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Saturday, April 07, 2007

Mykel in New Zealand

Mykel in New Zealand

March 14

I slip my hand inside. Pushing upwards, I proceed on touch alone. Straining, my fingertips reach the the goal. A brief jerk of pleasure. Found it. I feel upwards, around the curvature. Then I look for the break, the opening, the edge. None. I move more, twisting my hand in the narrow slot. Still no edge, no break.

A frigid breeze comes from somewhere, bashing itself against my naked thighs. A chill runs up my spine as I push my hand upwards. There it is. The hard roundness I'm seeking. Still no opening. I dig in my nails... and tear. One two three. There is a ripping, as I pull down hard. Finally, the toilet paper comes out of the opening and I can clean myself off.

And clean I need to. It's not that the New Zealand food is so bowel stimulating. It's that whenever I travel something happens to my digestive tract. Other people suffer jet lag. I suffer digestion lag. I am not like other people.

I can go days without the smallest production, then all of a sudden KERPOW! I'm a barely walking ad for Imodium.

I type these words as the only whiteguy in an “Authentic Polynesian” restaurant somewhere in the suburbs of Wellington New Zealand.

Authentic sign in front of restaurant

The hefty customers look a lot like native Hawaiians. Square, broad-faced, vaguely oriental with darker skin and a much lower center of gravity than the average Japanese. They're speaking something (Maori?) that I have no clue about. The question intonation seems to be the same as English. Whenever the voice goes up, there's a short answer.

“Are you Canadian?” the woman behind the counter asks me.

New Zealanders are a little different from their brothers across the pond. Where a key feature of Australians was lack of curiosity, New Zealanders will often ask “Are you Canadian?”

At first I don't get it. Whoever guesses anyone is Canadian? It's not like the Canadians have a special way of talking, except for eh? and a weird o-sound.

My pal Vera explains it.

“People used to ask, are you American?” she says, “but the Canadians got so pissed off being mistaken for Americans, that nobody says that anymore. We ask if you're Canadian, because Canadians care. Americans don't give a shit if people think they're Canadian. They don't even know what a Canadian is.”

The Polynesian place turns out to be a surprise unpleasantry. At first the woman behind the counter is really interested. I explain that I didn't know Polynesian food. She shows me a styrofoam container. Three items, eight dollars.

“You chose,” I say.

She smiles and takes a little bit of some rice dish, a little chicken and a little of something mysterious, with clear noodles in a brown sauce.

I sit down next to a socket, plug in, type these words and eat. A few other people come in and order. I'm at one of two tables in the place. No one is at the other table. I just eat and type. Then, the patroness complains about me using her electricity. This is the first time that has ever happened to me. I try to plug in wherever I go. Caught off guard, I apologize, unplug and continue typing.

“Are you still typing?” she asks a few minutes later.

I show her the unplugged plug. I'm on battery power now. She says nothing.

When my styrofoam container is empty. The woman comes over.

“Are you done?” she asks with a falling intonation. Something closer to You are done!

Weird. It's so peaceful around here. Beautiful weather today. I hear sparrows in the background. The sun is shining. There's a thin scatter of fluffy white clouds. Everywhere in the country has a spectacular view. Mountains, the ocean. Like a postcard. But the people don't seem happy. I don't get it.

Now, I'm outside a coffee shop. In a small courtyard between the actual shop and a church with kind of stained glass windows, that look as if they're covered with stained-glass-window-colored decals. Unlike New York, where people walk around with determinedly neutral expressions, people here seem hostile. Make eye contact and get a scowl in return. And all the internet connections around here are secure. No open access. Everything tight as a virgin. Odd.

[Later Krissie tells tells me the Polynesian reaction was normal New Zealand. Sometimes restaurants charge you for plugging in.]

“Is that because they're cheap, or because electricity is so expensive here?” I ask.

“It's because they think you're taking advantage,” she explains.

Yow! I guess it IS a different mentality here. In Australia, taking advantage is the name of the game.

In Wellington, my hosts are Mr. and Ms Sterile. Actually it's Chrissie and Kieran, but they're in a band called MR. STERILE. Kieran is pronounced like KAREN. It's some sort of Scottish name, like half the names here. The country LOOKS like Scotland, for Feargan's sake.

Kieran has set up my shows in New Zealand. He's done a ton of work for me. He does a ton of work for everybody passing through. And his pay? Maybe I buy him a beer. I don't remember. That's it. It's guys like this who give me faith in punkrock. Shaun in Sydney is another one. They are Gods!

Kieran meets me at the Wellington Airport and drives me to their place. Walking in is a breath of cold air. It's colder inside than out.

“That's the way we do it in New Zealand,” says Kieran. “We don't believe in that house insulation stuff. We believe in personal insulation. If you get cold, just put on another sweater.”

I notice that there are pots on the floor, on the cabinets, everywhere.

We called the landlord,” he says. “The leaks have been fixed. We'll call again to have them fixed again. It'll take a few times.”

For a God, he sure could use a better landlord.

The first reading is in a Wellington community center library run by some anarchist punks. It's my first reading with other readers. No bands, just a couple poets, and me.

One of the poets is kind enough to heckle. It makes the evening much more enjoyable. A good sized crowd too, at least it looks like it in such a small place. I sell a t-shirt and made $20 from the door money. Not bad.

Fine crowd reaction too!

crowd reaction in Wellington

There's even someone with a SKREWDRIVER t-shirt. (I wore it just to piss off the anarchists, he says.)

Ah, you can always count on punks.

The second show is with MR. STERILE. What great fun! Noise! Costumes. Saxophone! A band you've gotta experience, as much as listen to.

Mr. Sterile

After the two shows in Wellington, I fly to Dunedin (pronounced dun-EE-dun). This is a university town.

The bar, called THE ARC, is a huge bar/cafe. In the front, they sell coffee, pizza, cakes and beer. In the back is a stage and the show area.

The beer in New Zealand is pretty good so far. I really like this Monteith's. They have both a porter and a Summer beer. Though it says honey on the label, it's not really sweet. I guess I'm lucky to be able to try it, because officially it isn't summer anymore.

Montieth's Beer

In New Zealand and Australia... like in Japan. Summer ends at the beginning of the month, rather than the equinox. As it is March 14th. That means autumn is 14 days old.

As for seasons. It's been like traveling across the calendar, as well as across the globe. When I landed in Cairns 2 weeks ago, it was hot, sticky, summer in the worse sense of the word. Then as I traveled south, the weather moderated from tropical to sub. Brisbane was still warm, with shower-every-day stickiness. Sydney was pretty much ideal. Like late spring. T-shirts and jeans... and you've already seen the sea and surf pix.

From Australia to New Zealand is a shock. When the plane lands in Christchurch it's a nice spring evening. Around 70oF. When I wake up the next morning, the wind howls, the rain blows, the surf pounds. Like a hurricane.

March 17

I sit here in the kitchen typing. Sitting on the floor next to me, are
the girls: Lilly 6, Hana 11. It's 7:10AM. I've been up for at least
an hour... probably more. In the bathroom, taking a shower while last

Vera's Familynight's beer and Thai food build up in my bowels, is mom. Upstairs dad gets ready to grab the bathroom before my bladder kicks in to join the painful bowels in family unity.

Vera's family is combining a good deed with a vacation. They've rented a motel room in Dunedin and plan to drive me back, the long way, so we can do tourist stuff. I'll have to cancel a show in Christchurch to do it, but since they're not going back until tomorrow, there's nothing I can do. It turns out to be a good choice anyway.

In the motel, Mom just came out and told me to take a shower. I think I'll sit it out awhile. See if I can get away with skipping it all day. Maybe if mom is too involved in taking care of her other kids, I can slip by.

I shouldn't complain. (Moi? Complain?) Vera and company have been GREAT to me. The trip from Duneden is spectacular! THANKS GUYS!!!! YOU'RE TERRIFIC!

There are too many great sights to describe in detail. You can see some of the pictures on the flickr website. I recommend you JOIN FLICKR too. That way we can exchange pix. There's even a setting for those kind of pix.

One picture I do want to show you is really important to me. It is photographic evidence that I reached one of my life's major goals. That is to see a live penguin outside of a zoo. Actually, I see several.

A real penguin

We go to a penguin nature preserve. I wish I had my telephoto lens. The penguins here don't cluster like in the movies. They're pretty independent. You have to look for them.

But you do get a guide who can spot 'em in the distance and point 'em out.

The preserve itself, is a large area that's part of a sheep farm. Everywhere in New Zealnd is part of a sheep farm.

Since penguins are sensitive, the reserve dug a series of underground tunnels covered in net, with a few bridges crossing over them.

The watchers go single file in the tunnels. We move underground from spot to spot. Then peep out of bird blinds into the distance to watch the characters.

Penguin Tunnel

I feel like a spy. Although the views are mostly in the distance, it's as fun as a roller coaster ride.

From the penguin reserve we go into the New Zealand countryside. There are lots of mountains, rocks, and sheep.

Everywhere you look is another magnificent sheepscape. We often stop to go rock climbing or browsing in a little country store.

Back in Christchurch, the next day, I fly off to Melbourne. That means again going through Australian immigration. I'm not looking forward to that!

More soon.... ish.