Friday, September 19, 2008

A Long Overdue Update

Sorry for the delay in posting. It's been a busy week. I'll give a few updates, then share a few discoveries.

First, I'm still living with Lex. Here's the house.

It's been an absolute blast. He's a really fun dude. The other night we had a potluck, and much hilarity ensued. Lex and his group of friends are extremely competitive, so needless to say, a juggling contest broke out. At one point this devolved into seeing how many times a person could juggle while balanced on an exercise ball. It made for some tremendous wipeouts.

Second, I've already gained an absolutely phenomenal group of friends, and I just keep meeting more cool people. Everyone here is extremely friendly, and in the span of two weeks I've already started to forge some deep relationships.

Third, Jean Schwartz and I took a little trip to Hamilton the other day. Hamilton is a smallish town about an hour south of Auckland. In the course of our trip, we stopped in a tiny little burg called Huntly. It looked shockingly similar to every small town in South Georgia I've ever been to. So much so, in fact, that I was taken aback when I got out of the car and didn't hear Southern accents. Hamilton itself was quite fun. We went to some public gardens, which were absolutely stunning. The gardens were divided into different national styles of ... uh ... gardening ... I guess. Of particular interest was the American section which attempted to gather absolutely every variety of American flora imaginable, regardless of region, and was dominated by a faux-swimming pool, deck chairs and a huge Andy Warhol print. It really captured the national spirit, I should say. The funny thing is that I immediately felt at home.

OK, on to the discoveries.

First, Auckland weather has to be the strangest I've ever experienced. Many days, we seem to cycle through all four seasons within the span of a few hours. It's absolutely impossible to plan outfits accordingly.

Second, high hipster fashion right now in Auckland entails dressing like an early 90s hip-hopper. I'm not sure if this is big in the States at the moment, but every hipster here looks like they could be an extra in a school cafeteria scene from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. It actually looks pretty cool, but I don't think it would work for me.

Lastly, I already knew that Kiwis love coffee, but until this week I was unaware of the majesty that is the latte bowl.

"Excuse me. I believe I ordered the large."

Look at that thing! I don't know whether to drink it or bathe in it! Pictured is my friend Todd relaxing with a bucket of coffee and a side of renal failure.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Hubbub and Goings On

Much to tell in this post. First and foremost, I'm no longer in the youth hostel. An awesome guy named Lex is letting me crash with him for awhile. It's so nice to actually be in a house. I finally unpacked, and I'm starting to feel settled here.

Second, I got a job. I'm bartending at a place called The Flying Moa. It seems like a cool place, though it is a long way from everything. Kind of out in the sticks, or, as Kiwis would say, the wop-wops.

Third, I found out that Eden Terrace, the place I've been spending all my time, is home to none other than Neil Finn of Crowded House fame. I was actually in his studio the other night. He lives directly above it, and I could feel his awesomeness emanating from up there.

Greatness lives here.

Finally, I've come to the conclusion that if Kevin Bacon were a Kiwi, the game would be called "Three Degrees of Kevin Bacon." Everyone here knows everyone, and one cannot go out in public without running into friends or friends of friends. Even in a city of 1.3 million people, everyone's connected. It's bizarre.

I'll leave you with this random photo.

This is evidently Jean-Paul Sartre's street.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Huzzah For Friends

After being here for about 48 hours, I've already made friends. People here are amazing. This group of folks has practically adopted me. It's lovely.

The youth hostel, however, is not entirely lovely. People there seem very standoffish. Most people seem to be German or French, and sitting in the lounge is like being in the cantina in Star Wars.  Here's the house band.

I'm hoping to find a bit more permanent residence soon, but I have some good leads. I'll let you all know how it turns out.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Lost At the Bottom Of the World

I was just walking down Queen Street, the main thoroughfare through the city center here, and I was listening to my iPod and musing about the utter perfection of it all. A few months ago, this all seemed like a ridiculous dream. Even with visa and plane tickets in hand, I still didn't believe it would happen. In fact, I don't think I really thought I would pull this off until I stepped outside the airport last night. I can't tell you the tremendous sense of satisfaction I feel that this actually materialized. About every five minutes, I grin and think to myself, "I live in New Zealand!" Every time I catch that amazing accent (which, of course, is all the time), I once again blissfully remind myself that I live in New Zealand. 



Anyway, here's a view from my front door.

Look on and envy. 

24 Hours In Tahiti

French Polynesia is a wonderful scam on the part of the French. They found a beautiful, unspoiled paradise teeming with friendly natives, eager to please, and then made them speak a language every honeymooning tourist couple wants to hear. Beautiful Asians with French accents. You couldn't get better results if you built this place in a lab. As the Japanese steamrolled through the Pacific in World War II, they no doubt had similar designs—even linguistically—but ultimately not the staying power to see them through. Concrete proof that if you can't take a little nuclear holocaust, you don't belong in the game.

Bouganville wrote of Tahiti back in 1768, and hailed it as an untouched, unspoiled paradise free from the ugly corruption of society. Europe must have taken this as a challenge, because it signaled the beginning of a race to ruin Tahiti, a task almost completed by smallpox and syphilis. Still, it retains a kind of mythical grandeur. After all, this is the place of the Bounty, Gaguin, Captain Cook. It's a place of beauty and romance, as long as you don't wander outside the resorts. If you do, you're faced with the brutish realities of poverty and the half-hearted and broken promises of distant colonizers. Corrugated steel shacks and dark, esoteric graffiti. Locals wandering around in the kind of hopeless daze that is only known by those who see no way out of the life they're accustomed to. But the hotels keep you from all this. They present the untarnished facade people come here looking for, and no doubt leave thinking is genuine. They choke out the beach, leaving only a thin ribbon of black sand to testify that this was ever anything more than a grownup Disneyland for the obscenely wealthy. Yet, jungle covered mountains shoot up from the sea, asserting their dominance over even the most grotesque and creative attempts at capitalism. Fat tourists snap pictures of them, blissfully ignorant of their defiance.

On the plane ride here, I sit next to a brash and overly-friendly 21-year-old named Ben. He tells me he and his friends are here for a wedding, and it's obvious he sees Tahiti as some kind of Bacchanalian playground. A place where any vice can be indulged for the right amount of money. In between hitting on the politely disinterested stewardesses and getting progressively drunker on shitty Tahitian beer, he learns of my plans for Auckland.  I'm moving here from the States knowing no one, no job prospects, no place to live. All in the ridiculous pursuit of being a vagabond journalist, the lowest rung on the social—and perhaps even evolutionary—ladder. Ben gives the kind of lilting, amoral encouragement and advice only a drunk frat boy can. Tear it up, he advises. Live life in a drunken, orgiastic stupor, taking from New Zealand what I can and giving nothing in return. Normally, his antics would draw my intellectual contempt. Instead, I'm touched by this fantastic salute to American ignorance, excess and entitlement. Ben's is the kind of naive overbearance that is simultaneously our country's most beautiful and horrifying trait, and I love him for personifying it so well. At the end of the trip he makes a gift to me of his Playboy magazine, and I accept it—not only because I've learned not to argue with drunks, but because I understand that nothing could be more meaningful coming from a guy like Ben than the twentieth century's foremost chronicle of indulgent nihillism and tits. I discard it at the airport, but with a deep sense of appreciation.

Ben and his entourage invite me to party with them, and I almost do. My layover here is only 24 hours, after all. Why not spend it getting bombed out of my skull with a bunch of meatheads? At the very least, it would make for an interesting story. Instead, I somehow find the will to go to my hotel and have a nice dinner of steak and foie gras. Anyone who's ever had foie gras knows that it's the single most glorious thing a human can experience. Even the most hardened vegan, had he tried it, would rip the liver out of every goose he saw to get at that succulent meat. It's the perfect dish for a place like this. Excessive. And every night, it's served to self-involved Anglos like me by beautiful island girls who get off work and go to their tenement homes far away from the prying eyes of tourism. Just one more day of selling an opulence they themselves will never own.

All the girls here are sweet and demure, but skittish like a dog that's been hit too many times, and I wonder if this is a heavily patriarchal society, or if tourists are just that fucking rude and demanding. I try to be overly polite to compensate, but they still constantly apologize, and it makes me sad. Makes me wish I could have seen this place as the proud and savage tribal society it used to be rather than a prefabricated retreat for honeymooners without the sense to spend their money on a house instead.

Everything at the Radisson here smells like flowers and the salty mist drifting off the ocean, and all around me I see happy couples either just beginning their marriage, or contented veterans of it. There's something beautiful about their unspoken hypothesis that any trial of relationship, any trouble they may face can be left at their point of embarkation. No void of communication, no infidelity, no cold emotional apathy could overcome the beauty of this place if it were real and if it were forever. But it is neither. The cynic in me knows that when these couples return home, all those things will be waiting where they left them in longterm parking.

Guinea hens run around the grounds of the hotel, and I can hear birds of paradise singing in the distance. This island was theirs long before it was anyone else's, even before those first brave Asian pioneers set out across the angry Pacific in outrigged canoes. With any luck, it will be theirs again someday. The jungle and the beach will swallow up the resorts, their deserted husks a lonely monument to a time when man thought utopia could be packaged and sold, and the birds will sing on into the emptiness with only each other to hear it.