27 05 2012

Generally, I think that Chill Bird has the better arguments.



20 05 2012


Singapore Girl gave us grown-up privileges

14 06 2010

Taking off at night in the rain, the view out the window looks like a post modernist painting. Individual objects blur and lose their proportions. Sullen glows in the distance could be cities, or fires, or cities on fire.

Singapore Airlines has decided that we are all big enough to play with real metal adult cutlery without stabbing anyone with the fork. Bless. Not only have anti-terrorism measures made the traveler’s life supremely inconvenient, they have also removed our grown-up privileges. I just wish that, instead of the metal detector, airports could install some kind of telepathic innocence reader so that they could see my inner thoughts on the subject, which would be: Are you NUTS?!? I’m not going to (a) hold up the plane with my nail scissors; (b) ignite something with my laptop or (c) try to incinerate the craft with my 200mL bottle of shampoo.

Of course, a telepathic innocence indicator could run into all sorts of problems. I can imagine it bringing up private and embarrassing personal stuff, for one thing. And anyone willing to blow up a plane probably has a special sort of blind belief in their own innocence (and possibly the imminent availability of 72 attractive virgins) that would send the green lights flashing too.

Some ways in which outdoors girls get misunderstood…

8 03 2010

Guerilla horticulture

10 12 2009

El Bolson: Apparent hotbed of renegade horticulture. (Photo courtesy Francis Fowler)

You know how you can have an episode of unreality? I mean something that you encounter by yourself, that is so unusual that later on, trying to describe it to other people, all you’ll ever get is confused stares, and you start to doubt that you ever experienced it at all.

My latest episode of unreality involved a guy named Che. I met him early one morning at a hostel that is a whole wonderful episode of unreality in itself but too involved to describe here. Che looked exactly like what he was: a spoonful from the Brazilian melting pot. He had a deep genetic tan, Miami Vice hair (you know, that perm the black guy had), aviators and a long handlebar moustache. He was also completely fluent in four languages, including English. My memory has also painted in a cigarette but I’m not sure this was accurate; however, his conversation style is one that works best with long, thoughtful draws on something between each definitive phrase, so I’m leaving it in for dramatic effect. He introduced his background as follows:

“I was running an organic farm just over the border at the head of the valley, in Chile. Six beautiful cabins, lots of volunteers, some New Zealanders like you.” Pause, long draw. “It got shut down by the Chilean military.”

Talk about extreme organic gardening. El Bolson, where the political refugees become horticulturalists and the horticulturalists become political refugees?

Che continued: there was a lot of human and drug trafficking over the border, and he was afraid for his volunteers, so he complained to the Chilean military but, pause, looooong draw, “Chile is so corrupt. They sold their souls to the United States long ago.” They made life difficult and dangerous, and he was forced to sell up and move over the border to el Bolson, Argentina. Now he is deciding whether to buy land here and start again, or to get a motorbike and travel Patagonia (a guy named Che touring South America on a motorbike while on the run from the capitalist military? this may have been done before). I asked Che how he felt because he seemed remarkably relaxed about the whole thing. “Meh,” he said, “I’m relieved. Otherwise they would have killed me.”

When I told this story to everyone else, including locals, they scrunched up their eyes and turned their head sideways and raised their eyebrows. So Che has become another moment of unreality for me. But it seems clear that no one does horticulture quite like the South Americans.

Extreme barbeque

13 11 2009

Argentina is the home of asados. This extreme culinary experience is barbequeue in its purest form, where giant pieces of meat are massaged with salt and placed over hot coals. Asados includes slabs of beef and whole chickens, and it’s probably only a matter of geography that has kept camel and elephant off the menu.

I first experienced asados in a country town hall, 5 hours north of Buenos Aires, courtesy of our host’s parents. It was the centenary celebrations of a local school, and the hall was packed with trestle tables and reverberating with music from the live entertainment: gaucho dancing. This looks like a form of Spanish country dancing, but with men’s moves combining Irish tapdancing and Cossack leaps. Gaucho dance training obviously starts young, because the little schoolboys that had snuck onto the edge of the stage were tapping and leaping all over the place with artistic flair.

But anyway. The asado. The fact that there were approximately 800 guests meant that this asado must have been approached with all the precision of a military operation. It would also explain why we were given sausages – one sausage apiece. Don’t imagine that they were New Zealand sausages, the filler food of barbequeues of our nation. These sausages gave the impression that someone had taken delightfully small grains of succulent meat and thoughtfully gift-wrapped them in an edible package. A food critic could have paired these sausages with a red wine, without adding ‘to take away the taste’. They were also the size of a small salami, and I was smiling repletely as I finished mine.

Then they brought in the beef and I realised that the sausage was the appetizer.

Remember those family beef roasts? Wrap one of those in a centimetre of fat, and divide it into two or three pieces. Those, more or less, are what were piled on the serving trays. One mini roast per person. I looked around and realised that, while the serving had been a military operation, then the consumption was an event of endurance, and I was seated in a hall full of highly trained athletes. By the time I looked back, my friend had inhaled his roast and beads of sweat were trickling down his temples. He has since recovered with no lasting effects, which makes me class him as some form of superhuman.

My asados experience has made me decide that it is a happy coincidence, or possibly the will of a benificent God, that Argentina is the country that reaches closest to Antarctica. I have the pleasing image of haggard, hollow-eyed explorers staggering onto the shores of Tierra del Fuego and falling upon a course of asados. As long as the culinary overload doesn’t plunge them into cardiac arrest, they’ll be back to their pre-expedition weight (plus a few kilos) in no time.

Indonesia – the interesting way to fly

20 08 2008

I’m in that surreal place near the end of the journey, hanging out in an internet cafe in Bukittinggi, Sumatra, waiting for a bus that will take me to Padang. Tomorrow, I start a series of flights, which will hopefully lead me to Auckland and not the floor of some random non-NZ airport for more than a couple of hours at a time.

My state of paranoia results from (1) travelling through Sumatra, which generally results in a grab-bag of cautionary tales of transport horror and woe, followed by (2) meeting heaps of fellow-travellers through Sumatra and southeast Asia, which can be viewed as a kind of international young people’s colloquium on transport horror and woe. The paranoia is heightened because booking my tickets back has seemed altogether too easy. Especially considering that the flights out from Telo are administered by an airline called SMAC. Only one letter away from a bad sound effect… or a mind-altering substance; in fact, a previous traveller mentioned seeing the pilots smoking up with something (before closing the hand-sewn curtain between the cockpit and the passengers), so who knows? Certainly, the guy selling the tickets had been hard enough to track down. However, managing to set up a meeting and buy tickets on the fourth try is actually pretty good going out here. Good enough, in fact, that I kept on taking the tickets out of the envelope and staring at them, trying to identify the subtle flaws that would tell me that they were for last month or a slow boat to China. Paranoid? Maybe. Our friends Nick and Penny did no such thing and discovered, on arrival at the airport, that the guy hadn’t handed them tickets onwards from their next stopover, but an envelope of cash to book this at the next place. Out of which, of course, he has taken a commission. Anyway, the airline still managed to lay the SMAC down on me; our ultra-light luggage was charged as overweight by a mysteriously round figure of 5 kilos, as divined by a magical set of scales counterbalanced by rocks rather than weights. The thing about the Indo rupiah exchange rate is that small and even moderate rip-offs over here are worth so little in NZ$ equivalent that it’s easier not to argue them.

“That’s not a plane,” commented Eban, watching the SMAC plane taxi out of the hangar. “That’s a bus with wings tacked on.” As we watched it lumber down the runway with its first load of passengers of the morning, I think I heard Penny mutter, “c’mon, lift off, lift off, lift off…”

Actually, I am probably unfairly maligning this airline as apparently it is the only one (out of a number of competitors) in Indonesia with a crash-free record. Get this: as I write, a Garuda Indonesia pilot is on trial for ignoring 15 separate flashing lights on his cockpit panel and the repeated queries of his copilot, in order to plough his craft into the runway. And G. Indonesia, where good Air NZ planes go to die, is renowned as the safest way to fly in Indo; this airline will find it tougher going to win the “safest” prize in Europe, where a safety-related ban will have to be lifted for starters. All this may explain the first visual greeting we got as we taxied down the runway at Padang after what was in all fairness an uneventful and stunningly beautiful flight. It’s a life-size airplane replica. Surely this was meant as a friendly gesture; however, the wings are crumpled, the body is bent and it’s not until one is very close up that one realises that the windows are only painted on. The whole effect seems to be more of an illustrative warning of the dangers of air travel in Indonesia.

Update: sitting waiting for my G. Indonesia plane from Padang to Jakarta, which miraculously arrived at the gate a mere 15 minutes after scheduled boarding, a guy leaned over and said to me in an annoyed American accent, “<sigh> well I guess our flight’s delayed.” I knew I’d been over here too long when my response was to laugh until I cried.