Friday, February 27, 2009

Wide world of sport (part 3)

Today we're going to talk about (imagine this next line in Keith Jackson's voice, or in Brent Musburger's if you must) "the granddaddy of them all" when it comes to sport in New Zealand. I am of course talking about Rugby.

Rugby is pretty much the defacto national religion in New Zealand. And, in my opinion, it's not too difficult to understand the appeal. While I'm not clear on all of the rules, and have a difficult time understanding all the little intricacies of it's play, rugby is an incredibly fun sport to watch. It's fast-paced and really violent. What's not to love?

A little history.

Rugby started back in England in the 1800s at where else? Rugby School. It's seems one spirited young footballer decided to pick up the football and run with it--ingenious! Over a period of time rules were written governing all aspects of the new sport's play. Then a schism (didn't I tell you it was like a religion) in 1895 seperated the game into two different codes of play: Rugby Union and Rugby League. Both still in existence today.

Of the two, at least in New Zealand, Rugby Union is far and away the most popular. Rugby League is played mostly around the Aukland area, as the country's lone professional team, The Warriors, are based there. The Warriors play in Australia's National Rugby League, and they are the only non Aussie team to do so. The Warriors get little attention in New Zealand in comparison to their Rugby Union counterparts, of which there are five professional teams: the Blues, Chiefs, Crusaders, Hurricanes, and Highlanders. These five teams play in what's known as the Super 14 Union, along with five teams from South Africa and four from Australia. The Super 14 is like the NFL of this part of the world. I went to a preseason match, between the Auckland Blues and the Otago Highlanders, a couple of weeks ago with my new friends Brooke and Aaron, and it was so much fun. I've also watched two other matches on telly at local pubs, and I have to say I'm getting hooked!

The All Blacks

From the five local Super 14 squads, the best of the best are called on to be All Blacks! The All Blacks are New Zealand's National Team. If Rugby is the national religion in NZ, then the All Blacks are its gods. They are easily the biggest celebrities in this country. One guy in particular: Dan Carter. The fellas love Dan Carter because he's considered by many to be the best rugby player in the world. The ladies love Dan Carter because he's really really dreamy, or so I've been told. He apparently does underwear ads for Calvin Klein if that tells you anything.

Their name. Back in the late 1890s, when they were first formed, their uniforms were...can you guess? That's right: green and purple. NO! They were all black, silly. The unofficial moniker stuck and has since become their official name, complete with trademark and copyright protections. I didn't get expressed written consent for this blog entry, so shhhh. Amusingly, New Zealand national teams in most other sports have also adopted all black uniforms and play off of the All Blacks' name. The national field hockey team: The Black Sticks. The national cricket team: The Black Caps. The national junior rugby team: The Small Blacks. And, my favorite, the national basketball team: The Tall Blacks.

The season. All Black play gets underway at the conclusion of the Super 14 Series, sometime in June I believe. Annual matches include play for the Bledisloe Cup against the Australian Nation Team, The Wallabes; and the Tri-Nations Series, against the Wallabes again as well as the South African National Team, The Springboks. Just like the All Blacks, the Wallabes and the Springboks are composed of the best of the best from Australia's and South Africa's Super 14 squads. Think of it as if the NFL had teams from three different regions and each region had its own all-star team. The All Blacks also host matches against several European teams and go on a European tour as well. This year, I believe the All Blacks are hosting matches against France, Italy, and Scotland. One thing I absolutely want to do while I'm here is to see an All Blacks game in person. I'd really like to see them play France--those cheese eating surrender monkeys!

The Haka. Perhaps what the All Blacks are most famous for is their pregame ritual, the Haka. Hakas are traditional war dances originally performed by the indigenous Maori people. The All Blacks perform the Haka known as Ka Mate, and it is a sight to behold. Do a YouTube search with the words All Blacks and Haka and see for yourself. It's pretty intimidating if you ask me, which is precisely the point. It's performed right before the match directly in front of the opposing team, and meant specifically to intimidate them, thus giving our heroes the psychological advantage. I can't imagine standing ten yards in front of such a display without my knees absolutely turning to jelly.

Hope all your rucks and scrums go your way.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Auckland's best

After spending close to a month in Auckland, I've come to know the city rather well. And before I leave, I thought I'd spend a few minutes and compile a list of Auckland's best. Enjoy.

-Best burger: The Hamburghini w/ cheese from Burger Fuel on Queen Street.
-Best meal value: Tie. Bolliwood Cafe on Ponsonby Street: all curries just $10 every day at lunch. And, Father Ted's Irish Pub on Wellesley Street: $15 steak dinner on Monday nights--the steak was juicy, tender and about the size of your head.
-Best sushi: Yummy Sushi on Victoria Street. Their sign don't lie--it was yummy!
-Best kebab: Shesh Besh Mediteranian Cafe on Ponsonby Street.
-Best way to watch a movie: At Sky Cinemas Gold Class Theater--plush leather recliners and waiters to bring you your choice of premium beers.
-Best way to spend an afternoon: Tie. Taste of Waiheke Island winery tour: 40 minute ferry ride out to the island, followed by a bus tour that stops at three wineries and an olive grove. Taste three wines at each winery (along with a couple of beers at the second one) and an olive oil tasting at the olive grove. And, Sail NZ Adventure. Two-hour cruise around the bay in an America's Cup-class racing yacht. Work the grinders to raise the sails, take your turn at the helm, and then sit back enjoy a great afternoon out on the water.
-Best gelato: This one you can absolutely take to the bank. I make it a point to stop at each and every gelato place I encounter and sample the fare. Having tasted the gelato from at least eight different places, I can say that Valentino's on the Quay is hand's down, no question about it, the best gelato in town!
-Best place to spot a whole herd? flock? school? pride? (not sure of the proper group name) of transvestite prostitutes: Karangahape Road Overbridge after dark. Yikes!
-Best place to find a used car: (New Zealand's version of craigslist). Learned this one the hard way by going to the Backpacker's Car Market. Buying a car off someone who's about to leave the country is probably not the best option. Live and learn, huh?
-Best Walk: a meandering one through the Auckland Domain nature park all the way to the Auckland Natural History and War Memorial Museum. And tour the Museum once you get there.
-Best street performer: There are dozens of people on various street corners that perform for pocket change. Most sing or play some sort of instrument--from the harmonica to the banjo. But one girl, who according to her cardboard sign was the something or other school's chess champion in 2006, has a board set up right on the sidewalk and offers to play free games of six-minute speed chess with anyone willing to give it a go. This inevitably draws a crowd and she only asks that those who stop and watch give a buck or two. I gladly gave her five one day after watching her dispatch an overly confident and quite smug challenger in something like six moves.

If you ever find yourself in Auckland, feel free to use this list as a guide, or better yet, just have fun compiling your own "best" list!


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Wide world of sport (part 2)

Today we're going to talk about Cricket.

Cricket is a ridiculously overly-complicated sport, a version of which can have games that last for up to five days. There are wickets and bowlers and innings and overs and batters (who can score centuries--100 runs in a single at bat) and about 2,679 names for the different fielding positions. You can win by runs, unless you win by wickets. You can retire the batting side by getting them all out, unless you retire them without getting them all out. You can bowl as many overs as you want, as long as you don't bowl two in a row. Like I said, ridiculously overly-complicated. The New Zealand national team (lovingly refered to as the Black Caps) recently played a best of some odd number series with Australia. I read the writeup in the New Zealand Herald after the series to see who had won. I read the entire article and tried to decifer the box scores as best I could, but I still had no idea who won. The article was indeed written in English, but the words seemed to be arranged in nonsensical ways that made absolutely no sense. See for yourself. Here's an except from the article:

New Zealand were a cautious 27 for two after five overs, but then Neil Broom and McCullum took 16 off one Hilfenhaus over. That included a blistering McCullum six over cover which replays showed bounced just short of the rope.

The pair added 61 off eight overs, Broom hitting 36 off 26 before he skied one, leaving McCullum as the anchor.

The required rate climbed, and a two-run over from Hilfenhaus left New Zealand needing a steep 55 off the last five.

Stand-in Australian captain Brad Haddin batted first on winning the toss on an overcast, cool night and labelled 160 as a par total.

Captain Daniel Vettori led the way for his new-look New Zealand side to keep Australia to 150 for seven, taking one for 23 off four overs and two excellent outfield catches.

Say what?!?

After spending about an hour on Wikipedia trying to learn about this silly silly game, I went back and re-read the article. It still didn't make a whole heckuva lot of sense, but at least I was able to determine that Australia won the series. Better luck next time, Black Caps.

May all your wickets be sticky, dear readers. Or not sticky. Whichever way is the good way.


Saturday, February 21, 2009


Scattershooting while wondering whatever happened to Kurt Rambis. More random thoughts, observations, and learnings:

-Cargo shorts are fan-frickin-tastic! So handy!
-Fully one third of the population of New Zealand lives in Auckland. 'The city with the second most Kiwis in it?,' you ask: Sydney, Australia.
-I got stopped on the street the other day and asked directions by an obvious tourist who was obviously lost. I not only knew exactly where she was trying to go and how to get there, I escorted her the seven or so blocks myself.
-My new favorite soda is one of the local varieties. It's called Lemon & Paeroa, or L&P for short. The closest thing I can compare it to from the States is Squirt. I not only like its taste, but I appreciate their company's sense of humor. Their tag line reads: "World famous in New Zealand."
-Frosty Floats from Wendy's are fan-frickin-tastic! So tasty!
-Do you remember those old 7-Up commercials from the 80's? The 'Feels so Good Coming Down' ones, where it was always raining even though the sun was shining? It's rained like that four or five times since I've been here. It's quite refreshing.
-I wish ipod ear buds were just a little smaller. They hurt my ears.
-I've read my first (and last) James Patterson novel--atrocious.
-Atrocious is my new favorite word.
-I saw the following on a sign above the door at an Irish pub: "May you be a half hour in heaven before the devil knows you're dead."
-You know how sometimes a step or a curb isn't quite as high as you first thought and when you step off your foot hits the ground much sooner than you expect it to? That's the worst!
-In a country where people drive on the left-hand side of the road, it's critically important as a pedestrian to remember to look to your RIGHT first when crossing the street. I cannot stress this enough.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Wide world of sport (part 1)

When it comes to sports...err I mean sport in New Zealand, you can sum it up in three words: sailing, cricket, and of course rugby. And like Metallica says, 'nothin else matters.'

This will be the first of a three-part series looking into sport. Today we'll talk about sailing.

I happened to arrive in Auckland (The City of Sails, as it were) during the inaugural 'Louis Vitton Pacific Series' regatta. An upstart event, but featuring the absolute best of the best sailing teams from around the globe nonetheless--including current America's Cup holders (and the Kiwi's arch rivals): Team Alinghi from Switzerland. Which of course begs the question: how is it that a land-locked country in the middle of Europe has the best sailing team in the world? But I digress. After eight days of racing, all comers had been properly dispatched by the two favorites, and the finals were set: the Kiwis vs. the Swiss. It really couldn't have been scripted any other way. I mean these two teams are the bitterest of rivals. Think Texas/OU or Cowboys/Redskins. Well, the winds ultimately favored the home crew, and the Kiwis put down the hated Swiss 3-1 in the best of five final series. And there was much rejoicing!

Interesting note: Did you know that sailing crews don't use the same boat for every race? There are simply two boats available, and the teams draw before each race to see which team will use which boat. For this regatta the boats were NZL89 and NZL91--supposedly the two newest, fastest, most high-tech America's Cup-class racing yachts in the world.

Two of their predecessor boats, NZL40 and NZL41 (both having raced in past America's Cup regattas) are available year round in Auckland's harbour for bookings. Picked up a brochure on it today. They say you can "Take the helm, exert energy on the grinders, or simply sit back and enjoy the ride." I'd absolutely love to do this before I put Auckland in my rear-view mirror. I mean how many people can say they've sailed in an actual America's Cup racing yacht? Well seeing as how it looks like I'll be here another few days while my car gets a new second-hand engine (how's that for an oxymoron?) installed, I'm gonna go tomorrow and sign up for a sail around the bay! Starboard is right and port is left, right?


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The little differences

You know what the funniest thing about the English language is? It's the little differences. I mean they got the same words over here that they got there, it's just here it's a little different.


-Say you break your arm. You go to hospital. Not "a" hospital or "the" hospital, just hospital.
-Curious about what's going on in sport? Read the Sport page. I'm curious about was happened to that last 's.' ***We'll have a whole entry on the world of sport soon***
-For a country with the letter 'Z' in its very name, they never ever use it--other than in said name that is. Authorise, customise, prioritise, criticise, organisation, etc.--you get the idea. I guess that's what they did with all those S's they took from the end of sports. Also, they don't even have tow away "zones" around town. They have tow away "areas." I'm telling you, it's all a big conspiracy against the letter Z.
-Don't cry over spilt milk. Yeah, I spelt that right!

Here's to celebrating the little differences!


Oh, and in case you were wondering, even though NZ has the metric system, at McDonald's the "Quarter-pounder with cheese" is still the "Quarter-pounder with cheese."

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Scattershooting while wondering whatever happened to Blackie Sherrod. Here are a few random observances, occurances, and thoughts.

-I saw a Dodge Ram pickup truck today. There's nothing inherently strange about a Dodge Ram I'll grant you, except it's the first (and only) pickup truck I've seen since I've been here.
-Instead of handles, toilets in NZ have two seperate flush buttons on the tank. Think of it like a double-barrelled shotgun. 99% of the time, one barrell is all you'll ever need. But it's nice to know you've got that second barrell loaded and ready for bare for those truly heavy duty jobs.
-Ate at a burger joint yesterday called Murder Burger. Their marquee featered a cat in between the words Murder and Burger, and all the staff wore t-shirts that said "Meat is Murder." I had the chicken sandwich.
-While eating my tasty Murder Burger chicken sandwich I observed a sign on the wall that made me chuckle. It was a drawing of a panda on all fours with a second panda standing over the first with a metal folding chair raised over his head poised to come crashing down. The caption read: "Proudly supporting WWF."
-Had dinner the other night with two Kiwis, two Aussies, and a Brit. Several times over the course of the evening I had to reassure myself that all six of us were, in fact, speaking the same language.
-Walk signals at intersections make a futuristic ray gun kind of sound when it's safe to cross. It's a funny sound, and I like it.
-There's an inordinate amount of Turkish cafes in Auckland.
-In my opinion, previous attempts to introduce $1 coins (Susan B. Anthony and Sacajawea)in the US failed so miserably because of the continued existence of the $1 bill. NZ has both $1 and $2 coins and the lowest denomination bill is the $5, and it seems to work brilliantly.
-For $2.50 I sure wish I got a little more than 390 mL of Coca Cola.
-There's no tipping in NZ. That has been both refreshing and disconcerting.
-A full page newspaper ad for a local car dealer appearing in the NZ Herald advertized "All Jap brand vans priced to move. All Toyotas, Nissans, Fords, and Mitsubishis!" "Jap" apparently isn't un-PC here, and Fords are apparently a "Jap" brand.
-I haven't watched one minute of television since I've been here--and I haven't missed it one bit.

-WWF is the acronym for both the World Wildlife Fund--which uses the panda on their logo and the World Wrestling Federation--whose practitioners use metal folding chairs to pummel their opponents.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Best laid plans

So The Rattler got me a whole 22km up the road from Auckland before a new, more sinister rattle appeared, this one accompanied 30 seconds later by billowing smoke from under the hood! Luckily I had just enough time to exit the motorway and turn onto a side street before she completely died on me. Yep, a whole 22km! Ah, the good times we had. This all happened this last Sunday mind you, when I had just set out for Taiwawe Bay to do some work for a property owner up there. I called Andrew (the afore mentioned property owner) to tell him what had happened. He was heading up Sunday night as well, just a couple hours behind me. He helped me push my Chariot into a parking space at a gas station, we arranged for a tow to a local garage and we were off. We'll get back to the car in a bit.

Taiwawe Bay.

We arrived after dark, but it was close to a full moon that night and the view of the bay was spectacular. I tried in vain to capture the sublime scene on film (or the digital equivalent) but if my camera has specific settings for night time shots I don't know what they are. Every attempt at a picture just came back completely dark. Oh well. The daytime shots the next day were pretty good. Andrew has a vision for his property to return all the plant life to native bush. That means getting rid of all the non-native tree species including poplars, willows, and pines. He hired a couple of arborists to do the skilled cutting with the chainsaws, and a nice Australian couple, Liam and Sewane, who answered the same ad that I did, and I served as the unskilled labor hauling the cut branches down the hill to the chipper. I have to tell you, I have never worked so hard in my entire life! And I wasn't even getting paid! The trade off was two days of work and then we (the unskilled labor force) get the run of the place for the next week or so. But I don't even get that because I have to get back to Auckland with Andrew on Tuesday because of my broken down lemon of a car. but more on that later. After about ten hours of repeatedly trudging up the hill, grabbing another pile of branches, and dragging them down, we knocked off for the day. Took a nice refreshing dip in the Ocean, then the six of us (Andrew, the property owner; Collin and Jimmy, the arborists; and Liam, Sewane, and I, the unskilled labor) climbed into Andrew's boat to go fishing. We caught about thirty Red Snapper, but only one was legally big enough to keep. By the time we got back from fishing, our roast lamb supper was almost ready. Jimmy fileted our Snapper and cut it into bite size pieces and Andrew provided some wasabi and soy sauce, and we enjoyed some fresh sashimi as an appetizer. Not too stinking bad! The roast lamb was fantastic as well.

The next day we only worked for six hours. The arborists had more pressing things to do with their chainsaws, so we the unskilled labor, spent our time ring-barking pine trees. Ring-barking is where you cut about a three inch band about a half a centimeter deep around the entire circumference of the trunk--cutting a 'ring' into the 'bark', ring-barking. This kills the pine. We were able to ring-bark about 40 pines in those six hours. Cooled off with another dipin the ocean, had a nice lunch and then it was back to Auckland for Andrew and me. Andrew is an architect and he had a presentation he needed to work on so he let me drive the three hours back to Auckland. It's a good thing too, I need the practice. Driving on the left still just feels inherently wrong!

My lemon

The garage I had my car towed to seems to think that I have a pretty good case against the garage that performed the mechanical inspection on my car before I purchased it (and actually perfomed some repairs before I drove it away). Andrew agrees, and he's seen fit to act as sort of my advocate in dealing with the first garage. He seems to think that he can convince them that its in their best interest to repair my car at no expense to me. We'll see. If not, I'll have to write it off as a $2500 object lesson on the perils of being too trusting, and start all over again on the car search. If so, the repairs will probably take a week or so. Either way, I again feel trapped in Auckland. It's like Michael Corleone said about the mafia, "I try to get out, and they just pull me back in!" The good news is that Andrew has been so incredibly kind to help me out. Not only with dealing with the mechanics, but also by allowing me to stay at his place until everything gets sorted.

I know this whole stumbling, bumbling, frustrating, and expensive start to my New Zealand adventure will ultimately be one of those things that I can look back on and laugh, but at present it just doesn't seem too funny. Just gotta keep plugging along I guess. Will keep you posted--hopefully will have some good news to report soon.


Saturday, February 7, 2009

My Chariot awaits!

My first EnZed (NZ) Car:

I've been in Auckland for a whole week now and I'm more than ready to get a move on, but the logistics of buying a car ended up taking more time than I thought they would. Particularly the wire transfer of funds from my US bank to my NZ bank. You know how in the movies when the bad guy needs money wired to his numbered account in Zurich and his techy henchman on the laptop can confirm the transaction instantaniously? That's not how wire transfers work! Of course the money left my US bank the second I hit send, but didn't show up in my NZ account until three days later.

However, with money finally in hand I went to the Backpackers Car Market--a huge garage where backpackers who are leaving the country sell their cars to those just arriving. I found a nice little 1991 Mitsubishi Chariot station wagon that was listed for a price within my budget. Had a legal check and a mechanical inspection done on it, and negotiated the final price with Sven--a nice German fellow and the car's previous owner. I drove my Chariot the three miles or so back to my hotel, and I have to tell you, every 30 seconds or so I had to take a deep breath and reassure myself that it was in fact "right" that I was driving on the left! That's seriously going to take some getting used to.

In case you're wondering, I've already decided on a name for my sweet sweet ride! I'm gonna call her "The Rattler." Many of you know of my affinity for word play so it should come as no surprise that this chosen name has a double meaning. First, from my first blog entry on Kiwi-speak you may recall that "rattle your dags" means "to get a move on." I'm hoping this car will help me to rattle my dags all over this country. And second, well, she rattles like a son-of-a-bitch when you get her over 50 kph!

My first NZ Job:

This afternoon I'm rattling my dags up north a bit to a place called Taiwawe Bay (go to Google maps and type in Taiwawe Bay, New Zealand and hit the "satallite" button in the upper right-hand corner to change the image ot an overhead satallite photo). I answered an ad placed on the notice board at the International Exchange Program office for the job. It's for two days manual labor (digging a drainage ditch and some various other landscaping duties on a private property) and what's more, it's an unpaid gig! The payoff is that for those two days work I then get nine days free accommodation and food at these people's private beach house in their own private Pacific Ocean bay! I get full use of their facilities including their small boat and kayak. Seems like a fair trade to me. I don't know that I'll have internet access while I'm there so the next update might not be for a bit. Catch you on the flip side.


Sunday, February 1, 2009

First Day

Arrived in Auckland yesterday morning at about 7:00am. Man, that was a long flight. Wheel's up to wheel's down was 12 hrs 12 minutes. Got to the hostel by 7:30, but checkin wasn't until 1:00pm. Killed some time by chilling out in the hostel's aptly named "chill out" lounge. Got my bearings by walking around downtown Auckland. Walked through a really cool park with some funky looking trees. Came across a group of Indian men palying Cricket in a park. I bought a chocolate-dipped ice cream cone from an ice cream truck and sat down on the side of a hill to watch the cricket match. i watched for close to an hour, but was no closer to understanding the the rules of the game, much less the objective, than I was when I first sat down. It was still fun to watch. Got back to the hostel around 1:00 for checkin. Got my room--a dorm style affair with four bunkbeds. Met two of my "roommates," Jenna and Donald, a nice couple from Ireland. Chatted with them for a bit and claimed one of the three open beds left in the room--a top bunk. Walked about town for a few more hours. At this point I'm simply trying to do whatever I can to stay awake. You see, while I'm desperately tired, I don't want to get in bed at three in the afternoon only to be wide awake in the middle of the night. I'm able to hold out until 5:30pm when I finally give in and hit the sack. Despite my fears of waking up in the middle of the night, I sleep for about 13 hours and get out of bed at around 6:45am Monday morning. Today is all about logistics. I have a three hour orientation at the International Exchange Program office and then I have to open my NZ bank account, apply for my Internal Revenue Tax number, and figure out what to do about getting a local mobile phone.

Auckland is a beautiful city, but I'm already itching to get out of here. But I'll probably have to stay for a few more days while I get all the logistical stuff figured out. Tomorrow's big adventure will involve looking into what I need to do about buying a car.