Sunday, November 2, 2008

The End (Is The Beginning Is The End...)

So I'm sitting here, and Bloc Party is playing ("Do you wanna come over / and kill some time..."). My feet have grown irrepairably smelly since I arrived in Dunedin, but only with the exemplary weather of the past few weeks has their ripe cheese odor authoritatively announced itself. There is a stack of twenty books behind me on the floor. Aside from "Robinson Crusoe" and "Humphry Clinker," I have no idea which others I also want to leave behind. Should I bring home my "Rough Guide to New Zealand"? On the one hand, if I ever need such a travel guide again the year will be somewhere around 2025 and half of this country's now-touted coastal sights will be underwater. On the other... I've grown to love that damned book!

My bedding was turned in yesterday a few hours after I passed my room inspection by a former Professor who spent ten minutes declaring I was "the uncannily spitting image of a former student of mine... Mark (somethingorother)? You know him? Played rugby? Ah, well, I supposed we've all got a twin somewhere out there, haven't we now? One time my wife went back to Ireland, and you wouldn't believe..." Anyway, the point is I don't have pillows anymore, so my monstrous snow jacket and Otago sweatshirt are rolled up into quite the uncomfortable lump where my head goes.

The walls are bare (save for the frequent knick or scratch, which makes them even MORE bare, you know?), as are the bookshelves.

I've said goodbye to everyone noteworthy.

I'm wondering who's going to be in here next.

My camera is charging for its voyage to Fiji.

And all of these trivialities are being painstakingly carried out in order to keep my mind off of the future. It's looming just out of reach, like a soft white cloud that could either float by merrily or turn into one devil of a thunderstorm.

Now I'll see you all even sooner than the last time I said this.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Bum Life

I don't really know how I'd even begin to go about summarizing the past two weeks in an interesting narrative (probably not a good sign for my writing aspirations), but I figure I need to post something about Australia, so here we are. 6:00 am is never a reasonable time to wake up, but it was necessary to catch our bus to Christchurch, where we'd then fly to Sydney. My traveling companions were Sarah and Shannon (my flatmate). We were traveling on Emirates, which is an Arabic airline. Nothing printed inside the plane was legible, the flight attendants all wore small red hats and white shawls, and the ceiling of the cabin was decked out in thousands of little LED lights that twinkled like stars in the dark. Crazy. Also, their entertainment package was really good, and I watched episodes of "Arrested Development" for the entire three-hour flight.

Arriving in Sydney was like experiencing the culture shock that I'd been saving for America a few weeks early. As mentioned previously, I've grown accustomed to New Zealand's way of living without even realizing it, and returning to the scene of a bustling metropolis on a mass of land roughly the same size as the continental United States was overwhelming. So many people! And buildings! And 7-11s! I don't even want to get into my trip to the supermarket (labeled Woolworth's in OZ), which provided me for 13 short days with all the bunches of Cilantro I could ask for, cheap meat, wholewheat pasta, regular sandwich mustard, stick deodorant, and grapes. Withdrawals have already set in... again.

Anyway, Sydney was pretty much exactly how one would imagine Sydney, with architecturally sound buildings (all tinted a reddish color... but again, isn't that how you imagine buildings in Australia?), kebab shops everywhere, and the Opera House jutting authoritatively into a Harbour filled with sharks and dolphins. An interesting note on the Opera House: in pictures, its roof looks like a white, shiny shell, but in reality there is an intricately detailed mess of black lines that criss-crosses its tiled bulk repeatedly, and the color of the whole contraption is more like a cream or something (I don't know my colors). There was more than enough stuff to do for a few days, and we hit up the city's aquarium (#1 worldwide) and Museum of Contemporary Art for like a day apiece. Sydney was also where we met Stephen, a twenty-year-old on leave from Iraq for three weeks. His presence was interesting (mostly because I don't know any other soldiers in Iraq), and since we ended up spending about a third of our time with him, I now have a completely new insight into what's going on in that crazy desert on the other side of the world. Needless to say, we left him yesterday with me feeling very, very sorry for the guy.

Seeing as we were only stationed in a hostel for three out of our thirteen nights in Australia, I suppose it's time for me to illustrate our Wicked van. Wicked Travel is a company that rents out campervans to unsuspecting tourists looking for a cheap ride. They come equipped with front seats, a steering wheel, a bed/table contraption in the middle, and a rudimentary kitchen in back (complete with a hand-pump sink). The icing on these ancient Wicked cakes, though, is that each van sports a unique illustration on both sides to help give one's road trip some character. Ours featured the giant mug of a clearly shady (did I just discover a new oxymoron?!) man with the words "Jim's Muff Management" printed in enormous black letters. Below, Jim's various services were listed: laser hair removal, electrolysis, plucking, cutting and styling, and permanent hair removal. Needless to say, we attracted many stares, incited numerous remarks, and provided a backdrop for many hasty photos.

We would park to sleep in national forests, residential neighborhoods, information center parking lots, and along the beach whenever possible. Our first four days behind the wheel saw nothing but blinding rain, so the beach was avoided in favor of forests (and their accompanying spiders), the tallest tree in New South Whales, and a lot of card playing (by candle light, which induced 10 pm bedtimes and 6:55 am wake-ups... my biological clock right now is all kinds of messed up), which quickly escalated from games like "Asshole" and "Spoons" to "Flaming Asshole" (as tempers flared) and "Poons" (in Honor of Jim and our muff-mobile). I was eaten alive by mosquitos (which have an unmistakable burn to their bite overseas) and pestered by Shannon, who is the single biggest negative force I've ever encountered in my life, and who brought down the "cool factor" that Sarah and I were trying so hard for by, like, ninety percent. I'd fall asleep at night enraged by her idiocy, wake up at dawn even more upset (as she'd taken to ruining my dreams, as well), and then have to deal with the real-life version all day long in a terribly confined space. The next time any of you see me and want a better explanation, I'll be more than happy to divulge the details. For now, here's a picture of her stupid face:

And she wants to be a heart surgeon?!?!

The sun finally came out at Byron Bay, a gloriously attractive, alternative community on a beautiful stretch of beach surrounded by tropical vegetation. It was there that we paid for our only night of legal sleeping ($12 each), and I took the first of three showers during my entire OZ stay. I also burned myself stupid, and spent the next four nights sleeping semi-upright to avoid even slightly touching my purple (yes, purple) sides. They're just now beginning to peel (blistering came first), and they added a whole new dimension of misery to sleeping long-ways in a stuffy European van (after the first night, of course, when Shannon had the brilliant idea to make us all sleep SHORT-ways, which she loudly pawned off on Sarah the next day as our legs, backs, and necks agonized). Our 900-kilometer trek ended at Gold Coast (Surfer's Paradise, specifically), which was seeing up to four-hour traffic delays due to the city's transformation into an Indy raceway. Highlights of the region included Movie World (I successfully resisted the urge to make Disneyland comparisons until leaving the park, but Shannon adopted a heavy frown and called everything "really stupid" from Batman: The Ride 2 [rides can have sequels?!?] to Lethal Weapon: The Roller Coaster). We returned the van in downdown Brisbane dirty, tired, aggravated, and having had an incredible time.

In terms of wildlife, I saw kangaroos (of both the living and roadkill variety), koalas (only roadkill variety), terrifying spiders (one had spun a thick white "X" into the middle of its web), and enormous fruit bats (they kept us up all night during a massive thunderstorm as they swooped and shrieked over unsuspecting prey). With the help of a Diggery Doo CD purchased at a massive TurkFest in downtown Sydney, our adventure took on a serious Australian theme, and I feel as if I've thoroughly explored a small fraction of the country.

This whole post has been kind of a broad generalization about everything that went down, which makes me regret delivering a relatively unauthentic description of it. Time, however, is short. I have TEN DAYS (holy balls!) left in New Zealand before beginning my return journey to the US, and I don't really know what's going on. Never before has uncertainty been so marvelous and terrifying at the same time. I've reached a point where I'm going to be sad to leave New Zealand no matter how much longer I stay, so it might as well be now when I'm still excited to come home. I used to think getting older would solve all of life's issues, but now I know (or I'm fairly sure I know...?) that maturity only reveals our existence for the chaotic, barely-held-together-by-reason jumble that it is (and that's not supposed to come across as negative as it sounds). If my perceptions of the world, myself, and my friends and family were clarified and strengthened before Australia, coming back to New Zealand after being abroad in yet another country has tweaked them even more. I don't know how it's going to be possible to return to Oregon the same person I was when I left, because life is so much more fun (and rewarding) if I treat it like a grand experience that I'm indescribably (and improbably) lucky to be having. With such an outlook, playing the quiet kid in class who disdains everyone else is harder, if only because it's such a waste of time (unless one is productive with the observations it yields). I want to try being the crazy one now, dammit! I'm only young once, and I only have like 2 more years to do whatever I want (as long as I get good grades, of course) before some amount of acquiesence to the routine world of grown-ups becomes mandatory. Ahhhhh.

So that about covers it. I might post one more time right before I leave. If not, I'll see you all soon. Thanks for sticking with me.

Narrator's Voice: And so it was... the end of his Great New Zealand Adventure.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Nature 3.0

If I asked you, my dearest friends and relatives, to make a blind promise to me right now that would fulfill your soul's quest for enlightenment AND require only a few thousand dollars to see through, would you do it? Please say yes. The feeling's worth every penny, there's no preaching involved, and holding hands while singing with a bunch of strangers isn't necessary. But here I am getting ahead of myself...

Friday dawned oddly. I woke up an hour earlier than usual, which (as we all know) is strange enough in itself. Everything's slightly colder, there are less breakfast dishes stacked in the sink, and the shower walls aren't yet covered in nasty long hair. There had been a pre-party party in our living room the night before (an extraordinary event in itself), so in a paradoxical complement to the unusual cleanliness of the kitchen sink, the dining room table was a mess of beer bottles, playing cards, and chocolate chips (?). The toaster was also broken, so I settled for an orange. I walked to campus to turn in my film journal (the last graded asignment of the term!), thinking frenziedly about everything that still needed to be done for our trip to Milford Sound later in the afternoon. Were we camping? Were food AND cooking utensils necessary? Was rain likely? And so on.

What followed was an unfathomably improbable series of events (including someone's lost credit card, a bizarre encounter with the remarkably friendly and concerned-for-my-future professor of my Film Genres class, and finally a harrowing thirty minutes at the Budget rental car offices as they discovered my online reservation AFTER all the fleet's vehicles had been rented). Nevertheless, a group of seven international students (spread across two cars) embarked through the blindingly green countryside of spring-time New Zealand, and arrived in Te Anau at dusk to spend the night. Camping cost $15 per person at the Country Hills Motor Lodge, so we forked it over and went about setting up the two tents. Group A's tent was recently purchased for $250 and included a waterproof screen. Group B's tent was a 1967 A-frame (missing several crucial ropes and zippers) that had been hastily borrowed from the international house. The forecast predicted over 8 centimeters of rain for the night. Guess which one I was in?

To slim down an already unsightly bulky story, let's fast-forward three hours. Sarah, Marty and I returned from a country bumpkin bar to find the other four playing poker. Outside, rain and lightning (something that supposedly NEVER occurs in NZ) lashed the ground competitively. The card fiends insisted on one group hand to finish the night, so we all grudgingly accepted. We each took turns cutting the deck, Mark shuffled, and then distributed five cards to all seven of us. No one wanted to exchange, and we all wore the same puzzled/smug expression. We showed our cards. Here were the hands, IN ORDER: 33399 4441010 555JJ 666QQ 777KK 888AA (Alexa had nothing)!!!!! Such a terrifyingly patterned round was the last necessary straw required for our collective haystack to go haywire.

The improbability of it all! How had it happened?

Later, as we wiled away sleepless hours in the car (after our tent had collapsed from rain), we further back-tracked the odds of this freakishly chance card game to the minute details of the walk back from the bar that placed us at the right moment in time for a collective hand of poker, then to the fact that we'd all ended up at the same campground (as cell phone communication had been terminated earlier in the afternoon, and we'd split up) to render a card game even possible, then to ALL SEVEN OF US going on the weekend trip (even after the rental car fiasco and the lost credit card, whereby Andrea almost bailed), then to one of the girls completely randomly deciding to come along the day before, then to our random decisions to study abroad in New Zealand this term, which was, like, a long time ago. It was all too much, and we soon realized that EVERY event in life stems from random forks of fate, which kind of made the whole thing less significant (because it, in turn, made everything else MORE significant, you know?). Naturally, the conversation quickly turned to aliens and how much more likely our chances of being abducted were now that we'd already thoroughly beat probability.

Did any of that make sense? I hope so. Regardless, it was an uneasy evening, made worse by the ominously cackling thunder. The next morning was another early one, but I didn't mind because I was so excited for Milford. While only 107 kilometers away, the drive was supposed to take all day due to its windy mountain roads and incredible scenery. We pulled out of Te Anau at noon, and from there entered a dream world so sublime in its renderings that my meager vocabulary just isn't going to cut it. Here are some photos I took:

Then we drove straight into the side of a mountain via a tunnel named Homer. I grew uneasy at its entrance when I read a sign that stated, "bus turnouts 400 and 1600 meters in." Needless to say, it was a large mountain tunnel, and the only one I've been in that slopes seriously downward for its duration. We felt like we were driving into hell itself, until Sarah said, "you guys... just imagine what the view on the other side of this tunnel is going to look like." As the pinhole of light on Homer's far end grew closer, then enveloped us, the most spectacular view of sheer mountain faces cascading with hundreds of waterfalls from the previous night's rain met my gaze. I couldn't take any pictures because the whole place was under a strict avalanche warning (which prohibited stopping), but lengthy switchbacks down into the valley provided ample time to stare out at the awesome geography and shake my head in wonder.

The hostel near Milford Sound was decent, and its scenery more than made up for the one knife its kitchen possessed. I've discovered here in New Zealand that I like cooking good food, but when you have to do it in a small hostel with like nine other international families who are all clamoring over the same eight burners, it can be a harrowing experience. Regardless, I sat around in a state of bliss, replaying that day's short hikes to numerous waterfalls in my head.

Woke up bright and early Sunday. Drove to Milford, geeked out at the view, loaded ourselves onto a boat for 2.5 hours that took us real close-like to all them waterfalls (so much so that we filled drinking glasses with pure glacial water). Again, I can't really paint an accurate picture, so I'll give you one of the 200+ photos I took.

***Photo wouldn't upload. Just ask to see it when I get back***

Then the drive back, where we stopped everywhere on the OTHER side of the road. I know this is another rushed conclusion, but it's a busy week for me and if I don't end now this post is just going to sit on my desktop until I accidentally delete it. YOU ALL MUST GET TO MILFORD SOUND. Somehow, it changes everything (this is where that weird first paragraph is supposed to make sense. Looking back, it doesn't, but I don't want to change it so bear with me). Also, I leave for Australia on SATURDAY until October 24th, so I might write one or two more posts when I return, but don't expect anything for a whiile. We're driving in a Wicked Van (which has a large bed, a sink, and a stove in it) from Sydney to the Gold Coast area, and we'll be camping on the beach every night. I plan on scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef as well. Crazy.

With the impending trip, classes ending, and less than a month to go, I'm kind of freaking out. What's going on?!?!? Madness...

Thursday, October 2, 2008

4:30 am

That's what time the parrots and all their relatives start warbling outside my bedroom window. If I could only convey to you the sounds they make... such noise is almost as overwhelming as a foreign language. I also realized that maybe the reason people associate wiry, bespectacled bird enthusiasts with stuffy old Englishmen is because the truth of the matter is that America really doesn't have as big of a bird culture as the rest of the world. Sure, there's an occasional crow cawing, along with some sparse, early-morning twittering, but in New Zealand a veritable symphony of melodic tunes plays almost constantly, and I don't mind unless it's 4:30 am and I'm trying to get to sleep (did I say "get" to sleep? I meant just sleep... heh...). One goes something like "Te-ta-tee-tah-tee-tahhhh" over and over again, one goes "tweeeeet-too-da-la-la-la-laaaaaa," and another just plain shrieks.

This week I spent all my time madly finishing several papers, but the upshot is that I don't have any more school work in New Zealand (except for finals in four weeks)!!! Wohoo! Today it's 24 degrees Celsius (I thought this temperature would never come), and although I've said it before, New Zealand really is infinitely better with warmer weather. Honestly. It's such a world of difference. Anyway, I'm off to Milford Sound for the weekend by way of Te Anau, where I'll be camping tonight. Expect some kind of lengthy post on Monday (that's Sunday for all you crazy fools living in the past). Take it easy.


I found some of the crazy bird sounds! Listen to them and justify my wasted time, dammit! (there are two of these in a bush outside my window... they're the LOUD early morning ones).

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

39 days until takeoff

I look at that number and think, "Jesus, man, time's flown... but I'm also really excited to see everyone again. Or am I? Yes, yes I am. Of course I am. Why do I keep thinking about this? Does, like, a single hour pass when I'm not so caught up in my own pathetic countdown that I can just ENJOY being here in New Zealand with the little time I have left? Is that so hard? Is it, AJ? IS IT?!?"

So that's pretty much what's currently looping through the superb, surround-sound Bose speakers in my head. Yesterday marked three months of me being gone from the US, which got me pondering. When I first arrived in Dunedin, I would stumble awkwardly through my bathroom, thinking "this is my shower? And I have to put my towel here? And the water kind of pools up around my feet because the drain is so weak?" Then, in the kitchen for breakfast: "why are the plates in this cupboard? And what the hell kind of jam is this I'm using? Why does it taste so weird? What's going on?!?" Lately, though, I've grown so accustomed to everything that I don't even think about how it was once so odd. I have a hard time remembering how jam in the US tastes (better... but exactly why is vague), and as for the plates, OF COURSE they go on the far left-hand side. The final blow of my acclimitization hit me last night, while my flatmates and I watched Adaptation, a superb film. Chris Cooper's character was driving his van down the right side of a highway in Florida, and I cringed in expectation of a head-on collision. It seemed so... wrong. Horrified, I sat for the next ten minutes fake-driving a car in my head and trying to keep to the RIGHT side of a road. Thankfully, it's still a talent I possess.

To borrow an earlier used phrase, what the hell is going on? I swear I'm not going to be one of those people who returns from studying abroad and can't talk about anything else, but this madness is getting to me.

Event-wise, I found an incredible, top-secret Mexican restaurant last night. It's wedged in a narrow, three-story building behind a bar. The food was expensive, but the ingredients were all so choice. They had SEVEN different types of mole sauce for their enchiladas, and whichever you selected was applied LIBERALLY to the food. Tonight I'm going to see this Maori Reggae band called "Katchafire." Supposedly they're pretty decent. School's drawing to a close (only two weeks left and I'm free through January 5! Except for finals...), and I leave for Australia very soon. Crazy.

I'm writing this in the library. On my way through the main lobby area with all the cafes and shops and stuff, a girl turned around and ran smack into me with handfuls of garbage and a cup of coffee. The coffee dropped and spilled all over the floor, and she stood there looking stricken. This, as my careful readers will know, is yet another example of how absolutely, mindlessly ignorant Kiwis are of virtually everyone else who may temporarily be occupying their surroundings. They time their driving so that one can never make a dash across the street, they park their shopping carts horizonally across shopping aisles, and they walk in the absolute middle of pathways (which renders circumvention virtually impossible). Anyway, rather than apologizing profusely, running for napkins, and offering to buy her another cup of coffee (as I would in America, no doubt), I just stood there, glaring at her. I gruffly apologized, to which she said, "Oh... I suppose it's okay." suppose? SUPPOSE?!? Nothing along the lines of this whole mess being HER fault left the girl's lips, and after like fifteen seconds of uncomfortable eye-accusing (which is when my eyes repeatedly mouth, "it's your mess, bitch"), I left the scene. Coffee still covered the floor, and her friends all stared as I walked away, clearly shocked. I, however, counted the devastation as a personal triumph.

Maybe 39 days really is enough time...

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Sunday Morning (The Velvet Underground & Nico, 2:56)

So I figured I should write SOMEthing because it's been exactly a week since my last post, which is a longer dry stretch than I ever anticipated for this blog. I've been conducting some pretty frantic research in the library over the past several days, and at this moment I have exactly three more books and five journal articles sitting beside me that need to be sapped of any relevant materials. This past weekend saw both a pirate and a martian party. I bought a fake beard and an Oriental-themed purple mumu with big gold stripes around the sleeves to use for both (deckhand, crazed alien zealot). Dunedin is incredibly sunny. All the trees and bushes are erupting with color, and I broke a sweat walking here today because it's so much warmer (and muggier... cue ominous music) than usual.

I've got this new craving for Gatorade, which isn't sold here, and it's driving me wild. Who doesn't need to indulge in the heavily processed delights of Fruit Punch or Lemon-Lime every now and again?

I think that's about all there is. Let me check...


Sunday, September 14, 2008

An Adventure of Grand Proportions

This weekend marked a tumultuous turning point in the Dunedin environ: spring is here! It's actually warm out, things are blooming, and warm breezes work their way inland from the bay at regular intervals. Heedless of the preferential treatment our ludicrous universe suddenly seemed to be granting me, I promptly packed myself into a small rental car with three friends and headed west (which, as you avid New Zealand geography buffs already know, is the terminally cold portion of the island) to Fox Glacier. The 8-hour drive marked my first time BEHIND the wheel of a vehicle that purposely dominates the left-hand side of the street, and I got used to it remarkably quickly. What's not so easy is distinguishing the windshield wipers from the turn signal, which are also reversed: every time we navigated an intersection or pulled in for gas, the back seat would burst out laughing. After dark, possums become something of an obstacle, but seeing as they're a pest in NZ the act of dodging them is condemned, so we hit two. One was so large the front left tire made funny sounds until I readjusted the molding around it.

The Fox Glacier Township has a population of 250 people, and we were the only inhabitants of our hostel that we saw for the entire two-day stay. FGT is tucked into a misty rainforest setting, with intimidatingly dense jungle snaking up the sides of sheer cliff-faces that make up the base of the West Coast's mountains. A massive rock slide had halted all glacier expeditions for the past week (something we had no idea about until we arrived) and our group of 8 was the first to tackle a makeshift trail up the cliffside next to the glacier (which, in turn, accesses the safe portion of the 13-kilometer long hunk of ice). After overcoming my fear of heights during a 270-feet stretch of path that required hugging a sheer rock face AND holding onto a thick metal chain to avoid falling down a 333-foot cliff, I donned crampons and a spikey walking stick to tackle the glacier's surface. What I wasn't expecting was a gloriously terrifying hike through several deep crevasses (so narrow I had to take my backpack off and scoot sideways, and with walls so icy blue and tall I felt underwater) as falling ice emitted whip-like cracks every few seconds. The adventure lasted roughly 5 hours, and we returned exhausted.

Not exhausted enough, though, to keep from heading to FGT's sole bar at 9:00 to watch the All Blacks play Australia in rugby. Nearly the entire population of the township showed up as well, and a rowdy time was had with a crowd mostly aged 40+. They were crazier than us, though, and when we headed out of town at 10 am the next morning a couple dozen still sat perched on the bar's front deck. yesterday entailed lots of driving and a nearly obscene amount of stops to document the west coast's various beauties (coastlines, jagged peaks, waterfalls, crystal clear rivers, etc.). We managed to reach Wanaka by 4, which made possible a trip to Puzzling World. It's a crazy tourist attraction that's filled with illusion rooms and an enormous, two-story maze. You all know how I love mazes, so let me tell you that this thing was more fun than any other I've tackled (on paper or in real life, for that matter). Some genius arranged it in such a way so that my logic always failed, and I knowingly walked in countless circles because my brain simply refused to accept the proper path, which was always the last place I expected. Regardless, I eventually found my way up the labyrinth's four towers AND made it through the exit in like an hour and a half.

Then there was more driving. I met a lot of colorful characters, and I could spend a lot of time regaling you all with their endearing antics, but my finers are a-hurtin' (more from the scalding hot dishes I just washed than from typing) and I need to read 300 pages of Humphry Clinker (the official worst book of 1771). Take it easy.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Case Studies

Those of you who genuinely care about me have probably been terribly concerned over the past several months about the character types I'm currently stuck in a flat with (Curtis, read: house). Are they boring? Insane? Unhygenic? Slutty? Fret no more, dear readers, as this posting is devoted entirely to four concise descriptions that will flesh out the less important inhabitants of 3/167 Dundas Street.

Shannon - Recently turned 21, from Alberta Canada. Her room shares the bottom floor with mine, and that's about the only similarity we have. She's a health sciences major and is way into working out (though you can't really tell). Here's a colorful anecdote that I feel sums her up sufficiently:

(While walking to gym)

Shannon: (spastically skip-walking) Ouch! My lip hurts so bad! I can't believe it's bitten again...

Me: (bored and not really paying any attention) You bit your lip? I hate that.

Shannon: (in an obvious attempt to make it known that she's getting around) Welllll, I wasn't the one who bit it... Oh look at all those seagulls over there on the field!!! Aren't they so cute? (Subject changed so immediately and awkwardly that the full impact of what she just said is craftily made even more jarring, except for I don't care.)

Toby: 20, Vermont. History major (though you'd never guess). He's nice and all, but he pretty much lives at another flat with some guys and girls that he bonded with during his orientation in June. It's like, Jesus Christ man, do I not even exist over here? Just kidding. We watch movies and episodes of "Arrested Development" all the time, and wile away anxious minutes before dinner by making extreme fun of Shannon. He refuses to turn on his space heater and spends the overwelming majority of his time cocooned inside a sleeping bag. Watching him hop from kitchen to living room is great fun.

Mel: 22, Invercargill (New Zealand). Mel terrifies me. She's a physical education major (I know, right?) and has this barking laugh (think of that one obscenely stupid playmate from "The Girls Next Door) that's surpassed in unpleasantness only by her terrible humor. She could write for "Friends" or something, it's that stale. Don't get me wrong though, I'm far from a Mel-hater. She's an amiable lady and answers any question I may have regarding Dunedin. Meat for her must be burnt before consumption, so I never really look forward to Thursday night dinners. When she puts her hair down she looks like someone else entirely.

Liz: 22, Invercargill. History and Spanish major. Liz is incredibly kind-hearted and soft-spoken. She works at the library and would likely dazzle me with her extensive vocabulary if she didn't speak so goddamned quickly. Exercise is out of the question, because her knees are like warped with arthritis. Walking down stairs for her is a major endeavor. It's not all peaches and cream, though. Whenever she disagrees with something she gets a really annoying look on her face (think comic disbelief gone awry), her movie collection is pitiable (Love Actually, Boondock Saints [just try and argue that one with me, I dare you]), and she accidentally ruins the horrifyingly small portions of almost everything she cooks.

So there you have it. Also, if you haven't seen "The Graduate" yet, go rent it. I don't know where I've been working for the past summer to never have given it a shot (certainly not a kickass video store that needs more support...).

Friday, September 5, 2008


So I'm writing this from our living room. Shannon is wearing a tiara, and there are origami cranes, party streamers, and massive banners reading "happy 21st!" hanging from the ceiling. Mine was slightly more subdued. "Gossip Girl" is on the television right now (Someone on screen just said, "Fashion is not of comfort. it's a party Jenny, either dress up and swallow that, or head back home. It's up to you... Alright people, who's up for a little game of truth or dare?) It plays on channel 3 (of 4), and the girls watch it most nights.

Today I went with a bunch of people to the live butterfly exhibit at the Otago Museum, and it kicked mega-ass. The temperature inside was a sweltering 29.8 degrees Celsius, and an array of over 500 butterflies fluttered by (did that just trip you up? mwahaha) three levels of tropical plants, waterfalls, and and plexiglass swing bridges. 'Twas a blast, 'twas. I did notice, though, that an ominously high amount of the little buggers had missing or damaged wings. What gives? Maybe people don't look where they lean against the railing as much as they should (which I NEVER have a problem with, and this parenthetical statement is NOT supposed to suggest that I DID, in fact, squash one of them....). Less entertaining and more terrifying were the spiders (of both the funnel and bird-eating variety) stored behind precariously thin glass walls on the ground floor.

This week I spent all of my time in the library chipping away at the first paragraph of my English paper... I think an actual grasp of the topic at hand (could I have turned "grasp" and "hand" in that sentence into some kind of clever thing?) would speed up the process, but I jusssst donnnn't wannnt tooo. Is there such thing as adult-onset ADD?

Also, tickets to Australia have been booked! I'll be down under (even though right now I'm kind of under that under, understand?) from October 11 - 24. Does anyone who's been have recommendations? I'm thinking Sydney, Brisbane, and the Gold Coast for sure. Some scuba diving will be in order.

That's about all I can think of right now, which is mostly due to the fact that I'm STILL recovering from last night (where I was forcibly removed from the library and made to drink copiously against my will), but the hangover is in that final floating-head stage, so worry not (just take it as an excuse for the poor diction and ridiculous attempts at humor [sorry, humour] in this entry).

Until next time, my dear friends and relatives.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Mid-term Break

Well, mid-term break was rather insane. Saturday announced the arrival of my 21st birthday, which was celebrated with a flatmate breakfast at Capers - where I received a large bottle of Jagermeister and a matching scarf for presents - and a day-long drinking extravaganza (if Curtis got 3 weeks, my friends and relatives certainly can't begrudge me 24 hours). How much of this should I divulge? Here it is in short: breakfast, jugs of beer at the Bog with flatmates, bottles of Tui with friend's at Sarah's flat, back to my place for power hour (the one-shot-of-beer-per-minute version, which was actually way more insane than I expected), drunk pizza and cake baking, living room strobe light/Daft Punk dance party, staggering to Castle Street for front yard mingling and observation of forming riots, Gardies for beer-jug chugging races, back out to Castle Street to participate in now full-fledged riots, then to the Bog one last time for several more jugs of beer. I passed out happy, mostly coherent, and headache-free by 4:00 am, and though the next day was rough I've certainly survived worse.

The riot itself deserves a bit of description. I would place a conservative estimation of the number of participants somewhere around 800, though most were just standing safely on porches and sidewalks as they threw bottles. About 75 policemen in full-on riot gear were congregated in the middle of the street, and I have no idea how they didn't flip a shit being pelted by so much glass. Every ten minutes or so they would form ranks and rush the people further down the street, and in this way eventually dispersed everyone when we were all pushed into the large central square of campus. For a complete sensory experience, you should be imagining the roar of couches on fire, the incessant baseline of hundreds of competing speaker systems, hordes of idiots chanting "scarfies on the piss" (which I SWEAR I wasn't a part of...), and the continual tinkle of glass shattering. It was a ball.

After packing the next day, I left for Auckland. What had been planned as an intrepid solo adventure soon turned into full-on boredom, and I traversed the city for three days in between repeated visits to the city museum and the Sky Tower (don't let the name fool you... I paid $18 to stand on top and it aint so big at all). I'd have to say the highlight was experiencing The Dark Knight in an IMAX theater (another $18), which was incredible. All of the exterior shots and action scenes filled the entire rounded screen, while the rest was projected in a larger-than-normal crystal clear widescreen fashion. Palm trees and sun are like a regular thing up north, and I was digging their down-south vibes. Also, I spent a good hour or two hunting down Mexicali Fresh (the legendary NZ restaurant run by those people who had Mexicali Rose in Bend), only to find it closed for refurbishments until September 1. I tell you, my life... By day three, however, I had literally become one of those smelly people with a backpack who sit on park benches for no apparent reason and mutter to themselves. It wasn't good.

Wellington proved a different story. That city has genuine character, dammit, and I enthusiastically searched for its elusive source (along with a group of five friends whom I rendezvoused with) at the bottom of every bottle within arm's reach (every bottle I'd paid $7.80 for, that is). We went to the city museum, Te Papa (which has nothing on Auckland's, for future reference), walked along the wharf, and hit up dozens of cheap bookshops and CD stores (softcovers STILL cost around $25-30, though). I arrived back in Dunedin last night minus $400 NZD, a healthy throat, and the first half of my time here, which expired sometime last Thursday.

Some more things:

-Sweet potato french fries are readily available here at hamburger restaurants. They're pretty good.
-The Graphic novel "Watchmen" is way better than I expected... read it if that kind of thing doesn't embarrass you (I tried cowering with mine in lesser-traversed portions of the airport, which didn't really work because the cover clearly announces what's inside).
-Looks like Thailand is out of the question for my two week trip, because with taxes (something NZ flights don't have), a ticket is like $1700 NZD. Maybe Australia?
-So far, September's weather in Dunedin is no better than July or August's.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Few Things

How I've noted the passage of time:

- The ferocity/timidity of the Waters of Leith, which depends entirely on the previous week's rainfall.
- The construction progress on the New World across the Botanic Garden from me (now I get to walk through the new entrance!).
- The construction progress on the bridge into the Botanic Garden (which would save me 10 minutes walking to New World).
- The falling prices of oranges at said New World.
- The increasing propensity of NZ beer's piddling 4% alcohol content getting me drunk.

English/Film topics I care to know no more about:

- Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's reasons for penning a response to Jonathan Swift's anti-blazon poetry in 1734.
- William Faulkner's post-modern aestheticism and its focus on warping both space and time.
- The inherent infantile-rage symbolism prevalent in 1930s Gangster films.

(Okay, that last one's pretty cool).

Birthday memories:

- My 10th, when I pooped my pants in the Costco parking lot because I was trying so hard to fart in Sean's face.
- My 19th, when I dropped out of Reed (arguably the first mega-forking of my life path... I wonder what alternate me is doing at this second...).
- My 21st (which is still a day away), when I was in NEW ZEALAND while the rest of my family partied it up in Vegas.

Self-proclaimed names of flats around campus (according to posted signs):

- The Penis Shack
- The Perky Nana
- Menstruation Tank

Have a good week, everyone, I'll update with a grand story when I return to Dunedin September 1.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Future Clears...

*** Trivia question answer from last post: I meant to rip off the tagline from one of my favorite low-budget 80's movies, Killer Klowns From Outer Space, which reads "In Space, No One Can Eat Ice Cream." I had no idea, though, that Killer Klowns was, in fact, parodying the tagline from Alien, so Jeff wins the prize. Good job, Jeff! With our powers of movie knowledge combined, no feat is too grand...***

Last Thursday marked a monumental shift in my stay here. Since June 26th, I've been trudging complacently through the seemingly interminable number of school weeks ahead of me, as I had no idea what day my last final would be scheduled for. Now, though, I know for certain that I'm leaving this country on November 4th, and depending on whether or not I stop in Fiji for five or six days afterwards, I'll be back in Oregon sometime thereafter. With an end-point in sight, I've rationed my time accordingly:

- August 25 to September 1: Mid-term break (Auckland and Wellington trip).
- September 1 to October 8: Last half of semester.
- October 8 to October 29: Scheduled time for finals during which I have none (trip to Australia? Thailand? Indonesia?).
- October 30 to November 4: My finals. Shit, man.
- November 4 to November 10-ish: Fiji, Travel home.

What seemed like eternity is now a strictly regimented period of 10 weeks. Now all I have to decide is where (if anywhere) I want to go for the 3 weeks before my finals. The NZ dollar is sucking it up right now, and $.68USD is $1NZD, so plane tickets are cheap. Suggestions? Advice? I need some help here!

Also during last Thursday was the discovery of an AUTHENTIC baja-mexican restaurant downtown. It was incredible. I literally ate an entire bottle of salsa, and spared no flattering adjectives in the lofty compliments I showered upon the manager when he questioned me (as an official American from the West coast) about the quality of the food. Then, on the walk home, as my body still tingled with the glory of a spicy after taste, someone from a passing car pelted me in the side of the head with a snowball. Where the snow came from I have no idea, but it was a fitting conclusion to a memorable evening.

This weekend I head into the mountains with 11 other people. In total, four of us were Americans, three were Swedish, two were Norweigan, two were from Japan, and another was German. It took nearly 7 hours to drive 120 miles, because the roads here are such a joke (highways are only mentioned in fables and mythology). We finally reached the Mt. Cook Base Village, only to discover 3 feet of snow covering every conceivable tramping track. The hostel was pretty cool and lodge-y, but six Australian mountain climbers were lost on the mountain's slopes due to a blizzard, so rescue helicopters were roaring around everywhere and the front deck had been converted into the rescue teams' operation center. We all felt slightly out of place, which was remedied by several cases of Speights.

In the morning, the sun revealed an incredible view. I stayed in a building at the bottom center.

Of course, there was three feet of snow covering everything, but that didn't stop us from tramping around on a little 5 km loop. I mean, in all likelihood it would have stopped me, but I really am a huge sucker for peer pressure. I'm still exhausted. As you can likely presume, adventures, hijinks, and language barrier-botched conversations ensued. I would be more descriptive, but I have to cook dinner for everyone now, so please excuse me.

Oh, and the lost climbers were found Sunday afternoon. Wohoo! Plus, most of the weekend was spent agonizing in a mental frenzy over the possible capture of Bigfoot in Georgia, and I didn't have internet so I had to sit around for eons (or as close to "eons" as 48 hours can get) until I arrived back to look up the results from the press conference that the backwoods hunters had arranged. For those who haven't been following this breaking news story, they were: inconclusive.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

In Dunedin, No One Can Eat Cornbread

***Major awesome points if you can tell me what movie's tagline I ripped off for that title. The answer will be revealed next post.***

Well, "not much" is still going on. Toby and I went shopping for the flat Monday, and we pushed $200 dollars worth of groceries back from the downtown Countdown in a jallopy old shopping cart that we didn't so much steal as borrow. I experienced another low on the "U" of being an exchange student (introduced during orientation an eon ago) when I discovered that supermarkets here don't have cornbread mix. That, combined with the foreign-accented voice announcing this week's sales, Beyonce (or something equally American and shudder-inducing) playing ominously in the background, ignorant NZ shoppers with their karts parked horizontally all over the place, and way too many types of goddam satay sauce (with no A-1 in sight, mind you), gave me the cold sweats for a few seconds and made me wish like nothing else that I was back in Oregon. Most of the apprehension's passed by now, but I keep my passport on me at all times in case a quick bolt is necessary.

Speaking of, I've had a few dreams over the past month in which I return to Bend for a weekend (or some other time span equally ridiculous). The whole scenario is incredibly surreal. I arrive home, and people say things like, "How's New Zealand going?" to which I respond, "Oh, it's fine. I'm just home for the weekend, you know..." Very strange. What's worse is that 9 times out of 10 (more like 4 out of 5, because that's how many times I've had the dream) my plane crashes on the way back to New Zealand in some remote, snowy region of Russia (don't ask). I then have to fend off an utterly terrifying, alien-like entity that slowly possesses all the other survivors. I'm being completely serious, so I hope no one's laughing.

Today was rainy and windy again. I woke up early to buzz my hair down to half an inch, noticing with delight how strong and competent my American-made shaver was buzzing in my hand. Halfway through the haircut, though, it blew up - smoke included - so I had to wear a hat for the rest of the day to keep prying, judgmental eyes away from the disaster. I guess the power adapter just didn't cut it this time. No worries, though, as I bought a new shaver at K-Mart and now I'm presentable. Also, I stopped by Subway on the way back from my grooming-related shopping trip and treated myself to a FOOTLONG BMT!!! I love Subway in foreign countries, it's such a gluttonous haven of safety. Not only are all the ingredients always the same, but you can even buy a fountain drink with FREE refills (something unheard of here) and there's an ICE MACHINE to put cubes in the soda (even more unheard of)!!!

Plans were randomly just made for me and like 12 other people to head out to Mt. Cook this weekend for a two-day adventure. It should be fun, and on the way I get to see the Plains of Rohan!!! Kickass. That's about it for now. I haven't said it for a while, but if anyone wants to visit, the weather should be getting nicer in a few weeks...

Thursday, August 7, 2008

A Post of Little Importance

So, not much has gone on since my Queenstown mega-update. The weather here is rainy and windy... so windy, in fact, that the airport in Auckland had to shut down today because planes were being blown away from the terminals as passengers loaded. I've spent something like 25 hours in the library this week, first coming up with a crappy research proposal for "The Art of Reading in Enlightenment London," and then to catch up on my "Film Genres" reading and type up an 8-page journal that's due Monday. Aghhh! I really just want to watch a movie tonight (an American movie, mind you), because I cherish them even more now that I don't have a Westside Video right down the street (although Video EZ is pretty choice).

I don't think I've written anything about my goal of attaining, like, half the adjectives in Daft Punk's "Technologic" yet, but for the past month I've been trying to go to the gym every other day. So far, this endeavor has been successful. On Tuesday, though, I decided to run on the off-days, and now my body is really, really sore in a really, really good way. There's a 1.4 mile loop directly outside of the door to my flat that's mostly on grass and dirt, and I can repeat it as many times as I want (who am I kidding though... that won't happen until at least late August). Kickass! Ummm I'm also waiting for a currently-sold-out graphic novel called "Watchmen" to be in stock at the comic book store... because I'm a huge nerd like that. A movie version is due out later this year, and I want to have the book read beforehand (for those of you interested, it's the only graphic novel to hold a place on The New York Time's list of the 100 greatest novels of the 20th century).

That's all for now. I just ate some pasta with a delicious marinara sauce of my own invention. I'm becoming quite the cook over here...

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Ice and Snow

So on Friday Sarah, Wenzel, and I hopped a bus to Queenstown after a frantic morning's worth of scheduling, packing, and class. It's been raining so hard here that the only road out of town (luckily) headed straight to QT, and we passed thousands of acres of fields that were completely submerged in brown water. Crazy. The dull, green terrain of Dunedin that I've grown used to over the past several weeks gradually gave way to gnarled trees, rocky cliffs, and (finally!) sheep-free environs. Sometime just after dark we pulled into downtown QT, and immediately I was struck by the resort-y, American feel of the place. Think of a cross between Aspen, Bend, and Whistler, and you've got the idea. Ultra-modern, glassy facades lined streets brimming with fountains, luxury sitting benches (yes, there are such things), and Joshua trees silhouetted by cool blue lighting from underground bulbs. Banners for skydiving agencies, bungee-jumping guides, shotover jets, canyone swings, hang-gliding tours, Lord of the Rings walks,  zero-G plane rides, and ski adventures hung everywhere, and the vibe of the place reminded me of the peer pressure that eventually induced my sole bungee-jumping experience in Interlaken, Switzerland. 

Needless to say, I was overwhelmed. Also rekindled was my enthusiasm for New Zealand, which had all but depleted to a dinky puddle of determined joy during my dreary time in Dunedin. QT was alive, dammit! We made our way up an incredibly steep hill to the hostel, threw everything down, and spent a night on the town. Highlights (after the $36, "reasonably  priced" italian dinner) included Minus 5, an ICE BAR on the wharf that cost $27 for a half hour visit and two cocktails. Parkas, gloves, and boots were included, and my inherent skepticism suffered a blow upon discovering that everything down to my drinking glass was, in fact, made of ice. Kickass!

Other bars included "Pog Mahoney's", a rowdy Irish place, "Surreal", which wasn't so much surreal as it was creepy (think groups of old men on a dance floor and the "Miller triplets," a trio of slutty NZ girls who were trying to get everyone to have a Miller. They didn't really understand that I left the US to NOT have to drink Miller for five months). That night was my first sleeping in a hostel for quite some time, and I'd forgotten all the etiquette required (not waking people up with drunkenly loud bedtime preparations, not snoring, not taking a dump where everyone you're trying to make a good impression for can smell it, etc).

Saturday dawned early, and the afternoon was topped with a trip to Verdburger, New Zealand's self-acclaimed best hamburger joint. My "Southern Swine" hamburger (without fries and a drink, mind you) cost $11, but for the thirty seconds it took me to shove the entire hulking ensemble into my mouth, I felt like I was home (or somewhere near it) again. At 3:00, Wenzel and I snagged a bus to Coronet Peak for some... NIGHT SKIING!!! I wasn't expecting much (to be honest, the thought of traversing any mountain other than Bachelor gives me the willies), but as the bus snaked higher and higher into the Remarkables (the mountain range surrounding Queenstown) I became less afraid of the commanding cliffside to my right and more amazed by the view.

Board rental and a night pass cost $81 total, but before I get into the action itself a brief description of Coronet Peak is necessary. Unlike Bachelor, which starts sloping gradually at 4,000 feet and has lodges built around its base, Coronet peak takes off from sea level, and snow doesn't even accumulate until well above its steep-ass halfway point. Accordingly, the base lodge is practically built on stilts to prevent it from falling off the side of the mountain, and the snow above is made more from machine than mother nature. Still, at any point above the snow line, the feeling of sitting on a white-capped mountain and looking out at THE MOST INCREDIBLE view of my life was so overwhelming that I could hardly concentrate on boarding until the sun went down. This is, honest to God, a FIFTH of what I could see:

Incredible, no? For more astounding photos a google image search will suffice. The lodge was pumping some trance-like Ministry of Sound across the mountain, and as the sun set over the scene I experienced a strange feeling of infinity, or something like it. Anyway, floodlilghts lit the two winding runs that stayed open after dark, and I got in 7 lifts before some low-hanging clouds blew in and made us abandon the slopes. We hit up a mexican restaurant called "Sombrero's" for dinner, and after a long bout of making fun of the menu for telling us how to pronounce words like "burrito" and "quesadilla," my $11.50 basket of chips and salsa arrived alongside my $24.50 chicken burrito. Both were laughable. The burrito was like 8 inches long, not very fat, and was stuffed with a tangle of ingredients that included broccoli (?!?), cauliflower (?!?), and carrots (?!?). In addition, the side of beans and rice that accompanies all actual mexican food was replaced instead by coleslaw. Seriously. None of our food had a single bean in it - black or refried. Very disappointing, to say the least.

That night was far less remarkable than the first, and now I'm back in Dunedin at the library. I know this is kind of a rushed conclusion, but I have to rewrite this whole thing (only in much greater detail) for my travel journal in a few hours, so give me a break. In summation, Queenstown = yay! Dunedin = glum and blah, Mexican food = a joke.

Thursday, July 31, 2008


Hey everyone,

So this post really has nothing to do with New Zealand, but I wanted to let you all know really quickly that this website,, is a really really cheap online bookstore with used and new books for sale AND free, carbon-neutral shipping in the US. Plus, all the profits go to promote literacy worldwide. I've already bought like four books off it this morning. What an incredible steal!

Leaving for Queenstown in two hours. Should have something cool to say by Monday. Take it easy. 

Monday, July 28, 2008

Monday: Sunday's Weekday Equivalent

It's strange to experience sitting under the stars at night and realizing I'm looking at constellations unknown to the US population. On a clear one, the Milky Way is incredibly prevalent; in fact, the sky's contents are all much brighter down here in the South Pacific. 

It's funny to think you all keep on going about your daily routines while I'm here, and that time hasn't frozen North of the equator since June 24th. I try to picture all the little details, like Curtis and Matt buying lunch meat at Safeway (peppered turkey, most likely), Simone waking up hungover with half of last night's costume still on, and Erin sitting with Jeff in the evening (hopefully watching something badass) as something little and fierce kicks inside her. 

It's scary to get up every morning and wonder if I'll understand even half of what's said to me in a thick Kiwi accent . Usually I do, though the exact percentage varies depending on alcohol consumption and/or how intrigued I am by the speaker. 

It's shocking to realize how much more I like you all after we've been separated for some time. I'm having fun, but I can't wait to get back and make the most of my fleeting youth (I mean, Christ, I'm only 19 years away from 40). I've managed to surround myself with some really cool people, and I need to stop taking you for granted. 

It's boring to have to come up with new stuff to type for my blog every few days. After a while, I end up settling for uninformative, unconventional drivel like this. Wohoo. 

Thursday, July 24, 2008

One Month Deep

So I've been here in New Zealand for a month now, and absolutely nothing has turned out the way I imagined. Such is the condition of my life: one random event after another in no way meeting the criteria I'd previously established for it. Rather, it's all one mega surprise after mega surprise, and I'm not sure which I'd prefer in the end. My fevered dreams of a foreign land crammed with hundreds of really close friends, insane parties/events every night, and a life-changing message that weaves its way subtly through the proceedings has instead been replaced by a few dozen acquaintances, crazy parties/events once or twice a week, and a mental process that hasn't so much witnessed epiphany as it has begun to eat itself. Bluntly stated, I feel a little different in the head, and I have no idea what three more months of this (literal) madness is going to do to me. 

That's not to say I'm not having fun, though. Rather, I've settled into my NZ life of school and homework contentedly, and everyday I seem to have no problem with whatever crummy book or drab paper I have to digest/churn out for the professors. It's a good life, the one of an apathetic student. Last night some acquaintances and I ate dinner at a reasonably priced sushi restaurant and then watched The Dark Knight in a packed theater full of cheering students. It kicked ass, and (cliche as it is by this point) I must admit Heath Ledger dominated the screen. His performance is captivating, and every time he appeared all I could do was stare in delight. Anyway, I digress...

Next weekend I'm taking a small trip to Queenstown for skiing and clubbing (wohoo?), which means this weekend I have to work my way through three full novels and two minor paper for film studies. Naturally, I figured the best way to begin what's sure to be an epic, three-day bout of procrastination was to update my blog. 

A quick note about the students of NZ: they are all entirely the same. What at first appeared to be a mess of shocking hairstyles, ludicrous footwear, and tight pants has slowly revealed itself as a mess of mass-produced hairstyles, ludicrous pointy black boots, and tight pants... on everyone. Hope that made sense. I think the most unique thing about me right now are my adidas, which don't protrude past my big toe for six inches to culminate in an epically pointy leather nubbin. Oh well...

Hope everything's going well with all you people. I still miss the burritos and salsa. 

Thursday, July 17, 2008


This week I skipped three classes and am about two books behind, reading-wise. Someone should have done something nasty to Daniel Defoe before he had the time to put pen to paper (or, more appropriately, turd to toilet paper) and fashioned the travesty that is Robinson Crusoe. Aghh. Aside from that, though, the weather this week has been incredible for it being the dead of winter, and though I haven't been out every night, Wednesday was insane. A bunch of us International students met by random chance at Refuel, a crazy bar located on campus with a cieling made of old vinyl, for $3 pint night. I think it went well...

This morning I woke up early for a magical tour of the Cadbury Chocolate Factory. I went in thinking Willy Wonka, and no doubt the company's management knew that's what tourists would want. In the lobby, a veritable mountain of golden chocolate bars proved too enticing a photo opp to pass up, and small (dare I say Oompa-Loompa-ish?) puppet creatures pranced along the sides of the hallways to the candy-inspired melody various tunes. The tour itself was only slightly fascinating (think Tillamook, then think brown instead of orange), but at the end we walked to the top of an old grain silo to witness the unleashing of a thunderous chocolate waterful. When asked what purpose such a device served, our guide 'Cocoa Joe' replied, "to entertain tourists. We only change this chocolate once a year." Awesome.

A few more random things: haircuts here are ludicrous. 80% of all the guys have either like rat or duck-tails going on, shaved sides, and mohawks of varying degree. One small cup of coffee (we're talking small small, here) costs $3.50. The Dark Knight comes out NEXT Friday (Jesus, man) but it's okay because I already bought my advance ticket. Finally, drinking in public is completely legal. One could, were they so inclined, walk down the side of the street chugging a bottle of wine and not be bothered. 

The majority of this weekend simply must be spent studying, so don't expect anything too enthralling for a bit. 

Monday, July 14, 2008

AJ's Blog: The Interactive Experience

This isn't an orthodox post (but, then again, I'm not a very orthodox person). Instead of the usual, here's an example of crazy New Zealand commercials. The below-linked ad for Cadbury runs about ten times a night:

Here's a video of the Jaffa race on Baldwin Street:

And finally, a taste of what my birthday weekend (coincidentally the culmination of the Undie 500, which I suggest you Wikipedia) will be offering riot-wise. It happens every year:

Also, for those of you with Facebook, I've posted some fairly mundane photos that give a general idea of the geography of my whereabouts. Above was a taste.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Exhaustion sets in

During the past 24 hours I have:

- Been sober for 12. 
- Watched the All Blacks lose to South Africa on a giant screen set up downtown with thousands of cheering fans. 
- Attended a dance party. 
- Slept for like...3.
- Intently walked to the library at 11:00 this morning. 
- Just as intently blown off said plans for studying to spend a day on the Otago peninsula. 
- Seen penguins. 
- Gone caving. 
- Ran in the ocean. 
- Froze my ass off. 

Now I have an antire book and a half to read by Tuesday. I'm skipping my first class tomorrow to watch 30,000 Jaffa balls (big chocolate balls) roll down the previously blogged-about Baldwin Street as a kick-off for Cadbury's weeklong Chocolate Carnival. 

Something else that's curious: No one here is aware of the existence of cilantro. How the hell am I supposed to introduce these people to pico de gallo without cilantro?

Also, the level of clothing sophistication I see on men and women everywhere is astounding. New Zealanders take pride in their sharp attire, and the last thing I expected for myself upon arrival was to actually WANT to shop at like every single store I walk by. I should look so classy...

Finally, POST SOME COMMENTS GUYS! I wanted some fun interaction to go down on the comment pages, but only Curtis and Eilean have so far given their two cents on any of this. To quote Gob, Come on!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


So the last few days have been pretty insane. I've started all my classes and still go out every night. This combo can't last forever, though, because I have to read TWELVE FULL NOVELS for my two english classes in the next 13 weeks! Jesus Christ. Campus is nuts when there are students here. Everyone travles in hordes and goes absolutely crazy as soon as the sun sets (which, coincidentally, is right about now). Costume parties are the thing here, and everyone I've observed has also managed to work in some sort of intimidating, blunt instrument with their get-ups (think golf clubs, tennis rackets, lead pipes). 

Today, however, has been the wildest of all. I woke up to a beautiful blue sky, no classes, and $40 for beer. On my walk to the post office, I began noticing hundreds of insanely costumed students everywhere, and soon figured out that "reorientation" here consists mostly of everyone skipping classes for the last three days of the week and partying at the pubs. Neglecting to bring my camera was my only mistake today, as the costumes were pretty elaborate. We're talking clans of identical speed racers, inmates, transvestites, angels, circus animals, hobos, and Speight's fanatics. 

The best part though, was a crowd of hundreds that had gathered in front of the Captain Cook Pub, in the middle of the day, drinking as they waited in line for admittance. Families walked by as several distinct moshpits formed in the rowdy queue, and it's a wonder no children were hurt from the careless flinging (and resulting explosions) of empty beer bottles. Every pub in town was exactly the same, and the neighborhoods proved no exception. On my way home to write this, I walked past two half-burned couches in the middle of the street, as well as three trashed rugby players who were rolling sizeable boulders into an intersection. 

For once in my life I wish I didn't have to read. 

Saturday, July 5, 2008


The past few days have been nothing short of crazy. I'm meeting some pretty cool people, the weather has been either glorious or detestable, and school starts tomorrow...

All the international students went on a train ride through the Taieri Gorge. The cars were all built circa 1920-ish (I think), which means I felt like I was riding the Disneyland Railway because everything was so ornate. We're talking dark wood, small chandeliers, the works. I finally got my hands on some meat at the BBQ we stopped at, breaking my unintentional vegetarian streak. For the return journey, I stood outside on the small porch thing that rests on the back of each cart. Sheep were everywhere, and when we careened through any one of the myriad of lengthy mountain tunnels, the wind rushing past my body sounded like the choirs of hell all preaching at once. Yeah, it was that intense. 

Yesterday saw extreme rain and wind. I sat and read until heading out for the night. Beer here gives me insane hangovers, but the party was definitely worth it. Ridiculously individualized students from all over the world were crammed into one small flat, and most of the conversations were so choice. There was this one monstrously sized Canadian with a shock of crazed blonde hair, an even wilder beard, and teeth the size of something that teeth usually aren't as big as. He played guitar and knew the most ridiculous songs. 

Today we went out for breakfast and I had the most ornate french toast.The bread itself contained berries, and the two pieces were divided by an incredible fruit salad and whipped cream so thick that, should I have felt like jumping on a trampoline, it would have served the purpose. Shit, what a terrible analogy. 

Anyway, a trip to Baldwin Street (the official steepest street in the world) soon followed. And holy shit, it really is steep. Apparently last term some girl wheeled a "shopping trolley"  all the way to the top, got in, and then died from serious head injuries during her attempted descent. Anyone who would even consider going down that street attached to a pair of wheels is probably on their way out anyway. I mean, it's so steep that I can tell I'll be having recurring nightmares about being back at the top again and somehow falling off. Maybe that says more about my general state of paranoia than how steep the street is, but whatever. That's all for now... Take it easy, everyone. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The End of Week One

So Sarah showed up, the weather's been undeniably nicer, and everyone around me seems really, really pumped for the next four months in New Zealand. I'm kind of vacillating between immense elation and tremendous despair, and I have no idea why. These are the facts: I'm in Dunedin, I will be for at least 16 more weeks, and nothing I can do at this point is going to change this space-time coordinate of mine. Accordingly, I need to fucking make the most of it.

Yesterday I bought a bunch of groceries, hung out with Sarah, and then went to The Bowler (a local pub) for an incredibly professional (and incredibly difficult) trivia contest. My group ended up winning a $20 bar tab. Kickass. Today, I attended our three hour orientation, went to K-mart for a desk lamp, bought two bottles of wine, and am now waiting for some people to show up at our flat with a movie. All of Otago's international students were at the orientation today, and we filled a lecture hall. Everyone's really into talking up everyone else and making connections (networking, as I learned it's refered to on the East Coast), which is okay, but I can't get past the desire for something more substantial in a friendship. I suck, I know. Club-wise, I'm going to try and take a series of classes that help one become more knowledgable about beer, wine, and mixed drinks, in addition to "LitSoc", which bore the following description: "for English majors, minors, or those interested in the subject who would like to participate in literature-fueled wine and cheese-tasting afternoons, cinema/theatre outings, and the company of other avid literature enthusiasts." Does that sound like a complete riot or what?

Fun NZ factoid for the day: Their garbage cans here actually say "Rubbish" on the receptacle slot. I thought that was pretty hilarious. 

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Blue Skies

So yesterday (again) I woke up to frigid rain and cloudy skies. After a piece of bread for breakfast (which I stole from Toby), Toby showed up and I went with him, Eden from Colorado, Marissa from Montana, and Stefan from New York to the Octagon. We hung out at an art museum, hit up a video store, and went shopping. Then I ate at McDonald's - a terrible overseas habit - and headed back to Eden's to watch Talladega Nights (I know, I know).

My finger that had been injured from falling on my ass the night before had, at this point, started oozing, so after dinner at a shady Thai restaurant I went to New World grocer and bought band aids some hydrogen peroxide. What ensued involved the very painful scraping off of my infected skin under the hot water faucet, the even more painful pouring of hydrogen peroxide onto the freshly grated wound, and then the application of a band aid which wasn't too exciting at all. 

Such was my day. I don't really think I want to keep hanging out with Toby and his crew because they're way too mutually exclusive for my tastes. I feel like an unappreciated fifth wheel, and I also have an inkling that none of them are going to make any other friends throughout the coming months. There remains the possibility, though, that these excuses represent a thinly veiled attempt by my isolating-friendly subconscious to sabotage any hopes of me making new friends. What should I do, people? I need some advice...

Today, I awoke to shockingly blue skies and ice on the ground. I'll take this weather any day over the rain. Plus, Sarah gets in... Take it easy. 

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Yesterday (or, Thank God for Sarah Horton)

So yesterday I wheeled all my crap through the frigid rain to a substantial looking flat that I'm to be living in for the next 16 weeks. Naturally, I knocked on the door. No one answered. This anticlimactic little twist was yet another in a long line of things that haven't quite turned out the way I was imagining them in my head. Thankfully, though, I had a key, which I used to let myself in. My room is on the first floor. It's huge (like the size of two or three bedrooms in Eugene houses) and came furnished with all my basic necessities. There is, however, no central heating, so I have to make do with an obnoxiously loud space heater that sits next to my bed 24/7.

After unpacking, a guy named Toby from Vermont showed up and introduced himself. He then promptly left for the farmer's market without inviting me, so I just sat on my bed and tried not to think about the fact that this was only day three of 4.5 months in a crummy little country with frigid weather and absolutely no people my age who seemed to be interested in making friends. In an attempt to right the profoundly unjust situation I'd mentally cornered myself into, I put on my jacket and resolved to find the farmer's market regardless. I made it about three blocks before the rain and the wind became so fierce that I gave up and turned around. It wasn't a good afternoon. 

So to make a long story short I finally ended up walking downtown, where I bought a case of beer which I was determined to distribute to some new friends by the end of the day. Of course, I had to lug the fucking box all the way across town again, during which time I discovered two other much closer liquor stores. When I returned it was like 2:30 and my Kiwi host Liz was finally up and about. People sleep in late here. We talked in the living room for a while, and then Toby showed up again with three other Americans. They all seemed about as scared, desperate, and cold as I was, so I gave them beer in exchange for a place in their group. We walked around to all their flats (by which point the sun had set, at like 5:45), found a place called McDuff's that fills two liter bottles with beer for $6.70, and at one point sat around an emormous wooden table in a house with one working lightbulb in our snowjackets, watching each other's breath issue from frozen mouths as we talked about the incredible summers we were all missing back home. 

I ended up making it to a cool house party with a ton of other exchange students, but I still can't shake this terrible feeling of homesickness (again, tell my parents nothing). My one consoling fact rests in the thought that a day from now Sarah Horton, high school friend and cohort in all things crazy, will be here to share this "incredible new zealand adventure" (just keep repeating it, AJ) with me. That's it for now. Take it easy. 

Thursday, June 26, 2008


Today I woke up at 7 am for some insane reason, had the breakfast which was delivered to my hotel room the night before, and walked to a pay phone to call my parents. The sun didn't end up rising until about 8:45, at which point I had walked to campus to check everything out. The University of Otago itself is half castle, half ultra-modern, and the mix actually looks quite appealing. By noon, I'd walked downtown, checked out a bunch of crazy New Zealand stores, had eaten at one of like two dozen indian restaurants (kickass!), bought a cell phone, and had made it back to the Cable Court Inn. I guess I walk fast. 

Anyway, it's still really cold and I haven't met anyone yet because my program begins tomorrow. Plus, all the students are gone on the breaks, so right now Home Improvement and I are keeping each other company. A few minor notes: Food here is expensive. Dinner, without exception, is like $16 per plate. To go out to bars I need an 18+ card to prove my age, which requires that I find a chemist to take a passport-sized photo, I pay a $20 fee, and then I have the four-page application signed by an official Justice of the Peace. Where the hell am I supposed to find one of those? Also, New Zealand television is hilarious. Their commercials are wildly inappropriate and most of their programming ran in America during the mid to late-90s. 

That's about it. Tomorrow should be more exciting. 

The Trip

So after the tearful family goodbye (of which none were shed by yours truly), I boarded a plane in Redmond and later rather than sooner found myself waiting amid a throng of foreigners in the LA airport. A crazy man stood beside me. His bell-bottom jeans were covered with, at the very least, 50 or so multicolored iron-on patches, his unkempt hair trailed down to mid-chest, and his eyes were barely discernible beneath the shadowed brim of a well-worn cowboy hat. Whichever fool ends up sitting next to that guy, I told myself, is in for a real treat. 

Twenty minutes and two seat changes later, I was the fool sitting next to that guy. His name was Mike or something, and we struck up a reluctant traveling friendship (which are the worst kind, by the way). Nevertheless, Air New Zealand put on a grand show for me, as my personal 8.5-inch television screen played over three dozen movies, four dozen newly released CDs, and multiple episodes of above-par television shows. I also had a glass of pinot noir with dinner, which certainly didn't hinder my ability to talk friendly with the freak beside me. 

Anyway, I didn't sleep at all, except for a brief nap right before landing which entailed a really cool dream about hang gliding... and then I arrived. In New Zealand! Kickass! Unfortunately, I forgot to declare two small jars of jam - which I'd lugged across an entire ocean to dole out to what will surely be the ungrateful hands of vegan flatmates - an error in judgment that nearly resulted in my being strip-searched. Still, I persevered, and two short plane rides later (Auckland to Wellington, Wellington to Dunedin) I was only running thirty minutes late and had made a friend who let me sit next to the window for the entire second leg of the trip. His name was Fraser and he informed me: that the view out the plane window was unparalleled this morning, as he'd made such a trip for four years in a row now and had never seen a clearer day; that I would be seeing a lot of him at parties around campus, as where I'll be staying is "right in the thick of it;" and that the book he had, despite being an Oprah pick, was still quite good. 

So to make a long story short, both of my bags ended up being lost, which means I had to endure an entire frigid day wearing only the t-shirt I'd had on for the previous 48 hours. Everyone's been really, really friendly, and my attempts to match their levels of optimistic enthusiasm have left me exhausted. There are a lot more indigenous Maori people here than I predicted, driving on the left side of the road is way crazier than I ever imagined, and I'm proud to report that the student neighborhoods here make The Cave and UO life in general look clean by comparison (way to go, guys). Tomorrow is my last day without anyone else being here, so I'll probably update again for lack of having anything else better to do. I'm excited to see how this all plays out. 

Take it easy, everyone. 

Monday, June 23, 2008

First Post

Hey everyone,

So this is the blog that I'll sporadically update during my Great New Zealand Adventure to keep you all in the loop. Feel free to leave comments whenever you like, as it'll be interesting to see how friends and relatives end up interacting. 

One rule: DO NOT MENTION THIS BLOG TO MY PARENTS. they are keeping their own form of communication with me and, should they discover this, any writing of drunken escapades, risky debauchery, or other action that would no doubt send my mother into an immediate bout of tears will halt. 

Hopefully I'll update soon. Take it easy.