Thursday, March 30, 2006
Friday, March 24, 2006
Saturday, March 18, 2006
Thursday, March 16, 2006
It’s that last one that can get you into trouble.
From the moment we climbed into our New Zealand Toyota Rav4 rental car we were scheming a brilliant way to save money. We pre-paid for a tank of petrol at the discounted rate Avis offers, knowing that we could return it with an empty tank and save some bucks. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
We left Masterton, 84 kilometres away from Wellington airport, with the fuel light already on. But we’d done the math: even with the fuel light lit our fuel-efficient little SUV should be able to get us 100 km easy. We drove to Wellington, parked in a public garage, had a wonderful carbo-loading lunch at Zico’s Italian restaurant, then wandered for a couple hours in Te Papa, Wellington’s children- (and Emrys-) friendly museum of New Zealand people and culture. Then we hopped back into our little silver bullet and began to navigate the Friday afternoon St. Patrick’s Day traffic toward the airport at 3:00 pm. Right on time.
Halfway from centre city to the airport the Rav4 coughed for the first time. With 89 km on the trip odometer since the empty light came on, it was quite premature. Then the engine hummed back into contented internal combustion for another two kilometers.
Then, with four coughs, three hiccups, and two lurches the Rav4 sucked the last drops of petrol out of its 57-litre tank and died.
In a roundabout.
Now I want you to know that I’ve gotten quite deft at navigating New Zealand roundabouts when there’s ample gas in the car. I find them to be a refreshing alternative to the usual traffic lights and stop signs back home. I like them. But a roundabout is the last place I want to be stuck in a vehicle that’s run out of fuel, especially when it’s rush hour traffic in the city and we’ve got a plane to catch.
All those jokes about pushing the car into the Avis parking lot to get our money’s worth suddenly seemed a little less funny as I twice attempted to let the tank settle and restart the car. (If I could just get it over that next hill . . . .) But when there’s nothing to settle in the tank, the effort is futile. So I hopped out of the car, dodged speeding cars and trucks, and headed down the footpath.
Our calculations had stranded us on the only roundabout in Wellington with no buildings or businesses nearby. I had to run two blocks to find the nearest structures that might have helpful humans or a telephone. Praise God, at the next wharf I ran into a man who didn’t have a cell phone but was willing to drive me the next two blocks to the nearest petrol station.
The Shell station didn’t have a gas canister for me to use. (Well, I think I’ve bought my last gallon of Shell gas for a very long time.) The BP station next door did have a canister. (Geo, you can go ahead and work for them.) The attendant held my credit card as collateral as I borrowed the red plastic jug and filled it with five litres of petrol. Five litres? Yeah—you can only take so many chances in a day! My good Samaritan friend drove me back to our car; I offered him thanks and a blessing, then dumped the most precious five litres of petrol ever into our thirsty Rav4. The hum of a car starting never sounded so good. And those jokes about pushing the car became downright hilarious.
We picked up my credit card and made for the airport—again. Sara calculated that even with five extra—actually, four and a half extra—litres of petrol purchased we still made money on the pre-paid deal. And we’ve got another little adventure out of it all. To boot, we arrived at the airport in time to turn in the car with no extra charges—only twenty minutes late.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
Dunedin is said to "out-Scot the Scottish." I found that to be true while down south. During our last week in Dunedin there was a bagpiping competition that closed down the central square (which is actually an octogon, by the way) and filled it with high school students in kilts, flashes, and knee-high hose. They piped away before judges and under the scrutinizing eye of Sir Robbie Burns in bronze. The bus drivers on the South Island also wear knee-high knit hose, often bright white in contrast to their dark blue uniforms. One visitor from Edinburgh said that the residents of Invercargill, the southernmost city on the mainland, spoke with an accent he could not distinguish from home.
Sometimes the road rules are a little weird here. Folks drive on the left, which is wrong but not so weird once you've done it for a while. Just reverse everything (except the accelerator and brake pedals--those are the same). But if you're turning across traffic (to the right, as to the left in the States), then opposing traffic must yield to you if they are turning right onto the same road. So the car who has no opposing traffic coming into the turn must yield to the car that does have opposing traffic. Weird.
The first time someone waved me to turn right (when they were turning left onto the same street), I thought that perhaps my comrade had the over-courteous gene. So I waved, accepted the gift, and drove on. Then the same thing happened, but with a police car. Now, police are good folks and are there to serve and protect us. But in my experience they are people of business, never rude but not tripping over themselves to be courteous or gracious. After all, they have a job to do. So when a police driver halted in the midst of his left turn to yield to my (cross-traffic) right, I got a little freaked out. Had he seen me commit some infraction and wanted to get me ahead so he could pull me over? Not wanting to disobey, I turned ahead of him and drove on. Nothing happened. He turned after me and all was well.
I still wasn't sure about this whole thing, and I wasn't about to start doing something so clearly absurd as giving the right of way to people turning against traffic. But I had one close call when I turned left in front of two cars turning right. We arrived at the turn at the same time and I ended up with a front bumper riding up my tailpipe. I think I got a dirty look to boot (but no honking--that's not the Kiwi way).
When we arrived at the Hesses' yesterday, Sara asked about it. Sure enough, it's the law. Yield to drivers turning right against traffic, if you're turning right. Weird. Must have to do with the gravitational field down here.
We've made it. We have arrived. We are now worthy of worldwide recognition.
We've made it to Google.
That's right: type "sara emrys tyler" into your Google search field and guess what pops up? Our blog website.
Sure, we come after the Sonlight Camp website and the site for Flashpoint Theatre Company, but those are a couple of sites we don't mind coming after. That puts us in third place, and within view on the first page Google brings up. You don't even need to scroll down.
Four days ago I walked my first half marathon. Had you asked me mid race, I would have probably said no way would I ever think of doing something like this again.
The weather was beautiful, the scenery was spectacular and I had been working towards that day for about 4 ½ months. I had walked in temperatures below zero in the beginning in Lake City and all over New Zealand. But unfortunately, I hadn't walked my last scheduled long distance walk three weeks before the race, and for that I think I paid. In training I'd been able to hit 8 and almost 9 miles in good stead. On race day I hit mile six and was already feeling it. So for the remaining 7.1 miles I felt it: cramping in muscles that had never cramped before, blisters in spots that hadn't blistered before and a course that never ended! The cramping I think was caused by the walking surface. Although it was a beach with sand packed enough that you could drive on it, in walking on it, it was just different enough from pavement or trails that it meant different muscles were worked. And the blisters are of my own doing. I'd read a number of things that say "don't vary what you wear or do from training to race day". Well, I varied my socks. Duh! Well, I ended up with blisters on the insides of my heels and under my middle toe on one food-but they weren't too bad.
The race course itself was on 90 Mile Beach which was wonderfully flat, very beautiful and looked the same for the whole way down until you reached the last kilometer before the finish. While this is nice for a normal walk on the beach, for a distance event, it seemed like you weren't going anywhere. The only indicator that I had made any progress was when I passed the distance markers every 3 kilometers.
So when I was feeling the burn and watching folks pass me I had to remind the milliliter of competitiveness that was left in me that I was only racing the stopwatch, and not anyone else. For all of my training I had maintained a pretty steady 15-minute mile. But for the actual race, I wanted to do better. I wanted to finish in under 3 hours. This would mean stepping up the pace a bit. Since all my training mindset was in miles, when all the markers were in kilometers, I had to re-think my strategy- enter my math degree. I determined that if I could make each 3 km segment in 25 minutes I'd have 5 minutes to spare. (13.1 miles=21 km) By kilometer 15, I was just hoping to finish. By kilometer 18 I was almost on pace and headed to finish. And by the time I crossed the finish, I was at 3:02:36 according to my stopwatch. Official times have yet to post.
All my life I've said that I'm not athletic. Then after chemo, I took up racquetball with friends in Durango and that claim was becoming a bit weak. Now I don't think that claim will hold at all. So now I've entered the insane realm or endurance athletes (although not quite as crazy as Geo- Emrys' brother) but I'm glad to be here. The race was great and I'm looking forward to doing another one in the fall.
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
As at many seams between the plates that cover the earth like a patchwork, in New Zealand there is volcanic activity. Rotorua, a town in the centre of the North Island, is a site of such activity. As recently as 2001 the local volcano erupted and produced new holes through which bubble the steam and minerals from under the earth’s crust.
We visited a local reserve which boasts the awe-inspiring results of continued geothermal activity: Waiotapu. Wandering along the prescribed paths (moving off the paths means stepping onto “unstable ground”) we were surrounded by ever-present wisps of steam spurting from the ground. Here and there the heat and pressure of the steam had eaten away the surface rock and collapsed the ground, leaving gaping craters. Where the earth had a high clay content the steam condensed and turned the dirt into mud; the super-heated gas and water from below bubbled up and made the dark brown ponds into gurgling orchestras of popping and belching. (I wanted to take my Chacos off and put my feet in the mud, but there was no place they’d let us do it. Sigh.)
As the steam condenses into water and runs along the surface of the ground it leaves behind mineral deposits. The least extravagant of these are the silicate shelves, long expanses of web-like white rock. In other places the rock is a bright orange crust surrounding a wide pool of deep blue with little bubbles rising up out of its depths. There is even one pool that is an opaque, fluorescent lime green colour (Kara, we thought of you at this one) due to its arsenic content.
Walking between these pools of vibrant coulour as warm mists blow across your vision and enshroud you in blankets of fog makes the whole experience like some sort of wonderland. The only drawback to all this stunning scenery and activity is that the whole place reeks of sulfur. At times it’s like standing in a big vat of rotten eggs. A small price to pay (over and above admission price) for the spectacular show.
We got a good dose of the tourist side of geothermal activity. The industrial side is the energy production that can be wrought from the earth’s disgorgement of heat and steam. Geothermal power production makes up a significant chunk of New Zealand’s total national power production. We got a show of heat, bubbles, an colour, while New Zealanders get those and some energy to boot. Good deal.
God did a good job with the earth’s design; Rotorua is a good place to enjoy that design. We recommend it if you’re ever on New Zealand’s North Island.
Monday, March 13, 2006
You’ve got to hand it to them. Either way, they’ve got our money.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to find a giant version of those plastic hamster balls and roll around in it? (C’mon—admit it!) Have you ever thought about finding a way to get inside a giant water balloon? I know that all of us have thought about climbing inside a washing machine and turning it on—a few of us have even tried it. Well there’s a way to get all three dreams come true at once in Rotorua, New Zealand. It’s called Zorb.
A Zorb is a ten-foot diameter plastic ball with a smaller, six-foot sphere inside it. The plastic is soft and rubbery and the space between the spheres is filled with air so that the whole thing is like a giant cushion. Or, if you’re into egg analogies, it’s like a giant soft egg where the white is air and the yolk is the cabin. That’s right—you climb into it.
Oh, but first they put about ten gallons of water into it, just to make things exciting. Then you run and jump through a tubular portal to the inner sanctum of the Zorb. They zip your portal closed and then open the gate. With one step in the right direction, your Zorb sets off down a grassy hill.
The brochures said that if you can remain standing up for the whole trip down you get a free t-shirt. I’m always game for a free t-shirt, so I thought, as I pushed my giant squishy hamster ball off the platform, I’d try to stand up through the whole zig-zag course.
Yeah, right. That idea lasted all of about five feet. In two steps the sphere had started down the incline. The plastic is translucent but not transparent, so you can’t see where the next bump or turn is. In two steps I was down on my bum, sloshing around in the water inside the Zorb-yolk. What a ride! It’s like being on a warm waterslide except that the waterslide is moving instead of you. I slipped, slapped, splashed, and spun all the way down this 100-yard hill. Awesome!
We haven’t been excited about many of the extreme adventures in this part of New Zealand. But I was definitely up for this one. It’s 45$ to do it, plus clothing and towel rental, but it’s definitely worth the money. You can also go down two at a time—then they send you rolling down a straightaway to go ass-over-tea-kettle with the partner of your choice. Sara wasn’t up for it, though. That’s alright: she got some cool pictures as I rolled my way down on a solo Zorb excursion.
I now have a new title: Zorbonaut!
Sunday, March 12, 2006
It’s been a few weeks since I finished my course on the Trinity. I gained a great deal of insight on the Trinity from my studies at Fuller; I read, heard, and discussed enough to know that the Trinity is a historical piece of orthodoxy from the earliest authors in the church down to the present day. However, I had not taken such time to steep in the questions around the Trinity, its nuances, and its distortions. This one-week course allowed me to do just that.
After taking this course I can now say with firm conviction (standing with the whole church throughout history) that the Trinity is a necessary doctrine for the church. If we believe the witness of the Scriptures and the person of Jesus Christ, we cannot deny—and we cannot overlook—the Trinity. This statement is important for me not because I had failed to believe in the Trinity before I took this course. Rather, this statement breaks new ground for me because I had not realized my inability to articulate an understanding of the Trinity and its importance reflects what I think is a wider ignorance of the Trinity in the church.
If we did a "man on the street" experiment with the church, asking "What is the Trinity?" what do you suppose we would find? How would most devoted, church-going, Bible-reading, daily-praying folks answer that question?
I know that before I went to seminary I might be able to muster the basic answer: "God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." But that might be all. If you pressed me on it, I would be at pains to give an answer that held up to orthodox scrutiny. I’d probably say something that, strictly speaking, smacked of heresy. Even the week before our thirty hours of discussion focused solely on this divine mystery I might have been caught in something untoward if examined in too rigorous detail. After all, it is a mystery. The Trinity is something that many believe is so shrouded in mystery that it is better to say too little than too much. In fact, this has kept many people from embarking on the very sort of journeys on which we found ourselves during this course.
The problem is that the Scriptures speak of one God, Yahweh. Excuse me, that’s ONE God, Yahweh. There is no other. Yahweh alone is God, is Lord over all creation, life and death. The whole of the Old Testament is adamant about this, as is the New Testament. But in the New Testament we find something strange. We find these good Jews and honest Gentiles confessing that Jesus is Lord. Prayers are directed to Jesus and folks are healed in the name of Jesus even though all who pray and ask for healing know that Yahweh alone is Lord of creation, life, and health. By saying that "Jesus is Lord" they are doing something paradoxical. They are saying that Jesus, a human being, has the status of Yahweh. But there is still only one Yahweh—they know and confess this. So we have a mystery, a Binity, if you will, in the person of Jesus.
And so we must. Only Yahweh can save. But if we are to be saved, then all of our humanity must be taken up by Yahweh; and this happens in Jesus Christ. If we say that Yahweh is God and Jesus is just a really cool human, then Yahweh is God and we are not saved. If we say that Jesus is Yahweh, then we are saved indeed. But we are also stuck with a mystery. How can Yahweh (whom humans cannot glimpse and live) become human? The mystery of the Binity is also the mystery of the Incarnation. We may not be able to explain it well, but we need it to have life.
Enter the Spirit. Old and New Testaments speak of the Spirit of Yahweh, the Spirit of God. Jesus speaks of the Spirit in a unique way, declaring that the Spirit will be sent to fill the church after Jesus has ascended. Once again we come up with a problem. If the church is to dwell in the fullness of life, she must have the fullness of the one who is Life. She must have Yahweh. Therefore the Spirit must also be Yahweh. If not, then the church does not dwell with the fullness of Yahweh. If so, we’ve got three persons who are all Yahweh: Father, Son, and Spirit.
All the ink spilled over this issue, over the last two thousand years, wrestles with this evidence. I am now convinced that it is worthwhile to wrestle with it in Bible studies, discussions within the church, and in sermons when the Scriptures warrant. If we are called to understand Yahweh then we are called to wrestle with Yahweh’s Triune nature.
Two of the members of the class, when asked on the first day why they had enrolled, said that they had been preaching for years in their local parishes. They said that every year Trinity Sunday comes around, and they hand off preaching that day to someone else because they don’t know how to preach on a Sunday devoted to the Trinity. Now, the Presbyterian churches in the States give and take the liturgical calendar. But I hope and pray that as a result of this course I may be better equipped to preach about the Trinity when that Sunday rolls around. And may my words carry the inspiration of the Spirit to know better this great mystery of the nature of Yahweh by whom we are called and whom we worship.
So we pulled off and immediately found a picnic table overlooking a quiet stretch of river just out of earshot from the highway. We broke our fast with pain au chocolat, apples, and two pints of fresh New Zealand milk. I gave some dirty looks to the seagull who showed up (there’s no ocean in sight, but there they were, ever present). We pitched our rubbish and crossed the street to the cheese-shop.
I have to admit that the primary reason I wanted to visit this cheese-shop is for the entertainment value of telling people we visited a cheese-shop and giving a wink-wink-nudge-nudge-say-no-more to friends who know Monty Python. (If you don’t know it, see the Monty Python Flying Circus sketch about the cheese shop.) But what we received for having strolled across that little street was much, much more.
I expected a small grocery store with an over-sized refrigerator holding an exceptional amount of cheese. What we found was a small shop whose entire back wall was wooden shelves with half-wheels of cheese. You know those little flattened spheres of Gouda you buy in the grocery store? Imagine those without the red wax coating and weighing about twenty pounds each. All of it was Gouda, pronounced "gow-da" by the Dutch wife of the cheese-maker (blessed be he), made by this Dutchman who had come over from Holland more than twenty years ago to bring the flavour of Holland to New Zealand.
And what flavours they were! Wielding her cheese-slicer like a surgeon of fine dairy products, she offered us thin, tasty morsels of any cheese we wanted. Walnut cream gouda, garlic and chive gouda, young gouda, mature gouda, cumin gouda, swiss gouda, sweet cream gouda, the list went on. Wine tasters can have their swishy thin sips of coloured vinegar. Give me cheese tasting! We pointed and she sliced, letting the fine heady flavours roll over our tongues and savouring the milky depth of Holland’s best.
In the end we bought a half pound of walnut cream, garlic and chive, and mature gouda. It’s probably the best value we’ve received for our money so far. Folks have said that New Zealand cheese is exceptional, and I can now agree (though the cheese-maker says true Dutch unpasteurized cheese tastes better, and New Zealand won’t yet allow him to make it). It was well worth getting off the beaten path for a bit of the good stuff.
Saturday, March 11, 2006
Our ears hear them. Our mouths speak them. Our eyes read them. Our hands write them. All on a daily basis. Yet how often do we stop and think about the blots of ink and the sound waves that we are barraged with or that we spew out every day. Occasionally through the inundation something sticks in our mind: indelibly imprinted for years to come.
In an instant our lives can be changed by them.
It’s cancer. The node was positive for Hodgkins Lymphoma
– Dr. Cathcart after all the tests had come back.
Our minds soften their message with repetition. It seems that the things we hear the most from the loved ones closest to us often times lose their value. Words I hear from my husband on a regular basis become commonplace and I mistakenly take them for granted. Then the same words spoken by someone else can stick in my mind forever.
– Karla, friend at camp just seconds after I had finished shaving my head, relinquishing what was left of my hair to chemotherapy in hopes to save my self from the emotional despair of losing my hair.
Our spirits are comforted by them. In times of trouble, our souls are placated by the words of others. Our troubled beings reaching out for something in our surroundings to let us know that we’re not alone in our trials.
I’m with you.
– On the back of countless photos I received during chemotherapy from friends far and near and friends of friends whom I’d never met.
Our hearts believe them. And not only do we believe the words we speak or read, but the words uttered by others. Heard and unheard. While I will never know the words uttered to Most High on my behalf in my heart I believed.
We’re praying for you.
– Innumerable friends after I was diagnosed.
Our souls find hope in them. Be it words from the airplane pilot that we will land early or from the weather forecaster that sunny days are on the way. In a time surrounded with much violence and turmoil in the world, I cling to hope.
The CT scan was clear. No enlarged nodes.
– Dr. Cathcart, (after only 2 cycles of chemotherapy when 4 were originally prescribed.)
Our minds contemplate them. A clip on the news, a sermon, a comment by a friend. Every day in passing something will catch our ear that will make us think, to question to meditate or ponder.
The only reason I can think of as to why I had cancer was to glorify God through it all.
–Friend in Durango and fellow cancer survivor who was our hostess when I was diagnosed.
Our lives are guided by them. Decisions we make often are weighed against the words of others as we seek counsel or brainstorming. Once spoken or written our words serve as a source of accountability that we will complete that which we have set ourselves out to do.
Sara has her eye on completing a half marathon in March in Kaitaia, New Zealand
– our Christmas letter 2005
Future Stop: Rock n’ Roll Marathon – Phoenix, AZ – 13 January 2007 to support Leukemia Lymphoma Society. More on that later this year!
There has been a great deal of effort invested in making sure the Maori culture and language are not subsumed by European cultural influence. There are Maori immersion schools attended by both Maori and Pakeha kids. Yet the structure of the education system retains clear British characteristics. The names of most towns on the North Island are Maori: Rotorua, Whangarei, Kaitaia, Otorohanga, Te Puke. Only a few, like Gisborne, Auckland, and Hastings, retain their English names. From snippets of conversations I’ve gleaned that the names of some towns were changed within the last generation from European to Maori.
There is an expectation for New Zealand natives that they will be proficient in Maori culture and often language. After church today we visited with a Pakeha teacher who had come to the tiny rural community from Wellington to teach. He remarked that the kids will give complete deference and respect to their elders while in the marae (Maori meeting house) but will not give him any respect in the classroom. Some of this is probably the perennial problem of teachers everywhere, but there is also an added cultural component. He admitted that he did not yet have a sufficient handle on Maori language to pronounce their names properly. Until he could do that, he suspected, he would not have their respect.
Maori culture has enough clout in North Island society that all public events begin and end with prayer, often in Maori. Sara’s half-marathon yesterday began with prayer and the entire race event ended with prayer. This is not strange to anyone. The teacher commented that every class and school day began and ended with prayer. Most folks in the States would be shocked at such a thing; the teacher reflected on the irony that as an element of Maori "culture" prayer could not be banned from government or public events although it was a "religious" activity.
Here’s the even stranger thing. What are they praying when they open and close events with prayer? They’re saying the Lord’s Prayer in Maori! Maori culture was sufficiently influenced by Christian missionaries that the preservation of Maori culture includes the utterance of the Lord’s Prayer at public functions. That means most New Zealanders on the North Island are praying or hearing the Lord’s Prayer several times a day as part of accepted culture. Wow!
There are tensions in the midst of this strange synergy of Maori and Pakeha culture. A week ago all Kiwis completed their five-year census. At the end of the census form they are required to fill in a bubble indicating their ethnicity. The options include: "New Zealander, European," "Maori," "Fijian," "Cook Islander," "Asian," and others. (Sara and I had to fill out forms because we were visitors in a New Zealand home on the day of the census. It’s the first time I haven’t seen "Caucasian" or "American" on an ethnicity/nationality question.) Many New Zealanders are third, fourth, or fifth generation islanders whose ancestors are European. However they no longer consider themselves truly European; they are New Zealanders. Likewise with the Maori: many recognize that either through ethnic intermarriage or intercultural exchange they are not Maori in the ancient tribal sense. So these folks commit an act of civil disobedience (a major deal for the reserved Kiwis) and write "Other: New Zealander."
It’s fascinating to walk through this place where the subtle and not-so-subtle signs of ethnic and cultural integration are all around. Where names have been changed in a conscious effort to be less European and more Maori. Where an athletic event is accompanied by a high school group performing a haka (Maori war-dance). Where they say the Lord’s Prayer in public.
If we end up living in a place where radically different cultures or languages come together—as they have been in Los Angeles for years and inevitably will across the U.S.—I hope I remember some of the stories about the efforts of integration in New Zealand.
Friday, March 10, 2006
Well, as of today, we’ve been to New Zealand.
On the way to the half-marathon we met a herd of cattle on the road. First we saw the lead car with a hand-made sign instructing us to "SLOW: STOCK." Then we passed a man on a four-wheeled ATV leading the herd. Then we slowed and waded our little Toyota through a hundred head of cattle plodding their way along the pavement, bellowing their indignant protests to the obstacle our vehicle presented. At last we passed the lone farmer in his muck-boots, pacing along the road, switch in hand, prodding the beasts onward.
The herd had covered about four kilometers of road before we crossed its path. Pity the guy who has to clean the mudflaps and sidepanels of our rental car.
The wife was listening to Sara talk about the details of Te Houtaewa Challenge. She asked, "How much did you have to pay to enter?"
The husband chuckled and said, "Now, there, you’ve seen the difference between an Aussie and a Kiwi. And Aussie will ask straight out, ‘How much did you pay?’ A Kiwi would just dance around the question."
There it is: the difference between an Aussie and a Kiwi.
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Monganui has only two blocks of commercial town, all of which looks out over the harbour. On the northwest end of town is a large square white building set on a pier and painted with the name "Monganui Fish Shop." The claim to fame of this "World Famous Fish Shop" is the fact that the fish they use for their fish’n’chips was caught that day. It’s never frozen, as are most slabs of fish used for serving the grease-hounds.
Sure enough, inside the shop is a sign positioned in the middle of the wall menu that declares, "Today’s Catch:" and then, hand-written in grease pencil, "Bluenose." Oh, and "Fish Priced by Weight." Certainly we had arrived!
The woman behind the counter pulled two filets of fish from the refrigerated bowl of bluenose and passed them back to the gals at the fryers. I waited until my number was called, took the large package wrapped in butcher paper back to the car and we drove up the road a few kilometers to Cooper Beach, a more secluded spot with a better view than Monganui’s harbour.
The fish was the best I’ve had down under. The fish was thick and meaty but still quite moist—this I attribute to its being spared sub-zero storage. The flavour was quite mild but still distinct; I don’t know that I’d had bluenose before, but now feel qualified to declare that it is a good fish. The batter was thick on the fish but light on the tongue, and it held together in the hand. Gorgeous. Simply stunning.
The chips were average, but with such a show from the fish I didn’t feel as if I’d been slighted by $8.50 for the meal. Monganui Fish Shop: bravo! To the next person seeking good fish’n’chips in New Zealand: Monganui is a must.
We leave in just over a week, so I think this delightful experience is a good place to end my quest for good fish’n’chips in New Zealand. To all of you fish-lovers out there, this is Emrys Tyler signing off.
Before leaving the South Island we spent two nights in the home of a gentleman I met while in class in Dunedin. He and another class member from Christchurch, upon hearing me say that we had decided to give Christchurch a miss (since it is, after all, the third largest city in New Zealand), said to me, "You can’t skip Christchurch!" Then this one followed it up by saying, "You can stay with us."
This is the first part of the gift of hospitality, and perhaps the most profound. Hospitality begins with making room for someone else. Before you can invite someone into your world or home, you have to make room (in your house, your schedule, or your ego) for someone else to enter. Some Jewish rabbis have said that for God the act of creation was fundamentally an act of hospitality: before creation was, God filled everything; thus, in order to create, God made room for creation in an act of hospitality. I think that’s a helpful way to look at creation.
These folks in Christchurch made room for us in their lives, just for two days, and we visited with them. One of the thrills for the sojourner receiving hospitality is seeing how real New Zealanders live and joining them for a bit of the daily routine. It gives us a much better sense of life in New Zealand than do the tour guides and the hostel employees and the bus drivers.
Upon our arrival on the North Island we spent one night with friends from the States who have recently moved to New Zealand. It was a joy to catch up with them and to hear their perspective on this foreign country as American ex-pats trying to adjust. And once again, they opened their home to us in a basic act of self-giving.
Our next stop was Gisborne, where we spent two nights with folks whom we’d met over email by virtue of a mutual friend in Lake City. These folks have a triple helping of the gift of hospitality, and really poured it on. We got a tour of Gisborne, all meals, and the most wonderful company we could desire to boot. They have cultivated a habit of taking in people from overseas—from two-night visitors to students studying in Gisborne—such is their joy at receiving people into their home and getting to know them while they’re in New Zealand.
Our long drive to Whangarei was punctuated by lunch with another of my classmates from Dunedin, who served us a magnificent spread of food and conversation that was just as savoury. More of the real New Zealand at our fingertips.
Before coming to Kaitaia we spend the night in Whangarei with a third classmate from Dunedin, a father of four beautiful little girls and his wife. The girls (aged sixish, five, three, and two—or thereabouts) were studying South America in their home-school curriculum, and had learned that the native peoples of the Americas were often called "Indians." So when they found out two Americans were coming to stay the night, they got all excited about meeting "the Indians." Once again, the welcome was warm, the beds were soft, and the conversation was brilliant.
Now we’re in a farm hostel, for which we pay but at which we also get to interact with the couple who owns and works the thousand acres and the cattle that graze it. It’s been quite fun to sit and talk with the owner, a man who has raised sheep and cattle all his life in this distant rural part of New Zealand. Quite a different life from the suburban and urban settings to which I’m accustomed.
This portion of our trip has been less touristy but more enriching because of the hospitality that’s been extended to us. Though I don’t have the energy for what might be called "entertaining" guests day in and day out, I hope that our future home may be a place in which sojourner and friend alike may find warm hospitality and good company any time.
Cheers to Chris, Mary, John, Karen, Samantha, Allison, Paddy, Bev, Sue, Phillip, Siobhan, Holly, Juliette, Lucy, Susanne, Robb, and Heather for a joyful stay in the North Island and an inspiring example of humanity.
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
I began to think that New Zealand had missed something.
Certainly she has passed into the twentieth century with the horseless carriage, the internal combustion engine, and fiberglass. But had she really made it to the twenty-first century? I wondered. What about soaring skyscrapers, wide avenues clogged with rush-hour traffic, and the madness that comes from living in close quarters with you fellow human? Did New Zealand know these things? Had the Kiwis tasted of the forbidden fruit of urbanization and the knowledge of good and evil flowing from it?
My fears were allayed by a drive through Auckland this afternoon. We entered the city limits at 5:05 pm and did not leave until near 6:00. We sat with a large minority of Auckland’s two million residents on the single major highway that runs north-south through the city, taking long moments to gaze across the steel and glass skyline punctuated by a soaring needle á là Seattle and Toronto.
New Zealand has tasted the fruit. New Zealand knows urbanity. The North Island knows the meaning of "six lanes of cars."
Now my bubble is burst. My concern, my fear for New Zealand should have been excitement at the prospect of a western nation that had managed not to follow the path of progress all the way to its present conclusion. Alas, not so. But there is comfort in knowing that it took us nine weeks to find this pocket of urban life: so much of New Zealand is rural and small town. Half of New Zealanders live in the Auckland area. Three-quarters of New Zealanders live on the North Island. Since the South Island is bigger than the North Island, that leaves a lot of wild country and rural communities; that leaves a lot of New Zealand to be green, quiet, and friendly.
Sunday, March 05, 2006
The streets of Wellington were mercifully empty at midnight on a Saturday night. Having my first left-handed driving experience during rush hour probably would have taxed my nerves and possibly the New Zealand medical care system. For once I was thankful about arriving on a late flight. “Keep left, keep left,” I kept reminding myself. With heightened awareness of all the techniques my Driver’s Ed instructor had imparted during those long, boring high school hours, burned into my conscience and buttocks by the painful plastic chairs in the lecture auditorium, I drove the multitudinous traffic circles of Wellington with Sara as my trusty navigator.
Traffic circles aren’t a problem—they’re actually quite useful for keeping traffic flowing. (Unless you put stop signs around them, as they do in Pasadena.) If there is no one else on the circle, you just cruise in, around, and out. Easy.
The turning signal is the problem. It’s on the wrong side of the steering wheel. And it’s amazing how the pathway from thought (“I need to turn left up here”) to action (finger touches lever behind wheel, presses down with perfectly calibrated force) is ingrained in my left hand. Total muscle memory. In the wrong hand.
Here's what should have happened:
"I need to turn left up here." Finger touches lever and turn signal comes on. Smooth turn. Turn signal turns off.
Here's what actually happened:
“Who turned on the wipers? Is it raining outside? No! I pushed the wrong lever. How do I turn off the wipers with my left hand? Do I twist or press?” Eyes instinctively look for flashing lights in rearview mirror. Adrenaline levels spike. (Distance to turn: 100 metres and closing.) Wipers speed up. “Darn it! Don’t twist, press!” Left hand gets a clue and presses wiper lever. Wipers stop. Adrenaline levels plateau. (Distance to turn: 50 metres and closing. Driver’s Ed teacher situated deep in the id shouts that it’s too late to signal, and turning without signaling is illegal. C'mon, Superego, do your thing!) Right hand fumbles for lever and locates it. Strange feeling. (Distance to turn: 25 metres and closing.) Hand feels satisfying give and resistance of lever, followed by reassuring click and small flashing light on dash. (Distance to turn: 5 metres and closing.) Adrenaline levels drop. Slight tremors pass through arms and legs. Breathing resumes. “Smooth finish, smooth finish.” Turn, straighten vehicle, check rear view mirror once more. Give dirty look to laughing navigator.
The windshield was dirty anyway.
I only did that twice last night. Only once did I almost make a right hand turn into oncoming traffic. They just don’t give up on this left-side thing.
Really, the hardest part is feeling the road from the right side of the car. I sense that the weight and bulk of the car should be on my right side, so I tend to space the car in the lane accordingly. This results in the left tires frequently finding the bots dots or rough shoulder on the left side. In my two hours of experience I have had to keep myself aware that I should be sitting in the right (wrong) side of the lane I’m in. Weird.
Without any serious accidents (only navigational ones) we arrived at the Hesses home in Masterton this morning at 9:30. It’s a 1.5 hour drive to their home. What? Doesn’t add up, you say? (Left airport at midnight, arrived at the other end of a 1.5 hour drive at 9:30 am?) You’re right: it doesn’t add up. We spent about four hours making an important discovery.
For those of you who have wondered how many people over 4’3” in height can sleep in the back of a Rav-4, the answer is:
It took us four hours to discover that, and I'm 6'2". Sigh.
Oh, and we napped for an hour and a half on the Hesses’ road, thinking 7:30 on a Sunday morning was too early to come knocking. This time we kipped in the proper place: the front bucket seats. A little stiff in the neck, but nothing some New Zealand wine won't fix.
Safe and sound for 13 days on the North Island, we will sleep very well tonight.
Saturday, March 04, 2006
First of all, many large cities have subways and buses. New York takes them for granted, as does Montréal. But Sydney is built on a vast harbour with all sorts of inlets, peninsulas, and islands. So Sydney has ferries. How cool is it that our public transit passes allowed us to travel by train, bus, and ferry? How great is it that without paying an extra penny (alright, nickel—Australia doesn’t have pennies) we could take harbour cruises—including night cruises—to our hearts’ content? Very cool, I tell you. Great indeed.
What’s more the trains are relatively quiet, very clean, and comfortable. Plus the seats in many trains flip back and forth; if the seat’s facing backward and you want to face forward on your journey, just flip the seat-back over, and voila! Sure, the system of lines can be complex, but after a couple days we had it figured out. No worries.
Kudos to the Sydney CityRail and Ferry system for good urban public transport.
Many hostels are not like this.
Take the hostel in Newtown, Sydney known as Billabong Gardens. We chose it because it was cheap and close to a train station. I emphasize cheap. In exchange for its cheap price, we received the hostel funk.
There is a smell that coagulates around travelers who have been living out of a backpack for some time and who have been giving minimal or limited attention to the details of personal and garment hygiene. Now, I dare not judge backpackers for the aroma on their persons and belongings; when one is one the road for weeks or months on end, something must give. Something must be afforded second, third, or twentieth place in the list of priorities because there is only so much time and space one has when one does not possess one’s own apartment or house. The funk of long-term backpackers is normal and, in some strange sense, poetic.
However, we dare not extend the same grace to the hostels who host backpackers. It is one thing for the pig to wallow; it is quite another for the farmer to insist the rooster do the same. Hostels, if they are to have anything worthy of commendation, must be clean and tidy, with a good kitchen. Should they have pool, patio, billiards, free internet, hang gliding lessons, and live jazz every night but not have cleanliness and good kitchen facilities, they are to be scorned.
Upon first step into our present hostel dorm room we encountered a heavy cloud of funk in the air.
What’s more, the kitchen has proven to be sub-par in terms of cleanliness, repair, and availability of utensils. Sigh.
To be fair, some of the funky state of this hostel was certainly due to the fact that Sydney has a big Mardi Gras celebration on the first Saturday after Ash Wednesday (for those of you who know the liturgical calendar: I know, I know—I didn’t schedule this “Mardi Gras”). Because of this celebration and the parade that passes through downtown Sydney, all the hostels are booked up. What’s more, people have begun warming up their party skills. They spend lots of late nights out, drinking and making merry. And they accumulate more funk that is brought back and allowed to settle in the dormitory rooms.
Friday morning I woke up to the acidic, tangy smell of gastric fluids. After three days of walking through our dorm room door from fresh poolside air to dingy man-sweat funk, the smell of used alcohol broke my resolve. Memories of nights long past, nights as a Floorfellow and Hall Director cleaning up the nasty regurgitations of over-indulgent college students reared their ugly heads in my psyche. That was it—we were out of there. We found a hostel way up the coast north of Sydney with a double room open and took it. As it turns out, this impulsive decision put us in the best hostel we’ve stayed in so far: Sydney Beaches YHA Backpacker, better even than Mountain Jade. This one had cleanliness, style, great facilities, and a huge kitchen. Ten gas burners and six stainless steel sinks! To top it all off, this backpacker had alleviated the problem of guests smashing their food into small refrigerators by installing a walk-in fridge with cubby holes. Wow! Hostel heaven, here. We’re glad we spent the hour on public transit to get here. I’m especially glad we escaped one more night of hostel funk.
Friday, March 03, 2006
Flying Squid, Dunedin: Good fish, excellent batter, very good chips, served in a chic brown paper bag.
Porky’s, Hokitika: Good fish, good batter (too thin: tends to fall of the fish before it gets to your lips), excellent chips (thick and crisp on the outside), served in stylish white paper tray.
While in Sydney we’ve visited three locations for fish ’n’ chips and had variable experiences. (Sara really experiences fish ’n’ chips vicariously through me, as she doesn’t like fish.) However, the road to good fish ’n’ chips has been as eventful as the actual eating of fried piscine delights. A recounting is worthwhile here.
We have found our guidebook to Sydney, published by “Lonely Planet” very helpful for many aspects of our visit (except telling us about the visa we were supposed to have; see an earlier entry for that debacle). It seemed reasonable, therefore, to follow the Lonely Planet’s advice on finding good fish ’n’ chips in Sydney. I even went so far as to mark (in pen, mind you) the locations of the Lonely Planet’s “Top 5 Fish ’N’ Chips” restaurants. Before we headed out for the first one, however, Sara had the foresight to check up on the price range for these restaurants, cited elsewhere in the guidebook. We did so and discovered that the main courses at these restaurants cost between $17 and $25. Fish ’n’ chips for $17? No way! Good call, Sara Jane—saved us from a big mistake. Fish ’n’ chips shouldn’t cost more than $10—and even then it better come with a glass of wine and a massage.
If Lonely Planet fails you, where do you go? The clear answer for us was to follow the example of a good friend who knows how to work the big system we call society: Kierstead. Keirstead’s method of finding the best places to shop, eat, and party is to enter the nearest five-star hotel and ask the concierge. If you can fake it like you belong there, he’ll think it’s his job to give you the information you want to the best of his ability.
So I swaggered into the Hotel Intercontinental Sydney, right past a cherry red Ferrari and up to the concierge desk. Sure, I wasn’t dressed like you’d expect someone to be dressed who’d just dropped $500 on a hotel room (of course, if I had just dropped $500 on a hotel room, I’d be calling the credit card company to report a stolen card). Then again, in this age of internet millionaires dressing casually, who’s to say I didn’t look like a paying guest?
I asked the concierge where to find good cheap fish ’n’ chips in downtown Sydney. He informed me that the best fish ’n’ chips was to be found at Doyle’s, a restaurant on Circular Quay, the central harbour of Sydney. Some alarm went off in the back of my mind about a restaurant that could afford to have property on Circular Quay serving fish ’n’ chips for less than $50, but I ignored it. Then again, maybe I had tipped this guy off by asking for “cheap” fish ’n’ chips. Did residents of the Hotel Intercontinental ever ask for anything “cheap”?
We decided to check it out. Sure enough, Doyle’s on Circular Quay charges $30 for fish ’n’ chips. By the look of the wine list, I don’t think $30 included a glass of it, and I didn’t see massages anywhere on the menu. Forget Doyle’s, and I think I’ll need some more coaching from Kierstead. Maybe I needed to sway my hips more.
This whole fiasco brought us to the clear and obvious choice: Quay Seafood. Positioned in the loud interchange between Circular Quay railway station and the public ferry wharves, Quay Seafood is a dingy little hole in the wall. It’s got an old-school neon sign that flickers enough to make you think it should be fixed but not enough to make you call the repair man. And it has fish ’n’ chips for $8. Perfect.
The chips were good, but not excellent. They lacked the intensity of potato flavour that I like in my chips, perhaps because they’d been in the freezer too long. Who knows. The fish was very good—mild flavour, the way I like it. The batter was too thin and kept falling off, which was disappointing. However Quay Seafood added a wedge of lemon to the dish, which hadn’t happened in New Zealand. Nice touch! Over all, very good.
Now that we knew the five-star hotels didn’t have the angle on good fish ’n’ chips, we started checking with the locals. The next hot tip we got was for a place that had won “Best Fish ’N’ Chips in Town” in the paper for the Manly area. (That’s right: Manly. It’s where Australian boys become Australian Men. Apparently one of the first explorers to reach Australia named the peninsula “Manly” because of the physique of the Aboriginals they found there.) The local didn’t know what the name of the place was, but we couldn’t miss it right there on Manly Beach.
And we didn’t. Sea King is a cute little fast-food joint that specializes in sea food. While Sara munched on a chicken burger from next door, I had fish that was quite good—not as mild as I like, but bearable—though the batter, once again, was too thin and fell off easily. The chips were very good, a little thicker than average and quite tasty. Once again, they garnished it with lemon—an Aussie thing, perhaps?—that gave a good touch to the fish. Well worth the 30-minute ferry trip out to Manly (and the $7.50 it costs).
Every beach enthusiast who comes to Sydney must go to Bondi (pronounced BON-dai, not BON-dee) Beach. It’s the quintessential Australian beach experience. Furthermore, there is a beautiful coastal walk that runs from Bondi south to Coogee Beach. Sara wanted to walk and I wanted another try at fish ’n’ chips, so we took the bus to Bondi and walked down to Coogee, where we found a little stand next to the beach called “Chish ‘N’ Fips.” They had burgers, chicken, and fish.
Good stuff here. The fish was mild but not bland, the batter was superb—thick enough to hold together but not so thick it was soggy—and the chips were quite good. I think it also helps any fish ’n’ chips experience to eat it next to crashing waves and defend it from threatening sea gulls.
Alas, tomorrow we leave for New Zealand again, so the Australian fish ’n’ chips adventure will have to end here. But it was tasty while it lasted.