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.