I'm not complaining, and I will shun the child who pouts and says "No, I don't want to do those lovely things again!" In order: the Viaduct, Devonport, the cannon at Mt. Victoria, One Tree Hill (still not the TV show), and the berry farm. Indeed, it is all nice, all good, all positive adjectives all around. The sky is blue. The clouds are, as promised, long and white. And I have a certain color to my skin that I would not have had had I stayed in California, with its wrong, flipped-around seasons and its functional ozone.

Maybe because New Zealand looks like a slightly Bizarro version of California and maybe because it lacks poisonous animals, I feel comfortable here, in this stray semicolon of a country. I wasn't even bothered by the odd looks my way of speaking elicited from the cast of happy townspeople I encountered during this afternoon's solo trip to the pharmacy. Yes, something about New Zealand works for me.

The part of me that enjoys challenges gets a kick out of the way every trip here forces me to reinterpret my concept of family. In that sense, this trip may prove to be the most critical of all. And there will be time for that. But for today, I will just enjoy the blue sky, the white clouds and my face looking just ruddy enough that I could actually belong here.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Lady Would Like You to Stop

Bizarrely anthropomorphic and even more bizarrely gendered logo I spotted on the back of an electronic road sign:

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The decision to personify something in the non-literary sense is odd enough. But my feminist leanings be damned, it seems even odder for someone to make something human-like and pointlessly female, though I suppose some motorists would be more inclined to obey stop signs if they thought of them as being ladies. I can’t help myself from recalling a grotesquely feminized cartoon hot dog who has previously appeared on this blog and who is apparently friends with Alvin, of The Chipmunks fame.

Friday, January 8, 2010

All the Boys Think She’s a Spy

I have been driving too much. Proof of this fact: Today, during my most recent trip between here and there, I attempted to stave off boredom by learning the lyrics to “Bette Davis Eyes” and then singing them in the voice of Peter Lorre.

Good news: This is actually a fun thing to do and I encourage you all to attempt it now.

Dead Sea Make You Choke

Two dead dragonflies — perfectly preserved, pointed at the same angle, and perched in the window of a mattress store just up the block from my former office:

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There’s a meaningful statement to be made in all this, but I’m not sure I know what it is. Something riffing on my reflection being visible? Is it helpful at all if I say that at the time I took this photo I was walking with the guy who replaced me? Maybe no? I don’t know. Any takers?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Rest of My Life I Will Always Drive and Drive

Since I posted back in April 2008 about a certain mystery track I’ve had on my computer since early college — it’s labeled as “Autobahn” by the band Karate, yet it’s not by the band most often associated with that name and it seems to have no relation to the Kraftwerk album Autobahn — this blog has received a hit or two a month from people trying to find “karate autobahn” or “karate autobahn mislabeled” or some such thing. However, no one arriving here seems to know who actually performed the song in question or what it’s actually called. And at least one other person has posted online about not knowing the truth about this song. Recently, someone who like me downloaded this mislabeled song back in the days of Audiogalaxy arrived here, and, lacking any answers, he emailed me:
Drew, As a fan of Geoff Farina and Karate, I too downloaded this song, labeled as Autobahn by Karate. Its been driving me crazy for years that I cannot find the correct artist who performs this. I was wondering if you had any luck...google, shazam, friends have all come up empty.
This prompted me to finally post the song on my blog and see if anyone else can listen to it and tell me if it sounds familiar. Please do, music experts. And, even better, please send to your music expert friends and see if they can recognize it. I actually like the song and would like to give proper credit to whoever made it.

As you can tell from the singer’s vowels, he either has a British-sounding pronunciation or is trying to sound like he does. I can tell you literally nothing else about the track other than that it would have been available on Audiogalaxy and Napster back in 2000, 2001, or 2002 — back in the days when MP3s ran wild and free through college dorm rooms. And Googling about for it has so far turned up nothing. In hopes that this may help my cause, I’m also posting the lyrics — or at least how I’ve best been able to interpret the lyrics. The combination of the singer’s accent and the music itself make it difficult to hear certain parts, and if you think you can do better than I did, please fire off a comment pointing out what might replace some of these [inaudible] markers. My best shot:
I put up to my shoulders every now and thenNo matter how I try I’m always halfway thereThe roads are emptyTrying to avoid myselfNo matter what I do I’m always halfway thereI am [inaudible] before I have a shotThe blissful ignorance will [inaudible]
{Chorus: Why would I need another day?I try to find another wayIt’s just I don’t know what to do and no one else seems to know itI’m not yourself and that’s more frustrating than knowing you’re undead}
[Inaudible] play for keeps are rolling under meAll this distance, still I’m always halfway thereYes I had a bad dayThey know I can do betterA safe return foreverFrom now on this is downhill
{Chorus}
I’ll be alone when it’s cold [a wild guess on this line] Yeah, I’ll be here to here when it’s cold[Inaudible] [Inaudible] The rest of my life I will always drive and driveThe rest of my life I will always drive and driveThe rest of my life I will always drive and driveThe rest of my life I will always drive and driveThe rest of my life I will always die and die
So... Anyone? Anyone?

Fried Enema

From Sanam, who returned from her good will trip to China with proof that Chinese food over there really is different from Chinese food over here:


And here’s the delicious dish in the context of the original menu. No clue here. If Sanam ate the fried enema, she lied to us and said she didn’t.


Chinese-savvy readers: any clue as to what the menu writer was going for here?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Brave New Handheld World

I am posting for the first time from Blogger's iPhone app. If this works, expect great bloggery things from my upcoming New Zealand trip. Flashblogging! Live updates! New kinds of typos!

Here's a picture of my dog, for no specific reason.


The word iPhone makes for bad grammar when you make it the first word in a sentence, I realize.