Monday, February 27, 2006

A Bit Weird in Australia

4:30 am, the alarm goes off. Ugh. Time to wash the face, drag on some clothes, and make two pieces of toast.

Chris, who with his wife Mary have hosted us the last two days in Christchurch, has offered to drive us to the airport at this ungodly hour. It’s a small mercy for which we’re quite thankful.

Throw bags in car. Chat in semi-conscious state on 20-minute drive. Jump out at the curb. Stand in line—the correct one: Easy Jet line is 3 hours long; Air New Zealand line is 30 minutes. Stand. Shuffle. Stand. Shuffle. Pick up bag. Set down bag. Stand. Pick up bag. Shuffle. Play with those strange plastic-capped poles with spring-loaded straps that corral passengers like bipedal sheep. Stand. Shuffle.

“Good morning. How ya goin’?” The colloquial Kiwi greeting.

Hand over passports. Yawn. Place bags on scale.

Type-type-type. “To Sydney?”

Where are we going today? Ah, yes. Sydney. Good.

“Are you going through from Sydney?”

Sydney’s not far enough? Maybe he wants us to suffer another 17-hour flight somewhere. Maybe Darwin. Singapore? Let’s pull out all the stops and fly to Calcutta! No, just Sydney today, thanks.

“Have you got a visa?”

Heart rate increases. Visa? Who needs a visa to enter a prison colony? Sweat glands around face warm up. We didn’t need one to get into New Zealand; why Australia? No, we don’t have visas. Don’t need them. We’re Americans! Fight or flight response kicks in, and since they won’t let us fly, only one option remains.

“Oh, well, you’ve got to have a visa or an ETA to get into Australia.”

Heart rate kicks up another notch. We don’t have a visa. We’re going to be quarantined, locked up in some holding-cell for a week because we’re supposed to be in Australia and we can’t go. Everyone will stare at us as we’re escorted away from the ticket counter, bags in hand, like shorn sheep in a cold rain. “Hey, look at these folks! They haven’t got visas!” Bloody Americans. Bloody Americans? Bloody travel guides! Not worth the paper they’re printed on. Ought to have a big red stamp on the cover declaring, “Americans must have visas to enter Australia—but not New Zealand.”

Visas take weeks, maybe months to get. There’s no way we can get one. What’s a New Zealand holding cell like? Never seen one, but at least I know they’ll serve tea there. Cold comfort right now.

And what’s an “ETA”? Extraordinary Tax on Americans? Elusive Tariff for Australia? Heart rate rises another notch. I know you can’t bribe a Kiwi. They’re too darn honest. They’ve checked my signature against the back of my credit card on every purchase I’ve made since we arrived in the Southern Hemisphere. No way to bend the rules. That’s it. Watch the plane take off like some bad rendition of the end of Casablanca. Roll credits. No Sydney for us. All because we didn’t have an ETA. Hey, maybe it stands for Extort those Travelling A—

“If you haven’t got an ETA we can’t let you on the plane. But we can issue you an ETA right here. Just go over to that desk there . . .”

Suddenly, at 6:00 am, the Christchurch International Airport is filled with a thousand-member choir singing the climax of Handel’s Messiah. Thanks, mate. Cheers.

Heart rate slows, breathing returns to normal. Fight or flight response fades. Pay 50$ to the Australian government in a numb stupor. (On top of the “departure tax” to get out of New Zealand, that’s 100$. Maybe it’s Extract from Tete to Arse.)

Return to counter to finish check-in. Hey, how is it that we can enter New Zealand Scot-free, but have to pay an ETA to get into Australia?

“Ah, you know. They’re a bit weird in Australia.”

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Like the States in the 1950s? Part Deux

Being sensitive to the observations of our friends back home, we have been on the lookout for things that remind us of the 1950s in the States—as if we were there! Here are some things we’ve observed.

We mentioned earlier the absence of waiver of liability forms in New Zealand. That continues to hold true, after being taken on water taxis, climbing glaciers, and being within ten yards of big sea lions. We also mentioned the large plugs on appliances that look like American plugs before they were miniaturized and streamlined.

The women who work in the grocery stores all wear skirts. It took a while to notice this one. They wear uniform blue skirts—no pants for these ladies.

Labour laws are reminiscent of the 1950s, as we remember the decade. We’ve seen folks who look like 10- to 12-year-olds working in the grocery stores and other places. Obviously way too young to accept any responsibility like working.

Fear of crime (or the absence thereof) resembles bygone days in the States. On the way back from the beach in Dunedin, we watched two girls get on the bus—one 11 years old, the other 9—alone, pay for their own tickets, and take the bus to the city centre. It’s a fifteen-minute ride. Then they got off and wandered into the shopping district. I know of few parents in the States who would dare to put two girls that young on public transit, alone, to go into the city. Definitely 1950s.

Taps for hot and cold water are separate in most sinks here. That reminds me of my grandparents’ house—which hadn’t been renovated since the ’50s.

Driving age is 15 for a permit, 16 (?) for a license. That’s ’50s, too. (However, there seems to be a lot of talk about raising that age, given the precedent of other Crown countries and the media attention going to young drivers speeding for fun.)

So perhaps our friends were on to something. Then again, being in Dunedin as the freshmen at Otago University begin their (dis)orientation reminds us that we are very much in the 2000s, well caught up with the American college freshman scene. Except here the drinking age is 18. You do the math (because the freshies are in no shape to do it themselves).

Dunedin Stuffed Chicken

1 Tbsp oil
¼ cup pine nuts
3 cloves garlic, chopped
½ soft feta cheese or goat cheese
2 Tbsp sun-dried tomato pesto sauce (homemade or in a jar)
2 large boneless chicken breasts

Preheat oven to 375°. Roast garlic and pine nuts in oil in skillet until brown. Mash with feta and pesto sauce. Cut chicken breasts length-wise and fold open. Spoon half of pesto and feta mixture into each split breast. Fold breasts closed and place in covered dish; bake for 30 minutes or until chicken is done.

The first edition of this recipe was devoured in Dunedin, New Zealand, on 21 February, 2006. We had it with rice and sautéed green beans (for some starch and extra vitamins). The taste of the chicken was exquisite!

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Church in New Zealand II

Our third Sunday in New Zealand we attended the worship service of Our Lady of the Snows Roman Catholic Church in Fox Glacier, on the west coast. The tiny Presbyterian church building there (actually labeled a “chapel”) did not have worship times posted, and when we entered showed little sign of having been used since Christmas three years ago. So we flexed our ecumenical muscles and walked down the street to the equally tiny white building where the Catholics worshipped and celebrated the Mass with them.

I still find it fascinating to worship in a Catholic church. The most challenging part for me is the transformation of the meaning of worship by the presence of Jesus still hanging on the cross before the congregation. Protestants tend to use “empty crosses” as the central symbol of the worship space, or else no cross at all (Moravians shun any symbols whatsoever, fearing the potential for idolatry latent in any visual symbol). So the depiction—in this case one rather life-sized—of Jesus’ death is doubly stunning. It seems to bring the sharpest focus onto Jesus’ death as opposed to any other part of his life. It also invests the Eucharist with greater symbolic meaning as the priest declares, “This is my body, broken for you.”

The next Sunday we were in Nelson, the northern-most large city on the South Island. We attended worship at the Anglican Cathedral of Nelson, an ornate structure that watches over the whole of the city and is visible from most of it. The outer structure was built in the late 19th century, but the inside décor had been renovated with wood of lighter tones and bright carpet. It had a lighter, more Gothic kind of feel. The service incorporated youth of middle-school and high-school age, which reminded me of my own days as acolyte in the Lutheran church. Even this large sanctuary was amply supplied with parishioners of all ages and family status.

They also had—roped off to prevent intimate contact—the chairs in which the Queen of England and her Chancellor sat on their visit to Nelson in 1970-something. Hm.

Oh, and the preacher (one of two, it seemed from the way the service was conducted) was Maori.

Last Sunday we attended worship in Oamaru, a little coastal town just north of Dunedin. It was the foundational Presbyterian church of that town (every South Island town has one). They had a similar service to the one most Presbies in the States know. Except (and this is true of both Presbyterian churches we’ve attended here) the hymnals are smaller—yes, smaller print!—and they don’t have the music printed in them. Worshippers either know the tune already or they just make as if they do. Fascinating. Unless you’re a musical genius, there’s no four-part harmonies happening for you there.

We stuck around for tea-time after church and had a lovely chat with the pastor and a few parishioners. Good times.

Today we went to a Samoan Assemblies of God church here in Dunedin. Before the worship time we attended Bible study (something all age groups did) in which one person taught about the passage and the class learned and recited a memory verse, in Samoan, with hand motions. Very cool. (I’ll have to incorporate this into future Bible studies back home.) Come worship time, every group recited its memory verse before the congregation with hand motions. A fitting prelude to my upcoming class, Worship and the Performing Arts.

The pastor asked me to come before the congregation and give a word of encouragement to the congregation. This is something borne of the fact that I am to be a pastor in the states; most non-Western congregations expect something by way of a sermon or testimony from visiting pastors (a black Baptist preacher once said, “I never go to visit a church without a sermon in my pocket”). As such I was a little prepared for this circumstance, but it still felt a little strange. I am thankful that God gave me the Bible study time to prepare some words for that church. In the end they were encouraged and I was glad they asked me to speak a few words.

After worship we went to the pastor’s home where we were presented with a veritable feast, Samoan-style. The table was replete with everything from taro (Samoan potato, they said), fried bananas, chop suey, raw fish salad, KFC, french fries, corned beef and cabbage, rice, and vegetable salad. The small kitchen of the home didn’t seem to have enough space to prepare all these things, but there it was, laid out before us. We were honoured guests. As the matriarch of the family (and there were seven people of three generations living in the house) put it: Sunday is a special day. I guess “special” here means worshipping and eating. Of course, they’re going to go back to worship again this evening; for Samoan Christians Sunday really is entirely the Lord’s Day!


Friday, February 17, 2006

Starburst Sucks

There are many things similar (or the same) between New Zealand and the United States. Such similarities easily lull you into a sense of complete continuity, into an expectation that pretty much everything you see here will be just like it is back home. And then a little combination of words jars the delicate sense of familiarity, and makes you laugh.

Like lollipops. At least in the States we call them lollipops. Down here they’re referred to as “sucks” or, more generally, “sweets.”

And the term “sucks” used to describe something that is bad, unpopular, or unfortunate seems not to have caught on in New Zealand as it has in the States.

Thus is born a unique marketing strategy for Starburst in New Zealand. We saw them in the supermarket check-out line as we waited our turn: a large set of multi-coloured plastic lips serving as a base with holes into which were placed lollipops wrapped in bright colours over the bright yellow of Starburst brand wrappers. And on a sign above the lollipops are written two words made possible by New Zealand culture and hilarious by American culture: “Starburst Sucks.”

I just don’t think people would buy them back home.


House of Pain

Go-oh Highlanders, that’s our name
Go-oh Highlanders, here to play the game
Go-oh Highlanders, winning is our aim
Welcome to the house of pain!

Yesterday was our chance to take in one of the great cultural experiences of New Zealand. We got on the bus with a bunch of other out-of-towners and listened to our driver tell jokes about Dunedin and the Kiwis until we arrived at the local pub. There we received our tickets for a free beers and traded them in for two pints of Speight’s, the local brew. We picked up our free yellow and blue capes with a cartoon kilt-wearing and sword-bearing Scot. We went out onto the patio and partook of the free sausages on sliced bread with sautéed onions and drank our beers. We stepped into the growing mob of face-painters to smear our visages with the ever-increasingly ubiquitous blue and yellow. Then, painted up, caped, and filled with beer and sausage (and a few chips for good measure), we piled back onto the bus (among out-of-towners who felt much more like long-time locals and friends) and listened to our driver tell off-colour jokes (had he been drinking, too?) about the North Islanders while we drove to the athletic mecca of the Otago province: Carisbrook rugby stadium.

The United States has football, Canada has hockey. Harvard and Yale have rowing. Most of the rest of the world has soccer. In New Zealand they have rugby.

Rugby is a sport that has been juxtaposed in some circles with soccer in the quippy phrase: “rugby is a ruffian’s sport played by gentleman; soccer is a gentleman’s sport played by ruffians.” Now I can’t really vouch for the lifestyles or personalities of New Zealand’s rugby players, but the game we saw last night between the Otago Highlanders and the Auckland Blues revealed beyond any doubt that rugby is a ruffian’s sport. Brutal, in fact. And unabashedly so: most of the game consists of a mode of play called the “maul,” in which players do something similar to the popular meaning of that word, repeatedly, across the field and down it. The secondary and tertiary modes of play are called the “ruck” (when they’re kicking the ball around the field) and the “scrum,” two words that are perfectly onomatopoetic names for this generally messy sport.

For those of you who have never seen rugby: it is a precursor to American football, but without so much stoppage time and no helmets and pads. Each team is attempting to get the ball (shaped like an American football, but a little larger, heavier, and more blunt) into the opposite end zone and touch it to the ground in a maneuver called a “try.” Every successful try is followed by a “conversion,” in which the scoring team kicks the ball through the uprights for an extra two points.

Enough of the rules. Even without knowing much about the intricacies of the game, it was fascinating to watch. The “maul” consists of the team in possession trying to run the ball through the opposition, then getting tackled and smashed under a dogpile of players (friendly and opposing) each of whom is over 6’2” and carries over 200 pounds each of solid muscle. Here’s the kicker: when you’re tackled, the game doesn’t stop. None of this neat, easy-going, pansy let’s-measure-to-see-if-it’s-a-first-down business. No, the game’s just begun when the guy with the ball has been smothered under 1600 pounds of surging muscle and sweating flesh. Now the team in possession has to get the ball out.

Once you’ve been tackled, you must release the ball in such a way that your team picks it up (and not the other team). So now you’ve got four or five guys from each team running around the seething dogpile, trying to see where the ball comes out. Finally—after what seems like an illegally long time sometimes—the ball pops out of the human mess like an egg emerging from a hammered goose. One guy picks up the ball and starts running until he’s tackled, and the thing starts all over again.

You can see why Carisbrook stadium is nick-named “the house of pain.”

So there we were, two foreigners amidst a seething mass of fans on their feet—we didn’t have a choice, we were in the section without chairs; in Shakespearean times I think this place was called the Pit—fans yelling “Oooooo-taaaaaaaah-gooooooo” at the players and an impressive array of obscenities at the ref. Quite an experience. It was fun to be in the midst of this crowd routing for the underdog team and watching that team dominate the game. (Auckland was expected to win; the Highlanders won 25-13.) Apparently whatever they paid that beefcake who ran out in a kilt with a plywood sword (to music from the Braveheart soundtrack) before the match was worth it.

I once entertained some thoughts about playing rugby. Having seen a match and knowing that the number one injury in rugby is a concussion, I think I’ll stick to playing a gentleman’s sport with ruffians. At least it’s illegal to rough someone up in soccer. At any rate, we’ve been inducted into the fullness of New Zealand culture. Now I’ve got to figure out how to get this face-paint off.


Thursday, February 16, 2006

Slow Week

This week has been happily slower than the breakneck "see as much as we can in three weeks" that we just came off of. Emrys has been in class and I've been walking, working on cross-stitch, photos, cooking, walking, etc. It's been nice to be in one place for a bit as well! Tonight we're going to a rugby match... more on that tomorrow.

New photo albums posted- check them out!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Reese Beyer Wheat

9 February 2006 - Just hours old.

Back in Dunedin

Well when we last left you we had just finished our journey up the west coast of the South Island and were headed east, then south again. Well we’ve finished out that journey. We met up with some rain and a cold on my part and the last week of our trip wasn’t as “exciting” as the first two weeks. Our plan for Blenheim was to go see the vineyards and wineries, it rained. Then on to Kaikoura for a night with no expectations really. So we visited the boardwalk and did some shopping.

The big excitement in Kaikoura was an email from my mom that my niece, Reese Beyer Wheat had decided to make her appearance. So I had to track down the appropriate calling cards to make a call back to the states to talk to my brother and sister-in-law. Everyone is well, although Lara and Reese arrived home in a blizzard on Saturday.

From Kaikoura it was on to Oamaru where I was sick so we didn’t do much then Sunday it was back to Dunedin. Easier said than done. The bus was an hour and a half late- and when you’re sitting at a picnic table waiting, there are no monitors to tell you how late he’s going to be, you just wait. So we did. Then once everyone was boarded, the uniformed driver- decked out like an airline pilot, handed the keys and driver’s seat over to a driver who was donned in only a logo-ed polo shirt and obviously had never driven the route (drove right past stops) and wasn’t familiar with the bus. Really weird. But we finally arrived back in Dunedin, same hostel as before, different room. Emrys is back in class and I’m doing internet stuff- back under the reign of free internet at the university. Its nice to be in one place for a few days again!

Friday, February 10, 2006

Maori and Pakeha

I just finished reading a slim little volume by Alan Duff entitled “Maori: The Crisis and the Challenge.” It was quite a challenging read, exposing a side of the Maori and European (“Pakeha” in the Maori tongue) interchange of which I have seen little.

We’ve been visiting and living in the Pakeha side of New Zealand. We have experienced little in the way of culture shock, because there are few things at which to be shocked. Sure, there are a few scornful remarks about American politics that blossom in a desert of concern for the United States; but those flowers appear in spades in the States. There are the colloquialisms and accents of New Zealanders; but we could feel just as out of place in the deep South, I reckon. No, there is little to jolt our sense of competence in navigating the world here.

I had thought that there would be an element of the New Zealand world that would be clearly and obviously different: the Maori people and culture. When I first saw the signs for buildings on the University of Otago campus I felt confirmed in my expectations: all the names were presented in English and then in Maori translation: “University of Otago / Te Whare Wananga Otago.” Surely as we spent more time in this place we would come face to face with two cultures amidst their two-century long process of merging.

We have not seen this interaction. Sure, there have been the occasional faces of people who are clearly of Pacific Islander descent walking past on the street and above us on construction scaffolding. But well-dispersed and present in many different areas of New Zealand life? I haven’t seen it.

Alan Duff has helped to explain the difference between my expectations and the reality of this island nation—and much more. Duff is Maori, writing to address the Maori people and leadership in New Zealand. He assembles a cogent (though at times scathing) argument against the Maori themselves for devolving into a socially deranged culture that has not responded well to the presence of Pakeha and the opportunities it has brought over the past 150 years. As he writes, I hear strong echoes (made explicit sometimes by Duff) of the problems of race relations in the United States across the same centuries. The problems of family relationships, welfare, and education—especially education.

Fascinating stuff, really, for a white member of the dominant class in the States to read from someone of “racial minority” status as he addresses his own people. Duff throws out the communal and traditional elements of Maori society, alleging that these elements hold back his people from succeeding in the present world. He urges—often with harsh polemic—the Maori toward a worldview in which capitalism, education, and strict individualism drive persons toward merit-based success. Here I am, reading this exhortation from a man who is a member of the society from which I thought I might learn something about community, society, and conflict resolution.

Time for a reframe?


Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Monday, February 06, 2006

Ever Seen a Tractor on a Beach?

We arrived in the little town of Marahau on Sunday afternoon. We passed water that kept getting more and more shades of blue- it reminds me a lot of Hawaii. So Sunday night after getting settled in our hostel I decided to undertake my weekly long training walk as to make sure I got it in but not under-do it by combining it with site seeing. So we took off for Abel Tasman National Park and I took off at a crazy pace and missed most of what I was passing. Fortunately, we had today!

Ever seen a four-wheel drive tractor? They use them to launch water taxis at low tide when they have to get the speed boats in the water. We’ll post pictures when I get them together. The company we went with had a trailer, the bottom of which was about 3.5 feet off the ground- big tires & raised up. So they load up the trailer, then back it out into the ocean and put you on a boat. Other companies load their passengers in the boat that’s on the trailer and then tow the whole thing out to the ocean and drop the boat in the water. It’s pretty crazy!

So anyway, we took the water taxi up to Torrent Bay which, according to all signage, is 4 hours walk from Marahau. Well, we’re not sure how they measure their time but given our picnic stop and wandering around the beautiful golden beaches on the way back it took us a bit longer and we’re guessing it was about 8 miles. It was a beautiful hike through more rainforest with lookouts over the many bays that make the Abel Tasman area famous. Since we were going at a slower pace we stopped to admire the views, inspect the random bushes that were producing colorful berries, check out Alice-in-Wonderland style mushrooms growing on the side of the path. Emrys took off a couple times to explore “off-road” up creeks and streams

Next stop is Blenheim which is wine country and apparently they’re in harvest season.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Hostile –- er Hostel Cooking

Flashback: 25 December 2005- Peoria, AZ. Gathered in my parents’ kitchen, 5 of us were comfortably working on Christmas dinner. Emrys grating cheese for the bread I was working on, Josh creating garlic smashed potatoes fit for a high end restaurant, mom fashioning the green bean casserole, and dad was hovering working on pictures of the affair. All the aromas in the room blending in perfect harmony, like a Mozart piece, to create a beautiful melody of tastes and smells that would soon be enjoyed as our Christmas dinner. Even though this was the new kitchen, at least one person in the room knew where to find most things and so the creations progressed smoothly.

Now we’re living in hostels. Each kitchen is different and each gives me more things to add to my list for my dream kitchen. Most of you know that I thoroughly enjoy cooking. I’ve come to realize that sitting down to enjoy the fruits of my work is part of the joy but the medley of aromas is also very important, as well as the cooking environment. So, given those as thoughts here’s what dinner preparation was like, a combined experience between last night and tonight.

Last night I cooked a meal I’ve made many times, but I wasn’t the only one cooking. I had two burners, two other folks had the other two on the stove I was using and 2 more hotplate type burners were in use on the other side (7 feet away) of the kitchen. I had things to chop. Cutting board- check, found that. But a knife- I think they were afraid we’d hurt ourselves. The only sharp one was a mere 3 inch paring knife. Fortunately for this evening the arrangement of aromas wasn’t too bad, most of the goings on seemed to have a pasta and tomato theme. So after an experience comparable to a mediocre piano recital, we sat down to eat.

Tonight Emrys cooked, I watched, again as the burners were taken up around him, as the kitchen filled up with those looking to cook their dinners as they moshed around each other to get to a cabinet, drawer, sink or burner. And then the moshing increased with smells. Our happy little stir fry was quickly stomped on by someone creating a bleu cheese and pasta dish, then someone else’s corn and tuna fish concoction, then sausage and then it was time for me to leave the kitchen. I couldn’t take the toddler-discovers-piano assault to my senses any longer. We happily ate our stir fry outside away from the racket of everyone else’s dinners!

Crouching Tiger, Cheeky Parrots

The little town of Mount Cook sits nestled into the Southern Alps of New Zealand, just southwest of the country’s highest peak named—not coincidentally—Mount Cook. It’s the town closest to all the highest peaks of the mountain range that spines the South Island; it’s a little Switzerland Down Under. As a result, it has great appeal for tourists of all types, including tourists driving classic cars. This upcoming weekend Mount Cook will be hosting a classic and antique car rally. Thousands of auto enthusiasts will drive their vintage wheels up the windy mountain roads to this little mountain town for a few days of exhibition, story-swapping, and enjoyment of the fresh mountain air.

New Zealand has a large number of native species of flora and fauna that are unique to this archipelago. One of these is the kea, a large parrot with average intelligence and an extra dose of cheekiness. The kea is not only unique because it only lives in New Zealand but also because it is the only species of parrot that lives in an alpine environment. There are even kea in Mount Cook.

Kea are considered cheeky because they have attitude. They are not too shy to walk up to your picnic as you lay lounging on the green grass and lift sandwiches from your fingertips with their sharp beaks. If it only knew the power of its beak, it would probably steal cases of bottled beer from the back of delivery trucks. They’re protected animals (like possums in Australia) and it seems that they know it.

They also like shiny and chewy things. Normally this combination of attributes would not cause any concern. After all, most natural things that are shiny are also quite hard: rocks, sea shells, et cetera. But if you’re an antique car owner, the tastes of the roving kea are a cause of great concern indeed. You see, the antique car is both shiny—by virtue of its polished paint job, its chrome wheel spokes, and rear-view mirrors—and chewy—by virtue of its pampered leather upholstery, convertible tops, and rubber sealing trim. If you are a kea, the classic car is a treat sent from heaven. If you are a classic car owner, the kea is a bird sent from hell.

What is the small town of Mount Cook to do in the face of this dilemma: a thousand tourists bringing their money to the economy of the small town along with their priceless kea chew-toys, and a hundred kea ready to tear the visitors’ most precious treasures to tiny bits? In a recent article in the Press, one of New Zealand’s major papers, we discovered that Mount Cook is doing the only sensible (and ecologically practical) thing: hiring the town’s karate club to fend off the birds.

No lie. The picture above the front-page article showed five of the forty-member karate club in full martial art regalia in fighting stance (complete with bo staffs), ready for the terrorist birds. Now, it must be admitted that the kea have a distinct advantage. They can fly. Unless John Woo has been recruited as part of this outfit, the Defenders of Expensive Cars will have a hard time overcoming that natural gift. But that’s OK. After all, the auto-body guards are not allowed to hurt the birds. They are protected, remember. They just have to scare them away. And if there’s something scarier than someone walking around an antique car show wearing a karate outfit and yelling at parrots, I don’t know what it is.


Friday, February 03, 2006

Pancakes Rock, Coffee Sucks

We stayed one night in Punakaiki, a little town (town? We didn’t actually see a town per se—just a couple tourist traps, a few hostels, and a few beachside homes) on the West Coast between Greymouth and Nelson. The claim to fame of Punakaiki is a natural formation called “Pancake Rocks,” a rare sandstone (dolomite, for you geology nerds) formation on the shore. The sandstone deposits were heaved up to sea level some long time ago, and are now eroded by the sea. What’s left, and currently being eroded away, are tall towers that look like giant stacks of four-inch-thick pancakes of stone. The sea has eroded around their bases, so the tides swell through arches and create blowholes and such. Good geologic fun.

Across the highway (the only street in Punakaiki) from the entrance to the park where the Pancake Rocks are is a pair of buildings situated in such a way as to catch all the tourists disembarking from their buses. One is a kitchy little arts and crafts store; the other is a café with internet service. They, like many other cafes in New Zealand, advertise “Breakfast All Day,” and their specialty dish is—you guessed it! Pancakes.

So this morning, because we had a hankering for pancakes and for the sheer novelty of it, we had pancakes next to the Pancake Rocks. Two fluffy flapjacks apiece, with fruit, maple syrup (of which we did not partake because we’re New England maple syrup snobs), and heaps of butter. Good stuff.

We also both ordered lattés, out of habit. (We’d like to publicly thank our friends in Durango, Jill and Ted Wright, for making this our habit. Thanks, Jill and Ted, for what’s about to follow.)

We sat down with our lattés and awaited our pancakes. We took the first drinks of our coffee-and-steamed-milk concoctions. We gave each other looks like I’d imagine we’d exchange if we’d just toasted our health with mugs of motor oil. Now, mind you, I haven’t tasted motor oil straight from the bottle, but I think it might taste better than these lattés.

We added sugar—several teaspoons each—to no effect.

The pancakes were good enough, however, that the bad coffee didn’t spoil our breakfast. We did, however, take not of the brand of coffee they were using: “Hummingbird.” Although I can’t say that something wasn’t fouled up in the process of making the lattés proper, let this tale be a word of caution for those purchasing Hummingbird brand coffee.

Lesson learned: if you want a good latté, go to Jill and Ted’s. ’Nuff said.


You’d Never See This

The television advert begins with a young man (early- to mid-twenties) bopping his way over to his car with groceries. He’s wearing the ubiquitous i-Pod that provides tunes silent to the rest of the world—except the viewing audience. He puts the i-Pod down on the roof of the car—a sporty, dark blue two-door coupe. He loads the groceries in the backseat then draws himself into the driver’s seat (on the right side of the car) and pulls away. The music from his i-Pod is now the soundtrack to his driving around town.

People on the street point and wave to him, trying to tell him that he’s left his i-Pod on the roof. He smiles and waves back, thinking people are just particularly friendly that day (or that the money he shelled out for the gym membership and his bleach-blond hairdo has paid off). He takes curves smoothly and quickly, as if his car is being driven by a professional driver on a closed course. The i-Pod sits calmly on his rooftop all the way, as if focused entirely on its job of providing music for the thousands, maybe millions of viewers watching this advert.

After some deft maneuvering through tight streets, the young man brings his shiny car to a halt at the curb and gets out. He glances over the roof of his car and spots his i-Pod, still resting on the roof, as if glued there by an enthusiastic prop-master. He smiles. The music comes to a jazzy climax. An announcer’s voice takes over the soundtrack:

“The new, German-engineered Ford Focus, blah-blah-blah . . .”

I stop listening to the car commercial and laugh. “German-engineered” and “Ford” are two things I never expected to hear in the same sentence. Not because they do not stand together in fact; I have looked under enough hoods to know that rarely does one company (or continent) have a monopoly on the inner workings of any vehicle. But to hear a Ford marketed as “German engineered” struck an odd chord in my ear. Like “Russian-made American flags” or “Boeing 747 proudly assembled in China,” the advertisement of an icon of American pride and labour sold as an outsourced product seemed paradoxical.

Than again, I’m in New Zealand, a country whose streets are dominated by an overwhelming majority of Asian-made cars; in the four weeks we’ve been here I could count the number of Fords I’ve seen on both hands, and the same for the European makes. So if you’re Ford’s marketing department trying to expand in New Zealand, what do you do? Play up the engineering of the Germans. And perhaps downplay the fact that it’s an American car company.


Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Hokitika Rocks

As I walk along the beach in Hokitika the sand is spotted with innumerable stones of all sizes each one a piece of art. I don’t think I ever would have paid much attention to rocks until my aunt says to me “bring me a rock back from New Zealand”. So I’ve been looking at rocks a little closer. I’ve found some fun ones along the way but there’s something about the rocks here that makes each of them a work of art. They vary in color from snow white to deep evergreen to rust colored and everything in between. Then, there are the normal stone grey rocks but if you look closer they are veined with gold, rust, and white and look as if they’ve been painted. On a beach where one would expect an abundance of shells, there’s not a shell to be found but instead this other wonder of nature. Beautiful stuff!

Rock Hounding and Glow Worms

Hokitika is known for its situation on the west coast very close to a very rich source of New Zealand greenstone (also known as New Zealand jade, also known as nephrite), properly known as pounamu. This type of gemstone is unique to New Zealand and tourists buy it by the ton in Hokitika and nearby Punakaiki. It’s a gorgeous dark green, much deeper than emerald, than has a slightly translucent quality. And even when found on the shoreline, its surface is smooth.

The Maori treasured it for centuries before Europeans even arrived in New Zealand. They would trek across the mountains of the central South Island from their settlements on the east side on quests for the green stone. Then they would use it as an edge for tools (its only match for hardness is diamond) and the material for jewelry. When Europeans arrived they took to the habit of collecting and selling the stuff. Now there’s a thriving industry of gem cutting and jewelry sales in the Westland. (They don’t use it for tools much; it turns out stainless steel is a good replacement for cutting and grinding implements.)

The river that has the greatest quantity of pounamu is just north of Hokitika. While white folks can visit there and go swimming, they can’t take any of the greenstone. Only Maori can do that. There are some places where the old treaties still hold.

But beaches are fair game. Something we discovered here in Hokitika is walking down the beach and admiring the vast variety of stones that splay across the shore. They are the size of a fist and smaller, ground smooth and round by the beating waves. There are pure white ones that look like quartz or soapstone; there are striated grey ones; there are reddish-brown stones that resemble beryl; there are light green stones with black flecks of iron oxide; there are jet black pebbles; and there are stones that mix and match every colour in streaks, specks, and stripes. It’s amazing to walk along on the edge of the lapping surf and take in the stunning array of colour and texture in these stones. It’s also fun to walk along and search for pounamu. We found a few that, while not pounamu proper, are a deep dark green that we don’t often seen in rocks back in the States. I restrained myself, and only took one. (A local artist and rock hound told me that it’s semi-nephrite; the stuff of pounamu, but not completely transformed to the gem by geologic processes.)

There’s also glow worms here in Hokitika and—bonus!—they don’t charge admission to see them! Glow worms are the larvae of a species of fly native to New Zealand. The short-lived flies lay their eggs in inaccessible locations: forested cliffs and cave walls and ceilings, especially. The first larvae in a field of eggs hatch and—here’s the Wild Kingdom part—consume their unhatched brothers and sisters in order to get their first dose of energy for life. After that, they have to hunt their own food.

They do this by exuding a string of mucus beads that hang down from wherever they are perched. Then, once the sticky substance is dangling and drifting in the breeze, they turn on the charm. When the sun goes down, these larvae emit a green glow from their behinds which attracts small flying insects like midges. When the flying insects get stuck on the mucus beads, the larvae eat them up. It’s a bug-eat-bug world, after all.

In order to see glow worms it’s gotta be dark. That means going for a trek at night (no flashlights, people) into a secluded patch of forest away from the edge of town. Yes, it sounds like the setup for a horror film. But this is New Zealand, so it’s OK. And the Department of Conservation has been so kind as to install handrails by which to walk so you don’t kill yourself in the jungle. They’re very hospitable here.

So we walk into this deep, dark dell, our eyes adjusting all the time to less and less light, and suddenly we’re surrounded by a galaxy of pale green stars. They’re on the walls next to us and high above us. The trees and ferns block out all ambient light from the sky, so really all you see are the insectoid constellations. Gorgeous! We took some photographs, but we’ll see how they turn out. The glow worms are so small that even at maximum zoom, all you see through the lens is a prick of green light.

Speaking of photographing glow worms, I’d like to make a public service announcement. If you’re ever at a glow worm dell—or any other natural wonder that requires viewing in the dark—please mind the hundred signs on your way in that instruct you not to turn on any lights. Not only does it perturb the worms, but it irritates photographers trying to operate in the low-light conditions. And it’s just plain rude to those whose eyes have adjusted to the darkness. It doesn’t bother me if you climb over the handrails above ocean cliffs; if you fall, you won’t take me with you. But spoiling the effect of a natural wonder for others around you—definitely off-limits. Please mind the signs. Cheers.

~ emrys