“I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can't see from the center.” Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Fiordland is gorgeous

In November, I took a week off work to fly to the South Island of New Zealand. We flew to Queenstown and did a driving tour around the Fiordlands. Darin and I rented a camper-van from Jucy rentals, and drove to Manapouri, to Te Anau, to Milford Sound, and back to Queenstown.  We camped every night except in Queenstown, where we enjoyed a hot shower and soft bed. 
The campgrounds were great, all have shared toilet and kitchen facilities, for no extra fee.  November was early in the spring season, so the cost  was reasonable for the camper rental. The camper had a stove, sink, water, small refridgerator, and bed (assembly required), with sheets supplied.  There were curtains on the windows and storage space beneath the benches. Nothing bad happened with the rental, but next time I will pay a bit more for a bigger camper. The one we had, called a "campa", had an uncomfortably sloping passenger seat and  a crap stereo that wouldn't play the CDs we'd brought.
We splurged on an overnight boat trip on Doubtful Sound with Real Journeys, and were not disappointed.  It was just great; the staff was talented, the food was delcious and plentiful, and the scenery was stunning-  we'd do it again and recommend it to others. It was cold, but we were dressed warmly. I had my down
jacket along but didn't need it after Doubtful Sound.

The next stop was Milford Sound, where we camped 3 nights. This was also worthwhile, because we got to see a lot of the attractions of the area.  This included the Kea, the NZ mountain parrot, which is very cool. We had great weather, but when it rained on the day we departed, this was beautiful too, because all the mountainsides were covered in waterfalls.
We enjoyed kayaking on Milford Sound, and the hikes were also grand.  Here's Darin pointing at the Darren Mountains (misspelled, obviously).

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sometimes you get disappointed, but sometimes you get happy.

My husband emailed me while visiting the US, "I just bought you the greatest thing. You will love it." He didn't reveal what it was, but said it was taking up most of his luggage.  I was advised by a friend to not get my hopes up, since this was a GUY buying a gift.  I was impressed when he unpacked it back in Auckland, and extremely happy when I got to use it the first time. What is it you ask? Check out the photo below:

That's me giving my dog Fargo a bath, with Ruby behind me.  The gift is a portable, propane water heater. 

You connect the hose from the faucet, the propane tube into the heater, and the white tubing in the center pumps out hot water to a shower head.  The temperature and water flow rate is adjustable.  The beauty part about it is the not freezing water! Much more comfortable for me and the dogs, and the soap seems to work better as well.   Usually doggie bath time is when we are all tired and sore, so to have the warm water takes away a bit of the discomfort. Also, Darin and I can take it up to our land in Maungaturoto and use it up there.  I really do love this little water heater! Isn't it adorable? It's so practical. Never underestimate the power of hot water!
This past week Guy Faukes day was celebrated. As Nov 5 fell during the week, the fireworks were scheduled for the weekend. We went to Kumeu to see the fireworks show on Friday night. We saw many fireworks going off from people's yards on the drive home.  As we turned onto Scenic Drive, we saw a dog running downhill as fast as he could go, down the middle of the street.  Darin stopped the car and I got out and tried to get him to come to me. He was so scared, and I was so worried about him in the middle of the street. People drive pretty fast coming down this hill, and sure enough, one was coming. I flailed my hands and yelled, Darin flashed his lights, but the jerk didn't even slow down. I saw the dog go on the opposite side of our car, into the oncoming car's lane, and fully expected to see a dog's body go flying through the air.  When he reappeared behind our car, I called to him again and he came to me. Whew! He was a sweet red Staffordshire Terrier, and had his tail tucked firmly between his legs.  I got him into the car, and we drove up the hill. We put him in a dog crate on our front porch and called the Waitakere City Council phone number on his registration tag.  Amazingly, someone answered the phone at 10 pm.  They called the owner and connected us. His wife showed up to pick up Simba a few minutes later; they live about 200 meters uphill from us. How great is that? What a happy ending! But it gets better:

The neighbor showed up with her daughter to deliver this sweet thank you. 
The disappointment I refer to in the title was the recipe for Rogan Josh I prepared from a slick new cookbook I borrowed from the library, Curry, Classic and Contemporary by Vivek Singh. I had some goat meat from the freezer which I used in place of lamb, but the recipe called for leg and I had loin and shoulder, still on the bone. 

You would think that Rogan Josh made from scratch would be pretty awesome, right? I made a special trip to the market for whole cinnamon stick and black cardamom pods and ghee.  I cried my way through two large onions to make this, even doing the beetroot-in-a-soaking-bag trick to make the sauce red (didn't work so hot).  The result was edible, but not worth the effort it took.  I did have fun trying it though, and I recommend you listen to Metallica's S & M while preparing all the ingredients in advance.  I also recommend reading the recipe in full repeatedly before following it.  I didn't have any problems with the recipe but in the past I have had the unpleasant experience of burning the onions- that sucks.
Anyway, I have photocopied some of the other recipies and will try them. I bought some yellow splilt peas awhile ago and will have to try that some time.

Much less disappointing was the book Watchmen, the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Recommended!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Incredibly Strange 24 hour Movie Marathon 2009: the 10th anniversary

I nearly missed out on the 10th annual Incredibly Strange Movie Marathon.  I wasn't paying attention to when it was going to happen this year, but I found out a few days in advance that it was going to be on Halloween. I was sad to find out that it was sold out. No tickets were being sold on the NZ eBay, TradeMe.  The day of the event, I joined the Facebook fan page, and found that some members had tickets available. I managed to get a ticket and attend for my second year in a row. I blogged about this event last year, but it was stuffed in with lots of other interesting stuff, and I left out some important details.

For example, one of the cool things about this movie marathon is that the Hollywood Cinema has a balcony.  This is where I sit.  Also, they are sponsored by V energy drink, so they give you free cans of it.  The seats are moved from the central floor of the theatre, and people are allowed to bring in bean bag chairs.  I brought in a pillow. In addition, you are allowed to bring in food. This is useful because the breaks are usually short, and there's mainly just carbs and caffeine in the lobby. 

The following is the list of movies shown, in order, and my comments. 
1. The Secret Four 1952
Film noir. Good crime drama.
2. Zombieland 2009

A clear highlight of the marathon. Like it was made just for me. They managed to make a film that was both familiar and novel. Loved Bill Murray in it.
3. Roadhouse 1989
There are some hysterical scenes in this movie! An homage to the recently deceased Patrick Swayze.
4. Forbidden World 1982
 This was an able attempt to repeat the success of Alien (1979).  Amusing and rediculous, taking itself far to seriously. Good stuff.
5. Vice Squad 1982
Another, and not the last, 80's film. This was a good film, despite the repeated scenes showing us was a "heart of gold" the prostitute has, and the evil pimp played fabulously by Wings Hauser.
What a disappointment this one was, but it has gotten pretty good ratings. The film begins rather slowly, and after watching night after night of some little thing happening in their bedroom, I began to hope that the couple would die soon.
7. Maidens of Fetish Street 1966
I groaned when this film was introduced as being similar to Moonshine Woman, from last year, but this was surprisingly watchable.
8. Mill of the Stone Women 1960
I napped during the end of this one. Reminded me of the old Vincent Price House of Wax.
9. Night Train to Terror 1985
This was amusing and gruesome. 3 separate stories tied together by God and Satan debating the afterlife of different people, involved in some crazy shit. Some mind-bending mid-80's pop and breakdancing that is extremely incongruous.
10. The Visitor 1979
I also napped during this one.  Normally I'm a big fan of movies about evil children, but this was too complicated, with the whole alien visitor aspect.
11. The Informant! 2009
Really good story and capable acting.  Amusing as well. Incredibly Strange- not so much.
Bigfoot movie! Pretty fun to watch. Sadly I fell asleep for the final fight/escape scene, but awoke to the final thrill of the film- I won't give it away.
13. Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf 1985
The best part about this movie is that at the end, we see the scene where the evil werewolf master bitch tears off her top repeated about 20 times.  Boobies.
14. Commando 1985
Arnold! Totally gratuitous violence, but set in a lovely garden, so that was nice. I hated the kid in the movie, totally spoiled brat. She is superficial to the story anyway.

I've previously posted on the Mt Eden Prison, which immediately next to the Boston Road train station. It's an awesome old building, so I'm really sad to see that some chucklehead spraypainted, badly, some illegible shit. Generally I am a fan of grafitti, but this crap is just pointless, ugly, vandalism.

So now, instead of noticing the cool little plants that are growing betwen the rocks in the wall, I get mad about the ugliness.  Supposedly, there are CCTV cameras operating 24 hrs, so with any luck, they caught the offender. I have no idea how the paint is going to be removed, with the surface being so uneven. 

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Spring 2009, or October doesn't feel much like Halloween.

Spring is full on here, and the weather has been outstanding- well, minus the rain and wind, but it can't be nice all the time.  I hung out a few loads of laundry to dry on the clothesline, bought a few plants to replace the seeds that didn't sprout in my garden, made lemonade with lemons from my trees, and bought fresh strawberries and asparagus that are recently in season. 
We recently made some big purchases.  We bought a front-loading washing machine to reduce the amount of water we use, save our clothes from agitator abuse, and use less energy. We also got a new computer, another Dell, because the one we brought with us to New Zealand 3 years ago is on its last legs, so to speak. Darin uses it for work, so it's important to have a computer he can rely on.  Also, some new cookware has been purchased. The old stuff is still functional, so it will go up to the garage in Maungaturoto for use there. We have a propane camp stove up there that we use when we stay up there.  We were last there with about 24 bulls browsing around and vocalizing their unhappiness at our arrival.  Fortunately they respected the electric fence around the garage, and the dogs stayed away from them.  
Also, on that same visit to our "farm", Ruby hunted down, caught and killed a possum.  I was worried that she was bitten or scratched, but I couldn't tell if the blood on her was hers or the possum's. She had one small scar on her elbow, later, to show for it. After her gleeful, vicious, murder, she located the tree where another was located, and Darin shot it out.  This brings the total possums killed on our property to 3.  By the way, notice the pistol grip on the .22 rifle he is holding in the photo above. A change in NZ law required that he get a different firearms license and buy a new storage case.

So Halloween is just a few days away, and I don't have any plans. So I sent an email to my friends and asked if they wanted to dress up like a zombie with me and go on a pub crawl on Halloween. Only one of them emailed back to say he was busy. I probably won't do it on my own, because that's just not as much fun.  I've attached a picture from 2004, when we lived in San Diego, of me with my crazy friend. We had a lot of fun, but the drama was just too much. So when I moved to New Zealand, I vowed to myself, no more crazy friends.  But I haven't even met anyone crazy here, so that must mean that I am the crazy friend. I am sort of okay with that, because I know I'm, well, eccentric is probably a good description (deviant is too!).  I could also be considered an iconoclast. One of these days, if I am ever rich, I will buy about a hundred precious moments porcelain figurines, and make a video of each one being destroyed in a different way. Anyway my craziness or lack of it is not really the point. To me, the point is that people need to be reminded to be adventurous and playful and step out of their circle of comfort once in awhile, damn it! I need a crazy friend again, I guess. Even if I don't make a batch of fake blood and dress like a zombie on Halloween, I still may pull out the old severed neck application I'm wearing in the dead nun outfit (above). It looks pretty realistic. 
I saw District 9 a few weeks ago, and enjoyed it.  I had recently watched Dead Alive (also known as Braindead), one of Peter Jackson's early movies, and found several similarities. For example, the young man who strives to please the mother or father-in-law, when in fact he is being manipulated by her or him, the sympathetic treatment of the zombies/aliens, the beautiful girlfriend/wife who believes in him, and of course the fun gore splatter scenes. I am really looking forward to seeing Zombieland, which is getting good reviews, and REC2. Both REC and REC2 are Spanish films, the second to begin immediately after the events at the end of the first. This film was remade as Quarantine in the US- I haven't bothered to see this, as REC was just THAT good. 

I've been reading a fair bit lately too.  I read Guilo (Golden Boy in the US)  by Martin Booth, which is a memoir of a childhood in Hong Kong, which is really fun to read, and well written.  I also read most of The Opium Wars, which was enlightening because many places in New Zealand are named after the British men responsible for the atrocity that was the Opium Wars: Auckland, Palmerston, Wellington, and  Napier. The book was overall rather dry, so I didn't finish it. It starts out well, with a horrifying description of British and French military burning and looting the Emporer's Summer Palace, China's extensive collection of buildings, art, and gardens.
I've just finished Julie and Julia, which was fun to read. Not too many of the books I read can make me giggle audibly, but this one did. I'm looking forward to this movie also. I was glad that it didn't end like I predicted it would. It made me think back to my early cooking experiences, which typically involved a box of Hamburger Helper, Rice-a-roni, or a can of Dinty Moore Beef Stew. Life was so much simpler then. Now I have two boneless veal legs in my fridge, and only a vague idea of what to do with them, having never cooked veal before. In my defense, this is NZ veal, they are byproducts of the milk industry and were two for $25. What I really wanted was lamb shanks, but at $15/kg, that was a bit too dear. I am a huge fan of lamb now, whereas when I lived in the US, I don't remember ever eating it.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Kauwau Island escape

I took a day off work last Friday and treated myself to a local getaway: Kauwau Island. The drive up to Sandspit, where I caught the ferry, was about an hour.

The ferry leaves at 10:30 am, and I realised when I got in the ticket office that I'd left my wallet at home. I'd taken it out of my purse earlier that morning to use my credit card to recharge my calling card. On the plus side, I knew where it was (at home), and Darin was at home. Fortunately, I was allowed to pay for the ticket by calling Darin, getting my credit card number and expiry, and giving it to the clerk. She even added $30 cash for me so I could get some food and afford to go into the mansion on Kauwau Island. The Reuben's ferry service overall was excellent.

There are a variety of tours you can do with them, and the one I chose was the Mansion House Cruise. They made a few mail stops before getting to the mansion house, which is operated by the Department of Conservation. They also manage the Historic Reserve which incorporates the old copper mine- one of New Zealand's earliest mines. The walk from the the mansion to the mine remains goes past the beautiful Lady's Bay, up along a clifftop ridge, through a pine forest, and along a rocky waterfront to the ruins. The mine entry is full of water, and fenced off.

There is one entry you can go inside a short distance, but it too is fenced off.

The blue is copper sulphate. This mine closed about 1855, and an attempt to reopen it in the early1900s failed. The mine is totally flooded with seawater.

The walk is about 45 min each way, and I had time to tour the mansion house before the ferry returned to pick up passengers at 2 pm.  I was back in Auckland at 4:30. 

I was lucky with the weather, to have a partly sunny day. It has been quite rainy and stormy lately, but this time of year is great for walking- not too hot and not too cold.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Hong Kong continued

The Tsing Ma bridge: 7th longest suspension bridge in the world, and the longest car and train combination suspension bridge (photo from Wikipedia).
As I mentioned in my previous post, I was sent to Hong Kong for an Investigator Meeting by Wyeth, along with the principal investigator (oncologist) of the trial at Auckland Hospital. I got to fly Business class on Cathay Pacific, which was so nice, it made me mad to know how crappy the facilities are in Economy class. It felt so great to be able to stretch out and elevate my feet, and my ass didn't go numb. My flight left at 7:30 am, and I watched 4 movies: The Boat that Rocked (really good), X-Men Origins: Wolverine (pretty good), State of Play (interesting), and The Hangover (really good). The Hangover was so funny that I accidentally choked with coffee in my mouth and sprayed it all over the screen and fabric on the seat in front of me! How gross and embarrasing! When I got to the Hong Kong airport, I noticed that there was a thermal imaging device pointed at the passengers as they walked toward the health screen checkpoint. That was cool! They were looking for people with elevated temperatures. The airport is huge and airy and clean. Lines were mostly short. I stayed at the Excelsior Hotel in Causeway Bay- the location of our meeting. It was nice, but it wasn't the Ritz. Most importantly the staff were super nice and spoke English well, and the bed was comfortable. The Excelsior is in a major shopping district, and shopping appears to be a very popular passtime. There are lots of small shops, and they can be very crowded with both customers and sales help. Staff will follow you around the store to watch that you don't steal something. I felt like an ugly giant, surrounded by thin and beautiful Asian women who take their appearance very seriously- hair, skin, makeup, fashion- so many shops devoted to these details. The other popular passtime seems to be eating. I found this fake food at a restaurant outside the Excelsior, and there were several more like it. They also like to advertise the food with pictures on the signs. And then, there is the direct display of the food in the window. MMM who's hungry? I really enjoyed just walking around and looking at what the shops were selling. I watched a guy in a fresh seafood shop wrap up fresh crabs, tried on a gold necklace, and snapped photos like a tourist of the shop of dried stuff. My meeting was two days, then I arranged one extra day on my own to look around. I changed hotels to JJ Hotel, after reading a lot of traveler reviews on different hotels- there are so many! The JJ Hotel was chosen for the location (not far from the Excelsior) and the price (good price on http://www.booking.com/), and also the good reviews. As I was on my own, I wanted a place that was easy to locate and safe. It was on the whole as good as the room at the Excelsior for a fraction of the cost, and the AC was colder.
After the meeting, I took the subway to the pier to get my boat tour for the "Symphony of Lights". I took the subway too far, and had to backtrack, but made it to the boat on time because the trains run every few minutes. They are very fast and I used the trains the most in my travel around Hong Kong. After the boat tour (recommended), I took the train to Kowloon to go to the Temple Street Night Market, but got there too late. Stalls were shutting down, people were sparse, and I was tired. I wandered into some sort of outdoor festival, where a play was being performed and several areas appeared to have shrines set up with lots of insense and offerings. There were a lot of old people there, and the woman I asked what is going on said she didn't speak English. I felt a bit bewildered and so headed back to my hotel. The next day, I traveled by train to Lantau Island to visit the monestary with the giant bronze Buddha. It started out badly when I mistakenly exited the subway at the the station where I meant to transfer to another train. I had to call for help and plead my case as a stupid Western Tourist so I could get back in to get onto the train without buying another ticket. I'd already paid $20 HKD and the machine didn't recognize that I'd not used the full value of the ticket. Whatever. It was totally cool because I found myself on the same train as some other meeting attendees, and they helped me find my way to the bus at the end of the train. Sadly, we had to ride the bus to the monestary because the tram that runs up there (and is shorter) was under repair and not operational. The ride was fairly scenic though, very rugged and not overly developed like Hong Kong Island. The Buddha is very cool! You walk up 200+ steps to get up to it, then you can go around the outside and inside if you paid a little extra at the bottom of the stairs. I did so and got to see the "relic" room. This is separate from the monestary itself, at the bottom of the stairs, where I had the vegetarian lunch that was really quite good. The temple is beautiful and in front there are large urns for burning giant incense sticks. There were many there praying, but it was fortunately not too crowded. I am glad I got there before it got too overcast and hot. Afterward, I intended to go to The Peak for a view, but the heat was really wearing me down and the visibility was rapidly diminishing. I took the famous Star Ferry from Kowloon back to Hong Kong, and the above was the view across the harbor at 4 pm. Yuck. The last thing on my list of things to do was visit the IM Pei Bank of China Tower. I got there and asked to go to the viewing level, and was told the bank was closed (Sunday), come back tomorrow. I said no, my plane leaves tonight, thanks goodbye, good thing there are 3 men in suits sitting in a closed bank lobby to tell me this. )I snagged the photo above from someone else's blog). Next I hopped the old electric street car back to my hotel to get my bags, and headed to the airport. I was super happy to get to the awesome airport and find the business class lounge and have a shower. I was hot and sweaty and fortunately had a change of clean clothes to put on before the flight. That was a major bonus, and I am pretty sure I'll cry when I have to fly overseas in Economy class. On the flight back to Auckland, I watched Iron Man (really good), 17 Again (good), and some other movie I forget, because I was getting sick(er). I am pretty sure I got conjunctivitis from a drop of water that landed in my face, falling from an AC unit on one of the many tall buildings.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Hong Kong, what have you done to me?

I came back from Hong Kong on Monday afternoon, and on Tuesday, I woke up with crusty, watery and goopy eyes: Conjunctivitis. The whites of my eyes had turned red, and appeared swollen and squishy. Gross! Fortunately my doctor was able to see me that afternoon, and I'd already planned a day off work to recover from the trip. He gave me antibiotic pills, drops, and ointment, that might work if the infection is bacterial. (It could be viral.) I look horrible but my vision is ok. I'm told it is communicable, so I am home from work again today. This is too bad, because I have a lot of work to do for the research study I am setting up. This study was the reason for my travel to Hong Kong. The Investigator Meeting was sponsored by Wyeth, who have a new drug they expect to improve survival and delay progression for HER-2 positive breast cancer. I'm excited about the project and was so happy to find out I was getting to go to Hong Kong for the meeting. It's one of those places that I'd never considered going to visit, and knew little about it beyond what I'd read in the library's Lonely Planet guidebook.

One thing I'd read about was the "symphony of lights" show, put on by buildings on both sides of Victoria Harbor. I did a boat tour after the end of meeting. It blows your mind- how tall the buildings are, how many people live there (7 million), the amount of electricity they use. The boat tour guide said parts of Kowloon (across the harbor) have 4,000 people living in a 1 square kilometer space.I was only there 3 and a half days, and was in the meeting for the full two days of Friday and Saturday. Then there were dinners at the hotel, so I didn't eat out much. I did have 1 day to look around. I'll update this blog when I'm feeling a little better with more HK photos and stories.

Thanks Wyeth!

Sunday, September 06, 2009

American in Niue, part 4: The end of the holiday

Palaha CaveWednesday
We tried to sleep in as much as possible (with all the roosters crowing, earplugs are a definite help!). I had come down with a sore throat and cough, despite feeling fine on the trip from Auckland. We were personally asked about our health before we got on the plane- all the Niue passengers did. However, I am certain it was not swine flu (this is what they were looking to prevent), just a minor cold. I took a couple of a vitamin supplements, one called “Hairy Lemon” and the other from the US called “Emergen-C” I also had some pseudoephedrine/antihistamine with me, so taking that before diving helped keep my ears clear. I’m really glad that I brought along my fleece-lined, wind-barrier boat coat for whale watching on Wednesday.The whale watching trip was in the afternoon, with Dive Niue, who take out 6 passengers after scuba diving in the mornings. We were out on the water for about 3 hours, and we got some great whale interactions. I am really impressed by the operators of Dive Niue, they are professional and kind, well organized and hard-working. As the only dive operators on the island, you really don’t have a choice, so fortunately they are really good.
The weather was very nice- not too hot, so nice for walking around, but warm enough for swimming. The water is nice and warm too. I was concerned that the high surf would prevent us from our whale trip, but it wasn’t bad. Of course, the point of these boat trips is to fall out into the water to either scuba dive or snorkel. And when we got into the water, here is what we saw. This is my best whale photo, taken while it was surfacing to breathe. On Thursday, we explored some more caves. One of them, I won't even call a cave, had human bones in it, obviously very old bones. I didn't see any skulls or teeth so can't verify that they were human. Creepy yes, but in line with the common sight of graves along the road, in people's yards. Some of the graves are lavishly decorated and have roofs over them. These are in contrast to the sometimes shabby appearance of the homes (remember, there was a big cyclone in 2004). Along with the quiet, sparsely populated and rugged environment, the overall effect was a bit spooky. We loved it though. We went to the most excellent cave on the island, Palaha, and had it all to ourselves.Here it is from the water, and here we are inside of it. Early inhabitants used to live in the caves, and this one in particular is huge. We hung out there and read our books in the shade, listening to the surf. Thursday evening we had a dinner out. It was served buffet style and had a really good variety. We got to try the local land crab, "uga".
We had to fly back to Auckland on Friday, which was Saturday in Auckland. We would definitely go back there! It's no beach and sand island, but we loved the slow pace and uncrowded places. As I mentioned before, it is rough landscape, but very unique and special.